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 Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
December 24, 2019
Good evening, and Merry Christmas to you. What a joy it is to celebrate this great feast with all of you here in this stunningly gorgeous space. Yesterday, as the elves were getting everything ready around here for Christmas, I became entranced with the crèche over here on the Annunciation Chapel altar. From the intricate figures of Mary and Joseph and the angels to the beauty of the candles and greenery – it’s a heavenly scene almost too much to take in. You must stop by and get a closer look after the service. As I was gazing upon the little bitty Christ child, I started envisioning the scene that St. Luke described to us in chapter two of his gospel .
The story begins with Mary and Joseph traveling to their hometown of Bethlehem in order to be counted in the census. This wasn’t a voluntary thing – Palestine was occupied by the Romans at this point, and the Emperor issued a decree that a census should be taken. During this particular census under Governor Quirinius (Kw-ihr-inius, we know that group of Jews rebelled against the Empire and were struck back by the imperial army. The Prince of Peace didn’t come with a sword to bring about the liberation of God’s people, he came as a weak and helpless babe. Mary gave birth to the child and laid him in a manger. A manager is a long open box that is used to hold food for cattle and horses. Luke tells us that she laid him in a manger because there was no place for them at the inn. I’m not sure about you, but I’ve always had a hard time not thinking of the inn as a Homewood Suites by Hilton or even a Motel 6. But the Greek word “inn” is only used one other time in the New Testament during the story of the Last Supper and is translated there “upper room.” In first century Palestine, most of the homes were two story, with the people sleeping upstairs and the animals downstairs. Because of this census, it is likely that there were other sojourners who had arrived earlier than Mary and Joseph and were taking up any guest rooms that may have been upstairs, leaving only the downstairs with the animals for them, and yet the owners of the home did not turn them away.
And yet, nativity scenes are typically in a barn or out under the open stars. The more and more I stared at the beauty of this creche and thought through the story of what actually happened, the more apparent it became that the scene wasn’t as pristine and heavenly and glorious as the scene before my eyes. Jesus was born during a time of intense political and societal unrest amidst the filthiness of cows and goats and sheep. The long-expected Messiah came into a world filled with fear and oppression and sin, much like our world today. God came into the world in the midst of human sin and suffering and met the Hebrew people where they were.
After Jesus’s birth, the angels appeared to bring the good news of great joy of the birth of the Messiah, not to the important people of the day – not to the Emperor, not to Governor Quirinius, not to the Jewish religious leaders – but to the lowly shepherds. Shepherds at that time were at the bottom of the social ladder. They were seen as poor and dishonest people who grazed their flocks on other people’s lands. An example of this in our society might be a loan shark or a convicted felon. These shifty characters who probably didn’t smell so great from living out in the pastures believed the angel and immediately went to Bethlehem to see the child in the manger…the child who came to bring peace to all men and women, but especially to the poor and lowly.
At this point, I asked myself, “why in the world do we clean up these nativity scenes and make them look so beautiful? Why is it that we feel the need to take something so earthy and dirty and unkempt and artificially make it look so heavenly?”
The story we heard tonight was from the second chapter of Luke’s gospel. The first chapter began with an announcement by an angel of the birth of John the Baptist in the place established to house the presence of God…the Temple. The angelic announcement of the birth of Christ that immediately follows was not in “God’s house” but in the fields. The contrast between the two couldn’t be more striking. God came into the world as a human child not in the Jewish equivalent of a place like St. Mary’s Church, but in the midst of the poor and lowly in their everyday lives.
Friends, this is good news of great joy indeed, not only to the shepherds watching in their fields by night, but to all of us gathered here. Note that almost all the Christmas hymns we sing speak of Jesus’s birth in the present tense, not the past tense. “Come and behold him, born the king of angels” not ages ago, but now. Like he did with the shepherds, the God of the universe stoops down and meets you and me where we are in life. God loves even – no especially – those whom our society ostracize and exclude so much that he gave his only Son so rescue us from evil and sin and death. And yet, as Paul says in the second chapter of his letter to Titus, “we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” The birth of the babe begins the process of the redemption of the world, and we rightly rejoice tonight. But we know all too well that this old world is still deeply wounded, and sin and suffering and abound. But with the grace we receive from Our Lord in our baptism and in Holy Communion gives us the strength we need to believe that he truly will lift us out of the mire day in and day out.
As I continued to gaze upon the heavenly nativity scene, I was filled with hope anew. Hope that what was promised to you and me in our baptism will be fulfilled one day. Hope that God can take even the likes of me and make me whole. Hope that God loves you and me so much that he makes us glorious and heavenly and beautiful much like we do with our nativity scenes.
Friends, let us join with the shepherds and go with haste to Bethlehem to greet our Savior with joy, and let us be filled anew with the hope that the God who came to live among us will make all things new in our hearts each and every day.
 See Acts chapter 5.
 Sermon Brainwave: https://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx
 Keck, Leander E., ed. The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary. Vol. 8. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015, 49.
Advent VI, Year A – Matthew 1:18-25
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
December 22, 2019
Growing up, my sister and I were very close to all of our grandparents, but I was particularly close to my paternal grandfather Charles Everson. My granddad was an interesting character with interesting hobbies like flying airplanes and repairing old clocks, but one of the things I’ll always remember about him was fascination with our family history. Over the years, he traveled around the upper Midwest and Back East going from library to cemetery to county courthouse looking for clues that would lead him further back in time in our lineage. Ultimately, he was able to trace both the Everson line and that of his maternal grandfather to the late 1700’s on this side of the pond, but he ended with problem: he couldn’t figure out where we came from in Europe.
Matthew’s gospel begins just before the passage we heard this morning with the long genealogy of Jesus, and it too ended with a problem. The purpose of the listing of his genealogy was to show that Jesus, the Messiah, was the son of David, and as it lists “Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah,” and so on, we expect to hear, “Joseph was the father of Jesus.” Instead, we hear, “Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born.” This is this problem that St. Matthew is working out in verses 18-25 that we heard today.
Joseph was engaged to be married to Mary at this point, but they were not yet living together. Inn their day, engagement meant that they were legally married, but didn’t yet live together or have marital relations. Thus, Mary being pregnant meant that not only had she been unfaithful to her betrothed, but that she had legally committed adultery. Or at least so Joseph thought. If she had committed adultery, Joseph was legally obliged to divorce her. But being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, he planned to dismiss her quietly. Just as he had decided to do this, an angel visited him in a dream and explained that Mary was pregnant not by another man, but by the Holy Spirit. The angel addressed Joseph as “son of David,” reminding us of the lineage problem going on. The angel continues by instructing him to name the boy Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. We don’t hear it in our context, but there’s a play on words going on here that only the Greek speaking Jews would have caught. Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua which comes from the verb “to rescue” or “to deliver.” All of this was to fulfill the prophecy that we heard from the prophet Isaiah: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel” which means “God is with us.” It isn’t until the very end of the story that we hear of the actual birth of Jesus in the most back handed way. “But [he] had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son.” That’s it. The genealogical problem that Matthew is trying to work out is finally solved in the very last phrase of this passage: “and he named him Jesus.” By naming the child, Joseph acknowledges him as his son; in effect, Joseph adopts Jesus, and thus incorporates him legally into David’s line.
It is odd to hear a story of Jesus’s birth during the season of Advent! But this passage works because it isn’t really about Jesus’s birth. Matthew is much less interested in the story of the actual birth than he is in the identity of the one being born. The babe that is to be born is the one the prophets spoke of so long ago. He is the son of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; he is the son of David, Solomon, Uzziah, Amos, and Zerubbabel; he is the son of Joseph and Mary. He is the promised one who will redeem Israel from all its distress and iniquity. He is the one who will finally lead them out of exile into the Promised Land for all of eternity. His name will be Jesus as he will save his people from their sins.
Now there are many in our world today who think that humanity doesn’t need a Savior. There are many who think that sin is an antiquated notion from the Middle Ages used by the Church to control people by fear and intimidation. But really, all one has to do is look at the public sins of the clergy who, in essence if not in fact, control the Church to know that humanity needs a Savior. Beyond public sins, most of the scandal in the lives of the clergy happen inside where no one but God can see, just like you.
God could have chosen to come into the world in a multitude of ways – perhaps using a 24th century transporter from Star Trek. But he didn’t. He chose to come into this world in a most scandalous way: he made a teenage girl from an unimportant village who was barely married pregnant by supernatural means. But thanks be to God, the scandal of the Incarnation meets us in the scandal of our lives today. We so often think that our own sinful lives, whether it’s out in the open like you see on Judge Judy or, more often, eating away at our insides and making us feel like we’re going to rot from within…we often think that a holy God would want nothing to do with us. Thanks be to God: the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the God of David; the God of Joseph and Mary chose to become human in the person of Jesus Christ to rescue us from the mire we’re in.
I remember my grandfather telling me of various scandals he’d discovered in his research of our family history, some of which were quite salacious and even juicy. I also remember learning of various scandals in our own more immediate family over the years, some of which are quite painful and difficult to think about. But closer to home, I am very aware of my own sinfulness and need of a Savior.
Friends, this Messiah that had been promised to rescue Israel from exile is the same Savior we’ve been waiting for during Advent. He will come very soon to rescue us from our sin, and at the last day, he will come again to redeem this old world he created that has been so deeply and totally upended by human sin. Soon, our waiting will be over. Soon, we will see our salvation. Come, Lord Jesus!
 David Bartlett, and Barbara Brown. Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008, 95.
Advent III, Year A – Isaiah 35:1-10
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
December 15, 2019
If you haven’t figured it out by now, at St. Mary’s, we are very intentional about observing the seasonal traditions of the church. For example, during Advent, we wear violet vestments and put up an Advent wreath. Most Episcopalians and other liturgical churches do all of that. But in typical St. Mary’s fashion, we lean into even the obscure customs that may have died out in many corners of the church. You may have noticed that Fr. Bob is wearing a chasuble that is a rather unique color. On the third Sunday of Advent, along with the fourth Sunday of Lent, the Church gives us a bit of reprieve from the penitential and self-reflective themes of the season and bids us to “Rejoice!” The color of the day is rose, or pink, rather than penitential violet, and we get to dust off the old pink chasuble that is faded and almost falling apart. Another tradition that has all but died out is the practice of preaching on the “four last things” on the four Sundays in Advent: death, judgment, heaven, and hell. These themes may seem odd in the weeks preceding Christmas, but the old topic for Advent III seemed like a natural fit for our first reading from the book of Isaiah.
At the time of this prophesy, the Hebrew people were in exile in Babylon and living as slaves to evil foreign overlords. They were desperate to be rescued and to finally go home. All hope was lost; families had been destroyed; pain and suffering abounded. Isaiah had a vision of a place where waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert. Weak hands are strengthened, and feeble knees made firm. What he sees is a reversal of everything that’s wrong with creation. For the curse in Genesis chapter three because of human sin extends not only to humanity, but to all of creation. He sees a world in which the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. The passage culminates in the homecoming of the Hebrew people via a highway called the Holy Way. This highway didn’t lead to Mount Sinai like the first Hebrew Exodus from Egypt; this highway led to Mount Zion, an important distinction for Isaiah, with Mount Sinai representing life under the Law and Mount Zion representing Jerusalem. The ransomed of the Lord shall enter Zion with singing, and obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. The heart of this prophetic vision is verse 4: “Say to the fearful of heart, “Be strong, do not fear!” Look, your God in vengeance shall come, God’s retribution shall come and rescue you.”
The text says that the unclean shall not travel on this highway, but Isaiah isn’t saying, “Clean up your act so that you are pure and clean and can properly travel on the Holy Way.” This prophetic vision is about God’s action in the world, not ours. The message is this: in the midst of your pain and suffering, despite your being away from home against your will, there is hope! God will come and rescue you and bring you home, but your home will not be as you remembered it. All will be right as it was before the sin of Adam and Even in the garden. The blind will see, the speechless sing, the lame will leap, waters will break forth in the desert. You will obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
Friends, this promise given to the Hebrew people so long ago is a promise given to us today. Jay and I usually listen to NPR in the morning as we’re getting ready for work, but the other day, Jay said to me, “Can we please change our routine and listen to something else? I’m really tired of setting the tone for the day with such awfulness and anxiousness.” Many of you are suffering from physical or mental maladies, have trouble paying the bills, or are dreading another lonely Christmas separated from your loved ones either by miles or by death.
Like the Hebrews, we are waiting to be rescued. We long to go home to Mount Zion, a place that the author of the book of Hebrews calls “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” We long to go to heaven to be with God and our loved ones who have gone before.
During Advent, the Church reminds us that as we wait for that day, joy is just around the corner. For the One who will lead us to the highway that leads to Mount Zion is coming soon. The One who will redeem us from sin and death – the One who will give us joy and gladness and do away with all sorry and sighing is coming to save us. The One who strengthens the weak hands and makes firm the feeble knees will be with us very soon indeed right here at this altar, and in the manager at Christmas, and at the last day when all will be made whole. “Be strong, do not fear!” Look, your God in vengeance shall come, God’s retribution shall come and rescue you.”
 Though this is in the section generally referred to as First Isaiah, most scholars believe chapters 34-35 comprise a displaced section of Second Isaiah (generally chapters 40-55). David Bartlett, and Barbara Brown. Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008, 51.
 Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary (New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 2019), 734-735.
Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
8 December 2019
The audio recording of this sermon can be found here.
Today we observe the second Sunday of Advent, the season of expectant waiting and preparation for the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ. As Fr. Charles explained in his sermon last Sunday, our waiting is three-fold: we wait for Jesus to come to us as a infant in Bethlehem, we wait for him to come to us through His Presence in the Holy Eucharist, and we wait for him to come in all his glory at the end of time.
In today’s Gospel we join the Jews in first-century Palestine who are waiting for their Messiah. And out of the wilderness appears the strange and mysterious figure of John the Baptist, dressed in camel’s hair and eating locusts and wild honey. He identifies himself as a prophet announcing the imminent coming of the Messiah: “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’” (Matthew 3:3). In his preaching, John urgently calls on the people to repent of their sins and be baptized as they wait for the appearance of the Messiah.
Although John saw his role as only a messenger, someone who was sent by God to prepare the way for the Messiah, he acquired quite a following of his own. We are told in the Gospel that “the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matthew 3:6). His fame drew the attention of the religious authorities as well as the king. Prior to John’s birth, the angel Gabriel had appeared to his father Zechariah and foretold that John would become a mighty prophet like Elijah (Luke 1:13-17). And the greatest compliment that John received came from Jesus himself, who told his disciples: “among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11 and Luke 7:28).
Yet for all the accolades and popularity, John never lost sight of his focus, to point to the Messiah, and he repeatedly humbled himself before Jesus. John called himself “the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice.” Furthermore, he explained that Jesus “must increase, and I must decrease” (John 3:29-30). And in today’s Gospel he states that he is not worthy even to carry Jesus’ sandals (Matthew 3:11).
It couldn’t have been easy, however, for John to play second fiddle, especially considering the fact that Jesus was his younger cousin. John was a great prophet, but he was also a human being, after all. He must have struggled with his ego. John had begun his ministry before Jesus and had a larger following. But then some of his disciples started to leave him for Jesus. Although he graciously accepted this as part of God’s grand plan, it is difficult to imagine that he wasn’t personally affected in some way – even hurt – to see his loyal disciples and long-time companions abandon him. And it seems that John occasionally had doubts and questions about Jesus. At one point he sent some of his disciples to ask Jesus: “Are you really the one?” (Matthew 11:3). Yet, in spite of the blows to his ego and his doubts, John remained faithful to the end. The Church remembers and honors him as the prophet who paved the way for Jesus, the last of the great prophets.
Moreover, John sets an example for us of how to live the Christian life. He takes the focus away from himself and turns it on Jesus. This is no easy task. I don’t know about you, but for me, the self – my ego – constantly intrudes no matter how noble and lofty my intentions may be. As you know, I was ordained priest this past May, but the process for ordination began about three years ago. We have several parishioners at St. Mary’s who are currently Postulants for Holy Orders – Lynda, Richard, Isaac, and David – and you can probably relate to what I’m about to share – or rather, confess.
For me, parts of the ordination process were rather narcissistic. I lost count of how many psychological tests I took to learn more about myself and how many times I had to articulate my faith journey, my calling, and my vision for ministry. On the one hand, this was a wonderful process of self-discovery, but, at the same time, I also struggled to keep the focus away from myself to the reason why I began the process in the first place – to serve Christ and His Church. And the struggle with my ego has not stopped. As you know, I’m a bi-vocational priest, and in addition to serving at St. Mary’s, I also teach history at the University of Central Missouri. There are several of you in our parish who are also teachers. And we all know that we get into teaching for the big money. As a clergy friend who used to be an academic once observed, we teachers may not make a lot of money, but we do tend to become obsessed with status. Academics measure their self-worth in terms of their degrees, the numbers of publications, the schools they attended, and official titles.
Unfortunately, the Christian ministry is not immune from the game of status and recognition. I’m sure you have encountered ambitious clergy who can barely hide the fact that they aspire to wear the purple shirt of a bishop someday or at least become rector of a large, well-heeled parish with a substantial salary. The Church is no stranger to power and money.
In this penitential season of Advent, let us examine and reflect on those areas of our lives in which our egos stand in the way of our faith. Where in our lives do we encounter the temptations of power, status, and wealth? When do pride and self-centeredness get in the way of serving God and those around us? How do we orient our lives so that it is not about us but about Jesus?
One of my favorite theologians is Karl Barth. Never mind the fact that he is a Reformed theologian, coming out of the Calvinist tradition, and I’m an Anglo-Catholic, and, of course, the two sides don’t always see eye to eye. I still like what Barth has to say. Well, Karl Barth had a painting of the crucifixion by the German Renaissance artist Matthias Grunewald hung above the desk in his study. In the painting there is an image of John the Baptist, who is standing off to the side and pointing his finger to the cross of Jesus in the center. Of course, this is not historically accurate. John the Baptist had died long before the crucifixion, but this image comes from the artist’s imagination. The story goes that whenever Barth would have discussions with visitors about his theological writings, he would direct them to John the Baptist in the painting, and he would say, “I want to be that finger." Barth did indeed become a finger pointing to Christ both in word and deed. Barth’s theology is firmly grounded in Christ as the revealed Word of God, and in his personal life as well, his focus on Christ never wavered. At a time when most of the clergy and theologians in Germany, threw their support behind the Nazis, Barth wrote a personal letter to Hitler proclaiming that he has no lord except Jesus Christ. He paid for this act of defiance by getting fired from his position at the University of Bonn.
Dear friends, in this holy season of expectant waiting and preparation for the coming of Jesus, we give thanks for the witness and example of John the Baptist, herald of the Messiah. Let us listen to his voice calling us to “prepare the way of the Lord” and live not for ourselves but for Jesus. Let us also take a moment to visualize John the Baptist’s finger. It points to our crucified and risen Lord. And today that finger points to none other than our own Altar at St. Mary’s. For it is here that Christ will soon come to us in the Holy Eucharist. Come, Lord Jesus!
Advent I, Year A – Matthew 24:36-44
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
December 1, 2019
The audio recording of this sermon can be found here.
When you got to church this morning, you may have noticed that things are a bit different around here. Instead of green or white, there is purple. And it’s not just the colors that are different. We began by singing the Great Litany in procession, and we didn’t sing the festive hymn “Glory be to God on high”. The Scripture readings bid us to stay awake, to be watchful, to be ready. Paul, in the second lesson, calls us to cast away the works of darkness and put upon us the armor of light. And in the gospel lesson, we hear of the end of the days when Jesus will come for a second time to judge both the living and the dead. Today, we begin a new church year with the season called Advent.
The word Advent comes from the Latin word “coming.” And as we think about the second coming of Christ, it’s natural to wonder when it will happen. What day? What hour?
Remember how the passage began? “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” It’s amazing how many Christians seem to believe that they can accomplish what the Son confesses he cannot do and proclaim they know the day and the hour of the Second Coming. If you want to dive into a fascinating internet rabbit hole, go to the Wikipedia page on “Predictions and claims for the Second Coming of Christ.” There have been dozens and dozens of predictions throughout the years, and guess what, none of them have come true. I think my favorite prediction that’s still out there is by a mathematical physicist who is a professor at Tulane University in New Orleans. He has published a book in which he claims to scientifically prove that Jesus will return in mid-2057. When I saw that, I marked that date in my Google calendar so that I’ll remember to be ready at age 77.
Maybe asking when the second coming will happen is the wrong question. Maybe the question should be, “How does the fact that Jesus will return one day change our behavior?”
Isaiah reminds us that one day God shall “…judge between nations and shall arbitrate for many people.” In light of which we are reminded by St. Paul that “. . . it is now the moment to wake from sleep” and “put on the armor of light,” and “the Lord Jesus Christ.” Jesus reminds us that “about that day and hour no one knows,” so we must “keep awake therefore,” because, “you do not know on what day your Lord is coming,” and “the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” 
Perhaps God isn’t calling us to try to figure out the “when” or the “how” of the Second Coming of Christ. Perhaps He is calling us to be aware that life is short and can end in an instant, and to live our lives accordingly. We are called to stay awake, and to keep watch for the coming of Christ.
During Advent, the Church calls us to keep watch for the coming of Christ in three distinct ways:
First, we are to keep watch for Christ’s coming in the manger at Christmas, when we remember God’s inbreaking into our world in the birth of His Son. Out of his love for humanity, God proclaimed to Mary that she would bear a Son, who would be called Emmanuel – God with us. At Christmas, God became human, in order that the great divide between himself and humanity would be eliminated, and we would be reconciled. The incarnation of God into the world at Christmas is so important in the life of the Church that it is literally a 12-day feast. You may have heard the expression that you can’t celebrate the joys of the resurrection at Easter without first experiencing the suffering of Good Friday. The same is true for us now: the great Feast of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ s comes after a nearly four-week period of preparation in which we put our spiritual lives in order. This is hard work, particularly in our culture in which holiday sales began this past Friday, and in which office Christmas parties have already begun. We are called to take a step back and to watch and wait and to prepare in hopeful anticipation of the coming of Christ in a few weeks.
Secondly, we are called to keep watch for the coming of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. It is so easy for me to show up at church, sing the hymns and pray the prayers, hear the Scripture readings and the sermon, and not even think of the intimate moment of receiving God’s love in the Body and Blood of Christ until the moment it hits my tongue. One way in which we prepare ourselves for this moment in the service is at the General Confession when we confess our sins and receive God’s pardon and peace in absolution. But in Advent, we are called to focus on this preparation and perhaps go a bit deeper. One way to do this is to arrive at church a few minutes early, and spend some time quietly preparing yourself before the Mass begins. There are many traditional prayers you can use to prepare for Holy Communion, but next week, consider just kneeling or sitting for a few moments and asking for God’s help to “keep watch” throughout the service and to recognize Christ in the breaking of the bread. In other words, lay aside your cares and burdens and ask God to prepare your heart to receive his love and grace in the bread and wine.
And thirdly, we are called to keep watch for the coming of Christ as judge, both at our death and at the end of the world. Every time we say the Creed we affirm our belief that Christ will come again to judge both the living and the dead. The prospect of judgment is alarming, but the Church calls us not to respond with fear or denial, but rather by turning to Jesus Christ to save us and redeem us. Jesus’s teaching in today’s gospel lesson was given to his disciples in the context of preparing for his second coming in power and glory, inaugurating the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. He didn’t criticize people for getting on with ordinary life – eating and drinking, marrying and carrying on with daily work – we have to do that. We prepare for Christ’s second coming by living life faithfully every day. At the same time, we must also heed Jesus’s warning to be ready for when God acts. His example of people unprepared for the flood is vivid for us who are bombarded with images of sudden disasters around the world. We have disaster plans for many things because preparing and waiting with readiness takes determined effort. Our spiritual disaster plan requires us to keep awake spiritually because we have no idea when life as we know it will end, either through our death or because Jesus comes again. Either way, he will be our judge. And so, during this new year in the Church’s time frame, we intentionally cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. We vigorously cast away sin just as we would instinctively throw away something we picked up that is horrible or awful, and we put on the armor of light by putting on the Lord Jesus Christ and living our everyday lives faithfully and rooted in prayer.
On this First Sunday of Advent, and for the next four weeks, let us keep watch for the coming of Christ – in the manager at Christmas, in the bread and wine at communion, and at the Great Hour of Judgment. In the midst of Christmas shopping and office holiday parties and hearing “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” on the radio, let us intentionally take a step back and put our spiritual lives in order so that we may “be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
 David Bartlett, and Barbara Brown. Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008, 21.
 Much of this paragraph comes from here: https://lectionarylab.com/2013/11/23/the-first-sunday-of-advent-december-1-2013/
 This threefold purpose of Advent is spelled out by the New Advent Encyclopedia: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01165a.htm
 Much of this paragraph is from a sermon preached by the Rev’d Rosalind Brown: https://www.durhamcathedral.co.uk/worship-music/regular-services/sermon-archive/advent-themes-death-judgement-and-the-second-coming-of-christ
Sermon: Christ The King Sunday
Nov 24, 2019
There is a legend, that is told in slightly different ways, depending on the faith tradition. This legend tells of a group of aging monks living in a monastery that has fallen on hard times. Mostly elderly monks, a dying order, not much aliveness, a very discouraging place, caught in their habits, rituals, routines.
The head monk heard of a wise woman who lived as a hermit, a sage, so he went looking for her.
After telling the wise sage what was going on at the monastery, and spending some time, meditating together, praying, listening, she finally spoke: I really don’t know what to tell you. All I can say is that the Divine one is living amongst you, The embodied presence of Christ is actually present in one, or many of your monks.
So he returns, and tells them what the wise woman said. What happens in the weeks and months that follow this encounter, is this idea of the Divine one being present among them actually sparked their interest.
They began to look at each other thinking, “maybe it’s you, maybe you are the embodied Divine one, or maybe it’s him”, And they began to pay more attention to one another. And started noticing the light that came through each other, or started noticing the way another monk was patient, or generous or kind.
And then, at the chance that they themselves might be the embodiment of the Divine one, they started treating themselves with more respect and kindness.
Then, a very strange thing happened. People that came by started noticing the change in atmosphere, and they began to be drawn to the radiance that came from the monastery. And in time, more and more asked to join, and in some years this monastery became a place that radiated the love of Christ, filled with service and celebration.
So what happened – the old wise woman told them the embodied presence of Christ the King is living amongst them….and yet, this was not news, we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we are all embodied with the presence of the holy one, yet….sometimes, we need to be reminded that we are actually the embodied presence of Christ – indeed we are Christ with skin on to a lot of people.
With this being Christ the King Sunday on the liturgical calendar – what does all of that mean?
Just to give you a little history, this is a relatively recent addition to the liturgical calendar, comparatively speaking. It was added in 1925 by Pope Pius XI. When this feast day was added, the Pope was responding to a turbulent time – a time that saw the rise of Musolini and Hitler, a time where he witnessed “good Christians” supporting the influence of various dictators and disturbing forms of nationalism, supporting to the point where they were convinced they were following God’s chosen man, and were doing the will of God.
Yet, this was not the first time that ‘good Christians” made decisions that were questionable, and, as we look back at history and even in some of today’s events, it certainly was not the last.
TWO months ago, Jessye Norman passed away. She was an African American classical soprano with an amazing talent. But, as I sat in my car on that day, listening to the NPR story about her death – I had what they call a driveway moment. I had to pull over to the nearest parking lot, to listen in awe, as NPR played a recording of Jessye Norman singing “Ride On King Jesus”. The sound of her voice, the power of the words, the emotion in her presentation was enough to stop you in your tracks. And on that day, stop me, it did. You see, I had heard this recording many times before, I have heard various artists sing it, but on the day of Jessye Norman’s death, for whatever reason, the experience penetrated me to the core.
You see, Ride on King Jesus, is an African American Spiritual.
The lyrics of "Ride On, King Jesus" were an answer to the mistreatments by slave masters, who were no match for the God who was on the slaves' side.
Ride on, King Jesus, No man can a-hinder me...
King Jesus on a milk-white horse, No man can a-hinder me.
Many of the black spirituals contained hidden messages about freedom and veiled references of escape. For example, while working in the fields, if another slave would start to sing the spiritual “Deep River, I’m crossing over Jordan” – that would mean there was an escape happening that night, and they planned to cross the river into safe territory. Or if someone started to sing “Steal Away to Jesus, Steal Away Home, I Ain’t Got long to stay here”…This also meant an escape was on the horizon.
This spiritual, however, "Ride On, King Jesus," contains a text whose purpose appears to be a strictly spiritual one, one however, that raises the slaves' ultimate worth to that of their owners with the words that Jesus "died for the rich and He died for the poor." Now there are various versions of this spiritual. It is believed to have been written during the pre-Civil War era. This was a time when descendants of Africans in this country were not even allowed to learn to read or write. Yet as the slave heard about a king who was Lord in a different way than they experienced with the slave owners, their response to this King Jesus stemmed from one of identification to the suffering of this King Jesus, and with a level of dedication to the Lordship which was rooted in this king’s servanthood instead of a Kingship of power. The slave who wrote this spiritual could trust that this King Jesus had walked in their shoes. They saw Jesus as a king who was not stuck on a throne, but they saw this Jesus as one of their own.
And they understood Mary’s grief at losing her son, because they saw their own children sold away from them.
The following slave narrative archived by Fisk University offers a witness to the singing of this spiritual by the slaves in the presence of white slave owners:
“When I was a little boy they would kill us if they caught us in a Sunday School . . . . When they did let us go to church sometimes, they would give you a seat way back here, with the white folks in front. Then sometimes they would let you come in the evenings to church and then you would take the front seats, with the slave patrollers behind, so that if the preacher said something he shouldn’t say, they would stop him. One time when they were singing, ‘Ride on King Jesus, No man can hinder me,’ the slave patrollers told them to stop or they would show him whether they could be hindered or not.”
So when the great opera singer, Jessye Norman sang out with emotional acuity – Ride on King Jesus – she was echoing what generations of suffering people were believing down to the root of their souls - That Jesus Christ, the servant King was not so far removed that he did not feel and relate.
And the same Christ the King, who we are remembering today, still Rises up, reminding us that the poor, the homeless, the disenfranchised, the rejected immigrant at our very borders – this Christ the King is saying “You are not forgotten, but Jesus Christ our servant King is real, is here among us and is for us.
In our earlier legend about the monks – they learned that the risen King walked among them and within them daily. How does that realization make a difference to you?
And in today’s Gospel reading you have the very throne room of Jesus – we end on a cross, and this shows us who he really is. The sign over him on the cross says “King of the Jews”, yet from the viewpoint of this slave, the writer of our Spiritual, Jesus is essentially hanging from a noose.
And it’s because of this that the slave, the monks, and those of us right here, are able and invited to put our trust in the King who has walked in our shoes.
Proper 28, Year C – Luke 21:5-19
The Rev. Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Church
November 17, 2019
As the scene opens in today’s gospel reading, Jesus engages with his disciples as they talked about the beautiful Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple was the center of public life for the Hebrew people, in matters of religion, politics, and even commerce. The original structure was built in the mid-10th Century BC and was destroyed in 586 BC by Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar who forcibly deported the bulk of the Jewish people into exile. Seventy years later, the Temple was rebuilt, and it was this reconstructed Temple that existed in Jesus’s time. It was beautiful and adorned with lavish stones and even gold.
Jesus proceeds to deliver the shocking news that the Temple will be destroyed. This immediately brought to mind the old stories that everyone knew of the destruction of the first Temple, and the misery and despair that their ancestors experienced when they were forced to be slaves for the Babylonians. Jesus’s words invoked fear.
The disciples respond by asking him when the destruction of the Temple will be, and he replies by warning them not to be led astray by others who come in His name. But then Jesus goes on to predict even more dire conditions: wars, insurrections, nations rising against nations and kingdom against kingdom, great earthquakes, and famines and plagues. Then, even more personally, he tells them that they will be persecuted, and that some of them will be put to death because of their allegiance to Him.
Doom and gloom. Fear. This evokes the kind of fear that you and I experience at various times throughout our lives. The kind of fear that arises when we lose our job, or a family member dies unexpectedly, or divorce shatters a family, or when we see people on the margins of our society being the object of hate and scorn.
After foretelling all of these horrible things that were to come, Jesus says, “this will give you an opportunity to testify.” In the midst of fear and conflict and division, we are given an opportunity to testify. The Church is given the opportunity to be the Church. To love our neighbors as ourselves, to care for the widow and the orphan, to feed the poor and tend to the sick, to love and embrace everyone, especially the most marginalized people in our society. In other words, when faced with fear and conflict and division, we are given the opportunity to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in both word and deed.
Jesus ends his discourse with, “But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.” In our baptismal liturgy, the candidate or the parents are asked, “Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?” The response is, “I will, with God’s help.” This promise to persevere in resisting evil is a bold promise that should not made lightly. It is hard work. It’s much easier to succumb to fear, isolation and the selfish acts of sin than it is to persevere in prayer, and fellowship with one another, and in the breaking of the bread at Holy Communion. It’s much easier to succumb to fear than it is to do the hard work required to love God and to love our neighbors.
But Jesus said, “By your endurance you will gain your souls.”
It is interesting to note that St. Luke wrote his gospel around the year 85 AD, about 15 years after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. Meaning his readers would have heard this story as a reflection on something that had already happened rather than a prediction of future events. When the Romans sacked Jerusalem, they not only destroyed the Temple, but they killed hundreds of thousands of people, mostly Jews, and ended up sending the budding Christian movement underground into persecution. The folks who heard this story were living in a hellish world, and these words gave them hope for a brighter future: “But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance, you will gain your souls.”
When your life seems to be falling apart, when the world seems to be going to hell in a hand basket, when you are faced with doom and gloom, do not be afraid. Look to Jesus who endured the suffering and shame of crucifixion on a cross at the hands of sinners, so that you may persevere in your faith. For by your endurance you will gain your souls. Amen.
Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
10 November 2019
This past Wednesday, we held a Solemn Requiem Mass in commemoration of All Souls Day. We remembered and prayed for those in our parish who have died this past year and for our loved ones who have gone before us. We also reminded ourselves of our own mortality. As Fr. Charles explained in the introduction to the service, we can view All Souls Mass as our own funeral.
Today’s Gospel reading from Luke continues our reflections on death and the afterlife. The Sadducees, who do not believe in the resurrection, ask Jesus a question to try to stump him. They present him with an extreme hypothetical situation, in which a woman marries seven brothers in succession according to the custom of levirate marriage, in which a man is responsible for marrying the childless widow of a deceased brother. In the resurrection, the Sadducees ask, whose wife will the woman be? Jesus answers that in the resurrection, there is no marriage. The resurrected state will be a very different sphere of existence than what we are used to in this earthly life. There is no marriage. There is no death. As children of the resurrection, we will become like the angels.
The Gospels vilify the Sadducees along with their colleagues the Pharisees as the primary opponents and enemies of Jesus. Denouncing him as a troublemaker, they challenge him at every turn, and they ultimately want to eliminate him. Yet, I don’t know about you, the Pharisees and Sadducees frequently become the voice of my own doubts and questions. They are, after all, devout Jews, well-versed in the Torah, and, whatever their faults and intentions, they ask good, rational questions, such as the one today.
Although our Christian faith is, at the most basic level, a religion of salvation dealing with death and the afterlife, it provides us with few details about what actually comes after death. We don’t have a lot of concrete information in the Bible. We are thus left wondering and asking a lot of questions. I once heard about a dying man asking the priest whether he will be able to continue his favorite hobby of gardening when he is heaven.
There’s a fascinating book titled Heaven: A History that traces the various views and beliefs about heaven that Christians have held down through the centuries. What is especially interesting is that many Christians today conceive of heaven as simply a continuation of what is best in this life, like the cabin on the lake, a memorable trip, a favorite pastime. They project their personal experiences and desires onto the afterlife.
The TV show “Simpsons” has a funny episode in which Homer and Bart are thinking of converting from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism, and Marge is very concerned. One night, Marge has a dream, in which she is shown a vision of Roman Catholic heaven and Protestant heaven. In Catholic heaven, Homer and Bart are having a fun time at a big party, complete with a Mexican fiesta and Irish step-dancing. Meanwhile in Protestant heaven, where Marge finds herself, she finds a bunch of preppy types playing croquet and badminton. The ethnic stereotypes aside, Marge’s dream is probably not too far off from what most Americans would like to think of heaven. After I preached this sermon at 8 o’clock Mass, our fellow parishioner Hugh Kierig shared with me another good one. Several years ago National Lampoon did a piece on the different views of hell among churches. The Roman Catholics had images of Dante’s Inferno. For the Episcopalians, there was a well-dressed couple sitting in a nice restaurant – and behold a rude waiter!
The fact is, the Bible does not spell out all the details of what happens to us when we die. Of course, there are references to heaven and hell, but these are usually vague and open to different interpretations. Consequently, Christians hold diverse views of the afterlife. Some believe in immediate heaven or hell upon death. Others believe in purgatory or a temporary state of sleep. Some believe heaven to be a place inhabited by disembodied spirits floating around. And some would even reject the idea of an afterlife, interpreting heaven and hell in metaphorical terms. We have quite a spectrum of beliefs and opinions in Christianity about the afterlife. Yet, whatever our differences, we can all agree on one fundamental conviction. Jesus is the source of our salvation. As the Bible states, he is the author of our salvation (Acts 3:15 & Hebrew 2:10). To extend the metaphor a bit, we do not yet have all the details of the book of salvation that Jesus has authored, but it will eventually be revealed to us.
One detail, however, that Jesus does make abundantly clear is the reality of the resurrection. Just as he died and was resurrected, we, too, will die and be resurrected. We are told in Scripture that when Christ comes again at the end of time, all the faithful will be resurrected and share in Christ’s glory. We are offered glimpses of what this resurrected state will be like. After his resurrection, Jesus appeared on several occasions to his disciples and followers. And in all the post-resurrection accounts, we know that he was no ghost or spirit; he came to his disciples physically, in his resurrected body. Jesus ate meals with his disciples (Luke 24:13-35 & John 21:1-14), and so-called Doubting Thomas touched Jesus’ hands and side to be convinced that he had indeed risen (John 20:24-29). The Apostle Paul explains that this resurrected body will be different from our human body. There will be a transformation that takes place. The resurrected body will be “incorruptible” and raised in “glory” and “power,” but it will be a physical body nonetheless (I Corinthians 15:42-43).
In our Anglican tradition, we affirm this belief in the resurrection each time we hold a funeral service. The very first words of the Burial Rite in the Book of Common Prayer are these words of Jesus: “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” Even as we grieve and mourn in the face of death, we defiantly proclaim Jesus’ conquest over death and his promise of resurrection and eternal life.
It is not only in our funeral service that we express this faith in Christ’s saving power. Our two primary sacraments, Baptism and Eucharist, also embody this resurrection hope. In baptism, we die with Christ and rise to new life in him. The waters of baptism represent death as well as life. This is perhaps most vividly illustrated in those traditions that practice immersion. Going under the water represents a dying, a “drowning,” if you will. But then the coming up out of the water represents our resurrection. As we emerge out of the water, we are cleansed, transformed, given new life.
In the Holy Eucharist, we repeat this act of uniting with Christ in his death and resurrection. What begins with Baptism continues with the Eucharist. We remember his death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead. And as we receive his Body and Blood, we unite with Christ in the mystery of the Sacrament. He dwells in us, and we dwell in him.
Dear friends, as we approach the Altar this morning for the Most Holy Sacrament, let us renew our hope in Jesus, our resurrection and our life. Let us unite with him in his death and resurrection in this Holy Mystery. And let us look forward to the day when our hope in the resurrection will find fulfillment as Christ comes again in all his power and glory.
 Colleen McDannel and Bernhard Lang, Heaven: A History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995).
 Andrew Davison, Why Sacraments? (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2013), 15-16.
 Davison, 39.
All Saints Day
Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
November 3, 2019
In our first lesson, we hear the prophet Daniel recount a fantastical dream he had. Well, we heard the beginning of the dream in which four great beasts rise out of the sea. But then the lectionary skips 12 verses. In those verses, there are descriptions not only of the four beasts and their terrifying power, but ten horns arising from the fourth beast, with an eleventh horn with human eyes and a mouth speaking arrogantly. In response to this last beast with its mouthy eleventh horn, the Ancient One kills the beast and deprives the other three of their power. Then, “one like a human being” comes down from heaven on the clouds to reign on behalf of the Ancient One.
The lectionary then picks back up and we hear the heavenly attendant’s interpretation of the dream. The four beasts represent four kings or kingdoms, but in the end, the “holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom.”
Who are these holy ones?
The book of Daniel was likely written sometime in the 2nd Century BC during the reign of Greek Emperor Antiochus IV Epiphanes, under whose rule the Hebrew people suffered persecution and martyrdom. Up to this point in Hebrew literature, the word we translate as “holy ones” was used exclusively for divine beings and angels, never human beings. The holy ones in this passage are granted dominion over the kingdom that had already been granted to “the one like a human being” in verse 13. Later in Daniel, this “one like a human being” is identified as Michael the Archangel, the head of God’s heavenly army. Thus, this story originally referred to the divine army gaining control over the cosmic forces of evil and chaos. However, “holy ones” was interpreted by the Jewish Rabbinic tradition as referring to the Jews who were persecuted by the Greek Emperor Antiochus, and then later, even more broadly, as a reference to righteous humans sanctified after death. These “holy ones” are wise and pious men and women, who will suffer persecution, be purified, and awake to everlasting life, where they will possess God’s kingdom.
A couple of centuries later, the early Christians began commemorating the anniversary of those who were martyred for the faith. As persecution became more widespread, the number of martyrs became so great that a separate day could not be assigned to each. And so, the Church appointed a common day for all the martyrs as early as 373 AD. A few centuries later, the feast was broadened to include all saints as well as martyrs.
We continue to celebrate all the saints on this day so many years later. The “holy ones” we remember today, like those in Daniel’s apocalyptic dream, are those who contended long for their Savior’s honor…those who appear like stars…who stand before God’s throne wearing a golden crown and praising loud their heavenly King, as we will sing in today’s closing hymn. In the New Testament, the word “saint” refers to all of the baptized, but from the very beginning, some Christians began to be recognized for their holiness and sanctity, and the word saint in English is now more closely associated with them. Today’s feast isn’t commemorating or remembering all Christians throughout time – that’s All Souls Day which is the day after All Saints Day. No, today, we celebrate the saints – the “holy ones” – who lived out a heroic faith that has been recognized by the wider Christian community over time.
These heroes of the faith encourage us to keep running with perseverance the race set before us. We don’t worship them in the way we worship God, but we certainly honor them for their holiness which sprang from the grace given to them by God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Daniel was given a vision in his day when the empire that ruled over the Jewish people persecuted them to the point that they rebelled against the Emperor and ultimately prevailed, a rebellion we call the Maccabean Revolt. The Jewish festival of Hanukkah celebrates the re-dedication of the Temple following this great victory. In fact, this dream can be seen as a dystopian story not unlike the Handmaid’s Tale or the Hunger Games. Like Daniel, we live in a time when the empires of the day exalt injustice and hatred, and pay little attention to the poor, the sick, and the needy. As in Daniel’s day, the beasts with terrifying power seem to rise up out of the sea, threatening to overcome us.
The feast of All Saints reminds us that that the divine army will ultimately win the battle against evil and chaos. But more importantly, on All Saints Day, we are spurred on to a greater holiness by those who, even when they were with us on earth, were not with us in reality, for their minds were focused on God. “They lived on earth as citizens of heaven. Having here no lasting city, they sought a heavenly one; having no earthly riches, they sought the riches of heaven. They were strangers and sojourners” here just as the Jews were under the rule of Antiochus. “Strangers to the world, their whole heart was absorbed in the things of heaven…They longed for the beauty of heaven, its mansions and dwellings, its choirs and hymns, its feasts and its eternal blessedness.” The saints, by God’s grace, sought after these things, and by God’s grace, they attained them. “Their striving was rewarded by admission to the heavenly bridal chamber. Because they labored, now they exult. Because they were not negligent, they now rejoice.”
Friends, let us give thanks to Almighty God for the lives of the saints, and spurred on by their heroic devotion to Jesus, let us “lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”
 Much of this paragraph is from Wendland, Kristin J. “Commentary on Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18 by Kristin J. Wendland.” Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18 Commentary. Working Preacher. Accessed November 2, 2019. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4271.
 David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown. Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word. Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Pr., 2010), 223.
 Michael David. Coogan, ed., The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version: with the Apocrypha: an Ecumenical Study Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 1248.
 Much of this paragraph from Bartlett 223.
 The Hymnal 1982: According to the Use of the Episcopal Church (1985: The Church Hymnal Corporation, 1985), 286.
 The quotes in this paragraph are from a sermon by St. Anastasius of Sinai (d. sometime after 700 AD) as printed Maxwell E. Johnson, Benedictine Daily Prayer: a Short Breviary (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2005), 2184.
 Hebrews 12:1 (NRSV).
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St. Mary's is a a parish of the Diocese of West Missouri, The Episcopal Church, and the Anglican Communion.
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