Proper 28 – Matthew 25:14-30
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
November 15, 2020
Today’s gospel reading is the well-known Parable of the Talents. It is often understood as being about stewardship, which, to be honest, is rather convenient during the annual pledge campaign. You’re in luck, though, as that’s not the direction the Spirit led me, though I will remind you to return your pledge card if you have not already done so. The former banker in me got intrigued by some of the economic details in this parable, so that’s where we’ll go for a moment.
The word “talent” as used in this passage is a transliteration of the Greek word talanta, which skews our understanding of this passage. Talanta means a large sum of money equal to the wages of a day laborer for fifteen years. It is because of the wide circulation of this parable that “talent” came into the English language in the Middle Ages as a term for God-given abilities. But the talents in this story refer to sums of money; there are other Greek words used to describe God-given abilities.
The master entrusted his three slaves with huge sums of money, more than most of us will ever be entrusted with in our lives, certainly at any one time. Using my banker spreadsheet skills, my calculations indicate that one talent is roughly equivalent to half-a-million dollars in Kansas City in 2020. Think about it – he entrusted the first slave with the equivalent of $2.5MM, the second slave with $1MM, and the third with $500,000.00.
As a banker, it’s hard to imagine entrusting anyone, let alone a slave, with such a great sum. Collateral would be required, as well as income verification and evidence of the applicant’s credit history, etc. The text says that the first two slaves “went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents.” This process is referred to as moneylending, which was usually conducted through the Roman temples. These temples were not only religious institutions, they doubled as banks because they were well guarded, and deposits were considered safe there. Since few people had capital, those who did could lend money at significant interest. Investors thus could receive five or even ten times their investment; at the very least, they could double their investment.
The two servants who traded the money entrusted to them earned double their money, which wouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone hearing this story. In fact, the first two slaves aren’t the key actors in this story at all. They are merely supporting actors to provide a reference point to the lead character: the third slave.
Though the third slave was given less money than the other two, he was still entrusted with roughly $500,000 in today’s currency, a huge sum of money. On the surface, he seems to have been the most risk-adverse of the three. Rather than investing the money which would introduce some risk of loss, he chose to hide the money in a hole in the ground. In first century Palestine, people sometimes buried money in a strongbox to keep it safe, but it would have actually been safer with the bankers, and it would have very likely doubled. When it was his turn to account for what he had done with the money, the third slave says something that would have shocked the original audience: he calls him a harsh man, insulting his master, and blaming his master’s harsh character for his own failures. But he reveals his true motivations when he says “so I was afraid, and I went and hid your money in the ground.” It is not a conservative, risk-adverse investment approach that leads to his demise, it is his fear.
After giving an account of their actions, the master responds to the first two slaves, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” They aren’t being lauded for their obedience, but rather because they were actively responsible while the master was away. They took initiative and accepted some level of risk, while the third slave’s fear of his master paralyzes him, resulting in his inactivity while his master was away.
This parable is the third of four stories in the gospel of Matthew in which Jesus tells about the implications of the end times. All four of these stories center on the return of the master or bridegroom or king, the judgments that come with that return, and how those who await his return spend their time.
Rather than being about stewardship, this parable is about how we should spend the time the Lord has given us until we see him face to face, either because of our own death, or because of his coming again with power and great glory at the end of time. Like the slaves were entrusted by their master with extravagant amounts of money, God loves us extravagantly more than we could ever deserve. What will we do with the love with which we’ve been entrusted? Will we, out of fear, sit idly by and play it safe throughout our lives? Or will we embrace the fact that we are truly loved by God, and then actively and intentionally work to expand his kingdom here on earth by extravagantly loving those around us in word and in deed?
It is difficult for you and me to not only accept but embrace the fact that God loves us. Deep down in our bones. For we know that we are prone to act in self-destructive ways, and we know how many warts and blemishes we have underneath the surface. We often feel inadequate and afraid. The reality is that we are made in God’s image, and by his death and resurrection, Jesus has begun to restore us to what we were in the Garden of Eden before Adam and Eve ate the apple – before the warts and blemishes and inadequacies and fears came to be. By our baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection, we have access to the riches of God’s grace to help us overcome our fears and live an active life of faith, loving God with all that we are, and loving our neighbor as ourselves.
How will you spend the time with which you’ve been entrusted before the master’s return?
 Keck, Leander E. The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary. VIII, Abingdon Press, 2015, 335.
 NRSV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. Zondervan, 2019, 1682.
 Verses 21 and 23, NIV.
 David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Louisville (Ky.): Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 308.
Year A, Proper 27
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
November 8, 2020
The texts we hear in the liturgy in these last few weeks of the church year are strange to modern ears, as they talk about “the last things” using rather dramatic and fantastical imagery. In the three weeks preceding Advent, the Church invites us to in the liturgy to wrestle with this question: what does the coming of the Lord mean to us today?
For some Christians, Paul’s message to the church at Thessalonica explains a doctrine called “the Rapture.” The word Rapture comes from the Latin rapiemur which is the Latin translation of the Greek word that Paul uses in verse 17 to describe what will happen to those who Christians who are alive when Christ returns – that they will be “caught up” (raptured) in the clouds to meet with Jesus and those who have gone before. Some believe that this passage isn’t about the coming of Christ at the end of time, but is about a distinct event that happens before then in which all true believers in Christ will be snatched up to heaven, leaving behind those who are destined to live through times of calamity and war and destruction in the years preceding the Lord’s coming in glory.
Others hold that this passage is about the Second Coming of Christ, which we all profess to believe in when we in the Nicene Creed say “he shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.” Paul’s description of this event is quite dramatic: the Lord himself descends from heaven with a cry of command, and the archangel’s call and the sound of God’s trumpet, and all Christians, dead and still living, are caught up in the clouds where they will meet the Lord in the air (vs. 16-17).
What beautiful and dramatic imagery! But Paul is not giving us a description of what will happen at the end of time. He’s addressing a particular group of people in a specific time and context. The early Christians who heard this message believed that Christ would come again immediately within their lifetime, so much so that Paul had to remind the Thessalonians twice to keep their jobs and continue working. Expecting Christ’s return at any moment, they worried about what would happen to the faithful who had already died. What would come of these poor souls when Christ came back again?
It’s important for us to hear this passage in light of the early Church’s fear about what would happen to those who had already died. “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.” (v. 14). The physical resurrection of Christian believers is bound up with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In other words, those who have already died will not miss out on the return of Christ in glory – they too will be there. Paul is emphasizing here the unity of the living with the dead.
Instead of focusing on the details of exactly when and how Jesus will return a second time, this passage is better seen as addressing one of our deepest human fears – that of being abandoned by those whom we love. It’s more about the Communion of Saints than it is about “the end times.” It’s ironic that this passage is, for some, a source for stories of children coming home to an unexpectedly empty house and being frightened that the Rapture had occurred and that they had been “left behind.” Rather than being about fear, this passage is about hope.
We live in a world deeply in need of hope. We live in a world where persons of color are disenfranchised and subject to continued discrimination. We live in a world in which some of our fellow human beings will not observe simple and effective public health protocols and wear a mask to protect others. We live in a world in which the most vulnerable are dying at an increasing rate of COVID-19. We live in a world where fear abounds.
In the three weeks preceding Advent, the Church invites us to in the liturgy to wrestle with this question: what does the coming of the Lord mean to us today?
It means a great many things – more than we can cover today. But one thing is for sure – the promise of the coming of the Lord give us great hope. Hope that we will be reunited with those who have gone before us. Hope that the gun violence will one day come to an end. Hope that wars will cease and there will be no more need to thank our veterans for their valiant sacrifice and service. Hope that each person will follow public health guidelines out of care and respect the most vulnerable in our society. Hope that COVID-19 will be eradicated and we can pack this place out again and hear the choir lead us in worship. Hope that the bridegroom will come and lead us to the heavenly wedding banquet.
As our burial liturgy reminds us, the Eucharist is a foretaste of that heavenly banquet. At this and every Eucharist, we are brought into the presence of the great company of Saints – those who are here with us, and those who have gone before. It is when the Church celebrates the Eucharist that we are closest to the dead. No matter how we may feel, in this liturgy, we are brought so close to them that all of creation seems to groan and long for the day when all will be made whole, when the endless violence will finally cease, when Christ will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, when the immigrant will be fully welcomed in the foreign land in which he finds himself – the day when all our hopes will be fulfilled. In this Eucharist, let us receive the Sacrament as a comfort in affliction, as a pledge of our inheritance in that kingdom where there is no death, neither sorrow nor crying, but the fulness of joy with all the saints.
“For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.” Amen.
All Saints Day
October 18, 2020
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Church
One of the biggest changes around here at St. Mary’s since the pandemic began is that we aren’t having the reception after the 10:00 Mass (on Sunday). And we’ve had a surprising number of new, regular worshippers who have only known St. Mary’s since the pandemic began, but because coffee hour has been cancelled for safety reasons, they don’t get to stick around and meet other parishioners. It has been bizarre welcoming new people to our community without it.
I’m still trying to meet with every new person who comes through the door, but for obvious reasons, I’ve been trying to meet with people here at the church rather than in a coffee shop or restaurant. Since we don’t need it for the reception, a couple of months ago, the staff and I created a little living room area in the northwest corner of the parish hall with a couple of hand-me-down couches and chairs. The furniture is spread way out so that a few people can safely meet and chat for a bit. It’s been very interesting watching newcomers gaze up at the portraits of the previous priests of St. Mary’s that line the walls of the parish hall. With one obvious exception, Mtr. Lauren Lyon, the newcomers have had a plethora of white men to gaze at. Some are young, some are old, some look happy and content while others look scared and seem to lack self-confidence.
I’ve recently done some digging around the St. Mary’s archives at the Central Library, and during this first round of research, I’ve focused on my predecessors, both those who made the cut and are featured in the parish hall and those who did not.
Fr. John Klaren was one of the latter. He was priest-in-charge for about 8 months in 1918 at the end of World War I, and I came across a one-page court deposition in which the secretary of the Vestry gave testimony that Fr. Klaren had approached him and said a lot of nasty things, including the fact that the vestry and the wider parish were made up of “wicked men and must be rebuilt from the bottom up.” He added, “You yourself are not quite as wicked as some of the others, and I hope, perhaps, to make a place for you on the new Vestry [I wish to form].” The deposition also mentions that Fr. Klaren made the following announcement to the congregation on Easter morning: “The congregation are requested to pray for Arthur W. Miller into whose heart Satan has entered as he did in the heart of Judas Iscariot. Let us all join in silent prayer for our brother.”
Fr. Klaren’s portrait is not on the walls of the parish hall for a reason.
Beyond the occasional juicy tidbit like this, the archives are full of articles and photos and newspaper clippings and vestry minutes that exude holiness, and this is certainly true when it comes to the two longest-serving rectors of this parish, the portraits of whom are not only in the parish hall, they’re also hanging prominently on the back wall of St. George’s Chapel. Fr. James Stewart-Smith served as our rector for nearly 24 years from 1891-1915, and there are so many beautiful stories about his devotion to prayer, both at the altar and in private, and about his love and devotion to the poor of Kansas City. He developed the hobby of creating wrought iron scrollwork from the ironworker who created and installed the rood screen and this very pulpit. Various items that he made out of wrought iron are still with us, most importantly the cover for the baptismal font at the back of the church, and the crucifix in the inner sacristy where the clergy vest. Fr. Stewart-Smith died of a heart attack late one evening not long after his 64th birthday when he climbed the steep staircase leading up to the apartment after counseling the family of a deceased parishioner.
Fr. Stewart-Smith has become one of my heroes.
Another is Fr. Edwin Merrill who served this parish for 35 years from 1918 to 1953. He, too, was devout in prayer and in service to the poor. He was particularly gifted as a musician, and during his tenure, the congregation (and outside benefactors) raised the money to install a new organ in the church tower as well as replace the clear glass windows with many of the beautiful stained glass windows in existence today that lead us all to God. One evening, after hearing a confession, Fr. Merrill climbed the same steps to the apartment to retire for the evening and stopped to catch his breath, and died peacefully at the age of 74. At his retirement party, Bishop Welles said this of Fr. Merrill: I have tried to think of an apt quotation to describe the life of Fr. Merrill, and I believe that the 13th verse of the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians fits him well. “And now abideth faith, hope, and love…” Not only has he promoted the Christian faith, he has, himself, faith in human beings. During the Great Depression, and those were tough times for this downtown church, he never lost hope, and his hope was contagious.”
Like all the saints throughout history, these two men were considered especially holy for one reason: they allowed themselves to receive the riches of God’s grace and mercy through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. And that’s what we celebrate today on All Saints Day: those Christians who in some way figured out how to allow themselves to receive God’s grace and forgiveness despite their own sin and wickedness – those Christians who loved God with all they are and their neighbor as themselves.
In my initial research in the archives, I focused on the clergy of St. Mary’s, but intermingled in their stories is, of course, the stories of your predecessors in faith in this holy place. Some of them stand out as particularly holy, and some do not. Today, on this great feast of All Saints, we remember the heroes of the faith and ask for their prayers, not because of their blameless lives, but because of their extraordinary ability to receive God’s unconditional grace and mercy. After the Creed, we will ask the saints to pray for us. As we do, you will recognize many of the names of the heroes of the faith. They represent the million upon millions of souls who have followed Christ through the ages. They represent the many thousands of souls who have walked down this aisle here at St. Mary’s to receive the body and blood of Christ. They represent “all those who rejoice with us, but upon another shore, and in a greater light, that multitude which no man can number, whose hope was in the Word made flesh, and with whom in the Lord Jesus we are one forever.” They represent the whole Communion of Saints to us because they figured out how to allow themselves to receive God’s extravagant grace and mercy.
As you and I ask for their prayers, let us be mindful that just as Fr. Merrill had a contagious hope, we should be hopeful that even the likes of the apparently awful Fr. Klaren may have lived a later life of holiness. For as St. Augustine once said, ‘There is no saint without a past, no sinner without a future.” All ye holy men and women, saints of God, pray for us, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. Amen.
 From the service of Nine Lessons and Carols.
Proper 25, Year A
October 25, 2020
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
I lived in Paris for two years after graduating from college, and during my time there, I often found myself wandering over to a neighborhood called Le Marais to eat a falafel sandwich. The Marais is a fascinating neighborhood in that it is both the center of LGBT culture, and, for the past 200 years, the center of Jewish life in Paris. I’m sure my jaw dropped the first time my boss and his wife took me here to get a falafel sandwich. We turned a corner, and saw an Orthodox Jewish family with 6 children, all in religious clothing, standing in front of a shop flying a large, rainbow flag. Orthodox Jewish men wear small boxes on their foreheads called phylacteries that contains tiny scrolls of parchment inscribed with four sets of verses from the Torah (the first five books of the Bible). One of those four passages is known as the shema:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
In response to the question, “Which commandment in the law is the greatest”, Jesus responds with a direct quote from this passage in Deuteronomy.
What does it mean to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind? Back in my days as a Southern Baptist, we sang all sorts of contemporary Christian songs in church about loving God in an emotionally-charged way that almost sounded like we were singing about our love for our significant other.
But most scholars don’t believe that the term “love” here refers primarily to an emotion. Political treaties and other covenants in that time and area of the world used the word “love” to mark the proper attitude and behavior of parties toward each other, especially vassal subjects to their overlords. To love God as one would love a human king entails primarily action, not emotion. To love is to be faithful and loyal in fulfilling the obligations of the covenant. To love God means to obey God’s commandments with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. In other words, to love God with your entire life. With all that you are. To be faithful to him in every part of your being, and in your choices and behavior.
That is the first and greatest commandment, according to Jesus. But the second is like unto it: thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. This is another quote from the Torah, but this time from our first reading today from Leviticus chapter 19 which is all about how the holiness of God should be reflected in human beings. For many years in my own life, I understood the call to holiness to mean a call to be pure. Don’t hang out with “those people” as they may lead you down the wrong path. Instead, surround yourself with other Christians who think as you do. Don’t let yourself be polluted by the thinking and behavior of those who don’t. In this passage from Leviticus, we see a very different way of understanding holiness. It’s not as cut and dry, and it can be very messy. The call to holiness is an invitation to what one commentator calls “inclusive wholeness” in which “you shall not render an unjust judgment” or “go around as a slanderer” or “hate in your heart anyone of your kin.” While the word “neighbor” in most places in the Hebrew Bible refers to fellow Israelites, just a few verses later in Leviticus 19, we see where holiness finds it fulness: “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” In other words, the ultimate expression of holiness is granting equal citizenship status to the resident alien.
Loving God with all that you are, and loving your neighbor as yourself, is hard work. Active love of God is much more of a duty than it is an emotion. And love of neighbor is even more difficult, I think. It is easy to love people who look and think like me…who have the same values and general outlook on life as I do. It is much more difficult to love the stranger – the person “over there” who is different than I am. It’s much easier to act with loving-kindness and mercy and generosity with those who elicit the feeling of love in your heart. Who looks into the eyes of their enemy and feels a strong sense of love?
The love Jesus calls us to today is not passive, but rather is something we do. It’s not about emotion, it’s about faithfulness. We are to love God with all that we are – with our hearts, our souls, and our minds. And we are to love our neighbor – our fellow man – even, no especially those who are different than us – as ourselves.
What would the world look like if everyone heeded Jesus’s two Great Commandments? What would our political discourse look like? How about our parish?
How might God be calling the gay shop owner in the Marais to love the Orthodox Jewish man with a long beard and a phylactery on his forehead?
What is one area in your life in which you are not loving God wholly? Who is the person or group of people you dislike the most, and how might God calling you to actively love them more fully?
 Deuteronomy 6:4-9, NRSV.
 Leviticus 19:33-34, Jewish Study Bible, p. 243.
 David Bartlett, and Barbara Brown. Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008, 198.
St. Luke’s Day
October 18, 2020
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Church
“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
On the surface, this well-known verse, given to us in a timely fashion by the lectionary gods, will quickly and easily solve some of the immediate problems we face. We are two-and-a-half weeks from Election Day. Pay your taxes, and go vote! And like many churches, we are beginning our 2021 Stewardship Campaign. Fill out a pledge card and give money to support the church! Here endeth the sermon.
Some passages are that simple, but not this one. Jesus is dealing with the Pharisees and the Herodians, who, very strangely, have come together to agree on something. The Pharisees opposed the Roman Empire, and the Herodians actively worked with it. It was their hatred of Jesus that brought these politically opposed groups together to try to trap him on the issue of taxation.
In order to butter him up, they do a bit of shameless brown nosing: “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one, for you do not regard people with partiality.” Then comes the loaded question: “Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?” If he answers “no”, he could be arrested for enticing folks to break the law, but if he says “yes”, he would be selling out to the evil Roman overlords.
Instead of falling for their trickery, Jesus responds by widening the issue at hand and says, “Show me the coin used for the tax.” Any coin they would have produced in response would have had the image of the emperor’s head on the front along with the inscription “Tiberius Caesar, August Son of the Divine Augustus”, while the back said, “Pontifex Maximus” – high priest. When they show him the coin, he asks them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” The translation we use, the New Revised Standard Version, comes up short here in that the Greek word “eikon” has a broader meaning than the English word head. “Image” is how it’s typically translated. “Whose image is this, and whose title?”
Jesus is getting at something much more important than taxation: this coin may bear the image of the Emperor along with his divine title, but human beings bear the image of God. Remember that line from the creation story: “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image.'” Yes, that coin has Caesar’s image, but we ourselves bear God’s image. In other words, Jesus responds: “Caesar made this; give it back to Caesar. But God made you; give yourself back to God.”
And that, my friends, is stewardship. According to the canon law of The Episcopal Church, as your rector, I’m required to ensure that you receive instruction in Christian stewardship, among other things, and that includes the biblical standard of the tithe for financial stewardship. So consider yourselves instructed! Yes, as Christians, we are called to give back 10% of our income to God, specifically to the local church. If you’re anything like me, you give financially, but not quite at 10%. I’ve been working on that by increasing my pledge 10% every year for the past couple of years, and if my math is right, should be there in the next couple of years.
But even if you give 10% faithfully and regularly, that’s not enough. God calls us to give back to God what is God’s – ourselves, our souls and bodies. Beyond giving back our money, we are to give generously and consistently of our time, and our talents and skills. Jesus isn’t making a ruling about taxation, he’s reminding us who we are: we are made in the image and likeness of God, and we are to give ourselves back to the One who created us.
As much of you may dislike hearing the clergy exhort you to give your money to the church, I hope you’re even more scandalized by this invitation to offer your whole selves back to God, a task which sounds ridiculously daunting and even oppressive. On the surface, it seems to be the exact opposite of the freedom that God gave the first man and woman in the garden of Eden. How easy it is for us to forget that they had absolute freedom….except for the tree. That was the only limit on their freedom! But like the Pharisees and Herodians in Jesus’s day, the serpent was crafty and was able to convince Adam and Eve that such a limit on their freedom was unacceptable. We, too, are forced to reckon with this question in our own lives: which is more freeing? God’s way, or the way of the world? To whom will we render ourselves? To God, or to Caesar?
It’s much easier to give ourselves over to the ways of the world. The craftiness of the Evil One has not diminished over the centuries, and it is easy to be tricked into giving up ourselves to the ways of this world. We will only recognize the trickery if we are faithful in prayer, and when we fall into sin, we choose to repent and return to the Lord. We will only know the freedom of Christ’s resurrection if we sacrifice ourselves as he did on the cross, but in our case, it’s not a one-time execution. When we were baptized, we began the daily process of being buried with him into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead, so we too might walk in newness of life. And we are called to repeat this daily pattern of putting on our baptism again, and again, and again.
You’ll be hearing more from our Vestry and others about financial stewardship in the coming weeks, but in the meantime, I invite you to recommit yourselves to giving back your whole selves to God. I invite you to pray at home every day – if want to talk through some different prayer options that might work for you, please call me or shoot me an email. For it is only in regular, consistent prayer that you will have the courage and strength to say no to the ways of this world and yes to God. And I invite you to join me at the altar today in offering and presenting yourself – your soul and body – to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice to God. Amen
 Verse 16.
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
The Rev. Dr. Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
October 11, 2020
Joy is one of the central features of our Christian faith. We express this joy through the greetings that we share during the two biggest celebrations of the year – “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Easter.” And we can witness the joy everywhere in our public worship and private devotions – in our hymns, in our prayers, and in our liturgy. The Psalms are filled with joyful praise to God, and, in the Gospels, including today’s reading, the Kingdom of Heaven is pictured as a banquet – a joyful and festive celebration. The great Christian writer C.S. Lewis used the phrase, “surprised by joy,” to describe his conversion from atheism to faith, and it’s the title of his autobiography, which some of you may have read. Joy is, indeed, a part of our Christian DNA.
In today’s Epistle reading from Philippians, the Apostle Paul focuses on this key Christian virtue of joy when he says: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). Joy is one of the main themes throughout the entire letter to the Philippian Church. Paul begins the epistle by saying that he is “constantly praying with joy” (1:4). Later, he speaks of “joy in faith” (1:25) and how he wants the Philippians to “make my joy complete” by having the same intent and mind (2:2). And he calls the beloved Philippian community his “joy and crown” (4:1).
What is ironic about Paul’s emphasis on joy in his letter to the Philippians is that he is writing from a dark, gloomy, rat-infested Roman prison. And this is not the first time that Paul is in prison. The Bible records at least three times when he was arrested and thrown into jail, and ultimately, he will be executed under the Emperor Nero. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul presents a long litany of all his sufferings:
Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked (II Corinthians 11:24-27).
If anyone had cause to complain and be bitter, it was Paul the Apostle. His great missionary journeys to spread the Gospel around the Mediterranean world came at a huge cost to his personal life. How can a man who suffered so much be so joyful?
Paul’s joy springs from his faith in Jesus Christ. As he says in his letter, his joy is in the Lord. It is not a superficial emotion that he is conjuring up to keep a stiff upper lip; it is a deep and abiding sense of peace and delight, rooted in the experience of divine presence and love. He knows that no matter what the situation, God is there with him, and that even in death, he has nothing to fear because Christ has conquered death and redeemed us to eternal life. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he writes: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?... [Nothing can] separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).
Grounded in the knowledge of God’s constant presence, Paul rejoices at all times. And whenever he finds himself in a tough situation, he taps into this deep and abiding reservoir of joy through prayer and song. In the Acts of the Apostles, we have the story of Paul and his fellow missionary Silas being arrested, flogged, and imprisoned for causing a public disturbance with their preaching. We are told that while in prison, Paul and Silas prayed and sang praises unto God. They did not let the beating and imprisonment get them down. They rejoiced in the Lord through prayer and song.
Another way that we see Paul tapping into the joy of his faith is through expression of love for his fellow believers. While in prison, he writes letters to the beloved communities that he founded, recalling joyful memories and reminding himself of their love and support. In the letter to the Philippians, he calls the community “my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown” (4:1). Paul experiences joy as he pictures in his mind those whom he loves and who love him.
We may not be languishing in a dark prison cell like the Apostle Paul, but we, too, face our trials and tribulations. For some of us, this pandemic has created both physical and psychological confinement and isolation, where we experience despair and depression. And the social and political turbulence raging around us in our nation has created anxiety and fear. We may wonder when the doom and gloom will ever end.
But, as people of faith, we are called to rejoice even in our darkest moments. Let the Apostle Paul be your inspiration and model. He prayed, sang, and loved to bring the light of God’s joy into his prison cell. Dear friends, no matter what our situation may be, God is there with us. So the next time you find yourself in a tough situation, pray, sing, think of the love of your family and friends. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
 Christian A. Eberhart, “Commentary on Philippians 4:1-9,” Working Preacher. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2148.
St. Francis Day
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
October 4, 2020
St. Francis is by far one of the most beloved saints in the history of the Church. He’s primarily known for his love for animals as is depicted in the beautiful window in the back of the church, but a deeper dive into his life and ministry reveals a much more complex saint whose simple-and-yet-radical life of devotion to Christ has so much to offer us today.
Francis was born in the year 1181, one of several children of an Italian father and a French mother. His father Pietro was in France on business when Francis was born in Assisi, Italy, and his mother had him baptized as Giovanni. When Pietro returned home, he changed his son’s name to Francesco, likely because of his love for all things French.
Francis’s father was a wealthy silk merchant, and he grew up amongst rich friends with a love of worldly pleasures. He was handsome and charming and loved by all around him. Fulfilling a hope of his father’s, he, too, fell in love with all things French – the songs, the romance, and especially the troubadours of France who wandered around Europe at the time. He longed to be a knight, and when Assisi declared war on the nearby town of Perugia, Francis joined the war effort at age 20. Most of the troops from Assisi were killed, but those wealthy enough to be ransomed were taken prisoner. After a year in prison, he was ransomed, and still wanted to be a nobleman. As he left to go join the papal forces in their war against the Emperor, he had a dream in which God called him to renounce his worldly pleasure and return to Assisi. His conversion wasn’t immediate. But, he began to actively seek out God.
One day, in the church of Saint Damian, he seemed to hear Christ saying to him, "Francis, repair my falling house." He took the words literally, and sold a bale of silk from his father's warehouse to pay for repairs to St. Damian’s. His father was outraged, and there was a public confrontation at which his father disinherited and disowned him, and he in turn renounced his father's wealth. One account says that he not only handed his father his purse, but also took off his expensive clothes, laid them at his father's feet, and walked away naked. He declared himself "wedded to Lady Poverty", renounced all material possessions, and devoted himself to serving the poor.
Throughout his life, he was torn between a life devoted entirely to prayer and contemplation, and a life of active preaching of the Good News. He ultimately decided on the latter, but always returned to solitude when he could. Francis and his companions took literally the words of Christ when he sent his disciples out to preach:
Preach as you go, saying, "The kingdom of Heaven is at hand." ... You have received the Gospel without payment, give it to others as freely. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, no spare garment, nor sandals, nor staff.
The simplicity of his self-imposed poverty, and his utter devotion to serving the poor, is striking. If there was a simple way, no matter how impossible it seemed, Francis would take it. For example, when he wanted approval for his newly-founded Order, he went straight to Rome to see the Pope. The pope, seeing a beggar, threw Francis out. But he persisted, not only getting an audience with him, but he ultimately convinced the pope to give him a license to preach (something that deacons like him were not typically allowed to do at the time).
Francis considered all nature as the mirror of God, and called all creatures “brothers and sisters.” In one of the many stories about him that has endured, he preached to the birds and persuaded a wolf to stop attacking the townsfolk and their livestock if they would only agree to feed the wolf. As we know, Francis is the patron of animals which is how the tradition of blessing pets on his feast arose.
While he is most famous for his love and respect for Christ as seen in the animals and in creation, Francis’s love for Christ in the Holy Eucharist was deep. He was never ordained priest. From his writings about how priests should be respected because by their hands the Eucharist is confected, it isn’t a stretch to believe that he never got ordained because he thought himself unworthy of the holy work entrusted to priests. He said this in a letter to the priests in his Order: “O sublime humility! O humble sublimity! That the Lord of the whole universe, God and the Son of God, should humble himself like this and hide under the form of a little bread, for our salvation!”
During his final years, he gave up his role as superior of his order and lived as an ordinary brother. His years of poverty and wandering caught up with him, and he became ill, going blind and suffering from the first recorded case of the stigmata, or the appearance of painful wounds on the body corresponding to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus.
St. Francis not only cared for the poor, he became poor and identified with them. He embraced suffering for his Lord, the Lord that he adored in the Most Holy Sacrament. As we prepare ourselves to receive communion by hearing God’s word read and preached, by confessing our sins and our weakness, let us ask God for the grace to offer give our whole selves to him. Let us ask God for the grace to hear his voice wherever it may be heard, and to respond with Francis’ utter devotion and simplicity. St. Francis, pray for us!
 This paragraph comes from: http://www.satucket.com/lectionary/Francis_Assisi.htm
 Matthew 10:7-10 (NRSV)
Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
8 March 2020
Nicodemus is an intriguing figure. Mentioned only in the Gospel of John, he comes to Jesus under the cover of night. He has heard of Jesus’ teachings and miracles, and even acknowledges his divine authority. But Nicodemus wants to talk with Jesus in secret, away from the public eye. A teacher of the law and a religious leader, Nicodemus needs to be careful about his reputation. Yet as learned and well-respected as he is, Nicodemus has difficulty understanding Jesus’ teachings. Jesus tells Nicodemus during their conversation that “no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus responds in astonishment: “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3: 1-6). Nicodemus takes Jesus’ words literally to the point of absurdity – physical rebirth, reentering the womb, and he misses entirely the point that Jesus makes: spiritual rebirth and renewal.
Nicodemus is not alone in being confused about Jesus’ teachings. It happens frequently to Jesus’ own disciples. There are numerous accounts in the Gospels where they misinterpret his words; they just don’t seem to get it. For instance, in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus warns his disciples about the religious hypocrisy and corruption: “Watch out, and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” But the disciples mutter to themselves: “It is because we have brought no bread” (Matthew 16: 5-12). Like Nicodemus, the disciples take Jesus’ words literally and find themselves confused.
Lest we judge Nicodemus and the disciples too harshly, Jesus is not always so clear and straightforward. He speaks in parables, metaphors, and hyperboles, and he often presents difficult and controversial ideas. Centuries of biblical scholarship testify to the depth and complexity of Jesus’ teachings. When I went to seminary, I thought, like many of my fellow students, that a formal theological education would give me all the answers, and I believed that becoming a priest meant that I would need to have the Christian faith all worked out. Well, to my surprise, I discovered that the more I learned, the more I realized how little I knew. Far from answering all my questions, seminary gave me more questions.
Furthermore, now that I am actually working in a church, I am encountering more areas where my training and knowledge are lacking. Ordained ministry is like other professions; you learn far more on the job than when you were in school. Here at St. Mary’s I don’t know how many times I’ve had what might be called “Nicodemus moments.” I frequently ask Fr. Charles or a member of the Altar Party a question about the liturgy or theology, and, every once in a while, I will ask that really stupid question. And, of course, everyone is very kind in responding, but I can only imagine what is going through their minds: “You’re asking what? And you’re a priest?”
As we can see from the examples of Nicodemus and the disciples, as well as our own personal experiences, Christian faith is quite complex. We will never have all the answers to our questions, at least in this life. When we look across the broad and diverse spectrum of the Christian Church, even the clergy and the experts don’t always agree on doctrine and practice. And ultimately there are limits to our ability to reason. Our finite human minds are not capable of fathoming all the mysteries of our infinite God.
So all of us can probably identify with Nicodemus when it comes to confusion at certain points on our faith journey. For me, I can identify with Nicodemus in yet another way. He makes a second appearance in the Gospel of John. This time he is with his fellow Jewish leaders, who are plotting to arrest and punish Jesus. While his colleagues are raging against Jesus and his movement, Nicodemus quietly raises a procedural question: “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?” His colleagues lash back with suspicion and anger, and ask whether he might be one of Jesus’ followers, Nicodemus is quickly cowered into silence (John 7:45-52). When I read this, it seems like something that I would do. Like many of you, I’m assuming, I have an aversion to confrontation or conflict, especially when it involves holding a dissenting view. But at the same time my conscience would compel me to speak up. So I would try to do it in a way that is as diplomatic, risk-averse as possible. And if that doesn’t work, I’ll beat a hasty retreat, like Nicodemus. Academic types are rarely known for their boldness and courage.
The views of Nicodemus in the Church are split. Most Protestants do not see him favorably because of his failure to openly proclaim his faith in Jesus. He comes to him secretly at night, and his protest in his meeting with Jewish leaders is quite mild and ambiguous. John Calvin, the great Reformed theologian and leader, castigates Nicodemus for possessing a mind “filled with many thorns, choked by many noxious herbs.” He is, in other words, confused and unable to make a clear profession of faith. During the Protestant Reformation, Nicodemus even lent his name to the creation of a term, “Nicodemite,” to refer to those who disguised their faith, in particular Protestants who tried to pass as Roman Catholics to avoid persecution.
As much as I respect the Protestant reformers, especially Calvin, I think that they are unfair to Nicodemus. Frankly, I think they’re wrong. It’s not only that I can personally identify with Nicodemus in temperament; the Protestants seem to neglect what Nicodemus does later in the Gospel – his final act. He makes a third appearance in Gospel of John, and this time it is at Jesus’ Crucifixion.
For all the confusion, hesitation, cowardice, and even duplicity, Nicodemus, in the end, takes courage and steps up. While other followers of Jesus, including most of the disciples, flee for fear of their lives and abandon their Lord, Nicodemus comes forward to bury him. We are told that Nicodemus brought a hundred pounds of costly myrrh and aloes to embalm Jesus’ body (John 19:39). As a result of this act of faith and devotion, Nicodemus is remembered quite differently in other Christian traditions. He is venerated as a saint in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, as well as among Anglo-Catholics. His feast day is August 3.
Dear sisters and brothers, our Lenten journey is taking us to the same place where Nicodemus found himself, at the foot of the cross. This past Wednesday, here at St. Mary’s, we began our weekly Stations of the Cross. And for me I had the additional privilege of joining our sister parish, St. Augustine’s, for their weekly Stations of the Cross this past Friday. If you haven’t already, I would encourage all of you to come either to St. Mary’s on Wednesday or to St. Augustine’s on Friday and experience this beautiful and powerful service in which we visualize and meditate on the suffering and death of Jesus Our Lord.
On your service bulletin today, you will find the photo of a statue sculpted by Michelangelo, depicting the body of Jesus being taken down from the cross by Nicodemus, the Virgin Mary, and Mary Magdalene. In the stories of the Passion and Crucifixion, we often do not notice Nicodemus, but he was there, embracing Jesus’ body. Nicodemus cast aside his initial reluctance and fear, and took his place at the cross.
Let us join Nicodemus at the foot of the cross. There, at the foot of the cross, we will gather with him and countless other followers of Our Lord, and we will witness and grieve his suffering and death. But it is also there, at the foot of the cross, that we will claim the hope and promise that Our Lord first proclaimed to Nicodemus that night he came to him: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16, King James Version). Amen.
 Karoline Lewis, “Commentary on John 3:1-17,” Working Preacher. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=43.
 John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel According to John, Vol.1, trans. William Pringle (Edinburgh: Calving Translation Society, 1843), 107. Quoted in Robert Hoch, “Commentary on John 3:1-17,” Working Preacher. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1979.
First Sunday in Lent
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
March 1, 2020
I ran across an Internet meme this week that described Lent as “a religious holiday commemorating the time Jesus gave up chocolate and soda for forty days.”
A better definition of Lent is that it’s a solemn religious observance in the liturgical calendar in the 40 days leading up to Easter in which Christians prepare for the Resurrection of our Lord by engaging in the ancient disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
That said, it seems to me that our gospel reading from Matthew is a somewhat strange Scripture passage for the first Sunday in Lent. While we are beginning our forty-day-and-forty-night fast, Jesus’ forty days are already over! Matthew’s story focuses more on the temptation of Jesus AFTER the fast has concluded. It’s doesn’t seem like the most pragmatic way to begin Lent.
But the Church, in her wisdom, has chosen this passage for today. It would be awfully nice if it were a practical set of instructions of how to live during our Lenten journey. But maybe it’s not meant to be practical. Maybe the Church is simply trying to tell us about Jesus: who he is, and what sort of character he shows.
In the first temptation, the devil quotes Scripture and encourages Jesus to satisfy his physical hunger by turning stones into bread. When the devil says, “If you are the Son of God,” the word “if” could be translated from the Greek as “since” – “since you are the Son of God.” The devil isn’t expressing doubt about Jesus’s identity or power. He’s rather trying to deceive Jesus into using his power to satisfy his own physical needs rather than trusting the Father for them. Jesus responds in kind by quoting Scripture, affirming that life is sustained by more than physical food; it is sustained by every word that comes from the mouth of God. Jesus will not misuse his power to satisfy his own physical needs.
The second test focuses on the need for security and safety. For the second time, the devil quotes Scripture, and this time, he tempts Jesus to make himself safe from injury or even death. Jesus recognizes once again that the devil is taking Scripture out of context: Scripture does not endorse testing God’s protective grace for the sake of self-protection. Jesus will not misuse his power to make himself safe and secure.
In the third temptation, the devil tries to seduce Jesus with domination and prestige. He offers Jesus control over all the world’s kingdoms, along with the splendor that comes with it, if he will only swear allegiance to the devil. Again, Jesus isn’t led astray. He rejects the tempter’s deception and quotes scripture again in its context saying, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” Jesus will not misuse his power to gain earthly power and prestige.
Just as Jesus was tempted, so we will be. Jesus didn’t respond to temptation by succumbing to it, or fleeing to another selfish vice to escape, or by complaining to God, or by wondering what he may have done wrong to deserve it. He responded by deepening his dependence on his Father. The very temptations he experienced – materialism, security, and prestige – are not foreign to us. We experience them every day. The appropriate response in resisting them is to turn to God for help instead of relying on our own power.
What are you giving up for Lent? What are you denying yourself? Jesus spent forty days and forty nights fasting in the wilderness, and it was this intentional period of self-denial that prepared him to endure and ultimately overcome these temptations by the devil. Even though Lent began this past Wednesday, it is not too late to find a way to be intentional about denying yourself something you hold dear. Intentional self-denial is helpful in the spiritual life because it reveals the things that control us. We cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but in denying ourselves, the things that control us come to the surface. If pride controls us, it will be revealed almost immediately. Anger, bitterness, jealousy, strife, fear – if they are within us, they will surface during intentional periods of self-denial. But we should be prepared: when they surface, we will be tempted not only to stop denying ourselves, but also to sin. If we’re properly prepared and watching for these things to surface, we can then respond as Jesus did: we can turn to God for help and rely on his grace to strengthen our will to choose to overcome all assaults and temptations of the devil. Self-denial reminds us that we are sustained “by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (v. 4). Whatever it is that we’re giving up – that is not what sustains us; God sustains us. Therefore, when we give something up during Lent, we are not so much abstaining from something as we are learning to rely on God to give us everything that we need and more. 
While this passage teaches about who Jesus is and what sort of character he shows, there is one significant difference between how Jesus responds when he’s tempted, and how we respond: Jesus never sinned and we do. You and I might choose to respond to temptation in the wrong way. We may choose to give in to our more carnal urges and gorge on whatever it is that we’ve supposedly given up. If this happens, do not lose heart! Don’t wallow in the guilt that you feel, but instead turn to God for help and pick back up right where you left off!
During the Season of Lent, our fasting and self-denial will engage the dark places in our hearts, giving us an opportunity to come face to face with them, name them, understand them, and seek forgiveness for them. We will be tempted to rely on the devices and desires of our own hearts rather than the grace of God to overcome temptation. We will fall into sin and then be further tempted to allow the guilt we feel to keep us captive. But Lent is not about guilt, it is about freedom from the control that our fears and insecurities have over us. It is about the amendment of life and new beginnings. Lent is about learning anew that we are sustained by every word that comes from the mouth of God.
Friends, this Lent, let us train our very souls as a runner trains to run a marathon to depend on God to give us everything we need…and more. Amen.
 The discussion of the three temptations comes primarily from David Bartlett, and Barbara Brown. Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008, 47-49.
 Much of this paragraph came from Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline 54-55.
 Bartlett 48.
The Last Sunday after Epiphany-Year A
Given at St. Mary’s Church, Kansas City Sunday February 23, 2020
Exodus 24:12-18, 2 Peter 1: 16-21, Matthew 17: 1-9
+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I love the liturgy! For those of you who know me that’s not a very surprising statement. I’m a liturgical nerd par excellence. I love everything about how the church worships. Why we do what we do, how it’s supposed to be done etc.… However, as much as I would love to stand up here and talk to you about liturgical minutiae this morning (something I am always happy to do) that’s not exactly what I mean when I say I love the liturgy. I was talking with a good friend this week who lost her grandmother a few years ago. They were very close, and after her grandmother’s death my friend got angry with God, as we often do when we’re dealing with grief and hadn't been back in church since, until this week when she had to go back for a funeral. As the funeral liturgy was playing out and they got to communion my friend told me that she had this experience of warmth and love that was incredibly tangible to her in that moment, in that time and space, she told me she felt as if Jesus was reaching out to her from the cross and embracing her and for the first time in two years she felt God’s presence and knew that he loved her.
That's what I love about the liturgy of the church, because when we gather for worship, God reaches out to us regardless of whether we're regular attenders, we've been away for a while, or this is our first time through the doors of a church. God is present, and when we celebrate the liturgy, time and space open up and fall away, heaven and earth collide, and when we remember an event we don't just call it to mind like the fond memories of our childhood but when we remember something liturgically it becomes present through the power of the Holy Spirit and we experience it here and now in an objective way through the Word of God proclaimed and preached and through the means of sacramental bread and wine. So today, as we hear the story of Jesus taking Peter, James and John up a high mountain, we don’t just remember a day, and an event, that happened over two thousand years ago in another part of the world. Instead Mt. Tabor becomes present and we join them in their ascent, and we are there standing beside them as they see Jesus transfigured in glory.
To fully understand the significance of the event we witness with them and to truly comprehend what it means to them, and to us, we have to go back a few days to the scene where Jesus asks the disciples “Who do people say the son of man is?” they give him answers they've heard in the crowd… “some say you're John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets. ” But Jesus wanted to know more than that…he wanted to know who the disciples said that he was and Peter in this very great moment entirely uncharacteristic clarity professed “you are the Messiah the son of the living God!”
It is with this proclamation of faith fresh in their minds that Jesus reveals to them his glory on the Holy Mountain. The glory of the living God, the glory that Moses sees prefigured in the cloud on Mount Sinai, the glory that reveals beyond a doubt and confirms who Jesus truly is. And so today with Peter we exclaim “Lord it is good for us to be here!” because, like Peter and the other disciples, we too, over these last days and weeks since Epiphany, have through our participation in the liturgy, been on a journey of revelation and realization. We heard of the wisemen’s visit and with them we worshiped the newborn king. We were there standing next to Mary and Joseph in the temple as Jesus was circumcised and fulfilled the law for us. We were there with Simeon and Anna as they rejoiced and glorified God for the salvation that was promised, the salvation they now held as a baby cradled in their arms. We were there on the banks of the Jordan River as John the Baptist professed that Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, and we watched as Jesus went down into the waters of chaos to identify with and take upon himself his fallen creation. We journeyed with Jesus as he went from town to town teaching and preaching in the synagogues, we saw him heal the sick and call people of all walks of life, including you and me, to follow him no matter the cost.
Today on the mountain we see Moses and Elijah speaking with Jesus, and we know from Luke's account of the transfiguration that they’re speaking of Jesus’ departure, or put rather more plainly, of his crucifixion. Moses and Elijah are there to bear witness to Jesus and to confirm for the chosen disciples, and for us that he is the one of whom all of the law and the prophets bore witness to. From this time on once they descend the mountain Jesus turns his face towards Jerusalem towards the cross, towards his departure from this life and from this world. He knows that Peter, James, and John aren’t expecting what’s about to happen and so he gives the transfiguration as a gift to these chosen disciples, so that the dark days of his passion and death will not make them lose all hope. Saint Leo the great in a sermon on the transfiguration From the 5th century gives voice to the reason for the transfiguration in this way , and I quote, “the reason for this great transfiguration was to remove the scandal of the cross from the hearts of his disciples and to prevent the humiliation of his voluntary suffering from disturbing the faith of those who had witnessed the surpassing glory that laid concealed…”  The disciples needed that reassurance because they didn’t know the end of the story, they didn’t yet know that Jesus would have to die on the cross, they didn’t yet know that Jesus’ death wouldn’t be the end of the story, or what amazing things God had in store for them. We on the other hand know the end of the story and we know that the cross is not the end of that story. We know that it's not something that Jesus was forced to do or something that wasn't planned but it was the way in which our God who loves us chose to reveal to us who he is and what he is like. We know that it is through Jesus’ death on the cross that we are freed from the sin and death which kept us captive and that it is through the suffering of the cross that Jesus takes on and sanctifies the fullness of our human experience. We know that the joy of the resurrection comes after the sorrow of the cross, and that in the end everything will be all right and that we have hope for a better world where pain, loneliness, fear and everything that troubles us in this life will be no more.
We know the end of the story, and yet year after year on this Sunday as we transition from Epiphany to Lent, as we arrive at the halfway point between Christmas and Easter the story of the transfiguration is placed before us to hear again, and experience anew, not because we need it to strengthen our faith but because it is, in the words of our opening hymn this morning, a vision of the glory that the church may share, and as we prepare to enter once more this holy season of penitence and self-denial, we are invited to journey up the mountain with Moses and spend forty days in the presence of God, we are invited to spend forty days face to face with Jesus in the desert, and to walk with him the long and lonely road to Calvary where on the cross we see the fullest revelation of who God is and what God is like. And walking with him to Calvary It is for us to “follow him with all speed, yearning for the heavenly vision that will give us a share in his radiance, renew our spiritual nature and transform us into his own likeness making us forever sharers in his own godhead and raising us to Heights as yet undreamed of.” 
This is the goal of our entire Christian life, not just in lent but every day. In Baptism we are called to enter into union with the Triune God, to be transfigured and to grow in God’s love and service. In the season of lent as we remember in a particular way our own sinfulness: both as individuals and as a society, and as we place before ourselves our need for a savior, and take up practices of self-denial and penitence it is the perfect time for us to “retire from the world, stand aloof from the earth, rise above the body, detach ourselves from creatures and turn to the creator.” We attempt to set aside those things which hold us back and make us afraid to behold God’s glory in doing so we are better able to encounter the glory of God revealed on the mountain to us today, we are better able to see Jesus and only Jesus, as Saint Matthew tells us the apostles did.
As we prepare to enter this holy season of lent let us keep the all that we have seen and heard these past weeks fresh in our memories and through our participation in the liturgy of the church…coming to this altar day after day and week after week… let us encounter again and again the glory of God revealed in Jesus Christ who gives himself to us in the forms of bread and wine. Through eating this heavenly feast let us be transfigured into his image and likeness and be brought into full and perfect union with him who is the very image of the invisible God, which we saw on Mt. Tabor. Let us descend from the mountain to the mundane and often boring realities of our day to day lives, boldly proclaiming with Peter that we have been eyewitnesses of his glory. And knowing the end of the story and the hope that is ours through the resurrection, let us share with all those around us the good news what God has done. Let us tell a broken and hurting world that the God of the Universe, the God of Glory became one of us and gave his life for us on that other holy mountain, and that he wants them too to come to know him…That he loves them and is reaching out from the cross to embrace them in a warm embrace, an embrace which sets everything aright if we allow ourselves to be transfigured.
 Leo the Great Sermon 51
 The Chapters of Anastasias, Abbot of St. Katherine’s: Letter 1
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!