Pentecost XXI – Proper 26, Year C
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
The Rev’d Charles Everson
October 30, 2022
In today’s familiar gospel lesson, Jesus encounters a wee tax collector named Zacchaeus in the city of Jericho. Tax collectors in the first century Roman Empire were, by definition, wealthy, and were seen as sleezy and immoral, as they got to keep any money they collected from the people above and beyond what was owed to the empire. Zacchaeus is “short in stature,” something I can relate to, and thus can’t he see Jesus through the crowds. He climbs a tree so that he might be able to see Jesus, even from a distance. When Jesus arrives there, he tells Zacchaeus to come down and then invites himself to Zacchaeus’ home. The onlookers aren’t too happy about this. They murmur because Jesus had gone to eat at the house of “a sinner.” Upon seeing Jesus, Zacchaeus declares that he will give half of his goods to the poor and restore back fourfold those whom he has defrauded. Jesus then tells Zacchaeus that salvation has come to him, for the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.
Traditionally, this passage is seen as a conversion story par excellence. The sinner repents and is saved and as a result behaves virtuously and gives of his wealth extravagantly. However, in verse 8, there is a Greek verb whose meaning is debated amongst scholars. The translation we just heard says “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold.” Some of the newer translations change the verbs to “will give” and “will restore”, implying future actions, despite the use of verb forms indicating that Zacchaeus is already doing these things. The traditional interpretation certainly is congruent with other parts of Scripture and isn’t a bad thing. However, if these were things he was already doing, the focus isn’t on Zacchaeus’ conversion, but rather Jesus’s actions in welcoming yet another sinner from the margins of society. Yes, he is rich, but would have been automatically rejected outright by the establishment because of his occupation and close association with the Empire.
This crooked, untrustworthy Zacchaeus is desperate to see Jesus. So desperate that despite being a wealthy government official, he humiliates himself by climbing a tree like a child in order to catch a glimpse of Jesus over the crowd. When he finally sees him, Jesus greets him by name and asks him to come down, and Zacchaeaus “receives him joyfully.”
Joy is not something the world around us associates with Christianity. In fact, I think many non-Christians think of us as being like the members of the crowd who murmur because Jesus accepted an invitation to be the guest of a “sinner” who is not pure or holy enough for our tastes. That’s probably because many of us are. Many Christians, and it’s not only the fundamentalists and the Roman Catholics, murmur like the crowd for many reasons: the person receiving God’s grace before our eyes is more successful than us, or has committed more serious sins than we have, or has an occupation like the tax collector that we may view as incompatible with or at least incongruent with Christianity.
When I lived in France from 2002-2004, I was struck by the fact that members of the clergy (which, in the French mind, generally means Roman Catholic) were portrayed in television, movies, and the media in general as dullards who hate anyone on the margins of society and don’t have the brainpower needed to add two plus two. Twenty years later, this is not an uncommon view of Christianity in our own society. It’s easy for us enlightened liberal Protestants to judge police officers or wealthy investment bankers because of their profession while smugly forgiving and loving those whose professions put them out of favor with the fundamentalists like abortion providers. Let us not forget that we too have the same human tendency to lump people together and judge the hearts of human beings based on whatever category is most convenient to put them in.
I don’t think we should make this story into a conversion experience like St. Paul’s on the road to Damascus. Zacchaeus doesn’t confess his sins nor repent. Nor does Jesus commend his penitence, or his faith, or his change of heart. He merely pronounces blessing, blessing based not on anything Zacchaeus has done, but simply because he, like those murmuring around him, is a child of Abraham, a child of God.
Zacchaeus is an example for all of us. He desires to see Jesus and experiences joy in his presence. At first, he can’t see him because like me, he’s too short, perhaps both physically and morally. Yet he is desperate to see Jesus. So desperate that he humiliates himself by climbing a tree like a child in order to catch a glimpse of him over the crowd. When he finally sees him, Jesus calls him by name and asks him to come down, and Zacchaeus “receives him joyfully.”
The word used to describe Zacchaeus’ reaction to Jesus – joy, or rejoice – is the same word used a few chapters back in the three most famous parables. There is more joy in heaven when one lost sheep is found – when one sinner repents – than over 99 righteous persons who need no repentance. There is rejoicing in heaven when the woman finds the coin she has lost! The Father rejoices and throws an extravagant party when the prodigal son returns home.
The Good News of today’s gospel reading is that if you truly want to see Jesus, you will, no matter your occupation or shortcomings or past sins. And more than that, you will be seen and known by Jesus and experience his unconditional love given extravagantly. This is the Good News of Christianity, Good News that the world needs so desperately. In the words of the hymn we sang before the gospel, “not to oppress, but summon all their truest life to find, in love God sent his Son to save, not to condemn mankind.”
While his body is no longer here on this earth, we have an opportunity to see Jesus in a moment at the altar in the consecrated bread and wine. Not only see him, but receive him into our innermost being, all while kneeling at the altar rail alongside someone we may have judged negatively for some reason or another. Like Zacchaeus, let us receive our Lord joyfully, and let us carry that joy with us so that the world may see and know the Good News of God’s extravagant love.
Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
The Rev’d Charles Everson
October 23, 2022
Today, we celebrate the feast of St. Luke the Evangelist, the original patron saint of this Church. Luke is traditionally believed to have been the author of both the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, which means that Luke is the author of more than one-fourth of the New Testament. He was likely a Gentile Christian – the only Gentile to write the books in the canon of the Bible. He is also the first Christian physician on record. Luke accompanied St. Paul on a significant part of his missionary journey, and he likely acted as Paul’s personal physician.
It’s no surprise that the church considers Luke to be the patron of physicians and more generally of health and healing, and thus, a tradition has been established wherein parish churches such as ours have a healing mass on his feast. In a few moments, I will those of you who are interested to exit your pew chairs and head to one of the four stations, and a priest will lay hands on you and pray with for healing, and will anoint you on the forehead with the oil of the infirm. Most people in today’s world go to a physician when they’re sick, not a priest, and there’s certainly some logic to that. But the Church gives us the opportunity to receive God’s grace in a special way in the sacrament of the anointing of the sick. By the laying on of hands and anointing with oil, the church’s intention is to bring healing in this life by joining the sufferings of the sick person to Christ. But it’s not only intended to bring physical healing, it also brings the forgiveness of sin, and the ultimate healing of the whole person – body, mind, and spirit. The priest, in this act, isn’t casting a magic spell, but is instead responding to the faith that the individual seeking God’s grace displays in seeking it – faith that the Lord can use ordinary creatures like a priest’s hands and olive oil to join his or her sufferings to Christ and begin to bring healing and wholeness and freedom.
In today’s gospel, Luke presents to us a sermon that Jesus preached that essentially involved him reading from the book of Isaiah. He said, “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 short passage contains the essence – the heart of Jesus’s life and ministry. It’s all about healing and freedom and release. As you and I receive God’s healing and forgiveness today in both the Anointing of the Sick and in the Holy Eucharist, we are called to leave this place and take that reconciliation and wholeness to a broken and hurting world. To take this Good News to the poor. To proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind. To let the opposed go free. To take the healing and wholeness of Jesus to everyone we encounter. Amen.
 Hans Boersma, Matthew Leverling, and R.W.L. Moberly, The Oxford Handbook of Sacramental Theology (Oxford University Press, 2015), 558-564.
Pentecost XVIII, Proper 24, Year C
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
October 16, 2022
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
“All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”
There may not be another single verse in the Bible that is so often used to back up the type of Biblical “literalism” that I used to subscribe to back in my evangelical days. “The Bible is literally true,” I thought. “ALL scripture” is inspired by God, not just the parts of it that I like or agree with.
The terms “scripture” and “sacred writing” in this passage may or may not include the four gospels or other parts of the New Testament, but it is certain that they do include the Jewish scriptures that we commonly call the “Old Testament.” It is just as certain that neither term refers to the New Testament as we know it today as no matter the precise date 2nd Timothy was written, the New Testament had not been formally canonized.
The phrase “inspired by God” literally means “God-breathed.” In the creation story in Genesis, God breathes life into humankind, and in John chapter 20, Jesus breathes on his disciples and says to them “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Perhaps this verse isn’t a proof text for the acceptance of biblical inerrancy, but is rather indicative that God uses the Scriptures to breathe new life into us.
This verse is part of a wider passage in which Paul exhorts his young pastor friend Timothy to “continue in what you’ve learned and believed, know from whom you learned it, proclaim the message, be persistent in season or out of season, rebuke and encourage, be sober, do the work of an evangelist” – in other words, carry out your ministry fully. Paul is trying to tell Timothy that his job, and that of the pastor in general, isn’t to be innovative, but to be faithful, even in the midst of hardship.
Paul continues, “For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine.” It’s easy to compare ourselves with others in trying to determine who really has the soundest doctrine, but the sound doctrine referred to here is the basic good news that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ is coming again. Paul reminds Timothy that from childhood, he has known the sacred writings that are able to instruct him for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
Friends, being faithful and proclaiming the gospel isn’t always an easy or popular thing to do, especially given the misconceptions out there about the Biblical record. Just yesterday, I had a conversation with a lifelong devout Roman Catholic who believed that the Bible we have today is the result of monks copying pages from previous copies, leaving room for errors to creep in over the centuries despite the fact that those of us who study such things as our primary academic discipline know that isn’t the case at all.
I was a sophomore in college (a Biblical Studies major) when my maternal grandmother was diagnosed with cancer. She had been raised by a mother who was a convinced Christian Scientist, a member of a group that eschews some forms of modern medicine while claiming to “take the inspired Word of the Bible as our sufficient guide to eternal life”. As she was struggling with how to proceed with treatment, she asked me, “Can one be a Christian and not go to church?” I don’t remember how I answered her question, but in retrospect, my response would now be something like this: Christians are grafted into Christ’s body, the Church, at baptism, and as part of the household of God, we live out our faith together. The Christian life was never intended to be lived in solitude, but rather in community. And it is in Christian community, gathered around God’s Word and Sacraments, that God breathes new life into his Church.
The catechism in our 1979 Book of Common Prayer puts it this way: Why do we call the Holy Scriptures the Word of God? We call them the Word of God because God inspired their human authors and because God still speaks to us through the Bible. How do we understand the meaning of the Bible? We understand the meaning of the Bible by the help of the Holy Spirit who guides the Church in the true interpretation of the Scriptures.
Evangelicals love to say that we Episcopalians do not study the Bible, and then are shocked when they experience just how much Scripture is read at our services. And yet, there is something to be said about the stereotype that Episcopalians don’t do a lot of reading and studying of the Bible at home. Episcopalians sometimes act like they’re allergic to the Bible, and that is understandable given that many of us come from corners of Christianity who see it as a set of rules to follow rather than as the primary way the Holy Spirit breathes new life into the Church. It’s especially difficult given that in the year 2022, we are still dealing with folks like the guy who testified before the Conway Public School Board in Conway, Arkansas this past Tuesday, saying that LGBTQ people “deserve death” because “God gave them over to a depraved mind so that they do what they should not be doing”, a selective quoting Romans chapter 1.
“All scripture is inspired by God” used to say to me that the Bible as we know it is without error and literally true. But now, I’m hearing God’s Spirit say something different: just as God breathed over the water at creation, and just as Jesus breathed on his disciples to empower them for ministry, God breathes new life into his Church through the Scriptures today. Paul’s high-direct instructions to young pastor Timothy are not only for those of us called to ordained ministry, but apply to the household of God more broadly: we are to continue in what we’ve learned and believed, know from whom we learned it, proclaim the message, be persistent in season or out of season, rebuke and encourage, be sober, do the work of an evangelist – in other words, carry out our ministry fully, and be faithful in living out and proclaiming that Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
We Episcopalians do not subscribe to Biblical inerrancy, but rather that God inspired the human authors of the Biblical books and that God still speaks to us through the Bible today. We’ve got the communal reading and listening of Scripture down – on Sundays and major feasts, three readings plus a portion of the psalter. But I think we are missing out on something important by leaving our Bibles on the shelves at home. If it has been a long time since you’ve picked up the Bible, I encourage you to dust it off and at least begin to imagine a world in which the reading and meditating on the Scriptures is a regular part of your life not only at church but at home (and if you don’t have a Bible and want one, come see me). I’m not asking you to daydream about being a monk or a nun, nor am I asking you to do the hard work of interpreting difficult Biblical passages on your own. Our catechism says that we understand the meaning of the Bible by the help of the Holy Spirit who guides the Church in the true interpretation of the Scriptures. Clearly, different Christian communities have different interpretations of any number of Biblical passages, but together, we have some hope of hearing God’s voice collectively, and nourished by the power of the Holy Spirit in Word and Sacrament, we are given strength and courage to faithfully and fully carry out our ministry as ambassadors of the Word made flesh, even Jesus Christ our Lord.
 David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word. Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 185.
 BCP 854.
 BCP 854.
The sermons preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!