Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Fr. Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
18 July 2021
Today’s Gospel presents a scene with which we are all too familiar. Jesus and his disciples are so busy that they don’t even have time to eat. How many times have we found ourselves so busy working or running around doing errands that we have to grab a quick bite or even miss a meal? We are told in the Gospel that “many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” So, Jesus tells his disciples: “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while” (Mark 6:31). They get into a boat to get away from the crowd. But by the time they arrive at their destination, the people have beaten them to it.
Jesus and his disciples will have to forego their downtime in this episode. But throughout the Gospels, we find many instances of Jesus retreating to a quiet place for rest, away from the crowds. And what does Jesus do during these times of solitude? He prays. Rest, for Jesus, is not just an opportunity to take a break from work. It is an opportunity to renew and refresh himself as he communes with the Father. Rest is sacred, time alone with God. And Jesus calls on us, his followers, to do likewise: “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves, and rest a while.”
For some of us, following Jesus’ call to rest may mean making a trip to Conception Abbey for a couple of days every month, like Fr. Charles does. For others, it may be setting aside times during the day to pray the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer. And, of course, for us Christians, as well as Jews, we cannot talk about rest without mentioning the sabbath.
Several years ago, I attended a Bar Mitzvah. It was for a couple of boys who were friends of my nephews’. I was struck by the beauty of the service and the many similarities to our Christian liturgy – the prayers, the scripture readings, and even some of the gestures. I could see where so much of our worship is rooted in ancient Jewish tradition and practice. On a side note, my nephews, who were confirmed in the Episcopal Church a few months earlier, were impressed by the lavish reception that followed, and wondered why the Christians haven’t followed suit in throwing big parties after Confirmation. The boys’ parents had rented a part of Arrowhead Stadium for the party.
During the Bar Mitzvah service, each of the boys gave a speech. And something I heard in one of those speeches has stayed with me. The boy explained that one of the greatest Jewish contributions to the world is the idea of the sabbath, the setting aside of one day of the week to rest from work. The boy shared his personal experience of how much the sabbath meant to him and his family in providing the time to be with one another.
Observing the sabbath as a holy day of rest is one of the foundations of Judaism, rooted in the Ten Commandments. The third or fourth commandment, depending on how you count them, proclaims: “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God…For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it” (Exodus 20:8-11). The sabbath is holy because God has ordained it so and has set an example in the Creation.
From Judaism, observing the sabbath spread to Christianity, though we do so on Sunday instead of Saturday in commemoration of Jesus’ resurrection on Sunday morning. And, in the modern world, this idea of a weekly rest period has become institutionalized and expanded to include Saturday for a weekend package. Prior to this, most societies took their rest on festivals days and certain periods of the agricultural season. So, the idea of a weekly time of rest was quite revolutionary and transformative.
It used to be that like the Jews, Christians used to quite serious about keeping the sabbath. Some of you may have seen the movie “The Chariots of Fire,” which came out in 1981. The film is based on the life of Eric Liddell, a Scottish athlete and devout Christian, who, in the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, refused to run in the heats for the 100 meters, in which he was favored to win the gold, because they were held on a Sunday. He competed instead in the 400 meters, held during the week, and he won. Sorry for the spoiler, those of you who haven’t seen the film.
On a more personal note, both my parents lived for a few years under the North Korean communist regime of Kim Il Sung, the current leader Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, in the late 1940s before the Korean War. The government would schedule mandatory athletic and extracurricular activities for schools on Sunday in order to target the Christian students. When they wouldn’t show up, they would be punished by the teachers on Monday morning. Christians in the past have paid a dear price to keep the sabbath. It was a mark of their Christian identity.
But in recent times, especially for us in hard-working America, we’ve come to largely ignore the sabbath. Some of you may remember the days when everything was closed on Sundays. We still have some vestiges of the so-called blue laws, such as the one prohibiting the sale of alcohol in groceries on Sundays. But it used to be that all businesses shut down, not just Chick-Fil-A. And going to church wasn’t an option. Almost everyone, at least in this part of the country, went to church Sunday morning. But now not only is Sunday like any other day; we have kids’ soccer games and other activities that can make it one of the busiest days of the week. Going to church has become just another option for the day off from work.
Our society may have drifted away from keeping a day of rest, but we need it more than ever. And it is not just our bodies that need the rest; our spirits need it, too. In our Book of Common Prayer, we find this prayer about the importance of rest: “God of peace, who has taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and in confidence shall be our strength.” In returning and rest we shall be saved. As Christians, we have the opportunity each Sunday, our sabbath day, to return and rest, and find our salvation in the Holy Eucharist. It is our ultimate source of spiritual renewal and refreshment.
At St. Mary’s, we have a wonderful tradition of the altar party and the choir praying in the chapel in preparation for worship. Among the prayers, we find these words from the Psalms: “O send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling, Then I will go to the altar of God” (Psalm 43:3-4). This altar is our holy hill. Just as Jesus retreated to the mountains or wilderness to rest and pray, we leave the world behind us and ascend this holy hill to rest and pray. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, and the noises of the world around us, Jesus calls us: “Come away…rest for a while.” He calls us to join him at the altar to pray. And he nourishes us with His Body and Blood. Let us, then, come into His Presence to find our rest. May we be renewed and refreshed to go forth to do His work in the world. Amen.
 Book of Common Prayer (New York: Church Publishing, 1979), 832.
Sixth Sunday of Easter
Text: Mark 5:21-43
Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
27 June 2021
When we read the Bible, we tend to overlook its literary qualities. The Book of Psalms, for instance. contains some of the most beautiful and most ancient poetry in the world. And there are all sorts of literary devices and techniques in the Bible, such as metaphor, hyperbole, and parable. The Gospels are no exception. Each Gospel writer has a distinctive literary style and uses different techniques as he tells the story of Jesus.
In today’s reading from Mark, we have an example of one of his favorite techniques, the so-called “Markan sandwich.” We have two healing stories, one inserted into the other, like a sandwich. In one, Jesus raises a little girl presumed to be dead; in the other, he heals a woman who has been suffering from hemorrhages. The purpose of interweaving the two stories is to interpret one in light of the other. The similarities and differences between the two stories accentuate the details, and the interruption of one story by the other adds suspense. Both stories involve women. One is a twelve-year-old girl, and the other is an older woman who has had hemorrhages for twelve years. The girl is the daughter of Jairus, a religious leader, hence from an elite socioeconomic and cultural background. The woman, on the other hand, is poor; she has spent all her money looking for an elusive cure. Both involve healing, but in the case of one, the father makes the request on behalf of his daughter, whereas in the other, the woman secretly touches Jesus’ cloak.
In both stories, Jesus is misunderstood and ridiculed. In the story of the woman with the hemorrhages, Jesus is in the middle of a crowd when he senses that power has gone out of him. He asks, “Who touched my clothes?” The disciples think that Jesus is acting odd, and they tell him so: “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” (Mark 5:30-31). In the story of Jairus’s daughter, Jesus enters their house to find a group of people mourning her death. When he tells them that she “is not dead but sleeping,” they laugh at him (Mark 5:39-40). They think that Jesus is either stupid or crazy. In any case, the healer has arrived too late to do anything.
This incident of Jesus being laughed at recalls for me another story in the Bible. In the Old Testament, we have the story of Abraham being visited by three divine messengers. When Sarah overhears one of them telling her husband that she will soon bear a son, she laughs. She thinks the idea of a woman her age having a child is preposterous. The messenger then rebukes her for doubting God’s power. He asks, “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:9-15).
As we look at our own walk of faith, we may not have laughed at God in the way that Sarah or the crowd at Jairus’s house did. But we can probably recall those moments when we doubted whether God could do anything for us. Or we may not even have given a thought to God because we were so wrapped up in the situation. Perhaps it was an illness or financial problems or strained relationships – those moments when we felt helpless and without hope. Like Sarah or the people at Jairus’s house, we felt there was nothing we or God could do.
But as we know from these stories, contrary to expectation, God does come through. Jesus heals the girl. Sarah gives birth to Isaac. Such divine surprises are repeated throughout Scripture. Story after story in the Gospels demonstrate Jesus defying conventional expectations as he manifests God’s power and love. He brings healing to what seem to be hopeless situations, and he even has authority over the forces of nature, as he calms the stormy waves. And in his ultimate act of overturning human expectations, he conquers death and rises from the grave.
As people of faith, we are open to the realm of mystery and miracles. We believe in a world that we cannot see with our eyes. We believe in a power greater than our own. And we believe that our God loves and cares for us, and that God grants us help in the toils and labors of this life. But this conviction does not necessarily mean that we will always have quick fixes to our problems. God will not always answer our prayers with miraculous healing or success in our endeavors. God may have other plans. Indeed, in one strand of our Christian piety, we have the examples of the saints down through the ages who have embraced suffering in imitation of Our Lord Jesus. When we read the biographies of the saints, it is surprising how many have been afflicted with debilitating illness. But rather than praying for a cure, they live with it as a privilege.
Whether we seek the path of holy suffering or the path of healing, we all share in the same promise. God is with us. God will grant us strength, comfort, and hope. But we do not always claim this promise. Our eyes are clouded by the worries and cares of this world, and we often fail to turn to God for help.
I would like to conclude with a prayer that we ordinarily use at the end of the Prayers of the People. But it perfectly captures the gap that often exists between our vision and God’s vision, and it reminds us that we are never left alone. Whether we are aware or not, God is always with us. God will take care of us. In our daily walk of faith, may we strive to rise above ourselves and see the world with the eyes of faith.
Let us pray.
Almighty God, to whom our needs are known before we ask; Help us to ask only what accords with your will; and those good things which we dare not, or in our blindness cannot ask, grant us for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
 Mark G. Vitalis Hoffman, “Commentary on Mark 5:21-43,” Working Preacher. https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-13-2/commentary-on-mark-521-43-4
 The Book of Common Prayer (New York: Church Publishing Incorporated, 1979), 394-395.
Sixth Sunday of Easter
Text: John 15: 9-17
Fr. Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
9 May 2021
The Gospel of John is often called the Gospel of love. The theme of love occupies a central place in the book. Perhaps the most-quoted Bible verse of all time – one that I am sure you have heard on many occasions – comes from the Gospel of John, and it is about love: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16). But love is a broad term, an overused word in our society, with multiple meanings, everything from romantic and platonic love to fondness for puppies or ice cream. What does love mean in the Gospel of John?
In our reading today, John connects love to friendship. Jesus tells the disciples who are gathered around him: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). Ultimate love, according to Jesus, is sacrificing oneself for a friend. Jesus goes on to explain that the relationship between himself and the disciples is defined by friendship. They are bound together by love. And, as friends, Jesus has shared with them everything that he has heard from the Father. For the Gospel writer John, this section on the sacrificial meaning of love is a foreshadowing of Jesus’ Passion and Crucifixion. Jesus will soon set a personal example of ultimate love by laying down his life for his friends on the cross.
In the Hebrew Bible, the paradigmatic story of friendship is that of David and Jonathan. As the young David rises in his military and political career at the court of King Saul, he becomes best friends with his son, Jonathan. So powerful is their friendship that we are told that Jonathan’s soul “was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (I Samuel 18:1). When Saul sets out to kill David out of jealousy and hatred, it is Jonathan who arranges for his friend’s escape. When Jonathan dies on the battlefield, David mourns his death and declares that Jonathan’s love was “wonderful, surpassing the love of women” (II Samuel 26). Later, after the demise of King Saul’s family, David cares for Jonathan’s sole surviving son.
Another beautiful story of friendship in the Hebrew Bible is that of Ruth and Naomi. Although Ruth is Naomi’s daughter-in-law, she goes beyond her familial duties, and the relationship becomes one of loving friendship. After the death of her two sons, including Ruth’s husband, Naomi plans to return to her home in Judah. The family had been living in the land of Moab following a famine in Judah. Now with her husband and sons gone, Naomi instructs her Moabite daughters-in-law to return to their natal homes. One daughter-in-law obeys and departs, but Ruth refuses to leave Naomi. She insists on accompanying Naomi to her homeland and adopting it as her own. Ruth proclaims her self-sacrificing love for Naomi with these eloquent and moving words: “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die—there will I be buried” (Ruth 1:16-17). In the end, Ruth prevails, and she follows Naomi. Subsequently, Ruth marries a kinsman of Naomi, Boaz, and they become the ancestors of David.
The Israelites were not the only people in the ancient world who celebrated friendship. The Greeks had a similar ideal of friendship. In the legend of Pythias and Damon, the former is accused of plotting against King Dionysius of Syracuse, and is sentenced to death. Pythias requests permission to go home to settle his affairs before the execution. When the king refuses, Pythias’ friend Damon steps forward and volunteers to be hostage until his friend’s return. If Pythias does not return, Damon is willing to be executed in his stead. The wait begins, and the king is suspecting that Pythias will not show up. But when he does return, the king is not only surprised; he is so moved by the friendship of the two men that he allows both to go free.
The celebration of friendship seems to be a universal phenomenon. In China, for instance, friendship is considered one of the five cardinal human relationships according to Confucian philosophy. The foundational text for Confucianism, The Analects, begins with these words of the Master, Confucius: “Is it not a pleasure to have friends come visiting from afar?” The ideals and values of friendship manifest themselves across many different cultures and societies.
To return to the Gospel of John, calling Jesus our friend is not just a metaphor. Jesus’ friendship is a lived reality. Jesus has many friends, for instance, the siblings Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. The Gospel of John says that “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (John 11:5). He dines with them, and he chats with them. We can imagine him sitting in their home sharing stories and jokes, as well as his troubles and concerns. In other words, Jesus does not just go about preaching and working miracles all the time. He has a social life. Jesus’ friends provide him with companionship and support, and joy and love, and he does the same in return. Moreover, he makes himself vulnerable in his friendship. When Lazarus dies, he weeps. Toward the end of Jesus’ ministry, one friend betrays him, another denies him, and the rest take flight. Jesus’ experience of friendship was no exalted state of perfect bliss. On the contrary, it was subject to the same challenges and risks that we take on in our friendships. Jesus was fully human.
One of the favorite hymns that I grew up with in my Presbyterian and Methodist family is “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” It’s not in our Episcopal hymnal, though it used to be. The first verse goes like this:
What a Friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear.
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!
The hymn is a wonderful profession of faith in Christ’s saving grace and power, all that he will do for us as a friend. But what the hymn seems to leave out is the fact that friendship is a two-way relationship. Jesus is our friend, but, at the same time, we are friends to Jesus. So, then, what is our role and responsibility as Jesus’ friends? How do we respond and reciprocate? In the Gospel of John, Jesus makes it clear: “You are my friends, if you do what I command you?” And what is this command, this condition for friendship with Jesus? He answers: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” And Jesus in his life and death shows us how to be a true friend. We are to offer each other up to Christ and to one another, and we take on the risks and vulnerability in the relationship.
The friendship that Christ teaches and models is not about what we have to gain but what we are willing to lose. We may not be called to lay down our lives for Christ or for one another, but we may be called to give up our time, money, or other aspects of our lives that we value. Whatever the price may be, however, nothing can compare with the privilege of calling Jesus our friend.
Third Sunday of Easter
Text: Luke 24:36b-48
Fr. Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
18 April 2021
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus appears to his followers three times before his ascension to heaven. First, he appears to Cleopas and another follower, who are traveling after the crucifixion from Jerusalem to the town of Emmaus. Jesus joins them on the road, but they do not recognize him. Only after he spends time with them talking and sharing a meal are their eyes opened (Luke 24:13-33). The second appearance is to Peter, but the Gospel only mentions the fact in passing and provides no description (Luke 24:34).
Today’s reading is the third and final post-resurrection appearance. The disciples have gathered and are excitedly talking about the news of Jesus’ appearances when he suddenly comes to them. We can only imagine the shock and disbelief. In fact, the disciples can’t believe what they’re seeing. They think he may be a ghost, so Jesus shows them his hands and feet to prove otherwise.
And then what follows is rather strange. The disciples are beside themselves with wonder and joy. They’re left speechless by what they are witnessing. Their master is not dead. He is alive. But what does Jesus have to say in the midst of this remarkable moment: “Have you anything here to eat?” I don’t know about you, but this strikes me as odd. He has just conquered death and come back from the grave. And in this extraordinary reunion with his disciples, he is looking for food. It seems so mundane and even silly considering the situation. Shouldn’t Jesus be responding with some grand gesture or profound saying?
As strange as this scene may be, it has deep theological significance. In the context of the story, his eating the piece of broiled fish proves that he is not some disembodied spirit. He is flesh and blood. He has a body. He eats. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is a physical reality.
The scene of Jesus eating is repeated in other accounts of his post-resurrection appearances. On the road to Emmaus, the first recorded appearance in Luke, he joins the two followers for an evening meal. It is when he takes the bread, blesses and breaks it that the two men recognize Jesus. In the Gospel of John, Jesus appears to the disciples as they’re fishing, and he cooks the fish over a charcoal fire for them early in the morning (John 21:1-14). They have breakfast together. What is it about Jesus eating with his followers after the resurrection? It couldn’t have been just to satisfy his hunger after being dead for three days.
Sharing a meal was a key part of Jesus’ ministry while he was alive. The Gospels are filled with stories of his eating and drinking. In fact, his ministry can be seen as beginning and ending with a meal. It began with the first miracle at Cana, where he turned the water into wine at a wedding feast and ended with the Last Supper. Jesus loved to gather at the table to share food, drink, and conversation. In theological language, he engaged in what we call “table fellowship.” And he practiced table fellowship not only with his family, friends, and followers but with perfect strangers. This scandalized proper Jewish society, which had strict rules concerning with whom one would eat and socialize. Sharing a meal with someone is an intimate act. Even today, we tend to eat with people with whom we are close or familiar – with those who are like us, family and friends. Think of the complicated politics of the high school cafeteria of who sits with whom. In ancient Jewish society, there were strict prohibitions against eating with certain groups, like the prostitutes and tax collectors. But Jesus flouted these exclusive norms and restrictions and practiced open table fellowship, welcoming all to his table.
The table fellowship that Jesus established continues after the crucifixion and resurrection. But now the table fellowship is no longer just sharing a meal. The table fellowship becomes a Eucharistic event, an opportunity to experience the risen Christ in the flesh. It is no accident that in the post-resurrection appearances that he shares a meal with his followers. The meals are the contexts in which the disciples witness and experience the risen Christ.
The post-resurrection table fellowship of Jesus and his followers is a Eucharistic event. And it also points to what will come in the future – the Heavenly Banquet. One of the most interesting images of heaven in the Bible is that of the feast or banquet – a party. The book of Isaiah has this vision: “[T]he Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear” (Isaiah 25:6). And in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus paints this portrait of heaven: “[M]any will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8:11). Many people think of heaven as a hazy, quiet place with disembodied spirits aimlessly floating around, but we have this concrete, embodied image of heaven as a banquet, a feast. Whatever heaven might be, it looks like there will be banquets, where we will eat and drink, just as Jesus does after the resurrection. But it makes sense. In the kingdom of heaven, we will be unable to contain the joy of seeing God face to face. And think of all the happy reunions with our loved ones. How can we not rejoice and celebrate?
The early Christians liked the idea of the Heavenly Banquet so much that they decorated their tombs with it. If I can direct your attention to the service leaflet, this is a wall mural from the Catacombs of Domitilla in Rome. These catacombs contain thousands of underground graves of the early Christians. It may look, at first glance, like the Last Supper, but there are many more figures here than Jesus and his disciples – a couple of women, as well as some people waiting on the guests. It is a scene of the Heavenly Banquet. The Catacombs of Domitilla even has a large chamber at the entrance that served as a banquet hall, where families would gather to have a feast on the death anniversaries of their loved ones. The early Christians were a happy bunch!
As the heirs of these early Christians, we, too, can also find hope beyond the grave when we will feast at the Heavenly Banquet. We will rejoice in the presence of Jesus, the host of the banquet, and we will be joined by all the saints who have come before us. But, in the meantime, we have a foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet in the Holy Eucharist. In our Book of Common Prayer, we have this prayer for Holy Eucharist during a funeral:
Almighty God, we thank you that in your great love you have fed us with the spiritual food and drink of the Body and Blood of your Son Jesus Christ, and have given us a foretaste of your heavenly banquet. Grant that this Sacrament may be to us a comfort in affliction, and a pledge of our inheritance in that kingdom where there is no death, neither sorrow nor crying, but the fullness of joy with all your saints; through Jesus Christ our Savior.
Dear friends, Jesus Christ invites all of us to his table fellowship, here and now, in the Holy Eucharist, and in the life to come, in the Heavenly Banquet. Let us come to his table and rejoice in our risen Lord. Amen.
 The Book of Acts, also believed to have been authored by Luke, suggests that Jesus appeared other times with “many convincing proofs” during the forty days before his ascension (Acts 1:3).
 Gerald O’Collins, “Did Jesus Eat the Fish (Luke 24: 42-43)?” Gregorianum, vol. 69, no.1 (1988), pp.65-76.
 The Book of Common Prayer (New York: Church Publishing, 1979), 498.
Text: Luke 22:14-30
Fr. Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
1 April 2021
In today’s Gospel reading from Luke, Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper. He is gathered with his disciples to observe the traditional Jewish feast of Passover. They share the ritual meal, which calls to remembrance the exodus story and how the Israelites were saved from the angel of death who passed over their homes during the final plague in Egypt. In the Gospel, Jesus reinterprets and transforms this meal in the light of his coming death. He tells his disciples as he shares bread with them: “This is my body, which is given for you,” and likewise, as he shares the cup: “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:19-20). Jesus, whose blood will soon be shed on the cross, is now the sacrificial lamb, offered to God for our sins and transgressions.
This is a holy moment, one that we remember and reenact every time we receive Holy Communion. And yet what immediately follows this holy moment is strange and shocking. Jesus says that there is a traitor among them: “But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table” (Luke 22:21). I can only imagine the scene at the table at this point. If I had been there, I would have immediately taken my hand off the table to avoid suspicion. We are told that the disciples are stunned by this revelation, and they start to ask each other who among them could possibly be the traitor.
Of course, we all know the identity of the traitor – Judas Iscariot. He will later betray Jesus to the authorities with a kiss. Why did Judas betray Jesus? As one of the Twelve Disciples, he had been part of the inner circle of Jesus’ followers. And considering all the time that they had spent together, I would imagine that their relationship was not just one of master and disciple; they were close friends. What would lead Judas to betray his teacher, mentor, and friend?
The Gospels present different views on this question. Mark does not give a clear motive. Matthew explains that Judas did it out of greed, getting thirty pieces of silver for his treacherous act. Luke and John suggest that he was possessed by Satan. On the other hand, some scholars attribute a political motive. A radical who wanted Jesus to overthrow the Romans and establish a Jewish kingdom, Judas betrays Jesus for his failure to bring about a revolution.
Or perhaps the reason was more personal, even petty. Did Judas get his feelings hurt by something Jesus said or did to him? Was he nursing a grudge and desire for revenge? Or perhaps Judas was jealous of the other disciples. Not all the disciples had equal standing. For instance, only Peter, James, and John had the privilege of witnessing the Transfiguration of Jesus. And Peter, in particular, figures much more prominently in the Gospel stories than the other disciples. He seems to emerge as a natural leader among them. Judas was not Jesus’ favorite disciple. Was this cause for resentment and eventual betrayal?
Whatever the motive may have been, Judas has earned eternal notoriety as the disciple who betrayed Jesus, joining the likes of Brutus and Benedict Arnold as names that are synonymous with traitor. But, in fact, it could have been any of the other disciples. Although it was Judas who handed Jesus over to the authorities, the other disciples all betrayed Jesus in some way. Peter denied him three times. And when Jesus was arrested, all the disciples fled and abandoned him.
Scripture is filled with examples of betrayal by friends. In Psalm 55, we have these bitter words of hurt and disappointment:
It is not enemies who taunt me--
I could bear that;
it is not adversaries who deal
insolently with me--
I could hide from them.
But it is you, my equal,
my companion, my familiar
with whom I kept pleasant
we walked in the house of God
with the throng (Psalm 55:12-14).
Jesus may well have been thinking these words of the Psalmist when he was betrayed by Judas. During this season of Lent, we have been reading the book of Jeremiah for Morning Prayer, and we find these words from the prophet: “All my close friends are watching me to stumble” (Jeremiah 20:10). For Jeremiah, the explanation for such treacherous thoughts and behavior lies in the human heart. He says:
The heart is devious above all else;
it is perverse--
who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)
Our hearts are indeed incomprehensible at times, causing us to do things that we later regret. Last Sunday, Fr. Charles pointed out in his Palm Sunday sermon how fickle human beings can be. At one point, the crowds are praising Jesus with palm branches and hosannas, and the next moment they are shouting “crucify him!” And during the Gospel reading, we all joined in to signify our complicity in the betrayal and death of Jesus.
The sad fact of our human nature is that we all have a bit of Judas in us. All of us can probably remember the moments of betrayal in our lives. When have we engaged in gossip and backstabbing? When have we betrayed the confidence of a friend? When have we turned aside from those in need? Likewise, how many times have we been at the receiving end of such betrayal? In Judas, we see our human nature at its worst, the betrayal of those whom we love.
But in Jesus, we have the possibility of transcending our human nature and sharing in his divine nature. This evening, we remember Our Lord’s institution of Holy Eucharist. Soon we will come forward to receive His Body and Blood. We come to the altar as perpetrator and victim. We have betrayed our friends, and have been betrayed by them. We have betrayed our Lord. And so we come to the altar seeking forgiveness for our sins and healing of our wounds. We come to the altar to be cleansed, nourished, and empowered to be faithful disciples of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
28 February 2021
The exchange between Jesus and Peter in today’s reading from the Gospel of Mark is one of the most shocking scenes in the Bible for me. Jesus calls one of his beloved disciples, someone in his inner circle, Peter no less, “Satan.” In the Gospel of Mark, Peter is the only person who is reprimanded by Jesus in such harsh terms. It doesn’t get any worse than being called “Satan.” Peter must have been utterly stunned, confused, and hurt. What could he have possibly done to provoke such a strong indictment? Is Peter possessed by the Devil? Or perhaps he’s the Devil in disguise? But we all know it’s not Peter who betrays Jesus; it’s Judas. On the surface, it seems that Peter is just looking out for Jesus. When Jesus tells his disciples that he must suffer and die, Peter, out of his concern for the well-being of his master, naturally protests. He doesn’t want Jesus, his teacher and friend, to suffer and die.
Then, why does Jesus rebuke him? When we read on, Jesus explains that Peter is setting his mind not on divine things but on human things. What does Jesus mean by this dichotomy between “divine things” and “human things”? To place this incident in context, the disciples have been riding high on Jesus’ successful ministry. Huge crowds have been following Jesus to hear his preaching and to be healed of all sorts of diseases. The disciples are basking in the light of their master’s fame and glory. And right before the incident with Peter, Jesus has revealed to his disciples that he is the long-awaited Messiah. Jesus asks them who the people say he is, and they answer that some say Elijah and others, John the Baptist. And it is, in fact, Peter who makes the confession of faith: “You are the Messiah” (Mark 8:27-30). But then far from being praised for his recognition of Jesus as the Messiah, he is soon reprimanded. Peter is confused. So are the rest of the disciples. What is going on?
Jesus rebukes Peter because he and the other disciples have it all wrong about the nature of the Messiah. They envision Jesus as an earthly king, who will use his power and authority to drive out the Romans and the corrupt Jewish leaders, and establish a new kingdom. And the disciples see themselves on the verge of obtaining honor and glory themselves. In the following chapters of Mark’s Gospel, the disciples will argue about who is the greatest among them (Mark 9:33-34), and a couple of them, James and John, will ask Jesus for the privilege of sitting at his right and left hand in his kingdom (Mark 10:35-37).
Jesus calls Peter “Satan” because this way of thinking, seeing the kingdom in terms of earthly power, honor, and glory, is precisely what Satan had used to tempt Jesus in the wilderness. Satan takes Jesus to a high mountain for a view of all the kingdoms of the world in their glory, and he tells Jesus: “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” To which, Jesus replies: “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him” (Matthew 4:8-10). When Jesus rebukes Peter with the words, “Get behind me, Satan,” he is drawing a direct parallel with this earlier incident, in which Jesus rebukes the Devil with the words, “Away with you, Satan.” So, unknowingly, Peter had become a tempter, like Satan, presenting Jesus with earthly glory and threatening to derail his divine mission.
Jesus rebukes Peter for setting his mind on the “human things” of personal glory, power, and honor. And then he calls the other disciples as well as the crowd to explain the “divine things.” He tells them: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (Mark 8:34-35). Jesus paints a radically different picture of the Messiah than what the disciples had expected. The Messiah will suffer and die, and he expects his followers to do the same.
In spite of the initial confusion and resistance to this message, the disciples did ultimately take up their crosses and give up their lives for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel. And so have countless others in the two millennia of Christian history. One of the great benefits for me of the Daily Masses that we have here at St. Mary’s is the observance of the feast days for the various saints. It is an inspiration to learn about the lives of the faithful down through the ages. And when we look at these saints, the examples that we hold up for following Jesus, not all of them were martyrs. Some of them lived to a ripe old age, including one of the twelve apostles, Saint John. The saints show us that martyrdom is not the only way to give up our lives for the gospel. We can offer ourselves as a living sacrifice to God. Think of the missionaries who gave up their lives of comfort, security, and privilege to venture out to distant and dangerous lands to proclaim the Gospel or the monks and nuns who gave up their lives of creature comforts and luxuries to dedicate themselves to prayer.
I find great inspiration in the life and witness of the saints. But these past few weeks, I have also found inspiration closer to home. As you have probably heard or seen on the news, the pandemic has greatly increased the number of the homeless as well as the food insecure. And several of our St. Mary’s staff and parishioners have taken up the challenge of providing food and other necessities. In case you’re not aware, we have a nice pantry downstairs in the basement. Check it out sometime if you have chance; we would be glad to give you a little tour. These past few weeks, we’ve had many volunteers who have brought food and other goods, made sandwiches and bags of food, or helped to clean up and organize the pantry. And one parishioner even loaded a truck full of food and took it to the doorsteps of those in need.
We have living saints in our midst today, faithful followers of the Lord Jesus who give up their time, energy, and resources to serve the poor and needy in our community. The work that we do in serving the needy is especially meaningful during this Holy Season of Lent. Almsgiving, or charitable work, is one of the three main disciplines or pillars of Lent; the other two are prayer and fasting.
Lent is a time of self-denial and reflection in preparation for the Passion, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We usually think of the self-denial in terms of giving up meat or chocolate or alcohol. But the self-denial is not just about food. Jesus calls us to deny ourselves in all aspects of our life. He calls us to transcend the worldly temptations of power, honor, and glory, and to lead lives of self-denial, humility, and service. Following the example of Jesus and of all the saints past and present, let us take up our cross and walk the path to Calvary.
 C. Clifton Black, “Commentary on Mark 8:31-38,” Working Preacher. https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/second-sunday-in-lent-2/commentary-on-mark-831-38-4
 Ira Brent Driggers, “Commentary on Mark 8:31-38,” Working Preacher.
Fr. Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
31 January 2021
One of my favorite films of all time is “The Exorcist.” When it first came out in 1973, I was too young to see it in the theaters. But I did see a hilarious parody of it on the “Carol Burnett Show,” which made me want to see it even more. I was finally able to see it a few years later. The film exceeded all expectations. It’s a classic. I’ve seen it several times, and I’ve also seen the sequels. Not only am I a huge fan of horror movies; I find the religious dimension of “The Exorcist” fascinating – the Roman Catholic priests driving out the demon, all the mysterious rituals associated with it, the dramatic struggle between good and evil.
In today’s Gospel, we read about the origins of the Christian tradition of exorcism. Jesus is teaching in the synagogue when he encounters “a man with an unclean spirit.” The man cries out: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” Jesus then confronts the spirit and drives it out of the man (Mark 1:23-25).
Jesus is the original exorcist. In the Gospel of Mark, it is an exorcism that launches Jesus’ public ministry. Moreover, the exorcism establishes Jesus’ identity and authority. The demon calls Jesus “the Holy One of God.” Elsewhere in the Gospels, we see Jesus with power over the forces of nature. He can calm the stormy waves. Here, we see him with power over the supernatural world, the realm of spirits. Jesus is lord of all. There are numerous exorcisms that Jesus performs throughout the Gospels. And he empowers his disciples to do the same. For two thousand years, Christians have been carrying out exorcisms in all parts of the world, and they have played a significant role in spreading the faith.
You may not have noticed, but there is exorcism incorporated into many of our rituals, for instance, in the prayers for blessing Holy Water or blessing a new house. And the big one is baptism. The candidates for baptism are asked to “renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God” and “to renounce the evil powers of this world, which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God.” In the Book of Occasional Services, which is a companion to the Book of Common Prayer and contains various rituals not in the Book of Common Prayer, there’s a section on exorcism. It begins with this statement: “The practice of expelling evil spirits by means of prayer and set formulas derives its authority from the Lord himself who identified these acts as signs of his messiahship.” It goes on to say that if a person is “in need of” the rite of exorcism that he or she can inform the priest, who then consults the bishop. So if any of you are in need of an exorcism in the future, please contact Fr. Charles – but not me. By the way, I found out from Fr. Charles yesterday that in the Roman Catholic Church and in the Church of England, there is usually an official exorcist in each diocese appointed by the bishop.
I don’t know about you, but in spite of the fact that exorcism is in the Gospels and is also a part of our liturgy, I’m not quite sure what to make of it. I love seeing movies about exorcism. But I’ve never seen an exorcism in person, and I doubt that I will ever see one. Spirit possession and exorcism are not part of my experience or worldview.
Among Christians today, there are different views of this phenomenon. Most biblical scholars view demonic possession as a form of mental illness. Ancient people didn’t have modern psychology so they turned to supernatural explanations.
But the belief in demonic possession has not gone away in modern times. In fact, it’s thriving in Christianity today. Although Christianity is declining in Europe and the United States, it is growing by leaps and bounds in Africa and Asia. And the form of Christianity that the new converts are embracing is one that is rooted in the world of the supernatural. Unlike us, they have no difficulty with the exorcism stories in the Gospels, and, in fact, they’re also casting out demons and performing acts of miraculous healing. What is interesting is that in many cases, Christian exorcism draws on indigenous beliefs about the spirit world. In Korea, for instance, the exorcist will diagnose the possessing spirit not as a demon but as the spirit of a discontented dead relative, an angry ghost. So be nice to your mother-in-law.
Exorcism is alive and well in Asia and Africa. And we have it in this country as well, though we may not hear about it as much. Pentecostals and charismatics take the exorcisms in scripture literally, seeing them as gifts of the Spirit, and some practice exorcism. And, to go back to the film “The Exorcist,” it deals with an exorcism that takes place in the context of modern Roman Catholicism in the United States. Many Romans today believe in the reality of demon possession and exorcism. So it looks like those of us mainline Protestants who have a rational, scientific view of the phenomenon are actually in the minority in Christianity.
Yet, whatever differences we may have in our views of exorcism, what is undeniable is the fact that it is a form of healing. The unclean spirits cause mental and physical pain and suffering. Exorcism frees the person from the illness and brings healing and wholeness.
Whether we believe in demons or not, we cannot deny that there are forces of evil that seem to grip us at times and cause destructive tendencies. Indeed, we contend with unclean spirits in our daily lives. Perhaps it’s an addiction – alcohol, drugs. Or perhaps it’s a personal vice – gossip, backbiting, road rage. We try to stop the bad behavior, but it’s almost as if an outside force is controlling us. And then there are the demons that possess us collectively as a society – racism, homophobia, corporate greed, and, recently, domestic terrorism. The forces of evil are real, and they abound within and around us.
Yet, as people of faith, we have hope in Jesus, the Holy One of God. Just as he drove out the demon from the possessed man in the synagogue, he will drive out the demons that possess us today and grant us healing and wholeness. He will make us pure and holy, even as he is pure and holy.
I would like to conclude with a prayer that is part of what are called the secret prayers, which the celebrant prays in preparation for Holy Eucharist. You may have been wondering what Fr. Charles and I say under our breaths at the altar. Well, this is one of them. This particular prayer is said during the washing of the hands as a sign of purification. But I think this prayer is appropriate to pray together as we purge ourselves of the unclean spirits in our personal lives and in the society around us. So as we seek healing and wholeness in the Name of Jesus, we pray:
Lord, wash away my iniquities and cleanse me from my sin. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and sustain a right spirit within me. Amen.
 Paul S. Berge, “Commentary on Mark 1:21-28,” Working Preacher. https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/fourth-sunday-after-epiphany-2/commentary-on-mark-121-28-4
 Matt Skinner, “Commentary on Mark 1:21-28,” Working Preacher.
 The Book of Common Prayer (New York: Church Publishing, 1979), 302.
 The Book of Occasional Services (New York: The Church Hymnal Corporation, 1991), 170.
Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
25 December 2020
There’s been quite a shift from last night to this morning. Last night, our gaze was focused on a baby lying in a stable in the little town of Bethlehem. This morning, we behold a grand cosmic vision – the creation of the world by the Word of God, the Logos. Yet both scenes are about the same person – Jesus Christ. He is both the vulnerable little infant born to Mary and the all-mighty author and sustainer of the universe. In the mystery of the Incarnation, the divine and human come together.
A lot of ink has been spilled over interpreting what we’ve just read in the Gospel of John. The fact that among the Four Gospels, it’s the only one that is given a fancy title, the Prolegomena or the Prologue, should give us some idea of how theologically significant it is. During the Seasons of Advent and Christmas at St. Mary’s, we conclude every Daily Mass with the reading of the Prologue.
The idea that Jesus is the Word of God, the Logos, is not easy to understand. As one biblical scholar defines it, the Logos is “the logic that permeates and structures the universe, the divine reason that orders and gives meaning to all that is.” Try explaining that at a cocktail party. We’re dealing with abstract Greek philosophy here.
But, the fact is, we don’t have to understand the complex meaning behind the Logos to know God. Our faith is not based on grasping the nature of the divine reason or logic behind the universe. We can leave that to the theologians. Our Christian faith rests on the statement at the end of today’s reading: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14). When we come to this sentence in praying the Angelus, we genuflect to express our deep reverence. In Jesus Christ, God became human. The Word became flesh. God became one of us and entered our world. Hence, God is not just an abstract, transcendent concept – someone up there beyond our comprehension. We can now know God through Jesus. Later in the Gospel of John, we find Jesus telling his disciples: “If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:7). Jesus is the incarnation and revelation of God.
John, like the other Gospels, is an account of how Jesus, the Word made flesh, lived among the people of Palestine two thousand years ago. The Gospels describe and explain how Jesus revealed God through his teachings and ministry. After his death and resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven, and we wait for his coming in glory and power at the end of time. But we also believe that the body of Jesus continues to be present here on earth. The Incarnation was not a one-time event that ended two thousand years ago. It is ongoing. Jesus lives among us.
To go back to the statement “And the Word became flesh and lived among us,” the term that we translate as “live” is in the Greek actually “tabernacle” or “tent.” So a more literal translation would be “And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us” or “pitched a tent among us.” Interestingly, we use the word tabernacle to refer to the box that contains the reserved host, the Body of Christ. So Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, is present with us now in the tabernacle, and he will be present as we come up for Holy Eucharist. In the bread and wine of Communion, Christ will come to us in flesh and blood.
One of my favorite Christmas carols is “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen.” I just heard it on the radio this morning on my drive from home to church. I have come to especially appreciate the refrain: “Oh, tidings of comfort and joy.” I know that I am not alone in having experienced loss during the Season of Christmas. My mother died eight years ago around this time of the year. This season has never been the same since. But when I sing or hear this carol, I am reminded that Jesus came to give us comfort and joy. That thought consoles me and lifts my spirits.
This year Christmas is not the same for any of us. COVID has wreaked havoc in our lives. We have all suffered losses. Yet, Christmas reminds us that God is not deaf to our cries of pain and suffering. In Jesus Christ, God became one of us to share our human lot and to give us hope and strength. This year, not all of us will be able to find comfort and joy in the presence of our family and friends. But we can all find comfort and joy in the presence of Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, who comes to us today as a baby in the manger and in the bread and wine of Holy Communion. Merry Christmas!
 Judith Jones, “Commentary on John 1:1-14,” Working Preacher.
Fourth Sunday of Advent
The Rev. Dr. Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
20 December 2020
Today’s sermon is the fourth and last in an Advent series on the Four Last Things. The first three were on Death, Judgment, and Heaven. And today I have the pleasant task of preaching on Hell. Needless to say, I haven’t been in a very festive holiday mood the past few days as I’ve been contemplating hell to prepare for the sermon.
I know that some of you were raised in traditions that preached a lot about hell and damnation. I’ve heard horror stories about how some churches have traumatized people with the threat of hell for their sins or for their theological views or for their sexual orientation. There are many wounded souls out there. In terms of my own personal background, I was raised in mainline denominations that were at the opposite extreme. We didn’t talk at all about hell, and our conception of God was rather warm and fuzzy.
So where do we Episcopalians, or more specifically Anglo-Catholics, stand on the issue of hell? Well, as with most theological issues, we have a broad spectrum of views in the Church and a great deal of room to believe what you choose. Some Episcopalians subscribe to the traditional conception of hell as a place of eternal torment for the wicked. There are others who reject the idea of hell altogether as incongruent with a loving God. What I would like to do today is to share with you what Scripture and tradition have to say about hell – a kind of history of hell, if you will, and engage in some reflections with you about the doctrine of hell.
The ancient Hebrews believed that the dead went to a place called Sheol, also called the “Pit,” the “grave,” and Abbadon. In the Old Testament, Sheol forms part of a three-tiered conception of the universe with heaven above, earth below, and Sheol under the ground. It was a dark and dreary place where all the dead descended regardless of whether they were good or bad. When the Old Testament was translated into Greek for the Jewish diaspora, the term that was used to translate Sheol was Hades, the underworld of the dead in Greek mythology.
When we come to the Gospels, we have the term Gehenna that is translated as hell in English. Jesus speaks of Gehenna as the “hell of fire” (Matthew 5:22, 18:9) or the “unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43). He also speaks of “the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12). Gehenna or hell is a place of judgment and condemnation, where the unrighteous go to be punished.
Recall Jesus’ parable of the “Rich Man and Lazarus.” Lazarus is a poor man who suffered from hunger and deprivation outside the house of the rich man, but, in death, he is carried by the angels to eternal bliss in the bosom of Abraham. On the other hand, the rich man, who, in life, had shown no compassion to Lazarus, is sent in death to hell where he suffers in agony amidst the flames (Luke 16:19-31).
Christianity is not alone in having a place of punishment for the wicked. Most of the world religions, including Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, have their equivalents of our hell. It seems to be almost a universal desire that there should be moral reckoning in the afterlife. In a moral universe, if there is no justice here on earth, surely there has to be justice in the life to come. For instance, it doesn’t make sense that the perpetrators of genocide and other crimes against humanity can live to a ripe old age while the millions of innocent victims suffer torment and slaughter at their hands. Where is the justice?
One of the commonly held beliefs about hell in Christianity is that it is a place of eternal torment, that there is no end to the punishment for the wicked. But when we look further at Scripture as well as the tradition of the Church, there seems to be the hope of redemption even for those condemned to hell. In the Apostle’s Creed, which we proclaim at Daily Mass, and in the Athanasian Creed, we find the statement that Jesus “was crucified, dead, and buried. He descended into hell” (p.53). So, according to this phrase, during the three days that Jesus’ body was in the tomb, his spirit was in hell. And what did he do there? According to I Peter, Jesus “went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison” (I Peter 3:19-20) and that the Gospel was proclaimed even to the dead (I Peter 4:6). There are also similar references in the Old Testament – for instance, Psalm 49:15: “God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me.”
Based on such passages from Scripture as well as the Creeds, a doctrine developed in the early Church, known as the Harrowing of Hell. The term “to harrow” is synonymous with “to descend” – so the “Descent into Hell” – but in Old and Middle English, it also has the sense of making a raid or incursion. During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, this doctrine was expressed through beautiful religious art, such as the one on the cover of today’s service leaflet. It is a painting by the fifteenth-century artist Fra Angelico. I especially like the way it visualizes Christ’s descent into hell as a kind of raid. He’s carrying a military banner, trampling on the devils, and providing safe passage to the captive souls.
Dear friends, we are drawing ever closer to the coming of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in Bethlehem. During the Season of Advent, as we wait and prepare for his coming, one of our rituals is to light the candles on the Advent wreath. And during Daily Mass, we have been concluding the service with the reading of the Prologue to the Gospel of John, which speaks of Jesus as the “light of all people,” the light that shines in the darkness and is not overcome by the darkness (John 1:4-5). There is much darkness in the world today – the suffering and death caused by COVID, racial injustice, political turmoil, poverty, crime. But no matter how dark it gets around us, the light of Christ will shine through. Indeed, that “light of all people” will penetrate even the darkness of hell itself.
 The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003), 835-836.
Last Sunday after Pentecost
Christ the King
The Rev. Dr. Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
November 22, 2020
Today the Church commemorates the Feast of Christ the King. As we prayed in our opening Collect, we praise and worship Jesus Christ as “the King of kings and Lord of lords.” The Feast of Christ the King is a relatively new addition to the church calendar, having been instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925. It falls on the last Sunday of the church year, drawing a parallel with the end of time, the last days, when Christ will come in all his power and glory.
Although the feast is relatively recent compared to other feasts that have been around for centuries, it is firmly rooted in Scripture. In today’s Epistle, we read that God “raised [Jesus] from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet” (Ephesians 1:20-23). And in today’s Gospel, we read: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him” (Matthew 25:31-32).
In the Orthodox Church, this vision of the exalted Jesus has expressed itself down through the ages in the iconography of Christos Pantocrator (Χριστὸς Παντοκράτωρ) or Christ Almighty. We have an example on the cover of today’s service leaflet: the mosaic of Christos Pantocrator from the dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The church is built over what is believed to be the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. With the Christos Pantocrator on the ceiling of this church, we see a colossal, regal Jesus set against a gold background and surrounded by a celestial court of angels and saints. Jesus is the enthroned king of heaven and earth, looking down on the faithful.
For some of us today, we may not be entirely comfortable with calling Jesus king. It certainly doesn’t figure as prominently in Protestant theology as it does in Roman Catholic or Orthodox. There are plenty of Roman churches named Christ the King, including the one here in Kansas City on 85th and Wornall Road. But how many Protestant churches do you know that are named Christ the King? I don’t think there are many Episcopal Churches with that name either, Anglo-Catholic or otherwise.
Another reason why Christ the King may not sit too well with us is because the title of “king” may go against our modern, democratic sensibilities. “King” can be seen as an anachronism, outdated and irrelevant, belonging to less enlightened periods of absolute rule and authoritarianism. Our nation, after all, was born in rebellion against the tyranny of King George III.
But, on the other hand, there may be others who don’t mind the royal language at all – and even like it. The Episcopal Church, with her origins in England, is full of Anglophiles, including those who love the British monarchy, especially good Queen Elizabeth II. I won’t mention names, but I think there may even be clergy at St. Mary’s who fall in this category – and who this past week celebrated the seventy-third wedding anniversary of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. But even apart from the Anglophiles in our midst, judging by the popularity of British royal gossip in the American press, we haven’t entirely severed our emotional ties to the monarchy in the old country. We love the pageantry, the glamor, and the rich traditions.
Whatever our attitudes toward the term “king” may be, the message about Jesus in Scripture and in today’s feast day is clear. There is no power or authority in all the world greater than Jesus. He is all-mighty, all-powerful, sovereign over heaven and earth. He is God Incarnate. And Christ’s kingdom is eternal. His reign will have no end.
If we might extend the royal metaphor a bit, if Jesus is king, then what does that make us, his followers? At the most basic level, we are subjects of his kingdom, enjoying the benefits and privileges of Christ’s reign. But Scripture tells us that we are more than mere subjects. Christ calls us as his disciples to a more active and significant role. He calls us to proclaim and to help build his kingdom on earth.
Just as a traditional king would have officials, called ministers, to help him rule, Jesus calls us to be his ministers in the kingdom. Interestingly, the term “minister” has both this secular and religious meaning. So just as there are different ministries in a royal government, such as ministry of state, ministry of the treasury, and so on, we, too, have various ministries in the Church. In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he speaks of the many different types of ministry and service in the Church – apostles, prophets, teachers, and healers (I Corinthians 12:28). Some are called to preach. Some are called to be prophetic voices, working for peace and justice in the world. Some are called to teach. Some are called to heal the broken in body, mind, or spirit. Some are called to be ordained, as our own Deacon Lynda Hurt and Deacon Isaac Petty were this past Monday. Some are called to leadership and service as lay people.
We have a variety of callings defined by our God-given gifts, talents, and passions. But we also share a common calling. In today’s Gospel, Christ calls all of us to care for those who are hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison (Matthew 25: 35-45). When we serve the most vulnerable among us, we are serving Christ in them. And it is for these acts of love and compassion for which we will ultimately be judged.
Dear friends, on this Feast of Christ the King, we are reminded that Jesus is Lord of our lives and Lord of all Creation. And as Christ’s followers, we are his ministers, representatives of his Kingdom in the world. We have been called to be his apostles, prophets, teachers, and healers. And we have gathered this morning to renew our vows to the Lord and to be refreshed, nourished, and empowered in Word and Sacrament. And at the conclusion of our service today, as we head back to our daily lives, we will be reminded by our newly ordained deacon what is our sacred task this week as Christ’s ministers: Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
 The exception seems to be Lutheran churches, quite a number of which have the name Christ the King.
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!