Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 12
July 27, 2019
The Rev’d Charles W. Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
The audio recording of this sermon can be found here.
I have to admit to you that sometimes, it is difficult to choose which text to focus on for a sermon. I mean, we have three different lessons – four if you include the psalm – and these lessons are often so beautiful and full of meaning that it’s hard to narrow things down. But this week, when I started reading the texts, there wasn’t a lot of discerning going on for me. The lesson from Hosea contains the word whoredom no less than three times, and Paul talks about circumcision in the second lesson. When I finally got to the Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, I breathed a huge sign of relief and made one of the easiest decisions of my life.
“Lord, teach us to pray,” Jesus’s disciple asks him. Prayer is quite an intimate thing. Learning how to pray isn’t quite like learning how to ride a bike, or repair a carburetor. It’s more like learning how to kiss, or perhaps even something more intimate than that. There isn’t only one way to do it, but there are certainly wrong ways of doing it. Sometimes, in the deepest parts of who we are, we worry whether we’re not any good at it at all.
Jesus’s begins his response to this question, “Our Father…”. He’s teaching his disciples – and us – to approach God as one we relate to intimately. Someone who is family. But not just any old family member – one whose name is hallowed, or holy. This Father we’re approaching isn’t one who will let us down like our earthly fathers have done (some more so than others), but a heavenly Father who will never stop loving us, no matter what we do.
We’ll come back to the Lord’s Prayer in a moment, but fast forward to the short parable Jesus tells after it, for the verses following the Lord’s Prayer help us to interpret it. My first read of it left me scratching my head. In it, we are asked to envision a person going to a friend at midnight asking for food to feed an unexpected houseguest. He essentially responds, “leave me alone.”
But the translation we heard makes it difficult to think see that Jesus means to describe a highly unlikely scenario. In Greek, the first three verses of this parable are actually a single question that means something like, “Could this happen to any of you?” The question anticipates a negative answer: none of the people hearing this story would expect to have a friend say, “leave me alone.” A friend who refuses to help in such a situation would violate the cultural standard of hospitality of that day and time and would bring shame – and shame in 1st century Judaism is a very bad thing. Jesus is saying that even if the obligations of friendship and hospitality aren’t enough to convince a friend to provide help in this situation – an idea that’s so ridiculous it’s bordering on the absurd – a friend will definitely respond positively to the request because of the desperate persistence of the one who is asking.
And that brings up another problem with this translation – the word persistence. Frankly, on the surface, this parable makes it appear that Jesus is telling his disciples that they will have to nag God until he gets so annoyed that he finally does what they want. As one commentator said, “The notion that, repeatedly, we must bang on the doors of heaven if we are to catch God’s attention is hardly an appropriate theology of prayer.” And this notion certainly doesn’t make any sense in light of the intimacy of the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer.
The word translated here as persistence is better translated as “shamelessness.” In a world where hospitality was very important, the shameless knocking would tell the friend’s neighbors loud and clear that he’s ignoring the needs of his friend, and rather than suffer the shame that would come from that, he would help his friend in need.
So whose shamelessness are we talking about here? The person knocking, or the one who says, “leave me alone?” In other words, is prayer primarily about what we do and say, or is it about God’s goodness? The text isn’t clear until we continue to the next few verses:
Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’
It is because of God’s shamelessness that God provides us everything we need…because that’s who he is. This is what “hallowed be thy name” really means: God responds to our prayer to honor his name even when we act in dishonorable ways. If the parents who are evil respond to their children by providing for their needs, how much more does God provide us that which truly nourishes. God’s provision for us is most evident in the gift of the Holy Spirit, his own first gift for those who believe, the same Spirit who continues to lead us into all truth and advocate on our behalf to the Father. God’s response to our prayer “thy kingdom come” is the gift of the Holy Spirit who gives us the grace to live out the Lord’s Prayer and bring God’s heavenly kingdom to the lost and broken world in which we live.
So, Jesus teaches his disciples to approach God as someone we relate to intimately. Someone who is family. But the God we approach in prayer is holy – set apart – different than our family members who can and do let us down. God’s response isn’t about how often we nag him, or how badly we want what we’re praying for, or how much faith we have. God’s response to our prayer is to provide us everything we need – our daily bread – because of God’s holiness and because of his love and care for us.
And that’s all great. But how do we pray? What do we do when we don’t know what to pray? I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but every single service in our prayer book requires the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. And this is not a new-fangled innovation in the life of the Church. The Church’s earliest liturgical manual, the Didache, written in the first or second centuries, recommends that Christians pray the Lord’s Prayer three times per day. And over the next few centuries as the Daily Office and the Mass developed, the Lord’s Prayer remained at the heart of both public and private prayer. And this only makes sense. For when his disciples asked him how to pray, our Lord gave them this beautiful prayer.
I encourage you to take a few minutes this perhaps this afternoon or later this week to reflect on your own prayer life, not to measure whether you’re praying often enough, or long enough, or to beat yourself up if you end up doing so despite me telling you not to. When you pray, do you expect God to provide material things that you desperately want but really don’t need? How do you approach God? Do you approach him as a loving Father whom you know will respond by providing for your needs? Do you trust him to provide the strength and courage you need to love him and those around you? If you struggle knowing how or what to pray, would praying the Lord’s Prayer a few times each day help to remind you of God’s extravagant love for you?
“Lord, teach us to pray,” his disciple asked him. May we too ask our Lord this question. As Jesus teaches you and me how to pray, may we be lay down the deepest parts of who we are that worry that we’re not any good at prayer at his feet as we enter into a deeper, more intimate relationship with him. Amen.
 David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word. Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 289.
 Eucharistic Prayer D.
Fr. Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
21 July 2019
The audio recording for this sermon can be found here.
Recently, I’ve noticed an interesting trend among Christians to identify themselves as either a “Martha” or a “Mary.” If you’re a “Martha,” you’re the busy, active type, involved in various activities of the Church. If you’re a “Mary,” on the other hand, you’re the quiet, contemplative type, preferring to spend time in prayer and devotion. When we read today’s Gospel from Luke, we certainly get that kind of contrast between Martha and Mary; they appear to be two sisters with very different personalities. It also appears that Jesus favors Mary, privileging the life of contemplation over work.
When we delve deeper into the text, however, the story becomes a bit more complex. To begin with, there are certain rules of hospitality to consider. Martha and Mary have invited Jesus over for a meal, and it is their job as hosts to prepare the table. The fact is, both Martha and Mary can’t be sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to him. Then who would prepare the food? At the same time, if Mary were to join Martha in the kitchen, that would leave Jesus to sit alone by himself. That wouldn’t be very polite either. In the story, both Martha and Mary are doing what they should be doing. Martha takes care of the food, and Mary keeps Jesus company.
The problem for Jesus is not that Martha is busy preparing; it is her attitude. We read in verse 40 that “Martha was distracted by her many tasks.” Martha is stressing out and irritated, and she complains to Jesus: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself. Tell her then to help me.” But how does Jesus respond? Instead of sympathizing with Martha, he says: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken from her.”
What, then, is this “one thing, the better part” that Mary has chosen? Biblical scholars believe that the reason Jesus holds up Mary in this story is not to argue for the primacy of the contemplative over the active life. The reason is actually much more profound and radical. When Mary sits at the feet of Jesus, she is physically assuming the position of a disciple. In first-century Judaism, disciples sit at the feet of their master to listen and learn. Mary is thus no longer just the host engaging in polite conversation with her guest; Mary is claiming her place as one of Jesus’ disciples, a follower of his teachings.
This would have been unthinkable for a woman at the time. Yet, for Jesus and the movement that he began, women disciples formed an integral part of his ministry. The Gospels mention by name several women followers of Jesus: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, Mary the mother of James and Joses. Women stood at the cross, they were the first to enter the empty tomb, and it is Mary Magdalene who is the first among the followers to encounter the resurrected Jesus. Since then, over the past two thousand years of Christian history, countless women have become disciples and leaders in the Church. And they are only recently beginning to receive the recognition and credit that they deserve. Our seminarian, Isaac Petty, is currently taking a fascinating course on the Early Mothers of the Church. You’ve probably heard the names of such Church Fathers as Augustine, Jerome, and Ambrose, but how many of you have heard of the Church Mothers – Macrina, Thekla, Melania, Paula? During the Middle Ages, the monastic life of the convent provided opportunities for leadership and scholarship for brilliant women like Hildegard of Bingen and Julian of Norwich. In the modern period, the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the Protestant missionary movement inspired thousands of American and European women to fan out across the globe as teachers, preachers, nurses, and doctors – all of them disciples of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The Church still has a long way to go in realizing gender equality, but at the same time we can rightfully claim a history of women’s liberation and empowerment.
If you would please indulge me, I would like to share a personal example and tell you about my maternal grandmother, Shin Ae Lee. She, too, was a disciple of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Grandmother was born in the early twentieth century into a privileged background. Her family belonged to the old, traditional Korean aristocracy. But like all women in Korea at that time, including high-born women, she was denied any form of education because of the prevailing Confucian patriarchy. She had to teach herself how to read and write. In Confucian Korea, women were valued only as wives and mothers, and even rudimentary learning was considered improper. Moreover, women were physically confined to certain quarters of the house and were not permitted to go outside unaccompanied. Grandmother had a hard life, including the death of three of her children in infancy. During the Korean War, she along with the rest of my mother’s family became war refugees and suffered hunger and grinding poverty. Fortunately, by the time I was born, Grandmother was able to enjoy more stable, prosperous times.
And late in her life, she found her calling to serve as a deacon in the Methodist Church. Grandmother committed herself to working in the various ministries of the church. Her special passion was evangelism. She even partnered with a minister to plant a new church that grew to several hundred members. I was born in Korea and came to the states when I was eight years old. When I was growing up in Korea, my maternal grandparents lived with us. In spite of Grandmother’s busy schedule, she made time to take me to church every Sunday and vacation Bible School every summer. She planted and nurtured in me the seeds of the Christian faith. Grandmother found personal liberation and empowerment in the Church. Like Mary in the Gospel story, Grandmother claimed her identity as a disciple of Jesus Christ in spite of the oppressive patriarchy of her society and culture. But she was no quiet, contemplative type. She had a strong personality, and she was so busy with church work every day that I rarely saw her at home. In temperament, she was a “Martha.”
To return to the Gospel story of Mary and Martha that we began with, Jesus holds up Mary for claiming her place as his disciple, but that doesn’t mean that Martha is to be dismissed. In fact, the Church remembers and honors both Mary and Martha with a feast day, coming up soon on July 29. According to tradition, Mary and Martha represent two inseparable dimensions of the Christian faith. Mary represents contemplation, a life of prayer and devotion. And Martha represents action, a life of good works and helping others. Or to put it another way, Mary embodies the love of God, and Martha embodies the love of neighbor. Christ calls us to follow the examples of both women, minus Martha’s attitude, of course. Our personalities and dispositions may incline us in one direction, but we cannot neglect the other. As Jesus’ disciples, we are called to both the contemplative and the active life. In loving God, we love our neighbor, and in loving our neighbor, we love God.
As we look to Mary and Martha as pioneers and models of our faith, I would like to close with the Collect that we pray on their Feast Day:
O God, heavenly Father, whose Son Jesus Christ enjoyed rest and refreshment in the home of Mary and Martha of Bethany: Give us the will to love thee, open our hearts to hear thee, and strengthen our hands to serve thee in others for his sake; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, now and forever. Amen.
 The New Interpreter’s Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003), p.1875.
 Calendar of the Church Year, according to the Episcopal Church. satucket.com/Calendar.htm (accessed July 19, 2019).
You can listen to Fr. Larry Parrish's sermon here!
The 4th Sunday after Pentecost: Proper IX
St. Mary’s Church, Kansas City
July 7, 2019
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
The audio recording of this sermon can be found here.
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In this morning’s Gospel reading from Luke we hear the story of the first evangelists, how in the course of his ministry Jesus appoints seventy of his disciples, and sends them out to proclaim the Good News that “ The Kingdom of God has come near…” As Episcopalians this isn’t often how we think about evangelism. No, we would rather not think about it at all, preferring rather that we could just be nice and hope that people would catch on to our low-key Christianity. But when we do think about evangelism it is generally as someone else’s job, where a preacher stands on the street corner telling people about heaven and hell and asking each passerby if they knew where they would go if they were to die tonight, or a well dressed couple going door to door early on a Saturday morning interrupting our coffee and cartoons to ask us if we know about Jesus. Today’s Gospel reading, however, tells us that none of that is true. Evangelism isn’t standing on the street corner scaring people into believing in God, it isn’t going door to door as a salesman for Jesus, and most importantly it isn’t someone else’s job!
Today’s lesson begins with Jesus appointing the seventy, and as the beginning of a chapter may seem like it stands on its own, but like with all things, context is key and to truly understand the significance of this morning’s passage we must go back and look at the few verses immediately before it, which we heard in the Gospel reading last week. In that passage Jesus encounters three people who would be his followers and he has a conversation with each one in which he calls them to follow him and then gives them a pithy saying about what following him means. Luke then immediately goes into this story about the seventy….and you guessed it. Luke is telling us that to follow Jesus means to be an evangelist or to put it in language slightly more familiar to Episcopalians to follow Jesus means to “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ” These words from the baptismal covenant that we hear and reaffirm anytime a new member is welcomed into the Church and added to the body of Christ remind us that this evangelism, isn’t the job of other people, not that preacher on the street corner, or those missionaries going door to door, not even of bishops, priests and deacons, but all of us who have chosen to follow Jesus. It is a call given to us in the waters of baptism, a sharing in the eternal priesthood of Christ. It is not optional, but an integral part of who we are and to what we are called.
Now that we have determined that being an evangelist is the call of every Christian, the question we must ask ourselves is what are we to proclaim? I mentioned before that our message was not that of the street preacher trying to scare people into believing by telling them stories of heaven and hell. So, what is it? Jesus tells us in this passage, that he sends us out with the message that “The Kingdom of God has come near…” We often think of the Kingdom of God as something that hasn’t happened yet. Something that will be eventually, and even as something that we must help God build, that we must bring about. But, Jesus sends us out with news that something amazing has already happened. That God’s Kingdom has come near.. Jesus tells us that in himself God has come near to all of us. He tells us that God has come down to seek us out, and that no matter how far we have fallen, no matter how broken, unworthy, or dirty we think that we are that God loves us and wants to be with us. The Good News is that Jesus is the way that God does this and that the Kingdom has come, in him. That in his life death and resurrection he has destroyed sin and death and bought our citizenship with his blood. The Good News is that in Jesus we are already in the Kingdom and that he dwells with us . The Good news that we are sent to proclaim is that something has been done for us which we do not deserve and to which we can add nothing. That in the midst of our brokenness and despair God sought us out and claimed us for his own dying so that we might have life.
Lastly, we come to the question of how. How are we to proclaim this Good News? This message of the Kingdom? I mentioned earlier that we are not supposed to be door to door salesmen for Jesus going out in pairs on Saturday mornings. Now I know you might be thinking that the Gospel did mention going out in pairs, and your right it did. But one thing that Jesus is very clear about in our reading this morning is that we are not go door to door but rather that we are to “remain in the same house eating and drinking whatever they provide” It is not explicit in our text, but what I believe Jesus is telling us here is that we are to form relationships with those to whom we are sent, we are supposed to get to know them, to be their friend, to listen to their stories and to meet them wherever they are and to show them through our lives that God loves them. We’re supposed to share our lives with them and let them see through our words and example what Jesus has done for us and how it has changed our lives. We are to invite them to come and see for themselves the Kingdom that is already here, and the God revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, who loved them so much he died for them, and each and every one of us as well.
This mission with which we have been entrusted is not easy and it will make us uncomfortable, and push us to our limits. The world will often try to make us forget our mission, to distract us from what is really important but we must not forget what really matters because while we cannot build the Kingdom we are its Heralds and the only way the world hears the Good news is through us.
In just a few minutes will come to this table and with the whole Kingdom of God, Angels and Saints and our brothers and sisters from around the world we will stand before God’s throne of Grace and make present here and now the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ in the gifts of Bread and Wine. Let us remember and be thankful for the great gift God has given us and ask for the grace to be faithful laborers in the Lord’s harvest. For the Laborers are few and Harvest is plentiful and the whole world sits waiting to hear the Good News that the Kingdom of God has come near.
 The Baptismal Covenant, BCP page 304
The sermons preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!