Advent I, Year A – Matthew 24:36-44
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
December 1, 2019
The audio recording of this sermon can be found here.
When you got to church this morning, you may have noticed that things are a bit different around here. Instead of green or white, there is purple. And it’s not just the colors that are different. We began by singing the Great Litany in procession, and we didn’t sing the festive hymn “Glory be to God on high”. The Scripture readings bid us to stay awake, to be watchful, to be ready. Paul, in the second lesson, calls us to cast away the works of darkness and put upon us the armor of light. And in the gospel lesson, we hear of the end of the days when Jesus will come for a second time to judge both the living and the dead. Today, we begin a new church year with the season called Advent.
The word Advent comes from the Latin word “coming.” And as we think about the second coming of Christ, it’s natural to wonder when it will happen. What day? What hour?
Remember how the passage began? “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” It’s amazing how many Christians seem to believe that they can accomplish what the Son confesses he cannot do and proclaim they know the day and the hour of the Second Coming. If you want to dive into a fascinating internet rabbit hole, go to the Wikipedia page on “Predictions and claims for the Second Coming of Christ.” There have been dozens and dozens of predictions throughout the years, and guess what, none of them have come true. I think my favorite prediction that’s still out there is by a mathematical physicist who is a professor at Tulane University in New Orleans. He has published a book in which he claims to scientifically prove that Jesus will return in mid-2057. When I saw that, I marked that date in my Google calendar so that I’ll remember to be ready at age 77.
Maybe asking when the second coming will happen is the wrong question. Maybe the question should be, “How does the fact that Jesus will return one day change our behavior?”
Isaiah reminds us that one day God shall “…judge between nations and shall arbitrate for many people.” In light of which we are reminded by St. Paul that “. . . it is now the moment to wake from sleep” and “put on the armor of light,” and “the Lord Jesus Christ.” Jesus reminds us that “about that day and hour no one knows,” so we must “keep awake therefore,” because, “you do not know on what day your Lord is coming,” and “the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” 
Perhaps God isn’t calling us to try to figure out the “when” or the “how” of the Second Coming of Christ. Perhaps He is calling us to be aware that life is short and can end in an instant, and to live our lives accordingly. We are called to stay awake, and to keep watch for the coming of Christ.
During Advent, the Church calls us to keep watch for the coming of Christ in three distinct ways:
First, we are to keep watch for Christ’s coming in the manger at Christmas, when we remember God’s inbreaking into our world in the birth of His Son. Out of his love for humanity, God proclaimed to Mary that she would bear a Son, who would be called Emmanuel – God with us. At Christmas, God became human, in order that the great divide between himself and humanity would be eliminated, and we would be reconciled. The incarnation of God into the world at Christmas is so important in the life of the Church that it is literally a 12-day feast. You may have heard the expression that you can’t celebrate the joys of the resurrection at Easter without first experiencing the suffering of Good Friday. The same is true for us now: the great Feast of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ s comes after a nearly four-week period of preparation in which we put our spiritual lives in order. This is hard work, particularly in our culture in which holiday sales began this past Friday, and in which office Christmas parties have already begun. We are called to take a step back and to watch and wait and to prepare in hopeful anticipation of the coming of Christ in a few weeks.
Secondly, we are called to keep watch for the coming of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. It is so easy for me to show up at church, sing the hymns and pray the prayers, hear the Scripture readings and the sermon, and not even think of the intimate moment of receiving God’s love in the Body and Blood of Christ until the moment it hits my tongue. One way in which we prepare ourselves for this moment in the service is at the General Confession when we confess our sins and receive God’s pardon and peace in absolution. But in Advent, we are called to focus on this preparation and perhaps go a bit deeper. One way to do this is to arrive at church a few minutes early, and spend some time quietly preparing yourself before the Mass begins. There are many traditional prayers you can use to prepare for Holy Communion, but next week, consider just kneeling or sitting for a few moments and asking for God’s help to “keep watch” throughout the service and to recognize Christ in the breaking of the bread. In other words, lay aside your cares and burdens and ask God to prepare your heart to receive his love and grace in the bread and wine.
And thirdly, we are called to keep watch for the coming of Christ as judge, both at our death and at the end of the world. Every time we say the Creed we affirm our belief that Christ will come again to judge both the living and the dead. The prospect of judgment is alarming, but the Church calls us not to respond with fear or denial, but rather by turning to Jesus Christ to save us and redeem us. Jesus’s teaching in today’s gospel lesson was given to his disciples in the context of preparing for his second coming in power and glory, inaugurating the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. He didn’t criticize people for getting on with ordinary life – eating and drinking, marrying and carrying on with daily work – we have to do that. We prepare for Christ’s second coming by living life faithfully every day. At the same time, we must also heed Jesus’s warning to be ready for when God acts. His example of people unprepared for the flood is vivid for us who are bombarded with images of sudden disasters around the world. We have disaster plans for many things because preparing and waiting with readiness takes determined effort. Our spiritual disaster plan requires us to keep awake spiritually because we have no idea when life as we know it will end, either through our death or because Jesus comes again. Either way, he will be our judge. And so, during this new year in the Church’s time frame, we intentionally cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. We vigorously cast away sin just as we would instinctively throw away something we picked up that is horrible or awful, and we put on the armor of light by putting on the Lord Jesus Christ and living our everyday lives faithfully and rooted in prayer.
On this First Sunday of Advent, and for the next four weeks, let us keep watch for the coming of Christ – in the manager at Christmas, in the bread and wine at communion, and at the Great Hour of Judgment. In the midst of Christmas shopping and office holiday parties and hearing “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” on the radio, let us intentionally take a step back and put our spiritual lives in order so that we may “be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
 David Bartlett, and Barbara Brown. Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008, 21.
 Much of this paragraph comes from here: https://lectionarylab.com/2013/11/23/the-first-sunday-of-advent-december-1-2013/
 This threefold purpose of Advent is spelled out by the New Advent Encyclopedia: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01165a.htm
 Much of this paragraph is from a sermon preached by the Rev’d Rosalind Brown: https://www.durhamcathedral.co.uk/worship-music/regular-services/sermon-archive/advent-themes-death-judgement-and-the-second-coming-of-christ
Sermon: Christ The King Sunday
Nov 24, 2019
There is a legend, that is told in slightly different ways, depending on the faith tradition. This legend tells of a group of aging monks living in a monastery that has fallen on hard times. Mostly elderly monks, a dying order, not much aliveness, a very discouraging place, caught in their habits, rituals, routines.
The head monk heard of a wise woman who lived as a hermit, a sage, so he went looking for her.
After telling the wise sage what was going on at the monastery, and spending some time, meditating together, praying, listening, she finally spoke: I really don’t know what to tell you. All I can say is that the Divine one is living amongst you, The embodied presence of Christ is actually present in one, or many of your monks.
So he returns, and tells them what the wise woman said. What happens in the weeks and months that follow this encounter, is this idea of the Divine one being present among them actually sparked their interest.
They began to look at each other thinking, “maybe it’s you, maybe you are the embodied Divine one, or maybe it’s him”, And they began to pay more attention to one another. And started noticing the light that came through each other, or started noticing the way another monk was patient, or generous or kind.
And then, at the chance that they themselves might be the embodiment of the Divine one, they started treating themselves with more respect and kindness.
Then, a very strange thing happened. People that came by started noticing the change in atmosphere, and they began to be drawn to the radiance that came from the monastery. And in time, more and more asked to join, and in some years this monastery became a place that radiated the love of Christ, filled with service and celebration.
So what happened – the old wise woman told them the embodied presence of Christ the King is living amongst them….and yet, this was not news, we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we are all embodied with the presence of the holy one, yet….sometimes, we need to be reminded that we are actually the embodied presence of Christ – indeed we are Christ with skin on to a lot of people.
With this being Christ the King Sunday on the liturgical calendar – what does all of that mean?
Just to give you a little history, this is a relatively recent addition to the liturgical calendar, comparatively speaking. It was added in 1925 by Pope Pius XI. When this feast day was added, the Pope was responding to a turbulent time – a time that saw the rise of Musolini and Hitler, a time where he witnessed “good Christians” supporting the influence of various dictators and disturbing forms of nationalism, supporting to the point where they were convinced they were following God’s chosen man, and were doing the will of God.
Yet, this was not the first time that ‘good Christians” made decisions that were questionable, and, as we look back at history and even in some of today’s events, it certainly was not the last.
TWO months ago, Jessye Norman passed away. She was an African American classical soprano with an amazing talent. But, as I sat in my car on that day, listening to the NPR story about her death – I had what they call a driveway moment. I had to pull over to the nearest parking lot, to listen in awe, as NPR played a recording of Jessye Norman singing “Ride On King Jesus”. The sound of her voice, the power of the words, the emotion in her presentation was enough to stop you in your tracks. And on that day, stop me, it did. You see, I had heard this recording many times before, I have heard various artists sing it, but on the day of Jessye Norman’s death, for whatever reason, the experience penetrated me to the core.
You see, Ride on King Jesus, is an African American Spiritual.
The lyrics of "Ride On, King Jesus" were an answer to the mistreatments by slave masters, who were no match for the God who was on the slaves' side.
Ride on, King Jesus, No man can a-hinder me...
King Jesus on a milk-white horse, No man can a-hinder me.
Many of the black spirituals contained hidden messages about freedom and veiled references of escape. For example, while working in the fields, if another slave would start to sing the spiritual “Deep River, I’m crossing over Jordan” – that would mean there was an escape happening that night, and they planned to cross the river into safe territory. Or if someone started to sing “Steal Away to Jesus, Steal Away Home, I Ain’t Got long to stay here”…This also meant an escape was on the horizon.
This spiritual, however, "Ride On, King Jesus," contains a text whose purpose appears to be a strictly spiritual one, one however, that raises the slaves' ultimate worth to that of their owners with the words that Jesus "died for the rich and He died for the poor." Now there are various versions of this spiritual. It is believed to have been written during the pre-Civil War era. This was a time when descendants of Africans in this country were not even allowed to learn to read or write. Yet as the slave heard about a king who was Lord in a different way than they experienced with the slave owners, their response to this King Jesus stemmed from one of identification to the suffering of this King Jesus, and with a level of dedication to the Lordship which was rooted in this king’s servanthood instead of a Kingship of power. The slave who wrote this spiritual could trust that this King Jesus had walked in their shoes. They saw Jesus as a king who was not stuck on a throne, but they saw this Jesus as one of their own.
And they understood Mary’s grief at losing her son, because they saw their own children sold away from them.
The following slave narrative archived by Fisk University offers a witness to the singing of this spiritual by the slaves in the presence of white slave owners:
“When I was a little boy they would kill us if they caught us in a Sunday School . . . . When they did let us go to church sometimes, they would give you a seat way back here, with the white folks in front. Then sometimes they would let you come in the evenings to church and then you would take the front seats, with the slave patrollers behind, so that if the preacher said something he shouldn’t say, they would stop him. One time when they were singing, ‘Ride on King Jesus, No man can hinder me,’ the slave patrollers told them to stop or they would show him whether they could be hindered or not.”
So when the great opera singer, Jessye Norman sang out with emotional acuity – Ride on King Jesus – she was echoing what generations of suffering people were believing down to the root of their souls - That Jesus Christ, the servant King was not so far removed that he did not feel and relate.
And the same Christ the King, who we are remembering today, still Rises up, reminding us that the poor, the homeless, the disenfranchised, the rejected immigrant at our very borders – this Christ the King is saying “You are not forgotten, but Jesus Christ our servant King is real, is here among us and is for us.
In our earlier legend about the monks – they learned that the risen King walked among them and within them daily. How does that realization make a difference to you?
And in today’s Gospel reading you have the very throne room of Jesus – we end on a cross, and this shows us who he really is. The sign over him on the cross says “King of the Jews”, yet from the viewpoint of this slave, the writer of our Spiritual, Jesus is essentially hanging from a noose.
And it’s because of this that the slave, the monks, and those of us right here, are able and invited to put our trust in the King who has walked in our shoes.
Proper 28, Year C – Luke 21:5-19
The Rev. Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Church
November 17, 2019
As the scene opens in today’s gospel reading, Jesus engages with his disciples as they talked about the beautiful Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple was the center of public life for the Hebrew people, in matters of religion, politics, and even commerce. The original structure was built in the mid-10th Century BC and was destroyed in 586 BC by Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar who forcibly deported the bulk of the Jewish people into exile. Seventy years later, the Temple was rebuilt, and it was this reconstructed Temple that existed in Jesus’s time. It was beautiful and adorned with lavish stones and even gold.
Jesus proceeds to deliver the shocking news that the Temple will be destroyed. This immediately brought to mind the old stories that everyone knew of the destruction of the first Temple, and the misery and despair that their ancestors experienced when they were forced to be slaves for the Babylonians. Jesus’s words invoked fear.
The disciples respond by asking him when the destruction of the Temple will be, and he replies by warning them not to be led astray by others who come in His name. But then Jesus goes on to predict even more dire conditions: wars, insurrections, nations rising against nations and kingdom against kingdom, great earthquakes, and famines and plagues. Then, even more personally, he tells them that they will be persecuted, and that some of them will be put to death because of their allegiance to Him.
Doom and gloom. Fear. This evokes the kind of fear that you and I experience at various times throughout our lives. The kind of fear that arises when we lose our job, or a family member dies unexpectedly, or divorce shatters a family, or when we see people on the margins of our society being the object of hate and scorn.
After foretelling all of these horrible things that were to come, Jesus says, “this will give you an opportunity to testify.” In the midst of fear and conflict and division, we are given an opportunity to testify. The Church is given the opportunity to be the Church. To love our neighbors as ourselves, to care for the widow and the orphan, to feed the poor and tend to the sick, to love and embrace everyone, especially the most marginalized people in our society. In other words, when faced with fear and conflict and division, we are given the opportunity to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in both word and deed.
Jesus ends his discourse with, “But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.” In our baptismal liturgy, the candidate or the parents are asked, “Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?” The response is, “I will, with God’s help.” This promise to persevere in resisting evil is a bold promise that should not made lightly. It is hard work. It’s much easier to succumb to fear, isolation and the selfish acts of sin than it is to persevere in prayer, and fellowship with one another, and in the breaking of the bread at Holy Communion. It’s much easier to succumb to fear than it is to do the hard work required to love God and to love our neighbors.
But Jesus said, “By your endurance you will gain your souls.”
It is interesting to note that St. Luke wrote his gospel around the year 85 AD, about 15 years after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. Meaning his readers would have heard this story as a reflection on something that had already happened rather than a prediction of future events. When the Romans sacked Jerusalem, they not only destroyed the Temple, but they killed hundreds of thousands of people, mostly Jews, and ended up sending the budding Christian movement underground into persecution. The folks who heard this story were living in a hellish world, and these words gave them hope for a brighter future: “But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance, you will gain your souls.”
When your life seems to be falling apart, when the world seems to be going to hell in a hand basket, when you are faced with doom and gloom, do not be afraid. Look to Jesus who endured the suffering and shame of crucifixion on a cross at the hands of sinners, so that you may persevere in your faith. For by your endurance you will gain your souls. Amen.
Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
10 November 2019
This past Wednesday, we held a Solemn Requiem Mass in commemoration of All Souls Day. We remembered and prayed for those in our parish who have died this past year and for our loved ones who have gone before us. We also reminded ourselves of our own mortality. As Fr. Charles explained in the introduction to the service, we can view All Souls Mass as our own funeral.
Today’s Gospel reading from Luke continues our reflections on death and the afterlife. The Sadducees, who do not believe in the resurrection, ask Jesus a question to try to stump him. They present him with an extreme hypothetical situation, in which a woman marries seven brothers in succession according to the custom of levirate marriage, in which a man is responsible for marrying the childless widow of a deceased brother. In the resurrection, the Sadducees ask, whose wife will the woman be? Jesus answers that in the resurrection, there is no marriage. The resurrected state will be a very different sphere of existence than what we are used to in this earthly life. There is no marriage. There is no death. As children of the resurrection, we will become like the angels.
The Gospels vilify the Sadducees along with their colleagues the Pharisees as the primary opponents and enemies of Jesus. Denouncing him as a troublemaker, they challenge him at every turn, and they ultimately want to eliminate him. Yet, I don’t know about you, the Pharisees and Sadducees frequently become the voice of my own doubts and questions. They are, after all, devout Jews, well-versed in the Torah, and, whatever their faults and intentions, they ask good, rational questions, such as the one today.
Although our Christian faith is, at the most basic level, a religion of salvation dealing with death and the afterlife, it provides us with few details about what actually comes after death. We don’t have a lot of concrete information in the Bible. We are thus left wondering and asking a lot of questions. I once heard about a dying man asking the priest whether he will be able to continue his favorite hobby of gardening when he is heaven.
There’s a fascinating book titled Heaven: A History that traces the various views and beliefs about heaven that Christians have held down through the centuries. What is especially interesting is that many Christians today conceive of heaven as simply a continuation of what is best in this life, like the cabin on the lake, a memorable trip, a favorite pastime. They project their personal experiences and desires onto the afterlife.
The TV show “Simpsons” has a funny episode in which Homer and Bart are thinking of converting from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism, and Marge is very concerned. One night, Marge has a dream, in which she is shown a vision of Roman Catholic heaven and Protestant heaven. In Catholic heaven, Homer and Bart are having a fun time at a big party, complete with a Mexican fiesta and Irish step-dancing. Meanwhile in Protestant heaven, where Marge finds herself, she finds a bunch of preppy types playing croquet and badminton. The ethnic stereotypes aside, Marge’s dream is probably not too far off from what most Americans would like to think of heaven. After I preached this sermon at 8 o’clock Mass, our fellow parishioner Hugh Kierig shared with me another good one. Several years ago National Lampoon did a piece on the different views of hell among churches. The Roman Catholics had images of Dante’s Inferno. For the Episcopalians, there was a well-dressed couple sitting in a nice restaurant – and behold a rude waiter!
The fact is, the Bible does not spell out all the details of what happens to us when we die. Of course, there are references to heaven and hell, but these are usually vague and open to different interpretations. Consequently, Christians hold diverse views of the afterlife. Some believe in immediate heaven or hell upon death. Others believe in purgatory or a temporary state of sleep. Some believe heaven to be a place inhabited by disembodied spirits floating around. And some would even reject the idea of an afterlife, interpreting heaven and hell in metaphorical terms. We have quite a spectrum of beliefs and opinions in Christianity about the afterlife. Yet, whatever our differences, we can all agree on one fundamental conviction. Jesus is the source of our salvation. As the Bible states, he is the author of our salvation (Acts 3:15 & Hebrew 2:10). To extend the metaphor a bit, we do not yet have all the details of the book of salvation that Jesus has authored, but it will eventually be revealed to us.
One detail, however, that Jesus does make abundantly clear is the reality of the resurrection. Just as he died and was resurrected, we, too, will die and be resurrected. We are told in Scripture that when Christ comes again at the end of time, all the faithful will be resurrected and share in Christ’s glory. We are offered glimpses of what this resurrected state will be like. After his resurrection, Jesus appeared on several occasions to his disciples and followers. And in all the post-resurrection accounts, we know that he was no ghost or spirit; he came to his disciples physically, in his resurrected body. Jesus ate meals with his disciples (Luke 24:13-35 & John 21:1-14), and so-called Doubting Thomas touched Jesus’ hands and side to be convinced that he had indeed risen (John 20:24-29). The Apostle Paul explains that this resurrected body will be different from our human body. There will be a transformation that takes place. The resurrected body will be “incorruptible” and raised in “glory” and “power,” but it will be a physical body nonetheless (I Corinthians 15:42-43).
In our Anglican tradition, we affirm this belief in the resurrection each time we hold a funeral service. The very first words of the Burial Rite in the Book of Common Prayer are these words of Jesus: “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” Even as we grieve and mourn in the face of death, we defiantly proclaim Jesus’ conquest over death and his promise of resurrection and eternal life.
It is not only in our funeral service that we express this faith in Christ’s saving power. Our two primary sacraments, Baptism and Eucharist, also embody this resurrection hope. In baptism, we die with Christ and rise to new life in him. The waters of baptism represent death as well as life. This is perhaps most vividly illustrated in those traditions that practice immersion. Going under the water represents a dying, a “drowning,” if you will. But then the coming up out of the water represents our resurrection. As we emerge out of the water, we are cleansed, transformed, given new life.
In the Holy Eucharist, we repeat this act of uniting with Christ in his death and resurrection. What begins with Baptism continues with the Eucharist. We remember his death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead. And as we receive his Body and Blood, we unite with Christ in the mystery of the Sacrament. He dwells in us, and we dwell in him.
Dear friends, as we approach the Altar this morning for the Most Holy Sacrament, let us renew our hope in Jesus, our resurrection and our life. Let us unite with him in his death and resurrection in this Holy Mystery. And let us look forward to the day when our hope in the resurrection will find fulfillment as Christ comes again in all his power and glory.
 Colleen McDannel and Bernhard Lang, Heaven: A History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995).
 Andrew Davison, Why Sacraments? (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2013), 15-16.
 Davison, 39.
All Saints Day
Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
November 3, 2019
In our first lesson, we hear the prophet Daniel recount a fantastical dream he had. Well, we heard the beginning of the dream in which four great beasts rise out of the sea. But then the lectionary skips 12 verses. In those verses, there are descriptions not only of the four beasts and their terrifying power, but ten horns arising from the fourth beast, with an eleventh horn with human eyes and a mouth speaking arrogantly. In response to this last beast with its mouthy eleventh horn, the Ancient One kills the beast and deprives the other three of their power. Then, “one like a human being” comes down from heaven on the clouds to reign on behalf of the Ancient One.
The lectionary then picks back up and we hear the heavenly attendant’s interpretation of the dream. The four beasts represent four kings or kingdoms, but in the end, the “holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom.”
Who are these holy ones?
The book of Daniel was likely written sometime in the 2nd Century BC during the reign of Greek Emperor Antiochus IV Epiphanes, under whose rule the Hebrew people suffered persecution and martyrdom. Up to this point in Hebrew literature, the word we translate as “holy ones” was used exclusively for divine beings and angels, never human beings. The holy ones in this passage are granted dominion over the kingdom that had already been granted to “the one like a human being” in verse 13. Later in Daniel, this “one like a human being” is identified as Michael the Archangel, the head of God’s heavenly army. Thus, this story originally referred to the divine army gaining control over the cosmic forces of evil and chaos. However, “holy ones” was interpreted by the Jewish Rabbinic tradition as referring to the Jews who were persecuted by the Greek Emperor Antiochus, and then later, even more broadly, as a reference to righteous humans sanctified after death. These “holy ones” are wise and pious men and women, who will suffer persecution, be purified, and awake to everlasting life, where they will possess God’s kingdom.
A couple of centuries later, the early Christians began commemorating the anniversary of those who were martyred for the faith. As persecution became more widespread, the number of martyrs became so great that a separate day could not be assigned to each. And so, the Church appointed a common day for all the martyrs as early as 373 AD. A few centuries later, the feast was broadened to include all saints as well as martyrs.
We continue to celebrate all the saints on this day so many years later. The “holy ones” we remember today, like those in Daniel’s apocalyptic dream, are those who contended long for their Savior’s honor…those who appear like stars…who stand before God’s throne wearing a golden crown and praising loud their heavenly King, as we will sing in today’s closing hymn. In the New Testament, the word “saint” refers to all of the baptized, but from the very beginning, some Christians began to be recognized for their holiness and sanctity, and the word saint in English is now more closely associated with them. Today’s feast isn’t commemorating or remembering all Christians throughout time – that’s All Souls Day which is the day after All Saints Day. No, today, we celebrate the saints – the “holy ones” – who lived out a heroic faith that has been recognized by the wider Christian community over time.
These heroes of the faith encourage us to keep running with perseverance the race set before us. We don’t worship them in the way we worship God, but we certainly honor them for their holiness which sprang from the grace given to them by God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Daniel was given a vision in his day when the empire that ruled over the Jewish people persecuted them to the point that they rebelled against the Emperor and ultimately prevailed, a rebellion we call the Maccabean Revolt. The Jewish festival of Hanukkah celebrates the re-dedication of the Temple following this great victory. In fact, this dream can be seen as a dystopian story not unlike the Handmaid’s Tale or the Hunger Games. Like Daniel, we live in a time when the empires of the day exalt injustice and hatred, and pay little attention to the poor, the sick, and the needy. As in Daniel’s day, the beasts with terrifying power seem to rise up out of the sea, threatening to overcome us.
The feast of All Saints reminds us that that the divine army will ultimately win the battle against evil and chaos. But more importantly, on All Saints Day, we are spurred on to a greater holiness by those who, even when they were with us on earth, were not with us in reality, for their minds were focused on God. “They lived on earth as citizens of heaven. Having here no lasting city, they sought a heavenly one; having no earthly riches, they sought the riches of heaven. They were strangers and sojourners” here just as the Jews were under the rule of Antiochus. “Strangers to the world, their whole heart was absorbed in the things of heaven…They longed for the beauty of heaven, its mansions and dwellings, its choirs and hymns, its feasts and its eternal blessedness.” The saints, by God’s grace, sought after these things, and by God’s grace, they attained them. “Their striving was rewarded by admission to the heavenly bridal chamber. Because they labored, now they exult. Because they were not negligent, they now rejoice.”
Friends, let us give thanks to Almighty God for the lives of the saints, and spurred on by their heroic devotion to Jesus, let us “lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”
 Much of this paragraph is from Wendland, Kristin J. “Commentary on Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18 by Kristin J. Wendland.” Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18 Commentary. Working Preacher. Accessed November 2, 2019. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4271.
 David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown. Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word. Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Pr., 2010), 223.
 Michael David. Coogan, ed., The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version: with the Apocrypha: an Ecumenical Study Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 1248.
 Much of this paragraph from Bartlett 223.
 The Hymnal 1982: According to the Use of the Episcopal Church (1985: The Church Hymnal Corporation, 1985), 286.
 The quotes in this paragraph are from a sermon by St. Anastasius of Sinai (d. sometime after 700 AD) as printed Maxwell E. Johnson, Benedictine Daily Prayer: a Short Breviary (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2005), 2184.
 Hebrews 12:1 (NRSV).
Pentecost XX Proper XXV
October 27, 2019
The Rev’d Charles Everson, SCP
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
There are some general stereotypes about birth order that tend to be true across the board. The first-born child tends to be a responsible overachiever, while the second-born is often rebellious, seeking attention in colorful ways. In my own house, growing up, these stereotypes were certainly true. I was the eldest child: very responsible and studious, always wanting to be seen doing what is right. My younger sister Carri always got in trouble and had a hard time finding her place in life. I was the goodie two shoes who went to church every Sunday and participated in religious clubs at school and of course abstained from alcohol and anything else that might be naughty. One incident sort of sums my sister’s relationship with the church at the time. She had my mom drop her and her best friend off at the church for an all-night lock in with the youth group. Later, it was discovered that my mom dropped them off just in time for her boyfriend to pick them up and scurry away from the church before the doors got locked. I, on the other hand, was well-known in our high school for being a spiritual leader, leading bible studies and Christian rallies for all the world to see.
When I read through today’s gospel reading, I couldn’t help but self-identify with the Pharisee. The Pharisees were Jewish religious leaders of the day who emphasized the importance of obeying the law of Moses. They paid careful attention to things like rituals for cleansing one’s body and one’s cookware that were done as an attempt to encounter God in the everyday doldrums of life. The Pharisees were very concerned about how others perceived them and made every attempt to look pious and righteous before others. On the other hand, the tax collectors in the Roman Empire were part of a corrupt system full of dishonesty and greed. They weren’t the accounting-types that work at the IRS, but were rather the scum of the earth, lining their own pockets with whatever they could collect above and beyond their contractual obligation with the government.
My senior year in high school, I had a side job in the afternoon in the school office. My duties included answering the phone and helping with attendance records. My sister didn’t always adhere to the school’s attendance policies. When she skipped class, you can guess what happened: I caught wind the same day, and before she got home, my parents already knew. Yeah, I was that guy: I was the tattle tale. I’ll always remember the time my sister got so frustrated with me that she yelled, “Chuck, why do you have to be so darned good!” I wish I could say that I tattled on her to keep her safe or for the wider good, but deep down, I was self-righteous and cared far too much about how other people perceived me.
In this parable, when the Pharisee prays, he thanks God that he isn’t like the other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like the tax-collector. In his prayer, the Pharisee reminds the Lord that he fasts twice a week and gives a tenth of all his income. In short, he thanks God that he’s so amazing. The tax-collector beats his breast and says, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” The Pharisee doesn’t ask God for anything because he trusted in himself that he was righteous, while the tax-collector begged for God’s mercy for he knows who he is: a horrible human being who can’t possibly be good enough on his own.
Everyone thinks that the Kingdom of God includes the Pharisees but excludes the tax-collectors, but today, Jesus is saying, “No, let me tell you what the Kingdom of God is really like.” In God’s kingdom, the tax-collector is in and the Pharisee is out. In the last verse, he tells us that the tax-collector went home justified – unburdened – vindicated – in a restored relationship with God. For the tax-collector knows who he is: he knows that he has no righteousness on which to stand except for the righteousness given to him by God.
Jesus isn’t telling us to shed our arrogance and be as humble as we can be, and that if we do that, all will be well, and we’ll inherit eternal life. The point is that the tax-collector acknowledges that he really a horrible human being. And thanks be to God, God loves horrible human beings! Jesus is telling you and me today that, despite what I thought in high school, thinking that we are holy and studious and righteous means that we are deceived and don’t acknowledge who and what we are: horrible, awful people in need of God’s grace!
My sister’s life took a different turn after high school. She’s married to a lawyer and works as a pharmacist, and they have 3 beautiful girls (all about to hit the teenage years…God help her.). And she and her family are members of Grace Episcopal Church in Ottawa and her husband serves on the vestry. For my part, I’ve loosened up quite a bit after having been put in my place multiple times throughout my adult life. My fault in high school was that like the Pharisee had written off the tax-collector, I had labeled my sister as a heathen, when in fact, she was thoroughly and completely loved by God. Rather than focusing on others’ faults and sins, and trying to decide who is in God’s Kingdom and who is out, God is calling us to speak only of our own brokenness, and to rely solely on His unconditional mercy and grace to make us whole again, as when the world was new.
The Rev'd Dr. Sean C. Kim, SCP
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
20 October 2019
Today we commemorate St. Luke the Evangelist. We know him best as the author of the third Gospel. He also wrote the Book of Acts. In addition to being a writer, Luke accompanied the Apostle Paul on some of his missionary journeys. Paul calls Luke his “fellow worker” (Philemon 24), and, as we read in today’s Epistle, during Paul’s time in prison, Luke is his sole faithful companion (2 Timothy 4:11). Paul also identifies Luke as the “beloved physician” (Colossian 4:14). Luke has thus become the patron saint of doctors, nurses, and other health care workers.
St. Luke the evangelist and physician holds special significance for us at St. Mary’s. Luke is what we call our Proto-Patron or First Patron. As many of you are aware, before we were St. Mary’s Church, we were St. Luke’s Church. So St. Luke was our original Patron, the saint for whom the church was named, the saint who protects us and intercedes for us before God. St. Luke’s Church was established in 1854 in Kansas City, the first Episcopal parish in what was back then a frontier trading town. The first building was located at 8th and Walnut in the downtown area, but then later, Mary Troost, a major benefactor of the church, donated land at 13th and Holmes for a new building with the condition that the church change its name and patronage to St. Mary. The current building in which we worship was completed in 1887.
Our spiritual forebears at St. Luke’s Church laid out a powerful vision not only for their own faith community but for the city as a whole. In response to the educational needs of the early settlers, the church ran schools for boys and girls in the downtown area, and it reached out to the working poor, providing hunger relief in the West Bottoms. Moreover, faithful to the legacy of their patron, St. Luke the physician, the church started a hospital. In 1882, the Rev. Henry Jardine, the rector, gathered a group of businessmen to discuss the need for medical care in the growing city. This led to the establishment of All Saints Hospital, which later changed its name to St. Luke’s Hospital. Today the Saint Luke’s Health System has grown to be a major hospital for the region. Kansas City’s only locally owned, not-for-profit health system, Saint Luke’s continues to be a faith-based hospital, with oversight by the Episcopal Diocese of West Missouri. The bishop serves as chair of the board of directors. Some of you may have noticed that one of our stained-glass windows is dedicated to St. Luke’s Hospital. It’s the one back in the corner by the spiral staircase. The reason we have that is because our church began the hospital.
By laying down the foundations for the Saint Luke’s Health System, our forebears were carrying on a rich tradition of healing ministry in the Christian Church. The history of healing in our faith, of course, goes all the way back to Jesus himself. Healing was central to his ministry. As we read in the Gospels, Jesus healed the blind, the lame, the lepers; he treated all sorts of diseases and conditions. Subsequently, for over two millennia, Christians have continued Jesus’ work of healing. In the Middle Ages in Europe, medical care lay primarily in the hands of monks and nuns. The early hospitals were the ministry of religious communities, dedicated to the care of the sick and dying. Then, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Protestant medical missionaries spread modern, Western-style medicine all around the world. Considering this legacy, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the roots of modern medical care are in the Christian Church.
If you would please indulge me for a moment, I would like to share with you some personal experiences of how my own life has intersected with the history of healing in the Christian Church. I’ve mentioned before that I was born in Korea, but the hospital where I was born, in Seoul, South Korea, was called Severance Hospital. No, Severance is not a Korean name. Louis H. Severance was an American businessman, one of the founders of Standard Oil. Severance also happened to be a devout Presbyterian, so when some pioneer Presbyterian missionaries in the 1880s proposed plans to build Korea’s first modern, Western-style hospital, Severance generously provided the funding. One of the reasons I was born at Severance was my father was a medical student there for a couple of years. He ended up switching to business, though. He was doing fine until he had to dissect cadavers, and he quickly decided that medicine was not his calling. Later in life, he hoped that one of my siblings or I would become a doctor, but, contrary to stereotypes about Asians being good in science, none of us were particularly good at it nor were we interested in a science-related career. I’m not good in math either. We did, however, manage to get a doctor in the family through marriage. My sister married a physician; my brother-in-law is a cardiologist at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Kansas City.
The next chapter in my experience of the Church’s healing mission took place in 2009, when I joined my fellow parishioners back then at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Kansas City for a week-long trip to Haiti. We were there about a month before the great earthquake. It was surreal to see in the media the images of the destruction and ruin. St. Andrew’s sponsors a birthing center – what the Haitians call a maison de naissance, a birthing home – in a remote, mountainous area of the island nation. Established by Dr. Stan Shaffer and Dr. Kathy Shaffer, parishioners at St. Andrew’s – Dr. Stan Shaffer used to serve at St. Luke’s, the birthing center has saved the lives of countless mothers and babies who would otherwise have died without the proper medical care and education. St. Andrew’s is not alone in its healing ministry in Haiti. The country is filled with clinics and hospitals sponsored by American churches.
The third and final story that I would like to share with you brings us back to Saint Luke’s Hospital. A couple of years ago, I served as a hospital chaplain at Saint Luke’s Hospital as part of my pastoral training. As some of you know, our Postulant for Holy Orders, Lynda Hurt, soon to be deacon, did the same program this past summer. And I think that Lynda would agree with me on this. When I first began the program, I thought that I would learn exactly what to say and what to do when visiting the sick, the dying, and their families. But contrary to expectation, that’s not what I learned. In fact, the most important lesson that I learned was how to provide a caring presence. In other words, our physical presence, the companionship we provide – being there to listen or to simply sit together – is what is most important. The details of what we say or do ultimately don’t matter much. A caring presence, on the other hand, has the power to heal.
When I look back on those dark moments in my own life when I have been broken in body, mind, or spirit, I think of the people who were there for me – family, friends, clergy, fellow church members. And the older I become and the less reliable my memory becomes, I tend to forget what they said to me in those difficult situations. But I will never forget their presence. Nor will I forget the reflection of God’s love on their faces.
Not all of us are called to be doctors, nurses, medical missionaries, or hospital chaplains. All of us are, however, called to be healers. Following the examples of Jesus Our Lord and our Proto-Patron St. Luke, we are called to pray for the healing of those around us who are broken in body, mind, or spirit. We are called to provide a caring presence. When we do, we will find that Jesus himself will be there with us.
 St. Mary’s Episcopal Church (www.stmaryskcmo.org/our-history.html)
 Saint Luke’s Health System (https://www.saintlukeskc.org/history)
St. Francis Day
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
October 6, 2016
Click here for the audio recording of this sermon.
John the Baptist’s disciples ask Jesus at the beginning of Matthew chapter 11, which we heard part of today: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
It is no surprise that John sent them to ask this, for the great judgment he had announced hadn’t come about, the corrupt were still in power, and John was suffering in prison.
Jesus tells them to tell John what they had seen and heard: the blind receiving sight, the lame walking, the lepers cleansed, the deaf hearing, the dead raised, and the poor receiving good news. While this isn’t the mighty judgement John had envisioned, these were surely signs that the kingdom of God was drawing near.
Fr. Sean and I just returned last night from a week in southern Arizona at a clergy conference entitled “At the Border of Holiness.” On the first day of the conference, we visited St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Nogales, Arizona just a few miles from the southern US border and heard three powerful presentations.
The first was from Mother Alison Lee, priest-in-charge at St. Andrews, who described the clinic that parish runs for children living in Mexico who cannot afford the specialized medical care they need. We heard about children with cleft palates healed by the loving volunteer services of the doctors, and kids whose vision is so bad that they can’t see more than three feet in front of them receiving glasses for the first time. We heard story after story of the blind receiving sight, the lame walking, the lepers cleansed, the deaf hearing, and the poor receiving good news. What hope!
But then, the Anglican Bishop of Western Mexico detailed for us via a translator the stark reality of why people are risking their lives to flee Mexico to come to the United States. Listening to the murder rates, the stories of hidden graves filled with chopped up body parts, and those who were essentially enslaved by local oligarchs and drug traffickers was eye opening to me to say the least. Though I’d heard of folks dying trying to cross the border in the past, hearing all of this helped me to understand why people would risk death or imprisonment to make the dangerous trek to “our great country.”
After the presentations, we all loaded the bus and proceeded to the southern border. In typical form, I was alternating between chatting with my buddy sitting next to me and messing around with Facebook on my phone, so I wasn’t really paying attention to world around me. But then I looked up to the left and was completely overcome with emotion upon seeing a huge, imposing wall adorned with the type of round strands of razor wire you’d see at a prison. I’d seen such things on TV and online, but never in person, and I was overwhelmed with a sense of deep sadness and shame. Shame that this was the first thing that these desperate people see when arriving at our front door looking to escape misery and death.
One of the deacons from St. Andrews explained the history of how the wall came to be. The portion of the wall that runs between Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Mexico was built back in the 1990’s, though the razor wire has been added more recently. Until about a year ago, priests from both sides of the border would say Mass frequently next to the wall, and separated family members would gather on the other side. They would pass communion between the slats and also use the opportunity to hold hands with their loved ones. They would do this despite the risk of cutting themselves on the razor wire, but in the last year, metal mesh had been added to the lower part of the wall to prevent something as small as a communion host from being passed through. My sadness turned to anger, and my stomach turned upside down. I felt a sense of desperation wash over me and the hope that I’d encountered at the presentation about the medical clinic was nowhere to be found. My God, this is what we’ve become, I thought.
As John’s disciples said, “Jesus, are you the one, or are we to wait for another?” Lord, where are you in all of this? Why is there still so much suffering? How can you tolerate this sort of cruelty?
We then gathered on the north side of a makeshift altar facing the wall, and as Mother Alison began to celebrate Mass, which she offered for those who had died trying to cross the border, I began to see a glimpse of hope once again. For in the Eucharist, the love of God literally comes to earth. Love and compassion and peace breaks into our world, and the great border between God and man crashes down for a sweet moment and we are given a glimpse of the new heaven and the new earth. In the Eucharist, we are given hope – even a promise – that all will be made right and the world will be restored to how it was in the Garden of Eden before sin and suffering and death erected the borders that divide man from God and nation from nation.
After Mass, we milled around for a bit, most of us somewhat dazed and confused, processing all that was happening. As I was looking at the wall, it suddenly hit me that the razor wire was only on the US side. Prisons use razor wire to keep prisoners inside from escaping. It made me wonder if we, in our attempts to keep people out, had created a prison for ourselves and become those we thought we were avoiding: selfish people willing to go to any length to make things better for ourselves at the cost of those who are suffering the most. Filled with the hope given to me in the bread and the wine, I realized that I was angry. Angry mainly at myself for not doing enough to address this awful injustice.
Now, I hope you don’t hear this as a sermon about partisan politics. As I mentioned, the portion of the wall that we witnessed was built in the 1990’s, not recently. Political decisions from both sides of the aisle over many years have contributed to the situation in which we find ourselves today. And likewise, I hope you don’t expect me to have political answers on how we can fix all of this, because I don’t. But hear me, friends: the gospel of Jesus Christ is inherently political. Those who originally heard today’s gospel reading were suffering under religious oppression from the Pharisees on the one hand, and from persecution under the Roman imperial system on the other in which the ruling elite secure wealth, status, and power at the expense of the lowly. It was from unjust political systems like these that Jesus Christ came to set us free.
This is the context in which Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” The Greek word “rest” in the New Testament functions as an image of salvation, of what will be when the world is finally ordered according to God’s purposes and made whole again as it was in the Garden. In promising us “rest,” Jesus promises abundant life under God’s reign in the new world that he is bringing.
Jesus also tell us to take his yoke upon us. The yoke was a symbol of burden bearing, oppression, and subjugation. Yokes were laid on the necks and shoulders of oxen when they were to pull something extremely heavy. What is the yoke Jesus offers? We might infer from the text that it is his teaching, his way of discipleship, which is not burdensome but life-giving. He invites the weary to learn from him, for he is not a tyrant who lords it over us, but is "gentle and humble in heart." His yoke is easy and his burden is light. To take his yoke upon oneself is to be yoked to the One in whom God's kingdom of justice, mercy, and compassion is breaking into this world, and to find the rest for which the soul longs.
In this great feast that we will celebrate in a moment, we will experience a foretaste of this heavenly rest that Jesus promises us. It doesn’t matter the emotions we feel, or whether the altar party gets all of the motions and choreography exactly right. In this sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, the love of God will break into our world whether we like it or not, and we will see a glimpse of what the world will be like one day when all will be made right and every wall that divides us will crash to the ground. During the Eucharistic prayer, when we offer and present our selves, our souls and bodies to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice to God, we will offer your burdens up to Jesus. And as you receive the host in your hands or on your tongue – when the blood of our Lord touches your lips – you will receive rest and refreshment for your weary soul.
But know that the rest you receive comes with a cost. Know that receiving our Lord’s body and blood means that you’re yoking yourself to the One who loves everyone unconditionally…to the One who gives the blind sight, makes the lame walk, cleanses the leper, raises the dead, and gives good news to the poor. Know that you’re committing to join with the Holy Spirit in helping the lowly, the outcast, the poor, even the children from Mexico who don’t have basic health care. Know that you’re committing yourselves to be heralds of God’s kingdom of justice, mercy, and compassion.
Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
29 September 2019
Click here for the audio recording of this sermon.
We Christians believe that Jesus is our source and guide to matters of the spirit. He teaches us how to pray, how to worship God, how to live out the life of faith. But when we turn to the Gospels, we find that for a spiritual leader, it’s surprising how often Jesus talks about money. Of the thirty-eight parables that he preached, including today’s story from Luke, sixteen of them deal with money. And, believe it or not, one out of every ten verses in the Gospels touches on money in some way. So why the attention on money?
Today’s Gospel tells the story of the rich man who lives it up, wearing the finest clothes and eating the best food. And right on his doorstep is the beggar Lazarus, who would have been happy even with the rich man’s table scraps. Both men die. While Lazarus is carried up by the angels to be with Abraham, the rich man ends up in Hades. The two men’s fortunes are reversed in the afterlife. Now Lazarus is the one who enjoys the comforts, while the rich man suffers in agony and torment. The rich man appeals to Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers so that he can warn them. He doesn’t want his five brothers, who are leading the same lifestyle, to join him in Hades. Abraham replies that they have already received the message through Moses and the prophets. And since they haven’t heeded the message from Moses and the prophets, why would they listen to Lazarus?
Like most parables, Jesus does not explain the meaning of this story. But it’s not difficult to interpret what that would be in this case. Money gets in the way of faith. Money can even drag us down to hell. Jesus tells this parable in the context of a dispute with the Pharisees, identified a few verses before as “lovers of money” (Luke 16:14). Today’s Epistle reading from I Timothy issues a stern warning against the “lovers of money”: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains” (I Timothy 6:10). The pursuit of wealth and status is fraught with all sorts of temptations and dangers that can lead us to stray away from God and from our neighbor. People lie, cheat, and kill for money.
Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he repeatedly attacks the wealthy while holding up the poor. In his very first sermon, Jesus declares that he has been anointed by the Holy Spirit “to bring good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18). And in the Beatitudes, Jesus proclaims: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God…But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation” (Luke 6:20-24). It is clear that the poor occupy a special and privileged place in Jesus’ ministry, while the wealthy are warned about the perils of their status. But then this begs the question: what can the wealthy do to be saved? What can they do to avoid the fate of the rich man in today’s parable? It seems unfair that an entire class be condemned without some means of redemption. Isn’t Jesus’ message of salvation for all people?
One option for the wealthy is to give it all up and join the poor. And this is, in fact, the message that Jesus has for some of his followers. When a rich young ruler approaches Jesus and asks what he should do to inherit eternal life, Jesus tells him to sell all his possessions and give them to the poor. The young man sadly turns away. Jesus then makes the colorful and well-known comment that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:18-26). But many others do respond to Jesus’ call to give up everything and follow him. Throughout Christian history, we have many examples of those who have believed that to follow Christ is to take a vow of poverty. St. Francis of Assisi, for instance, was born into wealth, but he gave it all up to become a monk and take a vow of povertyt. And he required all those who joined the Franciscan order to do the same.
But what about for us today? Whether we are rich, middle-class, or whatever socioeconomic status, giving up everything we own is not a viable option. Moreover, if all Christians were to do this, there would be dire consequences for the Church. For one, we would not be able to worship in such a beautiful space as this church or enjoy the sublime music of our choir. Nor could we support any of our ministries. The fact is, Christianity as an institution would not survive if all the believers were to take a vow of poverty. We would follow the fate of the Shakers. They were once a thriving Christian group, but because of their vow of celibacy, they are now on the verge of extinction. A collective vow of poverty would have a similar effect. It is simply not sustainable for an institution.
Nor is it what Christ expects of us. While many of Jesus’ disciples and followers led lives of poverty, others maintained their wealth and used it to support Jesus’ ministry. We read in the Gospels of his well-to-do followers – tax collectors and the like – who hosted Jesus in their homes. And in the early Church, it was in the homes of the wealthy that the first communities of believers met to worship. Yesterday was the feast day of St. Paula on the church calendar. Paula was born in the fourth century into one of the wealthiest aristocratic families in Rome, and she used her vast resources to set up monasteries and convents, and to support the poor. I bring up St. Paula and these other examples not as a way to rationalize our wealth and possessions, but rather to point out that there are different ways of using our resources for the work of the Church in the world. There is no set formula for everyone. Some do give it all up. Other tithe ten percent of their income. Still others give as they are able. It is ultimately up to us to discern individually with our conscience what God is calling us to do with our money. I didn’t intend this to be a sermon on stewardship – it’s a bit early for that, but it looks like it’s turning into one.
Returning to the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, let us pose a hypothetical question. What if Abraham had consented to the rich man’s request that he send Lazarus to his brothers? What would be Lazarus’s message? For one, he would inform them that their brother is in Hades for being a pig. But what else? I believe that Lazarus would tell them to open their eyes to the poor in their midst, to have compassion, to be generous, to share what they have. This is what the rich man failed to do.
St. Mary’s has a long tradition of serving the poor, whom our Lord Jesus held up as the object of his special care and concern. And soon we will renew and expand our commitment to the poor through the work of the Social Justice Committee. As we begin this new chapter in our church, let us pray for wisdom and discernment as we seek to make the best use of our God-given resources – our money, our talents, our time. And however we individually respond to Jesus’ call to serve the poor, let compassion and generosity be our common guide.
 “Statistic: Jesus’ Teaching on Money,” Christianity Today, 2019 (https://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/1996/december/410.html).
 Lois Malcolm, “Commentary on Luke 16:19-31,” Working Preacher (https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1784).
First Things First: Inclusive Prayers for God’s Mission
1 Timothy 2.1-7
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Let’s get first things first. That’s the introduction to the letter-full of instructions coming to Timothy, as we heard in today’s Epistle reading. Because we’ve since heard a Gospel passage that confuses the snot of out me and the Epistle lection was only a few verses, I think it’s worth re-reading at this point.
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For
there is one God;
there is also one mediator between God and humankind,
Christ Jesus, himself human,
who gave himself a ransom for all
—this was attested at the right time. For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
What we didn’t hear in today’s lesson was the preface that told Timothy the following instructions would help get his church in order so it can be about God’s mission in the world. As such, it starts by reminding Timothy of putting first things first.
To get the church in order and start with the matter of utmost importance, which is prayer. Paul gets directly to the point: the Christian life together has to be grounded in prayer. Because this letter cuts to the chase, so will I: in order for the church to live out its vocation in the world – its calling to proclaim God’s salvation to all peoples – the church must pray for everyone, as Jesus mediates salvation to all of humanity.
Perhaps you’re all more sanctified than I am, or maybe you’ve never had this experience, but imagine with me, if you will, that reaction some of us who drive have when we’re in traffic. You know the one – when you just want to honk your horn with the rudest honk imaginable or maybe wave a particularly angry hand gesture in another driver’s general direction. Maybe it’s 5:47pm on a Thursday, you’re rushing home, and someone is holding up traffic on 31st trying to turn left onto Broadway and you see, as clearly as they surely do, the long sign that says no left turn from 7am-9am and from 4pm-6pm Monday to Friday except holidays, though busses are exempt – yet it’s 5:47pm, it’s not a holiday, and their Prius in no way could be mistaken for a bus, but nevertheless they’re holding you up and trying to turn left anyway. At least twice this week I just had to say out loud “that beloved child of God has probably had a hard day” in order to keep my threads of sanctification held together.
Oh, if it were only that simple to live a life of Christian holiness. If all we had to do would be to recognize a common humanity – the leveling of the playing field. While that’s not all the Christian life encompasses, it’s certainly a necessary first step. We, every human to ever exist, are all in need of God’s salvation. We are all recipients of the grace Christ mediates to us.
In Timothy’s day and place, Christians were persecuted. They didn’t fit into the Gentile society of the day because they had a different Lord than the Emperor. They didn’t fit in with the tolerated Jews because they claimed that Messiah had already come. They were a minority voice, and they were killed for it. They couldn’t live out their Christian life because they would be plowed down by the ruling powers. With Timothy’s church needing a firmer structure to withstand these physical attacks over spiritual matters, he’s instructed in this letter that the first step to ordering a church is to pray, and to pray for everyone, even the ones who are attacking – even the governing officials who are literally ordering for them to be killed.
While I don’t know of contemporary American governmental leaders explicitly ordering the killing of any class or group of people, I think it’s possible to read current events and find that politicians of every rank are continuing to enact injustices in society that keep the playing field out of balance, in favor for some groups over others. I’m not talking about an attack on Christians here, but on a number of the races and classes and groups of persons who are not part of the powerful majority yet are just as much children of God as the rest. Each and every week – as we will in just a few moments – when we pray for some leaders by name and then generally for all who are in places of authority, I have to intentionally remind myself that these fellow humans are just as needy for God’s grace as I am myself. Thankfully, now that I’ve been named a Postulant, I’m listed in the prayers by name for our community to pray for my continual growth in both knowledge and holiness of life.
As this letter to Timothy attests, God “desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (v4 NRSV). And there, in putting his thumb on the very heartbeat of God, Paul shows the foundation of the Church as being a place that offers every person ample opportunity to have their life transformed in the knowledge and love of God. That, my friends, is the mission of the church. As Christ “gave himself [as] a ransom for all” (v6 NRSV) and therefore mediates grace between the fullness of God and all of humanity, so should the Church, the Body of Christ, be the people who embrace all of humanity as an offering back to God. In doing so, the Church mirrors back God’s desire for all to know salvation.
What happens when we recognize the common need for salvation for each person? What would the church look like every week we sat down the aisle from the person who ticks us off in traffic or who votes to enact an unfair law? What if, when we prayed for everyone, we truly meant every single person? Our narrow-mindedness in such a polarized society might, just maybe, be broadened if we prayed every single day for that person that we just can’t stand. Think about it: what if we looked at someone who we thought was the vilest human being and remembered that Christ the mediator is offering them the same grace he is offering to each of us? It’s hard to wish damnation on someone who is seen as a fellow child of God. Put in a much better way, Saint John Chrysostom wrote this: “No one can feel hatred towards those for whom they pray.”
Have you ever met an angry nun? From time to time, I go visit the Benedictine Sisters up in Atchison, Kansas. These holy ladies, like most monastic communities, are always praying. They intentionally start each day by recognizing the presence of Christ in each other and in visitors who come to them. They are also some of the most peaceful bunch, even as a group who speaks truth to power in matters of societal injustice. Yet, if any group lives “a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity,” it’s them. Does that mean they don’t have disagreements? Not at all! But they ways in which they handle their problems starts with the recognition that each person in the dispute has the light of Christ in her. From that grounding, built on their shared prayer life, they can find charitable ways of moving forward.
While God’s salvation is offered to every person, and the church is called to pray for and with everyone, the grace Christ mediates does not force uniformity; rather, it calls for unity. Unity assumes that persons with vastly different perspectives can each have space to respond to the unique ways in which Christ’s grace is poured upon them. While God’s grace is universal, we each come to know it in particular ways.
In bringing many voices together of every perspective in prayer for each and every person, the church is transformed. We are bonded together in the unity for which Christ prayed. In our mutual humility under the grace-dealing work of Christ, we grow in holiness of life and, from that holy habitation, can structure our church and respond to the injustices of the world in well-rounded, wholistic, prayer-borne ways.
First things first: prayer unites us. We in The Episcopal Church pray from a prayerbook that is common to all and yet uniquely understood by each one. We pray for justice and inclusion, salvation and sanctification, redemption and restoration. Together, in our shared life, may we continue to recognize that our prayers together for the sake of the whole world not only change us as individuals, but they lay the foundation for our life together to enact the very will of God in our own day. By praying for everyone, we are starting our work of participating in God’s mission of salvation. Our prayers unite us in God’s universal mission for “everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For ‘there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all.’” May we continue to pray for all people, all of humanity, who benefits from Christ’s work of salvation; and may we do so recognizing that God equally wants each person to know and accept the grace that is being offered. May our church, in so doing, be found in the middle of the will of God. Amen.
 Probably a pseudepigraphal character claiming to be Paul.
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!
To the Glory of God and in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary
St. Mary's is a a parish of the Diocese of West Missouri, The Episcopal Church, and the Anglican Communion.
1307 Holmes Street
Kansas City, Missouri 64106