Proper 19, Year C – Luke 15:1-10
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
September 15, 2019
When I was a kid, my music and television habits were heavily influenced by my parents. I grew up listening the Doors, Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles, and the like. And I grew up watching movies like Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, and Arthur, and TV series like Married with Children, and my favorite, Cheers. For those who are young enough not to have experienced this classic TV show, it’s about a bar in Boston called Cheers where folks gather to unwind and interact with friends. Its theme song is famous not only because of the catchy tune, but because it names a longing that every person has:
Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came. You want to be where you can see our troubles are all the same. You wanna be where everybody knows your name.
That’s the kind of place Cheers was in this show. A place where people could be real and share food and drink with others, no matter their station in life. In today’s gospel reading, it’s not difficult to imagine Jesus in such a place, eating and drinking with anyone, much to the chagrin of the proper and pure. St. Luke tells us that that Jesus is eating and drinking with “tax collectors and sinners” while the “Pharisees and scribes” are grumbling about the fact that he welcomes – that he even seeks out these sinners. In response to their grumbling, he tells the Pharisees and scribes three parables, two of which we heard today.
The first is the parable of the lost sheep. He asks these religious leaders, “Which of you would leave the ninety-nine sheep in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?” I’m a city boy and have no experience with sheep, but this shepherd doesn’t sound very responsible to me. What about the 99 sheep left in the wilderness? Who will take care of them? These are questions I’m sure the Pharisees asked themselves upon hearing this parable, but perhaps like the Pharisees, I was initially as dense as they were. The utter ridiculousness of what the shepherd does is an important part of the story. He is so focused on the lost sheep that he not only throws caution to the wind, he risks his livelihood by leaving his flock unattended. And when he finds the lost sheep, he lays it on his shoulders and comes home rejoicing and calling in all the neighbors and friends to throw a huge party to celebrate the one who was lost and is now found. He ends by telling them, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
The second parable is similar. Instead of a shepherd, Jesus talks of a woman with 10 silver coins. What woman, were she to lose one of them, doesn’t light a lamp, or sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? And then once she finds it, what woman wouldn’t call her friends and neighbors together and have a party in celebration for find it? He ends this story like the first by saying, “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
I’ve often heard this passage preached like this: you and I are sinners, and Jesus cares so much for sinners that he relentlessly seeks us and rejoices when we are finally found. We should therefore repent and return to the Lord. While that’s not a bad sermon, today’s message wasn’t addressed to the sinners and tax collectors. These parables were addressed to the religious insiders of the day – the Pharisees and scribes. Jesus isn’t trying to get them to identify themselves as one who is lost and needs to be found. Jesus is trying to get them to learn to rejoice! Both of these parables end by calling friends and neighbors together to rejoice and celebrate. Jesus’s focus isn’t on the lost that are found by God, it’s on the rejoicing that happens when the lost one is found!
When the religious people of the day grumble about Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners – when they grumble about Jesus’s radical hospitality – he responds by telling them that they should celebrate when God goes after the sinner who is lost and rescues them. Yes, salvation is about being rescued, but it’s even more about being drawn into the eternal party. When you see Jesus seeking the lost, when you see him dining with the worst of the worst, the appropriate response isn’t grumbling or jealousy or judging – it’s rejoicing! That’s what repentance looks like for the Pharisees and scribes as well as for you and me: when faced with God seeking out those who don’t wear the right clothes or drive the right car or smell funny or drive us bonkers – when God seeks them out and finds them, we are called to turn from judgement and grumbling to radical hospitality at a fabulous party!
Throughout his life, Jesus was repeatedly criticized for spending time with notorious sinners and outcasts. He’s inviting us today to join him by spending time doing the same. He’s inviting us to eat and drink with those around us in our lives, perhaps in a context like Cheers. For like you and me, everyone has a deep longing to spend time with others who know that their troubles are the same as ours…a place where everybody knows our name. A place where we feel welcome. Nowhere in this text or elsewhere in Luke’s gospel do we see Jesus commenting on the sinners’ behavior. He eats and celebrates with them. He identifies with them and genuinely cares for them. Yes, he wants to rejoice even more when the sinner repents, but he doesn’t get them to repent by judging their sinful behavior, he gets them to repent by spending time with them. By sharing life with them over time.
For the Pharisees and for all of us, the question is, “Who are you ready to party with?” If the answer is “I don’t party,” or “I don’t party with those people,” then we’ve missed the point entirely. Friends, God is inviting us today to join in the eternal party! He’s inviting us to practice generous hospitality with people from every walk of life. And he’s inviting us to rejoice with Him every time he finds someone who is lost.
 David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown. Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary.(Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 68.
 Ibid 72.
St. Mary the Virgin
August 18, 2019
1 Corinthians 15:20-27, Luke 1:39-56
The Rev’d Charles W. Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
The audio recording of this sermon can be found here.
On Wednesday evenings, we have Evening Prayer here in the church, and inevitably, a group goes out to have a bite to eat and perhaps a drink or two. Depending on who goes, we occasionally end up talking about the liturgy in ways that 99% of the planet think are…well…a bit much. I always invite my husband Jay to come eat with us, and while he comes from time to time, I don’t blame him for yawning internally when we start debating whether we’re supposed to turn to the left or the right at the altar and how to properly hold our funny hats.
Likewise, I’m sure that most people (including most of you holy and pious men and women) would yawn and perhaps take a nap were the preacher to get into the nitty gritty’s of the theological implications of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s death. I mean, the details surrounding Mary’s death have been debated from time immemorial, especially since the Protestant Reformation. The name of today’s feast itself is controversial: the Eastern Church calls it “The Dormition [or falling asleep] of Mary” while the Roman Catholic Church calls it the Assumption of Mary. We Episcopalians, as we so often do, have chosen to be vague and simply call it “The Feast of St. Mary the Virgin.” The commonality across all of these is that today, we are commemorating her death.
What do we know of Mary’s death? Nothing from Scripture. But there’s plenty of pious legend surrounding her death from the earliest days of the Church. One account has to do with Mary’s girdle, and by girdle, I don’t mean the modern elasticized garment, I mean a cloth braided belt with a knot at the end, similar to this one. In this account, Mary’s body was assumed into heaven in the presence of all of the apostles except for Thomas who was off in India. Later, when the others told him what happened, he doubted and didn’t believe them, just as he hadn’t believed them earlier when they told him they’d seen Jesus after his resurrection. So Mary appeared to Thomas individually and dropped the girdle she wore at her Assumption down onto him to give him physical proof, just as Jesus had done when he invited Thomas to touch his wounds. Thomas saw and touched the girdle and believed. This apocryphal story presents Mary’s assumption into heaven as a mirroring of Jesus’s resurrection, which leads us to our epistle lesson from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.
The Church at Corinth was comprised mainly of Greek Christians, and the Greeks tended to think that the spirit was more important than the body. Some of this way of thinking had come into the Corinthian church, leading some to deny Jesus’s bodily resurrection. St. Paul didn’t mince words earlier in chapter 15 when he said, “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.”
Paul says, “No.” Christ’s bodily resurrection not only happened, it’s essential to our faith. Death came from the Adam, the first human being who chose to be disobedient to God, and so the resurrection of the dead also comes from a human being, but this time, from one who committed no sin, Jesus Christ. Not only did was Christ raised from the dead, he will come again to hand over the kingdom to his Father, and to finally destroy evil and death. The destruction of evil and death by Christ at the last day will finally establish the Kingdom of God in its entirety, whereas now, we only experience it imperfectly. Just as Jesus has already entered into his kingdom through his resurrection, so too will we who follow him and enter the kingdom through a resurrection like his. Paul calls Jesus the first fruits of the dead, and links our resurrection to his. He was the first to be raised up, and we will follow.
And that, my friends, is the foundation of today’s feast. The Blessed Mother was not divine, she was a human being like you and me. And like us, her entry into God’s kingdom depends on Jesus’ resurrection. You and I have to wait until the Second Coming of Christ for our bodies to be raised, but Tradition says that Mary didn’t need to wait until the last day. As she was the first disciple of her Son – the first person to say “Yes” to his call – she is the first human being to follow her son in his resurrection. Her risen body is with Jesus’ risen body awaiting that day when all will be made right. Mary’s glory is a foretaste of our glory. Christ’s resurrection leads the way to our resurrection, and as our Blessed Mother was raised, so too will we be raised at the last day.
What will life be like when our bodies are raised, and God creates the new heavens and the new earth? In her song in the gospel of Luke, Mary tells us that in God’s kingdom, things are very, very different. Unlike our world, it’s not the powerful on their thrones, or the proud, or the rich who will be extolled and given a place of special honor. It’s the lowly, the humble, and the poor. In God’s kingdom, the first will be last, and the last will be first. Status won’t be measured by wealth and pride and fancy titles, but by humility, tenderness, forgiveness, and unconditional love.
While we have to wait until the last day to experience God’s kingdom in its fulness, in a moment, we will pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” as our Lord taught us. When we pray these words, we’re asking God to bring the values of his heavenly kingdom here to earth. To disrupt the value systems of this world. To bring heaven to earth. And we’re asking him to use us to accomplish this.
What does this look like for us at a parish church under the patronage of St. Mary in Kansas City in the year 2019?
Friends, we are called to proclaim the life, death, and yes…bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ in both word and deed. There is an unfortunate tendency amongst a subset of clergy in the Episcopal Church to say things like, “I believe in spiritual resurrection, but it doesn’t really matter if Jesus’s body rose from the dead.” Or, even worse, “Dead people don’t come back to life. If you believe in science, you can’t possibly believe in the resurrection.” Hear what Saint Paul saith: “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.”
Like Mary, we are called to live out the incarnation of her Son by proclaiming the coming of His kingdom. And like Mary, we are not to live our lives thinking that this future kingdom of God is something we’re just twiddling our thumbs waiting for, it began to break into our world on that first Christmas night. When we pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” we are telling God and ourselves that we’re willing to forsake our own devices and desires and say yes to God. And praying the Lord’s Prayer means that we’re willing to trust that the Holy Spirit will give us everything we need to fill the hungry with good things and lift up the lowly.
St. Mary’s has a long history of feeding the hungry in our area via the food pantry and hot meal – a good and holy thing – but it is time that we intentionally discern how God is calling us to serve the least of these in Kansas City. To that end, our newly formed Social Justice Committee has met a couple of times and meets again in a few weeks. They’re exploring how we might engage in important issues such as prison ministry, racial reconciliation, LGBT rights, economic injustice, immigration issues, and so on. Please pray for them as they discern how God is leading our parish family to cast down the mighty and lift up the lowly in Kansas City and beyond. And then when their program is published, please pray about how God may be calling you to get involved.
Maybe next year for Mary Day, I’ll bore you to tears with the nitty gritty about whether Mary’s assumption was before or after her death and why that matters theologically. But for now, friends, let us follow the good example of the Blessed Virgin Mary in saying yes to her Son and boldly proclaiming God’s kingdom to a lost and broken world. And let us join with Christians throughout all generations in calling her blessed.
 1 Cor 15:12-14.
Fear is in the air.
Everywhere you look – social media, your favorite news website, or even the street corner – fear is in the air. Fear that the economy will fall back into recession. Fear that you’ll lose your job. Fear that the person you ask out on a date will say no. Fear that your spouse will turn you in you for a younger model. Fear about the current state of the political discourse in this country. Fear that you can’t pay next month’s bills. Fear that you won’t finish an important project at work by the deadline. Fear that God isn’t here beside you as you struggle through this life. Fear that you will die alone and unloved.
Fear is in the air.
Our Gospel passage from Luke begins with Jesus saying to his disciples, “Do not be afraid.” This isn’t the first time that we heard these words in the gospel of Luke. This is the same message given to Zechariah when the angel told him his wife Elizabeth was pregnant with Jesus’s cousin John the Baptist. It’s the same thing the angel said to Mary at the Annunciation when she was told she was pregnant with God’s son. It’s the same thing that Jesus proclaims to Saint Peter before he tells him that he will be a fisher of men.
“Do not be afraid.”
In all instances of this phrase in Luke, “Do not be afraid” comes before the announcement of a significant, life-changing event. In this case, Jesus says “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” This is no small matter and is just as daunting of a message as the angel telling Mary that she is pregnant with God’s son.
Out of his own delight, God gives us the kingdom. The word kingdom is not easy for us to relate to. The last time we had a king in this country, we rejected his authority and declared our independence! The kingdom of God refers to an inbreaking of God’s love, peace, freedom and justice into the world.
These inbreakings of God’s kingdom in this world happen in what is often referred to as “thin places.” Thin places are moments in which time itself seems to stand still and the divide between this world and the next is very thin indeed. In these thin places, God’s love becomes tangible to us and we get a brief glimpse of heaven itself. The sacraments are thin places, and particularly the Holy Eucharist, where we are transported in time to the hill upon which Jesus died and we are fed the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation. In these thin places, heaven kisses earth.
But thin places are not only to be found in the sacraments. They are also found in the face of the homeless person you see on the street corner. In the cries of the sick person you are nursing and taking care of. And in subtle, everyday things like hugging a child or hearing those repetitive words “I love you” from a family member.
These thin places are all around us, and ever difficult to detect. How do we predispose ourselves to be aware of them? Through consistent prayer, Bible study, silence, contemplation, selflessly serving others, and regular reception of the sacraments of the Church. Without making the time and effort to engage in these sometimes-arduous spiritual disciplines, we aren’t able to put aside our fear and be aware of the inbreaking of God’s kingdom around us.
Jesus said, “Do not be afraid, for God is giving you his kingdom of love, peace, freedom and justice.” It is in this context that Jesus tells his disciples to sell their possessions and give alms and make purses for themselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. When we graciously accept God’s loving kindness towards us, when we are intentionally aware of the Holy Spirit working in our everyday lives, when we are sensitive to detecting the thin places that we encounter throughout our lives, it is then that we are led to share that love and compassion with others.
I’ll always remember one of the questions I was asked at one of the many Committee meetings during my ordination process. “When you envision yourself as a priest, what scares you the most?” My immediate response was, “Being around people who are dying and their families. I not only don’t know what to say or do, but I can’t imagine what I would have to contribute to people in such pain and grief.” Less than a year later, in my second semester at seminary, I got word that my co-worker’s 17-year-old son had died. His name was Noah, and I’d known him because his mom had asked me to spend a little time with him as he was struggling coming out in high school, and to boot, he was afflicted with mental illness at a pretty severe level. Noah died because he hung himself from a tree. I was terribly sad when I heard the news, but when his mom called and asked if I’d do the funeral, I had an overwhelming sense of fear wash over me. I called my bishop and told him I’d been asked to do this huge funeral for this young kid who died tragically, and he said to me, “Charles, the Church doesn’t normally asked folks at your stage of the process to do this kind of work, but it sounds like there’s an opportunity here for the Holy Spirit to work through you to help a whole lot of people. God’s been preparing you for this moment, and will give you everything you need to get through it. How will you respond?”
With God’s help, I said yes.
Less than two years later, the 21-year-old son of one of the owners of the bank died of an accidental drug overdose. His dad called me and asked me to do the funeral. And to this day, I think some of the most important parts of my ministry here at St. Mary’s have been walking alongside those who are dying, and then ministering to their family and friends upon their death.
I tell you about my greatest fear coming into the priesthood not to encourage you to face your fears head on, or to assure you that things always get better, or to tell you to always say yes when asked to do something you’re scared to do. I tell you this story because God didn’t ask me to help these people out of the blue. In a sense, I’d been preparing for these moments for my whole life. My imperfect attempts to consistently pray, to study the Bible, to listen to God’s voice…my constant reception of the sacraments of the church, sometimes because I felt so unworthy…God used all of that to make me sensitive to these particular thin places, and to have the courage to overcome my fear and say yes. Inevitably when I do, the inbreaking of God’s kingdom in the moments that ensue ushers in God’s love, peace, and freedom where it is desperately needed.
“Do not be afraid,” Jesus tells us, “for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give alms! Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit! Be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour!” This call to be ready is both about Christ’s coming in our lives today and about his second coming at the last day. The certainty of Christ’s coming is not a cause for panic, but a cause for watchful anticipation for blessing. This call to be ready isn’t a cause to be overly critical of our own sins and failings, but rather to be ready to receive blessings like we could never imagine. To be watchful and ready for thin places in this world, to be watchful and ready for the unimaginable and overwhelming grandeur of being in God’s kingdom in all of its glory in eternity. This call is to be ready for the foretaste of the heavenly banquet when we receive communion in a moment, and to be ready for the heavenly banquet itself in eternity with God.
Friends, do not be afraid! For God, out of his own delight, gives you his kingdom of love, peace, freedom and justice. Be watchful for the inbreaking of God’s kingdom in the thin places. And be ready for the coming of Christ, in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, and at the last day.
 David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown. Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 335.
 Ibid 338.
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 13
August 4, 2019
Luke 12:13-21, Colossians 3:1-11
The Rev’d Charles W. Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Our gospel lesson begins with someone coming to Jesus with an estate law question: the man asks him to tell his brother (probably his older brother) to divide the family inheritance with him.
This sort of childhood squabble continues even in our day. In one of the earliest funerals I did after being ordained, I asked the daughter of the deceased, “Will your step-brothers and sisters be coming to the service?” “No,” she responded. “They got all the money when their dad died, and we haven’t been able to stand being in the same room with them ever since. We really don’t want them here.”
In this case, the younger brother gets upset because the law and tradition of the day said that the elder brother receives the bulk of the inheritance. The younger brother comes to Jesus, asking him to solve his problem. “Nope,” Jesus responds. No. Can. Do. The younger brother thinks his request is all about fairness. “It’s only fair that I get half,” the younger brother thinks. But Jesus sets him straight. His request isn’t about fairness. It’s actually about greed.
Those two verses shape the parable that Jesus then tells. A rich man’s land produces abundantly…so much so that he doesn’t have room to store all of his excess crops. So he does something practical: he build larger barns in which to store them. But here’s where the rub comes in. The rich man then says, “And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, and be merry.” Now that I’ve saved up and feel secure for my future, I can truly be happy.
God’s response couldn’t have been more high-direct. “You fool!” he said. “Tonight you die! And all these things you’ve stored up…whose will they be?” “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.” And then the parable ends. No happy ending like the parable of the Good Samaritan, or the parable of the Prodigal Son.
What does it mean to be “rich towards God?” Does it mean, “You can’t take it with you, so be generous with your assets – especially to the Church?” (wink, wink) Does it mean that you and I shouldn’t plan for retirement, or save for a rainy day?
There’s a difference between proper planning and greediness. I think Jesus’s message for us in this parable is this: you have to balance concern for the future with the call to give glory to God by caring for your neighbor – for the poor, the marginalized, and all those in need. This balancing act is hard work, and requires a lot of discernment.
I am not sure if everyone has this problem, but I have a very rich fantasy life. I like to think about the day when I will hopefully no longer have to worry about paying bills, and dealing with constant repairs of an old home. I like to think about what life would be like if I won the lottery.
Jesus’s response to this rich man – “You fool! Tonight you’ll die! So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God” – this response, as jarring as it is, reminds me that I need to stop being distracted by such fantasies. Frankly, the rich man in this story had become so concerned for himself and his comfort that he had forgotten that God had created the land that produced the excess crop. He’d forgotten that really, all the excess crop belonged to God and he was just the temporary steward of them. And he’d forgotten that happiness and contentedness is not found in the abundance of wealth or possessions.
Paul said in our epistle lesson, “If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.”
It is only when we surrender our fantasies, whether they be about wealth or financial security or sexual happiness – it is only when we name these distractions for what they are – idols – and lay them at the feet of our Lord that we can truly set our minds on things that are above. It is only then that we can begin to see what contentedness looks like.
What does it mean to be “rich with God?” It means acknowledging who we are – sinners in need of a Savior – and acknowledging who God is – the creator and author of all from whom all good things come. Being rich with God means acknowledging our fantasy life for what it is, and not allowing it to become a distraction as we seek to follow Christ with all that we have and all that we are. Being rich with God means balancing the need to plan for our future with the need to give away our money and possessions to support the poor, the marginalized, and the needy. Being rich with God means knowing in the deepest parts of who we are that money and financial security and possessions will not make us happy. Jesus is telling us in this parable that we find our happiness in setting our minds on things that are above. On Jesus Christ.
Despite not being worthy to gather up the crumbs under God’s table, God’s unconditional mercy and love towards us makes us worthy to come into his presence with a quiet confidence that “all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” It is from this deep sense of knowing who we are and whose we are that we should approach our money and wealth and whatever it is that captivates our fantasy life. In knowing who we are – that we are buried with Christ in his death, and raised with him in newness of life – we are able to begin to see money and possessions for what they really are – gifts from God over which we’ve been given temporary stewardship. Yes, God provides our daily bread – everything we need – but we’ve been entrusted with the gifts we’ve been given to return some to God and to care for those in need.
Friends, let us set our minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For we have died, and our life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life is revealed, then we too will be revealed with him in glory. Amen.
 This concept is from the Theological perspective for this text in David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word. Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008).
 Colossians 3:1-11.
 Julian of Norwich.
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 12
July 27, 2019
The Rev’d Charles W. Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
The audio recording of this sermon can be found here.
I have to admit to you that sometimes, it is difficult to choose which text to focus on for a sermon. I mean, we have three different lessons – four if you include the psalm – and these lessons are often so beautiful and full of meaning that it’s hard to narrow things down. But this week, when I started reading the texts, there wasn’t a lot of discerning going on for me. The lesson from Hosea contains the word whoredom no less than three times, and Paul talks about circumcision in the second lesson. When I finally got to the Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, I breathed a huge sign of relief and made one of the easiest decisions of my life.
“Lord, teach us to pray,” Jesus’s disciple asks him. Prayer is quite an intimate thing. Learning how to pray isn’t quite like learning how to ride a bike, or repair a carburetor. It’s more like learning how to kiss, or perhaps even something more intimate than that. There isn’t only one way to do it, but there are certainly wrong ways of doing it. Sometimes, in the deepest parts of who we are, we worry whether we’re not any good at it at all.
Jesus’s begins his response to this question, “Our Father…”. He’s teaching his disciples – and us – to approach God as one we relate to intimately. Someone who is family. But not just any old family member – one whose name is hallowed, or holy. This Father we’re approaching isn’t one who will let us down like our earthly fathers have done (some more so than others), but a heavenly Father who will never stop loving us, no matter what we do.
We’ll come back to the Lord’s Prayer in a moment, but fast forward to the short parable Jesus tells after it, for the verses following the Lord’s Prayer help us to interpret it. My first read of it left me scratching my head. In it, we are asked to envision a person going to a friend at midnight asking for food to feed an unexpected houseguest. He essentially responds, “leave me alone.”
But the translation we heard makes it difficult to think see that Jesus means to describe a highly unlikely scenario. In Greek, the first three verses of this parable are actually a single question that means something like, “Could this happen to any of you?” The question anticipates a negative answer: none of the people hearing this story would expect to have a friend say, “leave me alone.” A friend who refuses to help in such a situation would violate the cultural standard of hospitality of that day and time and would bring shame – and shame in 1st century Judaism is a very bad thing. Jesus is saying that even if the obligations of friendship and hospitality aren’t enough to convince a friend to provide help in this situation – an idea that’s so ridiculous it’s bordering on the absurd – a friend will definitely respond positively to the request because of the desperate persistence of the one who is asking.
And that brings up another problem with this translation – the word persistence. Frankly, on the surface, this parable makes it appear that Jesus is telling his disciples that they will have to nag God until he gets so annoyed that he finally does what they want. As one commentator said, “The notion that, repeatedly, we must bang on the doors of heaven if we are to catch God’s attention is hardly an appropriate theology of prayer.” And this notion certainly doesn’t make any sense in light of the intimacy of the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer.
The word translated here as persistence is better translated as “shamelessness.” In a world where hospitality was very important, the shameless knocking would tell the friend’s neighbors loud and clear that he’s ignoring the needs of his friend, and rather than suffer the shame that would come from that, he would help his friend in need.
So whose shamelessness are we talking about here? The person knocking, or the one who says, “leave me alone?” In other words, is prayer primarily about what we do and say, or is it about God’s goodness? The text isn’t clear until we continue to the next few verses:
Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’
It is because of God’s shamelessness that God provides us everything we need…because that’s who he is. This is what “hallowed be thy name” really means: God responds to our prayer to honor his name even when we act in dishonorable ways. If the parents who are evil respond to their children by providing for their needs, how much more does God provide us that which truly nourishes. God’s provision for us is most evident in the gift of the Holy Spirit, his own first gift for those who believe, the same Spirit who continues to lead us into all truth and advocate on our behalf to the Father. God’s response to our prayer “thy kingdom come” is the gift of the Holy Spirit who gives us the grace to live out the Lord’s Prayer and bring God’s heavenly kingdom to the lost and broken world in which we live.
So, Jesus teaches his disciples to approach God as someone we relate to intimately. Someone who is family. But the God we approach in prayer is holy – set apart – different than our family members who can and do let us down. God’s response isn’t about how often we nag him, or how badly we want what we’re praying for, or how much faith we have. God’s response to our prayer is to provide us everything we need – our daily bread – because of God’s holiness and because of his love and care for us.
And that’s all great. But how do we pray? What do we do when we don’t know what to pray? I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but every single service in our prayer book requires the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. And this is not a new-fangled innovation in the life of the Church. The Church’s earliest liturgical manual, the Didache, written in the first or second centuries, recommends that Christians pray the Lord’s Prayer three times per day. And over the next few centuries as the Daily Office and the Mass developed, the Lord’s Prayer remained at the heart of both public and private prayer. And this only makes sense. For when his disciples asked him how to pray, our Lord gave them this beautiful prayer.
I encourage you to take a few minutes this perhaps this afternoon or later this week to reflect on your own prayer life, not to measure whether you’re praying often enough, or long enough, or to beat yourself up if you end up doing so despite me telling you not to. When you pray, do you expect God to provide material things that you desperately want but really don’t need? How do you approach God? Do you approach him as a loving Father whom you know will respond by providing for your needs? Do you trust him to provide the strength and courage you need to love him and those around you? If you struggle knowing how or what to pray, would praying the Lord’s Prayer a few times each day help to remind you of God’s extravagant love for you?
“Lord, teach us to pray,” his disciple asked him. May we too ask our Lord this question. As Jesus teaches you and me how to pray, may we be lay down the deepest parts of who we are that worry that we’re not any good at prayer at his feet as we enter into a deeper, more intimate relationship with him. Amen.
 David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word. Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 289.
 Eucharistic Prayer D.
Third Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 8, Year C
June 30, 2019
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
The audio recording of this sermon can be found here.
When I lived in France working as a missionary, my boss and his wife were an American couple named Scott and Mentanna. In one of our many discussions about the faith, the topic of “freedom” came up. “For Freedom, Christ has set us free,” St. Paul said to the Galatians in our epistle lesson. What does this Christian freedom mean? Doesn’t freedom mean that I get to do whatever I want to do? How can we be free and still have rules to follow? Mentanna had a small dog named Gidget, and being Parisians who lived in a sixth-floor apartment, they had to walk Gidget around four times per day. She liked to use Gidget as an analogy about Christian freedom. “When we lived in Texas,” she said, “we had a back yard with a fence. Gidget wanted badly to get beyond the fence, but clearly, we didn’t think that was best for her. Was she truly free in the backyard being able to run and play and bark at dogs that pass by, or was the fence preventing her from being truly free? The fact of the matter is this: she may have thought that removing the fence would make her truly free, but she would have run out into the street and been hit by a car in no time. God’s freedom always involves boundaries for our own protection.”
My concept of Christian freedom was shaken a bit when we got our little 30 pound rescue dog named Jake. We already had a doggy door into the back yard, but quickly became concerned when we’d heard Jake barking at passersby…from the front porch. It turns out that Jake has absolutely no problem climbing metal fences.
We’ve had him for 6 years, and still can’t trust him in the back yard by himself. I was reminded of the story of Gidget and the fence, and wondered if Jake’s jail-breaking activities made him any more free than Gidget was.
“For Freedom, Christ has set us free.” What is Christian freedom? Is it permission to do whatever we like? From what is it that we are freed?
St. Paul tells the Galatians to “Live by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.” He’s not using the term “flesh” throughout this passage in a negative way, as if the human body is inherently sinful or evil. Rather, “flesh” is often Paul’s shorthand for self-centered living as opposed to God-centered living. He seems to be asking the impossible of us: to resist “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, and carousing”…and if that didn’t cover it, “and things like these.” Works of the flesh aren’t just material things, they’re spiritual too: “idolatry and sorcery.”
How in the world are we supposed to resist these and all the other self-centered behaviors? How are we to instead bear the fruit of the Spirit which is love, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? Not by trying really hard, not by pulling ourselves up by our boot straps…but instead by relying on the Holy Spirit.
“Live by the Spirit,” Paul says, “and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Living by the spirit means recognizing that I’ve committed to a new way of life, living for the other rather than for myself. Living by the Spirit means recognizing that I’ve committed to living a life of spiritual discipline that includes daily prayer, contemplation, serving others, receiving the Sacraments, and so on. This life of spiritual discipline is somewhat like training for a marathon. You start out by running perhaps a mile each day, then two, then six, and then ultimately all 26 miles. The more and more we spiritually train, the more and more spiritual habits we form that ultimately change not only our behaviors, but our desires.
The desires of the flesh lead us to self-centered action. Wanting sexual intimacy, we pursue fornication; wanting contact with God, we pursue idols; wanting joy, we party too hard. The freedom we have in Christ should lead us to rely on the Holy Spirit who can help us train for the spiritual marathon that has been set before us.
So, to circle back, yes, in a sense, Christian freedom means we get to do whatever we want. But by choosing to follow Christ and submitting to the Holy Spirit, what we want…changes. Training for the spiritual marathon transforms our desires and we want something different. It is as if God’s grace changes our taste buds. The spiritual cravings we have are no longer for the selfish things on the Paul’s naughty list, but instead, we crave to love God and our neighbor.
Let’s talk about Paul’s naughty list. There isn’t anything particularly special or serious about this list of sins, rather it’s a list representing the various sorts of selfish actions human beings are prone to do. I’ve heard sermons that try to analyze this list of sinful activity and make arguments about what each one means, but that really isn’t a helpful exercise because it’s missing Paul’s point entirely. This isn’t an exhaustive list of things to avoid, it’s simply a small portion of the self-centered things that human beings often do.
It is tempting to use our freedom in Christ as an excuse to self-indulge. Paul reminds the Galatians not to use their freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.
This is what it means to “live by the Spirit.” Either you say yes to the desires of the flesh and exhibit selfish unrighteous behavior, or, by God’s grace, you say yes to the Holy Spirit and display loving, self-sacrificial righteous behavior. This is a choice we have to make over and over again in our lives. It’s a choice that we won’t escape, no matter how hard we try, until we die. It’s the way of life we committed to at our baptism. And despite our desires being changed over time as we form healthy spiritual habits, despite the fact that we desperately want to live by the Spirit…we will sometimes listen to that old menace, our Old Self, the one who had the selfish desires. When we are hungry and presented with two pieces of fruit: one, a selfish desire of the flesh, and the other, a fruit of the Spirit, we will remember how good the first piece of fruit used to taste. And we’ll eat it, despite knowing that it will make us sick, for the memory of the delicious taste sometimes seems overpowering. When we do, until the day we die, there is always the opportunity to choose to live by the Spirit in the next moment, even if in the previous moment we’ve gratified the desires of the flesh. For in the Lord there is mercy and forgiveness, and and despite the bump in the road in our spiritual training, we continue with perseverance running the race set before us, looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.
Friends, no matter what we’ve done in life, no matter how ashamed we are, no matter how tempting the first piece of fruit is, let us strive to live by the Spirit. For we who belong to Jesus have “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Let us exercise self-control and put the needs of others ahead of our own needs. Let us do the training needed to run the spiritual marathon, spending time in prayer daily, reading the Scripture, serving those around us in need, and regularly receiving God’s grace in the Sacraments of the Church. As St. Paul says, let us, through love, become slaves to one another. For in so doing, we find the greatest freedom we will ever know. Amen.
 David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word. Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 187.
 Hebrews 12:1-2.
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
June 23, 2019
Those of you who were raised in a Protestant tradition can relate to me when I say that I was intrigued by all of the ritual and peculiar practices in the Episcopal Church. And so many of the strange things are made even more peculiar by being referred to by a Latin name.
For example, I remember the first time I learned about the existence of the piscina. The piscina is a special sink that drains into the earth instead of the sewer. In some of the older churches in Europe, it’s a niche in a stone wall close to the altar, but in modern places like ours, it’s a metal sink that looks like every other sink, connected by a pipe called a sacrarium in Latin that leads directly to the ground. A piscina is primarily used for washing the communion vessels after Mass. Why do we need a special sink with a special drain with Latin names? For two reasons: first, the communion vessels have been consecrated (formally set apart) by a bishop for holy use, but more importantly, because there are remaining particles of consecrated bread and wine left on the vessels.
While theologians have been fighting about precisely what happens to the bread and wine at Holy Communion – and how it happens – the bottom line is that we believe in the “real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist”, a doctrine that leads us to reverently consume the leftovers after Mass, and that further leads us to treat even the most minute particles of the consecrated elements with utmost reverence.
In the upper room so many years ago when Jesus said, “This is my body”, he didn’t say “This has or will become my body” nor “This symbolizes my body.” He says, “This is my body.”
And in today’s gospel lesson from John, Jesus says, “I am the bread of life…I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Those listening to him got confused and asked, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” To which Jesus responds, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life…for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.” It is hard not to hear Eucharistic overtones in this passage.
The Episcopal Church’s catechism says that the Eucharist is the inward and spiritual grace of the Body and Blood of Christ given to us in the outward and visible signs of bread and wine. This is the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. And despite what my former Baptist friends and colleagues may think, the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist has been believed by Christians since the very beginning. Even a cursory review of the early Church Fathers reveals a deep and universal belief that the that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, with many of the Fathers referring to the consecrated elements as the same flesh and blood that suffered and died on the cross.
It was not until the early Middle Ages that the Church felt the need to further define how the change occurred. Like many dogmatic statements throughout the centuries, the formal doctrine of transubstantiation was formulated in response to a French theologian who, in short, denied the doctrine of the Real Presence. This notion of transubstantiation restated the doctrine of the Real Presence, which is fine, but it but went further in trying to explain how the change happens by superimposing Greek philosophical terms like “substance” and “accident” onto Christian theology. There had never been a need to even talk about how the change happened, and this overreaction on the part of the Church helped contribute to the schism that happened a few hundred years later. Since then, theologians have been fighting about precisely how it happens, but in my view, they’ve continued a discussion that continues to be unnecessary and unhelpful. In the opening hymn, we sang these words, speaking about the Jesus in the Eucharist: “Thou art here, we ask not how.”
Around the same time that the doctrine of transubstantiation was defined, today’s feast of Corpus Christi – the body and blood of Christ – became widespread. It grew out of Maundy Thursday which we celebrated nine weeks ago. On that day, the Church celebrates the institution of the Holy Eucharist in that upper room so long ago. But Maundy Thursday also commemorates the institution of the priesthood, and Jesus’s washing of his disciples’ feet, making it quite the busy liturgy. Because the Eucharist can easily get lost in all of the hustle and bustle of the Maundy Thursday, and in conjunction with an increasing number of the faithful being devoted to the Eucharist in a special way, there began to be calls for a special feast solely focused on the Eucharist, and the feast of Corpus Christi was instituted throughout the whole Western church in 1264 A.D.
Fast forward to the Protestant Reformation a few hundred years later. Corpus Christi was abolished in England. Why? Because Corpus Christi had come to represent all of the excesses of medieval Catholicism that disgusted folks like Martin Luther and Thomas Cramner. Many churches celebrated a procession after Mass on this day in which the Blessed Sacrament is placed in a monstrance and carried by the priest under a tent throughout the neighborhood. To give you a feel for the Reformers’ view on Eucharistic exposition, all I have to do is quote Article XXV from 39 Articles of Religion, the original doctrinal statement of the Reformed English Church: “The Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon, or to be carried about, but that we should duly use them.” Or how about this from Article XXVIII: “Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.”
Remember that the Articles of Religion were formulated in a time when yes, there were Eucharistic processions, but practically speaking, lay people weren’t allowed to receive communion except for a few times a year. The average Christian’s Eucharistic piety was not about receiving the body and blood of Christ for his or her redemption, it was all about gazing upon it – when the priest elevated the host and the chalice during the Eucharistic prayer, and at moments when the sacrament was exposed in a monstrance. The Reformers responded by saying, no, the primary purpose of communion is to eat it, as Christ commanded us to do, but they may have overreacted a bit in response to the Roman excesses of the day. And despite claiming that they never change their minds on matters of doctrine, sometimes Rome comes around to our position on things. In 1971, the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission reached agreement on Eucharistic doctrine, relegating the term “transubstantiation” to a footnote, in which it is said to affirm the fact of the ‘mysterious and radical change’ rather than to explain how the change takes place.
On Maundy Thursday, the joy of commemorating the institution of the Eucharist is overshadowed by what we all know will happen the next day: the Lord’s awful death on that tree at Calvary. It is meet and right for us to rediscover the baby that the Reformers threw out with the bathwater when they abolished this great feast of Corpus Christi. And as much fun as a Eucharistic procession around downtown Kansas City sounds, we’ll have to wait until next year, for the canopy or tent we have is in ill-repair and is a bit too somber. Next year’s procession will be grand!
In the meantime, let us rejoice in the great gift God has given us in the Holy Eucharist in which the inward and spiritual grace of the Body and Blood of Christ is given to us in the outward and visible signs of bread and wine. Let us sing hymns of gladness, and wear the finest vestments, and use the gold communion vessels. Let us revel in the mystery of what we’re about to behold at this altar – that God would use ordinary creatures of bread and wine to join us with all the saints in heaven and on earth in the eternal banquet of love which began on the hill at Calvary and continues each time we obey Christ’s commandment to “do this in remembrance of me.” Let us give thanks to God that while we may struggle with the mysteriousness nature of the change that happens, in the bread and the wine we are made one body with Christ, that he may dwell in us, and we in him. And as we gaze upon the elements at the elevations in a moment, let us join with St. Thomas Aquinas in proclaiming these words which the schola will sing at the offertory: “Hail, true Body, born of the Virgin Mary, having truly suffered, sacrificed on the cross for mankind, from whose pierced side water and blood flowed: be for us a foretaste in the trial of death! O sweet Jesus, O holy Jesus, O Jesus, son of Mary, have mercy on me.” And let our pious gazing upon our Lord in the bread and the wine make us yearn to receive Him just as the deer yearns for streams of water. Amen.
 F.. L. Cross and E.. A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 1637.
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
The Rev’d Charles Everson
Isaiah 6:1-13, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
June 9, 2019
The audio recording of this sermon can be found here.
When I think of Pentecost Day, I immediately think of the scene as Luke describes it in the book of Acts with the tongues of fire and the and the early Christians being given the ability to speak in other languages.
The apostle John’s version of Pentecost is quite different. Instead of large crowds and what appeared to be drunken behavior, we get the intimacy of Jesus’s final moments with his disciples. These are the same disciples who followed him during his ministry on earth only to be devastated by his execution at Calvary. While they were overjoyed to discover that he rose from the dead three days later, his post-resurrection appearances were confusing to them, and ultimately, when Jesus ascended into heaven 40 days after Easter, they were faced with this question: What happens when Jesus is no longer around? Will we ever get to experience his presence again, or will we be left all alone?
The opening line in this scene is Philip prompting Jesus to “show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Just before this passage, Jesus tells the disciples that he’s going to the Father and about his desire to take them with him. Thomas interrupts Jesus to ask him how they can “know the way” to where he is going, and Jesus responds, “I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
So, we shouldn’t be surprised at Jesus’ rebuke of Philip’s somewhat silly request. I mean, Jesus had just explained all of this. But he uses Philip’s prompting to go deeper by describing his relationship with God the Father. This relationship might be described as a “mutual indwelling.” “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” John uses this mutual indwelling between Jesus and the Father as a window – an icon – into how God will relate to the community of faith we call the church.
We could spend a lot of time getting into the nuance of Trinitarian theology, but let’s just cut to the chase about the nature of this relationship: Jesus promises his fledgling church that he will not leave them orphaned. In the King James translation, which you will hear the choir sing in a moment, he says, “I will not leave you comfortless,” one of the most beautiful promises in all of Scripture. This term “comfortless” or “orphaned” signifies the lack of parents and the unconditional love that good parents exhibit toward their children. Jesus says, “I will give you another Comforter, the Holy Spirit…you know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”
Just as Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in him, so is the Holy Spirit in the Church and the Church in the Holy Spirit. To this fragile community of new Christians, these words were words of balm and peace. No, he would not leave them comfortless. Through the Spirit, they would have constant, eternal access to Jesus, and to the Father.
Thanks be to God, the nature of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the church isn’t left up to our imagination. Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will remind them of all that he said to them. The Spirit doesn’t teach new truths, or do things differently than Jesus did. The presence of the Comforter brings Jesus to mind, and it is Jesus who is the way, the truth, and the life. The Holy Spirit quite simply points us to Jesus.
Over the past two years, I’ve told you all many stories about my time as a Southern Baptist minister – some several times, I’m sure! – but I think this story might be new to this pulpit. The pastor at the little country church where I served as music minister in college didn’t have much theological education under his belt. His sermons were very similar week after week, but unlike most Southern Baptists, he paced back and forth and got very worked up emotionally…especially when talking about the Holy Spirit. Bro. James liked to refer to the “Holy Ghost” like we do in our liturgy, but unlike what you’re experiencing right now, mentions of the Holy Ghost were usually accompanied by fist waving…like this. One day, he and I were talking, and I brought up some area in my life where I was struggling and asked him to pray for me. During his prayer, he began to “speak in tongues.” I won’t try to imitate what he was doing, but I was awfully confused and felt uneasy…almost eerily afraid. These utterances coming out of his mouth were strange. It sounded like he was repeating himself over and over again in some sort of simple language I’d never heard, but with a repetitive cadence that was quite frankly creepy. I remember thinking, “Is this what the early Christians sounded like on the day of Pentecost when others thought they may have been drunk?” I never felt like my question was answered satisfactorily until I came to St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Kansas City. One of our members who isn’t here today and thus can’t defend himself came out of the Charismatic Movement and demonstrated to me how he was taught to speak in tongues. I mean, it was almost exactly the same thing that I heard that day in 2001 in rural Arkansas, but this time, the person “speaking in tongues” explained the vocal and nasal inflections needed to make these particular sounds. We would need at least an hour to dive in to the merits of the theology behind speaking in tongues, but I want to point out what St. Paul said to the Corinthians at the end of his discourse on speaking in tongues: “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace.”
After announcing the coming of the Holy Spirit to his disciples, Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
The peace that Jesus is talking about isn’t the opposite of war. He’s not talking about a peaceful moment in the mountains, or the peace that one might feel after drinking a few glasses of wine. Jesus is talking about a deeply rooted peace that comes when you humble yourself before God and say, “I’m a sinner in need of redemption. I can’t do this alone. I need to be in community with other people who feel this way too.” Jesus is talking about a peace that only comes when you allow yourself to recognize that despite all of your flaws, despite your desire to sin and your repeated decisions to commit sins, despite the fact that you’ve failed to love God and keep his commandments…despite all of that, you allow yourself to recognize that you’ve been unconditionally forgiven. That you are loved. This is the peace that comes when you view yourself the way God views you – as the Beloved.
The catechism in our prayer book poses the question, “How do we recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives?” “We recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit when we confess Jesus Christ as Lord and are brought into love and harmony with God, with ourselves, with our neighbors, and with all creation.” This is the peace that Jesus left with his disciples. He promised that he would not leave them comfortless. And he fulfilled that promise by giving them the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. God longs for each of us to see ourselves like he sees us: sinners in need of redemption, but ultimately, completely and totally loved by God despite all of our faults. He longs for us to be in love and harmony with Him, with other people, and even with all of creation. And he longs to give us that peace that the world cannot give by pouring out his grace on his Church – even here at 13th and Holmes in the year 2019.
In a moment, God’s grace – God’s unearned and undeserved favor toward us – will be poured out by the power of the Holy Spirit on this altar in the bread and wine of Holy Communion. As a community of believers, we will offer and present ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a living sacrifice to God. And of his great mercy, God will fill us with his grace and make us one body with him, that he may dwell in us, and we in him.
Of course, there’s a rich irony in the contrast between the outpouring of the Spirit in the craziness of that first Pentecost Day, and the orderliness of the Spirit’s outpouring at a Solemn High Mass in a Gothic church with exquisite music and liturgy. This irony highlights the fact that while we are sure that Holy Spirit works through the Sacraments of the Church, she is not constrained by them.
Friends, this Pentecost Day, let us pray for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit on this community – St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. By the power of the Spirit, let us confess Jesus Christ as Lord and be brought into love and harmony with God, with ourselves, with our neighbors, and with all creation. Let us recommit ourselves to coming together as a community to faithfully receive God’s love outpoured for us in the Sacraments of the Church day in and day out, and let us open our hearts and minds to how the Holy Spirit may be at work around us in unexpected ways. In the words of our closing hymn, let us pray that the Spirit’s flame may break out within us, fire our hearts and clear our sight, till white-hot in God’s possession, we, too, set the world alight. Amen.
 John 14:1-7.
 David Lyon Bartlett, and Barbara Brown Taylor. Feasting on the Word. Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009, 29.
 This paragraph is largely from Bartlett 22, Theological Perspective.
 1 Cor 14:33, KJV.
 BCP 852.
 BCP 336.
 Michael Hewett, Praise the Spirit in Creation. The Hymnal 1982 #506.
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
The Rev’d Charles Everson
May 26, 2019
The audio recording of this sermon can be found here.
We’ve been working through John’s fantastical vision in the book of Revelation, and today we hear the end of the vision. Last week, John told us that he saw from afar the holy city, the new Jerusalem coming down from heaven. And now, we get to hear at least a bit about what he saw when the Spirit carried him away to show him this city. It’s a pity that the lectionary authors cut out most of chapter 21, for it is in these missing verses that John describes the city itself. Beyond the sheer beauty of it, this city is chock-full of symbolism. The city shone with the radiance of a very rare jewel and had a great, high wall with 12 gates, and at the gates 12 angels, and on the gates are inscribed the names of the 12 tribes of Israel. This wall has 12 foundations, and on them are the 12 names of the 12 apostles of the Lamb. The number 12 represents wholeness or completeness. Then, John describes the measurements of the city which are also symbolic. It is a perfect, symmetrical cube, lined by walls built of jasper, with the city being pure gold, clear as glass. The foundations of the walls are adorned with every jewel (12 of them, of course), with streets of gold. This four-walled, perfectly symmetrical city in all of its beauty – this New Jerusalem represents the Church.
Then John commented that there was no temple in the city. Whether Revelation was written before or after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD is a matter of debate, but in any case, the idea that the New Jerusalem had no Temple had to be mind boggling for the original audience, especially for Jewish Christians. For the Temple was necessary for the priests to offer up sacrifices to atone for the sins of the people, and this most holy rite could only be done in the Temple. The measurements of the city specifically symbolize the Holy of Holies, the part of the Temple where only the high priest could enter, and even then, only once per year. In the New Jerusalem, this atoning work is no longer necessary, for the Lamb that was slain has atoned for our sins once and for all. The city itself is a new temple, the Church, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone. No longer are the deepest parts of the faith reserved for the 1%. No longer are people excluded from the inner sanctum of holiness. In this new temple, the prophets and the apostles point us toward Jesus, and each of us is a living stone that makes up a part of the temple.
Finally, we hear John describe this beautiful scene of the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God through the middle of the street. This water brings life – the “tree of life”, in fact, which takes us back to the Garden of Eden. If you remember, the inhabitants of Eden – Adam and Eve – were created to live eternally, but they were told, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it, you shall die.” We know how that turned out for them, and for us. Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate a piece of fruit from that tree –traditionally depicted as an apple – and they became subject to evil and death and everything that comes with that. Because they chose to eat it, Adam and Eve lived lives full of suffering and pain. And they died. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
John sees a new tree in this vision. In the New Jerusalem, the tree of life has all kinds of fruit growing on it, and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. There are no restrictions on what we can eat. The fruit of the first tree didn’t fulfill humanity’s hunger, but the fruit of the new one certainly does.
Many of you choristers, and perhaps a few other liturgical music nerds, know the choral piece from Lessons and Carols called Jesus Christ the Apple Tree . We are so used to hearing the Choir of Kings College, Cambridge sing it year after year at Christmas, typically beginning with the boys of the choir singing the first verse in unison. But it is verse three of this carol that comes to mind:
For happiness I long have sought,
And pleasure dearly I have bought:
I missed of all: but now I see
‘Tis found in Christ the apple tree.
I’ve looked for happiness in all sorts of things. I’ve looked for happiness in my banking career, in academic success, and in several different types of sin, some of which are inappropriate for the pulpit. I’ve eaten of the forbidden fruit. It doesn’t satisfy. John is telling us that in the new Jerusalem, the river of life will feed the tree of life which will give us fruit that will not only sustain us, it will bring perfect and complete healing. Despite knowing that the fruit from the new tree will satisfy my every longing, I sometimes choose to eat the apple from the first tree. When I choose the apple – when I choose to disregard God’s will and seek my own pleasure – I am not satisfied. Maybe for a while, but not in the end. When I instead turn to Jesus, I find what I’ve been seeking. Happiness, yes. But not happy as in “bliss.” A better word is “wholeness.” Completeness.
Now that I’ve eaten something that satisfies my hunger, I have to admit, I get sad when I see my co-workers, and friends, and family eating the proverbial apple. I want to tell them that it’s a trick…that eating the apple won’t make them full. They won’t get what they expected. I want to tell them that there’s another option. There’s another tree that is like the one they see. But this tree is renewed and restored. Eating the fruit of this tree unfortunately won’t take away the deceiving power the first tree has over them, for that apple will still seem luscious and tasty and satisfying. But in the words of that 18th century carol, this new fruit “makes my soul to thrive, it keeps my dying faith alive. Which makes my soul in haste to be with Jesus Christ the apple tree.”
It’s no accident that the lectionary authors paired the end of John’s vision with the first lesson from Acts when we heard of Paul’s vision that led him to Philippi to a river to share the Good News with a woman named Lydia. When we hear about Paul’s missionary journeys, it’s easy to think, “But Paul was extraordinary. He was called to spread the Gospel to the Gentiles, and no one has been called in such a way since. I wasn’t called to be a missionary! I work for a local bank. Paul’s missionary stories don’t relate much to my everyday life.”
The story of Paul sharing the Good News with Lydia is just as applicable to you and me as it is to someone called to be a full-time missionary. Before he encountered Jesus Christ, Paul hated Christianity and all it stood for. Upon encountering Christ on that road to Damascus, he realized that his entire understanding of God was wrong. Paul realized that the apple from the old tree didn’t satisfy. He tasted of the fruit of the tree of life in the New Jerusalem and was satisfied, and he felt compelled to share that Good News with everyone.
As is always the case, it wasn’t Paul’s convincing arguments that won Lydia over. Luke tells us that the Lord opened Lydia’s heart to listen eagerly to what Paul said. You and I can describe the new Jerusalem in all its beauty, and the new tree, and the new fruit, and all that it has meant to us. We can do all of that, but unless the Lord opens the other person’s heart, it’s all for naught. The call to share the love of God in Christ with those around us is first a call to pray for them, and then it’s a call to share our story in word and deed.
Friends, the city of God is no longer reserved for a particular race or tribe or language or culture. The city of God is for all people, and by the power of the Spirit, we are called to invite all who would hear to drink from the springs of the water of life and eat of the fruit of the tree of life.
 Same Old Song podcast, Mockingbird ministries. https://www.mbird.com/podcasts/
 Genesis 2:16-17
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
The Rev’d Charles Everson
May 19, 2019
The audio recording of this sermon can be found here.
St. John’s heavenly vision continues in the lesson we heard from Revelation. Same as last week, it seems to be focused on unrealistic, heavenly things far, far away from our existence.
John saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and first earth had passed away. He is describing his vision using imagery that he and every other good Jew knew all too well as found in the latter part of the book of Isaiah. Isaiah quotes the Lord God, “I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.” Isaiah wrote these words to the Hebrew people after they’d spent nearly 70 years in exile – in slavery – in Babylon. When the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple along with it in 587 BC, their entire worldview was utterly and completely turned upside down. The Temple was literally the center of the universe for the Hebrew people. It was their central bank, a sort of flea market if you will, but most importantly, they believed that Yahweh, their god, actually resided there. Within the Temple, the Holy of Holies was where God physically dwelt amongst them. Along with Jerusalem and the Temple, the Babylonian captivity ended the monarchy in Israel despite the fact that God had promised that the Davidic line would be established and maintained forever.
It isn’t really possible for us as 21st century Americans to even begin to fathom how devastating the sack of Jerusalem was to the Hebrews. 9/11 doesn’t even come close. And to top it off, the Hebrews were then ripped from their homes and hauled off into exile. In 538 BC, Persia overtook Babylon and the Hebrews were allowed to begin to come home. But they came home to a Jerusalem in shambles. Their world was upside down and there was no hope for the future.
For the Hebrews, the Temple was the center of creation, and God’s promise of a new heaven and a new earth was nothing other than a promise of an entirely new creation. In John’s vision of this new creation, he says, “the sea was no more.” This sea refers to the primordial chaos of creation in the book of Genesis, out of which evil continually threatens to undo the goodness of God’s creation. This passage, from the end of the Bible, returns to the ancient images of the creation stories from Genesis. No more evil, no more chaos, no more shame, no more death.
Yes, like last week, the message is that there is hope in the midst of despair. The orderliness of creation that was turned to chaos by sin will finally be renewed and restored. But it won’t be restored exactly to what it was. It will look different. In Genesis, paradise is not in a city, but in a garden. When Cain kills his brother Abel, he’s banished to a city. The new heavens and the new earth aren’t symbolized by a garden, but rather by a holy city. And cities are full of people and culture and food and resources. And unlike most cities, this one includes a river and trees and ample water. This isn’t unrealistic, heavenly imagery that is solely focused on things far, far away from our world. The new creation will be communal, filled with fellowship with other people, with plenty of resources to provide for our every need.
This blessed city, this heavenly Jerusalem, came down out of heaven from God. Then, John heard a loud voice proclaim that the “home of God is among mortals.” The word translated as home in Greek is the word “tabernacle,” and the word “dwell” is the verb form of the same word. “See, the tabernacle of God is among mortals. He will tabernacle with them; they will be his people, and God himself will be with them.” For the original Hebrew audience, the word tabernacle brought to mind the stories not only of the Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem, but even further back, of the portable tent where God dwelt physically with the Israelites under Moses in the wilderness.
Quite simply, in this scene, heaven descends to earth. The new heaven and the new earth is the place where God is, and where humans are fully united with God. Unlike in our St. Peter-at-the-pearly gates cartoons and memes, heaven and earth are not separate, unrelated realities. John notes earlier in the book of Revelation that heaven and earth have an open door between them in the present age, and that events in heaven can determine the course of human events, and vice versa. Satan’s expulsion from heaven comes as a result of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead (12:5,7), and the same fallen angels work their revenge on the saints of God. In the present age, then, there is a strong connection between the world above and the world below. Last week’s heavenly scene from chapter 7 of the great multitude from all peoples standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, worshipping God with the angels and the four living creatures – this scene reveals the strongest connection of all between heaven and earth: the liturgy of the one holy catholic and apostolic church.
“See, the tabernacle of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his people, and God himself will be with them.”
This word tabernacle is the same word we use in the church today for that box above the altar in which we keep consecrated bread. The altar party, and many of you genuflect or bow before sitting down, or when you pass in front of the Tabernacle. Why do we do this? Because this box, this work of human hands, contains within it the very God who created all things and is renewing all things. In this box is found the One who humbled himself to share in our humanity in order that we might be re-united with God in this world and the next.
A little over a month ago, you and I and the whole world watched in horror as Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris burned. Fr. Fournier, the chaplain of the Paris Fire Brigade, risked his life to go into the burning cathedral to rescue the relic believed to be the Crown of Thorns Jesus wore at his crucifixion, but more importantly, to rescue the Blessed Sacrament – the consecrated bread in the tabernacle.
Since then, some have been surprised – maybe even shocked – that so many people showed such deep emotion for a building made by human hands when so many people are suffering in the world. And some have decried the amount of money already raised to rebuild it. And some, I’m sure, have thought that it’s ridiculous for a man to risk his life to save a piece of bread.
The Archbishop of Paris said these words in a sermon shortly after the fire:
"We must ask why Notre Dame was constructed. Why this human genius? Because they could have done something functional. It's far more than functional. And why? Because what is honored there is absolutely splendid, that's what we believe. And if you want to ask the real question, what jewel is this jewel box for? It's not for the Crown of Thorns, you know? It's for a piece of bread. It's astonishing. How can one construct such a work of art for a piece of bread? That piece of bread is the Body of Christ. And that endures. Nobody will ever be able to destroy it."
John heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his people, and God himself will be with them.” Amen.
 Isaiah 65:17, NRSV.
 David Lyon Bartlett, and Barbara Brown Taylor. Feasting on the Word. Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009. Kindle edition, location 15336, quoting Ps. 74:13-14; Isa 27:1.
 Most of this paragraph comes from ibid 15331.
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!