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
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 sermons preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!