Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year B
May 16, 2021
The Rev’d Charles W. Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
What does reading a mystery novel and going on a retreat at a monastery have in common?
Both are forms of escape from the world. When you read a mystery novel, you get lost in the story, fantasize about the lives of the characters, and so on. When you go on retreat at a monastery, you’re at least supposed to disconnect from electronic devices and the world at large and spend time in prayer and meditation. In both cases, you get to escape from the world around you.
We all need escape from time to time. We live in a world of constant pressures including complicated relationships, budgets, commutes, and other time constraints. It’s also full of temptation to sin, and oppressive societal pressures like sexism and racism and terrorism and the like.
Since the beginning, Christians felt the need to escape from the world. We want to follow Christ with all that we are, and being in the world in the midst of temptations and those who challenge our faith can be exhausting. We’ve glimpsed a vision of what is good and holy, and have experienced genuine Christian community where we forgive one another and learn to love each other despite our faults. We even experience a foretaste of heaven each time we celebrate the Eucharist together.
Some Christians throughout history have responded to this by living communally with likeminded Christians in monasteries or convents. On a smaller scale, many more occasionally visit monasteries or convents for a brief retreat from the world around us. In both cases, there’s an attempt in some way to “create a space, unencumbered by the world, that allows for a fuller realization of a faithful, holy Christian life.”
I remember back in my evangelical days when I was taught that allegiance to Christ meant avoiding certain movies, or abstaining from alcohol, or observing the rule that persons of the opposite gender couldn’t come in my dorm room as it might lead to an inappropriate sexual encounter. We were taught to avoid chunks of the world in order to be able to avoid becoming entangled in the world in such a way that living a faithful and holy Christian life isn’t possible.
The early Christians who heard Jesus’s prayer from St. John’s gospel lived in a conflict-ridden world in which being a Christian resulted in persecution. I can only imagine that they fanaticized about escaping to a world in which the Roman Emperor became a Christian, got baptized, and stopped persecuting them. A world where practicing one’s Christian faith was seen as admirable. A world where it was easy to gather with other Christians to tell the stories of Jesus and regularly receive him in the bread and the wine. A world where simply being a Christian isn’t dangerous.
This is the context of Jesus’s prayer. Note that it doesn’t include a request that they be allowed the luxury of escaping from this world. He instead asks the Father to protect them in his name. Jesus acknowledges that he and his disciples “do not belong to this world.” (v. 14) But he specifically prays, “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.” Christ didn’t call them into community to escape from the world, but instead to stay in the world under God’s protective care. We too are called to stay in this world, in the midst of the terrors of mass shootings, and nuclear weapons, persistent racism, gender inequality, and even a global pandemic. But to stay in the world under God’s protective care. We are called to live life amid all of the evil in the world without ourselves getting entangled in it.
The fuller realization of a faithful and holy Christian life cannot be found in escape from the world, but instead in dedicating oneself to God entirely while still being an active part of the world. In verse 17, Jesus prays “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” The word “sanctify” means “total dedication to God.” This realization of holiness isn’t found in escape, but is found in the truth of God’s word – Jesus – as he is revealed in our world day in and day out.
Remaining in the world is not without its risks. Being a Christian without being wholly dedicated to Jesus leaves us open to succumbing to the evil around us and getting off track. What does being totally dedicated to God look like in everyday life?
The key is prioritizing one’s life by putting God before everything else, and more specifically by setting aside intentional time to pray and read the Bible.
Our evangelical brethren call this setting apart of time to spend with God “a quiet time.” It was a time when one is supposed to read the Bible and pray. My problem was this: I often found myself wondering what part of the Bible to read, or what to pray. I would pray for my family, and those who were sick, and various church leaders, but after that, what was there to do?
It was the discovery of what our prayer book calls the Daily Office that answered this question for me. In The Episcopal Church, the Daily Office consists of Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline with Morning and Evening Prayer being the primary and most important of the offices. These prayer services mark the hours of each day and sanctify the day with prayer. The Daily Office isn’t a magical thing to be done when you feel the need to escape, but it is a tried and true method to be sanctified in the truth. It’s all about prayer and the Bible, all tidied up and ready for you and I to use in our everyday lives. On the one hand, when I discovered Morning and Evening Prayer, I was grateful that the Church provided a systematic way to pray that has stood the test of time, and grateful that I no longer had to wonder how to proceed in private prayer; on the other hand, I no longer had an easy excuse when I didn’t know what to pray.
The Daily Office may not resonate with you. There are plenty of organized ways to pray and study the Bible out there, both new and old. The important thing is actually making time to pray and read the Bible! If that’s not something you’re doing now – or have ever done in your life – don’t be scared! Take the plunge and give it a try! Spend five minutes in the morning in quiet prayer, beginning by praising God and thanking him for his grace, followed by a few minutes listening to God, and then ending with intercessory prayer for those you love.
Jesus prays, “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” This is the opposite of getting out of the world! That said, we can’t escape the temptation to escape from the world. But Jesus is redirecting our desires today. We should look to “create a space, unencumbered by the world, that would allow for a fuller realization of a faithful, holy Christian life,” not by escaping from the world, but by dedicate ourselves to Jesus Christ while living our lives in the world under God’s protective care. We are called to live life amid all of the evil in the world without ourselves getting entangled with the world. In order to do this, we need to intentionally spend time with God in prayer by sanctifying ourselves in the word which is truth. One way to do this is by praying the official prayers of the Church in the Daily Office, but there are many other ways. We are called not to disengage from the world, but intentionally press into God while still in the world, and in so doing, we receive the grace and fortitude to live as a Christian in the midst of our broken world that we might have a more abundant life, right here, and right now. Amen.
 David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Louisville (Ky.): Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 545.
 Verse 11.
 Feasting 547.
 Michael D. Coogan, Marc Zvi Brettler, Carol A. Newsom, and Pheme Perkins, The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version : With the Apocrypha : An Ecumenical Study Bible. 4th ed. (Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford UP, 2010), 1910.
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
The Rev’d Charles Everson
May 13, 2021
As the psalmist said, “God is gone up with a merry noise, and the Lord with the sound of the trumpet.” According to the Scripture, on the very first Ascension Day, the Lord commissioned His Apostles to preach the Gospel to all nations; then, having blessed them, "he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9).
After all the disciples had been through with Jesus – the agony of his death, and the joy of his resurrection – it’s hard to imagine the sadness and despair they must have felt when he disappeared from their sight. The disciples saw him after the resurrection – they felt the marks of the nails in his hands and his side, and even ate with him – but now he’s gone.
Not only is God gone up, humanity is too! For we believe that God humbled himself to share in our humanity in the incarnation of Jesus Christ at Christmas. Through the mystery of the Ascension of Jesus into heaven, we who are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under the Lord’s table, are taken up with him. In the words of St. John Chrysostom, “Our very nature, against which Cherubim guarded the gates of Paradise, is enthroned today high above all Cherubim.”
Despite their sadness, the disciples were hopefully prepared as they heard their Lord tell say to them,
“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
Unlike the disciples, we know how this plays out. Ten days after Jesus’s ascension, the Holy Spirit comes with power with a sound like the rush of a violent wind. Jesus keeps his promise and does not leave us orphaned. Though his body left this earth, by the mighty power of the Holy Spirit, he continues to work in the world today primarily in the Sacraments of the Church. By the power of the Spirit, when someone is baptized, they are cleansed from sin and welcomed into the household of God. By the power of the Spirit, the same Jesus who ascended body and soul into heaven on that first Ascension Day is the same Jesus who is here among us in the consecrated bread and wine.
Let us give thanks that “God is gone up with a merry noise, and the Lord with the sound of the trumpet!” Let us give thanks to God for not leaving us orphaned. Let us give thanks that “when two or three are gathered together in [his] name, [he] will be in the midst of [us].” And let us give thanks that we are not alone – that God is manifesting his presence to us by the Holy Spirit in the face of the poor, and in the most holy Sacrament of the Altar.
 Hom. in Ascens., 2; PG, 50, 414.
 John 14.
Sixth Sunday of Easter
Text: John 15: 9-17
Fr. Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
9 May 2021
The Gospel of John is often called the Gospel of love. The theme of love occupies a central place in the book. Perhaps the most-quoted Bible verse of all time – one that I am sure you have heard on many occasions – comes from the Gospel of John, and it is about love: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16). But love is a broad term, an overused word in our society, with multiple meanings, everything from romantic and platonic love to fondness for puppies or ice cream. What does love mean in the Gospel of John?
In our reading today, John connects love to friendship. Jesus tells the disciples who are gathered around him: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). Ultimate love, according to Jesus, is sacrificing oneself for a friend. Jesus goes on to explain that the relationship between himself and the disciples is defined by friendship. They are bound together by love. And, as friends, Jesus has shared with them everything that he has heard from the Father. For the Gospel writer John, this section on the sacrificial meaning of love is a foreshadowing of Jesus’ Passion and Crucifixion. Jesus will soon set a personal example of ultimate love by laying down his life for his friends on the cross.
In the Hebrew Bible, the paradigmatic story of friendship is that of David and Jonathan. As the young David rises in his military and political career at the court of King Saul, he becomes best friends with his son, Jonathan. So powerful is their friendship that we are told that Jonathan’s soul “was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (I Samuel 18:1). When Saul sets out to kill David out of jealousy and hatred, it is Jonathan who arranges for his friend’s escape. When Jonathan dies on the battlefield, David mourns his death and declares that Jonathan’s love was “wonderful, surpassing the love of women” (II Samuel 26). Later, after the demise of King Saul’s family, David cares for Jonathan’s sole surviving son.
Another beautiful story of friendship in the Hebrew Bible is that of Ruth and Naomi. Although Ruth is Naomi’s daughter-in-law, she goes beyond her familial duties, and the relationship becomes one of loving friendship. After the death of her two sons, including Ruth’s husband, Naomi plans to return to her home in Judah. The family had been living in the land of Moab following a famine in Judah. Now with her husband and sons gone, Naomi instructs her Moabite daughters-in-law to return to their natal homes. One daughter-in-law obeys and departs, but Ruth refuses to leave Naomi. She insists on accompanying Naomi to her homeland and adopting it as her own. Ruth proclaims her self-sacrificing love for Naomi with these eloquent and moving words: “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die—there will I be buried” (Ruth 1:16-17). In the end, Ruth prevails, and she follows Naomi. Subsequently, Ruth marries a kinsman of Naomi, Boaz, and they become the ancestors of David.
The Israelites were not the only people in the ancient world who celebrated friendship. The Greeks had a similar ideal of friendship. In the legend of Pythias and Damon, the former is accused of plotting against King Dionysius of Syracuse, and is sentenced to death. Pythias requests permission to go home to settle his affairs before the execution. When the king refuses, Pythias’ friend Damon steps forward and volunteers to be hostage until his friend’s return. If Pythias does not return, Damon is willing to be executed in his stead. The wait begins, and the king is suspecting that Pythias will not show up. But when he does return, the king is not only surprised; he is so moved by the friendship of the two men that he allows both to go free.
The celebration of friendship seems to be a universal phenomenon. In China, for instance, friendship is considered one of the five cardinal human relationships according to Confucian philosophy. The foundational text for Confucianism, The Analects, begins with these words of the Master, Confucius: “Is it not a pleasure to have friends come visiting from afar?” The ideals and values of friendship manifest themselves across many different cultures and societies.
To return to the Gospel of John, calling Jesus our friend is not just a metaphor. Jesus’ friendship is a lived reality. Jesus has many friends, for instance, the siblings Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. The Gospel of John says that “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (John 11:5). He dines with them, and he chats with them. We can imagine him sitting in their home sharing stories and jokes, as well as his troubles and concerns. In other words, Jesus does not just go about preaching and working miracles all the time. He has a social life. Jesus’ friends provide him with companionship and support, and joy and love, and he does the same in return. Moreover, he makes himself vulnerable in his friendship. When Lazarus dies, he weeps. Toward the end of Jesus’ ministry, one friend betrays him, another denies him, and the rest take flight. Jesus’ experience of friendship was no exalted state of perfect bliss. On the contrary, it was subject to the same challenges and risks that we take on in our friendships. Jesus was fully human.
One of the favorite hymns that I grew up with in my Presbyterian and Methodist family is “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” It’s not in our Episcopal hymnal, though it used to be. The first verse goes like this:
What a Friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear.
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!
The hymn is a wonderful profession of faith in Christ’s saving grace and power, all that he will do for us as a friend. But what the hymn seems to leave out is the fact that friendship is a two-way relationship. Jesus is our friend, but, at the same time, we are friends to Jesus. So, then, what is our role and responsibility as Jesus’ friends? How do we respond and reciprocate? In the Gospel of John, Jesus makes it clear: “You are my friends, if you do what I command you?” And what is this command, this condition for friendship with Jesus? He answers: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” And Jesus in his life and death shows us how to be a true friend. We are to offer each other up to Christ and to one another, and we take on the risks and vulnerability in the relationship.
The friendship that Christ teaches and models is not about what we have to gain but what we are willing to lose. We may not be called to lay down our lives for Christ or for one another, but we may be called to give up our time, money, or other aspects of our lives that we value. Whatever the price may be, however, nothing can compare with the privilege of calling Jesus our friend.
Third Sunday of Easter
Text: Luke 24:36b-48
Fr. Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
18 April 2021
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus appears to his followers three times before his ascension to heaven. First, he appears to Cleopas and another follower, who are traveling after the crucifixion from Jerusalem to the town of Emmaus. Jesus joins them on the road, but they do not recognize him. Only after he spends time with them talking and sharing a meal are their eyes opened (Luke 24:13-33). The second appearance is to Peter, but the Gospel only mentions the fact in passing and provides no description (Luke 24:34).
Today’s reading is the third and final post-resurrection appearance. The disciples have gathered and are excitedly talking about the news of Jesus’ appearances when he suddenly comes to them. We can only imagine the shock and disbelief. In fact, the disciples can’t believe what they’re seeing. They think he may be a ghost, so Jesus shows them his hands and feet to prove otherwise.
And then what follows is rather strange. The disciples are beside themselves with wonder and joy. They’re left speechless by what they are witnessing. Their master is not dead. He is alive. But what does Jesus have to say in the midst of this remarkable moment: “Have you anything here to eat?” I don’t know about you, but this strikes me as odd. He has just conquered death and come back from the grave. And in this extraordinary reunion with his disciples, he is looking for food. It seems so mundane and even silly considering the situation. Shouldn’t Jesus be responding with some grand gesture or profound saying?
As strange as this scene may be, it has deep theological significance. In the context of the story, his eating the piece of broiled fish proves that he is not some disembodied spirit. He is flesh and blood. He has a body. He eats. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is a physical reality.
The scene of Jesus eating is repeated in other accounts of his post-resurrection appearances. On the road to Emmaus, the first recorded appearance in Luke, he joins the two followers for an evening meal. It is when he takes the bread, blesses and breaks it that the two men recognize Jesus. In the Gospel of John, Jesus appears to the disciples as they’re fishing, and he cooks the fish over a charcoal fire for them early in the morning (John 21:1-14). They have breakfast together. What is it about Jesus eating with his followers after the resurrection? It couldn’t have been just to satisfy his hunger after being dead for three days.
Sharing a meal was a key part of Jesus’ ministry while he was alive. The Gospels are filled with stories of his eating and drinking. In fact, his ministry can be seen as beginning and ending with a meal. It began with the first miracle at Cana, where he turned the water into wine at a wedding feast and ended with the Last Supper. Jesus loved to gather at the table to share food, drink, and conversation. In theological language, he engaged in what we call “table fellowship.” And he practiced table fellowship not only with his family, friends, and followers but with perfect strangers. This scandalized proper Jewish society, which had strict rules concerning with whom one would eat and socialize. Sharing a meal with someone is an intimate act. Even today, we tend to eat with people with whom we are close or familiar – with those who are like us, family and friends. Think of the complicated politics of the high school cafeteria of who sits with whom. In ancient Jewish society, there were strict prohibitions against eating with certain groups, like the prostitutes and tax collectors. But Jesus flouted these exclusive norms and restrictions and practiced open table fellowship, welcoming all to his table.
The table fellowship that Jesus established continues after the crucifixion and resurrection. But now the table fellowship is no longer just sharing a meal. The table fellowship becomes a Eucharistic event, an opportunity to experience the risen Christ in the flesh. It is no accident that in the post-resurrection appearances that he shares a meal with his followers. The meals are the contexts in which the disciples witness and experience the risen Christ.
The post-resurrection table fellowship of Jesus and his followers is a Eucharistic event. And it also points to what will come in the future – the Heavenly Banquet. One of the most interesting images of heaven in the Bible is that of the feast or banquet – a party. The book of Isaiah has this vision: “[T]he Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear” (Isaiah 25:6). And in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus paints this portrait of heaven: “[M]any will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8:11). Many people think of heaven as a hazy, quiet place with disembodied spirits aimlessly floating around, but we have this concrete, embodied image of heaven as a banquet, a feast. Whatever heaven might be, it looks like there will be banquets, where we will eat and drink, just as Jesus does after the resurrection. But it makes sense. In the kingdom of heaven, we will be unable to contain the joy of seeing God face to face. And think of all the happy reunions with our loved ones. How can we not rejoice and celebrate?
The early Christians liked the idea of the Heavenly Banquet so much that they decorated their tombs with it. If I can direct your attention to the service leaflet, this is a wall mural from the Catacombs of Domitilla in Rome. These catacombs contain thousands of underground graves of the early Christians. It may look, at first glance, like the Last Supper, but there are many more figures here than Jesus and his disciples – a couple of women, as well as some people waiting on the guests. It is a scene of the Heavenly Banquet. The Catacombs of Domitilla even has a large chamber at the entrance that served as a banquet hall, where families would gather to have a feast on the death anniversaries of their loved ones. The early Christians were a happy bunch!
As the heirs of these early Christians, we, too, can also find hope beyond the grave when we will feast at the Heavenly Banquet. We will rejoice in the presence of Jesus, the host of the banquet, and we will be joined by all the saints who have come before us. But, in the meantime, we have a foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet in the Holy Eucharist. In our Book of Common Prayer, we have this prayer for Holy Eucharist during a funeral:
Almighty God, we thank you that in your great love you have fed us with the spiritual food and drink of the Body and Blood of your Son Jesus Christ, and have given us a foretaste of your heavenly banquet. Grant that this Sacrament may be to us a comfort in affliction, and a pledge of our inheritance in that kingdom where there is no death, neither sorrow nor crying, but the fullness of joy with all your saints; through Jesus Christ our Savior.
Dear friends, Jesus Christ invites all of us to his table fellowship, here and now, in the Holy Eucharist, and in the life to come, in the Heavenly Banquet. Let us come to his table and rejoice in our risen Lord. Amen.
 The Book of Acts, also believed to have been authored by Luke, suggests that Jesus appeared other times with “many convincing proofs” during the forty days before his ascension (Acts 1:3).
 Gerald O’Collins, “Did Jesus Eat the Fish (Luke 24: 42-43)?” Gregorianum, vol. 69, no.1 (1988), pp.65-76.
 The Book of Common Prayer (New York: Church Publishing, 1979), 498.
Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B
May 2, 2021
The Rev’d Charles W. Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Acts 8:26-40; 1 John 4:7-21
In the reading from Acts, we continue to get a peek into the life of the early Church just after the resurrection of Jesus. Most scholars believe that the book of Acts was part of a two-part work comprised of Luke and Acts together, authored by St. Luke the Evangelist. St. Luke was a Gentile, meaning he wasn’t Jewish, and Luke-Acts is the only book in the New Testament written for a Gentile audience. Acts is a book written by an outsider for outsiders.
The story begins with an angel telling Philip to go out into the wilderness. There, he encountered an Ethiopian eunuch who had come to the Temple to worship and was returning home. The differences between the eunuch and Philip are striking. First, the fact that he’s Ethiopian in 1st century Palestine means that he had much darker skin than the Hebrews. He’s of a different race. Second, he’s a foreigner from somewhere south of Egypt, which is largely an unknown place to the Hebrews.  He’s of a different ethnic background and nationality. And third, he’s a eunuch. In ancient times, a eunuch was a castrated male servant who was trusted to perform social functions for royalty. Essentially, they were neutered male human beings. As long as the deed was done before puberty, they were deemed safe to serve among women of the royal household. Despite this, eunuchs were stereotyped as sexually immoral people. His sexual state seems to be rather important to Luke as each of the five times he refers to the Ethiopian in this passage, he’s identified as “the eunuch.” The bottom line is that this Ethiopian guy was different in so many ways from both Philip and the earliest Jewish Christians. He was an outsider.
He was reading the book of Isaiah when Philip ran into him. After reading the passage from Isaiah which we now refer to as “the Suffering Servant” passage, the eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Christians today often say that Isaiah meant to refer to Jesus, but that’s not actually true. Isaiah, after all, died about 700 years before Jesus was born. We never hear Philip’s answer to the eunuch’s question. Instead, Luke tells us that Philip begin to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to the Ethiopian the good news about Jesus.
While they were riding along in the wilderness in the Ethiopian’s chariot, they came to some water. The Eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized!” After hearing about the Good New of Jesus Christ from Philip and randomly seeing some water, this guy asks a theological question about why he can’t simply be baptized. The only response to his question was the baptism itself. In other words, nothing is to prevent him from being baptized. Baptism is the great Sacrament of inclusion. It is open to all, without rules or conditions. It’s open to black and white, young and old, rich and poor, gay and straight, cis-gender and trans-gender, Jew and Gentile.
In this story, Philip listens to the voice of God via the angel, and when stumbling upon some guy who anyone in their right mind would consider a weirdo, he shares his faith with him. And this is the way the Christian faith has been passed on ever since. Person to person. Insider to outsider. And when the outsider decides to respond by asking to be baptized, the Church does so.
In today’s church, there are those who believe there should be a lengthy catechetical process prior to baptism. Some believe that priests shouldn’t baptize people who aren’t thoroughly trained and prepared for what they’re getting themselves into. I fear that they’re missing the point entirely. “Look,” the Ethiopian said, “here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” The answer is absolutely nothing. Immediate baptism: if it’s good enough for Philip, it’s good enough for me. If you have not been baptized and would like to be, come talk to me, and we get it scheduled soon.
Baptism is the great Sacrament of Inclusion. It’s open to all without condition. Baptism is the great leveler of humanity. We all process back from the baptismal font the same as the person standing next to us. Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch are both baptized Christians, and yet are very different people. Baptism doesn’t erase the differences or remove their human individuality, but it serves as the beginning of the Christian life and the entrance into the household of God in such a way that they are equals.
One of the things I love most about St. Mary’s is our diversity. I miss the Reception after Mass where it was common to see a young person who’s been here two months sitting next to an older person who has been here for decades, or the rich person chatting with the poor person, or the black person having coffee with the white person. These conversations can be gristly and rough around the edges at times as the two people are coming from completely different contexts and perspectives. But through our common faith in Christ, these sorts of relationships are not only possible, but are life-giving and beautiful, and have so much to offer our fractured and polarized world. When you encounter someone who is radically different than you, and open yourself up to talk about something as intimate as your faith, both of your lives are enriched, and your hearts are changed.
Sometimes, we are afraid of people who are different than we are. That’s an instinctual human response. Fear is a powerful force, and it can lead to ignoring God’s voice when we are called like Philip was to go on a journey to which we don’t know the final destination. How can we overcome fear and say yes to God?
Not romantic love, not the love you feel for your parents or siblings, not sentimental love. The love we heard about our second lesson in John’s first epistle. The Greek word used throughout this passage is agape, love that gives without expecting a return, sacrificially. God is love, agape. Jesus died for us as an act of agape, and we ought to agape one another. In other words, friends, you and I are called to express outwardly what we have received personally from God – a sacrificial love that gives without expecting a return. Love in this sense isn’t an ideal to aspire to or an emotion we feel, it’s a tangible choice.
As we hear and respond to God’s call to share our faith with others, we will encounter fear. Let us respond to this fear with agape love, a sacrificial love that gives without expecting a return. Let us reach out to the outsider that is different than we are and share our deep and abiding faith in Jesus Christ. And then, when the outsider responds in faith, let’s bring them into the household of God in the waters of baptism.
 David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Louisville (Ky.): Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 457.
 Ibid 469.
Sermon for 5 Easter B
May 1, 2021
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Acts 8:26-40, Psalm 22:24-30, 1 John 4:7-21, John 15:1-8
Fr. Larry Parrish
A very wise psychotherapist, that Mary and I had the pleasure of knowing, once said that “neurosis is wanting to be safer than we can possibly be.” I think of his words often, and I have especially thought of them during the past year with all of the environmental, political, and cultural upheaval in our own nation.
Note that he didn’t say that neurosis is wanting to “be safe”. We all want safety and security, even those of us who have our “here, hold my beer” moments. We, most of us anyway, want a roof over our heads, food in the refrigerator, the prospect of a paycheck, and the ability to sleep without having to stay alert to danger. Granted, there are many who are denied some, or all, of these basic securities, but it is not unhealthy to want them or even expect them.
We are always going to be confronted by situations that could do everything from upsetting our happiness to killing us, and we do well to recognized real, not imagined, risk and do what we can to mitigate it, while recognizing that it will not be eliminated. It’s something we do every time we drive our cars. It is an inherently dangerous activity, but we mitigate the risks by wearing our seatbelts, practicing good driving habits, and staying alert to hazards, including our fellow drivers, whom we hope are staying alert to us instead of their smart phone screens. Neurosis, on the other hand, is being so afraid of being on the streets and highways that we quit driving.
There is a difference between acceptance of real risks and irrational fear, however. Fear comes from circumstances we cannot control, and, paradoxically, when we try to control those circumstances without clearly understanding them, we end up adding to our fears. Such is the circumstances in our country today. Everything from media ratings to gun sales have been ramped up by those who manipulate our fear(s). Truth is stretched to the breaking point, and often dispensed with all together. Real dangers have been added to, or supplanted, with made up dangers. Critical thinking is replaced by slander.
A good many of the fears stoked today have to do with change. The climate is changing and the demographics of our country are changing and there are those who see these changes as a threat. Persons who are “not like us” are feared, stereotyped to the point of caricature, and even demonized.
This is where our Christian faith comes in, though, it too is often twisted in the service of the fear of others. For as Christians, we are instructed by Scripture, to love one another, NOT fear one another.
John the Evangelist, in his letter to the early Christian communities, and to us, says, “Beloved, let us love one another.” i.e., “You who are loved, love one another.” It is not just an admonition to love others, it is an important action of our faith, and witness to the God we say we believe and trust in. He continues, because love is born of God and knows God.” God is the source of our love, and defines what this love is for those of us who claim to be His followers, and the followers of the One in whom He embodied Himself in the flesh, in our shape and form: Jesus. “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” Just as God bore witness to Himself to humankind in Jesus –“God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world . . .” --so we bear witness to God’s love for everyone through our love for others as a hallmark of being followers of Christ.
This is a good place to think about what this love spoken of in our Epistle today means. I am sure that all of you here have wrestled with the meaning of love defined in and by God and have a perspective. I will share mine, just in case it might be helpful! Of course you know that the word used for love in the New Testament is the Greek Agape, which means something more, and sometimes different, than the kind of love we have for our mother, father, spouse, children, or even our dog or cat! It is a love that doesn’t always grow out of affection, and is often willed in spite of our emotional inclinations of the moment. The best working definition I have found comes from psychiatrist Scott Peck, which he illuminated in a book which was once popular among the much younger selves of us Boomers, The Road Less Traveled. He defines love as “Desiring the Best for Another.” To love someone is to seek the best for them. Not necessarily that which is most pleasing or most comfortable for them, but that which is best for them. That which will make them most whole and most human (my interpretation here). Though not writing as a Christian at the time (he became one later) he gives credit for this concept to the New Testament use of love.
“The Other” can be a “Them or Us”, “Not Like Us”, “Other” that is feared and that we defend ourselves against, even to the point of destruction of the other, or “The Other” can be the one for whom we desire the best for, whether it be physical, circumstantial, economic, emotional, or spiritual health, no matter how “unlike us” they are. We might differ on the definition of “best” in particular circumstances. How it will play out might remain to be seen. It is, however, our starting point and default position as Christians. “The Other” is never the enemy (even when he or she think they are!) they are the object of God’s love, and, therefore, of ours as well.
Or maybe it is better said, “our love is the love of God which comes through us.” For this love does not come naturally to human beings. That is an important point to remember because we can become frustrated and discouraged if we try to generate this love on our own. St. John continues, “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”
If I might dare critique one of the profound authors within the New Testament, I think he is putting the cart before the horse here. It is because we abide in God that we can love!
If St. John the Epistle author is also St. John the Gospel author, he knows the words of Jesus on the subject. In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples, and us: “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.” These are words to be taken to heart as Jesus’ 21st century disciples not only as they pertain to our mission to love others, but to anything we undertake in which we seek to know, glorify, and serve God (and others). (To use an image borrowed from a recently read sermon)* The vine does not tell the branches to put grapes on its “to do” list, it just grow grapes! There are decisions we will have to make and commitments we must try to keep in our bearing the fruit that comes from loving others, but first we must remember that we are the branches of the True Vine. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. !!! We abide in Christ through our baptism, prayer, reading and meditating on the teachings and stories of the Bible, gathering together in worship, receiving the Sacrament, and risking love for others.
The story from the reading from Acts today is an example of all of that. Besides, it is too good of a story to not, at least briefly, revisit. Philip, one of the first disciples of Jesus (The story of his call is in the Gospel of John), was someone whom we assume “abided in Christ.” He was there at the table when Jesus gave his “vine and branches” teaching which we received again this afternoon. He was undoubtedly in fellowship with the other disciples and followers of Jesus at the time, meeting with them regularly and eating bread and drinking wine “in His name.” From the story we can see that he was steeped in the Scriptures read by the early church (note: all Old Testament!), and by the teachings of Jesus, interpreted by Peter and other disciples. There must have been some awesome after dinner conversations back then!
In doing all of this, Philip had made himself available to the Holy Spirit, the empowering and equipping Person of his—and our—Three Person God. The story tells of no particular intention of Philip. Just that as he was hanging out one day the Spirit tells him to “Get up and go” to a wilderness road. And as he was standing on that deserted stretch of 1st century highway, a chariot approached and Philip was told to stick out his thumb and get on board. There ensued a conversation with a Bible reading official of a foreign country. This Ethiopian Eunuch has been pictured as someone that good Jews of the time shouldn’t be associated with, his being eunuch and a “foreigner”, though contemporary scholarship disputes that. Whatever the case, he was either a high class outcast, or a person of power and privilege, and Philip was just a plowboy who had happened to hang out with, and continue to hang out with, Jesus. Philip tells him that the Scripture the Eunuch is reading says that God considers him loved and worthy of God’s sacrifice for. Joyfully, he seeks baptism, water is encountered, Philip baptizes him, and he goes “on his way rejoicing.” Next thing you know, Philip was walking through another strange neighborhood “proclaiming the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.
United Methodist Bishop Will Willimon, commenting on this story, says, “No triumphal, crusading enthusiasm has motivated the church up to this point, no mushy all embracing desire to be inclusive of everyone and everything. Rather, in being obedient to the Spirit, preachers like Philip find themselves in the oddest of situations with the most surprising sorts of people.”**
So shall we. And we will not be afraid.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
*The Rev. Melissa Earley, in Living by the Word for Easter 5B, The Christian Century, online.
**William H. Willimon, Interpretation Commentary on Acts, p.72
April 24, 2021
The Rev’d Charles W. Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Since Easter Day, we’ve been exploring Jesus’s post-resurrection appearances. On this Fourth Sunday of Easter, the focus shifts to reflecting on who Jesus is and what that means for his followers. Throughout the centuries, the Church has used a variety of images to express Christ’s identity to the faithful, and the image of the Jesus as the Good Shepherd has been an enduring one. While some of you may have grown up in a part of the world where shepherds and sheep are commonplace, my suburban Johnson County upbringing wasn’t one of those places. Frankly, one of the first things I thought of upon reading this passage is a recent use of the word sheep in modern, civic discourse I occasionally come across online in the dreaded comments section, particularly the comments posted in response to news articles. The term is actually sheeple, and according to Urban Dictionary, sheeple is a combination of the words sheep and people meaning that the person or persons are acting as a group, or only to behave based on what’s trending. This modern metaphor implies that sheep are dumb.
Apparently, according to those who know more about these things than I do, sheep are not dumb. It was cattle ranchers who started that rumor as sheep do not behave like cows. Cows are herded from behind with shouts and prods from the cowboys. But that doesn’t work with sheep. If you stand behind sheep making noises, they will just run around behind you. They actually prefer to be led. Cows can be pushed; sheep must be led. Sheep won’t go anywhere that their trusted shepherd does not go first, to show them everything is alright. They seem to think that shepherds are part of their family, and the sheep and shepherds develop a language of their own that outsiders are not privy to.
Of course, when Jesus spoke of shepherds and sheep, he was speaking to people who had everyday experiences with them. They knew about a shepherd’s unique relationship with his flock when Jesus said, “I know my own and my own know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father.” Yes, Jesus knows humanity intimately because he became human and dwelled among us. But, in the words of the opening prayer today, he also calls us each by name. Thank God, for just like sheep, we are prone to go astray. We may get distracted and stop listening to the shepherd’s voice, or wander off because we are tempted to go graze in what looks like a greener pasture than where the shepherd is leading us. As the prophet Isaiah foretold, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way.” The Good Shepherd, unlike the hired hand, sees the wolf coming long before he arrives, and protects his flock, even those who have gone astray.
What comfort this gives us! But just as the sheep and shepherds develop a language of their own over time, so too do Jesus and his followers get to know one another more intimately over time. This doesn’t happen overnight, or without deliberate effort. As Christians worship and pray together, as we immerse ourselves in the Scriptures, the liturgy of the church, and receive grace and nourishment from the Sacraments habitually, by God’s grace, God slowly conforms our will to his will and our desires to his desires. We learn to recognize the voice of the shepherd little by little over time. I received Jesus’s call to holiness of life very differently when I first started being intentional about private prayer and communal worship than I do today. Of course, this doesn’t mean that I don’t go astray. The wolves come after me today just as they did when I was a much younger Christian, but the practice of intentional daily prayer, and frequent reception of the Sacraments over many years has helped me to recognize the deceptive mirage of the “greener grass elsewhere” more quickly than before.
Jesus’s followers had grown up telling and re-telling the story of Moses and the flight out of Egypt. Each year they heard the call to “take a lamb for each family” and prepare the Passover meal. But in this metaphor, the shepherd intentionally becomes the sacrificial lamb. Not so with the hired hand who runs away because a hired hand doesn’t care for the sheep. The Good Shepherd willingly lays down his life for his sheep of his own accord in order to take it up again. Jesus’s death, as the ultimate expression of the love relationship that exists between the Father and the Son, extends that love to each of us who choose to follow him, and Jesus’s resurrection from the dead seals for us his promise to defend and protect us from every enemy, even death itself.
Friends, we are not “sheeple”, blindly following our shepherd, even if that means following him right on over a cliff. We follow where he leads, with a deep and abiding faith that he will lead through death to resurrection. Let us build strong spiritual habits by immersing ourselves in Scripture, both private and communal prayer, and so listen to the voice of Jesus, our Good Shepherd; and when we hear it, may we know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads. Amen.
 Most of this paragraph is from David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Louisville (Ky.): Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 450.
 John 11:14-15.
 John 1:14.
 Isaiah 53:6.
 Exodus 12:3b
 NISB 1929.
Sermon – Easter 2
The Rev’d Lynda Hurt
April 11, 2021
I speak to you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Good morning! And welcome to the 2nd week of Easter…Christ is risen. We are in the preeminent season of hope and renewal and the high point of our liturgical year…we’ve unearthed our Alleluia’s and proclaimed the resurrection of Christ with pure, unbridled Easter joy…a welcome kind of joy after the desert time we spent in Lent not to mention the kind of year we’ve all experienced. This entire year has sometimes felt like Lent that has lasted 365 days, yet as Christians, we are an Easter people, and we live in the hope that loss leads to something new. So, I will say it again, Christ has Risen, indeed.
I am a little ashamed to admit that growing up as an on and off church goer, I was not familiar with the period of Eastertide…the forty days before the Ascension. In my mind, Jesus rose from the dead and went straight to heaven. I was raised in a Protestant church, and not to disparage them, am not real sure I ever heard the word Ascension, or if I did, it didn’t hold a lot of meaning for me…not until I became an Anglo-Catholic and learned about the importance of the forty days after Easter. The post-resurrection stories of the Risen Christ walking among the people were arbitrary to me…like separate little unconnected vignettes. When I recited the Apostles’ Creed and said Christ died, was buried, rose three days later and ascended into heaven, I assumed this was a pretty quick process…it was one day and that was it. But that is not how it happened. Although details of the time are far less well-known, we do know that Jesus spent forty days (fifty if you’re Orthodox) walking and talking in places where he had ministered before, performing miracles, and healing many, and on the whole demonstrating to His followers that He truly was alive. This post communion time was not for Jesus simply to celebrate the resurrection, but he had work to do…work to restore his disciple’s faith through the evidence of the resurrection and to “bring peace to counter the turbulence of his death” He had a clear mission of preparing his disciples to continue the work that he started.
In our Gospel reading today, we learn about two of these appearances, both in the presence of Jesus’ disciples in a locked room, and each occurring on two separate occasions about a week apart. The Apostle Thomas was not present for this first encounter between Jesus and the disciples. So, when they go to Thomas to tell him that Jesus is living and walking among them, he doesn’t believe them and then audaciously demands proof…he is quoted as saying "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe." That does not sound like an unreasonable request. People did not just rise from the dead. Jesus’ death was a shock, not just to Thomas’ but to all of the people he appeared to. But this moment of skepticism earned Thomas the moniker “Doubting Thomas,” which evolved into a term for anyone who needs proof before they believe something. As a young Christian, I was taught explicitly that being a Doubting Thomas was wrong. He was deemed a scoffer and someone with weak faith. And when the passage is read out of context, it might seem that way, but throughout his time spent with Jesus, we know that he was a devoted and loving follower of Jesus who wasn’t going to settle for someone else’s experience of the resurrection. We all come to believe in our own way, and blind faith is not always how we get there. Thomas was grieving…his Master had died and his hopes of a Messiah had been shattered. How many of us in our sadness and despair give in to doubt? We are human and just like Thomas and the disciples, we don’t understand when where God is in our sorrow. Unlike Thomas, we have the benefit of eyewitness stories that have been given to us in Scripture. Centuries of illumination of our sacred texts have helped modern-day Christians to live out the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection time and again…so none of this is news to us. We are much more prepared to accept the reality of the Risen Christ than were the early followers. But, as we contemplate this passage, we may hear that Jesus’ is rebuking Thomas for his doubt, and we, for centuries have been fixated on that fact. What we miss is the Good News… Thomas asked for proof and Jesus lovingly and graciously offered him what he needed to believe. We need to lean into the reality that Jesus opens a way for all of us to believe.
Although countless sermons have been written about this Gospel lesson admonishing doubt, the greater message is a message of assurance that doubt is realistic in matters of faith and perfectly human. Doubt can bring us to wholeness. When the label of doubter is used as an insult, we are implying that it is incompatible with faith, when in fact is simply signifies uncertainty, perplexity and irresolution.  This is an accurate description of what Thomas was feeling.. I’m actually skeptical of people that are resolute in their beliefs in an uncompromising way. I think we would all do well to believe in the transformative power and depth that doubt, and critical thinking brings to our faith life. So, in defense of Thomas who may have been unfairly portrayed, I would like to re-dub him Determined Thomas, or Discerning Thomas (you might have your own names). But, even if the Doubting Thomas label sticks, which it will…it needs to be understood that God holds space for our questions and doubt that will lead us to a stronger faith.
Perhaps the bigger story in our Gospel reading today is not about Thomas the Doubter, but a phrase he uses that compresses the life, death and resurrection of Jesus in five short words…”my Lord and my God”. We are not explicitly told that Thomas touched Jesus’ wounds, but there was a something…a metaphysical change in what Thomas experienced in that moment when he uttered those word…My Lord and my God…It is considered the highest confession of Messianic faith in the entirety of the Gospel. Thomas recognized the Risen Christ as God and began to understand the broader meaning of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. In the Christian church, we have come to define these moments as a visible form of invisible grace…a sign of a sacred thing.  This was a sacramental moment for Thomas and his stunning declaration of faith is inextricably tied to the sacramental rites of our own Baptismal and Eucharistic experiences. In Baptism, we become participants in Jesus Christ’s life and his redemptive ministry.
We experience both the death and resurrection of Christ, taking part in the whole story of God’s people. As baptized Christians, when we partake in the Eucharist and eat the bread and drink the wine, we encounter the Real Presence of Jesus Christ and are inwardly transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit that unchains us from doubt and empowers us to be Christ in the world.
In a few minutes, we are blessed to be baptizing baby Lorelei. Now, she may not remember this occasion, and won’t understand the promises that her parents are making on her behalf. But the communal nature of Baptism gives us all not only the privilege, but the responsibility of participating in the faith development of this child. I encourage you to immerse yourself in words of the baptismal liturgy this morning…let them be a reminder of your renunciation of evil and your promise to live a life modeled after Jesus. Lift Lorelei in your prayers and welcome her as our new sister in Christ. And many you come to the fullest realization of what these words mean to you in your life of faith in the Resurrected Jesus. Amen and Alleluia.
 (O'Day 2015)
 (O'Day 2015)
 St. Augustine
April 4, 2021
The Rev’d Charles W. Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
The scene that St. John sets before us in the gospel lesson we just heard has all the features of a good movie: vivid detail, gripping suspense, and powerful human emotion. More importantly, it tells a down-to-earth story about something with which all of us struggle: the odd claim to have a relationship with Jesus Christ, even though he has never stood before us physically in the flesh. But even more bizarre is the Christian claim to believe that he rose from the dead, for we know that dead people don’t rise from their graves and walk around.
Like most Christians, we Episcopalians believe that our relationship with Christ begins with baptism. In the baptismal rite, the priest asks the Candidate or the parents and godparents, “Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?” It’s very easy for most to respond, “I do.” It’s also easy to say, “I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,” as we will in a moment when we recite the Nicene Creed. Speaking these words is quite simple, but is often done without much emotion or thought, and doesn’t indicate that we’ve necessarily had some sort of personal encounter with Christ.
In today’s Gospel, we see a very different kind of encounter with Jesus. This encounter isn’t only tangible and physical, it’s emotional and deeply personal. For Mary Magdalene, her encounter with the risen Christ involved her eyes and her ears and a person standing before her. It is very real.
After the events that lead to Jesus’s arrest, torture, and death, she comes to his tomb only to find that someone has presumably stolen his dead body. She is so caught up in her raw emotion that she doesn’t even recognize Jesus when he’s standing right in front of her. When she responds to him, assuming he is the gardener, Jesus doesn’t offer some sort of generic response. He says, “Mary.” He uses a word that applies to her and her alone, a word that captures the particularity of her individual life – her name. His response was deeply personal.
You and I don’t have the benefit of seeing the resurrected Jesus in the flesh as she did. How can our faith in Jesus be as real as Mary Magdalene’s faith?
While we don’t see him in the flesh, in the waters of baptism, God used ordinary water to grant us grace, despite the fact that we didn’t earn it or deserve it. According to our catechism, at baptism, God adopted us as his children and made us members of Christ’s body, the Church. At baptism, we were united with Christ in his death and resurrection, born into God’s family, forgiven of our sins, and given new life in the Holy Spirit.
Children. Life. Members. Family. Born. Forgiven. These words reflect a deeply personal relationship between us as individuals and God, a God who calls us each by name, just as he did Mary Magdalene. At baptism, the candidates are baptized not anonymously, but by name. God’s interest in us is deeply personal – his interest in us is just as real as it was when he said to her, “Mary.”
I’m not sure about you, but if God were distant and far away, like a clockmaker who sets his clock in motion and leaves it alone to operate without any further interaction, I wouldn’t have the slightest bit of interest. But a God who sees and knows the most intimate parts of my life – my body, my past, my dreams and disappointments, my future – a God who loves and cares deeply about all these intimate aspects of my life? That’s the sort of God we see revealed in Jesus Christ.
Like with Mary Magdalene, Jesus comes to us not as a zombie, or a ghost, but as a person. He doesn’t come to us as a disembodied spirit, but as a whole, integrated person – body, mind and spirit. He didn’t just come to save our souls, he came to redeem our minds and our bodies as well. He cares about how we spend our money, and what we do with our time, and how we treat the bodies God gave us, and how we treat the poor person we encounter, just as much as he cares about our thoughts and prayers. Jesus doesn’t just come to us in our hearts, he comes to us physically: in the waters of baptism, in the bread and wine at Holy Communion, in the physical intimacy between spouses, and so on.
We don’t get to see Jesus in the flesh like Mary did. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…it’s not an easy thing to wrap our heads around as dead people don’t generally rise up from their graves and walk around. I’m not sure about you, but to me, a God who is interested in both the spiritual and the physical realms...a God who loves humanity enough to become one of us in order to redeem the worst parts of who we are…a God who loves me enough to care about the intimate parts of my life…a God who loved the world so much that he not only gave his Son for our sake, but promised us that he would be with us always…a God who lavishly pours out his love for us physically again and again in our world today…that’s the kind of God that sounds interesting to me.
This Easter Day, as we encounter the risen Christ at this altar, let us pray for the grace to recognize him in the breaking of the bread. Let us renew our faith in the One who loves us so deeply that he gave up everything for us. And let us rejoice that he has called each of us by name into a deep and personal relationship with him. Amen.
 David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Louisville (Ky.): Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 376.
 Feasting 378.
 Catechism of the 1979 BCP..
The Easter Sermon of John Chrysostom
(circa 400 AD)
Are there any who are devout lovers of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!
Are there any who are grateful servants?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!
Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!
If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.
For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.
To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.
Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!
First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!
You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!
Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!
Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.
Isaiah foretold this when he said,
"You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?
Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!