April 4, 2021
The Rev’d Charles W. Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
The scene that St. John sets before us in the gospel lesson we just heard has all the features of a good movie: vivid detail, gripping suspense, and powerful human emotion. More importantly, it tells a down-to-earth story about something with which all of us struggle: the odd claim to have a relationship with Jesus Christ, even though he has never stood before us physically in the flesh. But even more bizarre is the Christian claim to believe that he rose from the dead, for we know that dead people don’t rise from their graves and walk around.
Like most Christians, we Episcopalians believe that our relationship with Christ begins with baptism. In the baptismal rite, the priest asks the Candidate or the parents and godparents, “Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?” It’s very easy for most to respond, “I do.” It’s also easy to say, “I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,” as we will in a moment when we recite the Nicene Creed. Speaking these words is quite simple, but is often done without much emotion or thought, and doesn’t indicate that we’ve necessarily had some sort of personal encounter with Christ.
In today’s Gospel, we see a very different kind of encounter with Jesus. This encounter isn’t only tangible and physical, it’s emotional and deeply personal. For Mary Magdalene, her encounter with the risen Christ involved her eyes and her ears and a person standing before her. It is very real.
After the events that lead to Jesus’s arrest, torture, and death, she comes to his tomb only to find that someone has presumably stolen his dead body. She is so caught up in her raw emotion that she doesn’t even recognize Jesus when he’s standing right in front of her. When she responds to him, assuming he is the gardener, Jesus doesn’t offer some sort of generic response. He says, “Mary.” He uses a word that applies to her and her alone, a word that captures the particularity of her individual life – her name. His response was deeply personal.
You and I don’t have the benefit of seeing the resurrected Jesus in the flesh as she did. How can our faith in Jesus be as real as Mary Magdalene’s faith?
While we don’t see him in the flesh, in the waters of baptism, God used ordinary water to grant us grace, despite the fact that we didn’t earn it or deserve it. According to our catechism, at baptism, God adopted us as his children and made us members of Christ’s body, the Church. At baptism, we were united with Christ in his death and resurrection, born into God’s family, forgiven of our sins, and given new life in the Holy Spirit.
Children. Life. Members. Family. Born. Forgiven. These words reflect a deeply personal relationship between us as individuals and God, a God who calls us each by name, just as he did Mary Magdalene. At baptism, the candidates are baptized not anonymously, but by name. God’s interest in us is deeply personal – his interest in us is just as real as it was when he said to her, “Mary.”
I’m not sure about you, but if God were distant and far away, like a clockmaker who sets his clock in motion and leaves it alone to operate without any further interaction, I wouldn’t have the slightest bit of interest. But a God who sees and knows the most intimate parts of my life – my body, my past, my dreams and disappointments, my future – a God who loves and cares deeply about all these intimate aspects of my life? That’s the sort of God we see revealed in Jesus Christ.
Like with Mary Magdalene, Jesus comes to us not as a zombie, or a ghost, but as a person. He doesn’t come to us as a disembodied spirit, but as a whole, integrated person – body, mind and spirit. He didn’t just come to save our souls, he came to redeem our minds and our bodies as well. He cares about how we spend our money, and what we do with our time, and how we treat the bodies God gave us, and how we treat the poor person we encounter, just as much as he cares about our thoughts and prayers. Jesus doesn’t just come to us in our hearts, he comes to us physically: in the waters of baptism, in the bread and wine at Holy Communion, in the physical intimacy between spouses, and so on.
We don’t get to see Jesus in the flesh like Mary did. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…it’s not an easy thing to wrap our heads around as dead people don’t generally rise up from their graves and walk around. I’m not sure about you, but to me, a God who is interested in both the spiritual and the physical realms...a God who loves humanity enough to become one of us in order to redeem the worst parts of who we are…a God who loves me enough to care about the intimate parts of my life…a God who loved the world so much that he not only gave his Son for our sake, but promised us that he would be with us always…a God who lavishly pours out his love for us physically again and again in our world today…that’s the kind of God that sounds interesting to me.
This Easter Day, as we encounter the risen Christ at this altar, let us pray for the grace to recognize him in the breaking of the bread. Let us renew our faith in the One who loves us so deeply that he gave up everything for us. And let us rejoice that he has called each of us by name into a deep and personal relationship with him. Amen.
 David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Louisville (Ky.): Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 376.
 Feasting 378.
 Catechism of the 1979 BCP..
April 2, 2021
The Rev’d Charles W. Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
When I give tours of the church, I usually start in the back, and move my way toward the high altar. This entire space is built in such a way that the focus of the eye is always drawn to the altar. I begin with describing the women saints that adorn the front of the altar, then point to where Fr. Jardine is buried underneath the horn of the north steps. Before I can get to the rest of it, I’m often interrupted by some version of this question: “What is that box for?” The box in question is directly above the altar in the center, and in it, we keep the reserve sacrament, the leftover communion bread that was consecrated at a previous Mass. Today is the one day in the calendar when the Sacrament is not reserved. Normally, we would pay Jesus homage by bowing or genuflecting toward this holy place, perhaps catching a glimpse of the sanctuary lamp that burns as a reminder of his presence. But not today. The lamp has been extinguished, the doors thrown open, the tabernacle emptied, the sanctuary stripped. As Mary Magdalene said when faced with the empty tomb, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” The empty tabernacle declares to all what happened on this day: our Lord has died to save us from our sins.
The tabernacle, in the Western tradition, is, among other things, analogous to the Holy of Holies in Judaism. The Holy of Holies was the holiest of all places on earth for the Hebrew people. It was in the innermost part of the Temple in Jerusalem, and it was only in the Holy of Holies that God’s presence appeared. Once every year, the high priest, and no one else, lifted a corner of a curtain that shielded the Holy of Holies to go inside and make a blood offering for himself and for the sins of the people. The curtain kept God hidden; only the high priest could pass through the curtain once a year and be in the intimate presence of God.
What curtains do we have in our lives that keep God hidden? What curtains keep us separated from God?
It’s quite easy for us to see ourselves as defective and thus unworthy to be in God’s presence. Even those human beings who were blessed with good looks go through times of feeling physically unattractive – even ugly – and project these views on God, leaving us with the feeling that God feels just as disgusted with our bodies as we are. We see ourselves as “less than” in all sorts of ways, perhaps especially when we’re self-evaluating our prayer lives. In this way, our defectiveness becomes a curtain, keeping God hidden and far away. In the same way, we often erect a curtain between us and God when we throw in the towel because we’re sick and tired of repeating the same sins over and over again. Each of us has specific tendencies to sin – for some, it’s greed, for others it’s gluttony, for others it’s fornication. By God’s help, we will try to stop, but it’s likely that we’re going to continue to have the same tendency to sin tomorrow, 10 years from now, perhaps until the day we die. It’s easy to put up a nice, thick curtain between you and God and stop trying to resist that particular temptation altogether.
On this day so long ago, the curtain separating us from God was forever torn in two. The author of Hebrews says, “Since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”
Any good Jew would have been scandalized to hear that they might be able to intimately know God in the same way the high priest did – to enter into his presence. Just as the tearing of the curtain in the temple made the Holy of Holies visible, so that all could freely enter, so Jesus, whose flesh is torn open upon the cross, unveils the God of heaven so that all may enter in to relationship with Him. On that cross, God himself bowed his head and submitted to death, suffering for us. Veiled in flesh, God himself is torn open on the cross to remove anything that might inhibit us from coming into God’s presence. While all human beings are made in God’s image, the pure water that washed us at our baptism restored us all the more to the way we were supposed to be before Adam and Eve ate from that tree so long ago, and continues to give us the grace to see ourselves not as defective, but as beautiful and wonderfully made. The grace given to us at baptism continues to give us the strength we need to strive for holiness day in and day out and strive to resist committing those stubborn sins we continue to struggle with day after day.
Friends, let us give thanks to almighty God that Jesus set his passion, cross and death between his judgment and our souls. Let us give thanks that in Jesus, all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. Let us give thanks for the empty tabernacle, for on this day, our Lord has died to save us from our sins.
 John 20:13.
 https://www.thecatholicthing.org/2011/04/22/the-empty-tabernacle/. Accessed March 23, 2021.
 David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Louisville (Ky.): Westminster John Knox Press, 2011, 299.
 Hebrews 19b-22
 1979 BCP p. 489.
 Colossians 1:19-20.
March 28, 2021
The Rev’d Charles W. Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Today, we began with the story of Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem with shouts of acclamation and an adoring crowd. But then just a moments later, we heard the long, agonizing story of his betrayal and torture and death. How jolting it is to go from crying “Hosanna” to “Crucify him!” Some might describe what we’re experiencing as “liturgical whiplash.” How do we make sense of today’s liturgical drama? In the Liturgy of the Palms, we hear that many people had come to love Jesus. They spread their cloaks both on the donkey and on the streets to make way for him. They shout “Hosanna in the highest…Blessed is he who cometh in the name of the Lord”…or, in more modern language, “God save the King.” Jesus then rides in royal fashion through the midst of the adoring crowds. Fast forward a few short minutes in the liturgy, and we’re hearing about Judas Iscariot’s awful betrayal of his Lord, and the first Eucharist that ties the Jewish Passover sacrifice to the imminent sacrifice of Jesus, and the crowds crying “Crucify him! Crucify him!”, and then the death of Jesus on the cross at Calvary.
The liturgical whiplash we experience today points to a deep truth that all human beings can relate to: joyous professions of loyalty can turn in the blink of an eye to betrayal. We see this not only in the adoration and subsequent rejection of Christ, but also in he who Gregory the Great once called the “prince of the apostles”, St. Peter. When Jesus asked Peter, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”, he answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” But as we heard today, moments later, Peter denied Jesus three times.
Let’s face it: we human beings are fickle. We swear allegiance to something, and then within a matter of moments, we’ve moved on to something else, having forgotten our vows. If I were to ask you, “Who do you say the Son of Man is?”, especially in public, I’m fairly confident you’d say “He’s the Son of God,” or “he is second person of the Trinity”…or, perhaps, “he’s fully human and fully divine.” But then tomorrow, it’s quite possible that you’ll not recognize Christ in the poor person you encounter. Or you’ll be faced with another human being at work who drives you crazy, and in the midst of your emotional response to his or her dysfunction, you’ll forget that he or she is made in God’s image and is worthy of love and respect.
It is human nature to say that we’re followers of Christ one minute, and then make choices as if we hadn’t ever professed faith in him. Put another way, we often say that we’re Christians but then decide to do something that completely contradicts that profession of faith. Like Peter, we are prone to deny the Lord we love.
And like us, the original audience of this text knew that Peter and the other disciples were ultimately restored into close relationship with Jesus. St. Mark doesn’t provide closure by finishing the story about their restoration. He implicitly leaves this question with his readers: will they ultimately be faithful to Jesus?
I leave you with that same question as we begin the holiest of weeks: will you be faithful to Jesus?
 This concept was coined by The Reverend Kara Slade on a Facebook post in 2018 which I cannot now find.
 David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Louisville (Ky.): Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 183.
Fifth Sunday in Lent
March 21, 2021
Hebrews 5:5-10; Jeremiah 31:31-34
The Rev’d Charles W. Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Before I left my job at the bank last August, when someone asked me what I did for a living, I said, “I’m a banker.” Obviously, depending on the conversation, I might have also mentioned that I’m a priest. But now, that’s the only answer I have. And I’ve been surprised how many times I’ve been asked, “Why do Episcopalians call their ministers priests and not pastors?” Surprisingly, they don’t teach you how to respond to this question in seminary. Over time, my somewhat overly simplistic response to this question has become, “Because priests make sacrifices and pastors don’t.”
In today’s lesson from the letter to the Hebrews, Jesus Christ is referred to as a high priest. In the early history of the Hebrew people, Moses ordains Aaron as the first high priest, the one charged with entering the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, to make atonement for his sins and the sins of the Israelites by offering sacrifices to God on an altar. There were bloodless sacrifices of grain and wine, and more importantly, animal sacrifices.
At first in Israel’s history, the high priest’s status was secondary to that of the king, and his authority was limited to the religious sphere and specifically to the liturgical and sacrificial work in the Temple. Later, the authority of the high priest extended to the political arena. The office of the high priest and that of the monarch effectively became one and the same.
The author of Hebrews does something remarkable, not only in this chapter, but throughout his letter. He links Jesus not to Aaron, the first high priest of the hereditary Levitical priesthood, but to Melchizedek, a mysterious figure from the book of Genesis who pre-dates Aaron by six generations. Melchizedek is only mentioned twice in the Old Testament, but in short, he is described as having been anointed by God as both a priest and a king, offering bread and wine to God.
In the late 1940’s, when scholars discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls in the desert caves of the West Bank, they came across a manuscript from the 1st century BC that shows that the figure of Melchizedek had developed considerably in Jewish thought by this point. He was depicted as a heavenly redeemer figure, a leader of the forces of light, who brings release to the captives and reigns during the Messianic age. The author of Hebrews knows that his audience is familiar with both the Old Testament and intertestamental traditions of Melchizedek when he declares that God appoints Jesus as high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.
The priests of Aaron became priests by their lineage, but for Melchizedek, there is no record of his lineage. He was appointed a priest by God to an order that had no beginning. Jesus is a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek; thus the order has no end. The word order doesn’t mean Franciscan or Benedictine, it means after the manner of Melchizedek's priesthood. Later in this letter, the author goes on to make a sharp distinction between the Levitical priests who continue to offer these animals in sacrifice. They had to offer. They had to kill. They had to sacrifice millions of sheep, millions of goats and millions of cattle with millions of gallons of blood running down through the temple. Why? It was because of the Golden Calf – before that event in the life of the Hebrews, there was a clean priesthood that Melchizedek represents, and as we hear in the book of Genesis, Melchizedek’s priesthood included offering bread and wine.
Since very early in the Church, a connection has been made with the bread and wine offered by Melchizedek as foreshadowing the bread and wine offered by Christian priests at the Eucharist. When Jesus was sacrificed on the cross, the priest and the offering were the same. But at the Eucharist, the priest and the offering are different, as it was with Melchizedek. The once-and-for-all sacrifice of the eternal great high priest on the cross is continued through Christian priesthood, a priesthood prefigured by Melchizedek’s offering of bread and wine on the altar to God, and perpetuated by hundreds of thousands of priests throughout history who have offered the same gifts on the altar in the name of Christ. This point was driven home to me personally when I was ordained priest and opened so many cards of congratulations that said, “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.”
What sort of sacrifice do priests make today?
St. Paul encourages the Christians at Rome to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1). Likewise, the author of Hebrews uses sacrificial language to call on Christians to offer God both praise and a life of love for others (Heb 13:15-16). The early church saw all prayer all prayer as a sacrifice of praise offered to God, with the Eucharist as the fullest expression of Christian sacrifice; a sacrifice that requires repentance of sins leading to praise and thanksgiving.
As I said earlier, we call our ministers priests because priests make sacrifices. The Church doesn’t teach that priests re-sacrifice Jesus on the cross at the Mass. The crucifixion happened one time in history and can never be repeated, but we know that Jesus was appointed high priest forever. At the Eucharist, the priest offers to God a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving on behalf of the people, a bloodless sacrifice of bread and wine as foreshadowed by Melchizedek. This sacrifice makes the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus on the cross present for us in our day and time. In the Eucharistic sacrifice, time stands still as earth and heaven are joined, we are united to Christ’s once offering of himself on the cross. And when we receive our Lord into our bodies, our sins are forgiven, our union with Christ and the Church is strengthened, and we experience a foretaste of the heavenly banquet which is our nourishment in eternal life.
As you receive communion today, I invite you to offer yourself – your soul and your body – as a living sacrifice to the one who offered himself in sacrifice on that cross so long ago. As you receive this pledge of your salvation, I invite you to hear anew the beautiful and tender words of hope we heard God speak to his people in the first lesson from Jeremiah: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people…they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”
 Jewish Annotated Bible, p. 470.
 Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, p. 38.
 BCP 860.
 Jeremiah 31:33-34.
Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 14, 2021
Numbers 21:4-9, John 3:14-21
The Rev’d Charles W. Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad with her!
The Mass for the Fourth Sunday in Lent begins with these words that we heard the cantor sing during the Introit. Rejoice in Latin is Laetare, hence the name Laetare Sunday. While last Thursday was technically the middle point in Lent, the Church gives us a bit of joy on Laetare Sunday, at least in comparison to the other Sundays in Lent. The clergy wear rose colored vestments, and the musicians have a bit of pep in their singing and playing, giving us some encouragement in our penitential journey through Lent.
The lessons for Laetare Sunday under our current lectionary begin with one of the most bizarre passages in all of Scripture. This is the last of the stories in the book of Numbers in which the Hebrews, wandering about in the wilderness, complain against their leaders Moses and Aaron. Up to this point, when they’ve complained, God punished them for their sedition, Moses interceded on their behalf, the people repented, and the Lord showed Moses how to make things right. But this time, they complain about God as well as Moses, and not only is their complaining seditious, but it’s also ridiculous. They say, “For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” What food? Are they hallucinating? Perhaps they think they’re hallucinating when they see poisonous snakes crawling around. But no, these snakes are real. When they bite people, the people die, which is a wakeup call to those around them. The Hebrews repent of their sin, pleading with Moses to intercede for them to God. Moses does, and then God tells him to make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.
Such a strange story, but it strikes me that it would not have been unusual for the Israelites to see snakes in the wilderness of Egypt. They know what these snakes are capable of, even before they start biting people. Humans are generally scared of snakes, so much so that St. Francis Day has become interesting around here since the addition of two pet snakes to the extended parish family.
Italian artist Giovanni Fantoni created a sculpture which you can see on the front of your service leaflet. The sculpture commemorates the bronze serpent from the Israelites’ time in the wilderness in Egypt, but the sculpture is not in Egypt, rather it’s on Mount Nebo in Jordan. From there, you can see the Promised Land – specifically Jerusalem! – on a clear day. It was from Mount Nebo that Moses later was given a glimpse of the Promised Land, though he was never allowed to enter. After he saw the Promised Land, Moses died. But the sight had given him hope, even as he faced death.
Seeing the Promised Land has become a metaphor for anticipating deliverance and arriving at salvation. For the Hebrews in the wilderness, the serpents represented death as many people were bitten and died, and this horrific scene changed their hearts. The text says,
“The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.”
God took the instrument of fear and death– the serpent – and turned it into a symbol of their repentance and their deliverance to new life. When you look at the sculpture of the bronze serpent on Mount Nebo, it’s clear that the artist isn’t just memorializing the bronze serpent from this story. Notice how the body of the snake, looped around its own head, also looks like a human head, and the pieces sticking out resemble outstretched arms. The artist connects the ancient Hebrew story with Jesus’ words from the gospel reading: “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,” hinting at Jesus’s crucifixion on a cross. Just as snakes evoked fear in the hearts of the Hebrews, so did the cross evoke fear for those in Jesus’s time, for in first-century Palestine, anyone who dared challenge the Emperor would be executed on a wooden cross. In Christ, God took an instrument of fear and death – the cross – and turned it into a symbol of our repentance and our deliverance to new life.
The Lord promised Moses that everyone who looks upon the serpent will live; Jesus promises that those who believe in him will have eternal life. Looking isn’t enough. Believing is required. In John, “believe” is always an action verb. It’s something you do, and can’t be reduced to giving mental assent to the fact that Jesus is the Son of God. The nature of “belief” becomes clear later in this chapter when Jesus says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath.” Throughout John’s gospel, the opposite of belief is not unbelief but disobedience. To believe, therefore, is to obey! And not just one time and be done with it, but obey from now on. John uses “eternal life” in the same way the other gospel writers use the phrase “kingdom of God”: the coming of the kingdom of God isn’t about humans being snatched up from earth to heaven, but instead about heaven coming down to earth. God’s promise of eternal life to all those who believe in Christ begins in this life, here on earth, and with it comes an expectation that we actively choose to believe in Christ. Believing in Christ means committing ourselves to a new life of obedience to God’s will rather than our own. It means facing our deepest and darkest fears as the Hebrew people had to do when confronted with the serpent, and as the first century Jews did when confronted with their Messiah on the cross. Believing in Jesus means that when we sin, we repent and return to the Lord. Believing in Jesus means taking up our cross daily and following him.
In so doing, God invites us to live out the eternal life given to us right here, and right now. We are invited again and again to cooperate with God’s grace given to us in the Sacraments and serve as Christ’s hands and feet in the world, in both the large and small things in our daily lives. We are invited to make sacrifices and make choices that honor God and others rather than ourselves. We are invited to live our lives in such a way that God’s kingdom comes from heaven to earth through us.
That said, John said that those who believe in Christ will not perish. This passage, while being primarily about eternal life on earth, also points us to eternal life in heaven. It isn’t an either/or but is a both/and. The hymn we will sing after communion, “Jerusalem the golden,” reminds us of what we have to look forward to on the other side of the veil. A land flowing with milk and honey where joys await us! What radiancy of glory, what bliss beyond compare! The halls of Zion will be jubilant with the songs of the angels and martyrs and those who feast…those who with their Leader have conquered in the fight, forever and forever clad in robes of white.
Friends, at this point in our Lenten journey in the wilderness, we find ourselves on Mount Nebo like Moses was with a glimpse of the Promised Land just visible on the horizon. When we fall into sin, we repent as the Hebrews did, and gaze upon that terrible instrument of death that God has transformed into a symbol of life and love. We gaze upon the One who is lifted up, and more than just look at him, we choose to believe in him. Unlike Moses, we get to enter into the Promised Land for all of eternity, partially now, and more fully at the Last Day. While we are still on this side of the veil, our viewpoint into heaven is clearest – like a clear, sunny day on Mount Nebo – when the Church celebrates the Holy Eucharist. At this altar, we are joined with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven as heaven comes to earth, and earth is lifted to heaven, and the Son of Man is lifted up at the elevations. On this altar, God gives us the Bread that came down from heaven, that Christ may live in us, and we in him.
Let us rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad with her! Let us rejoice that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life. And let us rejoice that Easter joy is just around the corner. Amen.
 David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Louisville (Ky.): Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 101.
 Verses 7 and 8.
 Much of this paragraph comes from Fr. Stephen Holmgren’s sermon: https://tinyurl.com/6rd3km3e.
 John 3:36.
 Bartlett 119.
 N. T. Wright, The Lord and His Prayer (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), 13.
Third Sunday in Lent
March 7, 2021
The Rev’d Charles W. Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Hearing the Ten Commandments read elicits some strong memories and emotions in my heart. My family moved to Texas when I was 11, and a friend invited me to join him at a youth group event at a Baptist church. As I got more and more involved, I became aware that most of the other kids had memorized so much scripture at church camps over the years and I felt woefully behind the curve. One of the first things I memorized was the Ten Commandments (also called the Decalogue), and I remember thinking, “Good Lord, it’s so easy to follow these. I’ve never been tempted to murder someone, or worship another god, or steal. I mean, the whole “honor thy father and mother” might be difficult from time to time, but otherwise, I think I’ve got this.”
Fast forward a decade when I was preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation in the Roman Catholic Church at the age of 24. It is customary to go to confession before being confirmed, and in preparation for my first confession, the priest advised me to use the Ten Commandments as a guide in examining my conscience. Suddenly, the Ten Commandments became much more than a list of rules to follow. Each one suddenly exploded with meaning: “You shall have no other gods before me” was like a seed, that when watered, grew into a list of questions. What other gods am I worshipping? Money? Power? Sex? Myself? Alcohol?
While I still think that using the Ten Commandments as a guide examining one’s conscience is helpful, the traditional interpretation of the decalogue as a list of rules might be a bit misguided. Rather than a series of rules, the Ten Commandments is a proclamation by God’s own mouth of who God is and how God should be “practiced” by this community of liberated slaves.
The commandments were given to the Hebrew people just as they had been liberated from slavery in Egypt and set out into the wilderness. The people were hungry and thirsty, and God has provided sweet water and manna from heaven to sustain them. They had been attacked and came out victorious, and they have finally reached Mount Sinai. There, in the chapter before this one, God makes a covenant with Israel: Israel will be God’s treasured possession, a priestly kingdom and a holy nation, if the people keep their end of the covenant. Unlike the previous covenants with Noah and Abraham, a mutual covenant is established: Israel must follow God’s commands if they are to remain God’s people.
The Decalogue is the listing of these commands. The commandments are arranged in two groups, the first of which is about our relationship with God. One commentator notes that the formulation of the first commandment is not “Though shalt not,” but rather “there will not be to you.” The verb used isn’t an imperative command, but rather an indicative, whereby God, in light of the Exodus, declares the banishment of all other Gods. In other words, this is less of a commandment than it is a declaration of theological emancipation in which God proclaims Israel’s freedom to love and serve their God without compromise. “You shall have no other gods before me” is not a command to follow, but a joyful declaration that God has triumphed over evil and set them free. The second group of commandments is about our relationship with our neighbors. Murder, adultery, stealing, lying, and coveting are forbidden as God wants the Hebrews to trust one another, whether that be with words, relationships, or possessions.
Despite the rather obvious groupings of the ten commandments in two, they are very much intertwined. Our relationship with God shapes the way we treat others. In other words, good theology leads to good ethics. For example, having “no other gods before me” means that by God’s help, we are to choose not to allow money, power, and sex to control us and thus exploit others. Not bearing false witness means that we should build up the community by speaking truthfully of our neighbors. “Not taking the Lord’s name in vain” invites an attitude of praise and thanksgiving toward God, rather than anger and cynicism.
When asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus summarizes the law by uniting the love of God and the love of neighbor: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all they heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. And thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”
The Decalogue provides healthy boundaries for our relationship with God, and our relationships with our neighbors. When we worship idols, or covet our neighbor’s fancy car, or cheat on our partner, or tell a lie, the foundation of our relationship with God and one another is shaken. As the Ten Commandments were given to the Hebrew people to joyfully proclaim that God has set them free, Lent gives us an opportunity to delve into the freedom God has for us. At our baptism, we were set free from the bonds of sin by Christ’s death and resurrection. Each time we encounter Christ in the Sacraments of the Church, we are given the grace we need to resist evil, and whenever we fall into sin, to repent and return to the Lord.
When I hear the Ten Commandments today, I am less confident than I was in my teens that “I’ve got this.” I still think that reflecting on them to examine one’s conscience is a good and holy thing. In fact, I encourage you to take your service leaflet home with you or open up your Bibles this week to Exodus chapter 20, and sit down in silence for a few minutes and do just that. But as you’re examining your conscience, rejoice in the freedom you were given at your baptism. For just as the Hebrews were set free from captivity in Egypt, so too have we been freed from our captivity to sin in Jesus Christ. Rejoice that God has freed you to be in relationship with him and with your fellow human beings within the healthy bounds of the Ten Commandments, and ask God for the grace to build strong spiritual habits during this Lenten sojourn in the wilderness. Amen.
 New Interpreter’s Bible 841.
 Much of this paragraph is from https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/third-sunday-in-lent-2/commentary-on-exodus-201-17.
 David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 72.
 Mark 12:29-31 as printed in the 1979 BCP on page 319.
First Sunday of Lent
February 21, 2021
The Rev’d Charles W. Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Back in my days as an evangelical, I used to look down on Christians that used written prayers in private prayer or in public worship. I viewed the use of written prayers – even the Lord’s Prayer – as a mindless repetition that indicated that those praying them couldn’t pray real prayers “from their heart”.
Fast forward to today. Most days, I pray the Lord’s Prayer at least three times – once at Morning Prayer, again at Mass, and later at Evening Prayer. After getting into this rhythm slowly over a number of years, I’d argue strongly that the use of prayers that have stood the test of time – perhaps especially the Lord’s Prayer – allows the words and their meaning to sink into my bones, providing a foundation for my prayer life that used to be like the chaff that the wind blows away.
That said, it’s always good to take a fresh look at the ancient prayers we use over and over again. A simple 85-page book by New Testament theologian N.T. Wright called “The Lord and His Prayer” helped me to dive deeper into the Lord’s Prayer, and in particular, revolutionized my understanding of the phrase “thy kingdom come.” What is this kingdom we’re praying for?
It's certainly not something purely heavenly, or outside of our physical world, for we pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” In his book, Bishop Wright says that heaven and earth are
“the two interlocking arenas of God’s good world. Heaven is God’s space, where God’s [word] runs and God’s future purposes are waiting in the wings. Earth is our world, our space. Think of the vision at the end of the book of Revelation. It isn’t about humans being snatched up from earth to heaven. The holy city, the new Jerusalem, comes down from heaven to earth. God’s space and ours are finally married, integrated at last. That is what we pray for when we pray ‘thy kingdom come.’”
The Hebrew people – God’s chosen people – end their 40-years’ long journey through the wilderness when they arrived at the land God had promised them. The geographical area called Palestine was the physical, tangible land God had designated for his people. In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus rewrites this story and casts a new destiny for not only God’s people, but for all of humanity. In Mark’s brief telling of this story, Jesus is baptized and God’s spirit descends on him and says, “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Jesus is then tempted in the wilderness for forty days, and he proclaims that the kingdom of God “has come near.”
Those who originally heard this story were Jews and knew all about their ancestors’ time in the wilderness. They were waiting to be liberated from their Roman oppressors, and they were specifically waiting on God to send a King – a Messiah. You and I have the benefit of knowing the end of the story. We know what will happen on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. But Mark is making a point in the way he tells the story to illustrate that in Jesus, things are different now.
In proclaiming that the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near, Jesus is beginning to rewrite the story of Israel by implying here that he himself is the long-awaited King, and later in Mark, he claims this much more forcefully and clearly.
But this proclamation that the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near doesn’t happen until after Jesus spends forty days in the wilderness being tempted by Satan. We, too, began our forty-day pilgrimage towards Easter on Ash Wednesday during which we will be tempted in extraordinary ways. During Lent, we are called to spiritually listen and watch for these temptations, and to resist. We are called to engage in spiritual battle against the forces that separate us from the kingdom of God. We’re also called to bring the values of the kingdom of God to this world. In the Lord’s Prayer we pray, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” In our Lenten journey, we will encounter temptations, and we’re also called to action, both in giving alms to the poor, and in fighting spiritual battles related to deeper, societal injustices such as systemic racism and extreme economic disparity. We are called to action that implements God’s heavenly principles here on earth.
While we pray for God’s kingdom to come, and offer ourselves to be instruments of its coming on earth as it is in heaven, in a sense, the kingdom of God is already here. The coming of God’s kingdom was foretold at the Annunciation when the Angel Gabriel announced to the Blessed Virgin Mary that she would conceive and give birth to the Son of God – the long-awaited Messiah who would set the Hebrew people free. When the Holy Child was born at Christmas, God’s kingdom broke into our reality when the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. This miraculous inbreaking of the kingdom of God continues to this day through the Sacraments of the Church, especially in each celebration of the Holy Eucharist when we obey the Lord’s command to continue a perpetual memory of his precious death and sacrifice.
Back in my days as an evangelical, just as I held that rote prayers were without faith and devotion, so too, I believed that regular celebrations of the Eucharist somehow made it less special – less appreciated – less meaningful. Fast forward to today when I find myself as rector of a parish that has a long tradition of celebrating the Eucharist every single day. Just as taking a fresh look at the words of the Lord’s Prayer has been helpful to me, so too is dusting off old, forgotten ways of celebrating the Eucharist. One of traditions is somewhat erroneously called the “silent canon.” For most of the history of the Church, the Eucharistic Prayer has been prayed by the priest in a quiet voice that is inaudible to everyone else present. At the time of the Reformation, most Protestants, including our forebears in England, forbade this practice and required each word spoken by the priest to be sung or spoken in a loud voice, ostensibly so that the faithful could more fully participate in the liturgy. During Lent, we are observing this practice at St. Mary’s on Saturday and Sunday. The words spoken by the priest are printed in the leaflet in case you wish to follow along, but I encourage to participate by meditating on the mystery of the inbreaking of God’s kingdom here on earth as Michael/the schola sings, and during the silence. For in the consecration of the bread and the wine, “the holy city, the new Jerusalem, comes down from heaven to earth. God’s space and ours are finally married, integrated at last.” At the moment of the consecration of the elements, the miracle that God worked in the Incarnation at Christmas is brought to us in this place and time, or better said, we, along with the bread and wine, are raised to heaven.
Friends, the kingdom of God is already here, and yet we spend time in the wilderness with Jesus preparing for His death and resurrection. We will be tempted to wander around aimlessly like the Israelites did in their sojourn in the wilderness. We will be tempted to forget what God has promised us. But unlike the first listeners of Mark’s story, you and I know how things are going to unfold. We know how Jesus recast the destiny of the people of God, and of all humanity. We know about Good Friday and Easter. During this “bright sadness of Lent,” we have the gift of a mini-Easter when we celebrate the Holy Eucharist together. When we pray “thy kingdom come” in a moment, let us recognize the inbreaking of the kingdom of God in the bread and the wine, and as we receive it, be given the grace and strength we need to overcome all assaults of the enemy, and live out our Christian lives bringing heaven to earth every single day. Amen.
 Psalm 1:4.
 N. T. Wright, The Lord and His Prayer (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), 13.
 Schmemann, Great Lent: Journey to Pascha.
February 17, 2021
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
The Rev’d Charles W. Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
“Remember that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.” These words, which you’ll hear in a moment when you receive the ashes, remind us of our own mortality. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Going to church on Ash Wednesday is a bit like going to one’s own funeral. And while that always seems like the right place to begin Lent most years, frankly, I have had enough death for one year. It feels cruel for the Church to call us to self-denial, repentance, and fasting during this time of pandemic, a time when we’ve all had to give up so much. It feels like we’ve been in a non-stop, continuous Lent since March of last year, and I’d really just rather skip right on ahead to the joys of Easter, thank you very much.
But who am I kidding? I need Lent more than ever this year. I need to be reminded that I am a sinner in need of forgiveness. I need to be shaken out of my spiritual complacency, now more than ever.
Off and on throughout the pandemic, I’ve found myself exhibiting these symptoms: fatigue, trouble concentrating, insomnia, irritability, restlessness, loss of interest in things once pleasurable, overeating, overdrinking, persistent sad thoughts. These are the classic symptoms of clinical depression. After talking with my doctor, I don’t think I’m actually clinically depressed. But I’ve definitely experienced the symptoms. I’m sharing my pandemic experience with you not because it’s any worse than anyone else’s, but being in contact with many of you, I know I’m not alone. From my perspective as your rector, we’re all dealing with this. Even those of you who are extremely introverted (as in you normally recharge your internal batteries by being alone) long for human interaction and touch.
Looking back on how I’ve coped with the harsh realities of the pandemic, it’s clear that I’ve medicated my pain with excess food, putting on 15 pounds since March 2020, and probably a few too many cocktails. My prayer life has been stagnant, with routine prayer practices that have always sustained me leaving me feeling as if something is lacking.
After a very dark winter, I need to hear, “Remember that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.”
Lent is all about intentionally returning to the roots of the human condition: we are sinners, and in need of God’s grace. And on this first day of Lent, we are reminded from Matthew’s gospel of the need to practice the spiritual habits of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
The Church’s call to pray is primarily a call to sit down and listen to God. It’s easy for me to pray the words of Morning and Evening Prayer – there are so many words to fill up the time with! Listening is much harder work. It is only by setting aside the distractions the mind produces and spending time alone with God in silence that we can begin to hear the promptings of the Holy Spirit. It is only in silence that we can begin to hear God say “I love you” in the innermost parts of our being.
Beyond the physical health benefits of fasting, denying our bodies food and drink that fill our bellies and gladden our hearts helps us to be awake to the spiritual happenings around us. Yes, we can give up potato chips or chocolate or whatever our favorite food is, and I’m sure that has some level of benefit. But fasting does the most good on the spiritual front when it hurts and is disruptive. Skipping a meal each day, or laying aside meat, or completely giving up alcohol – these are the types of fasting habits that help us see and hear and feel what’s going on around us spiritually.
And lastly, the spiritual discipline of almsgiving – of providing material goods to the poor – is about those we’re helping, of course, but it’s also about developing the habit of being aware of the needs of others. Almsgiving helps us to get outside of our ourselves and think about others.
Lent is all about intentionally returning to the roots of the human condition: we are sinners, and in need of God’s grace. It is a time for us to think about how we might store up for ourselves treasures in heaven, not on earth. Too often, we behave practically as though our faith in Christ only affects the here and now. We seem to think that if we just follow the right steps, we will achieve health, happiness, fame, and fortune. When sickness, suffering and death show up, as they always do, we are left confused since what we believed was our faith cannot make sense of these realities for us. In particular, in our repeated sins, we continually look to the passing realities of this world for a sense of fulfillment and meaning they can never provide. The reminder that we are dust and unto dust we shall return force our attention to faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and that alone, which can give meaning and hope to what would otherwise be the final futility of death. This faith assures us that death isn’t an end of our existence but a passage from one age of life to another. Faith in the resurrection of Jesus allows us truly to enjoy the good things of this created world as they were meant to be enjoyed, without placing on them a weight of meaning and fulfillment they can never provide.
I think the Church is right, despite the terrible pandemic, to remind us of our mortality. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. If going to church on Ash Wednesday is a bit like going to our own funeral, let us bury the horrible lie that our faith in Christ is only about the here and now, and let us place all our hope in Christ whose resurrection from the dead destroyed death and brings the promise that we, too, will be raised at the last day. Through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, let us open our hearts and minds and bodies to the spiritual world around us and begin this long journey toward the joy of Easter. Amen.
 Much of this paragraph is from the Ash Wednesday letter of Abbot Placid Solari, OSB, to the student body of Belmont Abbey College.
Last Sunday after the Epiphany
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
The Rev’d Charles Everson
February 14, 2021
Today is the Last Sunday after the Epiphany which means Lent is just around the corner. Can you believe it? Easter is early this year, which means that Ash Wednesday is early. Just before the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th, we celebrated the Baptism of Jesus when we heard God the Father say to Him, “You are my Son, the Beloved.” The story we heard today from Mark’s begins immediately after Jesus predicts his own suffering and death, to which the disciples do not respond well. Peter, for example, tries to rebuke Jesus for saying such a thing! But then, Jesus immediately leads Peter, James, and John to a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured, and his clothes became dazzling white. Elijah and Moses, deeply important figures from Israel’s past, appeared to them and proceeded to have a conversation with Jesus. Peter, for some reason, suggests that they make three dwelling places there on the mountain: one for Jesus, one for Elijah, and one for Moses. Then, a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came from heaven saying, “This is my son, the Beloved; listen to him!”
Oh, what it must have been like to be one of these three disciples. What raw emotion they must have felt when they saw Jesus transfigured before them! To see Moses and Elijah in the flesh! It must have been such an emotionally raw experience.
Our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters hold that the transfigured Jesus in this story represents the transfiguration, or metamorphosis, that each Christian is called to undergo. They hold that this story is an icon of a process called “deification,” which means to become divine. We read in the book of Ephesians that we are called to grow into the measure of the full stature of Christ (4:13). St. Athanasius in the 4th century says it this way: “God became a human person by nature so that human persons could become divine by grace.” This is deification: the partaking of and sharing in divine nature by invitation, by adoption, by gift (2 Pet. 1:4). Eastern Orthodox priest and author Fr. George Gray says this about deification: “Human beings are called to be transformed and transfigured (meta-morphed) from a fallen nature to their original nature to pursue our original God-given vocation” which is perfect union with God.
On the top of this mountain, faced with this dramatic scene, Peter recognizes that this is a significant moment. He says, “Lord, it is good for us to be here!” He then suggests that he build “dwelling places” or “tents”, presumably “to capture the moment, or to preserve it for safekeeping…One might imagine Peter, jumping up and down with his hand in the air, like a [school boy] who is desperate to give the right answer, but who cannot quite get it right because he does not really understand the question.”
I’m not sure about you, but I’ve experienced several moments in my life in which I encountered the divine in a similar way that Peter did. No, I didn’t physically see Jesus or Moses or Elijah, but God’s Spirit spoke to me in such a deep and moving way that I was amazed and even astonished. My encounter with Jesus Christ in these moments was so moving – so strong – that one might describe it as “spiritual high.” Beyond some indescribable moments in the mountains of Colorado, I can recall a true moment of spiritual high even during the isolation and loneliness of this pandemic. A week or so after the initial shutdown, when I was celebrating Mass at home on the buffet that normally serves as our bar, the simplicity of God making himself present under the auspices of bread and wine moved me to tears. Which leads me to the many spiritual highs I’ve received when I’m praying here, by myself, in front of the Blessed Sacrament exposed in the monstrance. Looking upon Christ in the Blessed Sacrament often leaves me feeling overwhelmed with a sense of assurance and comfort knowing that Jesus does in fact share himself with us at each and every Eucharist, giving me his unconditional love, helping me to overcome every doubt, every tinge of regret, every feeling of guilt.
You may have had a similar experience or two in your life when you were so overwhelmed with God’s presence that you wanted to stay there forever.
People don’t generally live on mountaintops. Peter’s suggestion to build dwelling places on this mountain must have sounded ridiculous to his friends. We climb mountains, we spend a bit of time there, but we come back down, and most of our lives are spent in the valley. It is no accident that this reading is prescribed before Lent begins. We are about to enter the desert with Jesus as he is tempted in every way, and ultimately prepare for the sorrow and suffering that is to come on Good Friday. During Lent, you and I will be tempted. We will pray. We will try to resist sin, through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. We might even go to private confession. We will sin. We will humbly confess our sins to God and be forgiven. But ultimately, none of this makes any sense without first starting with God’s grace, grace being God’s favor towards us, unearned and undeserved; by grace God forgives our sins, enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills.”
And that brings us back to deification. We are called to cooperate with the grace of God in order to restore our original likeness. This process starts by spiritually watching and listening – being open to seeing God’s grace in our day-to-day lives. And then when we see it, we accept it. Remember that grace strengthens our wills. The next time we’re faced with temptation and sin, God has already given us the grace we need to choose to say no. And so, it goes. We are tempted, we pray, we try to resist sin, we sin, we repent, and are forgiven. This cycle is part of being human – no one can escape it. But if we cooperate with God’s grace during the cycle, we are being restored – little by little – to our original likeness. God’s grace transforms us into His image as revealed in Jesus. In the transfigured Jesus, we are given a glimpse of what we are to become.
If you’re watching and listening, you will experience God’s grace – his unearned and undeserved favor – in the doldrums of your life, even in the midst of a pandemic. You’ll experience it inside – in your interior or spiritual life. But thanks be to God, we have been given outward and visible signs of this inward and spiritual grace in the Sacraments of the Church. Cooperating in God’s grace, for us, also involves choosing to accept the love he offers us in the Sacraments. When you receive communion, no matter how you may or may not feel emotionally, God forgives your sins, enlightens your mind, stirs your heart, and strengthens your will.
Lent begins on Wednesday, and we know we’ll be in the valley for the next 40 days and 40 nights. Let us ask God to give us a strong memory of those mountaintop experiences we’ve had – those spiritual highs, so that when we are tempted to sin, we intentionally remember the closeness and intimacy we felt with God in those moments and resist temptation. And let us ask God for the courage to watch and listen for his grace at home, at work, and at church; and to say yes and accept his unconditional love each and every time we encounter it.
 George Gray, "The Transfiguration of Christ and the Deification of Mankind," St. Nicolas Orthodox Church (blog), December 1, 2007, accessed February 10, 2018, https://stnicholasportland.org/transfiguration-deification/.
 "Commentary on Matthew 17:1-9 by Audrey West," Matthew 17:1-9 Commentary by Audrey West - Working Preacher - Preaching This Week (RCL), February 3, 2008, accessed February 10, 2018, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=27.
 The Book of Common Prayer: And Administrations of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church: According to the Use of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America: Together with the Psalter or Psalms of David (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 858.
 Paul Nuechterlein, "Transfiguration B," Girardian Lectionary, February 9, 2018, accessed February 10, 2018, http://girardianlectionary.net/reflections/year-b/transfigb/.
Third Sunday after the Epiphany – Year B
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Sunday, January 24, 2021
In the midst of the political happenings of the last few weeks, we’ve all enjoyed seeing the popular meme of a grumpy looking Senator Bernie Sanders sitting in our favorite places with his arms crossed and his large mittens, including right here in front of the altar at St. Mary’s. One of the more enduring memes over the past couple of years is the one with the two actresses from The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills on the left yelling at a cat, with the cat on the right providing some sort of snarky response. I can see this meme in today’s epistle lesson from 1 Corinthians. On the left, the ladies are yelling, “For the present form of this world is passing away” and on the right, the cat is responding with a smirk, “No it isn’t.”
I mean, it’s not hard to disprove this statement. As St. Paul tried to navigate all of the unknowns in the early church, he had no guide but the Holy Spirit, and he firmly believed that Christ would return in glory during his lifetime. He didn’t. 2,000 years later, we are still waiting for the world to end, and Christ to return in glory. After having spent my teenage and college years in the evangelical world, when I came to The Episcopal Church in my mid-twenties, I was relieved to hear preachers and teachers tell us God is calling us to build his kingdom here on earth rather than obsessing over over the world to come. But in ditching all thinking about eschatology, or the theology of the last things, the Church risks becoming nothing more than the Rotary Club with beautiful architecture, fancy vestments, pretty music, and nice-smelling incense. Yes, Christians are to focus on feeding the poor, welcoming the stranger, and bringing God’s kingdom to earth, but Christians of every age are called to live as if the world to come…….is coming tomorrow. In other words, for those of us who follow Christ, time has been shortened. At our baptism, we were joined to a new reality in Jesus Christ, a redeemed reality. Time has grown shorter. The verb that Paul uses here is used nowhere else in the New Testament. However, in other ancient Greek literature, it is used to describe the shortening of sails, the cowering of scared people, and the retrenching of armies. That is, the term carries a sense of being reduced, restricted, or contracted in upon oneself. There is a sense, then, that for Paul, it is not only that a specific eschatological event may be about to happen – that Christ will return at the end of time – but rather that time itself is hunkering down and making preparations for a challenging obstacle. 
“Let those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it.”
With the contraction of time in upon itself, all aspects of reality are affected. Our relationships, our experiences that cause us grief and joy, our possessions, indeed all our dealings with the world – all these things are passing away. They are neither permanent nor final. Though it seems morbid, St. Benedict told his monks to keep death daily before their eyes.
Being aware that we’ve been baptized into this new reality gives us the freedom to engage with the world differently. It’s not that we shouldn’t get married, or mourn or rejoice or own possessions. Rather, we should do all these things knowing that our lasting hope – our ultimate hope – is in the One who transformed reality by his death and resurrection. It is only when we live with death daily before our eyes that we can begin to get outside of ourselves and put the needs of others before our own needs.
Paul wants us to know and believe that our identity is in Christ, not in our relationships or emotions or possessions. No, the Church is not the Rotary Club in drag. We love our neighbors as ourselves because of the life, death, and resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ. Because that’s who we are. And yes, there’s a sense of urgency about this work God has called us to do. The fact that Christ didn’t return in Paul’s lifetime doesn’t diminish Paul’s point that we are called to live as if Christ were going to return in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye. The time has grown short for us to proclaim Jesus Christ, and him crucified, and to devote ourselves to serving others in love. This urgency will often make us frustrated with the many things in this world that hinder the advancement of God’s kingdom, and move us to tear down those walls wherever we see them.
Friends, the appointed time has grown short. The present form of this world is passing away. Let us live faithfully and diligently in this new reality into which we’ve been baptized, and let us with haste love the Lord our God, and love our neighbors as ourselves. Amen.
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!