The Third Sunday after the Epiphany
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
May 5, 2019
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near!”
I’ve mentioned to you before that there is a street preacher who likes to spend time with his megaphone down at 13th and Main during the day. He likes to say this phrase intermingled with threats about how God will punish the passersby for their sins. Admittedly, this phrase sounds a little less irritating when Deacon Gerry says it in church, but nonetheless, this isn’t a phrase that we generally like to hear.
Jesus, of course, doesn’t say these words in a vacuum. Two weeks ago, we heard Matthew’s account of Jesus’s baptism, followed by John’s retelling of the story last week. In Matthew’s account, just after Jesus’s baptism comes his temptation in the wilderness which we won’t hear until the First Sunday in Lent. But right after that is the story we heard this morning which announces the beginning of Jesus’s public ministry.
John the Baptist had just been arrested for his announcing of the kingdom of heaven and for criticizing King Herod, and in response, Jesus withdrew to Galilee. The Greek word translated here as “withdraw” connotates fleeing – it’s the same word used to describe Joseph, Mary, and Jesus fleeing to Egypt because of King Herod’s evil deeds toward the Jewish people. He flees from Nazareth to Capernaum which is on the northwest coast of the Sea of Galilee, “in the territory of Zebulun and Natphtali.” Zabulun and Natphtali were the old Assyrian names of the Israelite tribal territories in northwest Galilee from the 8th century BC when the Assyrian Empire annexed them and sent the Hebrews into exile. The use of these old names would have been striking to those in the first century – perhaps a bit like referring to New York City as New Amsterdam or Paris using the ancient Roman name of Lutetcia. Matthew doesn’t use these old names for nostalgia’s sake, he uses them to reiterate that Jesus’s move to this part of Israel is a fulfillment of the prophecy we heard in Isaiah 9. The people who sat in darkness refers back to the Hebrews who had been exiled by the Assyrians so long ago in Isaiah’s time. They are the ones to whom God will bring the light. Now, the people who live in the same geographic area are again ruled by the Gentiles – this time, the Roman Empire. And Matthew proclaims that they are receiving that light promised so long ago in the person of Jesus.
This is the context of Jesus’s declaration, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near!” This is the same message that John the Baptist proclaimed, but the difference is, Jesus himself is the inbreaking of the kingdom of heaven. He is the long-expected one who will save Israel from their enemies, he is the one who will bring the exiles home, he is the one who will give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, he is the one who will heal the sick, he is the one who will guide our feet into the way of peace.
And, even better news - this promise that the kingdom of heaven has come near isn’t about how to escape from this world into another one, it’s about God’s reign coming “on earth as it is in heaven.” It’s not about the afterlife, it’s about the here and now.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Jesus then started walking by the Sea of Galilee and saw Simon Peter and Andrew as they were fishing. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” [I’ll let you in on a little secret: I much prefer the King James translation, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” to “I will make you fish for people.” Same thing at Christmas: “swaddling clothes” is better than “bands of cloth.”]. In any case, it’s amazing to think about how compelled Peter and Andrew were to follow him. The text says “immediately,” they left their nets and followed him. The putting down of their nets meant that they left their livelihood – their means of an income – to follow him. When their two other brothers, James and John, decided to follow him, they left not only their nets and their boat, but their father. It’s hard for me to imagine the radical obedience of these men, probably because of the fact that Jesus continues to call you and me to the very same radical obedience in his call to follow him today.
It is the conclusion of this passage where we see the inbreaking of the kingdom of heaven begin to be played out. Matthew says, “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.” Remember, the area around Galilee was not only ruled by the Roman Empire, it was inhabited by mainly Gentiles. Jesus was not only teaching in the Jewish synagogues, he was proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing the sick all over, even…maybe especially among the Gentiles.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Friends, rather than a threat as used by the street preacher, this is a beautiful promise! The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned! This is good news that so many in our world need to hear, whether it’s those who are the most marginalized in our society like those without housing, or wrongfully imprisoned, or what have you – or even those of us who have plenty but are struggling with mental or physical illness. Jesus himself is that great light, and he continues to proclaim “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Like Peter and Andrew, he asks us to follow him, no matter the cost. Like Peter and Andrew, he makes us “fishers of men” – Jesus gives us everything we need to invite others to follow him.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
 Working Preacher: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4366
 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), 980.
 David Bartlett, and Barbara Brown. Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008, 287.
Epiphany 2 – John 1:29-42
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
January 19, 2020
Annual Parish Meeting
According to the national canons of The Episcopal Church, every parish church must have an Annual Meeting in which the members of the parish gather to elect new members of the Vestry, our governing board, and conduct other important business. It is a time to reflect on the previous year and look forward to the year that is to come. As our Annual Meeting is today after the 10:00 service, it did not escape my notice this week when a member of another parish posted a meme on Facebook entitled “Why people attend the Annual Parish Meeting.” It was a pie chart showing about 2% attending because they are the priest or deacon and have to, 4% have a report they have to present, 25% attend to nitpick the budget, 69% because there’s lots and lots of food, and 0% because they feel it’s important.
If you’ve been in The Episcopal Church for any length of time, this meme is funny because you’ve seen, as I have, an Annual Meeting or two drag on and on and on, with one or two people overtaking the conversation in an incredibly negative way. This parish, like any other, has had our share of negative and tedious annual meetings over the 163 years of our existence.
But as I was reflecting on our last year together in preparation, I was filled with such a sense of peace and happiness and even joy. What a great year it has been! I want to share just a few highlights with you:
In terms of sacramental ministry, seven of you were confirmed or received into the Episcopal Church. One of you was baptized. There were several dozen hospital or home visits to bring communion to those who were sick. There were three weddings here in the church, and two performed by our clergy elsewhere. A couple dozen private confessions were heard. Incredibly for a small parish like ours, the Eucharist was celebrated nearly every day with less than a dozen cancelled because no one showed up or because of bad weather. There is an incredible team of seven priests from around the diocese, including the four of us who serve here, who give of their time and energy to make sure that the Eucharist remains the beating heart of St. Mary’s. Thankfully, we’ve had no funerals since the last Annual Meeting. And importantly our average Sunday attendance was 13% higher in 2019 than it was in 2018, and is now 50% higher than it was during 2017.
When it comes to outreach, hundreds upon hundreds of people in need have been given groceries from the food pantry. Over a hundred have received non-food necessity items thanks to your generous donations. You donated many coats and scarves and other items for those who can’t afford them. And we’ve raised money and collected items for several outside charities that serve those in need in Kansas City.
The Music Ministry at St. Mary’s continues to serve as a bedrock of our liturgical leadership. The choir has led us in exquisite beauty in countless High Masses, Evensongs, and Sung Compline services. We continue with our fruitful partnership with the William Baker Festival Singers, and welcomed many guest choirs and musical ensembles from all over the nation throughout the year.
In March 2019, after having served for over 14 months as Assistant to the Rector despite the fact that we had no rector, I was named priest-in-charge. A couple of months later, we welcomed a new priest – Fr. Sean Kim – who not only helps tremendously in relieving some of my workload, but shares his many wonderful gifts and talents with our whole community. I’ve heard from so many of you how much you’ve grown to love and appreciate Fr. Sean.
At the end of the year, Dcn. Gerry Shaon retired as our parish administrator and we welcomed Raja Reed as he began in that role at the beginning of the month. I’m grateful to Dcn. Gerry for his countless years of service, and am so glad that he is continuing to serve as a clergy leader of this parish.
On the financial side, our Treasurer Chris McQueeny will share the details with you after the service, but I’ll steal his punchline: 2019 was a great year, with 2020 looking even more promising.
God is continuing to raise up faithful men and women at St. Mary’s to serve Him and the wider Church in ordained. In 2019, Bishop Field named two of our own as postulants as they continue to prepare for ordination to the priesthood: Isaac Petty and David Wilcox. And we have at least 3 others who are ready to begin formally discerning a call to serve as a deacon or priest.
I could go on and on, but suffice it to say, we’re growing…in depth of faith, in number of souls, and in tangible resources to help support and expand the ministry we’ve been called to do in downtown Kansas City.
I think it’s no accident that today’s assigned gospel reading provides a helpful construct for us as we think about who we are and where we’re headed. Last week, we heard the story of the Baptism of Jesus from St. Matthew’s perspective, and today, we heard St. John’s retelling of what he saw. Matthew described Jesus’s actual baptism in detail, but in telling the same story, John is more interested in focusing on the signs that might lead others to believe in Jesus as the Son of God. The three synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – reveal Jesus’s identity as the Messiah gradually over time, but not so with John. Right out of the gate, he begins his gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Then John himself enters the scene, and identifies himself as the voice crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord” in the words of the prophet Isaiah. He says that he is not the Messiah, and that he is not worthy to untie the thong of the sandal of the one who is coming after him. The next day, John sees Jesus coming toward him and says, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” This is the one I’ve been telling you about! John doesn’t describe Jesus as a royal conqueror or as a warrior – that would have made a lot of sense, as the Jews were expecting an earthly, political Messiah – he describes him as the Lamb of God. Instead of an all-powerful being who would deliver God’s people in might and power, John says that God chose to send the Messiah as a weak, sacrificial lamb like the one the Hebrews sacrificed each year at Passover.
How is this passage helpful to us as we think about who we are and where we’re going? I’ll always remember a comment that Fr. Sean made this past Easter when he came to sit in the pew before he was ordained priest. After the service, during which I had talked about the importance of the physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead to our faith, he said, “I’ve never heard an Episcopal priest publicly affirm the physical resurrection from the pulpit.” In that vein, it isn’t unheard of these days to hear Episcopal priests publicly teach that parts of the Nicene Creed simply are not true in violation of their own ordination vows. Friends, I commit to you that you’re never going to hear such nonsense from this pulpit as long as I’m around. The Christian faith is rooted in and founded upon the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. As St. Paul puts it, “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….if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins…If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied…but in fact Christ has been raised from the dead!”
What you will find at St. Mary’s is a safe place to ask questions without fear of judgment…to explore the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! When you struggle with your faith – and I promise, you will! – whether that be doubting parts of the Creed or even doubts about the very existence of God, your brothers and sisters at St. Mary’s will be here for you to say the Creed on your behalf. No matter who you are – Jew or Greek, male or female, black or white, Democrat or Republican, cis or trans, gay or straight – you will find a safe place to explore the faith that has been handed down to us from the apostles, and at St. Mary’s, you’ll find the grace and power you need to serve others selflessly without expecting a thing in return.
And yes, you’ll find a pesky priest who will relentlessly encourage you to respond with joy and excitement every time you see Jesus in your everyday lives and proclaim like John did, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” When you do, your friends and family will hear you, and some of them by God’s grace will respond like the disciples did and decide to follow Jesus.
When he saw John and the disciples following him, Jesus said, “What are you looking for?” They ask him where he’s staying, and he says to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw and “remained with him that day”, a Greek phrase that essentially meant that they went to hang out with Jesus. It was this deep, intimate encounter with him that led Peter to confess, “We have found the Messiah.”
My friends, what an exciting time it is to be at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church! As we reflect on the past year and look forward to the year to come, like Jesus did the disciples, I invite you to “Come and see.” Come and spent time with Jesus! Come and hear him proclaimed in God’s Word, come and experience his unconditional grace and love in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, come and see him in the faces of all of us who call St. Mary’s home. As we encounter our risen Lord again and again, by God’s help, we will continue to grow in numbers, to grow in love for each other, and to grow in service to those desperately in need of Good News. Amen.
 David Bartlett, and Barbara Brown. Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008, 263.
 Selected verses from 1 Corinthians 15.
First Sunday after the Epiphany: The Baptism of Our Lord
Sunday, January 12, 2020
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Each year on the First Sunday after the Epiphany, we hear the story of Jesus’s baptism in the river Jordan. Surprisingly, unlike the Christmas story, this particular scene is so important that it is mentioned in all four of the Gospels. This passage is often used by those who argue that the mode of baptism must be “full immersion” as opposed to the way we typically do it by affusion, or pouring. The argument is this: in verse 16, when Jesus was baptized, the text says that he “came up from the water.” It’s true: scholars agree that Jesus went down into the water in the river Jordan and came back up.
While I’m not all that interested in combing through all of the arguments about the modes of baptism this morning, this passage always makes me think of my days as a Southern Baptist, and in particular, one memory from college. I worked for two years as music minister of Sycamore Baptist Church, a little country church in the middle of a forest outside Gurdon, Arkansas. The church got running water two years before I got there, and up until my second year, they baptized people by full immersion at the local pond. The pastor, Bro. James McCain, who drove a semi to Minnesota and back during the week, decided that we needed a proper baptistry – you know, one where you can properly baptize by full immersion in a pool of water. So he decided to ask one of the parishioners who owned a pool business for some help. I showed up one Sunday to find that the choir pews on the right side had been removed, and a large, gray hot tub had been installed. Well, guess who had a key to the church. I have to admit, there were many Sundays that last year I was there when I would turn on the heat after Sunday morning services and then come back with a group of friends that night. Don’t worry, I was a pure little Southern Baptist boy, so there were no shenanigans going on, but we sure felt like rebels!
Had they asked me for my opinion, we might have installed a lovely font like the one we have in the back. When the Baptists use this passage to argue for full immersion, I think the they are missing the point entirely. This story isn’t about the mode of baptism…in fact it’s not about Christian baptism at all: it’s all about the identity of Jesus.
Jesus comes to John the Baptist at the river Jordan to be baptized by him. This shocks John to the point that he wanted to prevent him from being baptized. It is equally as shocking to those of us who know that Christian baptism, among other things, brings the forgiveness of sins. “Jesus was sinless!” we think. Why in the world would he need to be baptized? As I said, this isn’t Christian baptism we’re talking about. St. John Chrysostom points out that though the baptism of John was intended for repentance, and Jesus clearly had no need to repent of his sins, the Greek word in verse 11 that we translate “repentance” actually means transformation or turning.
And his baptism is a transformation indeed. At his baptism, Jesus chose to identify with sinful humanity in a real and tangible way. The Jordan River wasn’t clean and clear like the mountain streams and lakes that I grew up around in Colorado, it was muddy and dirty, and still is to this day as we heard Fr. Sean tell us a few weeks ago when he described his recent trip to the Holy Land. Jesus didn’t choose to stand on the side of the dirty river while the sinners John was baptizing got into the muddy water, he chose to get in with them. He chose to identify with them.
He did this to “fulfill all righteousness.” Unlike other places in the New Testament, the word “righteousness” here isn’t a legal or forensic term, but is about discipleship. John is to baptize Jesus as an act of submission and obedience to God, even though he thinks it’s an appalling idea. In so doing, John participates in this unfolding transformation of Jesus’s ministry and tangibly lives out the revealing of the coming of God’s kingdom, the kingdom of which he has been a herald and a forerunner.
And so Jesus is baptized. When he comes up out of the water, God opens up the heavens and reveals to all that Jesus is God’s Son. God anoints Jesus with the Spirit, recalling to mind God’s anointing of the Hebrew prophets of old. It’s not that God’s Spirit wasn’t upon Jesus in any way before his baptism; rather, God’s Spirit came upon him in a public, formal, ceremonial way to inaugurate his public ministry as the Messiah. 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.”
The location of his baptism is hugely important. Jesus isn’t baptized at a font like this one in Kansas City, nor at a hot tub in Gurdon, Arkansas, he is baptized in the Jordan River, a place where all sorts of miracles and important events had happened throughout the history of Israel. Arguably the most poignant moment in the Hebrew mind at the Jordan River was that of the Exodus. When the Hebrews were in exile in Egypt, God delivered them from hands of Pharaoh and they began their journey home to the Promised Land. Because of their stubbornness, they spent forty years in the wilderness. The crossing of the Jordan River was the final step of their journey, and once they got to the other side, the finally realized the freedom they had been promised so long ago.
Friends, today’s feast isn’t about our baptism, it’s about Jesus’s baptism. 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 hope that Christ will bring us safely out of this valley of tears to that heavenly country where, with all the saints, we may enter into the everlasting heritage of his sons and daughters. Amen.
 David Bartlett, and Barbara Brown. Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008, 239.
Votive Mass for the Ministry I
1 Corinthians 3:5-11
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Tuesday, January 7, 2020
Almighty God, the giver of all good gifts, who of thy divine providence hast appointed various orders in thy Church: Give thy grace, we humbly beseech thee, to all who are called to any office and ministry for thy people; and so fill them with the truth of thy doctrine and clothe them with holiness of life, that they may faithfully serve before thee, to the glory of thy great Name and for the benefit of thy holy Church; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Today, we are celebrating what the Prayer Book calls a Votive “for the Ministry.” Specifically, today’s Mass is being offered in prayer for those who are discerning a call to be ordained. We wear violet vestments for this service because historically, the service was only conducted on Ember Days which are three days within the same week four times during the year that are set aside for fasting and prayer. We can see the connection between fasting, prayer, and then ordination through the example the Apostles in the book of Acts, “Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off." For many centuries, ordinations were restricted to Ember Saturdays, and I think this reminds us that it is only through prayer and self-denial that we can even begin to hear God’s voice in our lives.
So too are we reminded today that those who are called to ordained ministry, in the words of St. Paul, are “God’s servants.” Some of us are called to plant, and some to water, but “neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” As we pray and practice the spiritual disciplines of self-denial like fasting, we become more and more aware that it is God who does this work in us and through us.
One of my favorite saints in the church is St. Gregory the Great who was Bishop of Rome in the 5th century. He is famous for laying the early foundations of Gregorian chant, and for sending St. Augustine of Canterbury to evangelize England. Gregory was the first pope to use the title “Servant of the Servants of God,” a title still used by the Pope today. I love the fact that we call he who is arguably the most important bishop in the world “Servant of the Servants of God” as it tangibly reminds us of the words of our Savior in Matthew 23: “The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” However, Gregory didn’t necessarily create this title for himself out of the purest of intentions. The Byzantine Emperor had just granted the title “Ecumenical Patriarch” to the Archbishop of Constantinople, implying universal supremacy over all the other bishops including the pope. This led to a series of letters between Gregory and various Eastern authorities in which he indicated that the Archbishop’s assumption of this title was “a clear indication that the age of the Antichrist was at hand.” It was then that Gregory began using the title “servant of the servants of God,” in contrast to Patriarch John IV’s narcissistic actions. Just as we occasionally have the pleasure of experiencing nasty church politics and clerical narcissism in our own age, Gregory was certainly not immune to the effects of power and prestige.
So I ask today that you join with me in praying for those who feel called to be ordained as a bishop, priest, or deacon – especially our own. Pray that they may set aside their own will, and seek God’s grace above all else. Pray that they may know that the call to serve God and the Church in this way is a call to be a servant. And pray that when they – and when those of us who are already ordained – fall under the influence of the power and prestige that comes with the collar, we may remember that even the most important among us is truly “the Servant of the Servants of God.”
Preached on the third anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood.
 BCP p. 929, #15. This the typical Ember Day Mass from the Prayer Book.
Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
5 January 2020
In today’s Gospel we read about the wise men from the East who visit Jesus and the Holy Family. We mark this event with the Feast of the Epiphany, the manifestation or showing forth of God to the Gentiles through Jesus Christ. God’s revelation to the non-Jewish wise men from the East means that Jesus came to redeem not just the Jews but all people. Jesus is Savior of the world.
One of the most popular hymns that we sing to celebrate the Epiphany is “We three Kings of Orient are.” We’ll be singing it soon today as our Post-Communion Hymn. I remember being very intrigued by this hymn when I was growing up. I’m going to date myself here, but there was a time when the term “Orient” was quite common. The term “Oriental” was not politically incorrect as it is today, and it was actually the term used to refer to people of Asian heritage like me. The term that we now use, of course, is “Asian-American.” So if we were to translate the title of this classic hymn into today’s politically correct English, it would be “We three Kings of Asia are.” What fascinated me about this hymn was the possibility that there might have been Asians or “Orientals” present at the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ in Bethlehem. And, in fact, in some visual depictions of the Three Kings or the Wise Men, there is usually one with distinctly Asian features, with the other two having African and white European features – a kind of United Nations in miniature.
Well, I was a bit disappointed to later learn that there was no Asian wise man. Neither was there an African or white European. According to historical scholarship the wise men were Middle Easterners, mostly likely Persians from the Parthian empire, which is present-day Iran. “Orient,” like “Asia,” is a pretty broad designation, and it refers to the Middle East as well as East Asia. I also learned a few other things. For one, the wise men weren’t kings; they were astrologers, trained in the study of the heavens and predictions of the future. And we don’t necessarily know that there were three of them. The passage from Matthew today simply refers to the “wise men from the East” and has no number or names. The Bible provides very little information on the wise men. But down through the centuries a rich tradition of legend and lore has developed around them in the Church.
A relatively recent, modern addition to the many layers of tradition about the wise men is a short novel written in the late nineteenth century by the Presbyterian minister Henry Van Dyke called The Story of the Other Wise Man. I remember being part of a Christmas pageant based on this story when I was little. Some of you may be familiar with the story, but for some reason we don’t seem to hear much about it these days. It’s a beautiful story, and I’d like to share with you the basic plot. In addition to the three wise men, there was a fourth wise man from Persia named Artaban. When he sees the Star signaling the birth of Jesus, he sells all his possessions and buys three precious jewels – a sapphire, a ruby, and a “pearl of great price” – to present to the new-born king. He arranges to rendezvous with the other three wise men to travel by caravan together.
But on his way, he comes across a dying man. Artaban cares for him, and the delay leads him to miss the appointed meeting with his colleagues. Not able to join the caravan, he is forced to sell one of the jewels, the sapphire, to buy his own camels and supplies for the journey. Artaban arrives in Bethlehem, but he comes too late. The Holy Family has fled to Egypt in the face of Herod’s persecution. But while in Bethlehem Artaban manages to save the life of a child from the slaughter by bribing one of the soldiers with the ruby. Artaban then travels to Egypt as well as many other places in search of Jesus but always one step behind, and during his journeys he performs other acts of charity. Finally, after 33 years of looking for Jesus, Artaban finally locates him, but again he is too late. Artaban finds Jesus nailed to a cross on Golgotha. While in Jerusalem, he uses his last jewel, the pearl, to ransom a young woman from being sold into slavery. Artaban, at the end of his life, is frustrated and disappointed that he has failed in his life mission to meet Jesus. But then a voice comes to him as he lies dying: “Truly I tell you, just as you did to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Jesus had been present with Artaban all along throughout his long journey.
When our Lord Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, there were very few people who were privileged to witness the event – some poor Jewish shepherds and a handful of Persian astrologers. But, like Artaban, the fourth wise man, we, the followers of Jesus, have endless opportunities to encounter Our Lord. When we help and serve those around us in need, we are encountering Jesus. And our ultimate encounter with Jesus occurs each time we come to the Altar for the Holy Eucharist. Jesus comes to us in the Eucharist, and we unite with His Presence through the Sacrament.
We usually focus on receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, but the Sacrament also involves the offering up of ourselves. And this is deeply embedded in the liturgy. The Offertory Sentence invites us to follow Jesus in giving of ourselves as an offering and sacrifice to God. And during the Offertory, we present our gifts at the Altar. We tend to think of our gifts mainly in terms of money, but in other parts of the world, Christians present various objects. In Haiti, for example, the worshipers present fruit, vegetables, and even live chickens during the Offertory. The Offertory is our opportunity to bring our gifts, just as the Wise Men brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh to Our Lord. But we possess a gift that far surpasses the value of the gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Like Artaban, the other wise man, we have the gift of our very selves to present to Our Lord and in service of those around us. I heard a sermon once in which the priest likened this offering of ourselves to having a gigantic alms basin and us climbing into it to be placed at the altar. I don’t think Fr. Charles or our Sacristy team would ever approve of such an inelegant gesture, but it gets the point across.
There is a lot we don’t know about the wise men from the East who visited and worshiped Jesus at his birth. But we do know that they began the powerful tradition of offering gifts to Our Lord, especially for this Season of Christmas. Dear friends, let us join the wise men from the East and bring to the Altar our gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But, above all, let us “offer and present unto [Our Lord,] our selves, our souls and bodies.” Amen.
 The main reason that the term “Oriental” became politically incorrect was the publication of Edward Said’s Orientalism (New York: Pantheon Books, 1978). In the book, Said explains the various ways in which the idea of the “Orient” is associated with Western imperialism.
 Henry Van Dyke, The Story of the Other Wise Man (CruGuru, 2008).
 Matthew 25:40.
 The Book of Common Prayer (New York: Church Publishing Incorporated, 1979), 342.
Feast of the Holy Name
The Rev'd Charles Everson, SCP
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
January 1, 2020
Today is a bit of an oddity in terms of liturgical celebrations. First and foremost, it’s the eighth day of Christmas. January 1st has been celebrated as the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ since at least several centuries before the Reformation, with the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus coming into being in the 15th century as a much lesser commemoration on January 2nd or January 3rd. Also, today, the Church has not forgotten our Blessed Mother as at a very early stage, the Church in Rome celebrated on January 1st a feast that it called the anniversary of the Mother of God. Today, it’s one of the few major feasts in the Western Church where no one seems to be able to agree on anything. The modern Romans call today the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, the traditionalist Romans and many of our Anglo-Catholic brethren focus on the Circumcision of Christ, and yet our prayer book has dropped the reference to circumcision altogether in favor of the Holy Name.
In the gospel of Luke, we hear this simple synopsis of what happened on this day: “After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” Today, Jesus was both circumcised and named.
It’s no surprise that those compiling the American prayer book in the 1970’s chose to focus on the naming of Jesus rather than his circumcision. For Americans tend to circumcise their sons at a much higher rate than any other majority Christian country, and yet, we hear from St. Paul that circumcision isn’t required to be a Christian. To give you an example, as of 2007, nearly 82% of American men were circumcised compared with only 3.8% of men in the United Kingdom, and 14% in France (the majority of whom are Muslim). Perhaps the compilers and editors of our Prayer Book were at least subconsciously making a point that circumcision is not a religious rite for Christians.
But it certainly is for the Jews. God established circumcision as a sign of his covenant with Abraham that would mark his descendants as different from the other peoples of the world. In Genesis, we hear, “Throughout your generations every male among you shall be circumcised when he is eight days old…So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant.” Mary and Joseph were observant Jews, and in keeping with this command from God, they circumcised Jesus on the eighth day of his birth. The literal cutting of the flesh in the rite of circumcision connects Jesus to the covenant people of his time and to his ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
But today is not only about flesh and blood. Our Lord was given the name “Jesus”, a Greek name that comes to from the Hebrew name that we normally translate as Joshua. It literally means, “The Lord saves.”  In Jesus’s physical body, our eternal salvation has come. In other words, in our gospel passage today, we see the roots of the deep creedal statements that took the Church centuries to develop: we see that God is fully human and fully divine.
The God of the universe became one of us in order to redeem us. Today marks the first time God’s blood was shed, foreshadowing the shedding of his blood at Calvary for the redemption of the world. The days of penitence and waiting during Advent are past. During Christmastide, and especially today, we needn’t focus on our sin, but on our redemption. When we feast at the altar in a few moments, we will see and taste bread and wine, but by the mighty power of the Holy Spirit, these elements will have become the body, soul, and divinity of the babe whose name we celebrate today. As we gratefully partake of these most holy gifts, may you and I come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.
 Genesis 17:12.
 F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 872.
First Sunday after Christmas
December 29, 2019
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
A Christmas Sermon by St. Leo the Great (d. 461)
Our Saviour, dearly-beloved, is born today: let us be glad. For there is no proper place for sadness when we are keeping the birthday of Life, which destroys the fear of mortality and brings to us the joy of promised eternity. No one is kept from sharing in this happiness. There is for all one common measure of joy, because as our Lord, the Destroyer of sin and death, finds no one free of blame so does He come to free us all. Let the saint exult in that he draws near to victory. Let the sinner be glad in that he is invited to pardon. Let the Gentile take courage in that he is called to life.
For the Son of God in the fulness of time, as the good and gracious Will of God determined, has taken for Himself human nature, thereby to reconcile us to our Creator: in order that the inventor of death, that is, the devil, might be conquered by means of that very nature which he had conquered. And in this conflict, which the Lord has undertaken for us, the fight is fought on great and wondrous principles of fairness; for the Almighty Lord engages the battle with His savage foe, not in His own majesty, but in our humility, opposing him with the same form and the same nature with which He shares our mortality, though He is free from all sin. For truly foreign to His Holy Nativity is that guilt and shame and sin which otherwise stains our human conception and birth.
Nothing therefore of the lust of the flesh has passed into His spotless and peerless Nativity; nothing of the law of sin has entered. A royal Virgin of the stem of David is chosen, to be impregnated with the sacred Seed of the Word, and to conceive the Divinely-human Offspring -in her ears first, in heart and mind, and also in body. And lest, in her ignorance of the heavenly counsel, she should tremble at such a great and mighty wonder, she learns from converse with the angel that what is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.
Nor does St. Mary believe it a loss of honour that she thus becomes the Mother of God. For why should she be in despair over the novelty of such conception, to whom the power of the most High has promised to effect it. Her faith is also confirmed by the demonstration of an earlier miracle, that barren Elizabeth has received unexpected fertility (in conceiving St. John the Baptist): so there may be no doubt, that He who has given conception to the barren, has also given it even to the Virgin.
Therefore the Word of God, Who is God Himself, the very Son of God, Who was “in the beginning with God,” through Whom “all things were made,” and “without” Whom “was nothing made,” with the purpose of delivering us from eternal death, became human. Lowering Himself to assume our humility, yet without decreasing in His own majesty, He remained Who and What He was, while He also assumed what He was not. So did He unite within Himself the true form of a slave to that form in which He is equal to God the Father, and He joined both natures together in such a way that the lower should not be swallowed up in its exaltation nor the higher impaired by its new association.
Thus, without destroying His Divinity, nor shattering our humanity (which He took for His own), these came together in one Person: majesty took on humility, strength weakness, eternity mortality.
And for the paying of the debt belonging to our sinful human condition, His impervious nature was united with our perishable nature; the one true God became truly human in the Person of our one Lord, the Son of God born of Mary; so that, as suited the needs of our case, one and the same Mediator between God and humans, the human Christ Jesus, could both die in our stead and raise us with Himself.
Rightly, therefore, did the birth of our Salvation impart no corruption to the Virgin’s purity, because the bearing of the Truth was the keeping of honour. Such then, beloved, was the Nativity that was fitting to the Power of God and the Wisdom of God, even Christ, whereby He might be one with us in humanity and surpass us in Godhead. For unless He were true God, He would not bring us a remedy: but unless He were truly human, He would not have been our Saviour.
Therefore the exulting angels’ song when the Lord was born is this, “Glory to God in the Highest,” and their message, “peace on earth to those of good will.” For they see that the heavenly Jerusalem is being built up out of all the nations of the world. And over that indescribable work of the Divine love, how ought we rejoice, when the joy of the lofty angels is so great?
Let us, therefore, dearly beloved, give thanks to God the Father, through His Son, in the Holy Spirit; Who “for His great mercy, wherewith He has loved us,” has had pity on us: and “when we were dead in our sins, He has quickened us together in Christ,” that we might be in Him a new creation and live a new life in Christ, in righteousness and purity before Him. Let us strip off the old self with its practices: and having obtained a share in the birth of Christ, let us renounce the works of the flesh.
Dear Christian, acknowledge your dignity in Christ, and, becoming a partner in His Divine nature, refuse to go back to vile baseness of your old, degenerate conduct. Remember the Head and the Body of which you are a member. Recall that you were rescued from the power of darkness and brought into God’s light and kingdom. By the Mystery of Holy Baptism, you were made the temple of the Holy Spirit: do not put such a guest to flight by continuing in sin, whereby you would subject yourself once more to the devil’s power:
Because your ransom money is the very Blood of Christ; because He shall judge you in truth, Who ransomed you in mercy; Who with the Father and the Holy Spirit reigns for ever and ever. Amen.
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!