Fourth Sunday in Lent
The Rev’d Charles Everson
John 9:1-13, 28-38
March 19, 2023
Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior? Are you saved?
This is a question many of us have been asked, and some of may have asked it of others. In certain corners of the Christian faith, it is taught that this is how you become a Christian: at the moment in time when you admit to yourself and to God that you are a sinner, and you ask Jesus to come into your heart, you are “saved” and then are guaranteed a spot in heaven.
When I was 11, my step-dad got transferred to Texas, and once we got settled there, some friends at school invited me to a youth group gathering at Trinity Oaks Baptist Church in Red Oak, Texas. It was there I had such an experience. And wow, was it an emotional experience! I felt closer to God than I had ever been – as if I had met him for the first time and all of my spiritual and emotional wounds were healed! I was convinced that what they were telling me was true. Finally, I knew I’d get to heaven!
The youth pastor and other, having heard about my experience, encouraged me to be baptized. For the Baptists, baptism is something you do in response to the purely inward and spiritual act of accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. No grace is imparted in the waters of baptism. You get baptized only out of obedience as an outward sign of what has already happened in your heart.
In the passage we heard from the gospel of John, we see the conversion story of a man who was born blind. Jesus brought about healing and wholeness to the blind man not by teaching him what to pray or what to believe, but by spitting on the ground and making clay with the saliva and spreading it on the man’s eyes, then saying, “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam”. So he went and washed and came back able to see. This man’s conversion involved clay from the earth, Jesus’ saliva, the touch of his hands, and the words he spoke.
It wasn’t until years after my “conversion experience” at age 11 that I learned that this is exactly how the Sacraments of the Church work! By the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus infuses and transforms the simple creatures of water, bread and wine, and oil in order to communicate his grace, his healing, his wholeness to us. Salvation isn’t just something that happens in the secret places of our hearts, it is also something that happens to the body. There really isn’t any room in Christianity for separating the two.
This passage also exposes another unhealthy dualism that was as common in Jesus’s time as it is in our own. As Jesus passed the blind man, his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Many of us get it in our heads that if things are going well for me, God must be happy with me. On the other hand, if my life is going to hell in a handbasket, God must be unhappy with me. I must have done something wrong.
Friends, that isn’t Christianity. God’s grace and favor toward us are by definition unearned and undeserved and not related to anything we may have done or left undone.
Rather than treating the human body and soul as separate things, from the earliest of times, the Church has taught that we are one, whole, fully integrated person that is, in a sense, born blind. We are all born with the tendency to sin, and once we’re old enough and have the ability to choose right from wrong, we often choose to engage in sin.
This past Friday night, Bishop Bruce was here and she baptized and confirmed a young woman named Jordan (Jordan works on Sundays, so she’s been coming during the week), and she confirmed eight others: Jami, Aaron, Kait, Monica, Abby, Matthew, Cat, and Minor. Using the tangible elements of water, and the bishop’s hands, God’s grace was bestowed on these nine persons. Each of them acknowledged in their heart and publicly before this faith community and the Almighty that he or she is a sinner. By water and the Holy Spirit, God bestowed the forgiveness of sins on Jordan. The others renewed the covenant they made at their baptism (or was made on their behalf when they were infants) and by the laying on of the bishop’s hands and the Holy Spirit, they were strengthened with God’s heavenly grace and empowered to do the ministry God has called them to do as mature Christians.
While I know some of them better than others, it is certain that they all came to God for his grace on Friday from very different upbringings, experiences, and having made very different moral choices throughout their lives. Jesus met each of them where they are, and using physical elements transformed by the Holy Spirit bestowed his grace on them, not because they were worthy because of their own merit or success, but because God lavishly bestows his grace and love to those who don’t deserve it at all.
That powerful moment at Trinity Oaks Baptist Church at the young age of 11 was certainly when I realized for the first time that I was a sinner and in need of redemption. But I had been baptized as a young child at Village Presbyterian Church in Mission, Kansas. While she may not have had the theological language to explain why, my mother knew that baptism was once and for all and did not want me to get baptized again. I was a persistent and unruly child and ended up wearing her down, so she relented, and I ultimately got dunked by the Baptists. But in hindsight, I don’t think that was the moment I became destined for heaven, nor was my baptism when I was a child for that matter. When asked now if I’m saved, I respond, “I was saved, I am being saved, I will be saved.” Salvation isn’t a one-time event, but rather the culmination of a continual cycle of death and resurrection – of falling to sin and repenting and returning to the Lord – that begins at baptism and ends at the resurrection of the body at the Last Day, peppered with spiritual highs and lows and everywhere in between, littered with good and bad choices, and continually nourished by God’s grace given to us freely and undeservedly in the Sacraments of the Church.
And now, as we do week after week, we come to the altar of God and ask the Lord to bless and sanctify, by his Word and Holy Spirit, the simple creatures of bread and wine, receiving God’s pardon and peace in our bodies and in our souls, and eating of that foretaste of the heavenly banquet, giving us hope that just as Christ was raised from the dead, so we will be raised at the last day. Dear friends, let us run with haste to this altar as the wise men did to Bethlehem to greet our Savior Jesus Christ who came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world, confident that he will evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him. Amen.
Wednesday, March 8, 2023
The Rev’d Charles Everson
1 Thess. 4:13-18
When I was 32-years-old, I began to discern a call to ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church. The call previously manifested itself in a Southern Baptist context, and it never really left during the time I was Roman Catholic and eventually Episcopalian. During the interview process with the Commission on Ministry in Kansas, I was asked the typical questions: “Why do you feel called to be a priest” and “What excites you most about the thought of leading a parish” and so on. One question I hadn’t thought about before then was, “What causes you the most fear and anxiety when you envision life as a priest?” The answer came to me immediately without any additional thought: “I am afraid of dealing with death. The thought of being pastoral with those who are dying, and with their families, is scary to me.”
Death is not something we deal with very well in our day and age. When this building was built in 1887, life expectancy in the United States was 41.1 years of age and by 2020, it had climbed to 78.81 years of age. When the average person dies at the age of 40, death is part of human existence from a very early age. I didn’t experience death of a close family member until my grandmother died when I was 20.
Not long after that Commission on Ministry interview, I was called on to officiate a funeral of the 17-year-old son of a co-worker at the bank who had hung himself from a tree. Two years later, the bank owner’s son died at the age of 20 of a drug overdose. My second funeral here at St. Mary’s was for now parishioners Erika and Bryan Atkins’ daughter who died tragically at the age of 18, and just this week, my step-dad’s best friend’s 33-year-old son named Tim died suddenly and I’ve been asked to officiate his funeral.
I no longer fear death. No matter when death occurs – tragically at a young age, or after a long and fruitful life full of love – fear is no longer part of my experience. But sadness and grief certainly are. As Paul says to the Church at Thessalonica, we Christians do not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. This isn’t an intangible hope that we just feel in our hearts, it is palpable and manifested perhaps most fully in the gritty elements of bread and wine. In the Eucharist, we are given a foretaste of the heavenly banquet when we will be united with Jesus and those in Heaven in a way we can’t even begin to fathom. When we receive the bread and wine, we are given a sure and certain hope that one day, we will be reunited with those we love but see no more.
Dear friends, as we celebrate this requiem mass, we grieve and mourn our beloved dead, but we do so without fear. For Christ has conquered death, and through these simple creatures of bread and wine, we have hope that we will feast with them in heaven where there is no death, neither sorrow nor crying, but the fulness of joy with all the saints.
The Second Sunday in Lent
Text: Genesis 12:1-8
Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
5 March 2023
When I read today’s Old Testament lesson about Abraham and his family leaving behind their home to journey to a foreign land, I find myself drawing parallels with the story of my own family. Like Abraham, my parents left behind their native, ancestral land – in our case, Korea – to move to the United States in 1971. At the time, I was only a little kid, so I didn’t fully appreciate the challenges and sacrifices that my parents experienced as they became immigrants. Like Abraham, my parents left behind not only their family and friends but also a life of comfort and privilege. From our history books, we read about the European immigrants who fled poverty, hunger, political unrest, and religious persecution to arrive on crowded, dirty ships to Ellis Island. In contrast, our family traveled by jumbo jet with layovers in Hawaii and Los Angeles. And where is the first place we went when we landed in the continental U.S.? Disneyland, of course.
My parents left Korea for two major reasons. The first was education. For all its faults, the American educational system, especially higher education, is the best in the world. Just look at all the foreign students on our college campuses today. The second reason was security. Having been refugees during the Korean War, my parents didn’t want us kids to suffer what they had to go through in the case of another war. As you know, even today, North Korea poses a major threat not only to South Korea but to the world. So, in short, it was for us kids that my parents made the move.
As I get older, I realize more and more what a bold, risky move it was for them to pull up their roots and move to a foreign country. But like Abraham, my parents turned to their faith in God for strength and guidance. And in all the years that they lived in their new, adopted land, never once did they have any regrets or complaints.
If I had been my parents, I’m not so sure that I would have had the courage to do what they did. It would have been so much easier for them to stay in Korea. Being risk-averse and a creature of habit, I avoid situations that pose unknown risks and challenges. I need a sense of control and don’t want to leave anything to chance. Sound familiar? I’m sure that I’m not alone in having this kind of personality. This past week, I just found out that I might be moving to a different part of town, and it unleashed all sorts of anxieties. I can’t imagine moving to a different country. So, I feel a bit hypocritical preaching this sermon. Of course, you know that it is always easier to preach than to practice what you preach.
In today’s text from Genesis, we read “The Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (Genesis 12:1-2). We have no record of Abraham questioning or doubting the Lord’s command; he simply trusts and obeys. He gathers his entire family, packs up all his possessions, and heads to Canaan, the Land of Promise.
Abraham’s journeys will many twists and turns, but whatever challenges and problems he encounters, he trusts and obeys God. We read in today’s Epistle reading that “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3). It is his faith – his willingness to trust and obey – that made him just and right with God. It is for his faith that we remember and honor Abraham. And it is not just us Christians; Jews and Muslims also look up to him as their progenitor. In fact, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are known as the Abrahamic religions.
But Abraham was far from perfect. In fact, by our standards, he falls short in many ways. For instance, when he is in Egypt during a famine, he becomes afraid that because his wife Sarah is so beautiful that the people there will kill him to take her. So, what does he do? He lies and says that she is his sister (Genesis 12:10-20). And he does this not just once but a second time, when he is the land of the Philistines (Genesis 20:1-16). Like almost all the heroes in scripture, Abraham is flawed. He is human, just like us.
And yet whatever his failures and shortcomings, Abraham had a deep and abiding faith in God. He trusted God to safely lead him to the Promised Land. He trusted God to be with him every step of the way. He trusted God to grant him courage, strength, and guidance.
Abraham holds up for us the kind of life we are to live as Christians. There’s an old hymn that some of you may know. It goes like this:
When we walk with the Lord in the light of his Word
What a glory he sheds on our way!
While we do his good will, he abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.
Trust and obey, there is no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.
Trust and obey. That is the life of faith in a nutshell. Trust in God, not in ourselves.
Obey his calling, wherever that may lead us. And he will be with us every step of the way.
Where is God calling you today? He may not be calling you to pack up your bags and move to a foreign land, as he did Abraham. Or perhaps he is. What are the areas in your life in which God is calling you to something new and different? Where in your life is God calling you out of your comfort zone and into uncertain territory? Perhaps a new job. A new ministry. A new relationship. A new community. God may be calling you with an inspiring vision or perhaps a gentle nudge. Take the risk. Let go of the need to control. Open yourself to God. Trust and obey. The Promised Land awaits.
First Sunday in Lent
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
February 25, 2023
As we begin our forty days and forty nights in the wilderness of Lent, we hear Matthew’s account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. But first is the story of Adam and Eve in the garden. They are in paradise, and all is well in the world. Along comes a serpent with cunning words, and the next thing you know, Adam and Eve fall for his lies and treachery and paradise is lost, seemingly forever.
Then we hear the story of Jesus’s temptation by the devil. While Adam and Eve are in garden with all of the sustenance they need and all the beautiful weather they could ask for, Jesus is famished in the wilderness left to struggle with his temptation alone.
In the first temptation, the tempter quotes Scripture and encourages Jesus to satisfy his physical hunger by turning stones into bread. He says, “If you are the Son of God,” but this doesn’t mean that he’s expressing doubt about who Jesus is. The word “if” could be translated from the Greek as “since” – “since you are the Son of God.” He’s rather trying to deceive Jesus into using his power to satisfy his own physical needs rather than trusting God the Father for them. Jesus responds not with his own words, but by quoting Scripture, affirming that life is sustained by more than physical food; it is sustained by every word that comes from the mouth of God. Jesus will not misuse his power to satisfy his own physical needs.
The second test focuses on the need for security and safety. The devil quotes Scripture again, and this time, he tempts Jesus to make himself safe from injury or even death. Jesus recognizes once again that the devil is taking Scripture out of context: the Hebrew Bible does not endorse testing God’s protective grace for the sake of self-protection. Jesus will not misuse his power to make himself safe and secure.
In the third temptation, the devil tries to seduce Jesus with prestige. He offers him control over all the kingdoms of the world, along with the glory and splendor that comes with that, if he will only swear allegiance to the devil. Jesus rejects the tempter’s deception and quotes Scripture again in context saying, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” Jesus will not misuse his power to gain earthly power and prestige.
Just as Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, so we will be this Lent. Jesus didn’t respond to temptation as Adam did by succumbing to it, or fleeing to another selfish vice to escape, or by complaining to God, or by wondering what he may have done wrong to deserve it. He responded by deepening his dependence on God. The very temptations he experienced – materialism, false security, and prestige – are not foreign to us. We experience them every day. Consumerism is ubiquitous in our culture, something I’m reminded of when I look at my Amazon purchase history. In the richest country in the world, we often misuse our vast resources to try to make ourselves safer at the expense of the vulnerable and marginalized. And as Fr. Sean mentioned last week, Christianity isn’t looked upon favorably by many in our culture. We are regularly subjected to temptations to compromise our faith or values in order to gain prestige before others. We learn from our Lord that the appropriate response in resisting these and all temptations is to turn to God for help instead of relying on our own power.
Unlike the other accounts of Jesus’ temptation in Mark and Luke, Matthew’s account tells us Jesus being tempted after having fasted for forty days and forty nights. For Matthew, Jesus’ time of fasting was a time of preparation for temptation, not the means by which it happens. It was his intentional forty days and forty nights of fasting that prepared him to endure and ultimately overcome these temptations by the devil.
Intentional self-denial is helpful in the spiritual life because it reveals the things that control us. We cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but by denying ourselves, the things that control us come to the surface. If pride controls us, it will be revealed. Anger, bitterness, jealousy, strife, fear – if they are within us, they will surface during intentional periods of fasting and self-denial. When they surface, we will be tempted not only to stop denying ourselves, but also to sin. If we’re properly prepared and watching for these things to surface, we can then respond as Jesus did: we can turn to God for help and rely on his grace to strengthen our will to choose to overcome all assaults and temptations of the devil. Self-denial reminds us that we are sustained “by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (v. 4). Whatever it is that we’re giving up – that is not what sustains us; God sustains us. When we give something up during Lent, we are learning to rely on God to give us everything that we need and more. 
During the coming weeks, our fasting and self-denial will engage the dark places in our hearts, giving us an opportunity to come face to face with them, name them, understand them, and seek forgiveness for them. We will be tempted to rely on our own strength rather than the grace of God to overcome temptation. We will fall into sin and then be further tempted to allow the guilt we feel to hold us captive. Rather than being about guilt, Lent is about freedom from the control that our fears and insecurities have over us. It is about the amendment of life and new beginnings.
…new beginnings which are possible because as we will sing in our offertory hymn, in the “loving wisdom of our God, when all was sin and shame, a second Adam to the fight and to the rescue came.” Friends, paradise was not lost forever when Adam and Eve sinned. Human flesh and blood failed in Adam, but we strive afresh against that ancient foe, again and again, knowing that we will ultimately prevail not because of anything we’ve done, but because God’s free gift of grace redeems our flesh and blood through the one man Jesus Christ.
Dear friends, as we are tempted this Lent, let us ask the Lord to come quickly to help us, and as he knows the weaknesses of each of us, let each of us find him mighty to save. Amen.
 David Lyon Bartlett, and Barbara Brown Taylor. Feasting on the Word. Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009, 47-49.
 Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline, pp. 54-55.
 Feasting 48.
 “Praise to the holiest in the height” by John Henry Newman.
Fr. Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Text: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
22 February 2023
Today, we mark the beginning of the Season of Lent with the Imposition of Ashes. This is an ancient custom dating back more than a thousand years in the history of the Church. The ashes are rich in symbolism. For one, they are a powerful reminder of our mortality. We will soon receive the ashes on our foreheads with the words: “Remember that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.” Being reminded of our mortality puts life into perspective. We realize how short life is. We reflect on how best to live the life that we are given. We focus on what truly matters in life.
The ashes also represent sorrow and repentance. In the Old Testament, we read of the tradition of wearing sackcloth and sitting in ashes as an expression of mourning and repentance. For instance, in the Book of Jonah, the entire city of Nineveh – not just the people but even the animals – are covered in sackcloth and sitting in ashes (Jon 3:6) in a collective act of repentance. In the Early Church, Christians borrowed this custom and began putting ashes on their heads as a sign of sorrow for their sins. Then, in the Middles Ages, about the tenth and eleventh centuries, the tradition developed of beginning the penitential Season of Lent with the imposition of ashes.
This is a beautiful and powerful ritual with which to begin our season of repentance and reflection. But what do we make of the Gospel reading for today? In the passage from Matthew, Jesus warns his disciples: “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Mathew 6:1). You may be wondering: “Why then are we putting ashes on our forehead and going out in public?” There is a certain paradox between this passage and wearing ashes on our forehead for others to see. But, these days, I don’t think there is much danger of wearing ashes to show off our piety. To begin with, piety is not respected in our society, as it has been in other times. Indeed, in our culture, religiosity is often looked upon with suspicion and even contempt. It is even subject to mockery and ridicule. Remember the Church Lady from Saturday Night Live? So, far from impressing others, we actually make ourselves vulnerable when we wear the ashes on our forehead. We risk being seen as weird.
And, quite frankly, a lot of people won’t even know what to make of the ashes. Living in the Bible Belt, even many Protestants won’t know their significance. I’ve had many cases of people thinking that I just got dirty. Several years ago, the Office Professional in our department at school, a devout church-goer, came running down to my office with a Kleenex to try to wipe it off. And, believe it or not, I even had a professor of religious studies who mistook the ashes for grime on my face. So, considering the society in which we live, wearing ashes can hardly be a source of spiritual pride and arrogance for us. On the contrary, they humble us, reminding us of our mortality and of our sins and shortcomings.
Moreover, the ashes can even be an opportunity to witness to our faith. I don’t know about you, but it’s not easy to talk about my faith with others – and I’m a priest. I remember several years ago in graduate school, one of my colleagues was shocked when I told him that I was a Christian. It’s not that I was leading an especially decadent life; it’s because I rarely talked about my faith. But when we wear the ashes on our forehead, those who know what that means will know we are Christians, and those who don’t know, may ask, providing us a chance to witness and tell the world that we belong to Christ.
Dear friends, we gather today to begin the journey of Lent together. With the ashes on our foreheads, we commit ourselves to the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. We do these things throughout the year, but they take on a special intensity during Lent. We pray more, we fast more, we give more to those in need. And we rigorously examine our lives in the light of our faith. As Jesus entered the wilderness for forty days to be tempted by Satan and to prepare for his ministry, we, too, enter a spiritual wilderness to confront our sins and shortcomings, to repent and reflect, and to prepare ourselves to follow Jesus in his Passion, Death, and Resurrection. I pray that you will have a Most Holy Lent. Amen.
The Last Sunday after the Epiphany
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
February 19, 2023
What are you giving up for Lent?
That was a question that I heard during my teenage years around this time of the year from my then Roman Catholic stepfather. I was a very uptight, self-righteous Southern Baptist kid, and let me tell you, Lent was one of the more irritating aspects of Roman Catholicism to me, perhaps partly because my stepfather always gave up something seemingly trite like chocolate or potato chips. How is that a sacrifice that leads you closer to Jesus? Lent represented everything about dead ritual that I thought needed to go.
Since then, I’ve experienced Lent twenty times over, and it has grown on me. A lot. The Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving have forced me to grow spiritually, but they are not easy. They are difficult – on purpose! – and usually bring with them some spiritual twists and turns in the wilderness.
As we prepare for 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness of Lent, we hear Matthew’s account of the transfiguration of Jesus on Mount Tabor as well as the much older story of Moses receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. These two glorious mountaintop experiences were essential in preparing those present for the arduous task ahead of them: for Moses and the Hebrew people, for their forty-year journey through the wilderness begins; and for Jesus and the disciples, for the painful journey of the terrible last days of Jesus’ earthly life. As we begin our Lenten journey to the Cross, we hear of these mountaintop experiences in all their glory and wonder if God will give us what we need to deny ourselves and take up our cross for these long forty days and forty nights.
The truth of the matter is that denying ourselves and taking up our cross isn’t just something we do during Lent. Just before this story in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells his disciples, “‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
Aaron, by choosing to be baptized, this is the life you’re choosing to willingly to take on. In a moment, amongst other things, you will promise to renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God, and to follow and obey Jesus as your Lord. In the waters of baptism, you will be buried with Christ in his death. Thanks be to God, you won’t stay dead. St. Paul says, “Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” To Moses, God appeared as a devouring fire. And before the sight of the disciples, Jesus was transfigured with his face shining as the sun and his garments white as light. Today, Aaron, you will encounter the very same God in the waters of baptism and be reborn by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Beginning with baptism, the Sacraments of the Church are a continuation of God’s incarnation in the world in the baby in the manager at Bethlehem. In the Sacraments, God is made manifest to us, not as a devouring fire or transfigured in garments of white, but through water and oil. In bread and wine.
Aaron, when you join us at the altar and make your first communion, know that the same Christ who stood on Mount Tabor with his face shining as the sun is the same Christ who will enter the very depths of your body and soul. He who is at the right hand of God will manifest himself in this most Holy Sacrament as really and fully as if he were visibly here. We take and eat of his sacred Body and Blood as truly as St. Thomas touched Jesus’ hands and put his hand into his side. When he went up on the holy mount, his face shone as the sun and his garments were white as light. By faith, this is what we see in the consecrated bread and wine, despite everything looking as usual to the passerby. In the simple creatures of bread and wine, God conveys to our bodies and souls his own gracious self as food for the journey, giving us the grace we need to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow him.
While self-denial is a daily aspect of Christian life, it is intensified during Lent. Through intentional prayer, fasting, and giving to those in need, the Church invites us to we get back to the basics of our spiritual lives and in a sense retrain ourselves how to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. As I have for the past few year, I am giving up both chocolate and potato chips in thanksgiving for my stepdad who kept up many of the routine religious practices that have become so dear to me, and yes, I am also giving up something more substantive and sacrificial. If any of the last twenty years is an indication, I will fail at some point, and as we will all say in a moment, when I fall into sin, I will repent and return to the Lord with God’s help, especially through the strength and assurance of the Sacraments of the Church: through the grace I received at my baptism, and through the routine spiritual disciplines of frequent confession and absolution and frequent reception of Holy Communion.
Dear friends, let us celebrate with joy Aaron’s entrance into the household of God and the beginning of his new life of grace, and renew our own baptismal promises. And let us come to this altar with wonder and delight and awe, as if we were standing on Mount Tabor before the transfigured Christ. As we receive Our Lord into the depths of our being, let us hear anew the voice of the Father saying how much he loves us and that he has adopted us as his sons and daughters. And let us us begin our Lenten journey this Wednesday confident that God, in all of his dazzling glory, will sustain us with the love and grace we’ve received on this holy mount through the temptations of Lent, through the suffering of Holy Week and, and lead us to the glory of the resurrection at Easter. Amen.
 The italicized text is a paraphrase of language in John Henry Newman’s Sermon 9: https://www.newmanreader.org/works/parochial/volume4/sermon9.html
Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany
The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany
Text: I Corinthians 3:1-9
Fr. Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
12 February 2023
Last summer, I had the privilege of attending the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Baltimore, Maryland. A gathering of representatives from all across the United States as well as from abroad, General Convention meets every three years and is the main legislative body of the Episcopal Church. A couple of interesting facts that I learned while I was there – General Convention is the oldest bicameral legislature in the world, going back to our first convention in 1785, and it is also the largest legislative body in the world. There were around 1,200 bishops, deputies, and alternates from 107 dioceses. It was exciting to be there.
Yet, at the same time, the convention made me aware of the many challenges and problems facing our beloved church, from rapidly declining numbers to issues of social justice. And it was painful to see the divisions in our church. In the discussions and debates over the various resolutions, the differences in theology and politics became very clear. This should be no surprise. For an organization of 1.8 million members, there is bound to be a broad spectrum of views and opinions. What impressed me, however, about General Conventions are two things. First, in spite of our differences, we could have open and frank discussions. At a time in our polarized society when civil discourse and dialogue are far too rare, it was refreshing to see democracy in action on the convention floor. Second, and more importantly, in spite of our differences, all 1,200 of us prayed and worshiped together. This is the beauty of our Anglican tradition. Whatever may divide us, we come together in prayer and worship.
Divisions in Christianity are, of course, nothing new. In fact, they go all the way back to our beginnings. In today’s Epistle, we read of the problem of division in the early church. The Corinthian church is embroiled in factionalism, divided between a group loyal to Paul and another group loyal to Apollos. Paul had founded the Corinthian church, but Apollos had subsequently become more popular than Paul with some members.
Paul points out to the Corinthians how silly they are in creating such personality cults – “I belong to Paul,” “I belong to Apollos.” The fact is, they belong to neither. They belong to Jesus Christ. Paul and Apollos are only servants through whom they have come to believe in the Lord; Paul and Apollos should not be the object of their loyalty and devotion.
Divisions were a major problem in the early church. From theological debates over issues such as the circumcision of Gentile converts to socioeconomic tensions between the rich and poor, the New Testament is full of examples of dissension in the early Christian communities. Hence, because of these divisions, we likewise find many calls for unity. In Ephesians, for instance, we have this beautiful appeal: “…lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3). The passage offers an antidote to the division and bickering: unity of the Spirit through humility, gentleness, patience, love, peace.
Part of my training for the priesthood was what’s called Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), in which I interned as a hospital chaplain in the St. Luke’s Health System. One of the lessons that I was taught in the program was to adopt an attitude of humility toward the people from other faith traditions, such as Muslims and Buddhists. This is a much-needed corrective to the past, in which we Western Christians have assumed an air of pride and superiority to non-Christian religions.
But the irony now is that while most of us have been educated to be conscientious about having an attitude of humility toward people of other faiths so as not to offend, we don’t always do the same to fellow Christians. And for most Episcopalians, that means those Christians of a more conservative bent, in particular Evangelicals or Roman Catholics. They are Christians no less than we are. And yet because of differences in theology and politics, we find it difficult to adopt an attitude of humility. We find it easier to dismiss or ignore them. It’s sad that we seem to have the most bitter fights with those closest to us. Think of all the controversies and schisms that have rocked our own denomination in recent years over such issues as gender and sexuality. And I confess my complicity in the internal feuding within our Christian faith. How many times have I been dismissive of Christians who do not share my theology or my politics? Do I even bother to listen? How many times have I failed to be humble, open-minded, and respectful toward my fellow sisters and brothers in Christ in other branches of our faith?
In Deacon Lynda’s sermon last week, she made the wonderful point that the metaphors of salt and light that Jesus uses in his parables are not aspirational. We are not called to become salt or light to the world. We are already salt. We are already light. And, today, taking my cue from Deacon Lynda, I would like to say that we Christians are already united, we are already one. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are united in one Lord, one faith, one baptism. Whether we are Presbyterian or Roman Catholic, Evangelical or Pentecostal, conservative or liberal, we are all Christians first and foremost. Yes, that includes Low Church Episcopalians.
When we were baptized, we were reborn into a new family, joining the community of all the faithful, here and throughout the world. As the Apostle Paul states later in Corinthians, we are joined together as members of the Body of Christ: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and we are all made to drink one Spirt” (I Corinthians 12:12-13). Through baptism, through the Spirit, we have already been joined as one body. We are all members of the body of Christ. Our goal is to embrace this fundamental unity of all believers.
We are sisters and brothers united in Christ. And as with any siblings, we will have our differences. But whatever may divide us, we are united in “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” All our differences in theology and politics pale in comparison with what unites us. As we sang in the opening hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation is Jesus Christ Her Lord.” May God grant us the grace to live together in unity with mutual respect, humility, and love. For only then can we fully live into our identity as the Body of Christ.
The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
Text: I Corinthians 1:18-31
Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
27 January 2023
As many of you know, I teach history at the University of Central Missouri in addition to serving here at St. Mary’s. Our spring semester is in full swing, having finished up our third week already. This semester, I have the special pleasure of teaching a graduate seminar on Christian history, my area of specialty, and we get to read a lot of interesting books. Three of the books that I assigned were authored by former professors of mine from graduate school.
As I was preparing the syllabus, I decided to google one of the professors. I was saddened to learn that he had died recently. Of the three former professors whose works I assigned for the class, two have died, and one is still living, aged 93. I had almost forgotten that it has been almost twenty years since I was in school – almost a generation ago. But in my mind, I still picture my professors as they were in the classroom back then – imposing paragons of knowledge and scholarship. Some of you may have seen the movie or TV show “The Paper Chase.” Do you remember Professor Kingsfield? I had quite a few professors who resembled him.
If learning about the deaths of these beloved teachers and mentors wasn’t enough, I was further saddened to discover that very few people read their books these days; they’re considered out of fashion in the ever-changing academic landscape. This is quite sobering, especially since I’m an academic myself. These scholars were some of the most brilliant minds that I had encountered. During their careers, they made a huge impact in their fields and became famous. But now they are mostly forgotten.
Today’s Epistle reading is a powerful reflection on the nature of wisdom. It sets up a stark contrast between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, we read: “Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of his age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (I Corinthians 1:20). For Paul, wisdom presents a paradox. The wisdom of his time - the Greeks with their sophisticated philosophy and the Jews with their prodigious legal and religious scholarship – is foolishness, while what the world considers foolish – the Christian proclamation of Christ crucified, the idea of worshiping a God who died a criminal’s death - is true wisdom.
In this passage, Paul himself is a paradox. Paul was a highly educated Jew, someone who would have been called wise by others. Paul studied in Jerusalem with one of the leading teachers of the Law, Gamaliel. The product of an elite education, Paul’s brilliance and sophistication come through in his writings – and often make them difficult to understand, typical of a lot of scholars. Try the Letter to the Romans for some light reading. And, of course, Paul is the Church’s first theologian, the pioneer in systematically explaining the meaning and significance of Jesus for the Church. Yet here he is in this passage; he seems to be taking an anti-intellectual stance, dismissing the life of the mind.
Placing his comments in the broader context of his writings, Paul is not calling us to suspend our intelligence and enter a state of blissful ignorance. That would be hypocritical. What is at issue for Paul is the knowledge of God. For Paul, no matter how learned and wise we may be, we cannot know God through our own efforts. He states: “the world did not know God through wisdom” (I Corinthians 1:21). It is not through books or the exercise of our reason that we come to know God. Rather, we know God because he has revealed himself in Jesus Christ. Paul proclaims that Jesus is “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (I Corinthians 1:24). So, to know Jesus is to know God.
In looking at the history of Christianity, we have a rich and diverse depository of knowledge and wisdom. The theologians who succeeded Paul, the Church Fathers, continued the tradition of learning and scholarship, even combining Christian faith with Greek philosophy. And in the Middle Ages, Christian theologians and scholars dominated the intellectual life of Western Europe. In addition to the great thinkers, the Church also established countless schools, libraries and other centers of learning. In fact, the origins of the modern university are in the cathedral schools of the Middle Ages.
There is great value in learning. It illuminates and enriches our understanding of Christian belief and practice and helps us grow in our faith. And yet for all the book learning that we may have, even the wisdom of the Church, we will get no closer to knowing God if we do not heed the Apostle Paul’s call to experience the crucified Christ.
Yesterday was the feast day of Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest Christian thinkers in history. There is an interesting story about Aquinas that reflects the paradox of wisdom that the Apostle Paul presents. The story goes that after decades of brilliant scholarship, he suddenly stopped writing in the year 1273, a year before his death. He did not write another word. He even left his masterpiece, the Summa Theologica, unfinished, though even in its unfinished form, it is a cornerstone of Roman Catholic theology. We do not know exactly why Aquinas ceased his work. He made the decision to stop writing after celebrating Mass, so we think he had a mystical experience during the service, but we don’t know for sure. When one of his friends asked him why he stopped writing, he answered: "I can write no more. All that I have hitherto written seems to me nothing but straw.” Whatever the reason may have been for Aquinas’s silence, it is clear that he believed his theological writings fall short of explaining God and Christian faith. To put it another way, he recognized that there are limits to wisdom in knowing God.
While Aquinas stopped writing, he remained faithful in his passionate devotion to the Holy Eucharist. He wrote some of the most beautiful Eucharistic hymns, many of which we use today, including Panis Angelicus (Bread of Angels), O Salutaris Hostia (O Saving Victim), and Pange Lingua (Sing, My Tongue). And if you happen to have the laminated card with the Private Prayers Before and After Mass in front of you, one of them was written by Aquinas. While Aquinas stopped trying to understand God through his scholarship and writing, he never wavered in his personal experience of the crucified Christ in the Holy Eucharist. While reason may have failed him, he found fulfillment in mystery.
So, we, too, gather this morning at the altar for Holy Eucharist to proclaim, together with Thomas Aquinas, the Apostle Paul, and all the saints past and present, Christ crucified, foolishness to the world but the wisdom of God to believers. Christ is the wisdom that reveals God to us. Christ is the wisdom that unites us with God. Christ is the wisdom that will lead us to eternal life.
 Terrence Klein, “Thomas Aquinas fell silent when he learned the truth: The mystery of God is impossible to grasp,” America Magazine: The Jesuit Review of Faith & Culture, 2 February 2022.
The Third Sunday after the Epiphany
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
January 22, 2023
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
When you hear this phrase out of context, it doesn’t sound like good news. Like me, many of you have been part of a Christian community that uses this phrase as a weapon. Hearing it read aloud may be disturbing, but it was indeed something our Lord said in this passage from the book of Matthew which announces the beginning of Jesus’s public ministry.
John the Baptist had just been arrested for his announcing of the kingdom of heaven and for criticizing King Herod, and in response, Jesus withdrew to Galilee. The Greek word translated here as “withdrew” connotates fleeing – it’s the same word used to describe Joseph, Mary, and Jesus fleeing to Egypt because of King Herod’s evil deeds toward the Jewish people. He flees from Nazareth to Capernaum which is on the northwest coast of the Sea of Galilee, “in the territory of Zebulun and Natphtali.” Zabulun and Natphtali were the old Assyrian names of the Israelite tribal territories in northwest Galilee from the 8th century BC when the Assyrian Empire annexed them and sent the Hebrews into exile. The use of these old names would have been striking to those in the first century – perhaps a bit like referring to Istanbul as Constantinople, or New York City as New Amsterdam. Matthew doesn’t use these old names for nostalgia’s sake, he uses them to reiterate that Jesus’s move to this part of Israel is a fulfillment of the prophecy we heard in Isaiah 9. The people who sat in darkness refers back to the Hebrews who had been exiled by the Assyrians so long ago in Isaiah’s time. They are the ones to whom God will bring the light. Now, the people who live in the same geographic area are again ruled by the Gentiles – this time, the Roman Empire. And Matthew proclaims that they are receiving that light promised so long ago in the person of Jesus.
This is the context of Jesus’s declaration, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” This is the same message that John the Baptist proclaimed to prepare the way of the Lord, but the difference is, Jesus himself is the inbreaking of the kingdom of heaven. John is the long-expected one who will save Israel from their enemies, he is the one who will bring the exiles home, he is the one who will give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, he is the one who will heal the sick, he is the one who will guide our feet into the way of peace.
And, even better news - this promise that the kingdom of heaven is at hand isn’t about how to escape from this world into another one, it’s about God’s reign coming “on earth as it is in heaven.” It’s not about the afterlife, it’s about the here and now.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Jesus then started walking by the Sea of Galilee and saw Simon Peter and Andrew as they were fishing. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” The text says “immediately” they left their nets and followed him. The putting down of their nets meant that they left their livelihood to follow him. When their two other brothers, James and John, decided to follow him, they left not only their nets and their boat, but their father. These disciples gave up literally everything – their means of an income, even their families.
It is the conclusion of this passage where we see the inbreaking of the kingdom of heaven begin to be played out. Matthew says, “And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people.” The area around Galilee it was inhabited primarily by Gentiles (those who are not Jewish), meaning Jesus was not only teaching God’s chosen people who were viewed as insiders, he was proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing those who were considered outsiders.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Friends, rather than spiritual weapon, this is a beautiful promise! The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. This is good news that so many in our world need to hear, whether it’s those who are the most marginalized those without housing, or those wrongfully imprisoned, or those who are told to repent of something that is innate to their very being – or even those of us who have plenty but are struggling with mental or physical illness. Jesus himself is that great light, and he continues to proclaim “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Like Peter and Andrew, he asks us to follow him, no matter the cost. Like Peter and Andrew, he makes us “fishers of men” – Jesus gives us everything we need to invite others to follow him.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
 Working Preacher: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4366
 Michael David. Coogan, ed., The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version: with the Apocrypha: an Ecumenical Study Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 980.
 Feasting 287.
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St. Mary's is a parish of the Diocese of West Missouri, The Episcopal Church, and the Anglican Communion.
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