First Sunday in Lent
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
March 1, 2020
I ran across an Internet meme this week that described Lent as “a religious holiday commemorating the time Jesus gave up chocolate and soda for forty days.”
A better definition of Lent is that it’s a solemn religious observance in the liturgical calendar in the 40 days leading up to Easter in which Christians prepare for the Resurrection of our Lord by engaging in the ancient disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
That said, it seems to me that our gospel reading from Matthew is a somewhat strange Scripture passage for the first Sunday in Lent. While we are beginning our forty-day-and-forty-night fast, Jesus’ forty days are already over! Matthew’s story focuses more on the temptation of Jesus AFTER the fast has concluded. It’s doesn’t seem like the most pragmatic way to begin Lent.
But the Church, in her wisdom, has chosen this passage for today. It would be awfully nice if it were a practical set of instructions of how to live during our Lenten journey. But maybe it’s not meant to be practical. Maybe the Church is simply trying to tell us about Jesus: who he is, and what sort of character he shows.
In the first temptation, the devil quotes Scripture and encourages Jesus to satisfy his physical hunger by turning stones into bread. When the devil says, “If you are the Son of God,” the word “if” could be translated from the Greek as “since” – “since you are the Son of God.” The devil isn’t expressing doubt about Jesus’s identity or power. He’s rather trying to deceive Jesus into using his power to satisfy his own physical needs rather than trusting the Father for them. Jesus responds in kind by quoting Scripture, affirming that life is sustained by more than physical food; it is sustained by every word that comes from the mouth of God. Jesus will not misuse his power to satisfy his own physical needs.
The second test focuses on the need for security and safety. For the second time, the devil quotes Scripture, and this time, he tempts Jesus to make himself safe from injury or even death. Jesus recognizes once again that the devil is taking Scripture out of context: Scripture does not endorse testing God’s protective grace for the sake of self-protection. Jesus will not misuse his power to make himself safe and secure.
In the third temptation, the devil tries to seduce Jesus with domination and prestige. He offers Jesus control over all the world’s kingdoms, along with the splendor that comes with it, if he will only swear allegiance to the devil. Again, Jesus isn’t led astray. He rejects the tempter’s deception and quotes scripture again in its context saying, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” Jesus will not misuse his power to gain earthly power and prestige.
Just as Jesus was tempted, so we will be. Jesus didn’t respond to temptation by succumbing to it, or fleeing to another selfish vice to escape, or by complaining to God, or by wondering what he may have done wrong to deserve it. He responded by deepening his dependence on his Father. The very temptations he experienced – materialism, security, and prestige – are not foreign to us. We experience them every day. The appropriate response in resisting them is to turn to God for help instead of relying on our own power.
What are you giving up for Lent? What are you denying yourself? Jesus spent forty days and forty nights fasting in the wilderness, and it was this intentional period of self-denial that prepared him to endure and ultimately overcome these temptations by the devil. Even though Lent began this past Wednesday, it is not too late to find a way to be intentional about denying yourself something you hold dear. Intentional self-denial is helpful in the spiritual life because it reveals the things that control us. We cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but in denying ourselves, the things that control us come to the surface. If pride controls us, it will be revealed almost immediately. Anger, bitterness, jealousy, strife, fear – if they are within us, they will surface during intentional periods of self-denial. But we should be prepared: when they surface, we will be tempted not only to stop denying ourselves, but also to sin. If we’re properly prepared and watching for these things to surface, we can then respond as Jesus did: we can turn to God for help and rely on his grace to strengthen our will to choose to overcome all assaults and temptations of the devil. Self-denial reminds us that we are sustained “by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (v. 4). Whatever it is that we’re giving up – that is not what sustains us; God sustains us. Therefore, when we give something up during Lent, we are not so much abstaining from something as we are learning to rely on God to give us everything that we need and more. 
While this passage teaches about who Jesus is and what sort of character he shows, there is one significant difference between how Jesus responds when he’s tempted, and how we respond: Jesus never sinned and we do. You and I might choose to respond to temptation in the wrong way. We may choose to give in to our more carnal urges and gorge on whatever it is that we’ve supposedly given up. If this happens, do not lose heart! Don’t wallow in the guilt that you feel, but instead turn to God for help and pick back up right where you left off!
During the Season of Lent, our fasting and self-denial will engage the dark places in our hearts, giving us an opportunity to come face to face with them, name them, understand them, and seek forgiveness for them. We will be tempted to rely on the devices and desires of our own hearts rather than the grace of God to overcome temptation. We will fall into sin and then be further tempted to allow the guilt we feel to keep us captive. But Lent is not about guilt, it is about freedom from the control that our fears and insecurities have over us. It is about the amendment of life and new beginnings. Lent is about learning anew that we are sustained by every word that comes from the mouth of God.
Friends, this Lent, let us train our very souls as a runner trains to run a marathon to depend on God to give us everything we need…and more. Amen.
 The discussion of the three temptations comes primarily from David Bartlett, and Barbara Brown. Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008, 47-49.
 Much of this paragraph came from Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline 54-55.
 Bartlett 48.
Year A – Fifth Sunday of Epiphany
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
February 9, 2020
Last week, had Candlemas not been on a Sunday, we would have heard Our Lord give his disciples the Beatitudes. “Blessed are the poor in spirit! Blessed are the peacemakers! Blessed are the merciful! Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness!” It was with these words that Jesus began his longest continuous sermon that we are given in the New Testament, a sermon we know as the Sermon on the Mount. The reading we heard today about salt and light comes just after the Beatitudes, and we will continue hearing the Sermon on the Mount in our gospel readings until Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. Scholars believe that St. Matthew wrote his gospel around the year 80 AD, which not long after the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD. Judaism was in a state of upheaval, with socio-political and theological tension all around. The people of God were asking questions like, “Who are we? How are we to live in the midst of the political and religious turmoil in which we find ourselves?”
When I was in seminary, an older priest who had long retired gave a presentation one day. He was describing the difference between his years of seminary formation back in the 1950’s and our experience in 2014. It was in the 1950’s that the Episcopal Church experienced its peak in membership and relative pledge and plate income. The church’s attitude was, “If we build it, they will come.” Churches were built in residential neighborhoods all across the country, and the doors were opened, and people came. Attendance was great, the Church was held in high esteem by society at large, and there were abundant financial resources. You should have seen our jaws drop when the priest told us that his diocese provided a car for each seminarian. Needless to say, that’s not at all how things are today.
In 1965, The Episcopal Church had 3.6MM members. In 2018, that number was a little over 1.8MM. In 1965, nearly all active priests in our church served in in a full-time, paid capacity; in 2017, 40% of active priests were either part-time or non-stipendiary. Even outside of these walls, the Episcopal Church had an important position within American society. Christianity in general was respected, and the church’s voice carried weight in the world. Today, we are often ridiculed by the media and those around us and many no longer see the relevance of the message of Jesus Christ. In 1965, the differences between Republican and Democrat were fairly minor, and most Americans respected government officials, even those from the other side of the aisle. If you’ve turned on the TV anytime during the past 5 years, you know that the nature of our political discourse is less than healthy.
Who are we? And how are we to live in the midst of the political and religious turmoil in which we find ourselves?
Jesus tells his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth.” Salt of course seasons food, and in the Old Testament, it is also linked with the ideas of sacrifice and of being in a covenant relationship with God. As disciples of Jesus, we are called to bring flavor to the world around us, living in a sacrificial way that embodies our covenant relationship with the living God. In other words, we are called to live out the standards given to us in the Beatitudes. The Church loses its saltiness when it ceases to live out these principles. We lose our saltiness when we refuse to stand up for the meek and those who mourn. When we stop seeking peace and when we refuse to stand up for those who are persecuted. When we stop showing mercy to those on the fringes of our society. The result is that the salt “is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot.” The salt loses its flavor and no longer exemplifies the sacrificial way of living we are called to live.
Next, Jesus says, “You are the light of the world.” I remember an ice storm when I was a child that resulted in the loss of power for several days. My mother lit candles around the house so that we could read and play board games. I remember being in awe at how just one candle could provide light for an entire room. In Jesus’s time, many of the homes had only one room, and one single candle would “give light to all in the house.” In the previous chapter, Matthew connects the image of light with Jesus’s mission in the darkness and death of a Palestine ruled by an oppressive, imperial power. In this passage, Jesus calls us to let our light shine before others, so that they may see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven. That is, we are called as disciples of Jesus to live in such a way that this light shines brightly and provides warmth and clarity to all of those around us.
I have to admit…when the old priest told us seminarians about the state of the church in the 1950’s, I struggled with a bit of jealousy. Things then seemed healthy and positive, and things now can seem sickly and without hope. The Episcopal Church, and even St. Mary’s doesn’t have the people or the money or the political power that we once had. Living out the principles of the Beatitudes is often met with disdain by non-churched folks around us, and we are living in a time of extreme turbulence and division in our society.
Who are we? How are we to live in the midst of the political and religious turmoil in which we find ourselves?
Friends, today, just as it was 2,000 years ago, salt continues to be flavorful and tasty. A candle continues to provide light and warmth in a dark room. God has brought us into relationship with him and with each other through our baptism, and Jesus continues to call us to live out the kingdom principles we he taught us in the Beatitudes. We are called to stand up for the poor and the weak. We are called to give hope to those who have none, to comfort those who mourn. We are called to love not only those whom we want to love, but also to love our enemies. We are called to extend God’s mercy to those who are marginalized in our society – the widow, the orphan, the undocumented immigrant, the oppressed, the prisoner, the persecuted.
In the midst of religious and political turmoil, you and I have an opportunity to share with the world that there is more to believe in than just ourselves. We have such a beautiful opportunity to be the salt of the earth! To be the light of the world! And thanks be to God, we don’t have to do it alone! Look around you and see the beautiful, holy, flawed, strong faces of those in the pew next to you. We get to do this together as a parish community. By the power of the Holy Spirit, little ol’ St. Mary’s Church in downtown Kansas City is bucking the trends of decline and institutional illness in the wider diocese and Episcopal Church. We are not shrinking, we are growing! God is raising up men and women among us for ordained ministry – almost so many now I lose count. New ministries are forming that focus on bringing the saltiness of God’s justice to the people who need it most in Kansas City.
Being the salt of the earth and the light of the world requires more saying a prayer for the person you met last Sunday who sleeps on the streets, or posting how disgusted you are with the latest political happenings on social media. It requires that we practice what we preach and live sacrificially. It requires that the Church be in authentic relationship with the world around us, offering people a Way to live that is unlike any other way: A Way that is the perfect self-giving and self-emptying of the Cross.
Who are we? We are the salt of the earth! We are the light of the world! How are we to live in the midst of the turmoil in which we find ourselves? We are to live sacrificially, giving of ourselves and emptying ourselves just as Jesus did with his very life on the Cross at Calvary. We are to let our light shine before others, so that they may see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven. Amen.
 Michael David Coogan, ed., The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version: With the Apocrypha: An Ecumenical Study Bible (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 1752.
 http://www.episcopalchurch.org/files/full-time_and_part-time_status_of_priests_by_domestic_diocese_2015.pdf. These numbers do not include retired priests, or supply priests.
 Warren Carter, Matthew and the Margins: A Sociopolitical and Religious Reading (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2000), 138.
 Much of this paragraph came from a Facebook post written by a friend and colleague, Fr. Keith Voets, on 2.8.2020, very likely from his sermon from today..
Feast of the Presentation
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
The Rev’d Charles Everson
February 2, 2020
Today marks the end of the 40 days of the Christmas cycle. Just like Lent is 40 days long, so is Christmas. It is only every seven years or so that today’s feast falls on a Sunday, so we are taking advantage of the opportunity. Now I’ve heard a rumor today might be considered a special day for another reason…perhaps because of some event that is happening this evening. Your minds might be on the big baseball game that’s about to happen – perhaps you’re planning a party or figuring out which sports bar is the best place from which to watch. All I ask is that you give me just a few minutes of your mental and spiritual time, and I promise, you’ll be out of church at least a few minutes before the game begins.
Today, on this last day of the Christmas cycle, we remember when Mary and Joseph took the child Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem. The requirement in Levitical law was for Mary to be “ritually cleansed” forty days following the birth of a male child. Until that day, she could touch no holy thing nor enter the sanctuary in the Temple. This purification ritual made it into the early prayer books in our own tradition in the ceremony called “the churching of women.” We continue to celebrate this rite in our church today, though with a less flashy name. In the current prayer book, it’s called “A Thanksgiving for the Birth or Adoption of a Child” and in it there is no hint of the ritual impurity of women. The Candlemas blessing and procession we just experienced has its roots in the churching of women. Instead of purifying something that is ritually unclean, the rite celebrates the old man Simeon’s response upon seeing the holy family. Simeon praised God and acclaimed the infant as “the light to enlighten the nations.” This image of Christ as the light has led to the celebration of light countering darkness, with candles taking a central place in the observance of today’s feast.
Friends, today is about light. Light that expels the dark shadows of evil in the world. Jesus Christ is this light. As St. John says in the prologue to his gospel, he is “the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” Each candle that we see today, and each candle that was blessed today and will be used throughout the year symbolizes his light. The physical candles end up being extinguished and even burned down to a stub. But you and I are called to shine this light brightly in both word and in deed. As St. Luke says in chapter 11 of his gospel, “No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar, but on the lampstand so that those who enter may see the light.”
How can we speak this light to our friends and family through our words? What words of encouragement and love might we say to those who need to hear it? How can we shine Christ’s light brightly in our actions this day, tomorrow, and throughout our lives? What might we do in service and love to our neighbor to make the brilliance of his eternal light known to them?
I leave you with these words preached by St. Sophronius, bishop and patriarch of Jerusalem in the seventh century, at Candlemas:
“Our lighted candles are a sign of the divine splendor of the one who comes to expel the dark shadows of evil and to make the whole universe radiant with the brilliance of his eternal light. Our candles also show how bright our souls should be when we go to meet Christ. The Mother of God, the most pure Virgin, carried the true light in her arms and brought him to those who lay in darkness. We too should carry a light for all to see and reflect the radiance of the true light as we hasten to meet him. The light has come and has shone upon a world enveloped in shadows; the Dayspring from on high has visited us and given light to those who lived in darkness. This, then, is our feast, and we join in procession with lighted candles to reveal the light that has shone upon us and the glory that is yet to come to us through him. So let us hasten all together to meet our God. The true light has come, the light that enlightens every man who is born into this world. Let all of us, my friends, be enlightened and made radiant by this light. Let all of us share in its splendor, and be so filled with it that no one remains in the darkness. Let us be shining ourselves as we go together to meet and to receive with the aged Symeon the light whose brilliance is eternal.”
 Robert Atwell and Christopher L. Webber, comps., Celebrating the Saints: Devotional Readings Saints' Days (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Pub., 2001), 50.
 John 1:9, King James Version
 Luke 11:33, NRSV.
The Third Sunday after the Epiphany
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
May 5, 2019
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near!”
I’ve mentioned to you before that there is a street preacher who likes to spend time with his megaphone down at 13th and Main during the day. He likes to say this phrase intermingled with threats about how God will punish the passersby for their sins. Admittedly, this phrase sounds a little less irritating when Deacon Gerry says it in church, but nonetheless, this isn’t a phrase that we generally like to hear.
Jesus, of course, doesn’t say these words in a vacuum. Two weeks ago, we heard Matthew’s account of Jesus’s baptism, followed by John’s retelling of the story last week. In Matthew’s account, just after Jesus’s baptism comes his temptation in the wilderness which we won’t hear until the First Sunday in Lent. But right after that is the story we heard this morning which announces the beginning of Jesus’s public ministry.
John the Baptist had just been arrested for his announcing of the kingdom of heaven and for criticizing King Herod, and in response, Jesus withdrew to Galilee. The Greek word translated here as “withdraw” connotates fleeing – it’s the same word used to describe Joseph, Mary, and Jesus fleeing to Egypt because of King Herod’s evil deeds toward the Jewish people. He flees from Nazareth to Capernaum which is on the northwest coast of the Sea of Galilee, “in the territory of Zebulun and Natphtali.” Zabulun and Natphtali were the old Assyrian names of the Israelite tribal territories in northwest Galilee from the 8th century BC when the Assyrian Empire annexed them and sent the Hebrews into exile. The use of these old names would have been striking to those in the first century – perhaps a bit like referring to New York City as New Amsterdam or Paris using the ancient Roman name of Lutetcia. Matthew doesn’t use these old names for nostalgia’s sake, he uses them to reiterate that Jesus’s move to this part of Israel is a fulfillment of the prophecy we heard in Isaiah 9. The people who sat in darkness refers back to the Hebrews who had been exiled by the Assyrians so long ago in Isaiah’s time. They are the ones to whom God will bring the light. Now, the people who live in the same geographic area are again ruled by the Gentiles – this time, the Roman Empire. And Matthew proclaims that they are receiving that light promised so long ago in the person of Jesus.
This is the context of Jesus’s declaration, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near!” This is the same message that John the Baptist proclaimed, but the difference is, Jesus himself is the inbreaking of the kingdom of heaven. He is the long-expected one who will save Israel from their enemies, he is the one who will bring the exiles home, he is the one who will give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, he is the one who will heal the sick, he is the one who will guide our feet into the way of peace.
And, even better news - this promise that the kingdom of heaven has come near isn’t about how to escape from this world into another one, it’s about God’s reign coming “on earth as it is in heaven.” It’s not about the afterlife, it’s about the here and now.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Jesus then started walking by the Sea of Galilee and saw Simon Peter and Andrew as they were fishing. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” [I’ll let you in on a little secret: I much prefer the King James translation, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” to “I will make you fish for people.” Same thing at Christmas: “swaddling clothes” is better than “bands of cloth.”]. In any case, it’s amazing to think about how compelled Peter and Andrew were to follow him. The text says “immediately,” they left their nets and followed him. The putting down of their nets meant that they left their livelihood – their means of an income – to follow him. When their two other brothers, James and John, decided to follow him, they left not only their nets and their boat, but their father. It’s hard for me to imagine the radical obedience of these men, probably because of the fact that Jesus continues to call you and me to the very same radical obedience in his call to follow him today.
It is the conclusion of this passage where we see the inbreaking of the kingdom of heaven begin to be played out. Matthew says, “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.” Remember, the area around Galilee was not only ruled by the Roman Empire, it was inhabited by mainly Gentiles. Jesus was not only teaching in the Jewish synagogues, he was proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing the sick all over, even…maybe especially among the Gentiles.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Friends, rather than a threat as used by the street preacher, this is a beautiful promise! The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned! This is good news that so many in our world need to hear, whether it’s those who are the most marginalized in our society like those without housing, or wrongfully imprisoned, or what have you – or even those of us who have plenty but are struggling with mental or physical illness. Jesus himself is that great light, and he continues to proclaim “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Like Peter and Andrew, he asks us to follow him, no matter the cost. Like Peter and Andrew, he makes us “fishers of men” – Jesus gives us everything we need to invite others to follow him.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
 Working Preacher: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4366
 Michael David. Coogan, ed., The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version: with the Apocrypha: an Ecumenical Study Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 980.
 David Bartlett, and Barbara Brown. Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008, 287.
Epiphany 2 – John 1:29-42
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
January 19, 2020
Annual Parish Meeting
According to the national canons of The Episcopal Church, every parish church must have an Annual Meeting in which the members of the parish gather to elect new members of the Vestry, our governing board, and conduct other important business. It is a time to reflect on the previous year and look forward to the year that is to come. As our Annual Meeting is today after the 10:00 service, it did not escape my notice this week when a member of another parish posted a meme on Facebook entitled “Why people attend the Annual Parish Meeting.” It was a pie chart showing about 2% attending because they are the priest or deacon and have to, 4% have a report they have to present, 25% attend to nitpick the budget, 69% because there’s lots and lots of food, and 0% because they feel it’s important.
If you’ve been in The Episcopal Church for any length of time, this meme is funny because you’ve seen, as I have, an Annual Meeting or two drag on and on and on, with one or two people overtaking the conversation in an incredibly negative way. This parish, like any other, has had our share of negative and tedious annual meetings over the 163 years of our existence.
But as I was reflecting on our last year together in preparation, I was filled with such a sense of peace and happiness and even joy. What a great year it has been! I want to share just a few highlights with you:
In terms of sacramental ministry, seven of you were confirmed or received into the Episcopal Church. One of you was baptized. There were several dozen hospital or home visits to bring communion to those who were sick. There were three weddings here in the church, and two performed by our clergy elsewhere. A couple dozen private confessions were heard. Incredibly for a small parish like ours, the Eucharist was celebrated nearly every day with less than a dozen cancelled because no one showed up or because of bad weather. There is an incredible team of seven priests from around the diocese, including the four of us who serve here, who give of their time and energy to make sure that the Eucharist remains the beating heart of St. Mary’s. Thankfully, we’ve had no funerals since the last Annual Meeting. And importantly our average Sunday attendance was 13% higher in 2019 than it was in 2018, and is now 50% higher than it was during 2017.
When it comes to outreach, hundreds upon hundreds of people in need have been given groceries from the food pantry. Over a hundred have received non-food necessity items thanks to your generous donations. You donated many coats and scarves and other items for those who can’t afford them. And we’ve raised money and collected items for several outside charities that serve those in need in Kansas City.
The Music Ministry at St. Mary’s continues to serve as a bedrock of our liturgical leadership. The choir has led us in exquisite beauty in countless High Masses, Evensongs, and Sung Compline services. We continue with our fruitful partnership with the William Baker Festival Singers, and welcomed many guest choirs and musical ensembles from all over the nation throughout the year.
In March 2019, after having served for over 14 months as Assistant to the Rector despite the fact that we had no rector, I was named priest-in-charge. A couple of months later, we welcomed a new priest – Fr. Sean Kim – who not only helps tremendously in relieving some of my workload, but shares his many wonderful gifts and talents with our whole community. I’ve heard from so many of you how much you’ve grown to love and appreciate Fr. Sean.
At the end of the year, Dcn. Gerry Shaon retired as our parish administrator and we welcomed Raja Reed as he began in that role at the beginning of the month. I’m grateful to Dcn. Gerry for his countless years of service, and am so glad that he is continuing to serve as a clergy leader of this parish.
On the financial side, our Treasurer Chris McQueeny will share the details with you after the service, but I’ll steal his punchline: 2019 was a great year, with 2020 looking even more promising.
God is continuing to raise up faithful men and women at St. Mary’s to serve Him and the wider Church in ordained. In 2019, Bishop Field named two of our own as postulants as they continue to prepare for ordination to the priesthood: Isaac Petty and David Wilcox. And we have at least 3 others who are ready to begin formally discerning a call to serve as a deacon or priest.
I could go on and on, but suffice it to say, we’re growing…in depth of faith, in number of souls, and in tangible resources to help support and expand the ministry we’ve been called to do in downtown Kansas City.
I think it’s no accident that today’s assigned gospel reading provides a helpful construct for us as we think about who we are and where we’re headed. Last week, we heard the story of the Baptism of Jesus from St. Matthew’s perspective, and today, we heard St. John’s retelling of what he saw. Matthew described Jesus’s actual baptism in detail, but in telling the same story, John is more interested in focusing on the signs that might lead others to believe in Jesus as the Son of God. The three synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – reveal Jesus’s identity as the Messiah gradually over time, but not so with John. Right out of the gate, he begins his gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Then John himself enters the scene, and identifies himself as the voice crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord” in the words of the prophet Isaiah. He says that he is not the Messiah, and that he is not worthy to untie the thong of the sandal of the one who is coming after him. The next day, John sees Jesus coming toward him and says, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” This is the one I’ve been telling you about! John doesn’t describe Jesus as a royal conqueror or as a warrior – that would have made a lot of sense, as the Jews were expecting an earthly, political Messiah – he describes him as the Lamb of God. Instead of an all-powerful being who would deliver God’s people in might and power, John says that God chose to send the Messiah as a weak, sacrificial lamb like the one the Hebrews sacrificed each year at Passover.
How is this passage helpful to us as we think about who we are and where we’re going? I’ll always remember a comment that Fr. Sean made this past Easter when he came to sit in the pew before he was ordained priest. After the service, during which I had talked about the importance of the physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead to our faith, he said, “I’ve never heard an Episcopal priest publicly affirm the physical resurrection from the pulpit.” In that vein, it isn’t unheard of these days to hear Episcopal priests publicly teach that parts of the Nicene Creed simply are not true in violation of their own ordination vows. Friends, I commit to you that you’re never going to hear such nonsense from this pulpit as long as I’m around. The Christian faith is rooted in and founded upon the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. As St. Paul puts it, “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….if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins…If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied…but in fact Christ has been raised from the dead!”
What you will find at St. Mary’s is a safe place to ask questions without fear of judgment…to explore the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! When you struggle with your faith – and I promise, you will! – whether that be doubting parts of the Creed or even doubts about the very existence of God, your brothers and sisters at St. Mary’s will be here for you to say the Creed on your behalf. No matter who you are – Jew or Greek, male or female, black or white, Democrat or Republican, cis or trans, gay or straight – you will find a safe place to explore the faith that has been handed down to us from the apostles, and at St. Mary’s, you’ll find the grace and power you need to serve others selflessly without expecting a thing in return.
And yes, you’ll find a pesky priest who will relentlessly encourage you to respond with joy and excitement every time you see Jesus in your everyday lives and proclaim like John did, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” When you do, your friends and family will hear you, and some of them by God’s grace will respond like the disciples did and decide to follow Jesus.
When he saw John and the disciples following him, Jesus said, “What are you looking for?” They ask him where he’s staying, and he says to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw and “remained with him that day”, a Greek phrase that essentially meant that they went to hang out with Jesus. It was this deep, intimate encounter with him that led Peter to confess, “We have found the Messiah.”
My friends, what an exciting time it is to be at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church! As we reflect on the past year and look forward to the year to come, like Jesus did the disciples, I invite you to “Come and see.” Come and spent time with Jesus! Come and hear him proclaimed in God’s Word, come and experience his unconditional grace and love in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, come and see him in the faces of all of us who call St. Mary’s home. As we encounter our risen Lord again and again, by God’s help, we will continue to grow in numbers, to grow in love for each other, and to grow in service to those desperately in need of Good News. Amen.
 David Bartlett, and Barbara Brown. Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008, 263.
 Selected verses from 1 Corinthians 15.
First Sunday after the Epiphany: The Baptism of Our Lord
Sunday, January 12, 2020
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Each year on the First Sunday after the Epiphany, we hear the story of Jesus’s baptism in the river Jordan. Surprisingly, unlike the Christmas story, this particular scene is so important that it is mentioned in all four of the Gospels. This passage is often used by those who argue that the mode of baptism must be “full immersion” as opposed to the way we typically do it by affusion, or pouring. The argument is this: in verse 16, when Jesus was baptized, the text says that he “came up from the water.” It’s true: scholars agree that Jesus went down into the water in the river Jordan and came back up.
While I’m not all that interested in combing through all of the arguments about the modes of baptism this morning, this passage always makes me think of my days as a Southern Baptist, and in particular, one memory from college. I worked for two years as music minister of Sycamore Baptist Church, a little country church in the middle of a forest outside Gurdon, Arkansas. The church got running water two years before I got there, and up until my second year, they baptized people by full immersion at the local pond. The pastor, Bro. James McCain, who drove a semi to Minnesota and back during the week, decided that we needed a proper baptistry – you know, one where you can properly baptize by full immersion in a pool of water. So he decided to ask one of the parishioners who owned a pool business for some help. I showed up one Sunday to find that the choir pews on the right side had been removed, and a large, gray hot tub had been installed. Well, guess who had a key to the church. I have to admit, there were many Sundays that last year I was there when I would turn on the heat after Sunday morning services and then come back with a group of friends that night. Don’t worry, I was a pure little Southern Baptist boy, so there were no shenanigans going on, but we sure felt like rebels!
Had they asked me for my opinion, we might have installed a lovely font like the one we have in the back. When the Baptists use this passage to argue for full immersion, I think the they are missing the point entirely. This story isn’t about the mode of baptism…in fact it’s not about Christian baptism at all: it’s all about the identity of Jesus.
Jesus comes to John the Baptist at the river Jordan to be baptized by him. This shocks John to the point that he wanted to prevent him from being baptized. It is equally as shocking to those of us who know that Christian baptism, among other things, brings the forgiveness of sins. “Jesus was sinless!” we think. Why in the world would he need to be baptized? As I said, this isn’t Christian baptism we’re talking about. St. John Chrysostom points out that though the baptism of John was intended for repentance, and Jesus clearly had no need to repent of his sins, the Greek word in verse 11 that we translate “repentance” actually means transformation or turning.
And his baptism is a transformation indeed. At his baptism, Jesus chose to identify with sinful humanity in a real and tangible way. The Jordan River wasn’t clean and clear like the mountain streams and lakes that I grew up around in Colorado, it was muddy and dirty, and still is to this day as we heard Fr. Sean tell us a few weeks ago when he described his recent trip to the Holy Land. Jesus didn’t choose to stand on the side of the dirty river while the sinners John was baptizing got into the muddy water, he chose to get in with them. He chose to identify with them.
He did this to “fulfill all righteousness.” Unlike other places in the New Testament, the word “righteousness” here isn’t a legal or forensic term, but is about discipleship. John is to baptize Jesus as an act of submission and obedience to God, even though he thinks it’s an appalling idea. In so doing, John participates in this unfolding transformation of Jesus’s ministry and tangibly lives out the revealing of the coming of God’s kingdom, the kingdom of which he has been a herald and a forerunner.
And so Jesus is baptized. When he comes up out of the water, God opens up the heavens and reveals to all that Jesus is God’s Son. God anoints Jesus with the Spirit, recalling to mind God’s anointing of the Hebrew prophets of old. It’s not that God’s Spirit wasn’t upon Jesus in any way before his baptism; rather, God’s Spirit came upon him in a public, formal, ceremonial way to inaugurate his public ministry as the Messiah. The Spirit descends upon him like a dove and a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
The location of his baptism is hugely important. Jesus isn’t baptized at a font like this one in Kansas City, nor at a hot tub in Gurdon, Arkansas, he is baptized in the Jordan River, a place where all sorts of miracles and important events had happened throughout the history of Israel. Arguably the most poignant moment in the Hebrew mind at the Jordan River was that of the Exodus. When the Hebrews were in exile in Egypt, God delivered them from hands of Pharaoh and they began their journey home to the Promised Land. Because of their stubbornness, they spent forty years in the wilderness. The crossing of the Jordan River was the final step of their journey, and once they got to the other side, the finally realized the freedom they had been promised so long ago.
Friends, today’s feast isn’t about our baptism, it’s about Jesus’s baptism. Today, the Church remembers with joy the transformation of our Lord in the dirty water of an old river. We remember that day when God chose to publicly identify with sinful human beings like you and me. We remember that day when all of John the Baptist’s proclaiming of the coming of the kingdom came to fruition when the Spirit of God descended from heaven like a dove upon the one who was so long expected.
In the Baptism of our Lord, just as the Hebrews experienced their freedom at the end of their long journey from slavery, so too do we see the beginning of the freedom from sin and death and suffering promised to us. Let us this day reaffirm our hope that Christ will bring us safely out of this valley of tears to that heavenly country where, with all the saints, we may enter into the everlasting heritage of his sons and daughters. Amen.
 David Bartlett, and Barbara Brown. Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008, 239.
Votive Mass for the Ministry I
1 Corinthians 3:5-11
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Tuesday, January 7, 2020
Almighty God, the giver of all good gifts, who of thy divine providence hast appointed various orders in thy Church: Give thy grace, we humbly beseech thee, to all who are called to any office and ministry for thy people; and so fill them with the truth of thy doctrine and clothe them with holiness of life, that they may faithfully serve before thee, to the glory of thy great Name and for the benefit of thy holy Church; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Today, we are celebrating what the Prayer Book calls a Votive “for the Ministry.” Specifically, today’s Mass is being offered in prayer for those who are discerning a call to be ordained. We wear violet vestments for this service because historically, the service was only conducted on Ember Days which are three days within the same week four times during the year that are set aside for fasting and prayer. We can see the connection between fasting, prayer, and then ordination through the example the Apostles in the book of Acts, “Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off." For many centuries, ordinations were restricted to Ember Saturdays, and I think this reminds us that it is only through prayer and self-denial that we can even begin to hear God’s voice in our lives.
So too are we reminded today that those who are called to ordained ministry, in the words of St. Paul, are “God’s servants.” Some of us are called to plant, and some to water, but “neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” As we pray and practice the spiritual disciplines of self-denial like fasting, we become more and more aware that it is God who does this work in us and through us.
One of my favorite saints in the church is St. Gregory the Great who was Bishop of Rome in the 5th century. He is famous for laying the early foundations of Gregorian chant, and for sending St. Augustine of Canterbury to evangelize England. Gregory was the first pope to use the title “Servant of the Servants of God,” a title still used by the Pope today. I love the fact that we call he who is arguably the most important bishop in the world “Servant of the Servants of God” as it tangibly reminds us of the words of our Savior in Matthew 23: “The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” However, Gregory didn’t necessarily create this title for himself out of the purest of intentions. The Byzantine Emperor had just granted the title “Ecumenical Patriarch” to the Archbishop of Constantinople, implying universal supremacy over all the other bishops including the pope. This led to a series of letters between Gregory and various Eastern authorities in which he indicated that the Archbishop’s assumption of this title was “a clear indication that the age of the Antichrist was at hand.” It was then that Gregory began using the title “servant of the servants of God,” in contrast to Patriarch John IV’s narcissistic actions. Just as we occasionally have the pleasure of experiencing nasty church politics and clerical narcissism in our own age, Gregory was certainly not immune to the effects of power and prestige.
So I ask today that you join with me in praying for those who feel called to be ordained as a bishop, priest, or deacon – especially our own. Pray that they may set aside their own will, and seek God’s grace above all else. Pray that they may know that the call to serve God and the Church in this way is a call to be a servant. And pray that when they – and when those of us who are already ordained – fall under the influence of the power and prestige that comes with the collar, we may remember that even the most important among us is truly “the Servant of the Servants of God.”
Preached on the third anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood.
 BCP p. 929, #15. This the typical Ember Day Mass from the Prayer Book.
Feast of the Holy Name
The Rev'd Charles Everson, SCP
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
January 1, 2020
Today is a bit of an oddity in terms of liturgical celebrations. First and foremost, it’s the eighth day of Christmas. January 1st has been celebrated as the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ since at least several centuries before the Reformation, with the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus coming into being in the 15th century as a much lesser commemoration on January 2nd or January 3rd. Also, today, the Church has not forgotten our Blessed Mother as at a very early stage, the Church in Rome celebrated on January 1st a feast that it called the anniversary of the Mother of God. Today, it’s one of the few major feasts in the Western Church where no one seems to be able to agree on anything. The modern Romans call today the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, the traditionalist Romans and many of our Anglo-Catholic brethren focus on the Circumcision of Christ, and yet our prayer book has dropped the reference to circumcision altogether in favor of the Holy Name.
In the gospel of Luke, we hear this simple synopsis of what happened on this day: “After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” Today, Jesus was both circumcised and named.
It’s no surprise that those compiling the American prayer book in the 1970’s chose to focus on the naming of Jesus rather than his circumcision. For Americans tend to circumcise their sons at a much higher rate than any other majority Christian country, and yet, we hear from St. Paul that circumcision isn’t required to be a Christian. To give you an example, as of 2007, nearly 82% of American men were circumcised compared with only 3.8% of men in the United Kingdom, and 14% in France (the majority of whom are Muslim). Perhaps the compilers and editors of our Prayer Book were at least subconsciously making a point that circumcision is not a religious rite for Christians.
But it certainly is for the Jews. God established circumcision as a sign of his covenant with Abraham that would mark his descendants as different from the other peoples of the world. In Genesis, we hear, “Throughout your generations every male among you shall be circumcised when he is eight days old…So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant.” Mary and Joseph were observant Jews, and in keeping with this command from God, they circumcised Jesus on the eighth day of his birth. The literal cutting of the flesh in the rite of circumcision connects Jesus to the covenant people of his time and to his ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
But today is not only about flesh and blood. Our Lord was given the name “Jesus”, a Greek name that comes to from the Hebrew name that we normally translate as Joshua. It literally means, “The Lord saves.”  In Jesus’s physical body, our eternal salvation has come. In other words, in our gospel passage today, we see the roots of the deep creedal statements that took the Church centuries to develop: we see that God is fully human and fully divine.
The God of the universe became one of us in order to redeem us. Today marks the first time God’s blood was shed, foreshadowing the shedding of his blood at Calvary for the redemption of the world. The days of penitence and waiting during Advent are past. During Christmastide, and especially today, we needn’t focus on our sin, but on our redemption. When we feast at the altar in a few moments, we will see and taste bread and wine, but by the mighty power of the Holy Spirit, these elements will have become the body, soul, and divinity of the babe whose name we celebrate today. As we gratefully partake of these most holy gifts, may you and I come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.
 Genesis 17:12.
 F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 872.
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
December 24, 2019
Good evening, and Merry Christmas to you. What a joy it is to celebrate this great feast with all of you here in this stunningly gorgeous space. Yesterday, as the elves were getting everything ready around here for Christmas, I became entranced with the crèche over here on the Annunciation Chapel altar. From the intricate figures of Mary and Joseph and the angels to the beauty of the candles and greenery – it’s a heavenly scene almost too much to take in. You must stop by and get a closer look after the service. As I was gazing upon the little bitty Christ child, I started envisioning the scene that St. Luke described to us in chapter two of his gospel .
The story begins with Mary and Joseph traveling to their hometown of Bethlehem in order to be counted in the census. This wasn’t a voluntary thing – Palestine was occupied by the Romans at this point, and the Emperor issued a decree that a census should be taken. During this particular census under Governor Quirinius (Kw-ihr-inius, we know that group of Jews rebelled against the Empire and were struck back by the imperial army. The Prince of Peace didn’t come with a sword to bring about the liberation of God’s people, he came as a weak and helpless babe. Mary gave birth to the child and laid him in a manger. A manager is a long open box that is used to hold food for cattle and horses. Luke tells us that she laid him in a manger because there was no place for them at the inn. I’m not sure about you, but I’ve always had a hard time not thinking of the inn as a Homewood Suites by Hilton or even a Motel 6. But the Greek word “inn” is only used one other time in the New Testament during the story of the Last Supper and is translated there “upper room.” In first century Palestine, most of the homes were two story, with the people sleeping upstairs and the animals downstairs. Because of this census, it is likely that there were other sojourners who had arrived earlier than Mary and Joseph and were taking up any guest rooms that may have been upstairs, leaving only the downstairs with the animals for them, and yet the owners of the home did not turn them away.
And yet, nativity scenes are typically in a barn or out under the open stars. The more and more I stared at the beauty of this creche and thought through the story of what actually happened, the more apparent it became that the scene wasn’t as pristine and heavenly and glorious as the scene before my eyes. Jesus was born during a time of intense political and societal unrest amidst the filthiness of cows and goats and sheep. The long-expected Messiah came into a world filled with fear and oppression and sin, much like our world today. God came into the world in the midst of human sin and suffering and met the Hebrew people where they were.
After Jesus’s birth, the angels appeared to bring the good news of great joy of the birth of the Messiah, not to the important people of the day – not to the Emperor, not to Governor Quirinius, not to the Jewish religious leaders – but to the lowly shepherds. Shepherds at that time were at the bottom of the social ladder. They were seen as poor and dishonest people who grazed their flocks on other people’s lands. An example of this in our society might be a loan shark or a convicted felon. These shifty characters who probably didn’t smell so great from living out in the pastures believed the angel and immediately went to Bethlehem to see the child in the manger…the child who came to bring peace to all men and women, but especially to the poor and lowly.
At this point, I asked myself, “why in the world do we clean up these nativity scenes and make them look so beautiful? Why is it that we feel the need to take something so earthy and dirty and unkempt and artificially make it look so heavenly?”
The story we heard tonight was from the second chapter of Luke’s gospel. The first chapter began with an announcement by an angel of the birth of John the Baptist in the place established to house the presence of God…the Temple. The angelic announcement of the birth of Christ that immediately follows was not in “God’s house” but in the fields. The contrast between the two couldn’t be more striking. God came into the world as a human child not in the Jewish equivalent of a place like St. Mary’s Church, but in the midst of the poor and lowly in their everyday lives.
Friends, this is good news of great joy indeed, not only to the shepherds watching in their fields by night, but to all of us gathered here. Note that almost all the Christmas hymns we sing speak of Jesus’s birth in the present tense, not the past tense. “Come and behold him, born the king of angels” not ages ago, but now. Like he did with the shepherds, the God of the universe stoops down and meets you and me where we are in life. God loves even – no especially – those whom our society ostracize and exclude so much that he gave his only Son so rescue us from evil and sin and death. And yet, as Paul says in the second chapter of his letter to Titus, “we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” The birth of the babe begins the process of the redemption of the world, and we rightly rejoice tonight. But we know all too well that this old world is still deeply wounded, and sin and suffering and abound. But with the grace we receive from Our Lord in our baptism and in Holy Communion gives us the strength we need to believe that he truly will lift us out of the mire day in and day out.
As I continued to gaze upon the heavenly nativity scene, I was filled with hope anew. Hope that what was promised to you and me in our baptism will be fulfilled one day. Hope that God can take even the likes of me and make me whole. Hope that God loves you and me so much that he makes us glorious and heavenly and beautiful much like we do with our nativity scenes.
Friends, let us join with the shepherds and go with haste to Bethlehem to greet our Savior with joy, and let us be filled anew with the hope that the God who came to live among us will make all things new in our hearts each and every day.
 See Acts chapter 5.
 Sermon Brainwave: https://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx
 Keck, Leander E., ed. The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary. Vol. 8. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015, 49.
Advent VI, Year A – Matthew 1:18-25
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
December 22, 2019
Growing up, my sister and I were very close to all of our grandparents, but I was particularly close to my paternal grandfather Charles Everson. My granddad was an interesting character with interesting hobbies like flying airplanes and repairing old clocks, but one of the things I’ll always remember about him was fascination with our family history. Over the years, he traveled around the upper Midwest and Back East going from library to cemetery to county courthouse looking for clues that would lead him further back in time in our lineage. Ultimately, he was able to trace both the Everson line and that of his maternal grandfather to the late 1700’s on this side of the pond, but he ended with problem: he couldn’t figure out where we came from in Europe.
Matthew’s gospel begins just before the passage we heard this morning with the long genealogy of Jesus, and it too ended with a problem. The purpose of the listing of his genealogy was to show that Jesus, the Messiah, was the son of David, and as it lists “Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah,” and so on, we expect to hear, “Joseph was the father of Jesus.” Instead, we hear, “Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born.” This is this problem that St. Matthew is working out in verses 18-25 that we heard today.
Joseph was engaged to be married to Mary at this point, but they were not yet living together. Inn their day, engagement meant that they were legally married, but didn’t yet live together or have marital relations. Thus, Mary being pregnant meant that not only had she been unfaithful to her betrothed, but that she had legally committed adultery. Or at least so Joseph thought. If she had committed adultery, Joseph was legally obliged to divorce her. But being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, he planned to dismiss her quietly. Just as he had decided to do this, an angel visited him in a dream and explained that Mary was pregnant not by another man, but by the Holy Spirit. The angel addressed Joseph as “son of David,” reminding us of the lineage problem going on. The angel continues by instructing him to name the boy Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. We don’t hear it in our context, but there’s a play on words going on here that only the Greek speaking Jews would have caught. Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua which comes from the verb “to rescue” or “to deliver.” All of this was to fulfill the prophecy that we heard from the prophet Isaiah: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel” which means “God is with us.” It isn’t until the very end of the story that we hear of the actual birth of Jesus in the most back handed way. “But [he] had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son.” That’s it. The genealogical problem that Matthew is trying to work out is finally solved in the very last phrase of this passage: “and he named him Jesus.” By naming the child, Joseph acknowledges him as his son; in effect, Joseph adopts Jesus, and thus incorporates him legally into David’s line.
It is odd to hear a story of Jesus’s birth during the season of Advent! But this passage works because it isn’t really about Jesus’s birth. Matthew is much less interested in the story of the actual birth than he is in the identity of the one being born. The babe that is to be born is the one the prophets spoke of so long ago. He is the son of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; he is the son of David, Solomon, Uzziah, Amos, and Zerubbabel; he is the son of Joseph and Mary. He is the promised one who will redeem Israel from all its distress and iniquity. He is the one who will finally lead them out of exile into the Promised Land for all of eternity. His name will be Jesus as he will save his people from their sins.
Now there are many in our world today who think that humanity doesn’t need a Savior. There are many who think that sin is an antiquated notion from the Middle Ages used by the Church to control people by fear and intimidation. But really, all one has to do is look at the public sins of the clergy who, in essence if not in fact, control the Church to know that humanity needs a Savior. Beyond public sins, most of the scandal in the lives of the clergy happen inside where no one but God can see, just like you.
God could have chosen to come into the world in a multitude of ways – perhaps using a 24th century transporter from Star Trek. But he didn’t. He chose to come into this world in a most scandalous way: he made a teenage girl from an unimportant village who was barely married pregnant by supernatural means. But thanks be to God, the scandal of the Incarnation meets us in the scandal of our lives today. We so often think that our own sinful lives, whether it’s out in the open like you see on Judge Judy or, more often, eating away at our insides and making us feel like we’re going to rot from within…we often think that a holy God would want nothing to do with us. Thanks be to God: the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the God of David; the God of Joseph and Mary chose to become human in the person of Jesus Christ to rescue us from the mire we’re in.
I remember my grandfather telling me of various scandals he’d discovered in his research of our family history, some of which were quite salacious and even juicy. I also remember learning of various scandals in our own more immediate family over the years, some of which are quite painful and difficult to think about. But closer to home, I am very aware of my own sinfulness and need of a Savior.
Friends, this Messiah that had been promised to rescue Israel from exile is the same Savior we’ve been waiting for during Advent. He will come very soon to rescue us from our sin, and at the last day, he will come again to redeem this old world he created that has been so deeply and totally upended by human sin. Soon, our waiting will be over. Soon, we will see our salvation. Come, Lord Jesus!
 David Bartlett, and Barbara Brown. Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008, 95.
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!
To the Glory of God and in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary
St. Mary's is a a parish of the Diocese of West Missouri, The Episcopal Church, and the Anglican Communion.
1307 Holmes Street
Kansas City, Missouri 64106