Year B, Proper 10
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
July 11, 2021
We continue on in Mark’s gospel, as we will most Sundays between now and Advent. Last week, Jesus sent his disciples out to do the ministry of casting out demons and healing the sick and inviting everyone to repent believe in the Good News! Mark’s gospel is filled with dramatic, almost apocalyptic stores of demons and exorcisms, but today’s scene from chapter 6 is more of a tale of gruesome, political drama.
It begins with Herod, the Roman ruler of the region of Galilee, who had just heard about the disciples’ healing of the sick and casting out of demons. He had a flashback of sorts of the time when he had ordered the execution of John the Baptist.
Herod’s half-brother Philip had died, and he proceeded to marry Philip’s widow Herodias. According to Levitical law, marrying your brother’s widow was illegal, and Herodias had developed a grudge against John the Baptist for simply telling Herod the truth about the matter. The marriage of high-ranking Roman officials often had an international political component, and this one was no different. John’s prophecy against this marriage was less than politically desirable for both Herod and Herodias, and surely John was aware of the potential consequences.
Upon the occasion of his birthday, Herod organizes a banquet for the local political leaders and others in the upper echelons of society. He bestows an honor on his daughter by making a public oath promising to grant her any request. The problem is that she asks for something he really doesn’t want to give. Herod likes John the Baptist, despite throwing him in prison for getting in this middle of his marriage and political life, but he’s stuck between a rock and a hard place. He can either do what is shameful and break a public promise he’s made, or do what is shameful and do something he knows is morally wrong.
She asks for her mother’s opinion on what she should ask her father for, and Herodias responds, “The head of John the baptizer.” Herod delivers on his promise, and Mark gives us the painful description of what happened in gruesome detail. He orders one of his soldiers to bring him John’s head. The soldier goes to the jail where he is imprisoned and beheads him, bringing his head on a platter, and presenting it to the girl who then gives it to her mother. This was no ordinary political execution – it is nasty.
In the end Herod, didn’t have the moral courage to choose do the right thing. He chose to honor his oath to his daughter so that he wouldn’t look bad in front of the others. It is difficult to come away from this story without feeling that these people are monsters.
They killed John the Baptist for telling the truth. Yes, Jesus says that the truth will make you free, but as we heard in today’s gospel reading, telling the truth might get you arrested and even killed. This is a paradox that is difficult to accept. Of course, there are times that call for prudence and caution, but there are times that call for uncompromising and unwavering truth telling, consequences be as they may.
It’s somewhat like the paradox we see in the gospel itself. Jesus Christ died to set us free from our sins, but in order to join with him in his resurrection, we have to die to our old selves. To experience the joy of Easter, we must first suffer through the devastation and heartache of Good Friday.
Last week, I talked about how disciples of Jesus are called to die to our old selves. After Mass, one of our dear parishioners asked me if I’d consider expounding on this concept of dying to one’s old self. Like most preachers, the common feedback I get is, “Nice sermon, Father” or something of the sort, and on the rare occasion I receive a “request” like this, I’m more than happy to oblige.
St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans, “we are baptized into Christ’s death…For if we are united with him in a death like this, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” The baptismal life is a daily cycle of dying to the old self and rising to a new life filled with the hope of resurrection. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul describes the process of dying to self like this: dying to self means being “crucified with Christ,” and now I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. Paul’s old life, in which he chose to follow the ways of the world as opposed to the ways of God, is dead, and the new Paul is the dwelling place of Christ who lives in and through him. This is not to say that when we die to self we become automatons, nor do we feel ourselves to be dead. Rather, dying to self means that the things of the old life are put to death, most especially choosing to sin as our nature bids us to do. Paul says, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.” Dying to self means choosing to form habits that lead us to naturally choose the good of others before our own good. To choose that which pleases God rather than gratifying ourselves.
Put another way, the cycle of dying and rising is the pattern of sin, repentance, confession, absolution, and forgiveness. This cycle is daily because despite putting to death our old selves at our baptisms, our old selves don’t stay dead, at least on this side of the grave. Our propensity to sin does not go away at baptism, but through baptism, we are “reborn by the Holy Spirit.” By the help of the Holy Spirit, and through the grace we receive in the Sacraments of the Church, we are given the grace we need to face an evil tyrant and stand up for the truth, no matter the consequences. In the Sacraments, especially in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, we are given the grace we need to resist temptation and choose to put others before ourselves. When we fail in matters great or small, when we stumble in our footsteps, when we put our own sinful desires before those of the Lord, the cycle begins once again. We confess our sins to God, arise from the baptismal water absolved and forgiven and transformed, and we go on about our business of loving God with all our heart and our neighbors as ourselves.
Whether it’s this week or next, you and I will find ourselves faced with a paradox like John the Baptist was: do we tell the truth, despite the potential consequences, or do we remain silent? While I hope that speaking the truth doesn’t result in your head being served as the last course at a local politicians’ house, I hope and pray that you face the situation with a firm conviction that you’ve died to your old self and that Christ is dwelling in you. Be courageous in your truth telling, for you are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus! Know that in receiving the grace given in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, you have become participants of the divine nature and transformed (just a little) into the image of Jesus himself.
And so, I invite you to come to this table, not because you must but because you may. Not because you have reached your goal of holiness but because you are on the way there and need food for the journey. Not because you love the Lord a lot, but because you love him a little and would like to love him more. Come.
 John 8:32.
 Romans 6:3-5.
 Galatians 2:20.
 Galatians 5:24
 Much of this paragraph comes from https://www.gotquestions.org/dying-to-self.html, accessed 7/10/2021.
 BCP 306.
 Romans 6:11.
 2 Peter 1:4.
 This invitation to communion is Scottish in origin, and I learned it over a decade ago from The Rev’d Canon Andy Griffiths, currently Continuing Ministerial Development Adviser for the Diocese of Chelmsford.
Proper 9, Year B
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
July 4, 2021
After spending some time healing the sick and performing other miracles around the Sea of Galilee, Jesus returns to his home town. He goes to the synagogue and begins to teach, and his message does something to strike a nerve in the people who heard it. Usually, in his gospel, St. Mark gets to the point quickly and provides little detail. He could have skipped to his summary of their reaction, “They took offense at him” (v. 3), but instead he decided to include their specific questions. Anytime St. Mark decides to give us detail, it’s worth paying attention to!
First, they ask him about the nature of his power and where he got the power. Then they say, “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary… and are not his brothers and sisters here with us?”. Aren’t you the Jesus we’ve always known? The one we know is a simple carpenter and is one of us, not some sort of miracle worker! In the first part of this lesson, we see the folks in Jesus’s hometown reject his authority. They don’t have faith that Jesus is who he claims to be. Because of their lack of faith, Mark notes that Jesus could “do no deed of power” there, except in a few isolated instances.
In the second part of the story, Jesus gives this same authority that his kinsfolk rejected to his twelve closest followers! He sends them out with his authority to do the same type of ministry he’s been doing – the ministry of casting out demons and healing the sick and inviting everyone to turn from their old ways and believe in the Gospel! In other words, Jesus sends them out to join with him in reconciling the whole world to himself.
You and I are called, like the Twelve, to this ministry. In order to do it, we first have to understand that the authority to do so doesn’t come from us. Doing this ministry of reconciling the world to God isn’t about us. We have no authority to do so on our own, only that which is given to us by God.
The faith that was lacking in Nazareth is present in the sending out of the Twelve disciples. Jesus doesn’t tempt them to go do this work by promising luxury or an increase of their fame and stature. He says, “Go out two-by-two. Take nothing with you – no food and no money. Instead, have faith that I will provide for your every need.” How does he provide for their needs? He tells them to be completely dependent on the hospitality of others. How vulnerable they must have felt with no assurance of a living, or even where to sleep each night!
When we talk about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in our own day, we often hear of the need to pray and study the Bible personally, at home. While these are certainly helpful spiritual practices, following Christ requires us to first acknowledge that we cannot do it in our own. We must be dependent on others, humbly acknowledging that life isn’t all about self. The Christian life is inter-dependent with the lives of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Christianity is a communal religion, not something that we can do all alone.
This interdependency on others is poignantly seen in the sacrament of marriage. The two individuals getting married become one. They submit themselves one to another and put the other’s needs above their own. They are at their most vulnerable with each other, for better or for worse, and much humility is required. They don’t lose their individuality entirely, but in a very real sense, in holy matrimony, a new creation is born when the two become one flesh.
Likewise, a new creation is born in the waters of baptism. A deep faith in Christ – like that of the Twelve – leads us to follow him into his death through the waters of baptism – at our physical baptism, and when we put on our baptism each and every day. St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans, “we are baptized into Christ’s death…For if we are united with him in a death like this, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” The baptismal life is a daily cycle of dying to the old self and rising to a new life filled with the hope of resurrection – a bodily resurrection, just like Our Lord.
This continuous cycle of dying and rising is the pattern of the Christian life. At baptism, by water and the Holy Spirit, we receive the authority that Jesus gave his first disciples. Authority to engage in the ministry of casting out demons and healing the sick and inviting everyone to turn from their old ways and believe in the Gospel! At baptism, we are committed to join with the whole Church in the work begun by Jesus of reconciling the whole world to God and God to the world.
Dear friends, we cannot live out our faith in Christ alone. Let us renew our commitment to live interdependently with our fellow members of St. Mary’s and the wider Church, no matter how messy that can be. Like the disciples, let us claim this authority given to us by our Lord and say yes to taking the Gospel – both in word and in deed – to those around us, and thus join with Christ in reconciling the word to God and God to the world. Amen.
 Verse 3.
 Karoline Lewis, Rolf Johnson, and Matt Skinner, "Sermon Brainwave Podcast," Working Preacher (podcast), July 8, 2018, accessed
July 7, 2018. https://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=1037
 Romans 6:3-5.
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.
Fourth Sunday of Pentecost
Brian J. Cowley
June 19-20, 2021
“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, and his mercy endures for ever” (Psalm 107:1).
Rowan Williams, the 104th archbishop of Canterbury, was sent an article from a conservative religious journal during the worst levels of Covid 19. The author urged the readers to look death in the face and not bow to measures mandated by secular imagination for our protection. The article then maintained that with faith we should not be fearful, have our eyes on eternity, and go to church. Archbishop Williams determined there was a lot wrong with this approach but indicated there was a relevant question in there to which we will return. As I read this article, I was reminded of a childhood memory.
When I was 10 years old my father purchased my first horse. A small chestnut colored mare that was 3/4 Arabian and ¼ Shetland Pony. For those who know horses realize that this was a sturdy, sure footed, very independent, and energetic animal. Unfortunately, the first day I rode this horse, my step grandmother had to rev the engine of her car to make it through the mud in the pasture and startled the horse. Before I knew it, we were hurtling through the field at breakneck speed. After having passed over a marshy field of mud and water, I fell off on the old train track that though devoid of rails and railroad ties, was hard dry ground. As I picked myself up off the ground with a bloodied nose my dad finally arrived with the horse in tow. He then explained to me that I needed to get back on then and there or I would likely not get on again. I trusted my father and got on. To his credit, he did not relinquish the animal to my control. My father was right, it was easier to get back on afterwards and I spent many an hour riding through the beautiful Rockies on horseback and/or chasing my grandfather’s cattle. It wasn’t all paradise. Since my first fall I have fallen from a horse twice and I have jumped from one on two occasions. If you are wondering “who in their right mind jumps from a moving horse?” see me after. This idea of facing fear with faith is a powerful one. We even heard examples of it in the readings today.
We heard Paul tell the Saints at Corinth that they have commended themselves to God by facing afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, and hunger. Paul does not ask the people of Corinth to face these calamities without fear only. He exhorted them to face these afflictions with great endurance. He also used words like: purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, power of God, and righteousness.
In the Gospel (Mark 4:35-41) we heard Christ tell his disciples that they lacked faith after showing great fear when a storm came upon them as they crossed Sea of Galilee threatening to sink their boat. As Christ called for peace on the waters, he did not ask the disciples why they feared. He asked them why they were afraid.
So back to the journal article that calls for church attendance in the middle of a pandemic in the face of death where we had been advised to shelter, wear masks, and socially isolate by the political and health care leaders of our society. As a professor of psychology, I regularly teach a Lifespan development course that I refer to a my “womb to tomb” class. Each semester I stand before my students and tell them that they can count on two things, being born and dying. They always look uncomfortable and there is always one who says, “you have to pay taxes”. I always respond that they do not have to pay taxes, but by being born they will die. Our western culture is uncomfortable with death. We fear death. We do not like to talk about it, we try to make it a clinical experience, we buy products, and engage in behaviors to make us look young. Archbishop Williams said of this topic: “…denying death ends up denying birth”.
The pandemic creates fear for a lot of reasons, but death is one of the primary fears. We have behaviors and rites that help us with someone’s passing, but the pandemic has prevented many to sit with their loved ones during their affliction, covid 19 related or not. It has also impacted funeral participation and attendance. This has added to the pressure concerning our fear of death.
Archbishop Williams points out that an oft used strategy we use in our fear of death is to lie to ourselves. We think we can protect ourselves from harm and avoid death by denying its existence or engage in acts of heroism focused on feeding our own egos. When taking this path we come to believe we can change the whole world. Archbishop Williams recommends wherever we are in our journey that we strive to make a difference within our reach and recognize the existence will go on as it will. So clearly, the Pandemic around the world is completely out of our control. We must let that go and focus on what we can do in the face of this angst-ridden event.
Archbishop Williams called the pandemic our journey in the “valley of this current shadow”. He then endeavors to examine what has been communicated to our culture and turn it back to the gospel so that our community and theology can be better informed. Of the Covid 19 Pandemic he said:
“Willfully risking the health of others to demonstrate my courage or my faith doesn't only increase their danger of death. It also increases the risk of that wider range of traumas and losses we noted earlier--the pain of bereavement in abnormal circumstances, the bewildering disruptions of our life in society, the strain on those working in public utilities and healthcare (whom we have suddenly discovered to be heroic in ways not demanded of most of us), and much more.”
Archbishop Williams is suggesting that that within our realm of control is to become aware of others and their welfare. This can help with our fear of things we can’t control and is a sound gospel principle.
Now, I can imagine some our surprised by the sermon topic today. Afterall, archbishop Williams wrote this article in August 2020 at the height of U.S. and British losses to Covid 19. I can hear some saying, “but the pandemic is almost over”. It certainly appears that way as we start to return to pre-pandemic patterns. We are meeting in church, going to restaurants, to public events, etc. Just Friday night I sang the national anthem with members of The Heartland Men’s Chorus at Kaufman
Stadium to a live audience. I do want to be clear, this is not a call to start wearing masks again or calling you all back to quarantine. We will continue to adjust to this pandemic for some time. I also believe it is important to realize that we are still under the “shadow” that Williams talked about. Infections still occur in the U.S. and in certain parts of the world people are experiencing the devastation we were suffering last Summer. Many of us and our neighbors have lost loved ones and have been unable to grieve together in ways to bring comfort. Healthcare workers are still recovering from the onslaught we have just experienced. I believe it is important to take this final quote by archbishop Williams to heart:
“A summons to faith, courage and energy in the face of death isn't a call to heroics for the ego. It is an invitation to attend, to be absorbed in value, depth and beauty not our own. It is to recognise the gentle insistent pressure of a shared reality which tells us to make room for one another.”
As we continue to adjust to the fears and post traumas of the Covid 19 Pandemic we must do as archbishop Williams urges “make room for one another”. We must also remember that as Jesus faced his death, he supped with his disciples, he washed their feet, and as he acknowledge his betrayal he called on them to love others as he loved them (John 13) and so must we.
The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha (5th
Ed.) (2018). New York: Oxford University Press.
Williams, R. (2020, August 21). Into the valley of shadows: The pandemic has forced us to confront the issue of mortality: how do we think about death, and what does it mean for how we live? New Statesman, 149(5534), 34.
Proper 6 – Year B
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
2 Corinthians 5:6-17
Sunday, June 13, 2021
The experience of being truly loved changes us.
Being in relationship with another person requires intimacy and transparency. Being in relationship with someone means letting them in to see beneath our polished, outer presentation and experience the unpleasant underbelly that we all seem to have. When they love us anyway, it gives us hope! When a long-time friend knows that something is awry and offers to take you to lunch just so that you can vent, you gain just a bit of hope to face another day – not because all of your problems are solved, but because you know that the other person loves you.
The writer of our second lesson today was someone who was drastically changed by the experience of being loved. The love of Christ literally transformed St. Paul from a persecutor of the church into a tireless missionary who couldn’t keep his mouth shut about so great a love! He means it when he says, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”
But in order to become new, in order to be reborn and become a new creation, death comes first. We were baptized into both Christ’s death and resurrection, and are called upon as disciples of Jesus to die daily to sin.
St. Benedict, in his rule that he wrote to regulate the lives of his monks in the sixth century, said, “Day by day, remind yourself that you are going to die.” By itself, this phrase implies that death is something to be feared or even dreaded. But in light of the phrase before it, “Yearn for everlasting life with holy desire,” it is clear that, for Benedict, death and eternal life are not separated. To gain eternal life, death comes first.
Using the parallel Greek verbs “to be at home” and “to be away from home,” Paul acknowledges the distance between being in the body and with the Lord, and tells us that he would prefer being at “home with the Lord.” But whether at home or away, whether in the body or with the Lord, he says, “we are always confident.” Confidence here means not simply self-confidence, but faithfulness and security in believing. Confidence whose true giver and object is God.
It is with this deep, abiding confidence that Paul reminds us that each of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil. We will all be held accountable for our actions when we cease to be at home in the body and go home to be with the Lord.
This is what Benedict had in mind when he said “remind yourself daily that you are going to die.” He continues in his rule, “Hour by hour keep careful watch over all you do, aware that God’s gaze is upon you, wherever you may be.” At first glance, this seems to say that God is watching over your shoulder and will punish you for all the naughty things you do. But in context, it simply means that we should live our lives knowing that temptation is just around the corner, and when it comes up, by God’s help, we should resist; and if we fall, we should repent and return to the Lord. In other words, the death into which we were baptized – Christ’s death – is something we have to intentionally put on each and every day.
Dying isn’t a fun process. It is usually painful, I’m told. But it is only through death that we can attain eternal life. It is only through death that we can be reborn and made new. It is only the experience of being loved by God that we can receive the hope not only to face another day, but the deep, abiding confidence we need to choose God’s will before our own, to put others before ourselves, and to continue with the constant cycle of death and rebirth that is our daily burden to bear. It is when we know and embrace the fact that despite our flaws, despite our underbelly, Jesus loves us so completely and deeply, that we will have the confidence to walk by faith, not by sight, and to share God’s overwhelming love generously with those around us.
“If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” Amen.
 Rule of St. Benedict 4:47
 Ibid 4:46.
 David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word. Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 135-136.
 2 Cor. 5:10.
May 30, 2021
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
The Rev’d Charles Everson
Happy feast day to you! The feast of the Holy Trinity is the only feast in the church year dedicated to a doctrine, rather than a saint or an event in Jesus’s life. Today’s feast has roots in the fourth century when one of the earliest heresies surrounding the nature of Jesus Christ’s relationship with the Father – Arianiam – became rampant. Arius and his followers believed that the Son of God was created by the Father and was therefore neither coeternal nor of one substance with the Father. Out of that controversy, the Church prepared a suitable version of the Daily Office to be prayed in honor of the Trinity. This Office was often used on the Sunday after Pentecost (this Sunday), and like much of the liturgy we celebrate today, continued to develop over the centuries. On this day in 1162, Thomas Becket was consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury, and his first act was to order that this day should be celebrated as Trinity Sunday throughout all of England. The observance spread rapidly throughout Western Europe until finally, in the 14th century, Pope John XXII declared that the Feast of the Holy Trinity be celebrated on this day throughout the entire Church.
While I thought briefly about explaining the doctrine of the Holy Trinity in great detail, I decided it might be easier to avoid heresy by defaulting to a symbol right here in our church that never seems to lose its flavor. There is a window just above the narthex doors, and you have to stand over here to see it. It’s much easier to see now that the old air conditioning unit in front of it has been removed. You can see a copy of it on the front of your service leaflet.
The Shield of the Trinity shows us that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all fully God by linking each of the outer circles – Pater, Filius, Spiritus Sanctus – to the center circle, Deus – “God” with the three connecting lines in which is written “est” meaning “IS”. Hence, the Father IS fully God, the Son IS fully God and the Holy Spirit IS fully God. The outer lines connecting the Three have written in them “non est” – “IS NOT”. Hence, the Father IS NOT the Son or the Holy Spirit, the Son IS NOT the Father or the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit IS NOT the Father or the Son. Each Person in the Godhead is each fully and completely God, one not more so than the other. But they are also distinctly unique from one another.
This image shows us that the Trinity is all about relationship. God the Father is with the Son who is with the Spirit who is with the Father, self-communicating, self-giving, self-receiving. When we profess belief in the Trinity, we affirm that it is of the essence of God to be in relationship. Not only a relationship, but many relationships, beginning with the communion of the three Persons within the Godhead, and expanding to the relationship between God and all of creation.
How does this beautiful connectedness of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit manifest itself to us? St. John says in chapter 3 of his gospel, “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.” The Son of God was eternally begotten of the Father and made incarnate by the Holy Spirit because of love. The loving relationship that exists between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit isn’t meant to be merely observed from afar, the way we gaze upon a beautiful stained-glass window. The perfect state of loving communion between the three Persons of the Godhead is made known to you and me in the person of Jesus Christ, true God and true man. To use traditional theological language, God is not only transcendent, but also imminent. The God that St. Athanasius called “incomprehensible” in his creed wants to be intimately involved in our everyday lives.
On Trinity Sunday, we aren’t just grappling with an abstract, theological idea. Rather, we are celebrating the relationship of self-sacrificial love that begins with the perfect communion of the three Persons within the Godhead, and expands to the relationship between God and humankind both in and beyond time.
In a moment, we will go unto the altar of God. The altar where God the Father communicates his love to us by giving us the precious gift of his Son by the power of the Holy Spirit via the recently anointed hands of a new priest. We are invited to bring ourselves, our souls and bodies, just as we are, to intimately encounter the God of the universe in a moment when we are somehow transported outside of time into God’s wider existence. As we kneel at the rail and receive the Almighty into our very selves, something happens. You’ve heard the expression, “You are what you eat.” The more and more we encounter God’s grace, the more and more we are transformed into the image of the One who created us…the One who humbled himself to share in our humanity, that we might come to share in His Divinity. St. Paul says, “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” Despite the fact that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is difficult if not impossible to comprehend, on this great feast, in the words of the opening prayer, we “acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of the Divine Majesty…[we] worship the Unity.” The mystery of exactly what happens to the bread and wine at communion, and how it happens, is as much an inexplicable mystery as the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, and yet, it is perhaps at the rail as we intimately receive the body and blood of our Lord that the mystery makes the most sense. Amen.
 David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word. Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 47.
 Full Homely Divinity. http://fullhomelydivinity.org/articles/Trinity.htm
 John 3:16.
 Full Homely Divinity.
 2 Cor 3:17-18.
Ordination of the Rev’d Isaac Petty to the Priesthood
May 29, 2021
Isaiah 6:1-6, Psalm 43, Hebrews 4:16-5:7, John 6:35-38
The Rev’d Charles W. Everson
Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral
Good morning! What a joy it is to celebrate today with Isaac, our diocese, and indeed the whole Church. Today, Isaac will be ordained a priest. Later in the service, Bishop Field will address the good deacon and remind him that he is being called to work as a pastor, priest, and teacher. A teacher teaches things, and a pastor serves as the shepherd of his or her flock. I want to focus on why Isaac is being ordained a priest, and not simply a pastor or teacher. We Episcopalians are mostly unique amongst those whose heritage is in the Protestant Reformation in that we call the leaders of the local congregation priests and not pastors or ministers. This may seem to be a matter of semantics to cradle Episcopalians, but there is an important reason we do so: priests offer sacrifices, and pastors don’t.
In today’s lesson from the letter to the Hebrews, Jesus Christ is referred to as a high priest. In the early history of the Hebrew people, Moses ordained Aaron as the first high priest, the one charged with entering the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, to make atonement for his sins and the sins of the people by offering sacrifices to God on an altar.
At first in Israel’s history, the high priest’s status was secondary to that of the king, and his authority was limited to the religious sphere and specifically to the liturgical and sacrificial work in the Temple. Later, the authority of the high priest extended to the political arena. The office of the high priest and that of the monarch effectively became one and the same.
In today’s lesson and throughout his letter to the Hebrews, the author links Jesus not to Aaron, the first high priest of the hereditary Levitical priesthood, but to Melchizedek, a mysterious figure from the book of Genesis who pre-dates Aaron by six generations. Melchizedek is only mentioned twice in the Old Testament, but in short, he is described as having been anointed by God as both a priest and a king, offering bread and wine to God. In the late 1940’s, when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the desert caves of the West Bank, a manuscript from the 1st century BC was uncovered that indicated that the figure of Melchizedek had developed considerably in Jewish thought by this point. He was depicted as a heavenly redeemer figure, a leader of the forces of light, who brings release to the captives and reigns during the Messianic age. The author of Hebrews knows that his audience is familiar with both the Old Testament and intertestamental traditions when he declares that God appoints Jesus as high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.
The priests of Aaron became priests by their lineage, but for Melchizedek, there is no record of his family tree. He was appointed a priest by God to an order that had no beginning. Jesus is a priest forever according the order of Melchizedek, and thus the order has no end. The word order doesn’t mean Trappist or Dominican, it means after the manner of Melchizedek's priesthood. Later in this letter, the author goes on to make a sharp distinction between this order and the Levitical priests who continue to offer animals in sacrifice. They had to sacrifice millions of sheep, millions of goats and millions of cattle with millions of gallons of blood running down through the temple. Why? Because of the Golden Calf. Before that event in the life of the Hebrews, there was a clean, unbloody priesthood that Melchizedek represents, and as is recorded in the book of Genesis, Melchizedek’s priesthood included offering bread and wine.
Since very early in the Church, a connection has been made with the bread and wine offered by Melchizedek as a foreshadowing of the bread and wine offered by Christian priests at the Eucharist. When Jesus was sacrificed on the cross, the priest and the offering were the same. But at the Eucharist, the priest and the offering are different, as it was with Melchizedek. The once-and-for-all sacrifice of the eternal great high priest on the cross is continued through Christian priesthood, a priesthood prefigured by Melchizedek’s offering of bread and wine on the altar, and perpetuated by thousands upon thousands of priests throughout history who have offered the same gifts on the altar in the name of Christ. This point was driven home to me personally when I was ordained priest and opened so many cards of congratulations that said, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”
St. Mary’s, the parish I serve and the parish that raised up Isaac for ordination, has a long history of offering the Eucharistic sacrifice every day throughout the year. When the pandemic hit last some 14 months ago, I felt it important to model the “stay at home” order, and so my bar at home became an altar and I learned the fine points of livestreaming. The Church has always taught that having at least one member of the Church Militant (meaning a living, breathing person) present at the Eucharist in addition to the priest is strongly preferred, so I had to think quickly who might be able to come over each day for Mass. It turns out that Isaac lived only a few blocks away from me at the time, and every day for nearly two months, he made the trek – sometimes by foot, sometimes by car – and was present for the Eucharist. I didn’t have to explain to Isaac why I needed to offer the Eucharist for the flock God entrusted to my spiritual care. He knew. And during those two months, I could see both his and my devotion to Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar deepen in those surreal-yet-life-giving moments at my bar-turned-altar.
Like me, Isaac was formed how to be a pastor and a teacher in a different denomination. And like me, he owes a debt of gratitude to his former denomination for forming him as a disciple and follower of Christ. I know he feels this gratitude toward the Nazarenes, not because he’s said it explicitly, but because each year without fail, he sends me a joyful and almost gleeful text message to remind me of John Wesley’s commemoration in our church calendar.
That said, I’m sure his feelings towards his former denomination vary wildly depending on the context. Yes, he owes them a debt of gratitude, but he also bears the wounds inflicted by some of their wounded individuals and power structures – wounds that are bound to heal over time but are ever fresh and painful. Isaac sacrificed much by making the decision to be honest about who God made him to be, the consequences of which rallied so many of his friends and colleagues both within the denomination and in ours to support him as a Christian and as someone called to serve the church as an ordained leader. He came to The Episcopal Church with both the academic training and quite a bit of experience as both a pastor and a teacher. But today, Isaac is being ordained into a priesthood that offers sacrifices, again and again. The Church doesn’t teach that priests re-sacrifice Jesus at the Mass. The crucifixion happened one time in history and can never be repeated. At the Eucharist, the priest offers to God a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving on behalf of the people, a bloodless sacrifice of bread and wine as foreshadowed by Melchizedek. This sacrifice makes the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus on the cross present for us in our day and time. In the Eucharistic sacrifice, time stands still as earth and heaven are joined, and we are transported to that green hill called Calvary, and Calvary is brought here. And when we receive our Lord into our bodies, our sins are forgiven, our union with Christ and the Church is strengthened, and we experience a foretaste of the heavenly banquet which is our nourishment in eternal life.
Isaac, this is the priesthood into which you have been called. In a moment, when the bishop and the priests lay their hands on you and ask the Holy Spirit to make you a priest, you will be united with your Lord into an order that has no beginning and no end. The Holy Spirit will transform your diaconal character into that of a priest, giving you awesome power and responsibility to confect the sacraments which are the outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace. Your personality and your outward appearance will, of course, remain the same, but the Holy Spirit will transform your inner character to that of the Great High Priest. You will become an image – an icon – a visible manifestation of Jesus Christ in the world.
Your hands will be anointed to signify this change, for by your hands, the bread of life and the cup of salvation will be consecrated, and by your hands, the people will be fed with the holy food and drink of new and unending life. A Bible will be given to you as a sign of your authority to preach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments. It’s not in our ordination liturgy, but a little birdie has informed me that you’ll be given a chalice and paten, the holy vessels of the sacrifice of bread and wine, signifying the continual sacrifice that you will offer for the sake of the people and indeed the whole world.
As any of the priests in this room can testify, there will be times you will want to take off your priesthood. To undo what is being done today, just for a moment, whether it’s from fatigue, or because the collar around your neck limits your ability to say or do something as if it is choaking you, or perhaps because a parishioner has hurt your feelings and you can’t even imagine how you can continue to love them. In those moments, remember the weightiness of the hands placed upon you. And remember the grace given to you in that moment, grace that you will need as you offer yourself in sacrifice for the people until the day you die.
Dear friends, let us give thanks to God for the gift of the priesthood, and for Isaac’s willingness to answer God’s call to sacrifice himself as a priest for the salvation of souls and the redemption of the world. Let us give thanks that by the Holy Spirit, the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is made present for us on this altar today. And when we receive our Lord into our bodies in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, let us give thanks to God for filling us with hope in this foretaste of the heavenly banquet which is our nourishment in eternal life. Amen.
 Levine, Amy-Jill, and Zvi Marc Brettler, eds. The Jewish Annotated New Testament: New Revised Standard Version Bible Translation. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2017, 470.
 Keener, Craig, ed. Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2019. 38.
 BCP 860.
May 23, 2021
The Rev’d Charles W. Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Happy feast day to you! And what a glorious feast it is in which we commemorate the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the fledgling Christian Church The earliest believers were together to celebrate the Jewish Festival of Weeks, or Shavuot, 50 days after the Passover. The Festival of Weeks celebrates the anniversary of the giving of the Law by God to the people of Israel on Mount Sinai in 1312 BC, an event for which Jews who were scattered all about the land regathered in Jerusalem.
God’s ongoing presence in the world in the person of the Holy Spirit, long foretold by and promised by Jesus himself, begins with a vision of a reconstituted Israel. It’s not a reconstitution of the 12 tribes, but of a diaspora of Jews who live in all sorts of far-flung places, brought together for a common purpose. In this moment, God breaks in and announces Good News. It is fitting that on today’s feast of Pentecost, St. Mary’s begins a new chapter in our common life together at this phase in the pandemic by having our first meal and social event together) in over fourteen months (tomorrow after Mass).
It is, of course, an incredibly happy occasion, but many of our parishioners are coming back to church after being fully vaccinated only to find new people they’ve never met. And more than a few of you became a part of this community during the pandemic and have never met some of our long-time members. St. Mary’s is a different community than it was when the pandemic began, and it will take awhile for everyone to get to know one another and find out what the “new normal” looks like.
On that first Pentecost Day, the disciples and others heard a sound like the rush of a violent wind bringing divided tongues as of fire causing them to speak in other languages. When the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, Luke says they were bewildered, astonished, and perplexed. “What does this mean?” they ask (v. 12). They mill around, stepping on each other’s toes, their faces reddening, their voices rising in confusion. This confusion sounds just like the story of the Tower of Babel when in response to the people trying to build a tower tall enough to heaven, God confounds their speech so that they can no longer understand one another, and scatters them around the world. With the arrival of the Holy Spirit, the confusion of Babel begins to be reversed. Instead of widening confusion, there is a growing understanding, little by little. In this fantastical moment, divided humanity begins to come together in harmony as people speak languages other than their own and understand one another.
The Holy Spirit continues to work in this way in our world today, and even here at St. Mary’s. Pentecost reminds us that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is for all people. No one is excluded. We humans like to erect divisions between ourselves, mostly to find ways to show that we’re better than others. Peter quotes the prophet Joel in his Pentecost sermon to indicate that God is pouring out the Holy Spirit on both sons and daughters, the young and the old – even the slaves representing those at the margins of society are included! The Roman imperial authorities allowed groups of people like the Hebrews the freedom to be themselves in most ways, but they required each of these linguistic and national groups to stay in their own silo as a way to control them. We do the same today in politics, religion, race, socio-economic class, national identity, etc, but the Holy Spirit powerfully unites those of us who acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord despite our differences making us one body, one Spirit in Christ.
St. Mary’s is not the same community it was in March 2020. But we are united by the Holy Spirit who has continued to work in and through each of us whether we were here in person or in quarantine. I can think of many ways in which I saw direct evidence of the Holy Spirit at work throughout the past year at St. Mary’s, in person, and in our online small groups, and perhaps especially in the many phone calls and porch visits between parishioners and clergy, caring for one another as best we can.
As we begin to explore what the “new normal” looks like in the coming months, I encourage you to do a lot of listening. At the barbeque after Mass (tomorrow), have a conversation with someone you don’t know. Listen to how the Spirit has worked in his or her life over the past year, and tell a little about your story. Whether you’ve been at St. Mary’s 1 week or 12 weeks or 12 years, the Holy Spirit unites us in our common baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection, and continues to work in our midst. The Holy Spirit continues to break down barriers that divide us, bringing bring order and understanding to confusion and chaos.
On this joyful feast day, let us pray for the grace to recognize the work of the Holy Spirit in our midst. And let us pray for the strength and courage to join in the Spirit’s work of breaking down human divisions wherever they exist, here at St. Mary’s, and in the world around us. Amen.
 David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Louisville (Ky.): Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 19.
Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year B
May 16, 2021
The Rev’d Charles W. Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
What does reading a mystery novel and going on a retreat at a monastery have in common?
Both are forms of escape from the world. When you read a mystery novel, you get lost in the story, fantasize about the lives of the characters, and so on. When you go on retreat at a monastery, you’re at least supposed to disconnect from electronic devices and the world at large and spend time in prayer and meditation. In both cases, you get to escape from the world around you.
We all need escape from time to time. We live in a world of constant pressures including complicated relationships, budgets, commutes, and other time constraints. It’s also full of temptation to sin, and oppressive societal pressures like sexism and racism and terrorism and the like.
Since the beginning, Christians felt the need to escape from the world. We want to follow Christ with all that we are, and being in the world in the midst of temptations and those who challenge our faith can be exhausting. We’ve glimpsed a vision of what is good and holy, and have experienced genuine Christian community where we forgive one another and learn to love each other despite our faults. We even experience a foretaste of heaven each time we celebrate the Eucharist together.
Some Christians throughout history have responded to this by living communally with likeminded Christians in monasteries or convents. On a smaller scale, many more occasionally visit monasteries or convents for a brief retreat from the world around us. In both cases, there’s an attempt in some way to “create a space, unencumbered by the world, that allows for a fuller realization of a faithful, holy Christian life.”
I remember back in my evangelical days when I was taught that allegiance to Christ meant avoiding certain movies, or abstaining from alcohol, or observing the rule that persons of the opposite gender couldn’t come in my dorm room as it might lead to an inappropriate sexual encounter. We were taught to avoid chunks of the world in order to be able to avoid becoming entangled in the world in such a way that living a faithful and holy Christian life isn’t possible.
The early Christians who heard Jesus’s prayer from St. John’s gospel lived in a conflict-ridden world in which being a Christian resulted in persecution. I can only imagine that they fanaticized about escaping to a world in which the Roman Emperor became a Christian, got baptized, and stopped persecuting them. A world where practicing one’s Christian faith was seen as admirable. A world where it was easy to gather with other Christians to tell the stories of Jesus and regularly receive him in the bread and the wine. A world where simply being a Christian isn’t dangerous.
This is the context of Jesus’s prayer. Note that it doesn’t include a request that they be allowed the luxury of escaping from this world. He instead asks the Father to protect them in his name. Jesus acknowledges that he and his disciples “do not belong to this world.” (v. 14) But he specifically prays, “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.” Christ didn’t call them into community to escape from the world, but instead to stay in the world under God’s protective care. We too are called to stay in this world, in the midst of the terrors of mass shootings, and nuclear weapons, persistent racism, gender inequality, and even a global pandemic. But to stay in the world under God’s protective care. We are called to live life amid all of the evil in the world without ourselves getting entangled in it.
The fuller realization of a faithful and holy Christian life cannot be found in escape from the world, but instead in dedicating oneself to God entirely while still being an active part of the world. In verse 17, Jesus prays “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” The word “sanctify” means “total dedication to God.” This realization of holiness isn’t found in escape, but is found in the truth of God’s word – Jesus – as he is revealed in our world day in and day out.
Remaining in the world is not without its risks. Being a Christian without being wholly dedicated to Jesus leaves us open to succumbing to the evil around us and getting off track. What does being totally dedicated to God look like in everyday life?
The key is prioritizing one’s life by putting God before everything else, and more specifically by setting aside intentional time to pray and read the Bible.
Our evangelical brethren call this setting apart of time to spend with God “a quiet time.” It was a time when one is supposed to read the Bible and pray. My problem was this: I often found myself wondering what part of the Bible to read, or what to pray. I would pray for my family, and those who were sick, and various church leaders, but after that, what was there to do?
It was the discovery of what our prayer book calls the Daily Office that answered this question for me. In The Episcopal Church, the Daily Office consists of Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline with Morning and Evening Prayer being the primary and most important of the offices. These prayer services mark the hours of each day and sanctify the day with prayer. The Daily Office isn’t a magical thing to be done when you feel the need to escape, but it is a tried and true method to be sanctified in the truth. It’s all about prayer and the Bible, all tidied up and ready for you and I to use in our everyday lives. On the one hand, when I discovered Morning and Evening Prayer, I was grateful that the Church provided a systematic way to pray that has stood the test of time, and grateful that I no longer had to wonder how to proceed in private prayer; on the other hand, I no longer had an easy excuse when I didn’t know what to pray.
The Daily Office may not resonate with you. There are plenty of organized ways to pray and study the Bible out there, both new and old. The important thing is actually making time to pray and read the Bible! If that’s not something you’re doing now – or have ever done in your life – don’t be scared! Take the plunge and give it a try! Spend five minutes in the morning in quiet prayer, beginning by praising God and thanking him for his grace, followed by a few minutes listening to God, and then ending with intercessory prayer for those you love.
Jesus prays, “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” This is the opposite of getting out of the world! That said, we can’t escape the temptation to escape from the world. But Jesus is redirecting our desires today. We should look to “create a space, unencumbered by the world, that would allow for a fuller realization of a faithful, holy Christian life,” not by escaping from the world, but by dedicate ourselves to Jesus Christ while living our lives in the world under God’s protective care. We are called to live life amid all of the evil in the world without ourselves getting entangled with the world. In order to do this, we need to intentionally spend time with God in prayer by sanctifying ourselves in the word which is truth. One way to do this is by praying the official prayers of the Church in the Daily Office, but there are many other ways. We are called not to disengage from the world, but intentionally press into God while still in the world, and in so doing, we receive the grace and fortitude to live as a Christian in the midst of our broken world that we might have a more abundant life, right here, and right now. Amen.
 David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Louisville (Ky.): Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 545.
 Verse 11.
 Feasting 547.
 Michael D. Coogan, Marc Zvi Brettler, Carol A. Newsom, and Pheme Perkins, The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version : With the Apocrypha : An Ecumenical Study Bible. 4th ed. (Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford UP, 2010), 1910.
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
The Rev’d Charles Everson
May 13, 2021
As the psalmist said, “God is gone up with a merry noise, and the Lord with the sound of the trumpet.” According to the Scripture, on the very first Ascension Day, the Lord commissioned His Apostles to preach the Gospel to all nations; then, having blessed them, "he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9).
After all the disciples had been through with Jesus – the agony of his death, and the joy of his resurrection – it’s hard to imagine the sadness and despair they must have felt when he disappeared from their sight. The disciples saw him after the resurrection – they felt the marks of the nails in his hands and his side, and even ate with him – but now he’s gone.
Not only is God gone up, humanity is too! For we believe that God humbled himself to share in our humanity in the incarnation of Jesus Christ at Christmas. Through the mystery of the Ascension of Jesus into heaven, we who are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under the Lord’s table, are taken up with him. In the words of St. John Chrysostom, “Our very nature, against which Cherubim guarded the gates of Paradise, is enthroned today high above all Cherubim.”
Despite their sadness, the disciples were hopefully prepared as they heard their Lord tell say to them,
“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
Unlike the disciples, we know how this plays out. Ten days after Jesus’s ascension, the Holy Spirit comes with power with a sound like the rush of a violent wind. Jesus keeps his promise and does not leave us orphaned. Though his body left this earth, by the mighty power of the Holy Spirit, he continues to work in the world today primarily in the Sacraments of the Church. By the power of the Spirit, when someone is baptized, they are cleansed from sin and welcomed into the household of God. By the power of the Spirit, the same Jesus who ascended body and soul into heaven on that first Ascension Day is the same Jesus who is here among us in the consecrated bread and wine.
Let us give thanks that “God is gone up with a merry noise, and the Lord with the sound of the trumpet!” Let us give thanks to God for not leaving us orphaned. Let us give thanks that “when two or three are gathered together in [his] name, [he] will be in the midst of [us].” And let us give thanks that we are not alone – that God is manifesting his presence to us by the Holy Spirit in the face of the poor, and in the most holy Sacrament of the Altar.
 Hom. in Ascens., 2; PG, 50, 414.
 John 14.
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!