The Feast of Blessed James Stewart-Smith
August 11, 2021
Mr. David Wilcox
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
If you love me, feed my sheep. Jesus commands Peter in the reading we just heard from the Gospel according to St. John. It's a command that's echoed down the centuries to all those who have accepted God's call to be a pastor of his people. It is a command that was fully lived out in the life of Fr. James Stewart Smith, who we commemorate today for the first time.
Fr. Stewart-Smith was born in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1851. He attended the University of Virginia, where he obtained a doctorate in homeopathic medicine. Discerning a call to the ordained ministry, he trained for ordination at Seabury and Nashotah House seminaries. He was ordained a deacon in 1875 and a priest one year later in 1876. After ordination, he held several positions before accepting the call to be the priest in charge of St. Mary's, where he would spend the rest of his earthly life. After arriving in Kansas City in November of 1891, Fr. Stewart-Smith quickly settled in and got to work immediately. He was installed by the Bishop only two weeks later, taking up residence in the austere apartment above the parish hall.
His efforts to feed the sheep entrusted to his care included daily Mass even when no one was present, the institution of regular benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, and times for private confession. He oversaw St. Mary's mission congregation in the West Bottoms, bringing many souls to Christ, baptizing 30 people on one Sunday alone. In addition, he wrote several pamphlets to expound on the Catholic tradition of Anglicanism, among them a defense of prayers for the dead, an appeal to fast before communion, and a devotional prayer book for the people of the parish. His efforts to feed his flock didn't just focus on their spiritual needs. He also cared for their physical and material needs. He established a medical practice where he put his training as a doctor to use, treating all those who came to him free of charge. Fr. Stewart-Smith also extended the parish's works of mercy by establishing a mortuary chapel in the tower room where the city's destitute would be brought for Christian burial.
Unlike some of the other notable figures in the history of our parish who will remain unnamed, Fr. Stewart Smith was a quiet man who didn't leave behind many legends. What we do know about him is that he was a many of many talents. In addition to being a priest and a doctor, he was a skilled businessman and an amateur Ironworker; among his creations are the Lenten Altar Cross and the baptismal font cover. He found strength for the tasks at hand in quiet prayer before the Altar where he served. In the words of another priest, he was "always glad to be of any service; unwilling to compromise the Church or the Bishop and a fountain of knowledge yet so unwilling to display it." He was the balance wheel of the clergy, a support to the Bishop and the most overworked priest in the diocese, who was the embodiment of charity and loving-kindness.
In the words of a leading citizen of Kansas City, Fr. Stewart-Smith lived a life "that was a labor of love…walking among the lowly, the poor, the distressed and the fallen as a ministering spirit to relieve comfort and to lift up." His dying day showed that that was true as he passed to larger life just minutes after he finished counseling someone grieving the loss of their loved one. When he died, he left behind not legends but countless lives touched by the love of God that worked through him. Strong men and women who had been brought to God by his saintly life whose testimony speaks to us down the generations.
Tonight by remembering Fr. James Stewart Smith at this Altar where he served for 23 years, we exercise the particular privilege entrusted to us by the general convention. As the community that knew and loved him and discerned the special grace of Christ at work in him, we establish his commemoration and lift him up as an example of holy living and selfless service for others to follow. We ask him, who we trust is in heaven, to pray for this parish that he loved, for us, his spiritual children, and for all pastors. So that aided by his prayers, they may be just as faithful in their care and nurture of God's flock as he was enabling us all to grow ]into the full stature of Christ, which he achieved.
 L.A.C. Pitcathly, Tribute to Fr. Stewart Smith in the Kansas City Post August 12 1915.
 W.F. Kuhn, Tribute to Fr. Stewart Smith in in The Kansas City Free Masonry, August 21, 1915
August 8, 2021
1 Kings 19:4-8, Ephesians 4:25-5:2, John 6:35, 41-51
Mr. David Wilcox
"It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors." the prophet Elijah prays in this morning's reading from the first book of kings. It seems a bit dramatic on its own, but today's reading is part of a much longer story in which Elijah has struggled - often on his own - to keep the faith of Israel alive to call the people back to God and into living in the way God commands. Finally, in a miraculous display, he proves God's superiority and sovereignty over the false gods who have made their way to the heart of Israel into the royal house itself. It seems like the light has dawned on a new day for Israel, that things are looking up. Until those loyal to the false god seek Elijah's life. In fear, Elijah flees to the wilderness. He feels like he can take no more he prays for God to take his life. Elijah is overwhelmed, something I think we can all understand at this point after dealing with this pandemic for so long.
Last year around this time, Fr. Charles asked me to preach before I went off to seminary. We were about five months into the pandemic, it was the end of July, and I was tired. I was tired of bad news everywhere I looked, Covid, civil unrest, unemployment, the list went on and on. I was tired of death, violence, and feeling as if there was no hope, so I preached the sermon that I needed to hear because I knew if I needed to hear it, I wasn't the only one. I tried to encourage us all to hold on to hope. Hope in God's promises…hope that everything would get better. Yet five months has turned into eighteen, and I'm still tired. I'm tired, and it seems like the list of bad news has gotten longer, not shorter. This week will be a year since Deacon Gerry died. Covid numbers are once again on the rise, higher than they ever were last year. Hospitals are full again, people are still struggling to find work, can't afford to pay their rent, and face eviction at any moment, and those who have a duty to help just don't seem to care. Worst of all, despite the miracle vaccine, it looks as if things are likely to get worse again because people have just stopped caring. I'm finding it difficult to hold on to hope.
Along with my sheer and utter mental and emotional exhaustion, a whole other host of emotions has cropped up. I'm angry, sad, and disappointed. Like Elijah, I just don't know how much more I can take. An article that ran in this week's Kansas City Star asked readers to share their experiences now that Covid was once again surging across the country. It tells me that I'm not alone in my feelings because respondents described every emotion from sadness to fear, indifference to anger.
In the Church, we often don't know what to do with negative emotions. We know that as Christians, we are called to hope, but in our minds, somehow that often gets twisted into meaning we always have to be positive. So many of us here at St. Mary's come from traditions where you can share testimony about good things that are happening or about struggles that have been overcome. Yet, you can't talk about struggles that you're actively having. Because for some reason, it seems to mean we don't believe hard enough. I have been more open and honest today about my own struggles of late because if today's lessons teach us anything, it's that emotions are a part of being human. They teach us that it's okay to admit that the way we're called to walk isn't easy and that we struggle. Elijah had enough, and he wasn't afraid to admit it to himself or to God. In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul reminds us that it is okay to be angry. It's not a sin to be worn out or to feel those emotions we'd probably rather not. The sin comes when we become complacent in those emotions when we try to hide them away and feed them rather than trying to move through them.
When Elijah came to God, scared, exhausted, and upset, God did not scold Elijah. Instead, he understood and sheltered him with his presence and provided him with rest, refreshment, and strength for the journey that lay ahead. The story of Elijah and the broom tree reminds us that it's okay to be human, to feel the things we feel, and it's okay to be exhausted and at the point of giving up. That is a normal part of being alive, and it's a normal part of the journey of faith. The story of Elijah and the broom tree teaches us that when we find ourselves at the point of giving up, we are called and invited by God to withdraw here, under the shadow of another tree, the tree of the Cross. Here God offers us shelter to rest in quiet and in prayer. Here God invites us to be refreshed by his word and the solidarity of others and to be fed as the angel fed Elijah. Yet the bread God offers us is not ordinary bread, bread cooked on rocks which Elijah ate. Instead, God provides the bread of life we heard about in the Gospel reading this morning, the true and living bread that came down from heaven, Jesus Christ.
Whenever you're exhausted or hurting, sad, or angry when you reach your breaking point and feel like you can't go on -whether that's now or years from now- don't be afraid to feel those feelings. Be honest with yourself, with God, and with others. Then come, come to the shelter of the Cross. Come and rest here. Come because God calls you and invites you. Come because God understands and let him care for you, let him refresh you, and feed you with the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ given to us in the forms of bread and wine. Come because without this food and without this community, the journey will be too much for you.
The Last Sunday after Epiphany-Year A
Given at St. Mary’s Church, Kansas City Sunday February 23, 2020
Exodus 24:12-18, 2 Peter 1: 16-21, Matthew 17: 1-9
+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I love the liturgy! For those of you who know me that’s not a very surprising statement. I’m a liturgical nerd par excellence. I love everything about how the church worships. Why we do what we do, how it’s supposed to be done etc.… However, as much as I would love to stand up here and talk to you about liturgical minutiae this morning (something I am always happy to do) that’s not exactly what I mean when I say I love the liturgy. I was talking with a good friend this week who lost her grandmother a few years ago. They were very close, and after her grandmother’s death my friend got angry with God, as we often do when we’re dealing with grief and hadn't been back in church since, until this week when she had to go back for a funeral. As the funeral liturgy was playing out and they got to communion my friend told me that she had this experience of warmth and love that was incredibly tangible to her in that moment, in that time and space, she told me she felt as if Jesus was reaching out to her from the cross and embracing her and for the first time in two years she felt God’s presence and knew that he loved her.
That's what I love about the liturgy of the church, because when we gather for worship, God reaches out to us regardless of whether we're regular attenders, we've been away for a while, or this is our first time through the doors of a church. God is present, and when we celebrate the liturgy, time and space open up and fall away, heaven and earth collide, and when we remember an event we don't just call it to mind like the fond memories of our childhood but when we remember something liturgically it becomes present through the power of the Holy Spirit and we experience it here and now in an objective way through the Word of God proclaimed and preached and through the means of sacramental bread and wine. So today, as we hear the story of Jesus taking Peter, James and John up a high mountain, we don’t just remember a day, and an event, that happened over two thousand years ago in another part of the world. Instead Mt. Tabor becomes present and we join them in their ascent, and we are there standing beside them as they see Jesus transfigured in glory.
To fully understand the significance of the event we witness with them and to truly comprehend what it means to them, and to us, we have to go back a few days to the scene where Jesus asks the disciples “Who do people say the son of man is?” they give him answers they've heard in the crowd… “some say you're John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets. ” But Jesus wanted to know more than that…he wanted to know who the disciples said that he was and Peter in this very great moment entirely uncharacteristic clarity professed “you are the Messiah the son of the living God!”
It is with this proclamation of faith fresh in their minds that Jesus reveals to them his glory on the Holy Mountain. The glory of the living God, the glory that Moses sees prefigured in the cloud on Mount Sinai, the glory that reveals beyond a doubt and confirms who Jesus truly is. And so today with Peter we exclaim “Lord it is good for us to be here!” because, like Peter and the other disciples, we too, over these last days and weeks since Epiphany, have through our participation in the liturgy, been on a journey of revelation and realization. We heard of the wisemen’s visit and with them we worshiped the newborn king. We were there standing next to Mary and Joseph in the temple as Jesus was circumcised and fulfilled the law for us. We were there with Simeon and Anna as they rejoiced and glorified God for the salvation that was promised, the salvation they now held as a baby cradled in their arms. We were there on the banks of the Jordan River as John the Baptist professed that Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, and we watched as Jesus went down into the waters of chaos to identify with and take upon himself his fallen creation. We journeyed with Jesus as he went from town to town teaching and preaching in the synagogues, we saw him heal the sick and call people of all walks of life, including you and me, to follow him no matter the cost.
Today on the mountain we see Moses and Elijah speaking with Jesus, and we know from Luke's account of the transfiguration that they’re speaking of Jesus’ departure, or put rather more plainly, of his crucifixion. Moses and Elijah are there to bear witness to Jesus and to confirm for the chosen disciples, and for us that he is the one of whom all of the law and the prophets bore witness to. From this time on once they descend the mountain Jesus turns his face towards Jerusalem towards the cross, towards his departure from this life and from this world. He knows that Peter, James, and John aren’t expecting what’s about to happen and so he gives the transfiguration as a gift to these chosen disciples, so that the dark days of his passion and death will not make them lose all hope. Saint Leo the great in a sermon on the transfiguration From the 5th century gives voice to the reason for the transfiguration in this way , and I quote, “the reason for this great transfiguration was to remove the scandal of the cross from the hearts of his disciples and to prevent the humiliation of his voluntary suffering from disturbing the faith of those who had witnessed the surpassing glory that laid concealed…”  The disciples needed that reassurance because they didn’t know the end of the story, they didn’t yet know that Jesus would have to die on the cross, they didn’t yet know that Jesus’ death wouldn’t be the end of the story, or what amazing things God had in store for them. We on the other hand know the end of the story and we know that the cross is not the end of that story. We know that it's not something that Jesus was forced to do or something that wasn't planned but it was the way in which our God who loves us chose to reveal to us who he is and what he is like. We know that it is through Jesus’ death on the cross that we are freed from the sin and death which kept us captive and that it is through the suffering of the cross that Jesus takes on and sanctifies the fullness of our human experience. We know that the joy of the resurrection comes after the sorrow of the cross, and that in the end everything will be all right and that we have hope for a better world where pain, loneliness, fear and everything that troubles us in this life will be no more.
We know the end of the story, and yet year after year on this Sunday as we transition from Epiphany to Lent, as we arrive at the halfway point between Christmas and Easter the story of the transfiguration is placed before us to hear again, and experience anew, not because we need it to strengthen our faith but because it is, in the words of our opening hymn this morning, a vision of the glory that the church may share, and as we prepare to enter once more this holy season of penitence and self-denial, we are invited to journey up the mountain with Moses and spend forty days in the presence of God, we are invited to spend forty days face to face with Jesus in the desert, and to walk with him the long and lonely road to Calvary where on the cross we see the fullest revelation of who God is and what God is like. And walking with him to Calvary It is for us to “follow him with all speed, yearning for the heavenly vision that will give us a share in his radiance, renew our spiritual nature and transform us into his own likeness making us forever sharers in his own godhead and raising us to Heights as yet undreamed of.” 
This is the goal of our entire Christian life, not just in lent but every day. In Baptism we are called to enter into union with the Triune God, to be transfigured and to grow in God’s love and service. In the season of lent as we remember in a particular way our own sinfulness: both as individuals and as a society, and as we place before ourselves our need for a savior, and take up practices of self-denial and penitence it is the perfect time for us to “retire from the world, stand aloof from the earth, rise above the body, detach ourselves from creatures and turn to the creator.” We attempt to set aside those things which hold us back and make us afraid to behold God’s glory in doing so we are better able to encounter the glory of God revealed on the mountain to us today, we are better able to see Jesus and only Jesus, as Saint Matthew tells us the apostles did.
As we prepare to enter this holy season of lent let us keep the all that we have seen and heard these past weeks fresh in our memories and through our participation in the liturgy of the church…coming to this altar day after day and week after week… let us encounter again and again the glory of God revealed in Jesus Christ who gives himself to us in the forms of bread and wine. Through eating this heavenly feast let us be transfigured into his image and likeness and be brought into full and perfect union with him who is the very image of the invisible God, which we saw on Mt. Tabor. Let us descend from the mountain to the mundane and often boring realities of our day to day lives, boldly proclaiming with Peter that we have been eyewitnesses of his glory. And knowing the end of the story and the hope that is ours through the resurrection, let us share with all those around us the good news what God has done. Let us tell a broken and hurting world that the God of the Universe, the God of Glory became one of us and gave his life for us on that other holy mountain, and that he wants them too to come to know him…That he loves them and is reaching out from the cross to embrace them in a warm embrace, an embrace which sets everything aright if we allow ourselves to be transfigured.
 Leo the Great Sermon 51
 The Chapters of Anastasias, Abbot of St. Katherine’s: Letter 1
The 4th Sunday after Pentecost: Proper IX
St. Mary’s Church, Kansas City
July 7, 2019
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
The audio recording of this sermon can be found here.
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In this morning’s Gospel reading from Luke we hear the story of the first evangelists, how in the course of his ministry Jesus appoints seventy of his disciples, and sends them out to proclaim the Good News that “ The Kingdom of God has come near…” As Episcopalians this isn’t often how we think about evangelism. No, we would rather not think about it at all, preferring rather that we could just be nice and hope that people would catch on to our low-key Christianity. But when we do think about evangelism it is generally as someone else’s job, where a preacher stands on the street corner telling people about heaven and hell and asking each passerby if they knew where they would go if they were to die tonight, or a well dressed couple going door to door early on a Saturday morning interrupting our coffee and cartoons to ask us if we know about Jesus. Today’s Gospel reading, however, tells us that none of that is true. Evangelism isn’t standing on the street corner scaring people into believing in God, it isn’t going door to door as a salesman for Jesus, and most importantly it isn’t someone else’s job!
Today’s lesson begins with Jesus appointing the seventy, and as the beginning of a chapter may seem like it stands on its own, but like with all things, context is key and to truly understand the significance of this morning’s passage we must go back and look at the few verses immediately before it, which we heard in the Gospel reading last week. In that passage Jesus encounters three people who would be his followers and he has a conversation with each one in which he calls them to follow him and then gives them a pithy saying about what following him means. Luke then immediately goes into this story about the seventy….and you guessed it. Luke is telling us that to follow Jesus means to be an evangelist or to put it in language slightly more familiar to Episcopalians to follow Jesus means to “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ” These words from the baptismal covenant that we hear and reaffirm anytime a new member is welcomed into the Church and added to the body of Christ remind us that this evangelism, isn’t the job of other people, not that preacher on the street corner, or those missionaries going door to door, not even of bishops, priests and deacons, but all of us who have chosen to follow Jesus. It is a call given to us in the waters of baptism, a sharing in the eternal priesthood of Christ. It is not optional, but an integral part of who we are and to what we are called.
Now that we have determined that being an evangelist is the call of every Christian, the question we must ask ourselves is what are we to proclaim? I mentioned before that our message was not that of the street preacher trying to scare people into believing by telling them stories of heaven and hell. So, what is it? Jesus tells us in this passage, that he sends us out with the message that “The Kingdom of God has come near…” We often think of the Kingdom of God as something that hasn’t happened yet. Something that will be eventually, and even as something that we must help God build, that we must bring about. But, Jesus sends us out with news that something amazing has already happened. That God’s Kingdom has come near.. Jesus tells us that in himself God has come near to all of us. He tells us that God has come down to seek us out, and that no matter how far we have fallen, no matter how broken, unworthy, or dirty we think that we are that God loves us and wants to be with us. The Good News is that Jesus is the way that God does this and that the Kingdom has come, in him. That in his life death and resurrection he has destroyed sin and death and bought our citizenship with his blood. The Good News is that in Jesus we are already in the Kingdom and that he dwells with us . The Good news that we are sent to proclaim is that something has been done for us which we do not deserve and to which we can add nothing. That in the midst of our brokenness and despair God sought us out and claimed us for his own dying so that we might have life.
Lastly, we come to the question of how. How are we to proclaim this Good News? This message of the Kingdom? I mentioned earlier that we are not supposed to be door to door salesmen for Jesus going out in pairs on Saturday mornings. Now I know you might be thinking that the Gospel did mention going out in pairs, and your right it did. But one thing that Jesus is very clear about in our reading this morning is that we are not go door to door but rather that we are to “remain in the same house eating and drinking whatever they provide” It is not explicit in our text, but what I believe Jesus is telling us here is that we are to form relationships with those to whom we are sent, we are supposed to get to know them, to be their friend, to listen to their stories and to meet them wherever they are and to show them through our lives that God loves them. We’re supposed to share our lives with them and let them see through our words and example what Jesus has done for us and how it has changed our lives. We are to invite them to come and see for themselves the Kingdom that is already here, and the God revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, who loved them so much he died for them, and each and every one of us as well.
This mission with which we have been entrusted is not easy and it will make us uncomfortable, and push us to our limits. The world will often try to make us forget our mission, to distract us from what is really important but we must not forget what really matters because while we cannot build the Kingdom we are its Heralds and the only way the world hears the Good news is through us.
In just a few minutes will come to this table and with the whole Kingdom of God, Angels and Saints and our brothers and sisters from around the world we will stand before God’s throne of Grace and make present here and now the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ in the gifts of Bread and Wine. Let us remember and be thankful for the great gift God has given us and ask for the grace to be faithful laborers in the Lord’s harvest. For the Laborers are few and Harvest is plentiful and the whole world sits waiting to hear the Good News that the Kingdom of God has come near.
 The Baptismal Covenant, BCP page 304
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!