The Last Sunday after Epiphany-Year A
Given at St. Mary’s Church, Kansas City Sunday February 23, 2020
Exodus 24:12-18, 2 Peter 1: 16-21, Matthew 17: 1-9
+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I love the liturgy! For those of you who know me that’s not a very surprising statement. I’m a liturgical nerd par excellence. I love everything about how the church worships. Why we do what we do, how it’s supposed to be done etc.… However, as much as I would love to stand up here and talk to you about liturgical minutiae this morning (something I am always happy to do) that’s not exactly what I mean when I say I love the liturgy. I was talking with a good friend this week who lost her grandmother a few years ago. They were very close, and after her grandmother’s death my friend got angry with God, as we often do when we’re dealing with grief and hadn't been back in church since, until this week when she had to go back for a funeral. As the funeral liturgy was playing out and they got to communion my friend told me that she had this experience of warmth and love that was incredibly tangible to her in that moment, in that time and space, she told me she felt as if Jesus was reaching out to her from the cross and embracing her and for the first time in two years she felt God’s presence and knew that he loved her.
That's what I love about the liturgy of the church, because when we gather for worship, God reaches out to us regardless of whether we're regular attenders, we've been away for a while, or this is our first time through the doors of a church. God is present, and when we celebrate the liturgy, time and space open up and fall away, heaven and earth collide, and when we remember an event we don't just call it to mind like the fond memories of our childhood but when we remember something liturgically it becomes present through the power of the Holy Spirit and we experience it here and now in an objective way through the Word of God proclaimed and preached and through the means of sacramental bread and wine. So today, as we hear the story of Jesus taking Peter, James and John up a high mountain, we don’t just remember a day, and an event, that happened over two thousand years ago in another part of the world. Instead Mt. Tabor becomes present and we join them in their ascent, and we are there standing beside them as they see Jesus transfigured in glory.
To fully understand the significance of the event we witness with them and to truly comprehend what it means to them, and to us, we have to go back a few days to the scene where Jesus asks the disciples “Who do people say the son of man is?” they give him answers they've heard in the crowd… “some say you're John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets. ” But Jesus wanted to know more than that…he wanted to know who the disciples said that he was and Peter in this very great moment entirely uncharacteristic clarity professed “you are the Messiah the son of the living God!”
It is with this proclamation of faith fresh in their minds that Jesus reveals to them his glory on the Holy Mountain. The glory of the living God, the glory that Moses sees prefigured in the cloud on Mount Sinai, the glory that reveals beyond a doubt and confirms who Jesus truly is. And so today with Peter we exclaim “Lord it is good for us to be here!” because, like Peter and the other disciples, we too, over these last days and weeks since Epiphany, have through our participation in the liturgy, been on a journey of revelation and realization. We heard of the wisemen’s visit and with them we worshiped the newborn king. We were there standing next to Mary and Joseph in the temple as Jesus was circumcised and fulfilled the law for us. We were there with Simeon and Anna as they rejoiced and glorified God for the salvation that was promised, the salvation they now held as a baby cradled in their arms. We were there on the banks of the Jordan River as John the Baptist professed that Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, and we watched as Jesus went down into the waters of chaos to identify with and take upon himself his fallen creation. We journeyed with Jesus as he went from town to town teaching and preaching in the synagogues, we saw him heal the sick and call people of all walks of life, including you and me, to follow him no matter the cost.
Today on the mountain we see Moses and Elijah speaking with Jesus, and we know from Luke's account of the transfiguration that they’re speaking of Jesus’ departure, or put rather more plainly, of his crucifixion. Moses and Elijah are there to bear witness to Jesus and to confirm for the chosen disciples, and for us that he is the one of whom all of the law and the prophets bore witness to. From this time on once they descend the mountain Jesus turns his face towards Jerusalem towards the cross, towards his departure from this life and from this world. He knows that Peter, James, and John aren’t expecting what’s about to happen and so he gives the transfiguration as a gift to these chosen disciples, so that the dark days of his passion and death will not make them lose all hope. Saint Leo the great in a sermon on the transfiguration From the 5th century gives voice to the reason for the transfiguration in this way , and I quote, “the reason for this great transfiguration was to remove the scandal of the cross from the hearts of his disciples and to prevent the humiliation of his voluntary suffering from disturbing the faith of those who had witnessed the surpassing glory that laid concealed…”  The disciples needed that reassurance because they didn’t know the end of the story, they didn’t yet know that Jesus would have to die on the cross, they didn’t yet know that Jesus’ death wouldn’t be the end of the story, or what amazing things God had in store for them. We on the other hand know the end of the story and we know that the cross is not the end of that story. We know that it's not something that Jesus was forced to do or something that wasn't planned but it was the way in which our God who loves us chose to reveal to us who he is and what he is like. We know that it is through Jesus’ death on the cross that we are freed from the sin and death which kept us captive and that it is through the suffering of the cross that Jesus takes on and sanctifies the fullness of our human experience. We know that the joy of the resurrection comes after the sorrow of the cross, and that in the end everything will be all right and that we have hope for a better world where pain, loneliness, fear and everything that troubles us in this life will be no more.
We know the end of the story, and yet year after year on this Sunday as we transition from Epiphany to Lent, as we arrive at the halfway point between Christmas and Easter the story of the transfiguration is placed before us to hear again, and experience anew, not because we need it to strengthen our faith but because it is, in the words of our opening hymn this morning, a vision of the glory that the church may share, and as we prepare to enter once more this holy season of penitence and self-denial, we are invited to journey up the mountain with Moses and spend forty days in the presence of God, we are invited to spend forty days face to face with Jesus in the desert, and to walk with him the long and lonely road to Calvary where on the cross we see the fullest revelation of who God is and what God is like. And walking with him to Calvary It is for us to “follow him with all speed, yearning for the heavenly vision that will give us a share in his radiance, renew our spiritual nature and transform us into his own likeness making us forever sharers in his own godhead and raising us to Heights as yet undreamed of.” 
This is the goal of our entire Christian life, not just in lent but every day. In Baptism we are called to enter into union with the Triune God, to be transfigured and to grow in God’s love and service. In the season of lent as we remember in a particular way our own sinfulness: both as individuals and as a society, and as we place before ourselves our need for a savior, and take up practices of self-denial and penitence it is the perfect time for us to “retire from the world, stand aloof from the earth, rise above the body, detach ourselves from creatures and turn to the creator.” We attempt to set aside those things which hold us back and make us afraid to behold God’s glory in doing so we are better able to encounter the glory of God revealed on the mountain to us today, we are better able to see Jesus and only Jesus, as Saint Matthew tells us the apostles did.
As we prepare to enter this holy season of lent let us keep the all that we have seen and heard these past weeks fresh in our memories and through our participation in the liturgy of the church…coming to this altar day after day and week after week… let us encounter again and again the glory of God revealed in Jesus Christ who gives himself to us in the forms of bread and wine. Through eating this heavenly feast let us be transfigured into his image and likeness and be brought into full and perfect union with him who is the very image of the invisible God, which we saw on Mt. Tabor. Let us descend from the mountain to the mundane and often boring realities of our day to day lives, boldly proclaiming with Peter that we have been eyewitnesses of his glory. And knowing the end of the story and the hope that is ours through the resurrection, let us share with all those around us the good news what God has done. Let us tell a broken and hurting world that the God of the Universe, the God of Glory became one of us and gave his life for us on that other holy mountain, and that he wants them too to come to know him…That he loves them and is reaching out from the cross to embrace them in a warm embrace, an embrace which sets everything aright if we allow ourselves to be transfigured.
 Leo the Great Sermon 51
 The Chapters of Anastasias, Abbot of St. Katherine’s: Letter 1
Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
16 February 2020
Today’s Gospel reading has some very strange sayings of Jesus: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away…If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away” (Matthew 5:29-30). We are obviously not supposed to take these commands literally. Otherwise, we would all be sitting here with missing eyes and hands. I am not aware of any of Jesus’ followers in the Bible or throughout Christian history who have actually torn out their eyes or cut off their hands as a consequence of sinning.
Jesus is employing a rhetorical device, hyperbole, making exaggerations for dramatic effect. He takes what appears to be a minor offense – lust or anger – and imposes an extreme, violent punishment – physical mutilation – out of all proportion with the offense. This seems absurd, almost comical. I’m not a big Monty Python fan, but it seems like something you would see in the kind of grotesque physical comedy of a Monty Python film – tearing out an eye, cutting off a hand – “it’s just a flesh wound.” So what is the point of the graphic hyperboles in Jesus’ teaching?
The context in which we find these sayings is the Sermon on the Mount, a collection of Jesus’ sayings that lay out his moral teachings. In today’s passage, Jesus takes two basic moral injunctions, namely the Sixth and Seventh of the Ten Commandments – You shall not murder and You shall not commit adultery, and he explains to his followers that it is not enough just to obey the commandments not to murder or commit adultery. Jesus declares that it is no less a sin to become angry or harbor lust: “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’…But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment…You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery”…But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery in his heart.” (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28). Jesus thus sets a higher moral and spiritual standard for his followers than what their society expects of them. He takes the old laws and intensifies and radicalizes them.
And this intensification and radicalization take place as Jesus points inward into our minds and hearts, exposing our deepest thoughts, feelings, and emotions. There is, in other words, a profound internalization of the law. For followers of Jesus, externally observing the laws through our actions is not enough. He expects complete inner control of our minds and hearts – in effect, moral and spiritual perfection.
I know there are several of you in our parish who are from Methodist backgrounds, and you may know that the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, developed a doctrine known as Christian perfection. He wrote a book, in fact, titled A Plain Account of Christian Perfection. I have to tread carefully here since I’m not an expert on Methodism, and we do have some experts on Methodism, like Fr. Larry Parrish, a former Methodist minister, and Mr. Isaac Petty, our Postulant for Holy Orders, who has been trained at Nazarene Theological Seminary, deeply rooted in the Wesleyan heritage. As I understand the doctrine, Wesley believed that it was possible that in spite of the shortcomings and limitations of our human condition, we could, through faith and love, attain a state in which we are free from sin. And, of course, there is Biblical basis for this. In the very next section of Matthew that follows today’s reading we find Jesus preaching: “Be perfect, there, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
In our Anglican tradition, we don’t often use the Wesleyan language of perfection. Instead, we prefer to use another word: “holiness.” Wesley talks about holiness as well. By the way, as many of you know, Wesley was an Anglican priest and remained so until his death, so there are clear Anglican influences on his theology and piety.
The word “holiness” is especially dear to us Anglo-Catholics. Some of you may have heard the old Anglo-Catholic slogan: the beauty of holiness and the holiness of beauty. Most interpret the phrase in terms of our glorious liturgy- the sense of holy mystery in our worship, but it applies more broadly to the Anglo-Catholic tradition. Holiness is, indeed, a way of life for us, and it takes on a particular, distinctive form in our tradition.
As you know, St. Mary’s has recently started to offer Daily Mass. We are the only Episcopal church in our diocese to do so. And I remember a few months back when we were discussing and planning this, Fr. Robert Hutcherson, our Rector Emeritus, sent the clergy team an email that eloquently captures the heart of what we do here at St. Mary’s and what gives us our identity. Fr. Hutcherson rejoiced how the Daily Mass will contribute to our catholic piety and discipline. That phrase “catholic piety and discipline” struck me, and I thought about the different ways in which we practice that here at St. Mary’s: Daily Mass, Private Confession, Marian Devotions, Saints’ Feast Days, Morning and Evening Prayer. Soon we will begin the Season of Lent, in which our spiritual discipline will become even more rigorous with fasting, abstinence, and almsgiving. Holiness is hard work. It requires intense spiritual training.
Yet, for most of us, no matter how hard we work, we will never attain the state of Christian perfection and holiness in which we will be free of all sin both in action and intention. Can you imagine a sustained mental and spiritual state that has banished forever anger, lust, envy, greed, or any of the vices that plague our daily existence? I certainly cannot. It seems superhuman. But as elusive as such a goal may seem, it is not beyond the realm of possibility. We believe that Jesus lived such a life. He is our model and inspiration for holiness, spiritual perfection. Moreover, we also hold special recognition for the saints, those exceptional individuals in the history of our faith who stand out as exemplars of holiness. For most of us, however, ordinary people that we are, such spiritual maturity and perfection will be difficult to attain in this life.
Dear sisters and brothers, you and I may not be on the path to sainthood, but we, too, are called by Our Lord Jesus Christ to live the life of holiness. Therefore, let us strive to shed ourselves of all the sins that keep us from God and from our neighbor. Reaching deep into our reservoir of faith and love, let us commit ourselves to good works and pure intentions. Let us create in our daily lives the beauty of holiness.
 The quote is from the film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (1975). King Arthur has sliced off both arms from the Dark Knight in a duel, but the latter insists: “It’s just a flesh wound.” My thanks to Mr. Isaac Petty for the reference.
 Amy Ogden, “Commentary on Matthew 5:21-37,” Working Preacher. https://workingpreacher.org/preaching-aspx?commentary_id=795.
Year A – Fifth Sunday of Epiphany
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
February 9, 2020
Last week, had Candlemas not been on a Sunday, we would have heard Our Lord give his disciples the Beatitudes. “Blessed are the poor in spirit! Blessed are the peacemakers! Blessed are the merciful! Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness!” It was with these words that Jesus began his longest continuous sermon that we are given in the New Testament, a sermon we know as the Sermon on the Mount. The reading we heard today about salt and light comes just after the Beatitudes, and we will continue hearing the Sermon on the Mount in our gospel readings until Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. Scholars believe that St. Matthew wrote his gospel around the year 80 AD, which not long after the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD. Judaism was in a state of upheaval, with socio-political and theological tension all around. The people of God were asking questions like, “Who are we? How are we to live in the midst of the political and religious turmoil in which we find ourselves?”
When I was in seminary, an older priest who had long retired gave a presentation one day. He was describing the difference between his years of seminary formation back in the 1950’s and our experience in 2014. It was in the 1950’s that the Episcopal Church experienced its peak in membership and relative pledge and plate income. The church’s attitude was, “If we build it, they will come.” Churches were built in residential neighborhoods all across the country, and the doors were opened, and people came. Attendance was great, the Church was held in high esteem by society at large, and there were abundant financial resources. You should have seen our jaws drop when the priest told us that his diocese provided a car for each seminarian. Needless to say, that’s not at all how things are today.
In 1965, The Episcopal Church had 3.6MM members. In 2018, that number was a little over 1.8MM. In 1965, nearly all active priests in our church served in in a full-time, paid capacity; in 2017, 40% of active priests were either part-time or non-stipendiary. Even outside of these walls, the Episcopal Church had an important position within American society. Christianity in general was respected, and the church’s voice carried weight in the world. Today, we are often ridiculed by the media and those around us and many no longer see the relevance of the message of Jesus Christ. In 1965, the differences between Republican and Democrat were fairly minor, and most Americans respected government officials, even those from the other side of the aisle. If you’ve turned on the TV anytime during the past 5 years, you know that the nature of our political discourse is less than healthy.
Who are we? And how are we to live in the midst of the political and religious turmoil in which we find ourselves?
Jesus tells his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth.” Salt of course seasons food, and in the Old Testament, it is also linked with the ideas of sacrifice and of being in a covenant relationship with God. As disciples of Jesus, we are called to bring flavor to the world around us, living in a sacrificial way that embodies our covenant relationship with the living God. In other words, we are called to live out the standards given to us in the Beatitudes. The Church loses its saltiness when it ceases to live out these principles. We lose our saltiness when we refuse to stand up for the meek and those who mourn. When we stop seeking peace and when we refuse to stand up for those who are persecuted. When we stop showing mercy to those on the fringes of our society. The result is that the salt “is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot.” The salt loses its flavor and no longer exemplifies the sacrificial way of living we are called to live.
Next, Jesus says, “You are the light of the world.” I remember an ice storm when I was a child that resulted in the loss of power for several days. My mother lit candles around the house so that we could read and play board games. I remember being in awe at how just one candle could provide light for an entire room. In Jesus’s time, many of the homes had only one room, and one single candle would “give light to all in the house.” In the previous chapter, Matthew connects the image of light with Jesus’s mission in the darkness and death of a Palestine ruled by an oppressive, imperial power. In this passage, Jesus calls us to let our light shine before others, so that they may see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven. That is, we are called as disciples of Jesus to live in such a way that this light shines brightly and provides warmth and clarity to all of those around us.
I have to admit…when the old priest told us seminarians about the state of the church in the 1950’s, I struggled with a bit of jealousy. Things then seemed healthy and positive, and things now can seem sickly and without hope. The Episcopal Church, and even St. Mary’s doesn’t have the people or the money or the political power that we once had. Living out the principles of the Beatitudes is often met with disdain by non-churched folks around us, and we are living in a time of extreme turbulence and division in our society.
Who are we? How are we to live in the midst of the political and religious turmoil in which we find ourselves?
Friends, today, just as it was 2,000 years ago, salt continues to be flavorful and tasty. A candle continues to provide light and warmth in a dark room. God has brought us into relationship with him and with each other through our baptism, and Jesus continues to call us to live out the kingdom principles we he taught us in the Beatitudes. We are called to stand up for the poor and the weak. We are called to give hope to those who have none, to comfort those who mourn. We are called to love not only those whom we want to love, but also to love our enemies. We are called to extend God’s mercy to those who are marginalized in our society – the widow, the orphan, the undocumented immigrant, the oppressed, the prisoner, the persecuted.
In the midst of religious and political turmoil, you and I have an opportunity to share with the world that there is more to believe in than just ourselves. We have such a beautiful opportunity to be the salt of the earth! To be the light of the world! And thanks be to God, we don’t have to do it alone! Look around you and see the beautiful, holy, flawed, strong faces of those in the pew next to you. We get to do this together as a parish community. By the power of the Holy Spirit, little ol’ St. Mary’s Church in downtown Kansas City is bucking the trends of decline and institutional illness in the wider diocese and Episcopal Church. We are not shrinking, we are growing! God is raising up men and women among us for ordained ministry – almost so many now I lose count. New ministries are forming that focus on bringing the saltiness of God’s justice to the people who need it most in Kansas City.
Being the salt of the earth and the light of the world requires more saying a prayer for the person you met last Sunday who sleeps on the streets, or posting how disgusted you are with the latest political happenings on social media. It requires that we practice what we preach and live sacrificially. It requires that the Church be in authentic relationship with the world around us, offering people a Way to live that is unlike any other way: A Way that is the perfect self-giving and self-emptying of the Cross.
Who are we? We are the salt of the earth! We are the light of the world! How are we to live in the midst of the turmoil in which we find ourselves? We are to live sacrificially, giving of ourselves and emptying ourselves just as Jesus did with his very life on the Cross at Calvary. We are to let our light shine before others, so that they may see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven. Amen.
 Michael David Coogan, ed., The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version: With the Apocrypha: An Ecumenical Study Bible (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 1752.
 http://www.episcopalchurch.org/files/full-time_and_part-time_status_of_priests_by_domestic_diocese_2015.pdf. These numbers do not include retired priests, or supply priests.
 Warren Carter, Matthew and the Margins: A Sociopolitical and Religious Reading (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2000), 138.
 Much of this paragraph came from a Facebook post written by a friend and colleague, Fr. Keith Voets, on 2.8.2020, very likely from his sermon from today..
Feast of the Presentation
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
The Rev’d Charles Everson
February 2, 2020
Today marks the end of the 40 days of the Christmas cycle. Just like Lent is 40 days long, so is Christmas. It is only every seven years or so that today’s feast falls on a Sunday, so we are taking advantage of the opportunity. Now I’ve heard a rumor today might be considered a special day for another reason…perhaps because of some event that is happening this evening. Your minds might be on the big baseball game that’s about to happen – perhaps you’re planning a party or figuring out which sports bar is the best place from which to watch. All I ask is that you give me just a few minutes of your mental and spiritual time, and I promise, you’ll be out of church at least a few minutes before the game begins.
Today, on this last day of the Christmas cycle, we remember when Mary and Joseph took the child Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem. The requirement in Levitical law was for Mary to be “ritually cleansed” forty days following the birth of a male child. Until that day, she could touch no holy thing nor enter the sanctuary in the Temple. This purification ritual made it into the early prayer books in our own tradition in the ceremony called “the churching of women.” We continue to celebrate this rite in our church today, though with a less flashy name. In the current prayer book, it’s called “A Thanksgiving for the Birth or Adoption of a Child” and in it there is no hint of the ritual impurity of women. The Candlemas blessing and procession we just experienced has its roots in the churching of women. Instead of purifying something that is ritually unclean, the rite celebrates the old man Simeon’s response upon seeing the holy family. Simeon praised God and acclaimed the infant as “the light to enlighten the nations.” This image of Christ as the light has led to the celebration of light countering darkness, with candles taking a central place in the observance of today’s feast.
Friends, today is about light. Light that expels the dark shadows of evil in the world. Jesus Christ is this light. As St. John says in the prologue to his gospel, he is “the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” Each candle that we see today, and each candle that was blessed today and will be used throughout the year symbolizes his light. The physical candles end up being extinguished and even burned down to a stub. But you and I are called to shine this light brightly in both word and in deed. As St. Luke says in chapter 11 of his gospel, “No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar, but on the lampstand so that those who enter may see the light.”
How can we speak this light to our friends and family through our words? What words of encouragement and love might we say to those who need to hear it? How can we shine Christ’s light brightly in our actions this day, tomorrow, and throughout our lives? What might we do in service and love to our neighbor to make the brilliance of his eternal light known to them?
I leave you with these words preached by St. Sophronius, bishop and patriarch of Jerusalem in the seventh century, at Candlemas:
“Our lighted candles are a sign of the divine splendor of the one who comes to expel the dark shadows of evil and to make the whole universe radiant with the brilliance of his eternal light. Our candles also show how bright our souls should be when we go to meet Christ. The Mother of God, the most pure Virgin, carried the true light in her arms and brought him to those who lay in darkness. We too should carry a light for all to see and reflect the radiance of the true light as we hasten to meet him. The light has come and has shone upon a world enveloped in shadows; the Dayspring from on high has visited us and given light to those who lived in darkness. This, then, is our feast, and we join in procession with lighted candles to reveal the light that has shone upon us and the glory that is yet to come to us through him. So let us hasten all together to meet our God. The true light has come, the light that enlightens every man who is born into this world. Let all of us, my friends, be enlightened and made radiant by this light. Let all of us share in its splendor, and be so filled with it that no one remains in the darkness. Let us be shining ourselves as we go together to meet and to receive with the aged Symeon the light whose brilliance is eternal.”
 Robert Atwell and Christopher L. Webber, comps., Celebrating the Saints: Devotional Readings Saints' Days (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Pub., 2001), 50.
 John 1:9, King James Version
 Luke 11:33, NRSV.
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!