St. Francis Day
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
October 9, 2021
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
This passage from the gospel of Matthew ends with one of the most beautiful statements our Lord ever made: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light”.
Just a few chapters before, in the very same discourse, Matthew recounts Jesus saying things like “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” And “I have come to set a man against his father, and daughter against her mother.” Sounds like two different people talking, but in both of these passages, Jesus is inviting us to a life of discipleship.
Discipleship means “to learn”, and thus disciples of Jesus are called to learn from Jesus how to live. As part of discipleship, we are called to be obedient to our Lord, but not in the way we typically think of obedience in which one person submits to another person because they have power over them and are afraid of them and are thus obedient. Rather, Christian obedience is to listen intently, and to respond, not only to those who have formal authority over us, but also to the voices of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. The call to discipleship is a call to radical obedience – a call to listen to the voice of God, wherever it may be found, and to respond. Unhesitating obedience to Christ often costs us dearly and can cause division in our families, in our friendships, and even in our parish.
To understand the sweet promise of “rest” we heard this morning, we have to start from the understanding that discipleship is hard work and can ultimately lead to division and strife that we don’t expect.
When Jesus says “Take my yoke and learn from me”, he’s using a word that has the same root as “disciple”, which means “learner.” This isn’t about learning new academic knowledge; Jesus is asking us to take up a way of life. A disciple loves the Lord with all of their heart, soul and body. Living this life of discipleship means we have to give up some things that we want, and instead put love of God and neighbor ahead of our own desires. But in doing so, we are given rest.
Throughout the New Testament, the Greek word “rest” can refer to Sabbath rest, the rest of death, or rest from war when Israel’s enemies have been subdued. More importantly, the idea of “rest” functions as an image of salvation, of what will be when the world is finally ordered according to God’s purposes and enjoys its full and complete Sabbath. In promising us “rest,” Jesus promises life under God’s reign in the new world that he is bringing. This is the “rest” we pray for when we pray “thy kingdom come” in the Lord’s Prayer – it’s not just a “rest” that will come when we get to heaven, but “rest” here and now. It’s the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down from heaven to earth. When God’s kingdom comes, we receive this “rest” from Jesus, and God’s space and ours are finally married and integrated at last.
What are we given rest from? Jesus says he will give rest to those who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens. The original crowds who heard this were suffering under religious oppression from the Pharisees on the one hand, and from the Roman imperial system in which the ruling elite secure wealth, status, and power at the expense of the everyday Joe on the other hand. He promises them rest from those things. But for all of us here today – what is it in our lives that makes us weary?
What heaven burdens are you bearing in your life?
Jesus is calling you to come to him. To take up his yoke upon you and learn from him. To be his disciple. But this call to be Jesus’s disciple isn’t a call to try to merely imitate some man who lived on earth 2,000 years ago and has left us. We are called to be his disciple by relying on the ongoing presence of Jesus in the world today. This ongoing presence is also included in what Jesus means by “rest.” This ongoing presence of Jesus manifests itself in the world through prayer, in silence and contemplation, through community and fellowship with fellow Christians, in recreational activities. More poignantly yet mysteriously, we receive this rest at the altar rail. In a moment, I will ask the Holy Spirit to set aside bread and wine to be for us the Body and Blood of Christ, the holy food and drink of new and unending life in him. And then we will come forward and receive the refreshing nourishment that he offers us in the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation. We will receive a rest more profound and more complete than we possibly could by putting up our feet after a long, exhausting day, or drinking a cold beer on a warm, summer afternoon. In the Eucharist, God’s heavenly kingdom breaks into our earthly world and nourishes us with the rest and refreshment that only Jesus can offer. Put another way, in the Eucharist, heaven kisses earth. And it is only after we are fed with this heavenly food and drink that we are sent out into the world so that we may “continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as he has prepared for us to walk in.”
St. Francis, whose feast we celebrate today, is best known for his love for animals and nature, but the very foundation of his faith was the Holy Eucharist. At the end of his life, St. Francis (ordained deacon but not priest) dictated a document that has remained a primary expression of his understanding of the Gospel. He says:
“…the Lord gave me, and gives me still, such faith in priests who live according to the rite of the holy Church because of their orders that, were they to persecute me, I would still want to have recourse to them…..And I act in this way because, in this world, I see nothing physically of the most high Son of God except His most holy Body and Blood which they receive and they alone administer to others. I want to have these most holy mysteries honored and venerated above all things and I want to reserve them in precious places.” (emphasis mine)
For Francis, the Eucharist is the primary way in which we see the ongoing presence of Jesus in the world today. His life was plagued by trial, illness, and great physical pain, and it was in the Body and Blood of Christ that he found rest.
Friends, I invite you this morning to bring your weariness and burdens to Jesus at this altar. To take up his yoke and learn from him. To live the life of a disciple, following our Lord throughout the ups and downs of life. Thankfully, we are not left to do this alone. Week after week, even day after day, we are invited to the altar to receive our Lord in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, receiving rest for our souls, and the grace we need to love and serve God and our neighbor. Amen.
 N. T. Wright, The Lord and His Prayer (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014), 24.
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
September 26, 2021
Today, we the apostle James tells us to pray – whether we’re suffering or cheerful, sick or sinful, prayer is the proper response of the people of God. This isn’t just a call for us as individuals to pray for one another, it’s a communal call for “the elders of the church” – the presbyters, or priests – to pray on behalf of the entire body of Christ.
James doesn’t stop with intangible, spiritual action like prayer. He calls sick Christians to ask the elders of the church to “pray over them” – a phrase that is linked elsewhere in the New Testament with the idea of the physical action of the “laying on of hands.” Likewise, the elders are to anoint the sick with oil, a practice that was quite common in most cultures in the 1st century Ancient Near East. To you and me, this passage seems to be saying that when we get sick, we should go to a priest, not a doctor. The priest will treat your sickness with prayer, the laying on of hands, and holy oil, and presuming the prayer is made in faith, the Lord will heal your body.
But that presumes an understanding of illness that you and I have – that scientific analysis alone is able to assess your state of health. St James tells us that prayer, anointing of the sick, and the laying on of hands will, in the words of one Biblical translator, “restore the weary,” which is substantially more than prescribing antibiotics can do. 
The restoration promised here is much more than physical healing, it’s a restoration of the whole person – body, mind, and spirit. This is why James links the healing of the body with the forgiveness of sins in verse 15. Physical illness, in the minds of those hearing this letter, wasn’t limited to the body. For the body and the spirit weren’t separated in the way our worldview seems to assume they are. Illness of the body and the soul – physical sickness and sin – were flip sides of the same coin. The restoration of the whole person promised here is nothing other than salvation.
And salvation flows from the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus Christ in the manger at Christmas. Christ became incarnate to save us, and the sacraments are the means by which God works out our salvation. God didn’t send a spirit into the world to save us, he sent his Son to be physically born of a human being. To become one of us. It was only in becoming one of us that he could redeem us. And this redemption – this restoration – isn’t merely a spiritual restoration, it’s a restoration of the whole person. Christ became incarnate to save our bodies, our minds, and our spirits – and the continual physical interaction with God through the Sacraments of the Church is the way God works out this salvation in our lives.
What are the Sacraments of the Church? According to the catechism, the “two great sacraments given by Christ to his Church are Holy Baptism and the Holy Eucharist.” But the catechism doesn’t stop there. It says other sacramental rites which evolved in the Church include confirmation, ordination, marriage, confession, and the anointing of the sick. Though the prayer book doesn’t say it this way, it’s safe to say that throughout history, in the East and the West, these are the seven rites that are generally agreed upon as the sacraments of the Church.
We’re quite used to the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist simple because it’s celebrated here at St. Mary’s every day, and perhaps less so, Holy Baptism, though most if not everyone here has been baptized. When was the last time a priest anointed you with oil? When is the last time you went to confession?
The apostle James not only lays the foundation for the sacrament of anointing of the sick in this passage, he also alludes to confession when he continues, “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” In my evangelical days, I understood this to simply mean that we should confess our sins to any other Christian, and that we should all pray for each other. But James says this in the context of the previous verses in which he calls church to call upon the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil. In the gospel of John, Jesus says to his apostles, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” That authority to forgive sins, and the authority to bind and loose Jesus gave his apostles in Matthew 16, has been passed down from bishop to bishop throughout the centuries, and ultimately to priests like me when the bishop laid his or her hands on our head. In The Episcopal Church, private confession is optional, not required as it is in the Roman Church. But just because it’s optional, and perhaps even foreign to your personal piety, it doesn’t make it any less powerful a means of grace for the average Christian.
Confession and anointing of the sick are by far the most underutilized sacraments of the church. Friends, I’m here to tell you, there is a lot of grace to be had in these two sacraments. All the baptized have access to the riches of God’s grace in these two sacraments, and yet very few take advantage of them. One of the reasons I’ve heard people say they don’t is practical: they aren’t publicly scheduled, and “I don’t want to bother you, Father. I know you have a busy schedule.”
Let’s clear that up right here and now. I’m busy, yes, but never too busy to administer the sacraments of the church. Beyond preaching God’s word, the main duty of the priest is to rightly and duly administer the sacraments of the church. If it’s an emergency, I’ll drop everything to bring the sacraments to you. If it can wait, sure, we’ll schedule a meeting at a convenient time for both of us, but administering the sacraments is not a burden to me. It is a joy.
And speaking of scheduling, we do have a regularly scheduled time for private confession: 5:00 on Wednesdays. It’s available by appointment too, but the church is open with a priest here at 5:00 on Wednesdays waiting to hear your confession, offer counsel, and grant absolution. And beginning this Wednesday, we will begin offering the anointing of the sick each week during the 6 p.m. Wednesday Mass.
Are any among you suffering? You should pray. Are any among you cheerful? You should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? Call me. I’m happy to pray over you and anoint you with oil in the name of the Lord. Are any of you stuck in a cycle of sin, or have committed a sin that is particularly weighty upon your conscience? Come on Wednesday evenings, or call me to make an appointment. If you prefer to go to confession with a different priest, that won’t hurt my feelings at all. I’m happy to connect you with another priest, either from St. Mary’s or from the wider diocese.
Friends, avail yourself of God’s unconditional love and grace in the sacraments of the Church. For in the sacraments, our salvation is literally fleshed out and we are restored to wholeness of body and mind and spirit. Restored and refreshed by God’s grace, we are given the strength we need to choose to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world and bring about restoration and wholeness to all of creation. Amen.
 David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B ed., vol. 4 (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 113.
 Andrew Davison, Why Sacraments? (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2013), 1.
 BCP 858-860.
 John 20:30
Proper 19, Year B
The Rev. Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
September 12, 2021
I’ve been reminded this week of the long history of our parish, and specifically, this building. We are under construction! From the flood in the parish hall and the upcoming construction to make things as they were, to the 41 bags of pigeon carcasses and droppings that have been removed from the tower, it has been a busy two weeks. The tower has been sealed up to prevent future avian infestations, all the organ pipes in the tower and many of them behind the reredos have been removed for refurbishment, over 100 years’ worth of redundant or failed organ equipment has been deposed of in the blue dumpster in the parking lot, the small organ has been hoisted into its permanent location in the northwest gallery, and the sanctuary lamp has been reinstalled in its place.
There is plenty of lore to go around at St. Mary’s, including the story of the origins of the sanctuary lamp the very same sanctuary lamp. It is said that this piece was part of Catherine of Aragon’s dowry given in exchange for her nuptials with a certain Henry VIII, and that it was brought to this land by Christopher Columbus on the Mayflower.
One of the stories more likely to be true that has become part of our history was told to me shortly after I arrived by Deacon Gerry, and you may have heard me tell this story before. Shortly after his ordination to the diaconate, he preached his first sermon from this very pulpit. After the service, he stood in the back to greet people, and an older woman walked up to him and said, quite firmly, “You can go straight to hell.” She continued, “Who are you to ask me to change? Who do you think you are? I don’t need to change, I’m fine just the way I am. Maybe you’re the one who needs to change.”
This woman may have been rude and unseemly, but I empathize with her. Many come to church to feel good, not to be told that they need to change. We humans surround ourselves with people who are positive and affirm the beliefs and attitudes that they affirm. I’ve often heard people say, “I stopped going to such-and-such church because I wasn’t getting anything out of the preacher’s sermons.” Or, when someone moves to a new city and starts looking for a church, they may say, “I am looking for a place that feeds my soul and makes me feel good.” In other words, “What’s in it for me?”
We often approach Jesus in this way too. There are cultural ideas about Jesus that we learn from movies and art and even verbally from our parents. If you were taught you that Jesus is always meek and mild and kind, it might be unsettling to hear him say what he said to his friend Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
When Jesus asked him, “Who do you say that I am,” Peter responded, “You are the Messiah.” Jesus was apparently fine with this response. But he proceeded to describe a very different Messiah than Peter had in mind. Peter, along with the bulk of first-century Jews, assumed the Messiah would be a monarch – a king who would come with great power and ultimately overthrow the Emperor, free the Israelites from Roman oppression and domination, and “make Israel great again” in the sight of the other nations. Jesus turns Peter’s preconceived ideas of what the Messiah will be upside down, and says that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering...and be killed.
This was so upsetting to Peter that he began to rebuke his Lord. For what Jesus said was scandalous. The gospel of Jesus Christ is in and of itself scandalous because it offers the startling and inexplicable claim that this person Jesus of Nazareth is both a real human being and God incarnate. But the specific scandal we heard about today is the claim that the Messiah must suffer humiliation, torture, and death rather than overthrow the government and wear royal robes. Jesus says, “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering…and be killed.” This is scandalous because it means that God experiences suffering and pain and even death, just like we do. This doesn’t fit with many of our notions about the Divine. The scandal doesn’t stop there. Jesus not only up-ends Peter and the other disciples’ notions about God and the Messiah, he tells them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
Taking up our cross means being willing to suffer the consequences for following Jesus faithfully, whatever those consequences might be. It means putting Jesus’ priorities and purposes ahead of our own comfort and security. It means daily struggling to reorient our entire value system to put the values and priorities of Jesus’s kingdom ahead of the values of this world. It means being willing to lose our lives by living for others -- using our time, resources, gifts, and energy so that others might experience God’s love made known in Jesus Christ.
This radical re-ordering of values and priorities doesn’t just happen the moment we’re baptized. It takes a conscious effort – an intentional putting on of our baptism – day in and day out, until the day we breathe our last breath. The woman who commented about Deacon Gerry’s sermon honestly didn’t grasp that in order to follow Jesus Christ, she would have to change.
It is only in losing our life that we save it. Following Christ means that we choose – day after day – to follow Jesus all the way to the cross with its suffering and shame. But just as Jesus’s story didn’t end with the Good Friday, neither does ours. Jesus rose victoriously over sin and death when he rose from the grave, and we too rise up from our baptism with the grace we need to resist temptation and to reorient our value system from the values of this world to the values of God’s kingdom.
Well, I’m not sure what I’m more likely to hear after the service. “Nice sermon, Father” or “You can go straight to hell.” Either way, the call to you and me this morning, to quote our closing hymn, is this: “Take up your cross, then, in his strength, and calmly every danger brave: it guides you to abundant life and leads to victory o’er the grave.” Amen.
 Verse 33.
 Verse 31.
 Much of this paragraph comes from David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B ed., vol. 4 (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 68-69.
 The Hymnal 1982, hymn 675.
Proper 18, Year B
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
James 2:1-14, 17
September 5, 2021
A few years ago, a young man came to our church for the first time. He was homeless for a number of reasons, and he found St. Mary’s to be a welcoming place, kept coming week after week. One time, he told me about an experience he had when visiting another church here in town. He told me that they required the homeless to sit in a designated area of the church. Yeah. They segregated the homeless people in church.
In the epistle lesson from the book of James, we see a hypothetical scene unfold in which a rich person and a poor person show up in the assembly of early Jewish Christians. The rich man comes into the assembly wearing two markers of status in that culture: The gold rings on his fingers are not only indicative of wealth, but that he’s in the upper echelons of Roman nobility. In contrast to this rich, important figure, the poor person wore filthy rags. One can imagine him smelling as if he hadn’t bathed in weeks, and living in a perpetual state of humiliation because he has no money, or social standing, or place to call home. The greeter in this early Christian assembly responded to the rich man by rolling out the red carpet and seating him in a prominent and important place, while the poor person was told to stand off to the side or to sit on the floor by the greeter’s feet.
The greeter made a distinction between the rich man and the poor man, a distinction that society continues to make in our day. The values represented by the rich man in this story – political and social status and wealth and outward beauty – these are the values of this world. The kingdom of heaven has an entirely different value system. The kingdom of heaven is the reality of existence brought about by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in which the poor have been chosen to be rich in faith – in which the last shall be first and the first shall be last. The most important in the kingdom of heaven are the worthless rags of earth. We experience this kingdom partially now, but the powers of this world are not yet vanquished. The distinctions made in this story between rich and poor represent the spiritual forces of evil we fight as we battle on for the advancement of God’s kingdo here on earth. As we use our weapons of kindness and tenderness and love to fight this battle, we fight the urge within ourselves to make distinctions. To show partiality. To play favorites. Our ultimate goal in this battle is to fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
When people ask me, “What is the congregation like at St. Mary’s,” I usually find myself talking about how diverse we are – from a socioeconomic perspective, sexual orientation, age, etc. It’s one of the things I love most about this place – that the distinctions that human beings usually use to build barriers are the very least less important in this community. But before we pat ourselves on the back too quickly, let us ask ourselves this question: what values of the world do we hold too dear? With whom do we play favorites? Where do we even give the appearance of making distinctions?
James’s challenge sounds so simple and cliché: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The word “love” here is agape in Greek, which means “divine love.” This kind of love is far above and beyond all other forms of love and is distinctive to Christianity. This divine love trumps conditional love and partiality. But in much of our lives, partiality appears to win the day over agape love. St. James reminds us today that we are called to resist the urge to play favorites and make distinctions: we are called to unconditionally love others just as Christ loved us.
Many in our congregation bear a certain level of privilege. I don’t just mean those who have plenty of money, but many in our congregation have family members who love them, a steady and meaningful job, a shelter to go home to, plenty of food, and so on. St. James’ point isn’t to make anyone feel guilty for the privilege that we have, for whatever reason. For as the writer of our lesson from Proverbs said, “The rich and the poor have this in common: the Lord is the maker of them all.” We are being reminded this morning that when we were baptized, we were buried with Christ in his death, and we began to share with Christ in his resurrection. In baptism, we signed on to the values of the kingdom of heaven, and committed to fulfill the royal law, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” – to unconditionally love everyone. And every time you walk through the doors of St. Mary’s, you’re at least given the opportunity to dip your fingers in the holy water stoop, make the sign of the cross, and put on your baptism once again. And in so doing, recommit yourself to joining in the spiritual battle with all of your fellow misfits here at St. Mary’s using the weapons of kindness, tenderness, truth, and love to build a parish – even a world – where there is no favoritism, distinction, or partiality.
Let us ask the Lord to open our eyes to the opportunities we have this week to love others unconditionally – without partiality, without distinction, without favoritism. And let us ask the Lord to show us how we can continue to break down man-made barriers and welcome all in Christ’s name here at St. Mary’s Church. Amen.
 Vs. 5.
 Vs. 8
 David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word. Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 40.
Proper 17, Year B
August 29, 2021
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
St. Mary’s is known, amongst other things, for its beautiful liturgies. If you’ve spent much time here, perhaps most poignantly back in the sacristy, you know that we are fussy about the tiniest liturgical nuance, including when we stand/sit/kneel, whether the server hands the priest things with the right hand or left hand, how to pronounce Latin words like aspergillum (the brush used to sprinkle Holy Water), to name a few. We know what the historic Anglo-Catholic ceremonial guides have to say about all of this and more, and we pride ourselves on following them to the best of our ability.
It’s easy to see ourselves as the Pharisees in today’s gospel lesson. They had gathered around Jesus who seems to be OK with not following the proper Jewish protocol for handwashing. Yes, there was a hygienic benefit to handwashing then just as there is now, but there was a profoundly religious reason for this protocol: in ancient Israel, as we know from the book of Exodus, priests were required to wash their hands ritually before serving in the Temple, and by Jesus’s day, this practice had become commonplace across Judaism (not just the priests). The Pharisees and scribes are scandalized as Jesus, despite his Jewish upbringing, seems perfectly fine with his disciples not keeping the ritual purity rules that had become the norm.
Jesus responds by quoting the prophet Isaiah, describing the way that God looks into the human heart. “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me…You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition”, Jesus quotes from Isaiah. In other words, the Pharisees and scribes are focused on the wrong thing. In focusing on human tradition and looking only at the outward appearance of things, they had failed to honor God, because it is what is in the human heart that matters to God.
Jesus didn’t throw out “human tradition” in its entirety, nor did he throw out specific commandments or ritual practices. I don’t think that Jesus would say that attention to ritual detail during our liturgy is unimportant or should be minimized. Rather, insisting on the ritual while overlooking the deeper truth behind it is like honoring God with our lips while our heart is far from him.
It’s easy to stop here and say that we understand what Jesus was saying, but then we miss out on his much harder message about hypocrisy. Hypocrisy refers to the disconnect between moral values and standards that we espouse and those that we actually practice in our behavior. Living hypocritically means that we try to fool others by taking on a role and pretending to be something that we are not. It is a denial of our authentic self in favor of the fabricated persona that we wish to be.
When Jesus accuses the Pharisees and scribes of being hypocrites, he’s not attacking them for pretending to be good when they were really evil. In fact, they were mostly good leaders. He’s saying that their self-righteous convictions about their own goodness had built an arrogant wall around them, isolating them from their fellow believers and making them deaf to any further word from God. Jesus wasn’t upset that the Pharisees observed ritual handwashing, and likewise, he’s not upset that we continue that same practice when the priest ritually washes his hands before celebrating the Eucharist. Believing that your righteousness in God’s eyes comes to you because you’ve followed the external ritual to the tee, and then judging others by how externally pious they are or aren’t – that’s what Jesus means by hypocrisy.
Jesus continues and tells the crowd that “there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” This isn’t a list of sins that Jesus wants us to avoid, though that may not be a bad thing to do, it's simply a description of the human condition. We aren’t great people, no matter how hard we try. It is only when we acknowledge the sinfulness within our own hearts and receive God’s mercy and forgiveness that we can live an authentic spiritual life, free of hypocrisy. Just as Jesus saw through the external piety of the Pharisees and scribes, God can see right through our fabricated personas and fake piety and sees the evil in our hearts. And he loves us anyway.
Using the words of the older confession, let us “acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness”. Let us stand before God acknowledging who we really are without pretense and receive his unconditional grace and mercy. And let us continue to approach the liturgy of the church with great reverence, not to appear pious before God and others, but rather as an outward and visible reflection of the inward and spiritual grace we have received in our hearts. Amen.
 David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word. Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 20.
 Mark 7:15, 21-23.
 Same Old Song podcast, Mockingbird Ministries.
 1979 BCP p. 331.
The Feast of St. Mary the Virgin
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
August 15, 2021
I’ve been singing in choir since I was 15 years old – first in school, then in church, then in college, and then again in church – and it is hard for me not to hear certain passages in the Bible and be reminded of choral music. “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulders.” As a priest, I probably shouldn’t admit this, but when I hear these words, I don’t think of the prophet Isaiah, my mind goes to the 12th movement of Handel’s Messiah.
In a similar way, when I hear the words we heard Mary sing in today’s gospel lesson, for just a moment, my mind thinks that the biblical author is quoting from Evening Prayer from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. Of course, it’s the reverse – the prayer book is quoting the Bible. The text we heard is actually a hymn – perhaps the earliest Christian hymn – and has become known by the first word in the Latin translation: Magnificat.
Right before this passage, the birth of Jesus was foretold by an angel, and Mary enters the scene. Luke describes her as a virgin engaged to be married to a man named Joseph who was from the royal house of David. An angel informs her that she will bear in her womb a child, which is rather confusing to her. She asks, “How can this be, as I am a virgin?” The angel says that the Holy Spirit will come upon her and make her pregnant by the power of the Most High God, and that her child will be holy, and called the “Son of God.”
What is Mary’s response when faced with this crazy and confusing pronouncement? She says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word.” When faced with the news of God becoming human and entering the world through her, Mary said “yes.” She said “yes.”
She then went to see her cousin, Elizabeth, in a neighboring town. Elizabeth was well past child rearing age – but, miraculously, she too was pregnant. Filled with the Holy Spirit, she says to Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” And Mary responds to these words by singing the hymn we now know as the Magnificat, the Song of Mary.
This hymn is born out of a ridiculous context. God proclaims the coming of the long-awaited Messiah not to government officials, or religious leaders, or other important people, but rather to two marginalized, unimportant, pregnant women – one young, poor, and unwed, the other far beyond the age to conceive. The content of Mary’s song is equally as absurd. The powerful on their thrones, and the proud, and the rich – these folks aren’t the ones extolled and lifted up. Instead, it’s the lowly, the humble, and the poor. Mary’s song gives voice to the implications of the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ: an ushering in of the kingdom of God, a kingdom where the first shall be last and the last shall be first. An upside-down kingdom where status isn’t measured by wealth and pride and fancy titles but by humility, tenderness, forgiveness, and unconditional love. Mary’s song announces that God’s kingdom is coming, and with it, an inbreaking of new values and priorities.
Mary recognized just how great an honor God was bestowing on her – that she would bear the Son of God in her own body – and said, “Surely all generations will call me blessed.” This has been borne out throughout history. The Blessed Virgin Mary is recognized as the greatest saint of all which can be seen in so many ways, one of which is the fact that Christians all the world over that pray the Daily Office sing her song daily at Evening Prayer. We have statues and icons and images all throughout our beloved church which is under the patronage of the Blessed Mother. The Church throughout the world recognizes Mary’s exalted status not because she was powerful or proud or rich, but because of her humility and lowliness. In the upside-down kingdom of God, the lowly are exalted, and in this case, the lowliest of all humans has been exalted to the highest place in the communion of saints. In the upside-down kingdom of God, Mary is Queen of Heaven because her son, Jesus Christ, is the king of Israel, and in Israel, the mother of the king was recognized as the Queen Mother.
Thus, she is often depicted with a royal crown on her head, as she is in the beautiful image on the front of the high altar. Likewise, in the new emblem on the floor of the choir [which you can see on the front of your bulletin], a crown is at the top sitting upon the Marian monogram that superimposes an A and an M which stands for auspice Maria: “under the protection of Mary.”
In the kingdom that Mary’s son is ushering in, those we marginalize, God glorifies. Think of the millions of refugees of the world fleeing the violence of their homelands. Look at the myriad of unhoused people in Kansas City. Ponder those who are disabled. Consider those who are oppressed and rejected for no other reason than for being who God created them to be.
As members of this beloved parish under the patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary, let us join in the song she leads. Let us join with her and her Son in praying and working for a world where there is no poverty, war, injustice or hate. Under the protection of Mary, let us join her in saying “yes” to her son Jesus. Let us extol the one who is higher than the cherubim and more glorious than the seraphim, for “…we never give more honor to Jesus than when we honor his Mother, and we honor her simply and solely to honor him all the more perfectly. We go to her only as a way leading to the goal we seek - Jesus, her Son." Amen.
 David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, vol. 9 (Louisville (Ky.): Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 95.
 Bishop Skip Adams, “Feast Day Reflection: St. Mary the Virgin,” The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, August 15, 2017, http://www.episcopalchurchsc.org/messages-from-bishop-adams/feast-day-reflection-st-mary-the-virgin.
 Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, True Devotion to Mary: With Preparation for Total Consecration (Charlotte, NC: Saint Benedict Press, 2010).
The Feast of Blessed James Stewart-Smith
August 11, 2021
Mr. David Wilcox
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
If you love me, feed my sheep. Jesus commands Peter in the reading we just heard from the Gospel according to St. John. It's a command that's echoed down the centuries to all those who have accepted God's call to be a pastor of his people. It is a command that was fully lived out in the life of Fr. James Stewart Smith, who we commemorate today for the first time.
Fr. Stewart-Smith was born in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1851. He attended the University of Virginia, where he obtained a doctorate in homeopathic medicine. Discerning a call to the ordained ministry, he trained for ordination at Seabury and Nashotah House seminaries. He was ordained a deacon in 1875 and a priest one year later in 1876. After ordination, he held several positions before accepting the call to be the priest in charge of St. Mary's, where he would spend the rest of his earthly life. After arriving in Kansas City in November of 1891, Fr. Stewart-Smith quickly settled in and got to work immediately. He was installed by the Bishop only two weeks later, taking up residence in the austere apartment above the parish hall.
His efforts to feed the sheep entrusted to his care included daily Mass even when no one was present, the institution of regular benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, and times for private confession. He oversaw St. Mary's mission congregation in the West Bottoms, bringing many souls to Christ, baptizing 30 people on one Sunday alone. In addition, he wrote several pamphlets to expound on the Catholic tradition of Anglicanism, among them a defense of prayers for the dead, an appeal to fast before communion, and a devotional prayer book for the people of the parish. His efforts to feed his flock didn't just focus on their spiritual needs. He also cared for their physical and material needs. He established a medical practice where he put his training as a doctor to use, treating all those who came to him free of charge. Fr. Stewart-Smith also extended the parish's works of mercy by establishing a mortuary chapel in the tower room where the city's destitute would be brought for Christian burial.
Unlike some of the other notable figures in the history of our parish who will remain unnamed, Fr. Stewart Smith was a quiet man who didn't leave behind many legends. What we do know about him is that he was a many of many talents. In addition to being a priest and a doctor, he was a skilled businessman and an amateur Ironworker; among his creations are the Lenten Altar Cross and the baptismal font cover. He found strength for the tasks at hand in quiet prayer before the Altar where he served. In the words of another priest, he was "always glad to be of any service; unwilling to compromise the Church or the Bishop and a fountain of knowledge yet so unwilling to display it." He was the balance wheel of the clergy, a support to the Bishop and the most overworked priest in the diocese, who was the embodiment of charity and loving-kindness.
In the words of a leading citizen of Kansas City, Fr. Stewart-Smith lived a life "that was a labor of love…walking among the lowly, the poor, the distressed and the fallen as a ministering spirit to relieve comfort and to lift up." His dying day showed that that was true as he passed to larger life just minutes after he finished counseling someone grieving the loss of their loved one. When he died, he left behind not legends but countless lives touched by the love of God that worked through him. Strong men and women who had been brought to God by his saintly life whose testimony speaks to us down the generations.
Tonight by remembering Fr. James Stewart Smith at this Altar where he served for 23 years, we exercise the particular privilege entrusted to us by the general convention. As the community that knew and loved him and discerned the special grace of Christ at work in him, we establish his commemoration and lift him up as an example of holy living and selfless service for others to follow. We ask him, who we trust is in heaven, to pray for this parish that he loved, for us, his spiritual children, and for all pastors. So that aided by his prayers, they may be just as faithful in their care and nurture of God's flock as he was enabling us all to grow ]into the full stature of Christ, which he achieved.
 L.A.C. Pitcathly, Tribute to Fr. Stewart Smith in the Kansas City Post August 12 1915.
 W.F. Kuhn, Tribute to Fr. Stewart Smith in in The Kansas City Free Masonry, August 21, 1915
The Feast of St. Laurence, August 10, 2021
Fr. Chas Marks
We remember today the holy martyr St. Laurence of Rome who died this day in the year 258 during the persecution of the Emperor Valerian. Laurence was born in what is today Spain. He was a holy young man who came under the tutelage of the future Bishop of the city of Rome, Sixtus II. When Sixtus was elected Pope, he ordained Laurence a deacon and though he was still quite young – in his early 20’s – Pope Sixtus put him in charge of the finances of the diocese and most importantly – he was charged with the care of the poor.
The persecution of Valerian began in August of 258. He ordered the death of all Christian bishops, priests, and deacons and the confiscation of the Church’s worldly goods. Pope Sixtus was martyred on the sixth of August along with some of the other clergy. Laurence, being the archdeacon of the diocese was told by the Roman prefect to gather up all the church’s treasures to be presented to the emperor. He was given three days to accomplish this task. Laurence – being the good deacon he was – distributed all of the church’s treasure to the poor of the city. When asked to turn over the treasures to the prefect – he instead presented to him the poor, the orphans, and the widows who were in his care and said – here – these are the treasures of the Church. He was executed the following day.
Pious legend says that because of his cheekiness, Laurence was not beheaded in the usual manner of executing a Roman citizen but rather experienced the slow death of being roasted alive on a gridiron. Legend also tells us that though it was a most painful death he continued to praise God. He is even said to have told the soldiers in charge of his execution – to turn him over for he was done on that side. As a result – he is among other things – the patron saint of comedians and chefs.
St. Laurence lived the Gospel that we have heard proclaimed today. He followed our Lord – as a servant to the Church – as a servant to the poor and those in need- all the way to his death. We are told that his holy death was an inspiration to many in the city and that many were converted to Christ by Laurence’s witness.
While each of us may not be called to a physical martyrdom – we too are called to die to ourselves daily – so that the life of our Risen Lord may shine through us. The 20th Century martyr Dietrich Bonhoffer said that when Christ calls a man – he bids him to come and die. Dying to self means giving ourselves over to following God’s will in our lives – truly loving God and our neighbors above all else. While this is not a painful martyr’s death – it is still not at all an easy task. It is in fact something that we must practice over and over again each day of our lives. Let us pray this day for God’s grace– so that we too may follow the way as servants of our Lord Jesus Christ with St. Laurence’s zeal.
In particular on this feast – let us give thanks for the order of Deacons in the Church and pray for all who are ordained to that ministry of service. Let us remember not only those who are ordained as vocational deacons – but all priests and bishops who also were first ordained to be icons of Christian service in this holy order. May God bless us and may the diaconal charism that is at the heart of all ordained ministry in the Church shine through all deacons, priests, and bishops in acts of care and concern for the poor and those in any sort of need.
Let us give thanks this day for the life and witness of St. Laurence. Amen.
August 8, 2021
1 Kings 19:4-8, Ephesians 4:25-5:2, John 6:35, 41-51
Mr. David Wilcox
"It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors." the prophet Elijah prays in this morning's reading from the first book of kings. It seems a bit dramatic on its own, but today's reading is part of a much longer story in which Elijah has struggled - often on his own - to keep the faith of Israel alive to call the people back to God and into living in the way God commands. Finally, in a miraculous display, he proves God's superiority and sovereignty over the false gods who have made their way to the heart of Israel into the royal house itself. It seems like the light has dawned on a new day for Israel, that things are looking up. Until those loyal to the false god seek Elijah's life. In fear, Elijah flees to the wilderness. He feels like he can take no more he prays for God to take his life. Elijah is overwhelmed, something I think we can all understand at this point after dealing with this pandemic for so long.
Last year around this time, Fr. Charles asked me to preach before I went off to seminary. We were about five months into the pandemic, it was the end of July, and I was tired. I was tired of bad news everywhere I looked, Covid, civil unrest, unemployment, the list went on and on. I was tired of death, violence, and feeling as if there was no hope, so I preached the sermon that I needed to hear because I knew if I needed to hear it, I wasn't the only one. I tried to encourage us all to hold on to hope. Hope in God's promises…hope that everything would get better. Yet five months has turned into eighteen, and I'm still tired. I'm tired, and it seems like the list of bad news has gotten longer, not shorter. This week will be a year since Deacon Gerry died. Covid numbers are once again on the rise, higher than they ever were last year. Hospitals are full again, people are still struggling to find work, can't afford to pay their rent, and face eviction at any moment, and those who have a duty to help just don't seem to care. Worst of all, despite the miracle vaccine, it looks as if things are likely to get worse again because people have just stopped caring. I'm finding it difficult to hold on to hope.
Along with my sheer and utter mental and emotional exhaustion, a whole other host of emotions has cropped up. I'm angry, sad, and disappointed. Like Elijah, I just don't know how much more I can take. An article that ran in this week's Kansas City Star asked readers to share their experiences now that Covid was once again surging across the country. It tells me that I'm not alone in my feelings because respondents described every emotion from sadness to fear, indifference to anger.
In the Church, we often don't know what to do with negative emotions. We know that as Christians, we are called to hope, but in our minds, somehow that often gets twisted into meaning we always have to be positive. So many of us here at St. Mary's come from traditions where you can share testimony about good things that are happening or about struggles that have been overcome. Yet, you can't talk about struggles that you're actively having. Because for some reason, it seems to mean we don't believe hard enough. I have been more open and honest today about my own struggles of late because if today's lessons teach us anything, it's that emotions are a part of being human. They teach us that it's okay to admit that the way we're called to walk isn't easy and that we struggle. Elijah had enough, and he wasn't afraid to admit it to himself or to God. In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul reminds us that it is okay to be angry. It's not a sin to be worn out or to feel those emotions we'd probably rather not. The sin comes when we become complacent in those emotions when we try to hide them away and feed them rather than trying to move through them.
When Elijah came to God, scared, exhausted, and upset, God did not scold Elijah. Instead, he understood and sheltered him with his presence and provided him with rest, refreshment, and strength for the journey that lay ahead. The story of Elijah and the broom tree reminds us that it's okay to be human, to feel the things we feel, and it's okay to be exhausted and at the point of giving up. That is a normal part of being alive, and it's a normal part of the journey of faith. The story of Elijah and the broom tree teaches us that when we find ourselves at the point of giving up, we are called and invited by God to withdraw here, under the shadow of another tree, the tree of the Cross. Here God offers us shelter to rest in quiet and in prayer. Here God invites us to be refreshed by his word and the solidarity of others and to be fed as the angel fed Elijah. Yet the bread God offers us is not ordinary bread, bread cooked on rocks which Elijah ate. Instead, God provides the bread of life we heard about in the Gospel reading this morning, the true and living bread that came down from heaven, Jesus Christ.
Whenever you're exhausted or hurting, sad, or angry when you reach your breaking point and feel like you can't go on -whether that's now or years from now- don't be afraid to feel those feelings. Be honest with yourself, with God, and with others. Then come, come to the shelter of the Cross. Come and rest here. Come because God calls you and invites you. Come because God understands and let him care for you, let him refresh you, and feed you with the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ given to us in the forms of bread and wine. Come because without this food and without this community, the journey will be too much for you.
.Proper 13, Year B
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15; John 6:24-35
August 1, 2021
In this story from the book of Exodus, the Israelites are out in the middle of the desert with nothing to eat. God had promised to provide for them, but they are hungry…so hungry that they wished they were back in Egypt. It is better to live in slavery with full stomachs than to die of starvation, right? The Israelites don’t have the courage to confront God directly and accuse him of betraying them, but instead grumble to their leaders Moses and Aaron.
I’m not sure about you, but were I faced with being in the desert with no food, especially after God had promised to provide for me, I would likely feel resentful toward God. God had set them free from the evil yoke of slavery they had been under in Egypt, but they were still far from trusting him. They thought God would let them die of starvation. Faced with this deep fear , they didn’t seem to remember God’s loving promise to Abraham and his descendants to bring them safely into the Promised Land.
Despite their resentful attitude, God responds not in anger, but by generously fulfilling his original promise. He immediately commits to satisfying their physical hunger by giving them meat in the evening and bread in the morning. The Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction.” Yes, God provided food to satisfy their physical hunger, but he does it in part to test their obedience and trust in his providence. This story is more about faith and trusting in God’s promise than it is about physical food.
Fast forward nearly 1,300 years to this scene from John’s gospel. As we heard last week, Jesus had just fed 5,000 people with five loves and a couple of fish, and he has literally walked on water to get to this scene. So the crowd’s first question is a bit strange: they ask him when he had arrived. Instead of answering their bizarre question, Jesus shows that he knows their true motive in seeking him out. He says, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” The crowd didn’t get the purpose of the loaves and the fish – they responded to that miracle by trying to kidnap him and make him king by force! Likewise, they don’t get it when he says to them, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”
Despite the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 – despite Jesus’ having walked on water – they still demand some greater miracle! They remind him that during the Exodus, God supplied their ancestors with daily bread from heaven, not only for one meal but for forty years. The crowd still doesn’t get it. They are looking for physical sustenance, like the manna God provided the Hebrews in the desert, to provide for their physical needs. They certainly didn’t expect to hear that God sent his son Jesus to provide the world with food that endures for eternal life.
The key to this passage is verse 29 when Jesus said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him who has sent me.” Believe! John never uses the Greek noun for faith but always its verbal form which is translated here “to believe.” Biblical scholar Raymond Brown defines its use in John as denoting an active commitment to a person, especially Jesus. Significantly, 74 out of 98 uses of this verb in John are in the first thirteen chapters where Jesus invites people to have continuing and active trust in him.
Jesus finally corrects the crowd’s misunderstanding. They demand, “Sir, give us this bread always.” What they demand is what they already have in the presence of Jesus: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty”.
Like the crowd, we too are far from trusting in God. No matter how many times God tells us, we still fall back into thinking that we can only receive God’s grace by working hard – by pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps. We often think that God loves good people and doesn’t love bad people, and since we often behave badly, God doesn’t love us. We often fear that God won’t provide for our physical or emotional needs. Like the ancient Israelites in the desert, we are far from trusting him.
When God reassured the Hebrews that he would indeed fulfil his promise to them, he told them only to take enough bread for that day. Later in Exodus chapter 16, we learn that despite Moses telling them to not “leave any of it over until morning,” not all of them listen, with some trying to store some of the bread until morning only to find the excess the next morning to be spoiled and foul.
Like the manna that fed the Hebrews in the desert, God’s grace cannot be stockpiled. We can’t build up reserves of grace to be used whenever we need it, but only receive it moment by moment as part the daily bread we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer.
The only way we can actively trust in God is to live in the present moment. We have no hold on the past – we can’t change the slightest bit of it. We often try to relive past events that we consider to be failures – “I should have done this, I should have done that” – but these imaginary scenarios are fantasies: it isn’t possible to change a thing that is past. Likewise, we have very little hold on the future. Despite all of our planning and foresight, everything can change in the blink of an eye. Who would have thought that we’d be in the situation we are in with COVID-19 in July 2021 with rising cases and a new mask mandate despite a nearly limitless supply of vaccine!?!? We can’t program our lives in advance, but can only receive it moment by moment. It is only in the present moment that we can actively trust God to provide for our every need.
Jesus said, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him who has sent me.” Dear friends, let us believe – let us actively trust our Lord, moment by moment, to provide for our every need. Let us ask God for our daily bread – for the grace we need in this moment, and when he provides it to us in the bread and wine at the communion rail, let us receive with joy and gladness this food that endures for eternal life. And let us recommit ourselves to trusting in him today and every day until we are brought at last to the Promised Land of heaven. Amen.
 John 6:26.
 John 6:14.
 John 6:27.
 https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-18-2/commentary-on-john-624-35-5, quoting Raymond Brown.
 John 6:35.
 Ex. 16:20
 Jacques Philippe, Interior Freedom, trans. Helena Scott (New York, NY: Scepter, 2007), 88.
 Most of this paragraph is from Philippe 81-82.
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!