Pentecost X – Proper 15 – Year C
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
The Rev’d Charles Everson
August 14, 2022
You don’t see it as often these days, but my grandmother Trula Everson kept photo albums scattered throughout her house. Until she died when I was 20, it was not uncommon to see an occasional new photo album appear, but you would never see one go away. As a child, I remember sitting in her lap, asking questions about who is who. She’d point out the various family members and how I was related to them, adding in commentary about what she remembered about their profession, family life, what she knew about their character, pointing out if someone was super rich, poor, and so on.
This is sort of what the author of the book of Hebrews is doing in chapter 11. He helps us remember those in the family of faith who have gone before. Remember those who passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land. Remember Rahab the prostitute who welcomed the spies. Remember those who marched around Jericho, resulting in the walls falling. Remember Sampson and Daniel who shut the mouths of lions. Remember those who won strength out of weakness like Gideon and Ester. Remember those who were torched, mocked, scourged, and tormented. This photo album of our spiritual ancestors reveals something profound about faith, which he earlier describes as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not yet seen”.
Faith isn’t a guarantee that you’ll have what we think of as a “good life.” Some of our spiritual ancestors were tortured, suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. Those who have a deep faith are not more likely to have more money or things or power or good looks than those who have no faith. Faith does not give us a free ticket out of pain and suffering in this life. Said another way, the theology that wealth and prosperity and blessings come as a result of having enough faith or doing enough good things is simply not biblical. For some, faith results in victory, and for others, faith results in suffering.
“Yet all these”, says the author of Hebrews, “though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better….” Before the “something better” is revealed, we hear a verse that Baptist teenagers like I was taught to memorize in Sunday School. I’ll read it in its entirety, and then explain why it has always given me anxiety. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses… There’s so much good stuff there, but despite the fact that I enjoy jogging (as in light jogging), perseverance, in that context, is not my strong suit. At the age of 42, I have a long history of trying to run longer distances, not persevering, then feeling guilty about my inadequacy and lack of endurance. Not a fun cycle to be reminded of.
Over the years, I’ve become convinced that this passage is not intended to evoke feelings of guilt. The witnesses might be referring to fans in a stadium at the beginning or end of a race, or they might be referring to early martyrs who had died for their faith. Either way, it’s a wonderfully encouraging vision of our fellow Christians supporting us and cheering us on, giving us courage and hope that we can indeed persevere in running the race that is set before us.
What is the end goal of the race? Where are we headed? The author of Hebrews finishes his photo album of our spiritual ancestors with a brilliant climax, the most important ancestor of all: Jesus Christ. In a moment, we will sing a paraphrase of this text in the Offertory hymn. “Behold, a Witness nobler still, who trod affliction’s path: Jesus, the author, finisher, rewarder of our faith.”
The message of this passage isn’t how my wounded psyche used to interpret it: “Have faith, do good, try not to screw up but feel guilty when you – and hopefully you’ll get to heaven one day.” The message is that whether we win the battle or suffer a defeating loss, no matter our lot, Jesus is the beginning and the end. He is indeed “something better” – the prize above all measure that we receive at the end of the race after having constantly fixed our gaze on him, and he accompanies us along the way, giving us his own self as food for the journey to persevere when we inevitably encounter both feast and famine. Jesus takes our woefully incomplete faith and makes it whole.
I no longer get anxious when I hear this passage, because rather than despair and guilt, I think we’re meant to be encouraged. But even more so with chapter 12, verse 3, which both the Baptist Sunday School teachers and the lectionary compilers unfortunately fail to include: “Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.”
Dear friends, consider Jesus, both when you have doubts, and when your faith is strong. Consider Jesus, when the whole world seems to be against you, and when you’ve won the greatest victory of your life. Consider Jesus, when your faith leads you through the Red Sea to dry land, and when you feel like you’re drowning and ready to throw in the towel. Consider Jesus, when your faith is in shambles and you have nothing left to hold on to, and when you experience the greatest spiritual high you’ve ever had. Consider Jesus, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. Amen.
 Heb. 11: 39-40, NRSV.
 Heb 12:1, NRSV.
 Working Preacher.
 Heb 12:3, NRSV
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Luke 12:32-40
Fr. Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
7 August 2022
Treasure-hunting is alive and well. I'm sure you've heard about the most recent Mega Millions lottery, worth $1.3 billion dollars. Countless Americans bought the tickets, hoping to be the lucky one with the winning numbers. I read that someone in the Chicago area had the ticket. That person's life will change overnight, soon to be propelled into the realm of the ultrarich. Yes, we hear about how most lottery winners are not really happy and how many of them squander away their wealth. But, to be honest, how many of us would not want a quick billion dollars? Think about the benefits and rewards that would come with that kind of money: the power, the status, the freedom to pursue whatever we wanted.
It is human nature to desire wealth and possessions. And our society celebrates the acquisition of money. The media hypnotizes us with icons of wealth and status, from multi-billionaires to celebrity athletes and movie stars.
In today's Gospel, we have a counter-intuitive and counter-cultural message about wealth. Jesus tells his disciples: "Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treaure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Luke 12:33-40). In contrast to the message around us to accumulate wealth, Jesus tells us to give it away.
Why? For one, there is no enduring value in our material possessions. Wealth comes and goes. Jesus employs the colorful images of worn-out purses, plundering thieves, and moth-eaten valuables to illustrate the fleeting nature of earthly treasures. I heard somewhere that most family fortunes do not survive three generations. What usually happens is that the generations that come after the founder of the fortune usually lack the same kind of hunger for money and end up spending more than increasing the family wealth. In last week's Gospel, we read about the rich fool who makes all sorts of plans for what to do with his money only to die the next day (Luke 12:13-21). As the cliche goes, you can't take it with you when you go.
But there is another, more important reason for not placing our faith in material possessions. Jesus speaks of a different, far superior kind of wealth, "an unfailing treasure in heaven." Unlike the treasures of this world, this heavenly treasure has enduring value; indeed, it is eternal in nature. What is this heavenly treasure? It is none other than Christ himself. Jesus is our "unfailing treasure in heaven."
Jesus is the treasure of God's precious gift of his own Son to the world. Jesus is God Incarnate, God in the flesh. And as God Incarnate, Christ is the source of all creation, the source of all blessings. Everything that we have and enjoy comes from Christ. And through his Passion, Death, and Resurrection, he has become our Savior and Lord. We have the promise of life with him in this world and in the next.
Hence, compared to the treasure that we have in Jesus, everything else pales in comparison. In the parable of the Pearl of Great Price in the Gospel of Matthew, we read of the pearl merchant who finds one pearl of great value (Matthew 13:45-46). He sells everything he has in order to buy the one pearl. For the Christian, Jesus is the Pearl of Great Price, the treasure above all treasures for which we should be willing to sacrifice everything else. As we read in today's Gospel: "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
Throughout Christian history, many believers have done just that, given up everything for their faith. In the Gospels, we read of the disciples who left behind family and possessions to follow Jesus. And we have the long and rich monastic tradition of monks and nuns who have given up everything to take vows of poverty and service to the poor and needy. Yet, at the same time, we also have examples of wealthy believers in the early church who, though they did not give away everything they had, were generous patrons of the church and its ministries. And throughout Christian history as well as in the present, we have believers on all points of the socioeconomic spectrum. Based on the experience of the Church, the degree to which we sacrifice our material possessions for the sake of the faith seems to depend on our individual conscience, to what we believe God is calling us to do. Perhaps because of my very Protestant background (I don't know any monks or nuns), I personally am not aware of anyone who has taken the radical step of giving it all up.
But whatever sacrifices we make, even giving it all up, they are nothing compared to what we receive in return. From the treasure that is Christ flows a stream of spiritual riches that no money can buy. He is our Redeemer, who grants us the the promise of eternal life. He has conquered death and offers us unending life with him. And in this life, we have the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, sent by Jesus to provide us in our daily lives with wisdom and guidance, and comfort and strength in times of trial. And just as earthly wealth can provide the resources to do what we want, the spiritual riches that come from our relationship with Jesus also empower us, not to do what we want but to carry out God's will. Inspired and empowered by Christ, we do God's work in the world, feeding the poor, healing the sick, visiting the lonely, committing ourselves to peace and justice.
Earthly treasures, like the lottery jackpot, derive their value from being rare and limited to the few. But the heavenly treasure that is Christ is available to all of us. It is God's free gift. And it is available to us now. We claim this treasure every time we come to the altar for Holy Eucharist. As we receive the host and chalice, we receive the precious Body and Blood of Jesus into our own bodies. We thus become bearers of the treasure that is above all treasures: Jesus, God-Incarnate. Dear sisters and brothers, let us now join together and come to the altar to receive our divine treasure, the source of all blessings. And bearing this treasure in us, let us go forth to be Christ to one another in love and service. Amen.
Joseph of Arimathea
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
August 1, 2022
Today, we commemorate Joseph of Arimathea. All that we know of him comes from the narratives of the burial of Jesus in the Gospels. Though John speaks of Joseph as a secret disciple of our Lord, and associates him with Nicodemus, another member of the Jewish Sanhedrin who was drawn to Jesus, we know nothing of any further activity of these men in the early Christian community.
Later, however, legends developed about their leadership in the Church. One of the more enduring is the story of Joseph’s coming to the ancient Church of Glastonbury in southwest England and bringing with him the Holy Grail, the cup used at the Last Supper which Joseph had used to catch some of Christ’s blood at his crucifixion. According to the Arthurian legends dating to the 13th century, Joseph died in England, and his eldest son Josephus became the island’s spiritual leader while his younger son Galahad took charge of secular duties. Before he died, Josephus passed the Grail to his nephew Alan and his descendants. Galahad’s grandson, named Galahad after him, is the one we know as Sir Galahad the Chaste.
Galahad was said to be the greatest knight ever, and his virginity is often seen to be the key to his perfection. In other words, he’s the perfect knight because he’s a virgin. Galahad can defeat any enemy who comes before him, and even at an extremely young age, surpasses his father, in terms of strength, chivalry, and ability. Galahad receives the Perilous Seat at the Round Table, which is destined to belong to the greatest knight, who would be the one to end the Grail quests; if anyone else tried to sit there, they would find themselves in peril. Galahad is the only knight who can draw the Sword in the Stone as he is the only knight worthy enough.
Let’s be clear. This is a lovely story, but it is lore, and we have no written documentation of it before the 13th century. But it is holy lore. One of the more recent scholarly works on the Holy Grail, written by Richard Barber, argues that the Grail legend is connected to the introduction of "more ceremony and mysticism" surrounding the sacrament of the Eucharist in the High Middle Ages, proposing that the first Grail stories may have been connected to the "renewal in this traditional sacrament".
That leads us to this stained-glass window right over here of the likely fictional figure of St. Galahad the Chaste. If you haven’t seen it, please come up and take a peek after Mass. It was given by Fr. Edwin Merrill in 1921 and dedicated to a Ralph Albert Parker, and “old college chum”. Fr. Merrill was rector of St. Mary’s from 1918-1953 (35 years!), and his portrait at a much later age is right back there. After completing his first year of seminary at the age of 27, like many young people do, he and Mr. Parker traveled on foot throughout Western Europe for about five months. Mr. Parker later married and Merrill of course finished seminary and was ordained priest. In 1919, the year after Fr. Merrill arrived here, Mr. Parker died of typhoid fever at the age of 32, leaving a widow and one-year-old daughter.
Fr. Merrill was the last “bachelor priest” of St. Mary’s. A story has developed over the years that Fr. Merrill and Mr. Parker were lovers, but let’s be clear. This is a lovely story, but it is lore. But I think it is holy lore. What we know is that they went to college together and were friends, and that they were so close that Parker’s death in 1919 spurred Fr. Merrill to commission this window, with Sir Galahad gazing at the enter of the altar where I will elevate the chalice in a moment. The inscription at the bottom says, “I, Galahad, have seen the Holy Grail. Let us press forward.”
Joseph of Arimathea probably never visited England during his lifetime. But the holy lore that developed over a thousand years after his death is ever present here at St. Mary’s. As we receive communion today, consecrated upon the same altar where Fr. Edwin Merrill celebrated Mass literally thousands of times, let us give thanks for his friendship with Ralph Albert Parker, no matter the precise nature of their relationship. For the fruits of that relationship continue to remind all who see this window that the bravest knight in all of Christendom has found the true Grail, the prize beyond all measure. That prize is nothing other than Jesus Christ in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. Amen.
 Barber, Richard. The Holy Grail: Imagination and Belief. Harvard University Press, 2004.
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!