Pentecost XX Proper XXV
October 27, 2019
The Rev’d Charles Everson, SCP
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
There are some general stereotypes about birth order that tend to be true across the board. The first-born child tends to be a responsible overachiever, while the second-born is often rebellious, seeking attention in colorful ways. In my own house, growing up, these stereotypes were certainly true. I was the eldest child: very responsible and studious, always wanting to be seen doing what is right. My younger sister Carri always got in trouble and had a hard time finding her place in life. I was the goodie two shoes who went to church every Sunday and participated in religious clubs at school and of course abstained from alcohol and anything else that might be naughty. One incident sort of sums my sister’s relationship with the church at the time. She had my mom drop her and her best friend off at the church for an all-night lock in with the youth group. Later, it was discovered that my mom dropped them off just in time for her boyfriend to pick them up and scurry away from the church before the doors got locked. I, on the other hand, was well-known in our high school for being a spiritual leader, leading bible studies and Christian rallies for all the world to see.
When I read through today’s gospel reading, I couldn’t help but self-identify with the Pharisee. The Pharisees were Jewish religious leaders of the day who emphasized the importance of obeying the law of Moses. They paid careful attention to things like rituals for cleansing one’s body and one’s cookware that were done as an attempt to encounter God in the everyday doldrums of life. The Pharisees were very concerned about how others perceived them and made every attempt to look pious and righteous before others. On the other hand, the tax collectors in the Roman Empire were part of a corrupt system full of dishonesty and greed. They weren’t the accounting-types that work at the IRS, but were rather the scum of the earth, lining their own pockets with whatever they could collect above and beyond their contractual obligation with the government.
My senior year in high school, I had a side job in the afternoon in the school office. My duties included answering the phone and helping with attendance records. My sister didn’t always adhere to the school’s attendance policies. When she skipped class, you can guess what happened: I caught wind the same day, and before she got home, my parents already knew. Yeah, I was that guy: I was the tattle tale. I’ll always remember the time my sister got so frustrated with me that she yelled, “Chuck, why do you have to be so darned good!” I wish I could say that I tattled on her to keep her safe or for the wider good, but deep down, I was self-righteous and cared far too much about how other people perceived me.
In this parable, when the Pharisee prays, he thanks God that he isn’t like the other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like the tax-collector. In his prayer, the Pharisee reminds the Lord that he fasts twice a week and gives a tenth of all his income. In short, he thanks God that he’s so amazing. The tax-collector beats his breast and says, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” The Pharisee doesn’t ask God for anything because he trusted in himself that he was righteous, while the tax-collector begged for God’s mercy for he knows who he is: a horrible human being who can’t possibly be good enough on his own.
Everyone thinks that the Kingdom of God includes the Pharisees but excludes the tax-collectors, but today, Jesus is saying, “No, let me tell you what the Kingdom of God is really like.” In God’s kingdom, the tax-collector is in and the Pharisee is out. In the last verse, he tells us that the tax-collector went home justified – unburdened – vindicated – in a restored relationship with God. For the tax-collector knows who he is: he knows that he has no righteousness on which to stand except for the righteousness given to him by God.
Jesus isn’t telling us to shed our arrogance and be as humble as we can be, and that if we do that, all will be well, and we’ll inherit eternal life. The point is that the tax-collector acknowledges that he really a horrible human being. And thanks be to God, God loves horrible human beings! Jesus is telling you and me today that, despite what I thought in high school, thinking that we are holy and studious and righteous means that we are deceived and don’t acknowledge who and what we are: horrible, awful people in need of God’s grace!
My sister’s life took a different turn after high school. She’s married to a lawyer and works as a pharmacist, and they have 3 beautiful girls (all about to hit the teenage years…God help her.). And she and her family are members of Grace Episcopal Church in Ottawa and her husband serves on the vestry. For my part, I’ve loosened up quite a bit after having been put in my place multiple times throughout my adult life. My fault in high school was that like the Pharisee had written off the tax-collector, I had labeled my sister as a heathen, when in fact, she was thoroughly and completely loved by God. Rather than focusing on others’ faults and sins, and trying to decide who is in God’s Kingdom and who is out, God is calling us to speak only of our own brokenness, and to rely solely on His unconditional mercy and grace to make us whole again, as when the world was new.
The Rev'd Dr. Sean C. Kim, SCP
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
20 October 2019
Today we commemorate St. Luke the Evangelist. We know him best as the author of the third Gospel. He also wrote the Book of Acts. In addition to being a writer, Luke accompanied the Apostle Paul on some of his missionary journeys. Paul calls Luke his “fellow worker” (Philemon 24), and, as we read in today’s Epistle, during Paul’s time in prison, Luke is his sole faithful companion (2 Timothy 4:11). Paul also identifies Luke as the “beloved physician” (Colossian 4:14). Luke has thus become the patron saint of doctors, nurses, and other health care workers.
St. Luke the evangelist and physician holds special significance for us at St. Mary’s. Luke is what we call our Proto-Patron or First Patron. As many of you are aware, before we were St. Mary’s Church, we were St. Luke’s Church. So St. Luke was our original Patron, the saint for whom the church was named, the saint who protects us and intercedes for us before God. St. Luke’s Church was established in 1854 in Kansas City, the first Episcopal parish in what was back then a frontier trading town. The first building was located at 8th and Walnut in the downtown area, but then later, Mary Troost, a major benefactor of the church, donated land at 13th and Holmes for a new building with the condition that the church change its name and patronage to St. Mary. The current building in which we worship was completed in 1887.
Our spiritual forebears at St. Luke’s Church laid out a powerful vision not only for their own faith community but for the city as a whole. In response to the educational needs of the early settlers, the church ran schools for boys and girls in the downtown area, and it reached out to the working poor, providing hunger relief in the West Bottoms. Moreover, faithful to the legacy of their patron, St. Luke the physician, the church started a hospital. In 1882, the Rev. Henry Jardine, the rector, gathered a group of businessmen to discuss the need for medical care in the growing city. This led to the establishment of All Saints Hospital, which later changed its name to St. Luke’s Hospital. Today the Saint Luke’s Health System has grown to be a major hospital for the region. Kansas City’s only locally owned, not-for-profit health system, Saint Luke’s continues to be a faith-based hospital, with oversight by the Episcopal Diocese of West Missouri. The bishop serves as chair of the board of directors. Some of you may have noticed that one of our stained-glass windows is dedicated to St. Luke’s Hospital. It’s the one back in the corner by the spiral staircase. The reason we have that is because our church began the hospital.
By laying down the foundations for the Saint Luke’s Health System, our forebears were carrying on a rich tradition of healing ministry in the Christian Church. The history of healing in our faith, of course, goes all the way back to Jesus himself. Healing was central to his ministry. As we read in the Gospels, Jesus healed the blind, the lame, the lepers; he treated all sorts of diseases and conditions. Subsequently, for over two millennia, Christians have continued Jesus’ work of healing. In the Middle Ages in Europe, medical care lay primarily in the hands of monks and nuns. The early hospitals were the ministry of religious communities, dedicated to the care of the sick and dying. Then, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Protestant medical missionaries spread modern, Western-style medicine all around the world. Considering this legacy, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the roots of modern medical care are in the Christian Church.
If you would please indulge me for a moment, I would like to share with you some personal experiences of how my own life has intersected with the history of healing in the Christian Church. I’ve mentioned before that I was born in Korea, but the hospital where I was born, in Seoul, South Korea, was called Severance Hospital. No, Severance is not a Korean name. Louis H. Severance was an American businessman, one of the founders of Standard Oil. Severance also happened to be a devout Presbyterian, so when some pioneer Presbyterian missionaries in the 1880s proposed plans to build Korea’s first modern, Western-style hospital, Severance generously provided the funding. One of the reasons I was born at Severance was my father was a medical student there for a couple of years. He ended up switching to business, though. He was doing fine until he had to dissect cadavers, and he quickly decided that medicine was not his calling. Later in life, he hoped that one of my siblings or I would become a doctor, but, contrary to stereotypes about Asians being good in science, none of us were particularly good at it nor were we interested in a science-related career. I’m not good in math either. We did, however, manage to get a doctor in the family through marriage. My sister married a physician; my brother-in-law is a cardiologist at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Kansas City.
The next chapter in my experience of the Church’s healing mission took place in 2009, when I joined my fellow parishioners back then at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Kansas City for a week-long trip to Haiti. We were there about a month before the great earthquake. It was surreal to see in the media the images of the destruction and ruin. St. Andrew’s sponsors a birthing center – what the Haitians call a maison de naissance, a birthing home – in a remote, mountainous area of the island nation. Established by Dr. Stan Shaffer and Dr. Kathy Shaffer, parishioners at St. Andrew’s – Dr. Stan Shaffer used to serve at St. Luke’s, the birthing center has saved the lives of countless mothers and babies who would otherwise have died without the proper medical care and education. St. Andrew’s is not alone in its healing ministry in Haiti. The country is filled with clinics and hospitals sponsored by American churches.
The third and final story that I would like to share with you brings us back to Saint Luke’s Hospital. A couple of years ago, I served as a hospital chaplain at Saint Luke’s Hospital as part of my pastoral training. As some of you know, our Postulant for Holy Orders, Lynda Hurt, soon to be deacon, did the same program this past summer. And I think that Lynda would agree with me on this. When I first began the program, I thought that I would learn exactly what to say and what to do when visiting the sick, the dying, and their families. But contrary to expectation, that’s not what I learned. In fact, the most important lesson that I learned was how to provide a caring presence. In other words, our physical presence, the companionship we provide – being there to listen or to simply sit together – is what is most important. The details of what we say or do ultimately don’t matter much. A caring presence, on the other hand, has the power to heal.
When I look back on those dark moments in my own life when I have been broken in body, mind, or spirit, I think of the people who were there for me – family, friends, clergy, fellow church members. And the older I become and the less reliable my memory becomes, I tend to forget what they said to me in those difficult situations. But I will never forget their presence. Nor will I forget the reflection of God’s love on their faces.
Not all of us are called to be doctors, nurses, medical missionaries, or hospital chaplains. All of us are, however, called to be healers. Following the examples of Jesus Our Lord and our Proto-Patron St. Luke, we are called to pray for the healing of those around us who are broken in body, mind, or spirit. We are called to provide a caring presence. When we do, we will find that Jesus himself will be there with us.
 St. Mary’s Episcopal Church (www.stmaryskcmo.org/our-history.html)
 Saint Luke’s Health System (https://www.saintlukeskc.org/history)
St. Francis Day
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
October 6, 2016
Click here for the audio recording of this sermon.
John the Baptist’s disciples ask Jesus at the beginning of Matthew chapter 11, which we heard part of today: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
It is no surprise that John sent them to ask this, for the great judgment he had announced hadn’t come about, the corrupt were still in power, and John was suffering in prison.
Jesus tells them to tell John what they had seen and heard: the blind receiving sight, the lame walking, the lepers cleansed, the deaf hearing, the dead raised, and the poor receiving good news. While this isn’t the mighty judgement John had envisioned, these were surely signs that the kingdom of God was drawing near.
Fr. Sean and I just returned last night from a week in southern Arizona at a clergy conference entitled “At the Border of Holiness.” On the first day of the conference, we visited St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Nogales, Arizona just a few miles from the southern US border and heard three powerful presentations.
The first was from Mother Alison Lee, priest-in-charge at St. Andrews, who described the clinic that parish runs for children living in Mexico who cannot afford the specialized medical care they need. We heard about children with cleft palates healed by the loving volunteer services of the doctors, and kids whose vision is so bad that they can’t see more than three feet in front of them receiving glasses for the first time. We heard story after story of the blind receiving sight, the lame walking, the lepers cleansed, the deaf hearing, and the poor receiving good news. What hope!
But then, the Anglican Bishop of Western Mexico detailed for us via a translator the stark reality of why people are risking their lives to flee Mexico to come to the United States. Listening to the murder rates, the stories of hidden graves filled with chopped up body parts, and those who were essentially enslaved by local oligarchs and drug traffickers was eye opening to me to say the least. Though I’d heard of folks dying trying to cross the border in the past, hearing all of this helped me to understand why people would risk death or imprisonment to make the dangerous trek to “our great country.”
After the presentations, we all loaded the bus and proceeded to the southern border. In typical form, I was alternating between chatting with my buddy sitting next to me and messing around with Facebook on my phone, so I wasn’t really paying attention to world around me. But then I looked up to the left and was completely overcome with emotion upon seeing a huge, imposing wall adorned with the type of round strands of razor wire you’d see at a prison. I’d seen such things on TV and online, but never in person, and I was overwhelmed with a sense of deep sadness and shame. Shame that this was the first thing that these desperate people see when arriving at our front door looking to escape misery and death.
One of the deacons from St. Andrews explained the history of how the wall came to be. The portion of the wall that runs between Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Mexico was built back in the 1990’s, though the razor wire has been added more recently. Until about a year ago, priests from both sides of the border would say Mass frequently next to the wall, and separated family members would gather on the other side. They would pass communion between the slats and also use the opportunity to hold hands with their loved ones. They would do this despite the risk of cutting themselves on the razor wire, but in the last year, metal mesh had been added to the lower part of the wall to prevent something as small as a communion host from being passed through. My sadness turned to anger, and my stomach turned upside down. I felt a sense of desperation wash over me and the hope that I’d encountered at the presentation about the medical clinic was nowhere to be found. My God, this is what we’ve become, I thought.
As John’s disciples said, “Jesus, are you the one, or are we to wait for another?” Lord, where are you in all of this? Why is there still so much suffering? How can you tolerate this sort of cruelty?
We then gathered on the north side of a makeshift altar facing the wall, and as Mother Alison began to celebrate Mass, which she offered for those who had died trying to cross the border, I began to see a glimpse of hope once again. For in the Eucharist, the love of God literally comes to earth. Love and compassion and peace breaks into our world, and the great border between God and man crashes down for a sweet moment and we are given a glimpse of the new heaven and the new earth. In the Eucharist, we are given hope – even a promise – that all will be made right and the world will be restored to how it was in the Garden of Eden before sin and suffering and death erected the borders that divide man from God and nation from nation.
After Mass, we milled around for a bit, most of us somewhat dazed and confused, processing all that was happening. As I was looking at the wall, it suddenly hit me that the razor wire was only on the US side. Prisons use razor wire to keep prisoners inside from escaping. It made me wonder if we, in our attempts to keep people out, had created a prison for ourselves and become those we thought we were avoiding: selfish people willing to go to any length to make things better for ourselves at the cost of those who are suffering the most. Filled with the hope given to me in the bread and the wine, I realized that I was angry. Angry mainly at myself for not doing enough to address this awful injustice.
Now, I hope you don’t hear this as a sermon about partisan politics. As I mentioned, the portion of the wall that we witnessed was built in the 1990’s, not recently. Political decisions from both sides of the aisle over many years have contributed to the situation in which we find ourselves today. And likewise, I hope you don’t expect me to have political answers on how we can fix all of this, because I don’t. But hear me, friends: the gospel of Jesus Christ is inherently political. Those who originally heard today’s gospel reading were suffering under religious oppression from the Pharisees on the one hand, and from persecution under the Roman imperial system on the other in which the ruling elite secure wealth, status, and power at the expense of the lowly. It was from unjust political systems like these that Jesus Christ came to set us free.
This is the context in which Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” The Greek word “rest” in the New Testament functions as an image of salvation, of what will be when the world is finally ordered according to God’s purposes and made whole again as it was in the Garden. In promising us “rest,” Jesus promises abundant life under God’s reign in the new world that he is bringing.
Jesus also tell us to take his yoke upon us. The yoke was a symbol of burden bearing, oppression, and subjugation. Yokes were laid on the necks and shoulders of oxen when they were to pull something extremely heavy. What is the yoke Jesus offers? We might infer from the text that it is his teaching, his way of discipleship, which is not burdensome but life-giving. He invites the weary to learn from him, for he is not a tyrant who lords it over us, but is "gentle and humble in heart." His yoke is easy and his burden is light. To take his yoke upon oneself is to be yoked to the One in whom God's kingdom of justice, mercy, and compassion is breaking into this world, and to find the rest for which the soul longs.
In this great feast that we will celebrate in a moment, we will experience a foretaste of this heavenly rest that Jesus promises us. It doesn’t matter the emotions we feel, or whether the altar party gets all of the motions and choreography exactly right. In this sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, the love of God will break into our world whether we like it or not, and we will see a glimpse of what the world will be like one day when all will be made right and every wall that divides us will crash to the ground. During the Eucharistic prayer, when we offer and present our selves, our souls and bodies to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice to God, we will offer your burdens up to Jesus. And as you receive the host in your hands or on your tongue – when the blood of our Lord touches your lips – you will receive rest and refreshment for your weary soul.
But know that the rest you receive comes with a cost. Know that receiving our Lord’s body and blood means that you’re yoking yourself to the One who loves everyone unconditionally…to the One who gives the blind sight, makes the lame walk, cleanses the leper, raises the dead, and gives good news to the poor. Know that you’re committing to join with the Holy Spirit in helping the lowly, the outcast, the poor, even the children from Mexico who don’t have basic health care. Know that you’re committing yourselves to be heralds of God’s kingdom of justice, mercy, and compassion.
Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
29 September 2019
Click here for the audio recording of this sermon.
We Christians believe that Jesus is our source and guide to matters of the spirit. He teaches us how to pray, how to worship God, how to live out the life of faith. But when we turn to the Gospels, we find that for a spiritual leader, it’s surprising how often Jesus talks about money. Of the thirty-eight parables that he preached, including today’s story from Luke, sixteen of them deal with money. And, believe it or not, one out of every ten verses in the Gospels touches on money in some way. So why the attention on money?
Today’s Gospel tells the story of the rich man who lives it up, wearing the finest clothes and eating the best food. And right on his doorstep is the beggar Lazarus, who would have been happy even with the rich man’s table scraps. Both men die. While Lazarus is carried up by the angels to be with Abraham, the rich man ends up in Hades. The two men’s fortunes are reversed in the afterlife. Now Lazarus is the one who enjoys the comforts, while the rich man suffers in agony and torment. The rich man appeals to Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers so that he can warn them. He doesn’t want his five brothers, who are leading the same lifestyle, to join him in Hades. Abraham replies that they have already received the message through Moses and the prophets. And since they haven’t heeded the message from Moses and the prophets, why would they listen to Lazarus?
Like most parables, Jesus does not explain the meaning of this story. But it’s not difficult to interpret what that would be in this case. Money gets in the way of faith. Money can even drag us down to hell. Jesus tells this parable in the context of a dispute with the Pharisees, identified a few verses before as “lovers of money” (Luke 16:14). Today’s Epistle reading from I Timothy issues a stern warning against the “lovers of money”: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains” (I Timothy 6:10). The pursuit of wealth and status is fraught with all sorts of temptations and dangers that can lead us to stray away from God and from our neighbor. People lie, cheat, and kill for money.
Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he repeatedly attacks the wealthy while holding up the poor. In his very first sermon, Jesus declares that he has been anointed by the Holy Spirit “to bring good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18). And in the Beatitudes, Jesus proclaims: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God…But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation” (Luke 6:20-24). It is clear that the poor occupy a special and privileged place in Jesus’ ministry, while the wealthy are warned about the perils of their status. But then this begs the question: what can the wealthy do to be saved? What can they do to avoid the fate of the rich man in today’s parable? It seems unfair that an entire class be condemned without some means of redemption. Isn’t Jesus’ message of salvation for all people?
One option for the wealthy is to give it all up and join the poor. And this is, in fact, the message that Jesus has for some of his followers. When a rich young ruler approaches Jesus and asks what he should do to inherit eternal life, Jesus tells him to sell all his possessions and give them to the poor. The young man sadly turns away. Jesus then makes the colorful and well-known comment that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:18-26). But many others do respond to Jesus’ call to give up everything and follow him. Throughout Christian history, we have many examples of those who have believed that to follow Christ is to take a vow of poverty. St. Francis of Assisi, for instance, was born into wealth, but he gave it all up to become a monk and take a vow of povertyt. And he required all those who joined the Franciscan order to do the same.
But what about for us today? Whether we are rich, middle-class, or whatever socioeconomic status, giving up everything we own is not a viable option. Moreover, if all Christians were to do this, there would be dire consequences for the Church. For one, we would not be able to worship in such a beautiful space as this church or enjoy the sublime music of our choir. Nor could we support any of our ministries. The fact is, Christianity as an institution would not survive if all the believers were to take a vow of poverty. We would follow the fate of the Shakers. They were once a thriving Christian group, but because of their vow of celibacy, they are now on the verge of extinction. A collective vow of poverty would have a similar effect. It is simply not sustainable for an institution.
Nor is it what Christ expects of us. While many of Jesus’ disciples and followers led lives of poverty, others maintained their wealth and used it to support Jesus’ ministry. We read in the Gospels of his well-to-do followers – tax collectors and the like – who hosted Jesus in their homes. And in the early Church, it was in the homes of the wealthy that the first communities of believers met to worship. Yesterday was the feast day of St. Paula on the church calendar. Paula was born in the fourth century into one of the wealthiest aristocratic families in Rome, and she used her vast resources to set up monasteries and convents, and to support the poor. I bring up St. Paula and these other examples not as a way to rationalize our wealth and possessions, but rather to point out that there are different ways of using our resources for the work of the Church in the world. There is no set formula for everyone. Some do give it all up. Other tithe ten percent of their income. Still others give as they are able. It is ultimately up to us to discern individually with our conscience what God is calling us to do with our money. I didn’t intend this to be a sermon on stewardship – it’s a bit early for that, but it looks like it’s turning into one.
Returning to the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, let us pose a hypothetical question. What if Abraham had consented to the rich man’s request that he send Lazarus to his brothers? What would be Lazarus’s message? For one, he would inform them that their brother is in Hades for being a pig. But what else? I believe that Lazarus would tell them to open their eyes to the poor in their midst, to have compassion, to be generous, to share what they have. This is what the rich man failed to do.
St. Mary’s has a long tradition of serving the poor, whom our Lord Jesus held up as the object of his special care and concern. And soon we will renew and expand our commitment to the poor through the work of the Social Justice Committee. As we begin this new chapter in our church, let us pray for wisdom and discernment as we seek to make the best use of our God-given resources – our money, our talents, our time. And however we individually respond to Jesus’ call to serve the poor, let compassion and generosity be our common guide.
 “Statistic: Jesus’ Teaching on Money,” Christianity Today, 2019 (https://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/1996/december/410.html).
 Lois Malcolm, “Commentary on Luke 16:19-31,” Working Preacher (https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1784).
The sermons preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!