Mr. Brandon Smee
In our Ephesians reading, Paul writes: “I pray that you might have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge - so that you might be filled with all the fullness of God.” Paul’s prayer is very familiar to me. When I was in college, my pastor used it as a blessing every Sunday. Its words drew me in even as they eluded me. The breadth, length, height, and depth of what exactly? How can we know love that surpasses knowledge? That should be impossible, right? Is Paul confused, or is he onto something profound? And what does it mean to be filled with the fullness of God? Can we ourselves be filled?
I think we’re all seeking the breadth, length, height, and depth that Paul names. To say it another way, we’re trying to get away from everything that’s formless and void. In the Bible, the writer of Genesis calls the world formless and void until God speaks forth creation in all its goodness. God turns emptiness into substance. But when sin and evil obscure God’s presence among us, creation gets warped out of shape, and it forgets its nature. Formlessness and emptiness spread. We don’t have to look far to see this happening today: ecological crises, pandemics, violence, and systemic oppression. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. Even in this room, there are personal struggles with debt, relationships, illness, and loss. This is not how God spoke creation to be. This is the formless and void, the emptiness at work. Paul’s prayer on the other hand turns us to a different possibility. He points us from the world of emptiness to a world that has substance. He takes us with him from the void to the fullness that has breadth, length, height, and depth.
But what really is this breadth, length, height, and depth that we’re looking for? Theologians are of diverse opinions. Augustine said it’s the Cross because it has four dimensions. John Calvin said it’s the four virtues of love, hope, patience, and humility. But even Calvin conceded that his answer was no less made-up than St. Ambrose’s proposal that it’s the four dimensions of a sphere. Imagine that! The apostle Paul praying a geometry lesson over the Church of Ephesus!
But Paul isn’t talking about geometry, or even Calvin’s virtues. He’s going much further, to the very heart of existence. The breadth and length are the unmeasurable span, the height and depth are the unsearchable distance. We’re talking about the power behind creation itself, the Word by which God speaks it, the same Word that gives form to all things. This creative force should be a mystery outside our reach. But for Paul, it isn’t far at all. With God’s help, we can comprehend it. The mystery of the creation has descended to where we are. In Christ, we take hold of it. Our Lord Jesus is all of who God is united with all of what we are. In Jesus, we behold the broad, high, and deep things of God. He makes the unknowable known.
What does it look like for Christ to make the unknowable known? In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus does something impossible with ordinary things. He takes one boy’s lunch and feeds thousands of hungry people. Some scholars have ventured scientific explanations of this event. The most incredible proposal I’ve heard is that Jesus had a massive secret storehouse of food in a cave out of sight. The disciples were clandestinely carrying baskets of food out of the secret pantry. Another proposal holds that the boy sharing his lunch reminded people that they also had food enough to share with others, so that everyone ate.
But both of these explanations take something vital out of the story - the unknowable becoming known. How does one lunch become 5000 lunches? How does that happen in real-time? I don’t know, but they ate the bread and fish. They gathered leftovers. To the emptiness of their stomachs, Jesus’ blessing brought abundance. And in the same way, Jesus brings the fullness of God to the world. He does impossible things with the ordinary, filling what’s empty. The hungry people could never have found this fullness by their own effort, but God puts it within our grasp in Christ: unknowable love made known.
Jesus is the length, breadth, height, and depth. Jesus makes known the love that is beyond knowledge. Jesus contains the fullness of God within all of what we are. This vision of Christ is what Paul is praying the Ephesians will comprehend. We may wonder what it looks like to comprehend that vision. Paul puts it simply at the end of his petition: us, filled with all the fullness of God.
There are biblical examples of people full of God. The Blessed Virgin Mary exemplifies having the fullness of God within you She bears Christ in her body. In her, we see that God gives fullness completely out of sheer love and grace, and entirely apart from our power and ability.
In the Old Testament, Deborah got the power to prophesy and delivered the people of Israel from their enemies. She did so despite the male-dominated culture against her. Full of God’s Spirit, she became a place of God’s work on earth.
And let’s not forget the writer of this letter, the Apostle Paul. He started off bent on oppressing the vulnerable to protect the purity of his nation. But, he transformed into one whose life’s work was bringing Gentiles and Jews together in Christ. The fullness of God looks like the power to turn from violence and to draw people to Our Lord.
But this fullness doesn’t just happen in the biblical past. We see it today. Every time a friend in Christ struggling with substance use experiences sobriety, we see it. When people who have suffered abuse find safety, we see it. When the traumatized find healing in the family of God, and when the poor and oppressed find supply, jubilee, and justice, we see it. The fullness of God brings the holy action of God. This is the power working within us, doing infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. In all these ways, the emptiness of the world becomes the more-than-enough of God. We are not only filled, but we receive the power to answer Jesus’ call to find the hungry something to eat. God in us begins to renew the form of the world. The Spirit of Christ makes us places where God fills creation again.
This fullness is not far from us. Even if it feels far. Today we have another meal which Christ will supply. Every sacrament makes unknowable love known, but particularly in the Eucharist, we are filled with the spiritual food and drink of new and unending life in Christ. Even if we cannot see the breadth, length, height, and depth of these elements, the bread and wine are not empty. In them, we receive the very body and blood of Christ.
God’s fullness fills us as we partake of this sacrament, as we pray, and as we do God’s sacred work. Here God brings fullness to the emptiness of our world and we see the length, breadth, height, and depth despite its current formlessness. By grace, our lives show the mystery of God just as Christ’s life does. For this, ultimately, is what it means to have the fullness of God: Christ in us. Amen.
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Fr. Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
18 July 2021
Today’s Gospel presents a scene with which we are all too familiar. Jesus and his disciples are so busy that they don’t even have time to eat. How many times have we found ourselves so busy working or running around doing errands that we have to grab a quick bite or even miss a meal? We are told in the Gospel that “many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” So, Jesus tells his disciples: “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while” (Mark 6:31). They get into a boat to get away from the crowd. But by the time they arrive at their destination, the people have beaten them to it.
Jesus and his disciples will have to forego their downtime in this episode. But throughout the Gospels, we find many instances of Jesus retreating to a quiet place for rest, away from the crowds. And what does Jesus do during these times of solitude? He prays. Rest, for Jesus, is not just an opportunity to take a break from work. It is an opportunity to renew and refresh himself as he communes with the Father. Rest is sacred, time alone with God. And Jesus calls on us, his followers, to do likewise: “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves, and rest a while.”
For some of us, following Jesus’ call to rest may mean making a trip to Conception Abbey for a couple of days every month, like Fr. Charles does. For others, it may be setting aside times during the day to pray the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer. And, of course, for us Christians, as well as Jews, we cannot talk about rest without mentioning the sabbath.
Several years ago, I attended a Bar Mitzvah. It was for a couple of boys who were friends of my nephews’. I was struck by the beauty of the service and the many similarities to our Christian liturgy – the prayers, the scripture readings, and even some of the gestures. I could see where so much of our worship is rooted in ancient Jewish tradition and practice. On a side note, my nephews, who were confirmed in the Episcopal Church a few months earlier, were impressed by the lavish reception that followed, and wondered why the Christians haven’t followed suit in throwing big parties after Confirmation. The boys’ parents had rented a part of Arrowhead Stadium for the party.
During the Bar Mitzvah service, each of the boys gave a speech. And something I heard in one of those speeches has stayed with me. The boy explained that one of the greatest Jewish contributions to the world is the idea of the sabbath, the setting aside of one day of the week to rest from work. The boy shared his personal experience of how much the sabbath meant to him and his family in providing the time to be with one another.
Observing the sabbath as a holy day of rest is one of the foundations of Judaism, rooted in the Ten Commandments. The third or fourth commandment, depending on how you count them, proclaims: “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God…For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it” (Exodus 20:8-11). The sabbath is holy because God has ordained it so and has set an example in the Creation.
From Judaism, observing the sabbath spread to Christianity, though we do so on Sunday instead of Saturday in commemoration of Jesus’ resurrection on Sunday morning. And, in the modern world, this idea of a weekly rest period has become institutionalized and expanded to include Saturday for a weekend package. Prior to this, most societies took their rest on festivals days and certain periods of the agricultural season. So, the idea of a weekly time of rest was quite revolutionary and transformative.
It used to be that like the Jews, Christians used to quite serious about keeping the sabbath. Some of you may have seen the movie “The Chariots of Fire,” which came out in 1981. The film is based on the life of Eric Liddell, a Scottish athlete and devout Christian, who, in the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, refused to run in the heats for the 100 meters, in which he was favored to win the gold, because they were held on a Sunday. He competed instead in the 400 meters, held during the week, and he won. Sorry for the spoiler, those of you who haven’t seen the film.
On a more personal note, both my parents lived for a few years under the North Korean communist regime of Kim Il Sung, the current leader Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, in the late 1940s before the Korean War. The government would schedule mandatory athletic and extracurricular activities for schools on Sunday in order to target the Christian students. When they wouldn’t show up, they would be punished by the teachers on Monday morning. Christians in the past have paid a dear price to keep the sabbath. It was a mark of their Christian identity.
But in recent times, especially for us in hard-working America, we’ve come to largely ignore the sabbath. Some of you may remember the days when everything was closed on Sundays. We still have some vestiges of the so-called blue laws, such as the one prohibiting the sale of alcohol in groceries on Sundays. But it used to be that all businesses shut down, not just Chick-Fil-A. And going to church wasn’t an option. Almost everyone, at least in this part of the country, went to church Sunday morning. But now not only is Sunday like any other day; we have kids’ soccer games and other activities that can make it one of the busiest days of the week. Going to church has become just another option for the day off from work.
Our society may have drifted away from keeping a day of rest, but we need it more than ever. And it is not just our bodies that need the rest; our spirits need it, too. In our Book of Common Prayer, we find this prayer about the importance of rest: “God of peace, who has taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and in confidence shall be our strength.” In returning and rest we shall be saved. As Christians, we have the opportunity each Sunday, our sabbath day, to return and rest, and find our salvation in the Holy Eucharist. It is our ultimate source of spiritual renewal and refreshment.
At St. Mary’s, we have a wonderful tradition of the altar party and the choir praying in the chapel in preparation for worship. Among the prayers, we find these words from the Psalms: “O send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling, Then I will go to the altar of God” (Psalm 43:3-4). This altar is our holy hill. Just as Jesus retreated to the mountains or wilderness to rest and pray, we leave the world behind us and ascend this holy hill to rest and pray. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, and the noises of the world around us, Jesus calls us: “Come away…rest for a while.” He calls us to join him at the altar to pray. And he nourishes us with His Body and Blood. Let us, then, come into His Presence to find our rest. May we be renewed and refreshed to go forth to do His work in the world. Amen.
 Book of Common Prayer (New York: Church Publishing, 1979), 832.
Year B, Proper 10
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
July 11, 2021
We continue on in Mark’s gospel, as we will most Sundays between now and Advent. Last week, Jesus sent his disciples out to do the ministry of casting out demons and healing the sick and inviting everyone to repent believe in the Good News! Mark’s gospel is filled with dramatic, almost apocalyptic stores of demons and exorcisms, but today’s scene from chapter 6 is more of a tale of gruesome, political drama.
It begins with Herod, the Roman ruler of the region of Galilee, who had just heard about the disciples’ healing of the sick and casting out of demons. He had a flashback of sorts of the time when he had ordered the execution of John the Baptist.
Herod’s half-brother Philip had died, and he proceeded to marry Philip’s widow Herodias. According to Levitical law, marrying your brother’s widow was illegal, and Herodias had developed a grudge against John the Baptist for simply telling Herod the truth about the matter. The marriage of high-ranking Roman officials often had an international political component, and this one was no different. John’s prophecy against this marriage was less than politically desirable for both Herod and Herodias, and surely John was aware of the potential consequences.
Upon the occasion of his birthday, Herod organizes a banquet for the local political leaders and others in the upper echelons of society. He bestows an honor on his daughter by making a public oath promising to grant her any request. The problem is that she asks for something he really doesn’t want to give. Herod likes John the Baptist, despite throwing him in prison for getting in this middle of his marriage and political life, but he’s stuck between a rock and a hard place. He can either do what is shameful and break a public promise he’s made, or do what is shameful and do something he knows is morally wrong.
She asks for her mother’s opinion on what she should ask her father for, and Herodias responds, “The head of John the baptizer.” Herod delivers on his promise, and Mark gives us the painful description of what happened in gruesome detail. He orders one of his soldiers to bring him John’s head. The soldier goes to the jail where he is imprisoned and beheads him, bringing his head on a platter, and presenting it to the girl who then gives it to her mother. This was no ordinary political execution – it is nasty.
In the end Herod, didn’t have the moral courage to choose do the right thing. He chose to honor his oath to his daughter so that he wouldn’t look bad in front of the others. It is difficult to come away from this story without feeling that these people are monsters.
They killed John the Baptist for telling the truth. Yes, Jesus says that the truth will make you free, but as we heard in today’s gospel reading, telling the truth might get you arrested and even killed. This is a paradox that is difficult to accept. Of course, there are times that call for prudence and caution, but there are times that call for uncompromising and unwavering truth telling, consequences be as they may.
It’s somewhat like the paradox we see in the gospel itself. Jesus Christ died to set us free from our sins, but in order to join with him in his resurrection, we have to die to our old selves. To experience the joy of Easter, we must first suffer through the devastation and heartache of Good Friday.
Last week, I talked about how disciples of Jesus are called to die to our old selves. After Mass, one of our dear parishioners asked me if I’d consider expounding on this concept of dying to one’s old self. Like most preachers, the common feedback I get is, “Nice sermon, Father” or something of the sort, and on the rare occasion I receive a “request” like this, I’m more than happy to oblige.
St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans, “we are baptized into Christ’s death…For if we are united with him in a death like this, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” The baptismal life is a daily cycle of dying to the old self and rising to a new life filled with the hope of resurrection. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul describes the process of dying to self like this: dying to self means being “crucified with Christ,” and now I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. Paul’s old life, in which he chose to follow the ways of the world as opposed to the ways of God, is dead, and the new Paul is the dwelling place of Christ who lives in and through him. This is not to say that when we die to self we become automatons, nor do we feel ourselves to be dead. Rather, dying to self means that the things of the old life are put to death, most especially choosing to sin as our nature bids us to do. Paul says, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.” Dying to self means choosing to form habits that lead us to naturally choose the good of others before our own good. To choose that which pleases God rather than gratifying ourselves.
Put another way, the cycle of dying and rising is the pattern of sin, repentance, confession, absolution, and forgiveness. This cycle is daily because despite putting to death our old selves at our baptisms, our old selves don’t stay dead, at least on this side of the grave. Our propensity to sin does not go away at baptism, but through baptism, we are “reborn by the Holy Spirit.” By the help of the Holy Spirit, and through the grace we receive in the Sacraments of the Church, we are given the grace we need to face an evil tyrant and stand up for the truth, no matter the consequences. In the Sacraments, especially in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, we are given the grace we need to resist temptation and choose to put others before ourselves. When we fail in matters great or small, when we stumble in our footsteps, when we put our own sinful desires before those of the Lord, the cycle begins once again. We confess our sins to God, arise from the baptismal water absolved and forgiven and transformed, and we go on about our business of loving God with all our heart and our neighbors as ourselves.
Whether it’s this week or next, you and I will find ourselves faced with a paradox like John the Baptist was: do we tell the truth, despite the potential consequences, or do we remain silent? While I hope that speaking the truth doesn’t result in your head being served as the last course at a local politicians’ house, I hope and pray that you face the situation with a firm conviction that you’ve died to your old self and that Christ is dwelling in you. Be courageous in your truth telling, for you are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus! Know that in receiving the grace given in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, you have become participants of the divine nature and transformed (just a little) into the image of Jesus himself.
And so, I invite you to come to this table, not because you must but because you may. Not because you have reached your goal of holiness but because you are on the way there and need food for the journey. Not because you love the Lord a lot, but because you love him a little and would like to love him more. Come.
 John 8:32.
 Romans 6:3-5.
 Galatians 2:20.
 Galatians 5:24
 Much of this paragraph comes from https://www.gotquestions.org/dying-to-self.html, accessed 7/10/2021.
 BCP 306.
 Romans 6:11.
 2 Peter 1:4.
 This invitation to communion is Scottish in origin, and I learned it over a decade ago from The Rev’d Canon Andy Griffiths, currently Continuing Ministerial Development Adviser for the Diocese of Chelmsford.
Proper 9, Year B
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
July 4, 2021
After spending some time healing the sick and performing other miracles around the Sea of Galilee, Jesus returns to his home town. He goes to the synagogue and begins to teach, and his message does something to strike a nerve in the people who heard it. Usually, in his gospel, St. Mark gets to the point quickly and provides little detail. He could have skipped to his summary of their reaction, “They took offense at him” (v. 3), but instead he decided to include their specific questions. Anytime St. Mark decides to give us detail, it’s worth paying attention to!
First, they ask him about the nature of his power and where he got the power. Then they say, “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary… and are not his brothers and sisters here with us?”. Aren’t you the Jesus we’ve always known? The one we know is a simple carpenter and is one of us, not some sort of miracle worker! In the first part of this lesson, we see the folks in Jesus’s hometown reject his authority. They don’t have faith that Jesus is who he claims to be. Because of their lack of faith, Mark notes that Jesus could “do no deed of power” there, except in a few isolated instances.
In the second part of the story, Jesus gives this same authority that his kinsfolk rejected to his twelve closest followers! He sends them out with his authority to do the same type of ministry he’s been doing – the ministry of casting out demons and healing the sick and inviting everyone to turn from their old ways and believe in the Gospel! In other words, Jesus sends them out to join with him in reconciling the whole world to himself.
You and I are called, like the Twelve, to this ministry. In order to do it, we first have to understand that the authority to do so doesn’t come from us. Doing this ministry of reconciling the world to God isn’t about us. We have no authority to do so on our own, only that which is given to us by God.
The faith that was lacking in Nazareth is present in the sending out of the Twelve disciples. Jesus doesn’t tempt them to go do this work by promising luxury or an increase of their fame and stature. He says, “Go out two-by-two. Take nothing with you – no food and no money. Instead, have faith that I will provide for your every need.” How does he provide for their needs? He tells them to be completely dependent on the hospitality of others. How vulnerable they must have felt with no assurance of a living, or even where to sleep each night!
When we talk about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in our own day, we often hear of the need to pray and study the Bible personally, at home. While these are certainly helpful spiritual practices, following Christ requires us to first acknowledge that we cannot do it in our own. We must be dependent on others, humbly acknowledging that life isn’t all about self. The Christian life is inter-dependent with the lives of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Christianity is a communal religion, not something that we can do all alone.
This interdependency on others is poignantly seen in the sacrament of marriage. The two individuals getting married become one. They submit themselves one to another and put the other’s needs above their own. They are at their most vulnerable with each other, for better or for worse, and much humility is required. They don’t lose their individuality entirely, but in a very real sense, in holy matrimony, a new creation is born when the two become one flesh.
Likewise, a new creation is born in the waters of baptism. A deep faith in Christ – like that of the Twelve – leads us to follow him into his death through the waters of baptism – at our physical baptism, and when we put on our baptism each and every day. St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans, “we are baptized into Christ’s death…For if we are united with him in a death like this, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” The baptismal life is a daily cycle of dying to the old self and rising to a new life filled with the hope of resurrection – a bodily resurrection, just like Our Lord.
This continuous cycle of dying and rising is the pattern of the Christian life. At baptism, by water and the Holy Spirit, we receive the authority that Jesus gave his first disciples. Authority to engage in the ministry of casting out demons and healing the sick and inviting everyone to turn from their old ways and believe in the Gospel! At baptism, we are committed to join with the whole Church in the work begun by Jesus of reconciling the whole world to God and God to the world.
Dear friends, we cannot live out our faith in Christ alone. Let us renew our commitment to live interdependently with our fellow members of St. Mary’s and the wider Church, no matter how messy that can be. Like the disciples, let us claim this authority given to us by our Lord and say yes to taking the Gospel – both in word and in deed – to those around us, and thus join with Christ in reconciling the word to God and God to the world. Amen.
 Verse 3.
 Karoline Lewis, Rolf Johnson, and Matt Skinner, "Sermon Brainwave Podcast," Working Preacher (podcast), July 8, 2018, accessed
July 7, 2018. https://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=1037
 Romans 6:3-5.
The sermons preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!