Proper 25, Year A
October 25, 2020
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
I lived in Paris for two years after graduating from college, and during my time there, I often found myself wandering over to a neighborhood called Le Marais to eat a falafel sandwich. The Marais is a fascinating neighborhood in that it is both the center of LGBT culture, and, for the past 200 years, the center of Jewish life in Paris. I’m sure my jaw dropped the first time my boss and his wife took me here to get a falafel sandwich. We turned a corner, and saw an Orthodox Jewish family with 6 children, all in religious clothing, standing in front of a shop flying a large, rainbow flag. Orthodox Jewish men wear small boxes on their foreheads called phylacteries that contains tiny scrolls of parchment inscribed with four sets of verses from the Torah (the first five books of the Bible). One of those four passages is known as the shema:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
In response to the question, “Which commandment in the law is the greatest”, Jesus responds with a direct quote from this passage in Deuteronomy.
What does it mean to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind? Back in my days as a Southern Baptist, we sang all sorts of contemporary Christian songs in church about loving God in an emotionally-charged way that almost sounded like we were singing about our love for our significant other.
But most scholars don’t believe that the term “love” here refers primarily to an emotion. Political treaties and other covenants in that time and area of the world used the word “love” to mark the proper attitude and behavior of parties toward each other, especially vassal subjects to their overlords. To love God as one would love a human king entails primarily action, not emotion. To love is to be faithful and loyal in fulfilling the obligations of the covenant. To love God means to obey God’s commandments with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. In other words, to love God with your entire life. With all that you are. To be faithful to him in every part of your being, and in your choices and behavior.
That is the first and greatest commandment, according to Jesus. But the second is like unto it: thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. This is another quote from the Torah, but this time from our first reading today from Leviticus chapter 19 which is all about how the holiness of God should be reflected in human beings. For many years in my own life, I understood the call to holiness to mean a call to be pure. Don’t hang out with “those people” as they may lead you down the wrong path. Instead, surround yourself with other Christians who think as you do. Don’t let yourself be polluted by the thinking and behavior of those who don’t. In this passage from Leviticus, we see a very different way of understanding holiness. It’s not as cut and dry, and it can be very messy. The call to holiness is an invitation to what one commentator calls “inclusive wholeness” in which “you shall not render an unjust judgment” or “go around as a slanderer” or “hate in your heart anyone of your kin.” While the word “neighbor” in most places in the Hebrew Bible refers to fellow Israelites, just a few verses later in Leviticus 19, we see where holiness finds it fulness: “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” In other words, the ultimate expression of holiness is granting equal citizenship status to the resident alien.
Loving God with all that you are, and loving your neighbor as yourself, is hard work. Active love of God is much more of a duty than it is an emotion. And love of neighbor is even more difficult, I think. It is easy to love people who look and think like me…who have the same values and general outlook on life as I do. It is much more difficult to love the stranger – the person “over there” who is different than I am. It’s much easier to act with loving-kindness and mercy and generosity with those who elicit the feeling of love in your heart. Who looks into the eyes of their enemy and feels a strong sense of love?
The love Jesus calls us to today is not passive, but rather is something we do. It’s not about emotion, it’s about faithfulness. We are to love God with all that we are – with our hearts, our souls, and our minds. And we are to love our neighbor – our fellow man – even, no especially those who are different than us – as ourselves.
What would the world look like if everyone heeded Jesus’s two Great Commandments? What would our political discourse look like? How about our parish?
How might God be calling the gay shop owner in the Marais to love the Orthodox Jewish man with a long beard and a phylactery on his forehead?
What is one area in your life in which you are not loving God wholly? Who is the person or group of people you dislike the most, and how might God calling you to actively love them more fully?
 Deuteronomy 6:4-9, NRSV.
 Leviticus 19:33-34, Jewish Study Bible, p. 243.
 David Bartlett, and Barbara Brown. Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008, 198.
St. Luke’s Day
October 18, 2020
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Church
“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
On the surface, this well-known verse, given to us in a timely fashion by the lectionary gods, will quickly and easily solve some of the immediate problems we face. We are two-and-a-half weeks from Election Day. Pay your taxes, and go vote! And like many churches, we are beginning our 2021 Stewardship Campaign. Fill out a pledge card and give money to support the church! Here endeth the sermon.
Some passages are that simple, but not this one. Jesus is dealing with the Pharisees and the Herodians, who, very strangely, have come together to agree on something. The Pharisees opposed the Roman Empire, and the Herodians actively worked with it. It was their hatred of Jesus that brought these politically opposed groups together to try to trap him on the issue of taxation.
In order to butter him up, they do a bit of shameless brown nosing: “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one, for you do not regard people with partiality.” Then comes the loaded question: “Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?” If he answers “no”, he could be arrested for enticing folks to break the law, but if he says “yes”, he would be selling out to the evil Roman overlords.
Instead of falling for their trickery, Jesus responds by widening the issue at hand and says, “Show me the coin used for the tax.” Any coin they would have produced in response would have had the image of the emperor’s head on the front along with the inscription “Tiberius Caesar, August Son of the Divine Augustus”, while the back said, “Pontifex Maximus” – high priest. When they show him the coin, he asks them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” The translation we use, the New Revised Standard Version, comes up short here in that the Greek word “eikon” has a broader meaning than the English word head. “Image” is how it’s typically translated. “Whose image is this, and whose title?”
Jesus is getting at something much more important than taxation: this coin may bear the image of the Emperor along with his divine title, but human beings bear the image of God. Remember that line from the creation story: “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image.'” Yes, that coin has Caesar’s image, but we ourselves bear God’s image. In other words, Jesus responds: “Caesar made this; give it back to Caesar. But God made you; give yourself back to God.”
And that, my friends, is stewardship. According to the canon law of The Episcopal Church, as your rector, I’m required to ensure that you receive instruction in Christian stewardship, among other things, and that includes the biblical standard of the tithe for financial stewardship. So consider yourselves instructed! Yes, as Christians, we are called to give back 10% of our income to God, specifically to the local church. If you’re anything like me, you give financially, but not quite at 10%. I’ve been working on that by increasing my pledge 10% every year for the past couple of years, and if my math is right, should be there in the next couple of years.
But even if you give 10% faithfully and regularly, that’s not enough. God calls us to give back to God what is God’s – ourselves, our souls and bodies. Beyond giving back our money, we are to give generously and consistently of our time, and our talents and skills. Jesus isn’t making a ruling about taxation, he’s reminding us who we are: we are made in the image and likeness of God, and we are to give ourselves back to the One who created us.
As much of you may dislike hearing the clergy exhort you to give your money to the church, I hope you’re even more scandalized by this invitation to offer your whole selves back to God, a task which sounds ridiculously daunting and even oppressive. On the surface, it seems to be the exact opposite of the freedom that God gave the first man and woman in the garden of Eden. How easy it is for us to forget that they had absolute freedom….except for the tree. That was the only limit on their freedom! But like the Pharisees and Herodians in Jesus’s day, the serpent was crafty and was able to convince Adam and Eve that such a limit on their freedom was unacceptable. We, too, are forced to reckon with this question in our own lives: which is more freeing? God’s way, or the way of the world? To whom will we render ourselves? To God, or to Caesar?
It’s much easier to give ourselves over to the ways of the world. The craftiness of the Evil One has not diminished over the centuries, and it is easy to be tricked into giving up ourselves to the ways of this world. We will only recognize the trickery if we are faithful in prayer, and when we fall into sin, we choose to repent and return to the Lord. We will only know the freedom of Christ’s resurrection if we sacrifice ourselves as he did on the cross, but in our case, it’s not a one-time execution. When we were baptized, we began the daily process of being buried with him into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead, so we too might walk in newness of life. And we are called to repeat this daily pattern of putting on our baptism again, and again, and again.
You’ll be hearing more from our Vestry and others about financial stewardship in the coming weeks, but in the meantime, I invite you to recommit yourselves to giving back your whole selves to God. I invite you to pray at home every day – if want to talk through some different prayer options that might work for you, please call me or shoot me an email. For it is only in regular, consistent prayer that you will have the courage and strength to say no to the ways of this world and yes to God. And I invite you to join me at the altar today in offering and presenting yourself – your soul and body – to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice to God. Amen
 Verse 16.
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
The Rev. Dr. Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
October 11, 2020
Joy is one of the central features of our Christian faith. We express this joy through the greetings that we share during the two biggest celebrations of the year – “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Easter.” And we can witness the joy everywhere in our public worship and private devotions – in our hymns, in our prayers, and in our liturgy. The Psalms are filled with joyful praise to God, and, in the Gospels, including today’s reading, the Kingdom of Heaven is pictured as a banquet – a joyful and festive celebration. The great Christian writer C.S. Lewis used the phrase, “surprised by joy,” to describe his conversion from atheism to faith, and it’s the title of his autobiography, which some of you may have read. Joy is, indeed, a part of our Christian DNA.
In today’s Epistle reading from Philippians, the Apostle Paul focuses on this key Christian virtue of joy when he says: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). Joy is one of the main themes throughout the entire letter to the Philippian Church. Paul begins the epistle by saying that he is “constantly praying with joy” (1:4). Later, he speaks of “joy in faith” (1:25) and how he wants the Philippians to “make my joy complete” by having the same intent and mind (2:2). And he calls the beloved Philippian community his “joy and crown” (4:1).
What is ironic about Paul’s emphasis on joy in his letter to the Philippians is that he is writing from a dark, gloomy, rat-infested Roman prison. And this is not the first time that Paul is in prison. The Bible records at least three times when he was arrested and thrown into jail, and ultimately, he will be executed under the Emperor Nero. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul presents a long litany of all his sufferings:
Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked (II Corinthians 11:24-27).
If anyone had cause to complain and be bitter, it was Paul the Apostle. His great missionary journeys to spread the Gospel around the Mediterranean world came at a huge cost to his personal life. How can a man who suffered so much be so joyful?
Paul’s joy springs from his faith in Jesus Christ. As he says in his letter, his joy is in the Lord. It is not a superficial emotion that he is conjuring up to keep a stiff upper lip; it is a deep and abiding sense of peace and delight, rooted in the experience of divine presence and love. He knows that no matter what the situation, God is there with him, and that even in death, he has nothing to fear because Christ has conquered death and redeemed us to eternal life. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he writes: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?... [Nothing can] separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).
Grounded in the knowledge of God’s constant presence, Paul rejoices at all times. And whenever he finds himself in a tough situation, he taps into this deep and abiding reservoir of joy through prayer and song. In the Acts of the Apostles, we have the story of Paul and his fellow missionary Silas being arrested, flogged, and imprisoned for causing a public disturbance with their preaching. We are told that while in prison, Paul and Silas prayed and sang praises unto God. They did not let the beating and imprisonment get them down. They rejoiced in the Lord through prayer and song.
Another way that we see Paul tapping into the joy of his faith is through expression of love for his fellow believers. While in prison, he writes letters to the beloved communities that he founded, recalling joyful memories and reminding himself of their love and support. In the letter to the Philippians, he calls the community “my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown” (4:1). Paul experiences joy as he pictures in his mind those whom he loves and who love him.
We may not be languishing in a dark prison cell like the Apostle Paul, but we, too, face our trials and tribulations. For some of us, this pandemic has created both physical and psychological confinement and isolation, where we experience despair and depression. And the social and political turbulence raging around us in our nation has created anxiety and fear. We may wonder when the doom and gloom will ever end.
But, as people of faith, we are called to rejoice even in our darkest moments. Let the Apostle Paul be your inspiration and model. He prayed, sang, and loved to bring the light of God’s joy into his prison cell. Dear friends, no matter what our situation may be, God is there with us. So the next time you find yourself in a tough situation, pray, sing, think of the love of your family and friends. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
 Christian A. Eberhart, “Commentary on Philippians 4:1-9,” Working Preacher. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2148.
St. Francis Day
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
October 4, 2020
St. Francis is by far one of the most beloved saints in the history of the Church. He’s primarily known for his love for animals as is depicted in the beautiful window in the back of the church, but a deeper dive into his life and ministry reveals a much more complex saint whose simple-and-yet-radical life of devotion to Christ has so much to offer us today.
Francis was born in the year 1181, one of several children of an Italian father and a French mother. His father Pietro was in France on business when Francis was born in Assisi, Italy, and his mother had him baptized as Giovanni. When Pietro returned home, he changed his son’s name to Francesco, likely because of his love for all things French.
Francis’s father was a wealthy silk merchant, and he grew up amongst rich friends with a love of worldly pleasures. He was handsome and charming and loved by all around him. Fulfilling a hope of his father’s, he, too, fell in love with all things French – the songs, the romance, and especially the troubadours of France who wandered around Europe at the time. He longed to be a knight, and when Assisi declared war on the nearby town of Perugia, Francis joined the war effort at age 20. Most of the troops from Assisi were killed, but those wealthy enough to be ransomed were taken prisoner. After a year in prison, he was ransomed, and still wanted to be a nobleman. As he left to go join the papal forces in their war against the Emperor, he had a dream in which God called him to renounce his worldly pleasure and return to Assisi. His conversion wasn’t immediate. But, he began to actively seek out God.
One day, in the church of Saint Damian, he seemed to hear Christ saying to him, "Francis, repair my falling house." He took the words literally, and sold a bale of silk from his father's warehouse to pay for repairs to St. Damian’s. His father was outraged, and there was a public confrontation at which his father disinherited and disowned him, and he in turn renounced his father's wealth. One account says that he not only handed his father his purse, but also took off his expensive clothes, laid them at his father's feet, and walked away naked. He declared himself "wedded to Lady Poverty", renounced all material possessions, and devoted himself to serving the poor.
Throughout his life, he was torn between a life devoted entirely to prayer and contemplation, and a life of active preaching of the Good News. He ultimately decided on the latter, but always returned to solitude when he could. Francis and his companions took literally the words of Christ when he sent his disciples out to preach:
Preach as you go, saying, "The kingdom of Heaven is at hand." ... You have received the Gospel without payment, give it to others as freely. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, no spare garment, nor sandals, nor staff.
The simplicity of his self-imposed poverty, and his utter devotion to serving the poor, is striking. If there was a simple way, no matter how impossible it seemed, Francis would take it. For example, when he wanted approval for his newly-founded Order, he went straight to Rome to see the Pope. The pope, seeing a beggar, threw Francis out. But he persisted, not only getting an audience with him, but he ultimately convinced the pope to give him a license to preach (something that deacons like him were not typically allowed to do at the time).
Francis considered all nature as the mirror of God, and called all creatures “brothers and sisters.” In one of the many stories about him that has endured, he preached to the birds and persuaded a wolf to stop attacking the townsfolk and their livestock if they would only agree to feed the wolf. As we know, Francis is the patron of animals which is how the tradition of blessing pets on his feast arose.
While he is most famous for his love and respect for Christ as seen in the animals and in creation, Francis’s love for Christ in the Holy Eucharist was deep. He was never ordained priest. From his writings about how priests should be respected because by their hands the Eucharist is confected, it isn’t a stretch to believe that he never got ordained because he thought himself unworthy of the holy work entrusted to priests. He said this in a letter to the priests in his Order: “O sublime humility! O humble sublimity! That the Lord of the whole universe, God and the Son of God, should humble himself like this and hide under the form of a little bread, for our salvation!”
During his final years, he gave up his role as superior of his order and lived as an ordinary brother. His years of poverty and wandering caught up with him, and he became ill, going blind and suffering from the first recorded case of the stigmata, or the appearance of painful wounds on the body corresponding to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus.
St. Francis not only cared for the poor, he became poor and identified with them. He embraced suffering for his Lord, the Lord that he adored in the Most Holy Sacrament. As we prepare ourselves to receive communion by hearing God’s word read and preached, by confessing our sins and our weakness, let us ask God for the grace to offer give our whole selves to him. Let us ask God for the grace to hear his voice wherever it may be heard, and to respond with Francis’ utter devotion and simplicity. St. Francis, pray for us!
 This paragraph comes from: http://www.satucket.com/lectionary/Francis_Assisi.htm
 Matthew 10:7-10 (NRSV)
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