Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
The Rev’d Charles Everson
October 24, 2021
The year was 1854. The Town of Kansas had just been incorporated as Kansas City, and slavery was still legal in Missouri. A fledgling group of Episcopalians in Kansas City had no formal congregation and no clergy. Judge J.C. Ranson and his wife Elizabeth lived on Primrose Hill at what is now Admiral Blvd. and Tracy Avenue about a mile northeast of here, and one day late in 1854, Judge and Mrs. Ranson and a few other devoted Episcopalians met in a log cabin adjacent to the judge’s property with Deacon Joseph Corbyn, deacon-in-charge of Trinity Episcopal Church in Independence. Bishop Hawks had asked Trinity to share him with this budding parish in Kansas City that called itself St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. Deacon Corbyn either rode his mule or walked each Sunday from Independence to officiate Morning Prayer and preach, sometimes with a congregation of no more than five in attendance.
I doubt that either Judge Ranson or Deacon Corbyn could have predicted that 18 years later, we would change our name to St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, and then three years later, our rector Fr. Henry David Jardine, along with the Sister of the Holy Cross, would sponsor the organization of All Saints Hospital which eventually became the St. Luke’s Health System, a regional health provide that includes 16 hospitals and campuses, including a senior living community called St. Luke’s Bishop Spencer Place where I currently serve on the Board of Directors. Little did they know that by the power of the Holy Spirit, their small congregation would blossom into the flower that is our parish in our day, and that we would still be commemorating St. Luke nearly 170 years later, re-telling their stories of faith and ministry.
The scene in the appointed gospel for St. Luke’s Day is set in Nazareth, the town where Jesus grew up. These folks knew Jesus, and they were not surprised that he went to the synagogue to read and to teach. At the beginning of the story, there had been no prior association of Jesus with the coming Messiah that Israel had been longing and waiting for. Jesus opens up the Hebrew Bible and reads this from the book of Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
This passage from Isaiah had become associated with the Messiah the Jews were longing and waiting for, meaning when Jesus’s family and friends heard him read this passage, they immediately knew what he was talking about. After sitting down, he said to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
In this moment, Jesus reveals the agenda for his ministry. The term “agenda” is used by the late Baptist ethicist Robert Parham about this passage. Parham writes that “Luke 4:18-19 is one of the most ignored, watered down, spiritualized or glossed over texts in many [Baptist] pulpits, evading or emptying Jesus’ first statement of his [moral] agenda. Jesus said the gospel was for the poor and oppressed, speaking to those at the margins of society. Jesus was announcing that he came to liberate from real oppressive structures the marginalized – the impoverished, the war captives, the poor in health, the political prisoners. Jesus came to turn the economic structures upside down, instituting the year of Jubilee when crushing debts were forgiven and slaves were freed.”
Liberation, or freedom is often thought of as the ability to do whatever you wish. Economic freedom is commonly understood to mean being wealthy enough to not have to work. Freedom is also associated with political realities – being freed from the rule of a tyrannical king, or political leaders working to maintain freedoms in our country such as the freedom of speech or religion, or the freedom to live and work in a safe environment.
Jesus brings an entirely different kind of freedom to the world through the Holy Spirit, a freedom that is the release from captivity to death, and the will of the self. Jesus wants to liberate us from the shackles that keep us from being who we were intended to be – those shackles around our ankles are ourselves. By the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus comes to set us free from the captivity of living selfishly – free to live instead for God and for others. In chapter 9 of Luke’s gospel, Jesus says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it” (9:23-24).
I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the past year in our archives at the Kansas City Public Library, and have seen many ways that this parish has brought freedom to the captive in our nearly 170 year history, particularly in the area of hunger relief, a ministry that continues to this day. We also have a long legacy of the physical healing provided by the doctors and nurses of the St. Luke’s Health System. Where might God be leading our parish in 2021 to bring freedom to the wider community in Kansas City? How might God be calling us to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of the sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor in new and fresh ways?
Our archives at the library are chock full of photos, and vestry minutes, newspaper clippings, and old service bulletins. After spending relatively little time perusing these documents, it is clear to me that God has used this little parish to do mighty things, and nearly all of the ministry we’ve done has been financed by the generosity of our parishioners. We’ve never been a wealthy parish. There have been at least a dozen times throughout our history that our parish has had so little money that we haven’t been able to afford a full-time priest, and at least half-dozen times when we’ve been so broke we’ve almost had to close the doors. Thanks to the steady, generous giving on the part of our parishioners, St. Mary’s is on more steady financial footing at the moment than we have been, but the growth trajectory we were on at the beginning of 2020 has been stunted somewhat by the complexity of the pandemic.
As we’re asking God for guidance on how he might want us to bring liberty to the captive in our own day, let us dream big dreams with our hearts and souls, and let us respond generously with the time, talent, and treasure the Lord has entrusted to each of us. Let us throw off the “freedom” offered to us by the world, and instead embrace the freedom of the kingdom of Heaven, getting rid of the shackles of selfishness around our ankles. By the power of the Spirit, let us lose our lives for the sake of the gospel, and in so doing, find healing and freedom for our souls, and the grace to proclaim healing for the sick and release to the captives to our friends and families and the wider Kansas City community. Amen.
 David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B ed., vol. 4 (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 287.
 Ibid 287.
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
October 16, 2021
In the past couple of months throughout the gospel of Mark, we’ve heard Jesus predict his death and passion twice – today makes time number three. And his disciples still don’t get it. James and John ask him for the places of honor when Jesus enters into his glory, but to their dismay, Jesus points out that the place of his glory is ironically the cross…and that criminals will sit on his right and left there.
The two disciples seem to sense that their request is misguided. “Will you do for us whatever we ask?”, they inquire. Jesus didn’t buy their trickery for one second. And the other disciples don’t respond any more appropriately than James and John do. They get angry, and Jesus responds using a punchline that you and I have become used to hearing over the past few weeks: “Whoever wishes to becomes great among you must become your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.” In other words, the first shall be last and the last shall be first.
But before he gets to the punchline, he says, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized.”
Being baptized involves going to the cross, with everything that entails. Death. Suffering. Similarly, sharing at the cup at the altar means we share with Jesus in his crucifixion. Both baptism and Holy Communion lead us to suffering and death with our Lord.
Yet this passage must be seen in light of James’ and John’s motivations as displayed a few verses earlier: “Those who followed Jesus were afraid.”
Seen in light of their fear, Jesus’s message is actually one of hope. Yes, you have to die to yourself in order to follow Christ. But the promise is that you don’t need to be driven by your fears and your need for security. Rather, Jesus says to us, you will be given everything you need to be able to take up your cross and follow me.
One of my spiritual mentors is the author Fr. Henri Nouwen, a Dutch priest who spent the most meaningful part of his ministry serving severely mentally disabled people at L’Arche Community in Torono, Canada – feeding them, bathing them, doing whatever it took to take care of them. Nouwen wrote, “The greatest block in the spiritual life is fear. Prayer, meditation, and education cannot come forth out of fear. God is perfect love, and as John the Evangelist writes, “Perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). Jesus’ central message is that God loves us with an unconditional love and desires our love, free from all fear, in return.”
What are you afraid of? What keeps you up at night? What triggers you to the point that you begin to feel insecure and frightened?
Today, Jesus is calling us to face our fears by following him to the cross…by putting aside our own insecurities and living a life of servanthood. By acknowledging that God loves us unconditionally with a love that conquers all fear. Following Jesus means following him right to the awfulness of Good Friday. But in so doing, we are released from our fears and insecurities, and given the hope of resurrection on Easter Sunday. Amen.
 David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B ed., vol. 4 (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 189.
 Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey, meditation for February 29.
The service leaflet can be found here, and the video recording can be found here.
Seth Jones and Chris Steinauer Renewal of Vows
October 15, 2021
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
The Rev’d Charles Everson
Seth and Chris, we are here tonight because you two said yes to each other. It is your yes that brought just a few of us during a difficult time during the pandemic into that little chapel to witness your marriage, and it is your yes that brings us all here tonight as we celebrate with all the pomp and circumstance we can muster.
I’m pretty sure that you could tell a lot of stories about all that has happened since the day you met – stories that include friends and family, new and old; choices you’ve made together like buying a house and raising a pig; even the suffering and pain of health scares and hospital stays.
Through it all, you’ve continued to say yes to one another.
The various wedding delays you’ve experienced because of the pandemic do not diminish or take away the yes from the day of your wedding day, nor from the yes of tonight. The delay only deepens and strengthens your yes. Tonight is even more sweet and beautiful because of it.
Another way to think about your continued yes to each other is that it is like a flower that blooms from another yes that you both have made, the yes to follow Christ in baptism. Seth, your journey of faith within Christianity has been more complex and included more twists and turns. Chris, I remember with joy when I baptized you in that font on All Saints Day in late 2018. Saying yes to Christ means being buried with him by baptism into death, and saying yes to each other sometimes means intentionally enduring suffering and hardship for each other’s sake. Yes, I will forgive you when you’ve hurt me. Yes, I will take care of you when we grow old and you need help eating and drinking. Yes, I will remain faithful to you as long as we both shall live, even when we get to the point when it might be fun to trade you in for a younger model.
St. Paul says that we are buried with Christ by baptism into death so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. By saying yes to each other each and every day until you are parted by death, by suffering together through the hardships of life, you experience the joy of the resurrection as well. The same yes that led you, Seth, to take care of Chris as he recovered after being hit by a car is the same yes that leads the two of you to echo the words we heard in Solomon’s love song, “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.”
I can’t promise you that the suffering and the joy will be of equal proportion to one another. That’s part of the wonderful adventure that is marriage, but it only works when you say yes. Yes, without condition, yes without holding back, yes no matter the cost.
I am indebted to The Rev’d Michael Marsh for his rhetorical use of the word “yes” in this sermon: https://interruptingthesilence.com/2019/12/08/the-double-yes-of-marriage-a-wedding-sermon-on-song-of-solomon-210-13-86-7/.
 Romans 6:4.
 Song of Solomon 2:10
St. Francis Day
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
October 9, 2021
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
This passage from the gospel of Matthew ends with one of the most beautiful statements our Lord ever made: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light”.
Just a few chapters before, in the very same discourse, Matthew recounts Jesus saying things like “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” And “I have come to set a man against his father, and daughter against her mother.” Sounds like two different people talking, but in both of these passages, Jesus is inviting us to a life of discipleship.
Discipleship means “to learn”, and thus disciples of Jesus are called to learn from Jesus how to live. As part of discipleship, we are called to be obedient to our Lord, but not in the way we typically think of obedience in which one person submits to another person because they have power over them and are afraid of them and are thus obedient. Rather, Christian obedience is to listen intently, and to respond, not only to those who have formal authority over us, but also to the voices of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. The call to discipleship is a call to radical obedience – a call to listen to the voice of God, wherever it may be found, and to respond. Unhesitating obedience to Christ often costs us dearly and can cause division in our families, in our friendships, and even in our parish.
To understand the sweet promise of “rest” we heard this morning, we have to start from the understanding that discipleship is hard work and can ultimately lead to division and strife that we don’t expect.
When Jesus says “Take my yoke and learn from me”, he’s using a word that has the same root as “disciple”, which means “learner.” This isn’t about learning new academic knowledge; Jesus is asking us to take up a way of life. A disciple loves the Lord with all of their heart, soul and body. Living this life of discipleship means we have to give up some things that we want, and instead put love of God and neighbor ahead of our own desires. But in doing so, we are given rest.
Throughout the New Testament, the Greek word “rest” can refer to Sabbath rest, the rest of death, or rest from war when Israel’s enemies have been subdued. More importantly, the idea of “rest” functions as an image of salvation, of what will be when the world is finally ordered according to God’s purposes and enjoys its full and complete Sabbath. In promising us “rest,” Jesus promises life under God’s reign in the new world that he is bringing. This is the “rest” we pray for when we pray “thy kingdom come” in the Lord’s Prayer – it’s not just a “rest” that will come when we get to heaven, but “rest” here and now. It’s the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down from heaven to earth. When God’s kingdom comes, we receive this “rest” from Jesus, and God’s space and ours are finally married and integrated at last.
What are we given rest from? Jesus says he will give rest to those who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens. The original crowds who heard this were suffering under religious oppression from the Pharisees on the one hand, and from the Roman imperial system in which the ruling elite secure wealth, status, and power at the expense of the everyday Joe on the other hand. He promises them rest from those things. But for all of us here today – what is it in our lives that makes us weary?
What heaven burdens are you bearing in your life?
Jesus is calling you to come to him. To take up his yoke upon you and learn from him. To be his disciple. But this call to be Jesus’s disciple isn’t a call to try to merely imitate some man who lived on earth 2,000 years ago and has left us. We are called to be his disciple by relying on the ongoing presence of Jesus in the world today. This ongoing presence is also included in what Jesus means by “rest.” This ongoing presence of Jesus manifests itself in the world through prayer, in silence and contemplation, through community and fellowship with fellow Christians, in recreational activities. More poignantly yet mysteriously, we receive this rest at the altar rail. In a moment, I will ask the Holy Spirit to set aside bread and wine to be for us the Body and Blood of Christ, the holy food and drink of new and unending life in him. And then we will come forward and receive the refreshing nourishment that he offers us in the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation. We will receive a rest more profound and more complete than we possibly could by putting up our feet after a long, exhausting day, or drinking a cold beer on a warm, summer afternoon. In the Eucharist, God’s heavenly kingdom breaks into our earthly world and nourishes us with the rest and refreshment that only Jesus can offer. Put another way, in the Eucharist, heaven kisses earth. And it is only after we are fed with this heavenly food and drink that we are sent out into the world so that we may “continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as he has prepared for us to walk in.”
St. Francis, whose feast we celebrate today, is best known for his love for animals and nature, but the very foundation of his faith was the Holy Eucharist. At the end of his life, St. Francis (ordained deacon but not priest) dictated a document that has remained a primary expression of his understanding of the Gospel. He says:
“…the Lord gave me, and gives me still, such faith in priests who live according to the rite of the holy Church because of their orders that, were they to persecute me, I would still want to have recourse to them…..And I act in this way because, in this world, I see nothing physically of the most high Son of God except His most holy Body and Blood which they receive and they alone administer to others. I want to have these most holy mysteries honored and venerated above all things and I want to reserve them in precious places.” (emphasis mine)
For Francis, the Eucharist is the primary way in which we see the ongoing presence of Jesus in the world today. His life was plagued by trial, illness, and great physical pain, and it was in the Body and Blood of Christ that he found rest.
Friends, I invite you this morning to bring your weariness and burdens to Jesus at this altar. To take up his yoke and learn from him. To live the life of a disciple, following our Lord throughout the ups and downs of life. Thankfully, we are not left to do this alone. Week after week, even day after day, we are invited to the altar to receive our Lord in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, receiving rest for our souls, and the grace we need to love and serve God and our neighbor. Amen.
 N. T. Wright, The Lord and His Prayer (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014), 24.
The sermons preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!