The Feast of Blessed James Stewart-Smith
August 11, 2021
Mr. David Wilcox
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
If you love me, feed my sheep. Jesus commands Peter in the reading we just heard from the Gospel according to St. John. It's a command that's echoed down the centuries to all those who have accepted God's call to be a pastor of his people. It is a command that was fully lived out in the life of Fr. James Stewart Smith, who we commemorate today for the first time.
Fr. Stewart-Smith was born in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1851. He attended the University of Virginia, where he obtained a doctorate in homeopathic medicine. Discerning a call to the ordained ministry, he trained for ordination at Seabury and Nashotah House seminaries. He was ordained a deacon in 1875 and a priest one year later in 1876. After ordination, he held several positions before accepting the call to be the priest in charge of St. Mary's, where he would spend the rest of his earthly life. After arriving in Kansas City in November of 1891, Fr. Stewart-Smith quickly settled in and got to work immediately. He was installed by the Bishop only two weeks later, taking up residence in the austere apartment above the parish hall.
His efforts to feed the sheep entrusted to his care included daily Mass even when no one was present, the institution of regular benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, and times for private confession. He oversaw St. Mary's mission congregation in the West Bottoms, bringing many souls to Christ, baptizing 30 people on one Sunday alone. In addition, he wrote several pamphlets to expound on the Catholic tradition of Anglicanism, among them a defense of prayers for the dead, an appeal to fast before communion, and a devotional prayer book for the people of the parish. His efforts to feed his flock didn't just focus on their spiritual needs. He also cared for their physical and material needs. He established a medical practice where he put his training as a doctor to use, treating all those who came to him free of charge. Fr. Stewart-Smith also extended the parish's works of mercy by establishing a mortuary chapel in the tower room where the city's destitute would be brought for Christian burial.
Unlike some of the other notable figures in the history of our parish who will remain unnamed, Fr. Stewart Smith was a quiet man who didn't leave behind many legends. What we do know about him is that he was a many of many talents. In addition to being a priest and a doctor, he was a skilled businessman and an amateur Ironworker; among his creations are the Lenten Altar Cross and the baptismal font cover. He found strength for the tasks at hand in quiet prayer before the Altar where he served. In the words of another priest, he was "always glad to be of any service; unwilling to compromise the Church or the Bishop and a fountain of knowledge yet so unwilling to display it." He was the balance wheel of the clergy, a support to the Bishop and the most overworked priest in the diocese, who was the embodiment of charity and loving-kindness.
In the words of a leading citizen of Kansas City, Fr. Stewart-Smith lived a life "that was a labor of love…walking among the lowly, the poor, the distressed and the fallen as a ministering spirit to relieve comfort and to lift up." His dying day showed that that was true as he passed to larger life just minutes after he finished counseling someone grieving the loss of their loved one. When he died, he left behind not legends but countless lives touched by the love of God that worked through him. Strong men and women who had been brought to God by his saintly life whose testimony speaks to us down the generations.
Tonight by remembering Fr. James Stewart Smith at this Altar where he served for 23 years, we exercise the particular privilege entrusted to us by the general convention. As the community that knew and loved him and discerned the special grace of Christ at work in him, we establish his commemoration and lift him up as an example of holy living and selfless service for others to follow. We ask him, who we trust is in heaven, to pray for this parish that he loved, for us, his spiritual children, and for all pastors. So that aided by his prayers, they may be just as faithful in their care and nurture of God's flock as he was enabling us all to grow ]into the full stature of Christ, which he achieved.
 L.A.C. Pitcathly, Tribute to Fr. Stewart Smith in the Kansas City Post August 12 1915.
 W.F. Kuhn, Tribute to Fr. Stewart Smith in in The Kansas City Free Masonry, August 21, 1915
The Feast of St. Laurence, August 10, 2021
Fr. Chas Marks
We remember today the holy martyr St. Laurence of Rome who died this day in the year 258 during the persecution of the Emperor Valerian. Laurence was born in what is today Spain. He was a holy young man who came under the tutelage of the future Bishop of the city of Rome, Sixtus II. When Sixtus was elected Pope, he ordained Laurence a deacon and though he was still quite young – in his early 20’s – Pope Sixtus put him in charge of the finances of the diocese and most importantly – he was charged with the care of the poor.
The persecution of Valerian began in August of 258. He ordered the death of all Christian bishops, priests, and deacons and the confiscation of the Church’s worldly goods. Pope Sixtus was martyred on the sixth of August along with some of the other clergy. Laurence, being the archdeacon of the diocese was told by the Roman prefect to gather up all the church’s treasures to be presented to the emperor. He was given three days to accomplish this task. Laurence – being the good deacon he was – distributed all of the church’s treasure to the poor of the city. When asked to turn over the treasures to the prefect – he instead presented to him the poor, the orphans, and the widows who were in his care and said – here – these are the treasures of the Church. He was executed the following day.
Pious legend says that because of his cheekiness, Laurence was not beheaded in the usual manner of executing a Roman citizen but rather experienced the slow death of being roasted alive on a gridiron. Legend also tells us that though it was a most painful death he continued to praise God. He is even said to have told the soldiers in charge of his execution – to turn him over for he was done on that side. As a result – he is among other things – the patron saint of comedians and chefs.
St. Laurence lived the Gospel that we have heard proclaimed today. He followed our Lord – as a servant to the Church – as a servant to the poor and those in need- all the way to his death. We are told that his holy death was an inspiration to many in the city and that many were converted to Christ by Laurence’s witness.
While each of us may not be called to a physical martyrdom – we too are called to die to ourselves daily – so that the life of our Risen Lord may shine through us. The 20th Century martyr Dietrich Bonhoffer said that when Christ calls a man – he bids him to come and die. Dying to self means giving ourselves over to following God’s will in our lives – truly loving God and our neighbors above all else. While this is not a painful martyr’s death – it is still not at all an easy task. It is in fact something that we must practice over and over again each day of our lives. Let us pray this day for God’s grace– so that we too may follow the way as servants of our Lord Jesus Christ with St. Laurence’s zeal.
In particular on this feast – let us give thanks for the order of Deacons in the Church and pray for all who are ordained to that ministry of service. Let us remember not only those who are ordained as vocational deacons – but all priests and bishops who also were first ordained to be icons of Christian service in this holy order. May God bless us and may the diaconal charism that is at the heart of all ordained ministry in the Church shine through all deacons, priests, and bishops in acts of care and concern for the poor and those in any sort of need.
Let us give thanks this day for the life and witness of St. Laurence. Amen.
August 8, 2021
1 Kings 19:4-8, Ephesians 4:25-5:2, John 6:35, 41-51
Mr. David Wilcox
"It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors." the prophet Elijah prays in this morning's reading from the first book of kings. It seems a bit dramatic on its own, but today's reading is part of a much longer story in which Elijah has struggled - often on his own - to keep the faith of Israel alive to call the people back to God and into living in the way God commands. Finally, in a miraculous display, he proves God's superiority and sovereignty over the false gods who have made their way to the heart of Israel into the royal house itself. It seems like the light has dawned on a new day for Israel, that things are looking up. Until those loyal to the false god seek Elijah's life. In fear, Elijah flees to the wilderness. He feels like he can take no more he prays for God to take his life. Elijah is overwhelmed, something I think we can all understand at this point after dealing with this pandemic for so long.
Last year around this time, Fr. Charles asked me to preach before I went off to seminary. We were about five months into the pandemic, it was the end of July, and I was tired. I was tired of bad news everywhere I looked, Covid, civil unrest, unemployment, the list went on and on. I was tired of death, violence, and feeling as if there was no hope, so I preached the sermon that I needed to hear because I knew if I needed to hear it, I wasn't the only one. I tried to encourage us all to hold on to hope. Hope in God's promises…hope that everything would get better. Yet five months has turned into eighteen, and I'm still tired. I'm tired, and it seems like the list of bad news has gotten longer, not shorter. This week will be a year since Deacon Gerry died. Covid numbers are once again on the rise, higher than they ever were last year. Hospitals are full again, people are still struggling to find work, can't afford to pay their rent, and face eviction at any moment, and those who have a duty to help just don't seem to care. Worst of all, despite the miracle vaccine, it looks as if things are likely to get worse again because people have just stopped caring. I'm finding it difficult to hold on to hope.
Along with my sheer and utter mental and emotional exhaustion, a whole other host of emotions has cropped up. I'm angry, sad, and disappointed. Like Elijah, I just don't know how much more I can take. An article that ran in this week's Kansas City Star asked readers to share their experiences now that Covid was once again surging across the country. It tells me that I'm not alone in my feelings because respondents described every emotion from sadness to fear, indifference to anger.
In the Church, we often don't know what to do with negative emotions. We know that as Christians, we are called to hope, but in our minds, somehow that often gets twisted into meaning we always have to be positive. So many of us here at St. Mary's come from traditions where you can share testimony about good things that are happening or about struggles that have been overcome. Yet, you can't talk about struggles that you're actively having. Because for some reason, it seems to mean we don't believe hard enough. I have been more open and honest today about my own struggles of late because if today's lessons teach us anything, it's that emotions are a part of being human. They teach us that it's okay to admit that the way we're called to walk isn't easy and that we struggle. Elijah had enough, and he wasn't afraid to admit it to himself or to God. In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul reminds us that it is okay to be angry. It's not a sin to be worn out or to feel those emotions we'd probably rather not. The sin comes when we become complacent in those emotions when we try to hide them away and feed them rather than trying to move through them.
When Elijah came to God, scared, exhausted, and upset, God did not scold Elijah. Instead, he understood and sheltered him with his presence and provided him with rest, refreshment, and strength for the journey that lay ahead. The story of Elijah and the broom tree reminds us that it's okay to be human, to feel the things we feel, and it's okay to be exhausted and at the point of giving up. That is a normal part of being alive, and it's a normal part of the journey of faith. The story of Elijah and the broom tree teaches us that when we find ourselves at the point of giving up, we are called and invited by God to withdraw here, under the shadow of another tree, the tree of the Cross. Here God offers us shelter to rest in quiet and in prayer. Here God invites us to be refreshed by his word and the solidarity of others and to be fed as the angel fed Elijah. Yet the bread God offers us is not ordinary bread, bread cooked on rocks which Elijah ate. Instead, God provides the bread of life we heard about in the Gospel reading this morning, the true and living bread that came down from heaven, Jesus Christ.
Whenever you're exhausted or hurting, sad, or angry when you reach your breaking point and feel like you can't go on -whether that's now or years from now- don't be afraid to feel those feelings. Be honest with yourself, with God, and with others. Then come, come to the shelter of the Cross. Come and rest here. Come because God calls you and invites you. Come because God understands and let him care for you, let him refresh you, and feed you with the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ given to us in the forms of bread and wine. Come because without this food and without this community, the journey will be too much for you.
.Proper 13, Year B
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15; John 6:24-35
August 1, 2021
In this story from the book of Exodus, the Israelites are out in the middle of the desert with nothing to eat. God had promised to provide for them, but they are hungry…so hungry that they wished they were back in Egypt. It is better to live in slavery with full stomachs than to die of starvation, right? The Israelites don’t have the courage to confront God directly and accuse him of betraying them, but instead grumble to their leaders Moses and Aaron.
I’m not sure about you, but were I faced with being in the desert with no food, especially after God had promised to provide for me, I would likely feel resentful toward God. God had set them free from the evil yoke of slavery they had been under in Egypt, but they were still far from trusting him. They thought God would let them die of starvation. Faced with this deep fear , they didn’t seem to remember God’s loving promise to Abraham and his descendants to bring them safely into the Promised Land.
Despite their resentful attitude, God responds not in anger, but by generously fulfilling his original promise. He immediately commits to satisfying their physical hunger by giving them meat in the evening and bread in the morning. The Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction.” Yes, God provided food to satisfy their physical hunger, but he does it in part to test their obedience and trust in his providence. This story is more about faith and trusting in God’s promise than it is about physical food.
Fast forward nearly 1,300 years to this scene from John’s gospel. As we heard last week, Jesus had just fed 5,000 people with five loves and a couple of fish, and he has literally walked on water to get to this scene. So the crowd’s first question is a bit strange: they ask him when he had arrived. Instead of answering their bizarre question, Jesus shows that he knows their true motive in seeking him out. He says, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” The crowd didn’t get the purpose of the loaves and the fish – they responded to that miracle by trying to kidnap him and make him king by force! Likewise, they don’t get it when he says to them, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”
Despite the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 – despite Jesus’ having walked on water – they still demand some greater miracle! They remind him that during the Exodus, God supplied their ancestors with daily bread from heaven, not only for one meal but for forty years. The crowd still doesn’t get it. They are looking for physical sustenance, like the manna God provided the Hebrews in the desert, to provide for their physical needs. They certainly didn’t expect to hear that God sent his son Jesus to provide the world with food that endures for eternal life.
The key to this passage is verse 29 when Jesus said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him who has sent me.” Believe! John never uses the Greek noun for faith but always its verbal form which is translated here “to believe.” Biblical scholar Raymond Brown defines its use in John as denoting an active commitment to a person, especially Jesus. Significantly, 74 out of 98 uses of this verb in John are in the first thirteen chapters where Jesus invites people to have continuing and active trust in him.
Jesus finally corrects the crowd’s misunderstanding. They demand, “Sir, give us this bread always.” What they demand is what they already have in the presence of Jesus: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty”.
Like the crowd, we too are far from trusting in God. No matter how many times God tells us, we still fall back into thinking that we can only receive God’s grace by working hard – by pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps. We often think that God loves good people and doesn’t love bad people, and since we often behave badly, God doesn’t love us. We often fear that God won’t provide for our physical or emotional needs. Like the ancient Israelites in the desert, we are far from trusting him.
When God reassured the Hebrews that he would indeed fulfil his promise to them, he told them only to take enough bread for that day. Later in Exodus chapter 16, we learn that despite Moses telling them to not “leave any of it over until morning,” not all of them listen, with some trying to store some of the bread until morning only to find the excess the next morning to be spoiled and foul.
Like the manna that fed the Hebrews in the desert, God’s grace cannot be stockpiled. We can’t build up reserves of grace to be used whenever we need it, but only receive it moment by moment as part the daily bread we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer.
The only way we can actively trust in God is to live in the present moment. We have no hold on the past – we can’t change the slightest bit of it. We often try to relive past events that we consider to be failures – “I should have done this, I should have done that” – but these imaginary scenarios are fantasies: it isn’t possible to change a thing that is past. Likewise, we have very little hold on the future. Despite all of our planning and foresight, everything can change in the blink of an eye. Who would have thought that we’d be in the situation we are in with COVID-19 in July 2021 with rising cases and a new mask mandate despite a nearly limitless supply of vaccine!?!? We can’t program our lives in advance, but can only receive it moment by moment. It is only in the present moment that we can actively trust God to provide for our every need.
Jesus said, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him who has sent me.” Dear friends, let us believe – let us actively trust our Lord, moment by moment, to provide for our every need. Let us ask God for our daily bread – for the grace we need in this moment, and when he provides it to us in the bread and wine at the communion rail, let us receive with joy and gladness this food that endures for eternal life. And let us recommit ourselves to trusting in him today and every day until we are brought at last to the Promised Land of heaven. Amen.
 John 6:26.
 John 6:14.
 John 6:27.
 https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-18-2/commentary-on-john-624-35-5, quoting Raymond Brown.
 John 6:35.
 Ex. 16:20
 Jacques Philippe, Interior Freedom, trans. Helena Scott (New York, NY: Scepter, 2007), 88.
 Most of this paragraph is from Philippe 81-82.
Mr. Brandon Smee
In our Ephesians reading, Paul writes: “I pray that you might have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge - so that you might be filled with all the fullness of God.” Paul’s prayer is very familiar to me. When I was in college, my pastor used it as a blessing every Sunday. Its words drew me in even as they eluded me. The breadth, length, height, and depth of what exactly? How can we know love that surpasses knowledge? That should be impossible, right? Is Paul confused, or is he onto something profound? And what does it mean to be filled with the fullness of God? Can we ourselves be filled?
I think we’re all seeking the breadth, length, height, and depth that Paul names. To say it another way, we’re trying to get away from everything that’s formless and void. In the Bible, the writer of Genesis calls the world formless and void until God speaks forth creation in all its goodness. God turns emptiness into substance. But when sin and evil obscure God’s presence among us, creation gets warped out of shape, and it forgets its nature. Formlessness and emptiness spread. We don’t have to look far to see this happening today: ecological crises, pandemics, violence, and systemic oppression. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. Even in this room, there are personal struggles with debt, relationships, illness, and loss. This is not how God spoke creation to be. This is the formless and void, the emptiness at work. Paul’s prayer on the other hand turns us to a different possibility. He points us from the world of emptiness to a world that has substance. He takes us with him from the void to the fullness that has breadth, length, height, and depth.
But what really is this breadth, length, height, and depth that we’re looking for? Theologians are of diverse opinions. Augustine said it’s the Cross because it has four dimensions. John Calvin said it’s the four virtues of love, hope, patience, and humility. But even Calvin conceded that his answer was no less made-up than St. Ambrose’s proposal that it’s the four dimensions of a sphere. Imagine that! The apostle Paul praying a geometry lesson over the Church of Ephesus!
But Paul isn’t talking about geometry, or even Calvin’s virtues. He’s going much further, to the very heart of existence. The breadth and length are the unmeasurable span, the height and depth are the unsearchable distance. We’re talking about the power behind creation itself, the Word by which God speaks it, the same Word that gives form to all things. This creative force should be a mystery outside our reach. But for Paul, it isn’t far at all. With God’s help, we can comprehend it. The mystery of the creation has descended to where we are. In Christ, we take hold of it. Our Lord Jesus is all of who God is united with all of what we are. In Jesus, we behold the broad, high, and deep things of God. He makes the unknowable known.
What does it look like for Christ to make the unknowable known? In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus does something impossible with ordinary things. He takes one boy’s lunch and feeds thousands of hungry people. Some scholars have ventured scientific explanations of this event. The most incredible proposal I’ve heard is that Jesus had a massive secret storehouse of food in a cave out of sight. The disciples were clandestinely carrying baskets of food out of the secret pantry. Another proposal holds that the boy sharing his lunch reminded people that they also had food enough to share with others, so that everyone ate.
But both of these explanations take something vital out of the story - the unknowable becoming known. How does one lunch become 5000 lunches? How does that happen in real-time? I don’t know, but they ate the bread and fish. They gathered leftovers. To the emptiness of their stomachs, Jesus’ blessing brought abundance. And in the same way, Jesus brings the fullness of God to the world. He does impossible things with the ordinary, filling what’s empty. The hungry people could never have found this fullness by their own effort, but God puts it within our grasp in Christ: unknowable love made known.
Jesus is the length, breadth, height, and depth. Jesus makes known the love that is beyond knowledge. Jesus contains the fullness of God within all of what we are. This vision of Christ is what Paul is praying the Ephesians will comprehend. We may wonder what it looks like to comprehend that vision. Paul puts it simply at the end of his petition: us, filled with all the fullness of God.
There are biblical examples of people full of God. The Blessed Virgin Mary exemplifies having the fullness of God within you She bears Christ in her body. In her, we see that God gives fullness completely out of sheer love and grace, and entirely apart from our power and ability.
In the Old Testament, Deborah got the power to prophesy and delivered the people of Israel from their enemies. She did so despite the male-dominated culture against her. Full of God’s Spirit, she became a place of God’s work on earth.
And let’s not forget the writer of this letter, the Apostle Paul. He started off bent on oppressing the vulnerable to protect the purity of his nation. But, he transformed into one whose life’s work was bringing Gentiles and Jews together in Christ. The fullness of God looks like the power to turn from violence and to draw people to Our Lord.
But this fullness doesn’t just happen in the biblical past. We see it today. Every time a friend in Christ struggling with substance use experiences sobriety, we see it. When people who have suffered abuse find safety, we see it. When the traumatized find healing in the family of God, and when the poor and oppressed find supply, jubilee, and justice, we see it. The fullness of God brings the holy action of God. This is the power working within us, doing infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. In all these ways, the emptiness of the world becomes the more-than-enough of God. We are not only filled, but we receive the power to answer Jesus’ call to find the hungry something to eat. God in us begins to renew the form of the world. The Spirit of Christ makes us places where God fills creation again.
This fullness is not far from us. Even if it feels far. Today we have another meal which Christ will supply. Every sacrament makes unknowable love known, but particularly in the Eucharist, we are filled with the spiritual food and drink of new and unending life in Christ. Even if we cannot see the breadth, length, height, and depth of these elements, the bread and wine are not empty. In them, we receive the very body and blood of Christ.
God’s fullness fills us as we partake of this sacrament, as we pray, and as we do God’s sacred work. Here God brings fullness to the emptiness of our world and we see the length, breadth, height, and depth despite its current formlessness. By grace, our lives show the mystery of God just as Christ’s life does. For this, ultimately, is what it means to have the fullness of God: Christ in us. Amen.
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Fr. Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
18 July 2021
Today’s Gospel presents a scene with which we are all too familiar. Jesus and his disciples are so busy that they don’t even have time to eat. How many times have we found ourselves so busy working or running around doing errands that we have to grab a quick bite or even miss a meal? We are told in the Gospel that “many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” So, Jesus tells his disciples: “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while” (Mark 6:31). They get into a boat to get away from the crowd. But by the time they arrive at their destination, the people have beaten them to it.
Jesus and his disciples will have to forego their downtime in this episode. But throughout the Gospels, we find many instances of Jesus retreating to a quiet place for rest, away from the crowds. And what does Jesus do during these times of solitude? He prays. Rest, for Jesus, is not just an opportunity to take a break from work. It is an opportunity to renew and refresh himself as he communes with the Father. Rest is sacred, time alone with God. And Jesus calls on us, his followers, to do likewise: “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves, and rest a while.”
For some of us, following Jesus’ call to rest may mean making a trip to Conception Abbey for a couple of days every month, like Fr. Charles does. For others, it may be setting aside times during the day to pray the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer. And, of course, for us Christians, as well as Jews, we cannot talk about rest without mentioning the sabbath.
Several years ago, I attended a Bar Mitzvah. It was for a couple of boys who were friends of my nephews’. I was struck by the beauty of the service and the many similarities to our Christian liturgy – the prayers, the scripture readings, and even some of the gestures. I could see where so much of our worship is rooted in ancient Jewish tradition and practice. On a side note, my nephews, who were confirmed in the Episcopal Church a few months earlier, were impressed by the lavish reception that followed, and wondered why the Christians haven’t followed suit in throwing big parties after Confirmation. The boys’ parents had rented a part of Arrowhead Stadium for the party.
During the Bar Mitzvah service, each of the boys gave a speech. And something I heard in one of those speeches has stayed with me. The boy explained that one of the greatest Jewish contributions to the world is the idea of the sabbath, the setting aside of one day of the week to rest from work. The boy shared his personal experience of how much the sabbath meant to him and his family in providing the time to be with one another.
Observing the sabbath as a holy day of rest is one of the foundations of Judaism, rooted in the Ten Commandments. The third or fourth commandment, depending on how you count them, proclaims: “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God…For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it” (Exodus 20:8-11). The sabbath is holy because God has ordained it so and has set an example in the Creation.
From Judaism, observing the sabbath spread to Christianity, though we do so on Sunday instead of Saturday in commemoration of Jesus’ resurrection on Sunday morning. And, in the modern world, this idea of a weekly rest period has become institutionalized and expanded to include Saturday for a weekend package. Prior to this, most societies took their rest on festivals days and certain periods of the agricultural season. So, the idea of a weekly time of rest was quite revolutionary and transformative.
It used to be that like the Jews, Christians used to quite serious about keeping the sabbath. Some of you may have seen the movie “The Chariots of Fire,” which came out in 1981. The film is based on the life of Eric Liddell, a Scottish athlete and devout Christian, who, in the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, refused to run in the heats for the 100 meters, in which he was favored to win the gold, because they were held on a Sunday. He competed instead in the 400 meters, held during the week, and he won. Sorry for the spoiler, those of you who haven’t seen the film.
On a more personal note, both my parents lived for a few years under the North Korean communist regime of Kim Il Sung, the current leader Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, in the late 1940s before the Korean War. The government would schedule mandatory athletic and extracurricular activities for schools on Sunday in order to target the Christian students. When they wouldn’t show up, they would be punished by the teachers on Monday morning. Christians in the past have paid a dear price to keep the sabbath. It was a mark of their Christian identity.
But in recent times, especially for us in hard-working America, we’ve come to largely ignore the sabbath. Some of you may remember the days when everything was closed on Sundays. We still have some vestiges of the so-called blue laws, such as the one prohibiting the sale of alcohol in groceries on Sundays. But it used to be that all businesses shut down, not just Chick-Fil-A. And going to church wasn’t an option. Almost everyone, at least in this part of the country, went to church Sunday morning. But now not only is Sunday like any other day; we have kids’ soccer games and other activities that can make it one of the busiest days of the week. Going to church has become just another option for the day off from work.
Our society may have drifted away from keeping a day of rest, but we need it more than ever. And it is not just our bodies that need the rest; our spirits need it, too. In our Book of Common Prayer, we find this prayer about the importance of rest: “God of peace, who has taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and in confidence shall be our strength.” In returning and rest we shall be saved. As Christians, we have the opportunity each Sunday, our sabbath day, to return and rest, and find our salvation in the Holy Eucharist. It is our ultimate source of spiritual renewal and refreshment.
At St. Mary’s, we have a wonderful tradition of the altar party and the choir praying in the chapel in preparation for worship. Among the prayers, we find these words from the Psalms: “O send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling, Then I will go to the altar of God” (Psalm 43:3-4). This altar is our holy hill. Just as Jesus retreated to the mountains or wilderness to rest and pray, we leave the world behind us and ascend this holy hill to rest and pray. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, and the noises of the world around us, Jesus calls us: “Come away…rest for a while.” He calls us to join him at the altar to pray. And he nourishes us with His Body and Blood. Let us, then, come into His Presence to find our rest. May we be renewed and refreshed to go forth to do His work in the world. Amen.
 Book of Common Prayer (New York: Church Publishing, 1979), 832.
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.
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!