The Feast of St. Mary the Virgin
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
August 15, 2021
I’ve been singing in choir since I was 15 years old – first in school, then in church, then in college, and then again in church – and it is hard for me not to hear certain passages in the Bible and be reminded of choral music. “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulders.” As a priest, I probably shouldn’t admit this, but when I hear these words, I don’t think of the prophet Isaiah, my mind goes to the 12th movement of Handel’s Messiah.
In a similar way, when I hear the words we heard Mary sing in today’s gospel lesson, for just a moment, my mind thinks that the biblical author is quoting from Evening Prayer from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. Of course, it’s the reverse – the prayer book is quoting the Bible. The text we heard is actually a hymn – perhaps the earliest Christian hymn – and has become known by the first word in the Latin translation: Magnificat.
Right before this passage, the birth of Jesus was foretold by an angel, and Mary enters the scene. Luke describes her as a virgin engaged to be married to a man named Joseph who was from the royal house of David. An angel informs her that she will bear in her womb a child, which is rather confusing to her. She asks, “How can this be, as I am a virgin?” The angel says that the Holy Spirit will come upon her and make her pregnant by the power of the Most High God, and that her child will be holy, and called the “Son of God.”
What is Mary’s response when faced with this crazy and confusing pronouncement? She says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word.” When faced with the news of God becoming human and entering the world through her, Mary said “yes.” She said “yes.”
She then went to see her cousin, Elizabeth, in a neighboring town. Elizabeth was well past child rearing age – but, miraculously, she too was pregnant. Filled with the Holy Spirit, she says to Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” And Mary responds to these words by singing the hymn we now know as the Magnificat, the Song of Mary.
This hymn is born out of a ridiculous context. God proclaims the coming of the long-awaited Messiah not to government officials, or religious leaders, or other important people, but rather to two marginalized, unimportant, pregnant women – one young, poor, and unwed, the other far beyond the age to conceive. The content of Mary’s song is equally as absurd. The powerful on their thrones, and the proud, and the rich – these folks aren’t the ones extolled and lifted up. Instead, it’s the lowly, the humble, and the poor. Mary’s song gives voice to the implications of the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ: an ushering in of the kingdom of God, a kingdom where the first shall be last and the last shall be first. An upside-down kingdom where status isn’t measured by wealth and pride and fancy titles but by humility, tenderness, forgiveness, and unconditional love. Mary’s song announces that God’s kingdom is coming, and with it, an inbreaking of new values and priorities.
Mary recognized just how great an honor God was bestowing on her – that she would bear the Son of God in her own body – and said, “Surely all generations will call me blessed.” This has been borne out throughout history. The Blessed Virgin Mary is recognized as the greatest saint of all which can be seen in so many ways, one of which is the fact that Christians all the world over that pray the Daily Office sing her song daily at Evening Prayer. We have statues and icons and images all throughout our beloved church which is under the patronage of the Blessed Mother. The Church throughout the world recognizes Mary’s exalted status not because she was powerful or proud or rich, but because of her humility and lowliness. In the upside-down kingdom of God, the lowly are exalted, and in this case, the lowliest of all humans has been exalted to the highest place in the communion of saints. In the upside-down kingdom of God, Mary is Queen of Heaven because her son, Jesus Christ, is the king of Israel, and in Israel, the mother of the king was recognized as the Queen Mother.
Thus, she is often depicted with a royal crown on her head, as she is in the beautiful image on the front of the high altar. Likewise, in the new emblem on the floor of the choir [which you can see on the front of your bulletin], a crown is at the top sitting upon the Marian monogram that superimposes an A and an M which stands for auspice Maria: “under the protection of Mary.”
In the kingdom that Mary’s son is ushering in, those we marginalize, God glorifies. Think of the millions of refugees of the world fleeing the violence of their homelands. Look at the myriad of unhoused people in Kansas City. Ponder those who are disabled. Consider those who are oppressed and rejected for no other reason than for being who God created them to be.
As members of this beloved parish under the patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary, let us join in the song she leads. Let us join with her and her Son in praying and working for a world where there is no poverty, war, injustice or hate. Under the protection of Mary, let us join her in saying “yes” to her son Jesus. Let us extol the one who is higher than the cherubim and more glorious than the seraphim, for “…we never give more honor to Jesus than when we honor his Mother, and we honor her simply and solely to honor him all the more perfectly. We go to her only as a way leading to the goal we seek - Jesus, her Son." Amen.
 David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, vol. 9 (Louisville (Ky.): Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 95.
 Bishop Skip Adams, “Feast Day Reflection: St. Mary the Virgin,” The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, August 15, 2017, http://www.episcopalchurchsc.org/messages-from-bishop-adams/feast-day-reflection-st-mary-the-virgin.
 Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, True Devotion to Mary: With Preparation for Total Consecration (Charlotte, NC: Saint Benedict Press, 2010).
The Feast of Blessed James Stewart-Smith
August 11, 2021
Mr. David Wilcox
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
If you love me, feed my sheep. Jesus commands Peter in the reading we just heard from the Gospel according to St. John. It's a command that's echoed down the centuries to all those who have accepted God's call to be a pastor of his people. It is a command that was fully lived out in the life of Fr. James Stewart Smith, who we commemorate today for the first time.
Fr. Stewart-Smith was born in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1851. He attended the University of Virginia, where he obtained a doctorate in homeopathic medicine. Discerning a call to the ordained ministry, he trained for ordination at Seabury and Nashotah House seminaries. He was ordained a deacon in 1875 and a priest one year later in 1876. After ordination, he held several positions before accepting the call to be the priest in charge of St. Mary's, where he would spend the rest of his earthly life. After arriving in Kansas City in November of 1891, Fr. Stewart-Smith quickly settled in and got to work immediately. He was installed by the Bishop only two weeks later, taking up residence in the austere apartment above the parish hall.
His efforts to feed the sheep entrusted to his care included daily Mass even when no one was present, the institution of regular benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, and times for private confession. He oversaw St. Mary's mission congregation in the West Bottoms, bringing many souls to Christ, baptizing 30 people on one Sunday alone. In addition, he wrote several pamphlets to expound on the Catholic tradition of Anglicanism, among them a defense of prayers for the dead, an appeal to fast before communion, and a devotional prayer book for the people of the parish. His efforts to feed his flock didn't just focus on their spiritual needs. He also cared for their physical and material needs. He established a medical practice where he put his training as a doctor to use, treating all those who came to him free of charge. Fr. Stewart-Smith also extended the parish's works of mercy by establishing a mortuary chapel in the tower room where the city's destitute would be brought for Christian burial.
Unlike some of the other notable figures in the history of our parish who will remain unnamed, Fr. Stewart Smith was a quiet man who didn't leave behind many legends. What we do know about him is that he was a many of many talents. In addition to being a priest and a doctor, he was a skilled businessman and an amateur Ironworker; among his creations are the Lenten Altar Cross and the baptismal font cover. He found strength for the tasks at hand in quiet prayer before the Altar where he served. In the words of another priest, he was "always glad to be of any service; unwilling to compromise the Church or the Bishop and a fountain of knowledge yet so unwilling to display it." He was the balance wheel of the clergy, a support to the Bishop and the most overworked priest in the diocese, who was the embodiment of charity and loving-kindness.
In the words of a leading citizen of Kansas City, Fr. Stewart-Smith lived a life "that was a labor of love…walking among the lowly, the poor, the distressed and the fallen as a ministering spirit to relieve comfort and to lift up." His dying day showed that that was true as he passed to larger life just minutes after he finished counseling someone grieving the loss of their loved one. When he died, he left behind not legends but countless lives touched by the love of God that worked through him. Strong men and women who had been brought to God by his saintly life whose testimony speaks to us down the generations.
Tonight by remembering Fr. James Stewart Smith at this Altar where he served for 23 years, we exercise the particular privilege entrusted to us by the general convention. As the community that knew and loved him and discerned the special grace of Christ at work in him, we establish his commemoration and lift him up as an example of holy living and selfless service for others to follow. We ask him, who we trust is in heaven, to pray for this parish that he loved, for us, his spiritual children, and for all pastors. So that aided by his prayers, they may be just as faithful in their care and nurture of God's flock as he was enabling us all to grow ]into the full stature of Christ, which he achieved.
 L.A.C. Pitcathly, Tribute to Fr. Stewart Smith in the Kansas City Post August 12 1915.
 W.F. Kuhn, Tribute to Fr. Stewart Smith in in The Kansas City Free Masonry, August 21, 1915
The Feast of St. Laurence, August 10, 2021
Fr. Chas Marks
We remember today the holy martyr St. Laurence of Rome who died this day in the year 258 during the persecution of the Emperor Valerian. Laurence was born in what is today Spain. He was a holy young man who came under the tutelage of the future Bishop of the city of Rome, Sixtus II. When Sixtus was elected Pope, he ordained Laurence a deacon and though he was still quite young – in his early 20’s – Pope Sixtus put him in charge of the finances of the diocese and most importantly – he was charged with the care of the poor.
The persecution of Valerian began in August of 258. He ordered the death of all Christian bishops, priests, and deacons and the confiscation of the Church’s worldly goods. Pope Sixtus was martyred on the sixth of August along with some of the other clergy. Laurence, being the archdeacon of the diocese was told by the Roman prefect to gather up all the church’s treasures to be presented to the emperor. He was given three days to accomplish this task. Laurence – being the good deacon he was – distributed all of the church’s treasure to the poor of the city. When asked to turn over the treasures to the prefect – he instead presented to him the poor, the orphans, and the widows who were in his care and said – here – these are the treasures of the Church. He was executed the following day.
Pious legend says that because of his cheekiness, Laurence was not beheaded in the usual manner of executing a Roman citizen but rather experienced the slow death of being roasted alive on a gridiron. Legend also tells us that though it was a most painful death he continued to praise God. He is even said to have told the soldiers in charge of his execution – to turn him over for he was done on that side. As a result – he is among other things – the patron saint of comedians and chefs.
St. Laurence lived the Gospel that we have heard proclaimed today. He followed our Lord – as a servant to the Church – as a servant to the poor and those in need- all the way to his death. We are told that his holy death was an inspiration to many in the city and that many were converted to Christ by Laurence’s witness.
While each of us may not be called to a physical martyrdom – we too are called to die to ourselves daily – so that the life of our Risen Lord may shine through us. The 20th Century martyr Dietrich Bonhoffer said that when Christ calls a man – he bids him to come and die. Dying to self means giving ourselves over to following God’s will in our lives – truly loving God and our neighbors above all else. While this is not a painful martyr’s death – it is still not at all an easy task. It is in fact something that we must practice over and over again each day of our lives. Let us pray this day for God’s grace– so that we too may follow the way as servants of our Lord Jesus Christ with St. Laurence’s zeal.
In particular on this feast – let us give thanks for the order of Deacons in the Church and pray for all who are ordained to that ministry of service. Let us remember not only those who are ordained as vocational deacons – but all priests and bishops who also were first ordained to be icons of Christian service in this holy order. May God bless us and may the diaconal charism that is at the heart of all ordained ministry in the Church shine through all deacons, priests, and bishops in acts of care and concern for the poor and those in any sort of need.
Let us give thanks this day for the life and witness of St. Laurence. Amen.
August 8, 2021
1 Kings 19:4-8, Ephesians 4:25-5:2, John 6:35, 41-51
Mr. David Wilcox
"It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors." the prophet Elijah prays in this morning's reading from the first book of kings. It seems a bit dramatic on its own, but today's reading is part of a much longer story in which Elijah has struggled - often on his own - to keep the faith of Israel alive to call the people back to God and into living in the way God commands. Finally, in a miraculous display, he proves God's superiority and sovereignty over the false gods who have made their way to the heart of Israel into the royal house itself. It seems like the light has dawned on a new day for Israel, that things are looking up. Until those loyal to the false god seek Elijah's life. In fear, Elijah flees to the wilderness. He feels like he can take no more he prays for God to take his life. Elijah is overwhelmed, something I think we can all understand at this point after dealing with this pandemic for so long.
Last year around this time, Fr. Charles asked me to preach before I went off to seminary. We were about five months into the pandemic, it was the end of July, and I was tired. I was tired of bad news everywhere I looked, Covid, civil unrest, unemployment, the list went on and on. I was tired of death, violence, and feeling as if there was no hope, so I preached the sermon that I needed to hear because I knew if I needed to hear it, I wasn't the only one. I tried to encourage us all to hold on to hope. Hope in God's promises…hope that everything would get better. Yet five months has turned into eighteen, and I'm still tired. I'm tired, and it seems like the list of bad news has gotten longer, not shorter. This week will be a year since Deacon Gerry died. Covid numbers are once again on the rise, higher than they ever were last year. Hospitals are full again, people are still struggling to find work, can't afford to pay their rent, and face eviction at any moment, and those who have a duty to help just don't seem to care. Worst of all, despite the miracle vaccine, it looks as if things are likely to get worse again because people have just stopped caring. I'm finding it difficult to hold on to hope.
Along with my sheer and utter mental and emotional exhaustion, a whole other host of emotions has cropped up. I'm angry, sad, and disappointed. Like Elijah, I just don't know how much more I can take. An article that ran in this week's Kansas City Star asked readers to share their experiences now that Covid was once again surging across the country. It tells me that I'm not alone in my feelings because respondents described every emotion from sadness to fear, indifference to anger.
In the Church, we often don't know what to do with negative emotions. We know that as Christians, we are called to hope, but in our minds, somehow that often gets twisted into meaning we always have to be positive. So many of us here at St. Mary's come from traditions where you can share testimony about good things that are happening or about struggles that have been overcome. Yet, you can't talk about struggles that you're actively having. Because for some reason, it seems to mean we don't believe hard enough. I have been more open and honest today about my own struggles of late because if today's lessons teach us anything, it's that emotions are a part of being human. They teach us that it's okay to admit that the way we're called to walk isn't easy and that we struggle. Elijah had enough, and he wasn't afraid to admit it to himself or to God. In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul reminds us that it is okay to be angry. It's not a sin to be worn out or to feel those emotions we'd probably rather not. The sin comes when we become complacent in those emotions when we try to hide them away and feed them rather than trying to move through them.
When Elijah came to God, scared, exhausted, and upset, God did not scold Elijah. Instead, he understood and sheltered him with his presence and provided him with rest, refreshment, and strength for the journey that lay ahead. The story of Elijah and the broom tree reminds us that it's okay to be human, to feel the things we feel, and it's okay to be exhausted and at the point of giving up. That is a normal part of being alive, and it's a normal part of the journey of faith. The story of Elijah and the broom tree teaches us that when we find ourselves at the point of giving up, we are called and invited by God to withdraw here, under the shadow of another tree, the tree of the Cross. Here God offers us shelter to rest in quiet and in prayer. Here God invites us to be refreshed by his word and the solidarity of others and to be fed as the angel fed Elijah. Yet the bread God offers us is not ordinary bread, bread cooked on rocks which Elijah ate. Instead, God provides the bread of life we heard about in the Gospel reading this morning, the true and living bread that came down from heaven, Jesus Christ.
Whenever you're exhausted or hurting, sad, or angry when you reach your breaking point and feel like you can't go on -whether that's now or years from now- don't be afraid to feel those feelings. Be honest with yourself, with God, and with others. Then come, come to the shelter of the Cross. Come and rest here. Come because God calls you and invites you. Come because God understands and let him care for you, let him refresh you, and feed you with the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ given to us in the forms of bread and wine. Come because without this food and without this community, the journey will be too much for you.
.Proper 13, Year B
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15; John 6:24-35
August 1, 2021
In this story from the book of Exodus, the Israelites are out in the middle of the desert with nothing to eat. God had promised to provide for them, but they are hungry…so hungry that they wished they were back in Egypt. It is better to live in slavery with full stomachs than to die of starvation, right? The Israelites don’t have the courage to confront God directly and accuse him of betraying them, but instead grumble to their leaders Moses and Aaron.
I’m not sure about you, but were I faced with being in the desert with no food, especially after God had promised to provide for me, I would likely feel resentful toward God. God had set them free from the evil yoke of slavery they had been under in Egypt, but they were still far from trusting him. They thought God would let them die of starvation. Faced with this deep fear , they didn’t seem to remember God’s loving promise to Abraham and his descendants to bring them safely into the Promised Land.
Despite their resentful attitude, God responds not in anger, but by generously fulfilling his original promise. He immediately commits to satisfying their physical hunger by giving them meat in the evening and bread in the morning. The Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction.” Yes, God provided food to satisfy their physical hunger, but he does it in part to test their obedience and trust in his providence. This story is more about faith and trusting in God’s promise than it is about physical food.
Fast forward nearly 1,300 years to this scene from John’s gospel. As we heard last week, Jesus had just fed 5,000 people with five loves and a couple of fish, and he has literally walked on water to get to this scene. So the crowd’s first question is a bit strange: they ask him when he had arrived. Instead of answering their bizarre question, Jesus shows that he knows their true motive in seeking him out. He says, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” The crowd didn’t get the purpose of the loaves and the fish – they responded to that miracle by trying to kidnap him and make him king by force! Likewise, they don’t get it when he says to them, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”
Despite the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 – despite Jesus’ having walked on water – they still demand some greater miracle! They remind him that during the Exodus, God supplied their ancestors with daily bread from heaven, not only for one meal but for forty years. The crowd still doesn’t get it. They are looking for physical sustenance, like the manna God provided the Hebrews in the desert, to provide for their physical needs. They certainly didn’t expect to hear that God sent his son Jesus to provide the world with food that endures for eternal life.
The key to this passage is verse 29 when Jesus said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him who has sent me.” Believe! John never uses the Greek noun for faith but always its verbal form which is translated here “to believe.” Biblical scholar Raymond Brown defines its use in John as denoting an active commitment to a person, especially Jesus. Significantly, 74 out of 98 uses of this verb in John are in the first thirteen chapters where Jesus invites people to have continuing and active trust in him.
Jesus finally corrects the crowd’s misunderstanding. They demand, “Sir, give us this bread always.” What they demand is what they already have in the presence of Jesus: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty”.
Like the crowd, we too are far from trusting in God. No matter how many times God tells us, we still fall back into thinking that we can only receive God’s grace by working hard – by pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps. We often think that God loves good people and doesn’t love bad people, and since we often behave badly, God doesn’t love us. We often fear that God won’t provide for our physical or emotional needs. Like the ancient Israelites in the desert, we are far from trusting him.
When God reassured the Hebrews that he would indeed fulfil his promise to them, he told them only to take enough bread for that day. Later in Exodus chapter 16, we learn that despite Moses telling them to not “leave any of it over until morning,” not all of them listen, with some trying to store some of the bread until morning only to find the excess the next morning to be spoiled and foul.
Like the manna that fed the Hebrews in the desert, God’s grace cannot be stockpiled. We can’t build up reserves of grace to be used whenever we need it, but only receive it moment by moment as part the daily bread we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer.
The only way we can actively trust in God is to live in the present moment. We have no hold on the past – we can’t change the slightest bit of it. We often try to relive past events that we consider to be failures – “I should have done this, I should have done that” – but these imaginary scenarios are fantasies: it isn’t possible to change a thing that is past. Likewise, we have very little hold on the future. Despite all of our planning and foresight, everything can change in the blink of an eye. Who would have thought that we’d be in the situation we are in with COVID-19 in July 2021 with rising cases and a new mask mandate despite a nearly limitless supply of vaccine!?!? We can’t program our lives in advance, but can only receive it moment by moment. It is only in the present moment that we can actively trust God to provide for our every need.
Jesus said, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him who has sent me.” Dear friends, let us believe – let us actively trust our Lord, moment by moment, to provide for our every need. Let us ask God for our daily bread – for the grace we need in this moment, and when he provides it to us in the bread and wine at the communion rail, let us receive with joy and gladness this food that endures for eternal life. And let us recommit ourselves to trusting in him today and every day until we are brought at last to the Promised Land of heaven. Amen.
 John 6:26.
 John 6:14.
 John 6:27.
 https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-18-2/commentary-on-john-624-35-5, quoting Raymond Brown.
 John 6:35.
 Ex. 16:20
 Jacques Philippe, Interior Freedom, trans. Helena Scott (New York, NY: Scepter, 2007), 88.
 Most of this paragraph is from Philippe 81-82.
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!