St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Sean C. Kim
29 October 2023
In today’s Gospel reading from Matthew, we have what is known as the Summary of the Law:
Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ sayeth. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like unto it. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.
Sound familiar? Well, you just heard at the beginning of today’s service. The Summary of the Law is an integral part of the Anglican tradition of worship, and here at St. Mary’s, you hear it at every Mass.
As with many aspects of our liturgy, it is biblically based. In today’s reading from Matthew. Jesus is in the middle of a confrontation with Jewish leaders, who are out to test him. A lawyer, a Pharisee, asks him, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest” Jesus responds by selecting two passages from the Hebrew Scriptures, the Torah. The first is Deuteronomy 6:5, and it is part of what is known as the shema: “Hear therefore, 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.” The shema is an ancient confession of faith for Jews, and it is still used in worship today. But Jesus doesn’t stop there; he couples the shema with Leviticus 19:18: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Judging from the silence that follows, Jesus passes the test. We are told that from that day on, no one dared to ask him any more questions (Matthew 22:46).
The Summary of the Law is a constant reminder of what it means to be a Christian and what we value most in our faith. All the laws and commandments can be boiled down to loving God and loving our neighbor – in Jesus’ words, “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
Loving God and loving neighbor are not only the two foundational commandments on which our faith rests; they are also inseparable and interrelated. Our love for neighbor flows out of our love for God. We cannot say that we love God if we do not love our neighbor.
Of the two commandments, however, we tend to hear and talk a lot more about loving neighbor than about loving God. Loving neighbor is a favorite topic of sermons. And around Christmas time, which is just around the corner, we hear the message not just in church but in our society at large. Think of all the feel-good movies and TV shows, and the calls for charitable giving during the season. We can never hear enough about loving our neighbor, but, the fact is, we don’t hear as much about loving God, even in church.
I think part of the reason is that we don’t always know what loving God means. We believe in it, but we wonder how we go about loving a God who is transcendent, beyond the reach of our five senses. We certainly cannot see or touch God, and we cannot put our arms around God and say “I love you” as we would a person. So how do we love God?
Well, the Summary of the Law provides a key. In fact, it lays out a three-fold approach to loving God – with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind. To begin with, we love God with all our heart. The Hebrew word for heart has a different sense than in English. We tend to associate the heart with emotions, but in Hebrew the heart has more to do with intention. It is “the center of a person’s willing, choosing, doing.” So, to love God with all our heart means to turn our hearts, our intentions, away from the world and ourselves to God. It is placing God above our personal interests and desires.
Second, we love God with all our soul. We pour out what lies deep in our soul to God through prayer. Whether we do so in private or in public worship, prayer is our main line of communication with God. Through prayer, we give thanks as well as present our petitions and intercessions, and we listen to God’s voice and discern God’s will for our lives.
Finally, we love God with all our mind. For the Jews, loving God with their mind meant studying God’s Word as revealed in the Torah. For us Christians, it is the Bible. Some of you may be familiar with the daily devotional called Forward Day by Day. We have copies on our welcome desk in the Parish Hall, if you’d like to pick one up after the service, and it’s also available online. Forward Day by Day is published by the Forward Movement, an Episcopal organization, which recently did a survey of Episcopal churches on various topics, and it found, to no great surprise, that we as a denomination don’t read or know our Bible as well as other denominations. Perhaps it’s our focus on liturgy; I know Roman Catholics don’t do too well on biblical literacy either. But for whatever reason, we are not reading God’s Word as we should.
If I might share a personal note with you, actually a recommendation, I have found the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer to be a rich resource for both prayer and Bible study. I’ve been an Episcopalian for almost twenty years, but it wasn’t until I began the ordination process a few years ago that I discovered what a treasure the Daily Office was. Praying Morning and Evening Prayer every day is a source of great strength and spiritual growth. I love the rhythm and the discipline that it provides. And the Daily Office takes us into prayer as well as Bible study since both Morning and Evening Prayer have selected readings from the Psalms, the Old Testament, and New Testament. The Daily Office will basically take you through the entire Bible in three years. So, if you are not praying the Daily Office already, I would highly recommend it. Historically and theologically, the Daily Office is the most distinctive aspect of Anglican spirituality. And these days, there are all sorts of Internet programs that make it convenient and easy to pray the Daily Office.
Dear friends, as we pray and study Scripture, we are obeying the greatest commandment to love God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind. And grounded in our love of God, we will be able to love our neighbors as ourselves. On these two pillars of love rests our calling as followers of the Lord Jesus. And during this time of war and violence, strife and division, we have a lot of work to do in living out our calling. So, let us pray as never before. Let us immerse ourselves in God’s Word. Let us go forth into the world proclaiming Christ’s Gospel of love. Amen.
Today we set aside the Scripture readings appointed for what would otherwise be the 21st Sunday after Pentecost, to remember, to celebrate, to give thanks to God for, the life of, St. Luke the Evangelist, and one of the patron saints of this church. According to Christian tradition, St. Luke was a physician. In those days, physicians were men or women who acquired knowledge of potions and practices that were supposed to cure illness or injury, either from those who practiced those arts, or from their own study of said potions and practices, and the observations they made as they experimented with such methods. Our reading from the Apocrypha today mentions favorably those persons.
However, Luke the Physician, is Saint Luke, not because he was a great physician (though he might have been so), but because he could write! We don’t interrupt our lectionary cycle to celebrate “St. Luke the Physician,” but rather to celebrate, declare a feast day in honor of, St. Luke the Author. More to the point we celebrate the life and influence in Christian tradition of St. Luke the Evangelist, i.e. the “writer of Good News,” the author of a Gospel, “The Good News of Jesus Christ, according to Luke”. He was not an author of fiction, but of history. Think Stephen Ambrose, not Stephen King. He didn’t make stuff up. He researched it and wrote down what he found. The Christian movement, the “Jesus Movement,” was sweeping the Mediterranean, and the leaders of it and those who were eyewitnesses to the life, death, and –amazingly, resurrection!—of the person who started it all, weren’t getting any younger. It was turning the world upside down and Dr. Luke wanted to make sure there was a record of why it was happening. When it was finally published, it was in two volumes. Vol 1, a Gospel, telling the story of one Jesus of Nazareth, and Vol II, a narrative of “The Acts of the Apostles” through the actions of those who birthed what became known as the Early Church.
This is not dry history. Luke could not only research stories, he could tell stories. He wrote in the colloquial Greek, the “universal language” of the time, so that it could be read by about anybody in that part of the world who could read. (Though scholars also note that he could, and did, write in classical Greek as well, as well as the Semitic Greek in which the Jewish Scriptures of the time were translated.) The preface to his Gospel in the New Oxford Annotated Bible, note that he “was a gifted literary artist” that “produced what has been justly described as ‘the most beautiful book in the world.” It is a tapestry of stories. Luke’s Gospel shares stories in common with the other Gospels: Matthew and Mark, and John whose writers also wanted to tell the stories and teachings of Jesus. However, it contains other stories that these Gospels, and The Gospel of John, do not:
For instance, the birth of John the Baptist, the annunciation to Mary, her song in response—the great Magnificat-- and her visit to Elizabeth (John the Baptist’s mother);
the angels and shepherds of the Nativity;
the story of the priest Simeon when he held the infant Jesus—his response is what we call the Nunc dimittis, “The Song of Simeon”, -“Lord, now letest thou thy servant depart in peace . . . for my eyes have seen thy salvation”-- found in our services of Evening Prayer and Compline.
In addition, Luke’s Gospel also contains the stories of six miracles and eighteen parables not recorded in the other Gospels, including the parables of “The Prodigal Son” and “The Good Samaritan.”
He is the only writer to tell the story of the earliest Church, the conversions and missionary journeys of St. Paul, the coming of the Holy Spirit, and examples of the earliest Christian preaching, known as the Apostolic Preaching. Its format could be summarized as “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.” Sound familiar?
In other words, we would be poorer in our understanding of who we are, or are to be, as Christians and as the Church without these writings of Luke.
As I said, Luke didn’t make this stuff up! It boggles my mind to think of what he might have had to do to find and collect all of these stories, teachings, and parables, from those who were eye-witnesses, and ear-witnesses to Jesus and events within the early Church. He didn’t have the world wide web, he couldn’t Google the information he needed, he couldn’t interview people by Zoom, or even over a phone! There were some common written accounts of Jesus that the writers of Mark and Matthew had access to that were familiar to Luke, as well, though it is doubtful he ever saw either of those finished Gospels in writing. But he had to have done a lot or original research to come up with material unique to his Gospel. I can imagine him haunting local libraries, such as they were, for scrolls containing the DNA of this world-changing movement that he was a part of. Maybe he even had research assistants that went back to Palestine to dig up the information he needed! I can imagine him hanging out with his traveling companions as he followed Paul around the Mediterranean to Rome. Sitting with them at the end of the day, or walking on the road, or sailing on a ship, as they told stories about Jesus that had been passed down to them by an aunt or uncle, or grandfather, or by a friend, or a friend, of a friend. For stories and information were still largely passed on orally in those days. And please note, if you don’t know this already: it was a hallmark of the practice of the oral tradition that the stories and teachings passed on suffered very little from being passed from one person to another over a span of years.
These teachings and stories of Luke, like those of the other Gospel writers, aren’t just dry histories, unlinked to our own time and place. St. Luke knew that these words he had seen and heard and written down had transformed the lives of the people he kept company with, and had transformed his life as well. They had opened him up to “a God whose property is always to have mercy,” who loved His people and His creation so much that He had settled into our midst see us through the eyes of Jesus, a Jewish carpenter in the backwater of the Roman Empire. Luke must have been rendered both heartbroken by the excruciating story of this Jesus’ death and astonished by his mind-blowing resurrection. He had seen the lives of many others changed, given new hope, courage, and purpose by the words said by and about this man who claimed God as His Father. He had seen first-hand the truth of the words written about Jesus and the Holy Spirit confirmed in the self-less and self-giving acts of those who had been transformed by those words both written and spoken to them by others. His life was changed, and he wanted others to experience the same words that had transformed him and took it upon himself to collect all of these stories he could and write them down so that others might be transformed too.
All of the saints we honor as Episcopalian Christians—“The Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement” as Presiding Bishop Michael Curry puts it, bear witness to someone who has been changed by these words, whether by reading them, or having someone speak them, or someone who enacted them as someone who accepted them and included them when they were a shunned Prodigal Son or who ministered to them like a Good Samaritan when they lay wounded in one of life’s ditches. And they, in turn, represent countless others through the ages who have been so moved by the stories Luke (and others) told and re-told. For these words have a way of being re-enacted in the actions towards others of those who have heard and been changed by those words. Those persons who founded St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in 1854, here in Kansas City MO, the forerunner of our present St. Mary’s, were among them!
“Re-enactment” is word often used to refer to a situation in which a time or a situation from the past is acted out, by “re-enactors", as in those who populate a replica of a Colonial village, or an Old West town, or a Civil War army bivouac. It helps us see how “those folks lived.” As part of the modern day “Jesus Movement”, we don’t don bathrobes and sandals and build a first century village for the tourists. We take the Biblical stories and teachings spoken and written millennia ago, and by the timeless power of God, make them come alive in our time and place by our actions towards others in the here and now. That process of passing on to others the love of God that we know, believe, and experience, has a place in our baptismal vows, as the question is asked of us “Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?”
The Good News of Jesus becomes the Mighty Acts of the Apostles because that is the way that God works, and the way that God works through us even today. Here is something for all of us to think about: Are we are here because we once upon a time we read these words of Luke, of Matthew, of John, of St. Paul? Or heard them read by someone. Or had the words unspoken, but rather put into an act of kindness or hope or rescue by someone whose life had been changed and/or molded by these words, then, in turn, passed them. by word or action, on to us, resulting in our own transformation in some degree or another?
This “passing of the Good News” is called “Evangelism,” because Evangel literally means Good News! Unfortunately, it is a word that might have negative associations for us because of certain traditions that self-identify as “evangelicals.”
It might help some of us, therefore, to “re-associate” the word with St. Luke, and his work of gathering stories about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and the mighty acts of God in the early Church, so that they would be remembered, and re-enacted in time of those who heard and read them.
He even tells us a story about Jesus that illustrates this. You heard it this morning.
Jesus begins his formal ministry by showing up in his hometown synagogue, and reading a familiar piece of Scripture by Isaiah. He read: “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 the recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” He rolled up the scroll. He looked at his listeners. They looked at him. Then he said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
It was fulfilled because he was there to enact it. And, by the power of God, he did.
How might we, in turn, re-enact, this passage from Luke, again by the power of God, in our lives this week, or the next?
Be prepared to find out!
-The Rev. Larry Parrish
Proper 23 Manuscript - Year A 10/15/23
Postulant Brandon Smee
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There was a boy who lived in a far-off country which had grown just
wealthy enough to invest in science. So, he learned about carbon. Science
lessons typically passed him by like Boy Scouts, leaving no trace. But not
carbon: atomic number 6, symbol C, capable of up to four covalent bonds.
As the PowerPoint said, carbon didn’t come from just anywhere; it was
made in the hearts of stars. There, supercharged alpha particles zipped
around so fast that three of them could collide in a window so short the
blink of an eye would seem an eon by comparison. In that collision, carbon
was born. The stars seeded the galaxy with it, including the little cloud that
formed Earth, where it became diamonds, pencils, and the fundamental
building block of life.
The boy’s mind exploded: every living thing was carbon! That meant
everyone came from stars. The galaxies were his grandparents and
everybody his cousins. This epiphany grasped his imagination, then his
words, actions, and habits, until it was simply him. Carbon just kept
nudging him, pointing him through tough spots.
And there were tough spots. Over time, the economy faltered. The
lowlands flooded. The highlands burned. The skies and seas were choked.
Fear was epidemic, and the people empowered those who frightened them
most, a power felt first as a rumor, then as a presence, and then as the
absence of dissent.
So, one night, the boy, now grown, heard pounding on his door. He
found a breathless, wide-eyed young man pleading, “I heard you help
people.” Sharp voices approached. Fear struck, thick and sudden. But he
looked up through a passing break in the clouds to a single star. He brought
him in but didn’t foresee the consequences since, in time, helping a
stranger led to aiding countless more, a single rebellion against fear to
everyday resistance, and one star-blessed offer of brotherhood to a
boundless, revolutionary kinship. He was there when they filled the streets
as dense and bonded as carbon and the soldiers laid down their guns. When
the fireworks cleared, he looked up again to the stars. They seemed to sing
over everyone everywhere, “Behold, our children, our beloved, in whom we
Elsewhere, there was a mother who bore a daughter, and holding her,
she looked into her searching eyes and said, without reservation, “I love
you.” And she gave her everything. Day by day, she fed her and changed
her. She washed and dressed her even when she struggled, and she
comforted her when she cried out in the night’s most lonesome hours.
Resolving to give her a good life, she released the dreams she’d held since
girlhood to free her hands. She worked until her daughter lacked almost
nothing. But the daughter watched the years wear her mother down until
she who’d been so tall, full, and present seemed distant and small. At the
edge of adulthood, she vowed to transcend the woman who raised her.
So she went to college and, graduating, took a job at which she
excelled. She found a partner, and together they raised a family. The years
were happy, and she lacked almost nothing. But then she sent her eldest to
college, and soon the others, and with the children gone, she and her
partner found they’d grown different, too different to continue. So she
worked until no work could be found and retired to an empty home, and,
one night, washing dishes, she saw her reflection in the window and
thought of her mother.
Not long after, she got a call. Her mother was sick and wouldn’t get
better, so she took her in. It was awkward – yet as natural as breathing.
They laughed, fought, and cried together. But eventually, laughter yielded
to fighting and fighting to crying and crying to groans too deep for words.
As the illness advanced, the daughter resolved to give her mother a good
life. And she gave her everything. Day by day, she fed her and changed her.
She washed and dressed her, even when she struggled. She comforted her
when she cried out in the night’s most lonesome hours. And at the last, as
she held her, the daughter looked into her mother’s searching eyes and
said, without reservation, “I love you.”
You can trace these stories to an ancient source. For ages ago, the
wise told of a Father and a Son and their Love. They had no records from
before their Love, nor evidence it ended. They found no way to measure it
since time couldn’t endure it, and space would shatter trying to hold it. It
seemed their Love was before both and was thus the source of everything.
And they debated sharply since if Love was truly from forever, then it
wasn’t something the Father or the Son adopted or produced. But, ever as
they lived, they were being love, and where the life of their being embraced,
Love too was alive. And the wise who entered in found that it was so, and
they confessed the Father, the Son, and the Living Love and Love itself as
the history of everything.
But this story branched into various versions. In one, the Father is the
hope of a woman who hears the word of the Living Love and enters the
shadow of its joy so boldly she bears the Son through sheer love alone, and
when she loses him, she cries the word spoken through angels and
prophets, and her hope gives birth to life. In another, the Father is the
liberation a young man fights for until he’s captured and hung up to die,
and the Living Love is the freedom he glimpses in the Son dying beside him
and, praying the Son to free him in memory, they both that day are freed.
And recently, the Father is an unsearchable darkness over a trembling
world, the Living Love a voice calling its people, and the Son the kernel and
fruit of their toil, and as the people lift up the bread and wine of their lives,
they are lifted into the Father and behold not the fear of darkness but its
All this brings us back to the story Fr. Sean read just minutes ago, the
story Jesus told. It’s terrifying. Jesus portrays the kingdom of heaven as a
raging, enslaving king who kills and destroys any who deny him, a tyrant
who doesn’t neglect to punish a choice of clothing. If this is what heaven’s
like, do I want to go? I could get to the throne, realize I left my pants on
earth, and be tossed by an angel into the outer darkness.
But there’s another way to hear this story. If you discover the origin of
carbon, or journey with a parent and child, or fathom the endless depths of
the Living Love, you’ll see that the terrifying king in Jesus’s story is a father.
His law is loving his son. Preparing a celebration for him, he welcomes
everyone who’d join but reproves anyone who spits on his child. So what
would this king do should someone come to his son’s wedding reception
wearing business attire to sell the king shares, or fatigues to wage his wars,
or holy vestments to be appointed his chief priest? He’d banish them. It’s
not about honor; it’s not about edicts and rules. The king wants one thing:
that everyone enter into his love.
Like a tangent touches a circle in just one spot, the gospel touches this
parable precisely where a parent loves a child. What makes heaven’s reign
unlike any other is the love at its center. There, we find our Lord Jesus
Christ, within his Father’s glory and the Holy Spirit’s embrace. And down
here, when the Virgin gave birth to her son, the Three-in-One invited
everything into the primordial story of love. This parable tells part of that
story: the wideness of love’s invitation and its surprising ferocity toward
those who reject it. You could endlessly adapt the story, telling it through a
kaleidoscope of human lives, but only Jesus, with this parable and divine
power, could transform the eternal story into an invitation we must accept
Jesus invites everything to enter where the Holy Spirit abides, within
the story of Father and Son. Their love echoes in every story worth telling,
whether we narrate the interplay of star and carbon, mother and daughter,
lover and beloved, or the immeasurable web of creation and us. Even so,
Jesus says, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” Despite love’s
unbounded invitation, we can pursue other narratives. For money, fame,
pleasure, or power, we can carve our resentment on obelisks of stone and
produce feature-length projections of our heroism, or that of our family,
church, nation, race, or pet ideologies, as if to replace the eternal story with
self-gratifying fan-fiction, as if to conquer all worlds with fabrications more
compelling than Reality itself. No, the one word of God in Christ Jesus is
love. Everything else is just shadows cast on a fading world before the
dawn. But love remains, the love of the children of God. Will we enter the
St. Mary's KC -Feast of St. Francis
Rt. Rev. Diane Jardine Bruce
October 8, 2023
I bring you greetings from your diocesan staff - we are here to help you in any way we can, and we mean that. I am especially happy to be back with you all for this visitation - it is a joy to be with you and to celebrate in this beautiful space.
I want to start out by saying that today's gospel has always called me to task a bit. "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." - Jesus said those words, and I, at times, find Jesus' yoke far from easy, and his burden heavy. Maybe you have felt that way - being a follower of Jesus is not always easy. Especially when you are in positions of leadership in the church, and here I am talking about any leadership position - it can be difficult to love and Jesus loves, and live a Christ-like life.
Today, as we celebrate the Feast of St. Francis, I know that Francis took on the yoke of Christ and carried that yoke with him all the days of his life. He bore the burden of living a Christ-like life with seeming ease.
I want to share with you all this morning that in 2016 Steve and I, together with my older sister, my twin sister and my brother-in-law travelled to Italy. On my bucket list was to go to Assisi. I wanted to walk in the footsteps of St. Francis. I especially wanted to see the San Damiano cross - the cross which spoke out to St. Francis, calling him to mission and ministry. A replica of the cross is in the Church of San Damiano close to Assisi. When the Poor-Clares moved from San Damiano to the Basilica of Santa Chiara in Assisi in 1257, they took the original San Damiano Cross with them and still guard it. It now hangs in the Basilica over the altar of the Chapel of the Crucifix.
When I walked in the front door of the Basilica where the original San Damiano cross hangs in Assisi -- I didn't need anyone to tell me where that cross was. The minute I walked in the door I was literally drawn to it. It wasn't right there in full sight - it was in a side chapel. I felt this pull - and I went right to it. My husband asked me, "where are you going?" - "I'm going to the San Damiano cross."
There is something about that cross that is mystical. You can feel it when you are there. Certainly St. Francis must have felt that way - remember it was in front of this cross that St.
Francis as a young man was praying - and received the word from God that he was to rebuild the church.
After that moment St. Francis was indeed transformed - and his life was changed forever. He was a new creation. God spoke to St. Francis from that cross.
He took on the yoke of Christ - and from the stories we hear about him, he made the burden seem light.
What about us? How can we enter into that space where we, too, take on the yoke of Christ? How can we learn from Jesus? What does St. Francis' story say to us today?
Pray. Yup. Pray. St. Francis was standing at the foot the San Damiano cross praying. And his life was changed forever.
I will confess to you all that sometimes the busyness of my life as a bishop gets in the way of my prayer life. I will also confess to you all that when I don't pray regularly, I can feel the yoke of Christ weigh me down - why? Because I'm not centered. When I pray, I am much more centered and there isn't anything that I can't face.
I think the Rev. Samuel Shoemaker said it best when he said,
"Prayer might not change things for you, but it will sure change you for things."
Shoemaker also was quoted as saying, "Don't pray to escape trouble. Don't pray to be comfortable in your emotions. Pray to do the will of God in every situation. Nothing else is worth praying for."
St. Francis discovered these truths that Rev. Shoemaker shared long ago. His prayer transformed his life, and I firmly believe it was prayer that spurred him on to years of faithful service praying to do the will of God in every situation. St. Francis understood, as the psalmist said, My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. It was to God - to Christ Jesus - that St. Francis turned.
So whether you pray the daily office, practice Lectio Divina, practice Christian meditation, or just have daily conversations with God - the important thing is to pray. Stay centered. Then in taking on the Yoke of Christ, your burden - our burden - will be light.
Feast of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux
Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
1 October 2023
Today, we celebrate the Feast of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. She is one of the patron saints
of our church, together with Luke, George, Margaret, Cecilia, and, of course, the Blessed Virgin
Mary. You may have noticed that we have been naming our patron saints at each Mass during
the Prayers of the People.
At St. Mary’s, we have two relics, one is that of Thérèse, and the other, Cecilia, a second-
century martyr. Both are designated as first-class relics. There are three categories of relics. A
first-class relic is a body part, such as bone or hair. Both our relics are bone fragments. A
second-class relic is a saint’s personal possession, such as clothing or a rosary. A third-class relic
is an object that the saint has touched or that has been touched to a first or second-class relic.
You didn’t know you were going to get a lecture on relics this morning, did you?
After the service, at the end of the Postlude, you are invited, if you would like, to come to
the altar rail to venerate the relic of St. Thérèse. It is custom to touch, kiss and/or simply gaze
upon the relic. The veneration of relics has a long history and goes back to the days of the early
church. For those of you from Protestant backgrounds who may not be familiar with the
tradition, please be assured that this is not worship. We are simply expressing our respect and
reverence for St. Thérèse, whose life and witness point us to God.
Thérèse was a Roman Catholic nun belonging to the Order of Discalced Carmelites. Born
in 1873 in France, she lived a brief and tragic life, dying at the young age of 24 after a long
struggle with tuberculosis. Together with Francis of Assisi, whose feast we will observe next
Sunday, Thérèse is one of the most beloved and popular saints in the Church.
But she is a very different kind of saint than most of the ones on the official Church
calendar. She was not a martyr. She was not a towering theologian. She was not the founder of a
major religious order or movement in the Church. On the contrary, she was quite ordinary, living
the life of an obscure monastic in her Carmelite convent in Lisieux, France.
It was only after her death that she became famous through the publication of her
spiritual autobiography, The Story of a Soul. In the book, she recalls how she once had visions of
doing great things for God and Church. Shortly after becoming a nun, she volunteered to become
a missionary to Vietnam to help establish the Carmelite order there. She wanted to offer her life
for evangelization and even martyrdom. But her poor health prevented her from realizing this or
any other dream of achieving a great spiritual feat.
So, why has Thérèse become such a beloved saint? In her book, she presents what she
calls the “little way.” Limited by the circumstances of her health, she came to the realization that
she may not be able to offer God a big sacrifice like dedicating one’s life to spreading the Gospel
to distant, foreign lands or dying a martyr’s death. What she can offer, however, are “little”
sacrifices of prayer and good deeds every day. She calls these daily offerings, expressing her
love for God, her “little flowers.” And the phase has come to be associated with her name.
Thérèse is often known as the “Little Flower of Jesus” or the “Little Flower.”
It is because Thérèse faithfully lived out the little way in her life, dedicated to prayer and
good deeds, that she has become a saint. And she has set a simple and yet powerful model of
piety for the rest of us. We, too, have the potential of living holy lives by following the little way
of prayer and good deeds. Not many of us will make a big name for ourselves in the annals of
church history through momentous accomplishments. But we do have countless opportunities to
offer our sacrifices of prayer and good deeds, our little flowers, to God every day.
If I might take the liberty of extending Thérèse’s metaphor of the little flower, the flower
not only symbolizes love; it is an object of beauty. We pay a lot of attention to beauty in our
liturgy – the space in which we worship, our vestments, the incense, the music, the Elizabethan
language. A common phrase that you will hear in Anglo-Catholic circles is “the beauty of
holiness and the holiness of beauty.” The solemn, dignified worship is what attracts many people
to our tradition. But the beauty of holiness is to be found not only in our liturgy; it is also found
in our piety, the other cornerstone of our Anglo-Catholic identity. To put it another way, there is
beauty in prayer and good deeds.
Here at St. Mary’s, I have constant encounters with the beauty of holiness, or, to borrow
Thérèse’s language, little flowers of prayer and good deeds. Just a couple of days ago, I saw the
beauty of holiness in our parishioners who gathered here for Mass to pray for First Responders,
Military, and Veterans. Every Sunday and throughout the week, I see the beauty of holiness in
our acolytes who faithfully serve at the altar. I see the beauty of holiness in our volunteers who
quietly work behind the scenes filling blessing bags for the homeless or cooking in the kitchen
for Cherith Brooks. I see the beauty of holiness in our clergy and volunteers who visit the sick
and the lonely. These are all examples of our little flowers of various forms and colors, offered in
love to God.
So, we have quite a garden here at St. Mary’s, a spiritual garden, that is. There are little
flowers of prayers and good deeds all around us – beautiful, holy flowers. But there is room for
far more. We have yet to reach our full potential as a community. To begin with, we need to pray
more. We are the only church in our diocese that offers Daily Mass, but so many of our
parishioners have yet to experience it. If you can’t come to Daily Mass, you might make a
special effort to come to special Masses on our feast days during the week. Or if you can’t come
in person, please join us online. And how is your private prayer life? You might want to try
praying the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer. Or praying the rosary? Or come this
Saturday morning to Lectio Divina and Centering Prayer. We are called to be a people of prayer.
As the Apostle Paul says, “Pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17).
We also need you in our various ministries. For a small church like us, we do a lot around
her. Just look at our weekly newsletter. So, we are always in need of volunteers for liturgy,
outreach, as well as all sorts of other jobs, like helping with our weekly reception or decorating
the Nave for different seasons. As Advent and Christmas approach, the Church will get even
busier, and we need your help.
As God called a young girl named Therese more than a hundred years ago, He is calling
you to the little way of prayer and good deeds. And as the little flowers that you plant at St.
Mary’s proliferate and flourish, may God take delight in the beauty of His garden.
The sermons preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!