The Feast of Christ the King
Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
26 November 2023
Today, we commemorate the Feast of Christ the King. This is a relatively new feast on the Church Calendar, instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925. The historical context in which the pope introduced the feast was the militant nationalism that had been infecting Europe in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and had been one of the major causes of World War I. Pius XI wanted to remind the faithful that as Christians, our highest allegiance – above any nation or government or leader – is to our Lord Jesus Christ, the King above all kings and the King of all Creation. The feast has spread from the Roman Catholic Church to other denominations, including the Anglican Communion.
The Feast of Christ the King falls on the last Sunday of the Church Year. This serves to remind us that at the end of time, Christ will come in all his glory and power. As we prayed in the Collect, he will establish his rule as “King of kings and Lord of lords.” We have many examples of the kingship of Christ depicted in Christian art. The iconography usually has Jesus enthroned in glorious majesty and splendor and surrounded by a host of angels and saints. Sometimes, he wears a crown and carries a scepter as symbols of his royal authority.
But there is another depiction of Christ the King, one that is ironic but, in fact, more familiar to us than the regal depictions. It is the image of Jesus hanging on the cross. Above his head is the inscription, INRI, the initials representing the Latin words, Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum, “Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews.” It is the title that the Romans conferred on Jesus in mockery and contempt as they tortured and nailed him to the cross (John 19:19).
But, for us, his disciples, this title is an expression of our faith, for Jesus is indeed our King. And whether it is the crucifix that hangs above us during our worship or the crucifix on the rosary in our private devotions, it is this image of Jesus the King that we behold in our daily lives. It is the image of a king who has emptied himself of all his power and glory and given up his very life for the sake of the world. It is the image of the Almighty God who has become one of us, a vulnerable human being, to suffer and die. It is the image of our faith and salvation.
And this king who hangs on the cross, this king who has emptied himself of power and glory, calls on us to follow his example. We, too, are called to empty ourselves of power and glory. Last week, I was at an annual academic conference for religious studies. It is always a great pleasure to learn about what other scholars are working on as well as catch up with old colleagues and friends. The part of academic life, however, that I do not care for is the game of status. Scholars don’t make a lot of money, but – perhaps because of that – the competition for status can get pretty fierce. We judge ourselves based on the schools we attended, the number of publications and grants, and so on. I often wonder why we can’t just focus on our love of learning and teaching? Why do we become so full of ourselves? I’m sure this kind of game of status is nothing new to you. Whatever our professions, most of us have to deal with the competition for money, power, and status. It’s the reality of our society.
And yet our Christian faith calls us to a different perspective and standard. Christ, through word and example, calls us to empty ourselves of all self-centeredness, to turn our attention away from our desire for money, power, and status, and to focus on others in self-denying love and service. The Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed while he was on earth was based not on power and glory but mercy and compassion. In today’s Gospel from Matthew, Christ calls on the faithful to love and care for those who are the most vulnerable –the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the prisoner (Matthew 25:35-45). He tells us that “just as you did to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). When we serve those in need among us, we are serving Christ in them.
In the history of our faith, we have many examples of the saints who have heeded Christ’s call to humble themselves and serve others in sacrificial love. Last Sunday, we commemorated the Feast of Saint Margaret of Scotland, one of our patron saints. We have a chapel in the basement dedicated to her. Some of you may noticed that we recently brought up her portrait that used to hang there to Saint George Chapel. In the painting, she is holding a spoon, feeding a small child. The image is based on Margaret’s daily routine of feeding orphans and the poor before she herself ate. And she also washed the feet of the poor, following the example of Jesus. She may have been Queen of Scotland, born to extraordinary wealth, power, and privilege, but in her daily life she was first and foremost a humble disciple of Jesus.
None of us here are royalty, though some of you may have royal blood. I know we have a parishioner here who counts Saint Margaret among her ancestors. There may be others of you who’ve done genealogical work and come across some royalty in your family tree. But whether we’re descended from royalty or peasants, whether we’re from privileged or underprivileged backgrounds, whatever the circumstances into which we were born, we share one thing in common. As disciples of Jesus, we are all called to follow his example of self-emptying humility and sacrificial love. We are called to live not for ourselves but for God and for others.
So, on this Feast of Christ the King, we proclaim Jesus the Lord of Creation and Lord of our lives. We offer our bodies and souls to his service. May Christ the King reign in our hearts this and every day that we may carry on his work of love in the world.
Saint Margaret of Scotland
Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, November 19, 2023
+In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
At first glance today's observance of the feast of Margaret queen of Scotland might seem a little out of place here in Saint Mary's church in downtown Kansas City in the year of our Lord 2023. After all, outside of Scotland Margaret is not particularly well known, and apart from a beautiful window in the gallery to my left there is little historical connection between St. Mary’s and St. Margaret. So, who was St. Margaret of Scotland and what does she have to say to us today?
Margaret was the granddaughter of the English king Edmund Ironside, but because of dynastic disputes she was born in Hungary, in the year 1047. She had one brother, Edgar, and a sister, Christina, and many people in England saw her brother Edgar as the rightful heir to the throne. In 1054 the parliament of Anglo-Saxon England decided to bring the family back from Hungary so that they could inherit the throne when King Edward the Confessor died, as Edward had no children. So, Edgar, Christina and Margaret were brought up at the English court under the supervision of Benedictine monks and nuns, who trained the young people according to the Benedictine ideal of a life of work and prayer.
Eventually King Edward the Confessor died, and soon afterwards William the Conqueror invaded England in 1066 and claimed the throne for himself, so Margaret’s brother Edgar didn’t become king after all. Edgar and his sisters were advised to go back to Hungary for their own safety, but on the way their ship was blown far off course by a fierce gale. The trio was shipwrecked at the Firth of Forth in Scotland, a place that to this day is known as St. Margaret’s Hope. It is there that King Malcolm III gave them a warm welcome to his kingdom. …His court at Dunfermline was undoubtedly rather primitive compared to the English court that the family had known, but they were glad of his welcome and the hospitality and safety he offered them.
Margaret was now about twenty years old; King Malcolm was forty, and unmarried, and he soon became attracted to young Margaret. However, she took a lot of persuading; as she was more inclined to become a nun, and Malcolm had a stormy temperament, despite his other virtues. It was only after long consideration that Margaret agreed to marry him, and their wedding took place in the year 1070, when she was twenty-three. In the end, although she was so much younger than him, she was the one who changed him; under her influence, he became a much wiser and godlier king.
Although Margaret was now in a high position in society, and very wealthy according to the standard of the day, she lived in the spirit of inward poverty: nothing she possessed really belonged to her, but everything was to be used for the purposes of God. As Queen, she lived an ordered life of prayer and work that she had learned as a child. She was only the wife of the king, but she came to have the leading voice in making changes that affected both the social and the spiritual life of Scotland. She had this influence because of the depth of her husband’s love for her. Malcolm didn’t share his wife’s contemplative temperament, but he was strongly influenced by her godly character, so he tended to follow her advice a lot – not only for his own life, but also for the life of the church and people in Scotland.
Margaret would begin each day with a prolonged time of prayer, especially praying the psalms and attending Mass. We’re told that after this, orphan children would be brought to her, and she would prepare their food herself and serve it to them (this is displayed in the painting of St. Margaret which is now hanging in the back of St. George’s Chapel.) It also became the custom that any destitute poor people would come every morning to the royal hall; when they were seated around it, then the King and Queen entered and ‘served Christ in the person of his poor’. Before they did this, they sent out of the room all other spectators except for the chaplains and a few attendants because for Malcolm and Margaret this act of charity was not about show but about service.
Throughout most of history them majority of the women remembered as saints by the Church have been martyrs or monastics far removed from the demands of the world and the pressures of family life. Margaret, however, is remembered as having a happy family life. She had eight children, six sons and two daughters. Her oldest son Edward was killed in battle, Ethelred died young, and we’re told that Edmund didn’t turn out too well. But the three youngest, Edgar, Alexander, and David, are remembered among the best kings that Scotland ever had. David I, the youngest son, had a peaceful reign of twenty-nine years in which he developed and extended the work his mother had begun. The two daughters, Matilda and Mary, were both brought up under the guidance of Margaret’s sister Christina in the Abbey of Romsey, and both went on to marry into the English royal family. All of them we’re told, were imbued by their mother with a deep faith and a desire to follow Christ first.
Margaret was not yet fifty when she died. As she lay dying, her son Edgar brought her the sad news that her husband and her oldest son had been killed in battle. Despite this grief, we’re told that her last words were of praise and thanksgiving to God, and her death was calm and tranquil.
Margaret died on November 16th, 1093. A member of the aristocracy, she came into a position of great influence as Queen of Scotland, but she didn’t think she’d been given that position in order to lord it over others. Instead, she’s remembered as a person who spent her life serving others.
It is here, in the fact that she is remembered for serving others that I think St. Margaret has something to teach us because despite being literal royalty Margaret was willing to give it all away for the pearl of great price that is a relationship with Jesus Christ. Everything she was and had was spent on building that relationship and the good works that flowed out of it.
Margaret spent hours of her day in prayer. Like our Lord in his earthly ministry Margaret would withdraw to a deserted place to pray. Is that our habit? Do we make time to pray regularly, both in community at Church and on our own in a deserted place? For some people, the ‘deserted place’ might be a room in their house; for other people it might be a quiet office early in the morning; for others, it might be a quiet walk at some point during the day. For some it will be alone, for others it will be together with a spouse, or with the family as a whole. Regardless of how we do it…. is spending time in prayer deepening our relationship with Jesus, our pearl of great price, a priority? Margaret teaches us that if we want to be holy if we want to make a difference in the world this is where we must start.
Because from that prayer flowed Margaret’s countless acts of service, her gifts of charity, her feeding of orphans and widows and the houseless they all came out of the love she had for God and for God’s people because that time with Jesus changed her. Although she was the Queen of Scotland, she saw no contradiction between being the Queen and serving at tables for the poorest of the poor. She understood herself first of all as a servant of Christ; everything else followed from that.
Although I have no proof of it, I can't help but wonder if maybe that is why our predecessors in the faith here at Saint Mary's chose to honor an obscure Scottish Saint, with a beautiful stained glass window because they hoped that they and we like Margaret might be so changed by the relationship with Jesus Christ that is begun and nurtured in this place that our love would overflow in service to all those most in need around us. Are we living up to their hope? Are we giving everything to know Jesus and to serve God and his people?
If the answer to those questions is no, then I encourage you here today to come to this altar to receive Jesus, the pearl of great price, in the sacrament of his body and blood and to recommit yourselves to nurturing your relationship with him in daily prayer so that you might be changed like Margaret and so that like her you might change the world.
St. Margaret, Pray for us.
+In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sermon for Pentecost 24 Pr. 27
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
November 12, 2023
Amos 5:18-24 Ps. 70 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 Matthew 25: 1-13
I like preaching from the lectionary, because if I didn’t I would be preaching on variations of about ten sermons all of the time. The lectionary also makes me delve into the richness of the Bible while keeping my attention centered on specific passages. It is like eating at a restaurant that serves you a small portion of something on the menu before going on to the next small-portion dish.
On the other hand, the “small portions” of Scripture served by the lectionary readings/lessons for each Sunday is still often far too much to try to “inwardly digest”, as the collect for next Sunday puts it.
The lectionary also forces me to preach on texts that I don’t want to even put in my mouth and give me indigestion just looking at them!
And then there are the Sundays which have more than one text that are unpleasant to look at and hard to digest—Today we have Three of them! An angry prophet tells those who can’t get out of ear shot of him that God “hate(s) (and) despises your festivals and take(s) no delight in your solemn assemblies.” Yeah, that is supposed to fly here at St. Mary’s!
Then St. Paul, in his letter to the church at Thessalonica lays down Scriptural warrant for the Rapture—the idea, in case you aren’t familiar with it, that the literalists have that when Jesus comes back, those who are faithful will be swept up into heaven in the blink of an eye, leaving the rest of us dodging driverless cars on I-70, as they hang out with Jesus.
Then Matthew recounts a parable of Jesus’ which says we had better have oil in our metaphorical lamps when Jesus shows up or we are going to be pounding on a closed door in the dark.
I love the lectionary!
Well. pause O.K. then!
If I try to deal with all three lessons today we’ll all have indigestion!
Let’s encounter the angry prophet, Amos, you are on your own for the others. Though I would be glad to talk to you about the others outside of the sermon.
Amos, like all the prophets before and after him, was called by God to speak what God wanted to say to the King, government, and people of the divided nation of Israel/Judea.
Like all the other prophets, he wasn’t a predictor of the future, except to tell people that if they didn’t stop ignoring God, or trying to be God, and failing to live by the principles set out in Torah, they were going to shoot themselves in both feet. Doom wasn’t inevitable, but actions have consequences!
This role, naturally, did not endear people to prophets who were faithful to God. Old Testament scholar, Harrel Beck, once said that “the prophets were twice-stoned men. First, they were stoned on God when they delivered God’s message to the people, and then the people stoned them because of what they said!
Unlike the other prophets, Amos was not a citizen of the country he was prophesying in. After the excesses of King Solomon, revolts against the crown erupted in Israel, splitting it into the Northern Kingdom, Israel, and the Southern Kingdom, Judea. Enmity existed between the citizens of the two kingdoms from thenceforth, despite common roots and common faith. Amos was a citizen of Judea, not Israel. He was a foreigner!
Furthermore, he was not a “professional prophet,” he was a layman, not clergy of any sort, and was not of the elite of any sort—he was a “herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees,” a common laborer.
Israel, at the time, had not suffered the kind of political reverses that comes from being geographically located on the pathway of armies of some major players among the nations of that part of the world as Judea was. They were not under threat of invasion, they probably had a stable, perhaps prosperous, economy. Into this self-assured culture, Amos steps out of his pick-up in jeans and work boots and proceeds to lay into its citizens, in the name of God! Actually, he starts by laying into every known nation of the region with how they have offended God, before he tells the people of Israel that they were living high on the hog, caring nothing for the poor and vulnerable in their midst, in fact taking advantage of them to live high on the hog! He even calls the women Israel “cows of Bashan, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy.” He wasn’t invited back to coffee hour!
He actually didn’t have anything kind to say to anyone! In this morning’s lesson he confronts the “church members” in their self-assurance about Israel’s destiny. “Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord.” “The Day of the Lord” was understood by Amos’s audience to be a time when God would vindicate their nation, who would destroy other nations who were possible 1adversaries, and they, the chosen, would be dancing in the streets.
Amos gives an alternative view: The day of the Lord will be “darkness, not light, and gloom with no brightness in it.” He gives a darkly comical account of what will really happen. “It will be as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear; or went into the house (maybe to get out of the sun or rest from running from a lion?) and, resting their hand against the wall, were bitten by a snake!” If God shows up in their midst, He won’t be happy!
Since we are to read the Bible as a living document, not a relic from the past, we are always being invited into the world of the Bible to find that that world is really the one we are living in now. That being true, what are we to make of Amos addressing us as he addresses the citizens of ancient Israel,
“I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies . . . take away from me the noise of your songs (“The word ‘song’ -shir- is nothing less than the title of the book of Psalms!)” – Maryann McKibben Dana Feasting on the Word, Vol. 4, p270) --I will not listen to the melody of your harps.”
I rather like our solemn festival masses, and the beauty and majesty of our music. The sung Psalms—beautiful!! We don’t have a harp, but we do have an organ. Our worship space is a place of sacred beauty. What is Amos telling us?
Well let’s not turn off the lights and go home!
With a little background from the scholars who dig around in such things, we can infer that the people of the northern kingdom could have been celebrating their prosperity by confusing it with God’s providence, in essence saying, “Thank you, God, for making us exceptional.” Or maybe they were saying something like, “Look at how we adore you, God. Look at the lengths we go to worship you!” OR, “Look at the size of the gifts we bring you!” Things were going well for them, and they were resorting to flattery and bribery of God to keep things that way!
To look at the character of God through the whole sweep of the Bible—and that is something we have to remember to do, rather than judging God, and ourselves, by fragments of Scripture—it is sound to say that God isn’t interested in being impressed—He doesn’t need, or want, the flattery of mere mortals, and how can you bribe Someone who is the source of everything?
What God wants is to be in relationship with us. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind,” this is the first and great commandment.” Love is a two-way street; we are to love God because God FIRST loves us—desiring the best for us (which isn’t necessarily always the easiest or the most comfortable). AND he desires that we take seriously our being in relationship with others. “And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” In fact, the heart of the “Law” within the Jewish Scriptures, the Old Testament, affirms that to love God is to love others, and that when we love others we are loving God. And when we grasp that God loves us in spite of who we are it is easier to love others. In fact, out of His love for us God will give us the wisdom and the energy to love others. Our love might be, probably will be, imperfect, flawed, and insufficient, but it will give us, and those whom we show love to, a glimpse of what the Kingdom of God is, and will someday become.
A prophet like Amos reminds us, however, that God, even though steadfastly loving, can be angry and fed up with us and what we do to others. The people Amos addressed are self-satisfied with their worship rituals: both ceremonies and gift-giving. They are proud of their performance of impressing God even as they ignore the sick, the poor, the vulnerable, and the hungry. Amos tells us, “Don’t be those people!” But he goes on to say, but “let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream!” Justice is more than random acts of kindness. To champion justice, which is basically see that others are treated as we would like to be treated requires more than one on one interaction. In involves such things as who we vote for and the causes we work for.
I like to think, and I’m willing to bet, that those who love to use their gifts of music and ceremony here at 13th and Holmes are not creating music and beauty to impress God, but to celebrate the relationship they have with God, acknowledging His love and presence in their lives. And those of us listening, watching, and participating within our own abilities, as we come together for worship each time we gather in this place, are doing the same.
And furthermore, the gifts we give of time and treasure to support this old church and its traditions, as well as the mission of this parish, diocese, and national church, are truly thank offerings instead of bribes.
That doesn’t mean God is always pleased with us, or sees us as doing all that we can, because most of us probably aren’t. I know I’m not. But, then again, “doing all we can do” is not necessarily what God desires from us. We don’t gather here to get a “to do list,” which would be a “one more thing to do of many” list. Another stone thrown to us when we are trying to swim in the challenges and stress of our lives. What God desires is to allow Him to love us and to love others through us. He will work out the details as we go along. We show up here, not to get a “to do” list, but to be empowered, through worship, prayer, and sacrament, to hear whatever God speaks to us in our hearts and minds about, and follow Him through any door He opens.
And any time we find ourselves patting ourselves on the back for doing that, let’ go back and read Amos!
Feats of All Saints
Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
5 November 2023
Today, we commemorate the Feast of All Saints, honoring all the saints who have come before us in the faith. The saints are an integral part of our public worship and private devotions. Here, at St. Mary’s, we have our patron saints, whom we name at every Mass – Blessed Luke, Blessed George, Blessed Cecilia, Blessed Therese, Blessed Margaret, and, of course, the Blessed Virgin Mary. And throughout the year, we commemorate the saints on our church calendar during Daily Masses. Today, after the sermon, we will chant the Litany of the Saints. Beginning with Mary, the Litany will present a kind of panoramic history of two millennia of Christian history, calling out the names of holy men and women from many different eras and places.
So, you might ask, especially if you’re from a more Protestant background, why all the focus on saints? Why all the services dedicated to the saints? According to today’s Collect, we remember and honor the saints because they present for us models of faith: “Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living.” Follow thy blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living. When we think about the saints of old, their extraordinary achievements seem beyond our reach. Most of us will never be called, as Perpetua and Felicity were, to pay the ultimate price and suffer martyrdom. Most of us will never be called, as Columba, Aidan, and Patrick were, to become missionaries and preach the Gospel in hostile, foreign lands. Most of us will never be called, as Francis and Clare of Assisi were, to vows of absolute poverty.
But whatever our personal circumstances may be, we are called to the same life of “virtuous and godly living” as followers of the same Lord Jesus Christ. We could spend a lot of time discussing what “virtuous and godly living” means, and we may have different opinions about what is virtuous and godly. Ancient theologians and philosophers used to compile different lists of virtues: the four cardinal virtues, the three theological virtues, the seven capital virtues, and so on. And, of course, there are plenty of lists of vices as well – and they tend to be more interesting. The fact is, we don’t need a long list of virtues to live a “virtuous and godly life.” In last week’s Gospel reading, we read about the Pharisee asking Jesus which of all the commandments is the greatest. Jesus responds with what some call the double love command, also known as the Summary of the Law: love God and love neighbor. All the laws and commandments are rooted in these two.
Or to put it another way, all the various virtues emanate from loving God and loving neighbor. To turn again to today’s Collect: “Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys which thou hast prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee…” Unfeignedly love thee. The saints are all about love – loving God and loving neighbor.
That’s why among the saints’ names on the Litany, we have Fr. James Stewart-Smith and Fr. Edwin Merrill. Fr. Stewart-Smith and Fr. Merrill were both beloved priests at St. Mary’s. They’re the two priests whose portraits grace the back wall of St. George Chapel. This past Thursday, on All Souls Day, we celebrated Mass at Forest Hill Calvary Cemetery. And we paid our respects to Fr. Merrill and Fr. Stewart-Smith, who are laid side by side in the cemetery. I took a photo between the two tombstones in the hopes that some of their saintliness might rub off. Fr. Stewart-Smith served twenty-three years as rector from 1891 to 1914, and Fr. Edwin Merrill, for 35 years, from 1918 to 1953. Between the two of them, they served St. Mary’s for basically the first half of the twentieth century.
But we remember and honor Fr. Stewart-Smith and Fr. Merrill not just for setting records in terms of the length of service but because of their deep and abiding love. They loved God, expressed through their life of prayer and worship. Everything they did was grounded in their profound spirituality. And they loved neighbor, establishing numerous ministries for the poor and needy. One of the tributes to Fr. Stewart-Smith at his death described his life as “a labor of love…walking among the lowly, the poor, the distressed and the fallen as a ministering spirit to relieve comfort and to lift up.” Fr. Stewart-Smith and Fr. Merrill are modern-day, local saints who have bequeathed to us at St. Mary’s a powerful and beautiful legacy of love.
Fr. Stewart-Smith and Fr. Merrill, and all the saints that we name on the Litany are long dead and gone. But they are alive to us not just in memory. We are united in Christ as one body. Again, to use the words of today’s Collect, we are “knit together in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of Christ our Lord.” We, the living and dead, are all united through faith in Jesus Christ. And we experience this unity with Christ and the saints most fully in the Eucharist. In the sacred mysteries of the Eucharist, the veil between heaven and earth disappears, and we are joined by the saints and all the citizens of heaven.
So, dear sisters and brothers, on this happy feast day, we celebrate all the saints. We hold up these models of embodied love to remind and inspire ourselves of what it means to live as followers of Christ Jesus. And as we gather at the altar, we join our voices with those of all the saints in our eternal praise and worship of the Lord our God.
 W.F. Kuhn, “Tribute to Fr. Stewart Smith,” The Kansas City Free Masonry, August 21, 1915.
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Sean C. Kim
29 October 2023
In today’s Gospel reading from Matthew, we have what is known as the Summary of the Law:
Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ sayeth. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like unto it. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.
Sound familiar? Well, you just heard at the beginning of today’s service. The Summary of the Law is an integral part of the Anglican tradition of worship, and here at St. Mary’s, you hear it at every Mass.
As with many aspects of our liturgy, it is biblically based. In today’s reading from Matthew. Jesus is in the middle of a confrontation with Jewish leaders, who are out to test him. A lawyer, a Pharisee, asks him, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest” Jesus responds by selecting two passages from the Hebrew Scriptures, the Torah. The first is Deuteronomy 6:5, and it is part of what is known as the shema: “Hear therefore, 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.” The shema is an ancient confession of faith for Jews, and it is still used in worship today. But Jesus doesn’t stop there; he couples the shema with Leviticus 19:18: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Judging from the silence that follows, Jesus passes the test. We are told that from that day on, no one dared to ask him any more questions (Matthew 22:46).
The Summary of the Law is a constant reminder of what it means to be a Christian and what we value most in our faith. All the laws and commandments can be boiled down to loving God and loving our neighbor – in Jesus’ words, “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
Loving God and loving neighbor are not only the two foundational commandments on which our faith rests; they are also inseparable and interrelated. Our love for neighbor flows out of our love for God. We cannot say that we love God if we do not love our neighbor.
Of the two commandments, however, we tend to hear and talk a lot more about loving neighbor than about loving God. Loving neighbor is a favorite topic of sermons. And around Christmas time, which is just around the corner, we hear the message not just in church but in our society at large. Think of all the feel-good movies and TV shows, and the calls for charitable giving during the season. We can never hear enough about loving our neighbor, but, the fact is, we don’t hear as much about loving God, even in church.
I think part of the reason is that we don’t always know what loving God means. We believe in it, but we wonder how we go about loving a God who is transcendent, beyond the reach of our five senses. We certainly cannot see or touch God, and we cannot put our arms around God and say “I love you” as we would a person. So how do we love God?
Well, the Summary of the Law provides a key. In fact, it lays out a three-fold approach to loving God – with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind. To begin with, we love God with all our heart. The Hebrew word for heart has a different sense than in English. We tend to associate the heart with emotions, but in Hebrew the heart has more to do with intention. It is “the center of a person’s willing, choosing, doing.” So, to love God with all our heart means to turn our hearts, our intentions, away from the world and ourselves to God. It is placing God above our personal interests and desires.
Second, we love God with all our soul. We pour out what lies deep in our soul to God through prayer. Whether we do so in private or in public worship, prayer is our main line of communication with God. Through prayer, we give thanks as well as present our petitions and intercessions, and we listen to God’s voice and discern God’s will for our lives.
Finally, we love God with all our mind. For the Jews, loving God with their mind meant studying God’s Word as revealed in the Torah. For us Christians, it is the Bible. Some of you may be familiar with the daily devotional called Forward Day by Day. We have copies on our welcome desk in the Parish Hall, if you’d like to pick one up after the service, and it’s also available online. Forward Day by Day is published by the Forward Movement, an Episcopal organization, which recently did a survey of Episcopal churches on various topics, and it found, to no great surprise, that we as a denomination don’t read or know our Bible as well as other denominations. Perhaps it’s our focus on liturgy; I know Roman Catholics don’t do too well on biblical literacy either. But for whatever reason, we are not reading God’s Word as we should.
If I might share a personal note with you, actually a recommendation, I have found the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer to be a rich resource for both prayer and Bible study. I’ve been an Episcopalian for almost twenty years, but it wasn’t until I began the ordination process a few years ago that I discovered what a treasure the Daily Office was. Praying Morning and Evening Prayer every day is a source of great strength and spiritual growth. I love the rhythm and the discipline that it provides. And the Daily Office takes us into prayer as well as Bible study since both Morning and Evening Prayer have selected readings from the Psalms, the Old Testament, and New Testament. The Daily Office will basically take you through the entire Bible in three years. So, if you are not praying the Daily Office already, I would highly recommend it. Historically and theologically, the Daily Office is the most distinctive aspect of Anglican spirituality. And these days, there are all sorts of Internet programs that make it convenient and easy to pray the Daily Office.
Dear friends, as we pray and study Scripture, we are obeying the greatest commandment to love God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind. And grounded in our love of God, we will be able to love our neighbors as ourselves. On these two pillars of love rests our calling as followers of the Lord Jesus. And during this time of war and violence, strife and division, we have a lot of work to do in living out our calling. So, let us pray as never before. Let us immerse ourselves in God’s Word. Let us go forth into the world proclaiming Christ’s Gospel of love. Amen.
Today we set aside the Scripture readings appointed for what would otherwise be the 21st Sunday after Pentecost, to remember, to celebrate, to give thanks to God for, the life of, St. Luke the Evangelist, and one of the patron saints of this church. According to Christian tradition, St. Luke was a physician. In those days, physicians were men or women who acquired knowledge of potions and practices that were supposed to cure illness or injury, either from those who practiced those arts, or from their own study of said potions and practices, and the observations they made as they experimented with such methods. Our reading from the Apocrypha today mentions favorably those persons.
However, Luke the Physician, is Saint Luke, not because he was a great physician (though he might have been so), but because he could write! We don’t interrupt our lectionary cycle to celebrate “St. Luke the Physician,” but rather to celebrate, declare a feast day in honor of, St. Luke the Author. More to the point we celebrate the life and influence in Christian tradition of St. Luke the Evangelist, i.e. the “writer of Good News,” the author of a Gospel, “The Good News of Jesus Christ, according to Luke”. He was not an author of fiction, but of history. Think Stephen Ambrose, not Stephen King. He didn’t make stuff up. He researched it and wrote down what he found. The Christian movement, the “Jesus Movement,” was sweeping the Mediterranean, and the leaders of it and those who were eyewitnesses to the life, death, and –amazingly, resurrection!—of the person who started it all, weren’t getting any younger. It was turning the world upside down and Dr. Luke wanted to make sure there was a record of why it was happening. When it was finally published, it was in two volumes. Vol 1, a Gospel, telling the story of one Jesus of Nazareth, and Vol II, a narrative of “The Acts of the Apostles” through the actions of those who birthed what became known as the Early Church.
This is not dry history. Luke could not only research stories, he could tell stories. He wrote in the colloquial Greek, the “universal language” of the time, so that it could be read by about anybody in that part of the world who could read. (Though scholars also note that he could, and did, write in classical Greek as well, as well as the Semitic Greek in which the Jewish Scriptures of the time were translated.) The preface to his Gospel in the New Oxford Annotated Bible, note that he “was a gifted literary artist” that “produced what has been justly described as ‘the most beautiful book in the world.” It is a tapestry of stories. Luke’s Gospel shares stories in common with the other Gospels: Matthew and Mark, and John whose writers also wanted to tell the stories and teachings of Jesus. However, it contains other stories that these Gospels, and The Gospel of John, do not:
For instance, the birth of John the Baptist, the annunciation to Mary, her song in response—the great Magnificat-- and her visit to Elizabeth (John the Baptist’s mother);
the angels and shepherds of the Nativity;
the story of the priest Simeon when he held the infant Jesus—his response is what we call the Nunc dimittis, “The Song of Simeon”, -“Lord, now letest thou thy servant depart in peace . . . for my eyes have seen thy salvation”-- found in our services of Evening Prayer and Compline.
In addition, Luke’s Gospel also contains the stories of six miracles and eighteen parables not recorded in the other Gospels, including the parables of “The Prodigal Son” and “The Good Samaritan.”
He is the only writer to tell the story of the earliest Church, the conversions and missionary journeys of St. Paul, the coming of the Holy Spirit, and examples of the earliest Christian preaching, known as the Apostolic Preaching. Its format could be summarized as “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.” Sound familiar?
In other words, we would be poorer in our understanding of who we are, or are to be, as Christians and as the Church without these writings of Luke.
As I said, Luke didn’t make this stuff up! It boggles my mind to think of what he might have had to do to find and collect all of these stories, teachings, and parables, from those who were eye-witnesses, and ear-witnesses to Jesus and events within the early Church. He didn’t have the world wide web, he couldn’t Google the information he needed, he couldn’t interview people by Zoom, or even over a phone! There were some common written accounts of Jesus that the writers of Mark and Matthew had access to that were familiar to Luke, as well, though it is doubtful he ever saw either of those finished Gospels in writing. But he had to have done a lot or original research to come up with material unique to his Gospel. I can imagine him haunting local libraries, such as they were, for scrolls containing the DNA of this world-changing movement that he was a part of. Maybe he even had research assistants that went back to Palestine to dig up the information he needed! I can imagine him hanging out with his traveling companions as he followed Paul around the Mediterranean to Rome. Sitting with them at the end of the day, or walking on the road, or sailing on a ship, as they told stories about Jesus that had been passed down to them by an aunt or uncle, or grandfather, or by a friend, or a friend, of a friend. For stories and information were still largely passed on orally in those days. And please note, if you don’t know this already: it was a hallmark of the practice of the oral tradition that the stories and teachings passed on suffered very little from being passed from one person to another over a span of years.
These teachings and stories of Luke, like those of the other Gospel writers, aren’t just dry histories, unlinked to our own time and place. St. Luke knew that these words he had seen and heard and written down had transformed the lives of the people he kept company with, and had transformed his life as well. They had opened him up to “a God whose property is always to have mercy,” who loved His people and His creation so much that He had settled into our midst see us through the eyes of Jesus, a Jewish carpenter in the backwater of the Roman Empire. Luke must have been rendered both heartbroken by the excruciating story of this Jesus’ death and astonished by his mind-blowing resurrection. He had seen the lives of many others changed, given new hope, courage, and purpose by the words said by and about this man who claimed God as His Father. He had seen first-hand the truth of the words written about Jesus and the Holy Spirit confirmed in the self-less and self-giving acts of those who had been transformed by those words both written and spoken to them by others. His life was changed, and he wanted others to experience the same words that had transformed him and took it upon himself to collect all of these stories he could and write them down so that others might be transformed too.
All of the saints we honor as Episcopalian Christians—“The Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement” as Presiding Bishop Michael Curry puts it, bear witness to someone who has been changed by these words, whether by reading them, or having someone speak them, or someone who enacted them as someone who accepted them and included them when they were a shunned Prodigal Son or who ministered to them like a Good Samaritan when they lay wounded in one of life’s ditches. And they, in turn, represent countless others through the ages who have been so moved by the stories Luke (and others) told and re-told. For these words have a way of being re-enacted in the actions towards others of those who have heard and been changed by those words. Those persons who founded St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in 1854, here in Kansas City MO, the forerunner of our present St. Mary’s, were among them!
“Re-enactment” is word often used to refer to a situation in which a time or a situation from the past is acted out, by “re-enactors", as in those who populate a replica of a Colonial village, or an Old West town, or a Civil War army bivouac. It helps us see how “those folks lived.” As part of the modern day “Jesus Movement”, we don’t don bathrobes and sandals and build a first century village for the tourists. We take the Biblical stories and teachings spoken and written millennia ago, and by the timeless power of God, make them come alive in our time and place by our actions towards others in the here and now. That process of passing on to others the love of God that we know, believe, and experience, has a place in our baptismal vows, as the question is asked of us “Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?”
The Good News of Jesus becomes the Mighty Acts of the Apostles because that is the way that God works, and the way that God works through us even today. Here is something for all of us to think about: Are we are here because we once upon a time we read these words of Luke, of Matthew, of John, of St. Paul? Or heard them read by someone. Or had the words unspoken, but rather put into an act of kindness or hope or rescue by someone whose life had been changed and/or molded by these words, then, in turn, passed them. by word or action, on to us, resulting in our own transformation in some degree or another?
This “passing of the Good News” is called “Evangelism,” because Evangel literally means Good News! Unfortunately, it is a word that might have negative associations for us because of certain traditions that self-identify as “evangelicals.”
It might help some of us, therefore, to “re-associate” the word with St. Luke, and his work of gathering stories about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and the mighty acts of God in the early Church, so that they would be remembered, and re-enacted in time of those who heard and read them.
He even tells us a story about Jesus that illustrates this. You heard it this morning.
Jesus begins his formal ministry by showing up in his hometown synagogue, and reading a familiar piece of Scripture by Isaiah. He read: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and the recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” He rolled up the scroll. He looked at his listeners. They looked at him. Then he said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
It was fulfilled because he was there to enact it. And, by the power of God, he did.
How might we, in turn, re-enact, this passage from Luke, again by the power of God, in our lives this week, or the next?
Be prepared to find out!
-The Rev. Larry Parrish
Proper 23 Manuscript - Year A 10/15/23
Postulant Brandon Smee
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There was a boy who lived in a far-off country which had grown just
wealthy enough to invest in science. So, he learned about carbon. Science
lessons typically passed him by like Boy Scouts, leaving no trace. But not
carbon: atomic number 6, symbol C, capable of up to four covalent bonds.
As the PowerPoint said, carbon didn’t come from just anywhere; it was
made in the hearts of stars. There, supercharged alpha particles zipped
around so fast that three of them could collide in a window so short the
blink of an eye would seem an eon by comparison. In that collision, carbon
was born. The stars seeded the galaxy with it, including the little cloud that
formed Earth, where it became diamonds, pencils, and the fundamental
building block of life.
The boy’s mind exploded: every living thing was carbon! That meant
everyone came from stars. The galaxies were his grandparents and
everybody his cousins. This epiphany grasped his imagination, then his
words, actions, and habits, until it was simply him. Carbon just kept
nudging him, pointing him through tough spots.
And there were tough spots. Over time, the economy faltered. The
lowlands flooded. The highlands burned. The skies and seas were choked.
Fear was epidemic, and the people empowered those who frightened them
most, a power felt first as a rumor, then as a presence, and then as the
absence of dissent.
So, one night, the boy, now grown, heard pounding on his door. He
found a breathless, wide-eyed young man pleading, “I heard you help
people.” Sharp voices approached. Fear struck, thick and sudden. But he
looked up through a passing break in the clouds to a single star. He brought
him in but didn’t foresee the consequences since, in time, helping a
stranger led to aiding countless more, a single rebellion against fear to
everyday resistance, and one star-blessed offer of brotherhood to a
boundless, revolutionary kinship. He was there when they filled the streets
as dense and bonded as carbon and the soldiers laid down their guns. When
the fireworks cleared, he looked up again to the stars. They seemed to sing
over everyone everywhere, “Behold, our children, our beloved, in whom we
Elsewhere, there was a mother who bore a daughter, and holding her,
she looked into her searching eyes and said, without reservation, “I love
you.” And she gave her everything. Day by day, she fed her and changed
her. She washed and dressed her even when she struggled, and she
comforted her when she cried out in the night’s most lonesome hours.
Resolving to give her a good life, she released the dreams she’d held since
girlhood to free her hands. She worked until her daughter lacked almost
nothing. But the daughter watched the years wear her mother down until
she who’d been so tall, full, and present seemed distant and small. At the
edge of adulthood, she vowed to transcend the woman who raised her.
So she went to college and, graduating, took a job at which she
excelled. She found a partner, and together they raised a family. The years
were happy, and she lacked almost nothing. But then she sent her eldest to
college, and soon the others, and with the children gone, she and her
partner found they’d grown different, too different to continue. So she
worked until no work could be found and retired to an empty home, and,
one night, washing dishes, she saw her reflection in the window and
thought of her mother.
Not long after, she got a call. Her mother was sick and wouldn’t get
better, so she took her in. It was awkward – yet as natural as breathing.
They laughed, fought, and cried together. But eventually, laughter yielded
to fighting and fighting to crying and crying to groans too deep for words.
As the illness advanced, the daughter resolved to give her mother a good
life. And she gave her everything. Day by day, she fed her and changed her.
She washed and dressed her, even when she struggled. She comforted her
when she cried out in the night’s most lonesome hours. And at the last, as
she held her, the daughter looked into her mother’s searching eyes and
said, without reservation, “I love you.”
You can trace these stories to an ancient source. For ages ago, the
wise told of a Father and a Son and their Love. They had no records from
before their Love, nor evidence it ended. They found no way to measure it
since time couldn’t endure it, and space would shatter trying to hold it. It
seemed their Love was before both and was thus the source of everything.
And they debated sharply since if Love was truly from forever, then it
wasn’t something the Father or the Son adopted or produced. But, ever as
they lived, they were being love, and where the life of their being embraced,
Love too was alive. And the wise who entered in found that it was so, and
they confessed the Father, the Son, and the Living Love and Love itself as
the history of everything.
But this story branched into various versions. In one, the Father is the
hope of a woman who hears the word of the Living Love and enters the
shadow of its joy so boldly she bears the Son through sheer love alone, and
when she loses him, she cries the word spoken through angels and
prophets, and her hope gives birth to life. In another, the Father is the
liberation a young man fights for until he’s captured and hung up to die,
and the Living Love is the freedom he glimpses in the Son dying beside him
and, praying the Son to free him in memory, they both that day are freed.
And recently, the Father is an unsearchable darkness over a trembling
world, the Living Love a voice calling its people, and the Son the kernel and
fruit of their toil, and as the people lift up the bread and wine of their lives,
they are lifted into the Father and behold not the fear of darkness but its
All this brings us back to the story Fr. Sean read just minutes ago, the
story Jesus told. It’s terrifying. Jesus portrays the kingdom of heaven as a
raging, enslaving king who kills and destroys any who deny him, a tyrant
who doesn’t neglect to punish a choice of clothing. If this is what heaven’s
like, do I want to go? I could get to the throne, realize I left my pants on
earth, and be tossed by an angel into the outer darkness.
But there’s another way to hear this story. If you discover the origin of
carbon, or journey with a parent and child, or fathom the endless depths of
the Living Love, you’ll see that the terrifying king in Jesus’s story is a father.
His law is loving his son. Preparing a celebration for him, he welcomes
everyone who’d join but reproves anyone who spits on his child. So what
would this king do should someone come to his son’s wedding reception
wearing business attire to sell the king shares, or fatigues to wage his wars,
or holy vestments to be appointed his chief priest? He’d banish them. It’s
not about honor; it’s not about edicts and rules. The king wants one thing:
that everyone enter into his love.
Like a tangent touches a circle in just one spot, the gospel touches this
parable precisely where a parent loves a child. What makes heaven’s reign
unlike any other is the love at its center. There, we find our Lord Jesus
Christ, within his Father’s glory and the Holy Spirit’s embrace. And down
here, when the Virgin gave birth to her son, the Three-in-One invited
everything into the primordial story of love. This parable tells part of that
story: the wideness of love’s invitation and its surprising ferocity toward
those who reject it. You could endlessly adapt the story, telling it through a
kaleidoscope of human lives, but only Jesus, with this parable and divine
power, could transform the eternal story into an invitation we must accept
Jesus invites everything to enter where the Holy Spirit abides, within
the story of Father and Son. Their love echoes in every story worth telling,
whether we narrate the interplay of star and carbon, mother and daughter,
lover and beloved, or the immeasurable web of creation and us. Even so,
Jesus says, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” Despite love’s
unbounded invitation, we can pursue other narratives. For money, fame,
pleasure, or power, we can carve our resentment on obelisks of stone and
produce feature-length projections of our heroism, or that of our family,
church, nation, race, or pet ideologies, as if to replace the eternal story with
self-gratifying fan-fiction, as if to conquer all worlds with fabrications more
compelling than Reality itself. No, the one word of God in Christ Jesus is
love. Everything else is just shadows cast on a fading world before the
dawn. But love remains, the love of the children of God. Will we enter the
St. Mary's KC -Feast of St. Francis
Rt. Rev. Diane Jardine Bruce
October 8, 2023
I bring you greetings from your diocesan staff - we are here to help you in any way we can, and we mean that. I am especially happy to be back with you all for this visitation - it is a joy to be with you and to celebrate in this beautiful space.
I want to start out by saying that today's gospel has always called me to task a bit. "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." - Jesus said those words, and I, at times, find Jesus' yoke far from easy, and his burden heavy. Maybe you have felt that way - being a follower of Jesus is not always easy. Especially when you are in positions of leadership in the church, and here I am talking about any leadership position - it can be difficult to love and Jesus loves, and live a Christ-like life.
Today, as we celebrate the Feast of St. Francis, I know that Francis took on the yoke of Christ and carried that yoke with him all the days of his life. He bore the burden of living a Christ-like life with seeming ease.
I want to share with you all this morning that in 2016 Steve and I, together with my older sister, my twin sister and my brother-in-law travelled to Italy. On my bucket list was to go to Assisi. I wanted to walk in the footsteps of St. Francis. I especially wanted to see the San Damiano cross - the cross which spoke out to St. Francis, calling him to mission and ministry. A replica of the cross is in the Church of San Damiano close to Assisi. When the Poor-Clares moved from San Damiano to the Basilica of Santa Chiara in Assisi in 1257, they took the original San Damiano Cross with them and still guard it. It now hangs in the Basilica over the altar of the Chapel of the Crucifix.
When I walked in the front door of the Basilica where the original San Damiano cross hangs in Assisi -- I didn't need anyone to tell me where that cross was. The minute I walked in the door I was literally drawn to it. It wasn't right there in full sight - it was in a side chapel. I felt this pull - and I went right to it. My husband asked me, "where are you going?" - "I'm going to the San Damiano cross."
There is something about that cross that is mystical. You can feel it when you are there. Certainly St. Francis must have felt that way - remember it was in front of this cross that St.
Francis as a young man was praying - and received the word from God that he was to rebuild the church.
After that moment St. Francis was indeed transformed - and his life was changed forever. He was a new creation. God spoke to St. Francis from that cross.
He took on the yoke of Christ - and from the stories we hear about him, he made the burden seem light.
What about us? How can we enter into that space where we, too, take on the yoke of Christ? How can we learn from Jesus? What does St. Francis' story say to us today?
Pray. Yup. Pray. St. Francis was standing at the foot the San Damiano cross praying. And his life was changed forever.
I will confess to you all that sometimes the busyness of my life as a bishop gets in the way of my prayer life. I will also confess to you all that when I don't pray regularly, I can feel the yoke of Christ weigh me down - why? Because I'm not centered. When I pray, I am much more centered and there isn't anything that I can't face.
I think the Rev. Samuel Shoemaker said it best when he said,
"Prayer might not change things for you, but it will sure change you for things."
Shoemaker also was quoted as saying, "Don't pray to escape trouble. Don't pray to be comfortable in your emotions. Pray to do the will of God in every situation. Nothing else is worth praying for."
St. Francis discovered these truths that Rev. Shoemaker shared long ago. His prayer transformed his life, and I firmly believe it was prayer that spurred him on to years of faithful service praying to do the will of God in every situation. St. Francis understood, as the psalmist said, My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. It was to God - to Christ Jesus - that St. Francis turned.
So whether you pray the daily office, practice Lectio Divina, practice Christian meditation, or just have daily conversations with God - the important thing is to pray. Stay centered. Then in taking on the Yoke of Christ, your burden - our burden - will be light.
Feast of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux
Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
1 October 2023
Today, we celebrate the Feast of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. She is one of the patron saints
of our church, together with Luke, George, Margaret, Cecilia, and, of course, the Blessed Virgin
Mary. You may have noticed that we have been naming our patron saints at each Mass during
the Prayers of the People.
At St. Mary’s, we have two relics, one is that of Thérèse, and the other, Cecilia, a second-
century martyr. Both are designated as first-class relics. There are three categories of relics. A
first-class relic is a body part, such as bone or hair. Both our relics are bone fragments. A
second-class relic is a saint’s personal possession, such as clothing or a rosary. A third-class relic
is an object that the saint has touched or that has been touched to a first or second-class relic.
You didn’t know you were going to get a lecture on relics this morning, did you?
After the service, at the end of the Postlude, you are invited, if you would like, to come to
the altar rail to venerate the relic of St. Thérèse. It is custom to touch, kiss and/or simply gaze
upon the relic. The veneration of relics has a long history and goes back to the days of the early
church. For those of you from Protestant backgrounds who may not be familiar with the
tradition, please be assured that this is not worship. We are simply expressing our respect and
reverence for St. Thérèse, whose life and witness point us to God.
Thérèse was a Roman Catholic nun belonging to the Order of Discalced Carmelites. Born
in 1873 in France, she lived a brief and tragic life, dying at the young age of 24 after a long
struggle with tuberculosis. Together with Francis of Assisi, whose feast we will observe next
Sunday, Thérèse is one of the most beloved and popular saints in the Church.
But she is a very different kind of saint than most of the ones on the official Church
calendar. She was not a martyr. She was not a towering theologian. She was not the founder of a
major religious order or movement in the Church. On the contrary, she was quite ordinary, living
the life of an obscure monastic in her Carmelite convent in Lisieux, France.
It was only after her death that she became famous through the publication of her
spiritual autobiography, The Story of a Soul. In the book, she recalls how she once had visions of
doing great things for God and Church. Shortly after becoming a nun, she volunteered to become
a missionary to Vietnam to help establish the Carmelite order there. She wanted to offer her life
for evangelization and even martyrdom. But her poor health prevented her from realizing this or
any other dream of achieving a great spiritual feat.
So, why has Thérèse become such a beloved saint? In her book, she presents what she
calls the “little way.” Limited by the circumstances of her health, she came to the realization that
she may not be able to offer God a big sacrifice like dedicating one’s life to spreading the Gospel
to distant, foreign lands or dying a martyr’s death. What she can offer, however, are “little”
sacrifices of prayer and good deeds every day. She calls these daily offerings, expressing her
love for God, her “little flowers.” And the phase has come to be associated with her name.
Thérèse is often known as the “Little Flower of Jesus” or the “Little Flower.”
It is because Thérèse faithfully lived out the little way in her life, dedicated to prayer and
good deeds, that she has become a saint. And she has set a simple and yet powerful model of
piety for the rest of us. We, too, have the potential of living holy lives by following the little way
of prayer and good deeds. Not many of us will make a big name for ourselves in the annals of
church history through momentous accomplishments. But we do have countless opportunities to
offer our sacrifices of prayer and good deeds, our little flowers, to God every day.
If I might take the liberty of extending Thérèse’s metaphor of the little flower, the flower
not only symbolizes love; it is an object of beauty. We pay a lot of attention to beauty in our
liturgy – the space in which we worship, our vestments, the incense, the music, the Elizabethan
language. A common phrase that you will hear in Anglo-Catholic circles is “the beauty of
holiness and the holiness of beauty.” The solemn, dignified worship is what attracts many people
to our tradition. But the beauty of holiness is to be found not only in our liturgy; it is also found
in our piety, the other cornerstone of our Anglo-Catholic identity. To put it another way, there is
beauty in prayer and good deeds.
Here at St. Mary’s, I have constant encounters with the beauty of holiness, or, to borrow
Thérèse’s language, little flowers of prayer and good deeds. Just a couple of days ago, I saw the
beauty of holiness in our parishioners who gathered here for Mass to pray for First Responders,
Military, and Veterans. Every Sunday and throughout the week, I see the beauty of holiness in
our acolytes who faithfully serve at the altar. I see the beauty of holiness in our volunteers who
quietly work behind the scenes filling blessing bags for the homeless or cooking in the kitchen
for Cherith Brooks. I see the beauty of holiness in our clergy and volunteers who visit the sick
and the lonely. These are all examples of our little flowers of various forms and colors, offered in
love to God.
So, we have quite a garden here at St. Mary’s, a spiritual garden, that is. There are little
flowers of prayers and good deeds all around us – beautiful, holy flowers. But there is room for
far more. We have yet to reach our full potential as a community. To begin with, we need to pray
more. We are the only church in our diocese that offers Daily Mass, but so many of our
parishioners have yet to experience it. If you can’t come to Daily Mass, you might make a
special effort to come to special Masses on our feast days during the week. Or if you can’t come
in person, please join us online. And how is your private prayer life? You might want to try
praying the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer. Or praying the rosary? Or come this
Saturday morning to Lectio Divina and Centering Prayer. We are called to be a people of prayer.
As the Apostle Paul says, “Pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17).
We also need you in our various ministries. For a small church like us, we do a lot around
her. Just look at our weekly newsletter. So, we are always in need of volunteers for liturgy,
outreach, as well as all sorts of other jobs, like helping with our weekly reception or decorating
the Nave for different seasons. As Advent and Christmas approach, the Church will get even
busier, and we need your help.
As God called a young girl named Therese more than a hundred years ago, He is calling
you to the little way of prayer and good deeds. And as the little flowers that you plant at St.
Mary’s proliferate and flourish, may God take delight in the beauty of His garden.
The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 24, 2023
Fr. Larry Parrish
I keep calling attention to my age, but do any of you remember the old tv series, “Mission Impossible”? That was loooong before Tom Cruise and the current movie franchise! Remember that it always started with one of the characters receiving a tape—as in reel to reel audio tape (are you still with me?) When played the tape would voice, “Your Mission, should you desire to accept it, is . . .” Then the message, “This tape will self destruct in 10 seconds . . .” and “Poof!”
Jonah received such a message. There was no “if you accept it”—God was the voice on the tape. “Your mission is to get on a boat, land on the beach of a country that hates your country, walk inland to its major city, and tell people that they are evil and that if they don’t repent they are toast.” And when the tape ended, Jonah almost self-destructed! He immediately bought passage on a boat—going the opposite direction! For the country was Assyria and the city was “that wicked city” Nineveh. Let’s not be too hard on Jonah. If God appeared to us in some unmistakable way and said, “I want you to go to Moscow, and when you get there, walk into the city until you get to the Kremlin, then stand at its entrance and say, All of you people are doomed! God said so!” We would be buying a plane ticket to Sydney!
Well, you probably know the rest of the story. Jonah fled, was thrown overboard by the ship’s crew, was swallowed by a large fish, was thrown up by the fish after three days onto the shore of Assyria and walked to and into Nineveh.
When he got not the middle of the city, he pronounced his message—perhaps as quietly as he could, to avoid being noticed: (whispered) “Repent or you are doomed.” And to his surprise—and chagrin—the whole city repented, its King repented, and even all of the animals repented! Jonah should have been elated. Instead he became angry with God, and went into a major sulk. “I knew it!” he says to God, I knew you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. I’m so angry at you that I could just die!” I endure an ocean storm, almost drown, spend three days in the belly of a stinkin’ fish, and risk my life in a hostile country, and you FORGIVE these people without making them pay for what their foreign policy has done to MY country! I KNEW you were going to be merciful!”
I can easily get why Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh. I have faced situations where there was such hostility that I would eagerly have taken ship in the opposite direction if I were able. What I have trouble fathoming is why Jonah is angry that God made his mission successful. The people of Nineveh did not jail him or stone him to death. They heard the call to repent and did. They and all their animals! Most people would have been ecstatic that things worked out as they did. But Jonah wasn’t. He was angry. He had stepped up—probably forgetting he had been thrown up—by a fish—onto an Assyrian beach after reluctantly agreeing to act like a prophet—and said what God told him to say, though probably not very loudly and not very long, and he had 100% results. And he was angry at God for not destroying every last person in Nineveh!
Well, maybe I do understand. It sometimes makes me cranky to hear of someone on the lecture or TV interview circuit that has done illegal, maybe even awful, things and then repented of it and amended their life, and are now getting appearance fees and book royalties—and worse yet, public acclaim!—for their turned-around new lives! I have been reasonably moral, and faithful, and reliable, all my life, and I never received a book deal! Or someone I know who I expect the worst from, surprises me with a great act of kindness, or an apology. Instead of being delighted, I want to go on disliking them, and I find myself justifying why I can do so!
But the Jonah story is about more than just human behavior, it is about who God is and how He works. It is an Old Testament mirror image of Jesus’ parable in our Gospel reading for today.
Jesus tells the story of a landowner who needed grape harvestors and went to the unemployment office in the town and hired some guys at the beginning of the day to work in his vineyard. He made an offer of fair wages for the day, saying that he “would pay them whatever is right.” By 9:00, he needed more workers, so he went back downtown and signed up more. At Noon, same thing. He needed still more at 3:00, so he hired them. Finally, with the sun getting low in the sky, and the job still not finished, he went back at 5:00 that afternoon and employed another group. Those who came to work closest to sunset were paid first: a full day’s wages. All of the other shifts got the same amount. Including the guys that had been working hard in the hot sun all day! And they were livid about it! The landowner shrugged his shoulders. “I paid you going daily wage. That’s what you agreed to. I chose to give everyone who came to work today the same amount. Can I not choose what to do with what belongs to me? Are you envious because I am generous?”
“Are you envious because I am generous?” Exactly. Jonah was. He wanted to be on a different standing with God than those folks from “the Wicked City.” In a world filled with pagan gods, he had worshipped the True God. The God of Abraham and Isaac, etc. He had even endured hardships to do his will (forgetting that he would have avoided those hardships if he hadn’t been running in the opposite direction from where God wanted him to go!) But these people who had scoffed at God and even did bad things to Jonah’s people now had the same standing just because they turned their hearts to God—and in response to the threat of extinction even! It just wasn’t FAIR!
So while he was outside of Nineveh sulking in the hot sun, God gave caused a bush to grow up over him to give him precious shade. Jonah was thankful. Then the next day, God caused the plant to die. Jonah was angry again! Angry enough to die! So God said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?” “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?” Any question about who the landowner in the parable represents?
The parables of Jesus—and many of the Old Testament stories-- can’t be made to represent humanity’s “business as usual.” We can’t box them in, anymore than we can box Jesus in, or God, WHO Jesus is the human face of. We can’t build a tidy ethical system from them in the complications of our world. We can’t build an economic system from them, or a system of government from them. We can only stand before God without status, without standing, without merit, and let Him/Her love us as we are, and usually in spite of who we are—and to admit that He loves all people (and all of his creatures?) just as much as he loves us.
The parables not only unravel our preconceptions about God and ourselves, they leave us with questions we can spend the rest of our lives struggling to answer. This parable does not say that good works are fruitless, that we cannot disappoint God, that there is not evil in the world and in others. It does not say that because we are equally loved by God we can do whatever we feel like doing, or that we can suck our thumbs and do nothing. We have a mission from God and St. Paul hints at the shape of it.
St. Paul, speaks of “fruitful labor,” but the work he speaks of Christians doing is not keeping busy, but living “in Christ” and striving “for the faith of the gospel,” which is the recognition by us and telling others that God loves us dearly and steadfastly, and loves everybody else in the same way. Loves us so much that He was willing to come in our shape and form and die on a cross to prove it. It is our mission, it is the Church’s mission, it is St. Mary’s mission. It might seem to be our “mission impossible.” However, is work that God will do in us and through us: through His Holy Spirit; through the Sacrament of His Body and Blood in which “we dwell in Him, and He in us.”; and through the company of the saints, and the company of each other. It won’t be through our power alone. It won’t be without struggle. Life will continue to happen. We will encounter people who don’t want to be loved by God, or by anyone else. We will get in our own way, and in God’s way.
I can only promise you that you won’t be swallowed by a big fish and that God won’t abandon you. And while I can’t promise it 100%, I believe that you will find joy.
The sermons preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!