Fr. Larry Parrish
August 27, 2023
St. Mary's Episcopal Church
Jesus’s disciples had been with him awhile when the story told in our Gospel text begins. They had listened to his teaching and tried to understand what they were hearing. They had witnessed miracles at His hands and tried to understand what they meant, too: miracles of healing, a couple of major miracles involving feeding a rock concert sized crowd using somebody’s lunch and had witnessed him walking across the water of Lake Galilee in a storm and then stilling that storm in an instant. Now their teacher had given them a pop quiz. He suddenly asked them, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” --referring to Himself. The disciples, who had stood in crowds gathered to see Jesus and had been listening to people talk, came quickly back with some answers: “Well, some say John the Baptist; some say Elijah; Some say Jeremiah . . .or one of the prophets.” “But who do you say that I am?” Peter, who had the inclination, that some of us today share, of putting his mouth in gear before his brain was fully engaged, blurted out, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” Playing with this passage—which by the way is a perfectly acceptable way of studying a story from Scripture—I can see the disciples doing eye rolls—“Ah! Peter just put his foot in his mouth again!” But this time ..Peter was right. Jesus (maybe hugging Peter) exclaims, ”Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in Heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, (Greek for “rock—his Jewish name was Simon, which means “rock”) and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”
The thing about Scripture is that it is a living document. When Jesus talks to his disciples in a Gospel story we can’t keep him at a 2000 year’s arm reach back in time, he is talking to us who say we belong to His Church today. When Paul writes a letter to the Church at Rome, he is writing to St. Mary’s, 13th and Holmes.
Jesus asks us both the question, “Who do others say that I am?” and “Who do YOU say that I am?” The answer matters, and it matters whether or not we answer both of these questions, and how we answer them.
The figure of Jesus looms so large in world history and people have been trying to make sense of the impact of his personality and actions, as well as His crucifixion and resurrection for the past two millennia. In fact, He is the reason we talk about two millennia, as it has been said, “He has split our calendar,” so that we talk about B.C. or A.D. Before Christ, or Year of our Lord. Pre-Christian Era and Post-Christian Era. He cannot be easily categorized, and there are some ways He cannot be categorized at all.
And even those who claim to be Christian and call Jesus “Lord and God,” cannot truly say just anything they want about him. Throughout history, well-meaning people, and not-well-meaning people have tried to superimpose on Jesus their own ideology and agenda. His Name has been invoked to reinforce the power of leaders of religious cults and personality cults. He and His movement have been invoked to subjugate anyone who isn’t white, straight, and male, justify slavery, and overturn governments with force or chicanery.
Throughout recorded history, It has been a human characteristic to define God as an extension of ourselves, and, accordingly, Jesus, as the human face of God, as well. It is not a new phenomena. As a wise priest I know, and am fond of quoting*once said, “God created us in His image, and we have been trying to return the favor ever since!” -Fr. Robert Layne.
It was an issue in the early days of the Christian movement, as Paul wrote his letters and mailed them to the new Christian community in Rome. He was reminding them that they might be Roman citizens, but that they weren’t to adopt Roman attitudes, ethics, and religious values as the way of Christ. In the letter read from today, he pleads with them, and us, to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds, so that we may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. What we THINK is important. We are to give our bodies, i.e. our hands, feet, talents, abilities, to God so that we might love others as God has loved us, and that includes our minds, our intellects and our discernments, too. We are to THINK, really think—not blindly assume—about who God is and who we are in relationship with Him doing the best we can—“by the mercies—grace—of God” “according to the measure of faith” that God gives us. We are not alone. We are not without resources in doing this.
A good many of the resources are at hand every time we gather for worship. The reading of Scripture, the Church’s Book, is one. I think that the Sunday morning study here on the texts for Sunday is very beneficial to those participating. I think you have noticed that we are printing the texts of the readings in the service leaflet now. I like that, even though you can now more easily question me on what I didn’t say or whether you can’t see how I got what I said from what was written! I welcome after-sermon conversations!
Every Sunday after the sermon we stand and recite the Nicene Creed. It is a compilation of hard thought and hard fought- -for answers to Jesus’s question, “Who do you say that I am.” It keeps us from reinventing the theological wheel each Sunday. The same wise Episcopal priest I quoted earlier once said, “We say the creed right after the sermon, because no matter what the preacher just said, we still “believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty . . . etc”! It centers us in the faith we proclaim. That doesn’t mean we have to understand every word of it—questioning and honest doubt are part of the thought processes that God has created in us to come to a deeper faith.
United Methodist Bishop, Preacher and Teacher of Pastors, (and, I think, closet Episcopalian!) Will Willimon tells the story of a time he invited an Orthodox Catholic bishop to speak to a class on basic Christianity he taught at Duke University. One of his students told the Bishop that he couldn’t recite the creed because he didn’t understand or believe all the parts of it. The Bishop told him, “Young man, it is not YOUR creed. It is the Church’s creed. You keep saying it until you come to understanding and belief!”
Then there are the stories and collects we find in our Lesser Feasts and Fasts book told and prayed at the weekday Masses here. We get acquainted with those who knew God and how they lived out of that relationship.
In the Mass, our souls are fed and our minds renewed by the Body and Blood of Christ that digests within us and courses through our veins. This is another great mystery that I have given up trying to understand and instead let myself experience. I learned a long time ago that there are some things that are true that can’t be shaken up in a test tube or proved by calculus.
This is a good place to mention an Anglican tradition of discerning who God is and who we are in His life: It’s an image of a “Three Legged Stool”. One of the legs is Scripture and another is Tradition. The third one is Reason. We are to apply our reasoning and what we know about what is true in the world, to interpreting both Scripture and Tradition for exploring who God is and who we are. Anglican priest and unintentional founder of Methodist, John Wesley, added a fourth leg, Experience. We use our life experiences and those experiences of God that seem to come from “outside” of our experience and yet manifest themselves “within” us, (Wesley’s “Heart strangely warmed” experience of grace and the love of God, for instance.) That is sometimes called Revelation. Jesus’ response to Peter’s blurted out affirmation was “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but my Father in Heaven.
There is another great resource for continuing to think through, and continuing to affirm who Jesus Christ is for us, and we all sit in the midst of it this morning:
In the passage from Paul’s letter this morning, he goes on to describe the community of faith, the Church, as a body, as “one body in Christ and individually we are members one of another,” in which “all members do not have the same function” but each of us have a gift or gifts—abilities or talents—to share with others. Taken in the context of “the renewing of our minds” earlier in the passage, and further in the context of Jesus asking for responses to his question of ALL of his disciples, I see an extension of the usual definition of this image beyond pooling our talents and abilities to make the church “work” for God and others: I see it also as an affirmation that in any gathering of Christians, the members not only have abilities to share, but thoughts, insights, learnings and experiences of how God has become real in their lives, and how they experience what it means to be in Christ. I see this especially true about this church, St. Mary’s KCMO, and all of you who are a part of it. You not only have multiple abilities and gifts to share in the ongoing operation of this church, you also have knowledge and thoughts to share about the nature of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and how you have experienced the reality of His presence and the power of His love in your lives. All of the rest of then, can be gifted with your insights!
Who do I say that Jesus is? (Remember, “no matter what the preacher just said” I still believe . . . ! –and all insights need to be tested by Scripture and Tradition). I say that the Jesus of the Gospels is not just the Jesus of History, but God in Three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The one who appeared in our shape and form to inhabit our humanity so that we could share in His divinity. As part of His shape and form we are His body, in this location here at 13th and Holmes, (but not limited by this location, this parish, or this denomination), to show forth His love and power, and the reality of His presence in the lives of those of us who proclaim him Lord, to others that are not only still struggling to answer the question, but to those who have yet to hear the question!
In the name of The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Feast of St. Mary the Virgin
Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
20 August, 2023
This past July Fourth is one that I will never forget. I received the phone call that I had been dreading. Fr. Charles Everson called to inform me that he would be leaving St. Mary’s. I responded with mixed emotions. On the one hand, I was happy and excited for my colleague and friend for his new ministry in Chicago, but, at the same time, I was seized by panic: “What will happen to St. Mary’s now?” I could not imagine St. Mary’s without Fr. Charles. He had hired me as his assistant priest four years ago, and we had worked closely together. He had guided the Church through the many challenges, including Covid, and placed us on a firm foundation. His departure would create a huge vacuum in the life of our church.
After Fr. Charles made the announcement of his resignation to the congregation the following Sunday, my good friend and fellow historian, Dr. Bill Stockton, came up to me and said, “You must be feeling like Harry Truman when he took over from FDR.” To say that Franklin Roosevelt left big shoes to fill would be an understatement. FDR was a beloved leader who had served an unprecedented four terms as president – 16 years, guiding the nation through the Great Depression. And when he died, the nation was in the middle of World War II. I think Truman probably sensed some panic when he heard the news that he would be taking over. So, it’s an appropriate analogy to our situation now, when we are worried by the uncertainties of what might come next.
But, actually, when I think about it, I rather like the comparison. As some of you know, I grew up in Independence, Missouri, Harry Truman’s hometown, and even graduated from Truman High School, and hence there’s the personal connection. But, more importantly, Truman turned out to be a great president, providing decisive leadership not only for the United States but for the world during World War II and the Cold War. So, Truman has become a kind of inspiration for me during this time of major transition for our Church.
Another source – a much greater source – of inspiration and strength for me these days is the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Patroness, whose feast day we observe today. Mary knew something about change. She knew what it was like to be suddenly faced with a momentous responsibility. Mary was a teenage girl, recently engaged to Joseph, when one day the angel Gabriel appeared to her and announced that she was to bear the Son of God (Luke 1:26-38). And how did she respond to this extraordinary news that would change her life and the life of the world forever? She could have responded like Moses with a litany of excuses. I’m not the right person for leading your people out of Egypt. The leaders of Israel aren’t going to listen to me. I’m not a good speaker. At one point, Moses flat out told God: “Please send someone else” (Exodus 3 and 4). Or Mary could have responded like Jonah. When God called Jonah to go to Nineveh with the message of repentance, what did he do? He fled, ending up in the belly of the whale while trying to avoid God. No, Mary did not come up with excuses or try to flee. On the contrary, she responded with the words: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it unto me according to Thy word” (Luke 1:26-38). And with Mary’s act of humble obedience to God’s will began the history of our salvation.
Be it unto me according to Thy word. I pray these words every day when I pray the Angelus as part of the Daily Office. The prayer reminds me to set aside my anxieties and worries and leave it all to God. It calls me to turn away from my ego and self-centeredness to focus on God’s will, not my own. Of course, this is much easier said than done. It is a daily, perpetual struggle.
Well, you’ll be glad to know that the initial panic has subsided, but the hard work of the transition has begun. Fortunately, my job as Priest-in-Charge has been made a lot easier by everyone who has stepped up. From the Clergy and Vestry to the Staff and Volunteers, many have rolled up their sleeves and committed themselves anew to maintaining and growing the rich and vibrant life of our Church.
St. Mary’s is special in so many ways. To begin with, we are only one of a handful of Anglo-Catholic Churches in the entire country. And here in the Midwest, we are the only Anglo-Catholic parish in a multi-state area. It is rare to find the kind of glorious traditional worship and piety that you find here, and I’m not aware of many Episcopal Churches that have the devotion we have here to the Virgin Mary. Moreover, located in the heart of downtown Kansas City, there are opportunities for service here to the poor and needy that you won’t find in suburban churches. We are a beacon of hope and love in our community.
Let me share with you an example. This past Friday afternoon at church, I witnessed Fr. Larry and Mary Parrish, and Raja Reed, our Parish Administrator, ministering to a young homeless person, a victim of abuse. Not only did we provide him with food and other necessities; we purchased a long-distance bus ticket for him to get back home, and the Parrishes even provided a ride to the Greyhound station. The most moving part of the experience for me was when we all held hands in our Church office, and Fr. Larry prayed for God’s protection and guidance. What a beautiful and holy moment. This is what our faith is about. This is what Our Lord Jesus Christ calls us to do.
It is truly an honor and privilege to be your Priest-in-Charge at St. Mary’s. I do, however, have a complaint. I don’t like my title – more specifically, the phrase “in charge.” The fact is, I’m not in charge here. I’m just part of the team – yes, with a leadership role but nonetheless still part of the team. God is the one in charge of St. Mary’s. It is God who will lead us through this transition. It is to God to whom we should turn for guidance and inspiration.
And it is God who is calling you today. How will you step up? In what way is God calling you to serve? Perhaps you are being called to assist us in our worship by reading Scripture or serving at the altar. Perhaps you are being called to serve behind the scenes to help with reception and hospitality. Or perhaps you are being called to one of our many outreach ministries. This past week’s newsletter featured the Blessing Bag ministry, and we have distributed hundreds of bags filled with food and other necessities to our homeless neighbors. We will be featuring other ministries in our newsletter in the weeks to come.
Dear sisters and brothers, the Church needs your help. You are part of the team. I pray that you will open your hearts and minds to God’s calling. And whatever God is calling you to do, I invite all of you to join me in your daily prayers to offer to God the prayer of Our Blessed Mother: Be it unto me according to Thy word. Amen.
Fr. Larry Parrish
Psalm 133 Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
“It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
These words must have cut like a knife to the heart of the mother who was desperately seeking help for her mentally ill daughter. How her child suffered, tormented by a broken mind. Even worse, her precious child was ostracized by the people of their town. They said she was demon possessed! For a fleeting moment, she had hope. A travelling teacher with a growing reputation as a healer and exorcist had unexpectedly shown up in their village. Maybe he could do something to relieve her daughter’s suffering!
She waited by the roadside with scores of other people as he approached. Finally he was in front of her! She shouted out to him, “My daughter has a demon!” He looked at her, no he looked through her, as if he hadn’t even heard, hadn’t even noticed her. She kept calling out to him, trotting alongside him. She could tell his travelling companions were upset. She could hear them urging him to tell her to get lost.
He stopped, and looking at his companions, said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” The frantic mother’s heart sunk a little. She knew he was a Jew. She even intuited that he was someone special within that faith and race. But his words reminded her that she was not of his faith and race. In fact, she was of Canaanite stock, and the Canaanites had been the traditional enemies of Israel—and vice versa—for centuries! Who was she to ask anything of him? But she was a Canaanite mother and her child needed help, and she was not going to be ignored! She forced herself in front of him and knelt down, “Sir. My daughter is mentally ill. Seriously ill. Please help me. Please help her!”
That’s when the traveling preacher said those awful words: “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” This was much more than a sensible proverb. The imagery was unmistakable. The “children” were the Jewish people. The “food” was whatever the teacher’s mission and gifts were. And she, a Canaanite was one of the “dogs.” It was a terrible, hurtful insult! And the person who hurled it was named Jesus.
You know that there is more to the story. But let’s pause the story right here and do a little soul searching.
Is there any person, or any group of people, any ethnic group, any race, any faith group that you consider lower than a snake’s belly and undeserving of the gifts you have to give or help you have tagged to go only to your “own kind.” That they are,
in your eyes, sub human? Maybe you don’t have such a group, and God bless you for that, but there are folks around who do.
The recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a rally of white supremacists erupted in violence, seem to be part of a growing trend whereby folks who have a hatred of Jews and anyone who is non-white are moving out of the shadows of our society where they have dwelt for decades and boldly announcing their hate of anyone who is not like them. They claim membership in the Ku Klux Klan and/or openly adore Nazi principles and history.
How can this be in this time and place? The KKK held sway in the south for a hundred years, killing, beating, torturing, lynching, and generally terrorizing black folks and anyone who would stand up for them. I thought that their excesses of the sixties, with their bombing of churches and the kidnap and murder of white people trying to encourage black people to vote had finally made them persona non grata in our society. Now they seem to be getting a louder voice in the public sphere.
And the neo-Nazis! Didn’t we fight a world war to defeat the Nazi’s and their fanatical efforts to declare a pure race, while murdering millions of Jews and anyone else that tried to stand in their way? How dare the grandchildren of men who fought, and sometimes died fighting, to eliminate Nazis from the earth, openly stand up in public in America today and spew the same rubbish and hate, and ape the same actions, as the Nazis of Adolph Hitler’s Germany?!
Neither of these groups or any of their ilk have any problems identifying who the “dogs” are in their world! Since it isn’t uncommon for white supremacy groups to identify with Christianity or use Christian symbols or language, it is important for us who claim the name of Jesus in our faith to remember, and to tell others, that Christianity does not underwrite, condone or advance the agenda of these groups.
So, back to our story.
The mother might have felt insulted, but she wasn’t deterred. She looked up in Jesus’ eyes and—and I like to imagine there was a twinkle in her eyes and a smile on her lips when she replied, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” I would be willing to bet that Jesus threw back his head and roared with laughter when she said this! And then He said, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly. So what’s with Jesus’ harsh words to this mother seeking help for her child? Was he serious? Was he just messin’ with her? Was he trying to make a point?
We don’t know what the historical moment looked like. Jesus was God in our shape and form, but as fully human, He was a man of His times, so He could have been serious. What is important is to realize that whether He backed down from the quick witted Canaanite Woman, his mind changed, or set her up to make a point about the Kingdom of God, at that moment, His mission “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” now included the historic enemies of Israel also!
While God started out to bless the entire world through a particular people in a particular place (Abraham and Sarah and their descendants “the children of Israel” and “Israel”, His purpose was, and is, to draw all people into His Kingdom. This doesn’t mean we are all the same, it means that God is about drawing all people to Himself.
Of course, human nature being what it is, within a very short time after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, His followers started seeing themselves as the “children” and their spiritual ancestors, the Jews, the “dogs.” St. Paul had to remind the members of the early churches that just because God, through Jesus, had included them, He hadn’t excluded His “chosen people.” “God has not rejected His people whom he foreknew. For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.”
That’s why it absolutely bumfuzzles me why anti-semitism is so stubbornly persistent. God started His work in the world through those who became known as Israel, and while He has expanded that work into other faiths and ethnic groups, He has not condemned or disowned the Jews. They remain the foundation of His work. Judaism is the foundation of our faith and of God’s work among us, as well.
That doesn’t mean that our distinctions as ethnic or faith groups are erased. Those distinctions, those unique qualities of race or faith, are honored by God. In the sayings of Jesus that precede the story we have just walked through, he refers to the Pharisees, good intentioned keepers of the faith, and how they judge people based on certain ritual practices. Jesus said that what is more important than ritual actions are the actions which “come from the heart.” God looks at the heart and the actions that come out of the heart, rather than the distinctiveness of religion or the skin color. Evil actions come from evil hearts. Good actions come from good hearts.
We can’t personally control the actions of those who claim superiority over others because of race or ethnicity. We cannot personally control those who preach hate or sow seeds of discord among people whom God chooses to include in all their diversity as His children. We can resist such evil when we encounter it, however. In the meantime we can guard our hearts from being poisoned by the poison of hate and bigotry and stop the spread of hate and disunity within our own spheres of influence.
What we see in the story of Jesus and the Canaanite mother is the heart of God in Jesus. Through the story we can see the heart of God, the intentions and passion of God, applied to a situation of human disunity. As God was in Jesus, sharing His heart with all of humankind, so through Jesus. we have the heart of God made available to us. All of us.
Through prayer. Through worship. Through acquainting ourselves with Scripture and the vast story of God in relationship with His creation. Through the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ. Through our encouragement of one another. Let the heart of God beat as one with our hearts.
Lord, turn our hearts towards love and away from hate. Work through our hearts to change the hearts of others in the same way.
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Church
One of the greatest joys of being a priest is that I get to be with people at poignant moments in their lives. Looking back over the past six years, I can think of so many of these moments with many of you, including hospital visits, painful conversations after a job loss, walking with folks through their last days and being with them when they die. Equally poignant are joyful occasions like the baptism of a new Christian, or the blessing of a new home, or the witnessing and blessing of a marriage.
At poignant moments like these, the meaning of the gospel and the nature of God sometimes become clear to us in ways that transcend ordinary experience. In these and other mountaintop moments, we may discover a purpose or a calling that casts a radiant light over the rest of our lives.
In the Transfiguration of Jesus, we, like the disciples, witness such a moment in the life of our Lord. In this crazy scene we get the entirety of the gospel: echoes of Jesus’ baptism, his passion predictions, his fulfillment of the Law and prophets; his death, resurrection, and ascension, as well as his coming again in glory. On Mount Tabor, with Jesus “wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistening,” as the opening prayer puts it, God the Father identifies Jesus as his son, and tells the disciples to listen to him in what had to be a tender, poignant moment between Father and Son. In this moment, Jesus’ purpose and calling become clear.
In the second reading, we hear St. Peter’s thoughts about his experience on Mount Tabor not long before his death, likely a poignant moment for him. He says, “I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to refresh your memory, since I know that my death will come soon…we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.” In other words, “As long as I’m here, I’m going to say this until my dying breath which is coming soon: we didn’t make this stuff up. This really happened. I was with Jesus when he was transfigured.”
In echoes of the night before Jesus’ passion in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter can barely stay awake with Jesus while he is praying. Barely awake, Peter and John and James sees him in all of his transfigured glory. Peter’s response is to try to memorialize the moment and build permanent dwellings for everyone, as if anyone sane would think it’s normal for someone to propose living on the top of the mountain. We can’t blame Peter for wanting to freeze time and live in that powerful moment forever. But people don’t generally live on the tops of mountains. We climb mountains, but every time, we come back down and spend most of our time in the valley.
My sister and brother-in-law (who happen to be here today) just celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary living out of a van in Alaska for two weeks. Following their travels on social media gave us all a glimpse of the glory they saw there, including a sea otter munching on fresh crab, a group of humpback whales bubble-net feeding, killer whales, sea lions, harbor seals, bald eagles, puffins, and a variety of other birds. I’m sure the pictures don’t do justice to the beauty and wonder they experienced. After an amazing two weeks, they are back in the valley in Kansas, with the cares and concerns of everyday life including going to work, and paying the bills, and taking the kids to all sorts of events. Their time on the mountain changed them in ways that will affect them for the rest of their lives. Whether it’s going to Alaska or making a personal retreat at a monastery or at a milestone moment with your priest, the memories of these mountaintop experiences help sustain us during everyday life in the valley.
If you’ve been around for six years, you’ve heard me talk about my own mountaintop experiences, usually not on this feast as it rarely falls on a Sunday, but when today’s gospel is appointed on the Sunday before Lent. The first time I preached a sermon on the Transfiguration of Jesus was on February 11, 2018. Fr. Patrick Perkins, 20th rector of St. Mary’s and my boss, had just left two weeks earlier to begin a new ministry at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. As the #2 priest who was also a full-time banker, I was anxious as the way forward for St. Mary’s and for me was unclear. Both the Vestry and I were uncertain of whether Bishop Marty would allow a priest who had only been ordained a little over a year to lead the oldest Episcopal parish in Kansas City, a parish with so few resources that we hadn’t been able to pay our assessments to the diocese in many years. Like now and like most of our history, the Eucharist was celebrated daily. My first instinct after Fr. Patrick announced his departure was to cancel the daily mass because I was leery that I would have the time to keep up this practice, even with the help of Fr. Bob and other priests. To say that I was an anxious mess is an understatement.
It was not too long after I preached that sermon that Fr. Larry and Mary came along, and then a year later, Fr. Sean, and the daily celebration of the Eucharist continued as it always had. Looking back, I’m very glad I didn’t give in to my anxious instincts, because in the midst of the anxiety any parish feels when there is a transition in leadership, it was the Eucharist that sustained us through it all.
We have the memories of our mountaintop experiences to help sustain us in the valley, but memories can fade. When Moses and the Hebrew people were wandering the wilderness in the desert for 40 years, God provided manna from heaven to sustain them on their journey to the Promised Land. Centuries later, Jesus connects this manna with himself in John chapter 6 when he says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh… This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”
During this time of transition between rectors, let your mountaintop experiences here at St. Mary’s and beyond help sustain you. But even more importantly, come to Mass, for God longs to give you his grace and love in the bread of heaven and the cup of the salvation. Fed by that holy food and drink, God will give you the grace you need to continue to welcome the outcast and care for the stranger, to care for each other, and to pitch in around here. If your standard practice is to come to church and then head on to the next event, I encourage you to “press in” to this community during this interim period and get to know people, whether it’s at coffee hour, or the Dinners for 8 ministry that recently started, or at the pub after mass on Wednesday evenings. Week after week, day after day, in Spirit-filled community with one another, in this most holy sacrament, God will grant you the grace and wisdom you need call a skilled and holy priest to be the 22nd Rector of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church.
Dear friends, in a moment, when you approach this altar as, like me, you likely have many times before, know that the same Christ who stood on Mount Tabor with his face shining as the sun is the same Christ who will enter the very depths of your body and soul. He who is at the right hand of God will manifest himself in this most Holy Sacrament as really and fully as if he were visibly here. We take and eat of his sacred Body and Blood as truly as St. Thomas touched Jesus’ hands and put his hand into his side. When he went up on the holy mount, his face shone as the sun and his garments were white as light. By faith, this is what we see in the consecrated bread and wine, despite everything looking as usual to the passerby. In the simple creatures of bread and wine, God conveys to our bodies and souls his own gracious self as food for the journey, food that, unlike our fading memories, will sustain us to everlasting life.  Amen.
The sermons preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!