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.
Advent III, Year A – Isaiah 35:1-10
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
December 15, 2019
If you haven’t figured it out by now, at St. Mary’s, we are very intentional about observing the seasonal traditions of the church. For example, during Advent, we wear violet vestments and put up an Advent wreath. Most Episcopalians and other liturgical churches do all of that. But in typical St. Mary’s fashion, we lean into even the obscure customs that may have died out in many corners of the church. You may have noticed that Fr. Bob is wearing a chasuble that is a rather unique color. On the third Sunday of Advent, along with the fourth Sunday of Lent, the Church gives us a bit of reprieve from the penitential and self-reflective themes of the season and bids us to “Rejoice!” The color of the day is rose, or pink, rather than penitential violet, and we get to dust off the old pink chasuble that is faded and almost falling apart. Another tradition that has all but died out is the practice of preaching on the “four last things” on the four Sundays in Advent: death, judgment, heaven, and hell. These themes may seem odd in the weeks preceding Christmas, but the old topic for Advent III seemed like a natural fit for our first reading from the book of Isaiah.
At the time of this prophesy, the Hebrew people were in exile in Babylon and living as slaves to evil foreign overlords. They were desperate to be rescued and to finally go home. All hope was lost; families had been destroyed; pain and suffering abounded. Isaiah had a vision of a place where waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert. Weak hands are strengthened, and feeble knees made firm. What he sees is a reversal of everything that’s wrong with creation. For the curse in Genesis chapter three because of human sin extends not only to humanity, but to all of creation. He sees a world in which the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. The passage culminates in the homecoming of the Hebrew people via a highway called the Holy Way. This highway didn’t lead to Mount Sinai like the first Hebrew Exodus from Egypt; this highway led to Mount Zion, an important distinction for Isaiah, with Mount Sinai representing life under the Law and Mount Zion representing Jerusalem. The ransomed of the Lord shall enter Zion with singing, and obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. The heart of this prophetic vision is verse 4: “Say to the fearful of heart, “Be strong, do not fear!” Look, your God in vengeance shall come, God’s retribution shall come and rescue you.”
The text says that the unclean shall not travel on this highway, but Isaiah isn’t saying, “Clean up your act so that you are pure and clean and can properly travel on the Holy Way.” This prophetic vision is about God’s action in the world, not ours. The message is this: in the midst of your pain and suffering, despite your being away from home against your will, there is hope! God will come and rescue you and bring you home, but your home will not be as you remembered it. All will be right as it was before the sin of Adam and Even in the garden. The blind will see, the speechless sing, the lame will leap, waters will break forth in the desert. You will obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
Friends, this promise given to the Hebrew people so long ago is a promise given to us today. Jay and I usually listen to NPR in the morning as we’re getting ready for work, but the other day, Jay said to me, “Can we please change our routine and listen to something else? I’m really tired of setting the tone for the day with such awfulness and anxiousness.” Many of you are suffering from physical or mental maladies, have trouble paying the bills, or are dreading another lonely Christmas separated from your loved ones either by miles or by death.
Like the Hebrews, we are waiting to be rescued. We long to go home to Mount Zion, a place that the author of the book of Hebrews calls “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” We long to go to heaven to be with God and our loved ones who have gone before.
During Advent, the Church reminds us that as we wait for that day, joy is just around the corner. For the One who will lead us to the highway that leads to Mount Zion is coming soon. The One who will redeem us from sin and death – the One who will give us joy and gladness and do away with all sorry and sighing is coming to save us. The One who strengthens the weak hands and makes firm the feeble knees will be with us very soon indeed right here at this altar, and in the manager at Christmas, and at the last day when all will be made whole. “Be strong, do not fear!” Look, your God in vengeance shall come, God’s retribution shall come and rescue you.”
 Though this is in the section generally referred to as First Isaiah, most scholars believe chapters 34-35 comprise a displaced section of Second Isaiah (generally chapters 40-55). David Bartlett, and Barbara Brown. Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008, 51.
 Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary (New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 2019), 734-735.
Proper 28, Year C – Luke 21:5-19
The Rev. Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Church
November 17, 2019
As the scene opens in today’s gospel reading, Jesus engages with his disciples as they talked about the beautiful Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple was the center of public life for the Hebrew people, in matters of religion, politics, and even commerce. The original structure was built in the mid-10th Century BC and was destroyed in 586 BC by Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar who forcibly deported the bulk of the Jewish people into exile. Seventy years later, the Temple was rebuilt, and it was this reconstructed Temple that existed in Jesus’s time. It was beautiful and adorned with lavish stones and even gold.
Jesus proceeds to deliver the shocking news that the Temple will be destroyed. This immediately brought to mind the old stories that everyone knew of the destruction of the first Temple, and the misery and despair that their ancestors experienced when they were forced to be slaves for the Babylonians. Jesus’s words invoked fear.
The disciples respond by asking him when the destruction of the Temple will be, and he replies by warning them not to be led astray by others who come in His name. But then Jesus goes on to predict even more dire conditions: wars, insurrections, nations rising against nations and kingdom against kingdom, great earthquakes, and famines and plagues. Then, even more personally, he tells them that they will be persecuted, and that some of them will be put to death because of their allegiance to Him.
Doom and gloom. Fear. This evokes the kind of fear that you and I experience at various times throughout our lives. The kind of fear that arises when we lose our job, or a family member dies unexpectedly, or divorce shatters a family, or when we see people on the margins of our society being the object of hate and scorn.
After foretelling all of these horrible things that were to come, Jesus says, “this will give you an opportunity to testify.” In the midst of fear and conflict and division, we are given an opportunity to testify. The Church is given the opportunity to be the Church. To love our neighbors as ourselves, to care for the widow and the orphan, to feed the poor and tend to the sick, to love and embrace everyone, especially the most marginalized people in our society. In other words, when faced with fear and conflict and division, we are given the opportunity to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in both word and deed.
Jesus ends his discourse with, “But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.” In our baptismal liturgy, the candidate or the parents are asked, “Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?” The response is, “I will, with God’s help.” This promise to persevere in resisting evil is a bold promise that should not made lightly. It is hard work. It’s much easier to succumb to fear, isolation and the selfish acts of sin than it is to persevere in prayer, and fellowship with one another, and in the breaking of the bread at Holy Communion. It’s much easier to succumb to fear than it is to do the hard work required to love God and to love our neighbors.
But Jesus said, “By your endurance you will gain your souls.”
It is interesting to note that St. Luke wrote his gospel around the year 85 AD, about 15 years after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. Meaning his readers would have heard this story as a reflection on something that had already happened rather than a prediction of future events. When the Romans sacked Jerusalem, they not only destroyed the Temple, but they killed hundreds of thousands of people, mostly Jews, and ended up sending the budding Christian movement underground into persecution. The folks who heard this story were living in a hellish world, and these words gave them hope for a brighter future: “But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance, you will gain your souls.”
When your life seems to be falling apart, when the world seems to be going to hell in a hand basket, when you are faced with doom and gloom, do not be afraid. Look to Jesus who endured the suffering and shame of crucifixion on a cross at the hands of sinners, so that you may persevere in your faith. For by your endurance you will gain your souls. Amen.
All Saints Day
Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
November 3, 2019
In our first lesson, we hear the prophet Daniel recount a fantastical dream he had. Well, we heard the beginning of the dream in which four great beasts rise out of the sea. But then the lectionary skips 12 verses. In those verses, there are descriptions not only of the four beasts and their terrifying power, but ten horns arising from the fourth beast, with an eleventh horn with human eyes and a mouth speaking arrogantly. In response to this last beast with its mouthy eleventh horn, the Ancient One kills the beast and deprives the other three of their power. Then, “one like a human being” comes down from heaven on the clouds to reign on behalf of the Ancient One.
The lectionary then picks back up and we hear the heavenly attendant’s interpretation of the dream. The four beasts represent four kings or kingdoms, but in the end, the “holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom.”
Who are these holy ones?
The book of Daniel was likely written sometime in the 2nd Century BC during the reign of Greek Emperor Antiochus IV Epiphanes, under whose rule the Hebrew people suffered persecution and martyrdom. Up to this point in Hebrew literature, the word we translate as “holy ones” was used exclusively for divine beings and angels, never human beings. The holy ones in this passage are granted dominion over the kingdom that had already been granted to “the one like a human being” in verse 13. Later in Daniel, this “one like a human being” is identified as Michael the Archangel, the head of God’s heavenly army. Thus, this story originally referred to the divine army gaining control over the cosmic forces of evil and chaos. However, “holy ones” was interpreted by the Jewish Rabbinic tradition as referring to the Jews who were persecuted by the Greek Emperor Antiochus, and then later, even more broadly, as a reference to righteous humans sanctified after death. These “holy ones” are wise and pious men and women, who will suffer persecution, be purified, and awake to everlasting life, where they will possess God’s kingdom.
A couple of centuries later, the early Christians began commemorating the anniversary of those who were martyred for the faith. As persecution became more widespread, the number of martyrs became so great that a separate day could not be assigned to each. And so, the Church appointed a common day for all the martyrs as early as 373 AD. A few centuries later, the feast was broadened to include all saints as well as martyrs.
We continue to celebrate all the saints on this day so many years later. The “holy ones” we remember today, like those in Daniel’s apocalyptic dream, are those who contended long for their Savior’s honor…those who appear like stars…who stand before God’s throne wearing a golden crown and praising loud their heavenly King, as we will sing in today’s closing hymn. In the New Testament, the word “saint” refers to all of the baptized, but from the very beginning, some Christians began to be recognized for their holiness and sanctity, and the word saint in English is now more closely associated with them. Today’s feast isn’t commemorating or remembering all Christians throughout time – that’s All Souls Day which is the day after All Saints Day. No, today, we celebrate the saints – the “holy ones” – who lived out a heroic faith that has been recognized by the wider Christian community over time.
These heroes of the faith encourage us to keep running with perseverance the race set before us. We don’t worship them in the way we worship God, but we certainly honor them for their holiness which sprang from the grace given to them by God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Daniel was given a vision in his day when the empire that ruled over the Jewish people persecuted them to the point that they rebelled against the Emperor and ultimately prevailed, a rebellion we call the Maccabean Revolt. The Jewish festival of Hanukkah celebrates the re-dedication of the Temple following this great victory. In fact, this dream can be seen as a dystopian story not unlike the Handmaid’s Tale or the Hunger Games. Like Daniel, we live in a time when the empires of the day exalt injustice and hatred, and pay little attention to the poor, the sick, and the needy. As in Daniel’s day, the beasts with terrifying power seem to rise up out of the sea, threatening to overcome us.
The feast of All Saints reminds us that that the divine army will ultimately win the battle against evil and chaos. But more importantly, on All Saints Day, we are spurred on to a greater holiness by those who, even when they were with us on earth, were not with us in reality, for their minds were focused on God. “They lived on earth as citizens of heaven. Having here no lasting city, they sought a heavenly one; having no earthly riches, they sought the riches of heaven. They were strangers and sojourners” here just as the Jews were under the rule of Antiochus. “Strangers to the world, their whole heart was absorbed in the things of heaven…They longed for the beauty of heaven, its mansions and dwellings, its choirs and hymns, its feasts and its eternal blessedness.” The saints, by God’s grace, sought after these things, and by God’s grace, they attained them. “Their striving was rewarded by admission to the heavenly bridal chamber. Because they labored, now they exult. Because they were not negligent, they now rejoice.”
Friends, let us give thanks to Almighty God for the lives of the saints, and spurred on by their heroic devotion to Jesus, let us “lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”
 Much of this paragraph is from Wendland, Kristin J. “Commentary on Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18 by Kristin J. Wendland.” Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18 Commentary. Working Preacher. Accessed November 2, 2019. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4271.
 David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown. Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word. Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Pr., 2010), 223.
 Michael David. Coogan, ed., The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version: with the Apocrypha: an Ecumenical Study Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 1248.
 Much of this paragraph from Bartlett 223.
 The Hymnal 1982: According to the Use of the Episcopal Church (1985: The Church Hymnal Corporation, 1985), 286.
 The quotes in this paragraph are from a sermon by St. Anastasius of Sinai (d. sometime after 700 AD) as printed Maxwell E. Johnson, Benedictine Daily Prayer: a Short Breviary (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2005), 2184.
 Hebrews 12:1 (NRSV).
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!