The First Sunday of Advent – Year B
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
November 29, 2020
The Church begins its new year today on the First Sunday of Advent, not with the joyful carols we already hear at Costco or the holly and the ivy or egg nog, but with death.
I’ve been reminded of death a lot lately, not only because of the countless deaths from COVID-19, but because we recently converted the front half of St. Margaret’s Chapel downstairs into an office for me. If you haven’t been downstairs to see the chapel, please let me know – I’d love to show it to you. You can see what the back half looks like on the front cover of your service leaflet. Since 2014 or 2015, St. Margaret’s Chapel has been a mortuary, or requiem chapel, with a columbarium behind the glass door on the left for our beloved deceased. Each time I enter my office, I make a solemn bow toward the consecrated altar that is permanently draped in black, the liturgical color of death.
Sounds morbid to you? Well, in a way, it is. And such is our entrance into this new church year. For centuries, the Church used Advent not only to prepare for Christ’s coming in the manager, but also his coming again at the Last Day. This has traditionally been done by preachers examining what theologians call “The Four Last Things” on the four Sundays preceding Christmas: death, judgment, heaven, and hell.
Death is not something we talk a lot about in our culture, or even in church. Most people go to great lengths to avoid death at certain points in their lives. Yet there is no escaping death – we all know that each of us, one day, will die.
Those of us who follow Christ have already died, not physically, but spiritually in the waters of baptism. We followed Our Lord right on over the edge of life itself into his death, and by dying with him, we also are raised with him to newness of life. For death itself was transformed by Christ, having endured it in an act of total and free submission to the will of his Father. Jesus’s obedience transformed the curse of death into a blessing. This transformed view of death is expressed beautifully in our funeral liturgy: “For to thy faithful people, O Lord, life is changed, not ended; and when our mortal body doth lie in death, there is prepared for us a dwelling place eternal in the heavens.”
This doesn’t mean that we are free from the pains of sin and suffering in our world right now. It means that “the essential bridge of death has already been crossed. We do not wait to “cross over the Jordan” or to “fly away” to heaven when we die. Rather, we are already living the resurrection life. Yes, the promise of the resurrection of the dead gives us hope for the future, but this resurrection from the dead is the state in which all of the baptized are already living – here and now. By our baptism, we are called to take concrete actions in our daily lives to care for the orphan and the stranger, to feed the poor, and to love our neighbors as ourselves now, not later.
And yet, the fulness of this resurrection life we live is not yet fully realized. We continue to live in a world rife with discrimination, division based on economic status, persecution, and poverty. When will it all be made right? When Christ returns again with power and great glory, an event we call the “Second Coming” which we profess in the words of the Nicene Creed when we say, “he shall come again, with glory, to judge both the living and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.” It is only then that Christ’s victory over sin and death will be fully realized.
Advent calls each of us to remember that we have already died with Christ in our baptism, and that we’ve already been given the grace we need to live out the resurrection life in our acts of charity, justice, and peace. But also, the Church calls us to be mindful of our end. In other words, we are to “keep awake.”
Keep awake, for death could come for you tomorrow, or Christ could return without any notice. Keep awake, for you do not know when you will die, nor do you know when Christ will come “with clouds descending.” Jesus’s call to “keep awake” goes beyond keeping our physical eyes open, it is a call to actually lose sleep as we are living out our baptism day in and day out. It is a call to vigilance – to mental, physical and spiritual rigor, despite the side effects that occur when we don’t get enough sleep. It is a call to cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armor of light.
I’ve told some of you this story, but I am deeply reminded of one of our parishioners who died just a little over two years ago. His name was David Higdon, and he came to St. Mary’s a year before that after a friend of mine who is a psychologist recommended that he give us a try. He had been in prison, and had been suffering from non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma for years, though he was in remission. After his first visit, I went to coffee with him, and he adamantly told me that he wanted to get right with God, and to reconcile with those he had hurt throughout his life. Despite being introverted and quiet, David hung around at coffee hour and got to know a few folks, and joined the adult confirmation class. He was confirmed along with Raja Reed, John Stanks, Chris McQueeny, and others in April 2018. His cancer returned soon thereafter, and now-Deacon Lynda, Raja and I looked after him, taking him communion from time to time. On Thursday, November 8th, I received a phone call at the bank from a nurse at Truman Hospital who told me that David had gone downhill over the past week, and that she didn’t expect him to live more than a few hours. I was shocked as he hadn’t told any of us that he had been readmitted to the hospital. I was fortunate in that my boss at the bank was an Episcopalian, and she immediately told me to go. We got an early snow that year, as when I went outside to jump on one of those motorized scooters downtown, it was snowing pretty hard. By the time I got to the hospital, he was not conscious, and his nurse and I sat with him for a couple of hours as he died.
At first, I was frustrated that David hadn’t told any of us at St. Mary’s how bad his cancer had become. If he’d only made us aware, I could have taken communion to him to prepare him one last time for that great wedding feast in heaven. But in retrospect, I can see now that David heard Christ’s call to keep awake when he first came to St. Mary’s, ironically during the season of Advent. He spent his last year living out his baptism with rigor, not knowing the day or the hour of the Lord’s coming or of his own end.
When I enter my office downstairs, I bow at the consecrated altar draped in black, and I give thanks for the life of David Higdon whose final resting place is right there in the columbarium. For it is through David that God taught me what it means to “keep awake.”
Friends, as we begin this powerful season of preparation, let us be mindful of our end, both at our baptism, and at the end of our earthly life. Let us remember the death that we died in our baptism, and let us keep our own future death ever before us. Will you pray with me?
O God, whose days are without end, and whose mercies cannot be numbered: Make us, we beseech thee, deeply sensible of the shortness and uncertainty of life; and let thy Holy Spirit lead us in holiness and righteousness all our days; that, when we shall have served thee in our generation, we may be gathered unto our fathers and mothers, having the testimony of a good conscience; in the communion of thy Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church; in the confidence of a certain faith; in the comfort of a reasonable, religious, and holy hope; in favor with thee our God; and in perfect charity with the world. All which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1006-1009.
 1979 BCP, p. 349.
 Hannah Bowman: https://livingchurch.org/covenant/2019/12/02/advent-the-four-last-things-death/
 1979 BCP, p. 328, with the word “living” used in place of the word “quick,” as in Rite II.
 Hymn #57, The Hymnal 1982. Words: Charles Wesley.
 Courtney Buggs: https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/first-sunday-of-advent-2/commentary-on-mark-1324-37-5
 1979 BCP, p. 489, attributed to Bishop Jeremy Taylor, slightly modified.
Last Sunday after Pentecost
Christ the King
The Rev. Dr. Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
November 22, 2020
Today the Church commemorates the Feast of Christ the King. As we prayed in our opening Collect, we praise and worship Jesus Christ as “the King of kings and Lord of lords.” The Feast of Christ the King is a relatively new addition to the church calendar, having been instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925. It falls on the last Sunday of the church year, drawing a parallel with the end of time, the last days, when Christ will come in all his power and glory.
Although the feast is relatively recent compared to other feasts that have been around for centuries, it is firmly rooted in Scripture. In today’s Epistle, we read that God “raised [Jesus] from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet” (Ephesians 1:20-23). And in today’s Gospel, we read: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him” (Matthew 25:31-32).
In the Orthodox Church, this vision of the exalted Jesus has expressed itself down through the ages in the iconography of Christos Pantocrator (Χριστὸς Παντοκράτωρ) or Christ Almighty. We have an example on the cover of today’s service leaflet: the mosaic of Christos Pantocrator from the dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The church is built over what is believed to be the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. With the Christos Pantocrator on the ceiling of this church, we see a colossal, regal Jesus set against a gold background and surrounded by a celestial court of angels and saints. Jesus is the enthroned king of heaven and earth, looking down on the faithful.
For some of us today, we may not be entirely comfortable with calling Jesus king. It certainly doesn’t figure as prominently in Protestant theology as it does in Roman Catholic or Orthodox. There are plenty of Roman churches named Christ the King, including the one here in Kansas City on 85th and Wornall Road. But how many Protestant churches do you know that are named Christ the King? I don’t think there are many Episcopal Churches with that name either, Anglo-Catholic or otherwise.
Another reason why Christ the King may not sit too well with us is because the title of “king” may go against our modern, democratic sensibilities. “King” can be seen as an anachronism, outdated and irrelevant, belonging to less enlightened periods of absolute rule and authoritarianism. Our nation, after all, was born in rebellion against the tyranny of King George III.
But, on the other hand, there may be others who don’t mind the royal language at all – and even like it. The Episcopal Church, with her origins in England, is full of Anglophiles, including those who love the British monarchy, especially good Queen Elizabeth II. I won’t mention names, but I think there may even be clergy at St. Mary’s who fall in this category – and who this past week celebrated the seventy-third wedding anniversary of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. But even apart from the Anglophiles in our midst, judging by the popularity of British royal gossip in the American press, we haven’t entirely severed our emotional ties to the monarchy in the old country. We love the pageantry, the glamor, and the rich traditions.
Whatever our attitudes toward the term “king” may be, the message about Jesus in Scripture and in today’s feast day is clear. There is no power or authority in all the world greater than Jesus. He is all-mighty, all-powerful, sovereign over heaven and earth. He is God Incarnate. And Christ’s kingdom is eternal. His reign will have no end.
If we might extend the royal metaphor a bit, if Jesus is king, then what does that make us, his followers? At the most basic level, we are subjects of his kingdom, enjoying the benefits and privileges of Christ’s reign. But Scripture tells us that we are more than mere subjects. Christ calls us as his disciples to a more active and significant role. He calls us to proclaim and to help build his kingdom on earth.
Just as a traditional king would have officials, called ministers, to help him rule, Jesus calls us to be his ministers in the kingdom. Interestingly, the term “minister” has both this secular and religious meaning. So just as there are different ministries in a royal government, such as ministry of state, ministry of the treasury, and so on, we, too, have various ministries in the Church. In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he speaks of the many different types of ministry and service in the Church – apostles, prophets, teachers, and healers (I Corinthians 12:28). Some are called to preach. Some are called to be prophetic voices, working for peace and justice in the world. Some are called to teach. Some are called to heal the broken in body, mind, or spirit. Some are called to be ordained, as our own Deacon Lynda Hurt and Deacon Isaac Petty were this past Monday. Some are called to leadership and service as lay people.
We have a variety of callings defined by our God-given gifts, talents, and passions. But we also share a common calling. In today’s Gospel, Christ calls all of us to care for those who are hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison (Matthew 25: 35-45). When we serve the most vulnerable among us, we are serving Christ in them. And it is for these acts of love and compassion for which we will ultimately be judged.
Dear friends, on this Feast of Christ the King, we are reminded that Jesus is Lord of our lives and Lord of all Creation. And as Christ’s followers, we are his ministers, representatives of his Kingdom in the world. We have been called to be his apostles, prophets, teachers, and healers. And we have gathered this morning to renew our vows to the Lord and to be refreshed, nourished, and empowered in Word and Sacrament. And at the conclusion of our service today, as we head back to our daily lives, we will be reminded by our newly ordained deacon what is our sacred task this week as Christ’s ministers: Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
 The exception seems to be Lutheran churches, quite a number of which have the name Christ the King.
The Ordination of a Deacon: Lynda Hurt and Isaac Petty
Feast of St. Margaret of Scotland
The Rev’d Charles Everson
November 16, 2020
This is the first time that I’ve had the privilege honor and privilege of hosting an ordination at the parish where I serve. Thank you, Bishop Field, for being here to ordain two very dear friends who will soon become cherished colleagues as well. As I started to think about how the service might look and feel, I skimmed through some old service bulletins in our digital archive. Beyond the flowery Anglo-Catholic language that we use when the bishop comes – e.g. “Pontifical High Mass”, I also made note of the frequent reference to the “Solemn Reception of a Bishop” where it seems the bishop is ritually greeted outside the narthex doors before the service begins. One can imagine the bishop knocking impatiently while the rector scurries over to open the door. We chose to skip that tradition to avoid unnecessary movement during the pandemic (and perhaps because I don’t scurry about as quickly as I did when I was Isaac’s age). But one rather ancient episcopal tradition we are observing today is hidden from plain sight.
Underneath his chasuble, Bishop Field is wearing a dalmatic like the one I’m wearing, though mercifully for him, it is lighter and thinner. In today’s Church, the dalmatic is known almost exclusively as a diaconal vestment. You’ll see both Lynda and Isaac vested in one later in the service after they are ordained. The dalmatic, however, has never been exclusive to deacons. As an ecclesiastical garment, it was first worn exclusively by the Bishop of Rome. In the early 4th century, Pope Sylvester granted deacons in his diocese the right to wear the dalmatic to signify their special relationship to him and his ministry.
We see the origins of diaconal ministry as an extension of the ministry of bishops in the story we heard from Acts chapter 6. Early in the life of the church, it became known that the needs of two groups of people were not being met: the widows and the apostles. Throughout the Old and New Testaments, the widows represented the disadvantaged in general, and apparently, the earliest Christians were not taking care of the most vulnerable among them. Likewise, the apostles were in need of some help as they were neglecting the word of God in order to try to tend to the practical needs of the community. So, the apostles asked the people to select seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, for them to appoint to do this work, which the NRSV translates as “wait on tables.” The diaconal call isn’t to be a waiter or a waitress, though there is some truth to that from time to time. The meaning behind this isn’t entirely clear, as it might also refer to managing financial assistance to those in need. In any case, these men were chosen to do this apostolic work of serving the most vulnerable among them.
Why did the apostles choose this part of their ministry to delegate to the deacons? Is it because they thought that serving the poor and needy was menial and somehow below them?
Later in this chapter, Luke describes Stephen, considered the leader of this first group of deacons, as “full of grace and power” and says that he did great wonders and signs among the people – miracles, really - using the same language used earlier in Acts to describe the work of the apostles. The signs and wonders Stephen performed among the people ultimately led to his death, for they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke. So glorious was the witness of the first deacon that he quickly became one of the most popular saints of the church, with many venerating him and asking him to intercede for them.
I don’t think the apostles pawned off the menial work to lesser folks, rather they saw how great a need both serving the poor and needy and preaching the word of God was in the life of the Church. Over 200 years later, when others began to hear about Sylvester granting his deacons the right to wear the dalmatic, one writer, not without a touch of irony wrote, “Today, the deacons vest like bishops.” 
Serving the most vulnerable in the community isn’t the least important work that ordained people do, it is perhaps the most important work. It is foundational to everything that ordained people do, so much so that you can’t be a priest or a bishop without first being ordained deacon. A large portion of my time – roughly one-third – is spent doing diaconal work, but there is so much more of this work that I don’t have time for because of my ministry at the altar and the pulpit. The “signs and wonders” a deacon is called to do are so important that we only choose those of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom.
The deacon isn’t just ordained to do a specific type of work. The late Deacon William Donovan writes,
“By virtue of sacramental ordination, the deacon acts in the name of the whole Church and of Christ, and raises the meaning of service to an efficacious sign of grace. … The deacon is not someone who performs sacramental signs; the deacon is a sacramental sign of Christ the Servant. … In living out this commitment in such a public, consecrated and permanent way, the deacon stands forth as a sacramental witness that the kingdom of God, made visible in Jesus Christ, has arrived”.
Lynda and Isaac, when Bishop Field lays his hands on your head in a moment, you will be changed, and from this day forward, you will represent Christ the Servant to both the Church and the world. You will be called upon to live out this commitment in both word and deed. There will be times when you will feel woefully inadequate and even unworthy, and you’ll often be tempted by the Evil One to ignore the diaconal sacramental character that will be imprinted upon you this day and conveniently forget that you represent Christ the Servant in our midst. I can tell you from experience, at times, this simple white piece of cloth around your neck will feel like a chain that is holding you back from whatever it is that you’d rather be doing.
The only way you can possibly begin to do the work you’ve been called to do – to be who God made you to be as a deacon – is to be faithful to the vows you are about to make. Be faithful in prayer, and in the reading and study of the Holy Scriptures, even when you don’t want to. Pray the Daily Office every day unless you’re prevented for good reason. Do your best to pattern your life in accordance with the teachings of Christ. In all things, seek not your glory, but the glory of the Lord Christ. Look for Christ in all others, and be ready to help and serve those in need.
In a moment, when you are vested according to the order of deacons, your loved ones will help you put on a dalmatic. In the older rites, the bishop would be the one to vest you with this garment, saying, “May the Lord clothe you with the garment of salvation, the vestment of joy. May you always be surrounded with the dalmatic of righteousness forever". Wear this vestment of joy again and again, not for your glory, but for the glory of your Lord, being ever ready to help and serve those in need. Amen.
 Acts 6:8.
 William Donovan, The Sacrament of Service, Alt Publishing as quoted in https://www.deaconharold.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/%E2%80%98Munera%E2%80%99-of-Deacons-Deacon-Digest.pdf, accessed November 14, 2020.
Proper 28 – Matthew 25:14-30
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
November 15, 2020
Today’s gospel reading is the well-known Parable of the Talents. It is often understood as being about stewardship, which, to be honest, is rather convenient during the annual pledge campaign. You’re in luck, though, as that’s not the direction the Spirit led me, though I will remind you to return your pledge card if you have not already done so. The former banker in me got intrigued by some of the economic details in this parable, so that’s where we’ll go for a moment.
The word “talent” as used in this passage is a transliteration of the Greek word talanta, which skews our understanding of this passage. Talanta means a large sum of money equal to the wages of a day laborer for fifteen years. It is because of the wide circulation of this parable that “talent” came into the English language in the Middle Ages as a term for God-given abilities. But the talents in this story refer to sums of money; there are other Greek words used to describe God-given abilities.
The master entrusted his three slaves with huge sums of money, more than most of us will ever be entrusted with in our lives, certainly at any one time. Using my banker spreadsheet skills, my calculations indicate that one talent is roughly equivalent to half-a-million dollars in Kansas City in 2020. Think about it – he entrusted the first slave with the equivalent of $2.5MM, the second slave with $1MM, and the third with $500,000.00.
As a banker, it’s hard to imagine entrusting anyone, let alone a slave, with such a great sum. Collateral would be required, as well as income verification and evidence of the applicant’s credit history, etc. The text says that the first two slaves “went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents.” This process is referred to as moneylending, which was usually conducted through the Roman temples. These temples were not only religious institutions, they doubled as banks because they were well guarded, and deposits were considered safe there. Since few people had capital, those who did could lend money at significant interest. Investors thus could receive five or even ten times their investment; at the very least, they could double their investment.
The two servants who traded the money entrusted to them earned double their money, which wouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone hearing this story. In fact, the first two slaves aren’t the key actors in this story at all. They are merely supporting actors to provide a reference point to the lead character: the third slave.
Though the third slave was given less money than the other two, he was still entrusted with roughly $500,000 in today’s currency, a huge sum of money. On the surface, he seems to have been the most risk-adverse of the three. Rather than investing the money which would introduce some risk of loss, he chose to hide the money in a hole in the ground. In first century Palestine, people sometimes buried money in a strongbox to keep it safe, but it would have actually been safer with the bankers, and it would have very likely doubled. When it was his turn to account for what he had done with the money, the third slave says something that would have shocked the original audience: he calls him a harsh man, insulting his master, and blaming his master’s harsh character for his own failures. But he reveals his true motivations when he says “so I was afraid, and I went and hid your money in the ground.” It is not a conservative, risk-adverse investment approach that leads to his demise, it is his fear.
After giving an account of their actions, the master responds to the first two slaves, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” They aren’t being lauded for their obedience, but rather because they were actively responsible while the master was away. They took initiative and accepted some level of risk, while the third slave’s fear of his master paralyzes him, resulting in his inactivity while his master was away.
This parable is the third of four stories in the gospel of Matthew in which Jesus tells about the implications of the end times. All four of these stories center on the return of the master or bridegroom or king, the judgments that come with that return, and how those who await his return spend their time.
Rather than being about stewardship, this parable is about how we should spend the time the Lord has given us until we see him face to face, either because of our own death, or because of his coming again with power and great glory at the end of time. Like the slaves were entrusted by their master with extravagant amounts of money, God loves us extravagantly more than we could ever deserve. What will we do with the love with which we’ve been entrusted? Will we, out of fear, sit idly by and play it safe throughout our lives? Or will we embrace the fact that we are truly loved by God, and then actively and intentionally work to expand his kingdom here on earth by extravagantly loving those around us in word and in deed?
It is difficult for you and me to not only accept but embrace the fact that God loves us. Deep down in our bones. For we know that we are prone to act in self-destructive ways, and we know how many warts and blemishes we have underneath the surface. We often feel inadequate and afraid. The reality is that we are made in God’s image, and by his death and resurrection, Jesus has begun to restore us to what we were in the Garden of Eden before Adam and Eve ate the apple – before the warts and blemishes and inadequacies and fears came to be. By our baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection, we have access to the riches of God’s grace to help us overcome our fears and live an active life of faith, loving God with all that we are, and loving our neighbor as ourselves.
How will you spend the time with which you’ve been entrusted before the master’s return?
 Keck, Leander E. The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary. VIII, Abingdon Press, 2015, 335.
 NRSV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. Zondervan, 2019, 1682.
 Verses 21 and 23, NIV.
 David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Louisville (Ky.): Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 308.
Year A, Proper 27
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
November 8, 2020
The texts we hear in the liturgy in these last few weeks of the church year are strange to modern ears, as they talk about “the last things” using rather dramatic and fantastical imagery. In the three weeks preceding Advent, the Church invites us to in the liturgy to wrestle with this question: what does the coming of the Lord mean to us today?
For some Christians, Paul’s message to the church at Thessalonica explains a doctrine called “the Rapture.” The word Rapture comes from the Latin rapiemur which is the Latin translation of the Greek word that Paul uses in verse 17 to describe what will happen to those who Christians who are alive when Christ returns – that they will be “caught up” (raptured) in the clouds to meet with Jesus and those who have gone before. Some believe that this passage isn’t about the coming of Christ at the end of time, but is about a distinct event that happens before then in which all true believers in Christ will be snatched up to heaven, leaving behind those who are destined to live through times of calamity and war and destruction in the years preceding the Lord’s coming in glory.
Others hold that this passage is about the Second Coming of Christ, which we all profess to believe in when we in the Nicene Creed say “he shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.” Paul’s description of this event is quite dramatic: the Lord himself descends from heaven with a cry of command, and the archangel’s call and the sound of God’s trumpet, and all Christians, dead and still living, are caught up in the clouds where they will meet the Lord in the air (vs. 16-17).
What beautiful and dramatic imagery! But Paul is not giving us a description of what will happen at the end of time. He’s addressing a particular group of people in a specific time and context. The early Christians who heard this message believed that Christ would come again immediately within their lifetime, so much so that Paul had to remind the Thessalonians twice to keep their jobs and continue working. Expecting Christ’s return at any moment, they worried about what would happen to the faithful who had already died. What would come of these poor souls when Christ came back again?
It’s important for us to hear this passage in light of the early Church’s fear about what would happen to those who had already died. “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.” (v. 14). The physical resurrection of Christian believers is bound up with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In other words, those who have already died will not miss out on the return of Christ in glory – they too will be there. Paul is emphasizing here the unity of the living with the dead.
Instead of focusing on the details of exactly when and how Jesus will return a second time, this passage is better seen as addressing one of our deepest human fears – that of being abandoned by those whom we love. It’s more about the Communion of Saints than it is about “the end times.” It’s ironic that this passage is, for some, a source for stories of children coming home to an unexpectedly empty house and being frightened that the Rapture had occurred and that they had been “left behind.” Rather than being about fear, this passage is about hope.
We live in a world deeply in need of hope. We live in a world where persons of color are disenfranchised and subject to continued discrimination. We live in a world in which some of our fellow human beings will not observe simple and effective public health protocols and wear a mask to protect others. We live in a world in which the most vulnerable are dying at an increasing rate of COVID-19. We live in a world where fear abounds.
In the three weeks preceding Advent, the Church invites us to in the liturgy to wrestle with this question: what does the coming of the Lord mean to us today?
It means a great many things – more than we can cover today. But one thing is for sure – the promise of the coming of the Lord give us great hope. Hope that we will be reunited with those who have gone before us. Hope that the gun violence will one day come to an end. Hope that wars will cease and there will be no more need to thank our veterans for their valiant sacrifice and service. Hope that each person will follow public health guidelines out of care and respect the most vulnerable in our society. Hope that COVID-19 will be eradicated and we can pack this place out again and hear the choir lead us in worship. Hope that the bridegroom will come and lead us to the heavenly wedding banquet.
As our burial liturgy reminds us, the Eucharist is a foretaste of that heavenly banquet. At this and every Eucharist, we are brought into the presence of the great company of Saints – those who are here with us, and those who have gone before. It is when the Church celebrates the Eucharist that we are closest to the dead. No matter how we may feel, in this liturgy, we are brought so close to them that all of creation seems to groan and long for the day when all will be made whole, when the endless violence will finally cease, when Christ will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, when the immigrant will be fully welcomed in the foreign land in which he finds himself – the day when all our hopes will be fulfilled. In this Eucharist, let us receive the Sacrament as a comfort in affliction, as a pledge of our inheritance in that kingdom where there is no death, neither sorrow nor crying, but the fulness of joy with all the saints.
“For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.” Amen.
All Saints Day
October 18, 2020
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Church
One of the biggest changes around here at St. Mary’s since the pandemic began is that we aren’t having the reception after the 10:00 Mass (on Sunday). And we’ve had a surprising number of new, regular worshippers who have only known St. Mary’s since the pandemic began, but because coffee hour has been cancelled for safety reasons, they don’t get to stick around and meet other parishioners. It has been bizarre welcoming new people to our community without it.
I’m still trying to meet with every new person who comes through the door, but for obvious reasons, I’ve been trying to meet with people here at the church rather than in a coffee shop or restaurant. Since we don’t need it for the reception, a couple of months ago, the staff and I created a little living room area in the northwest corner of the parish hall with a couple of hand-me-down couches and chairs. The furniture is spread way out so that a few people can safely meet and chat for a bit. It’s been very interesting watching newcomers gaze up at the portraits of the previous priests of St. Mary’s that line the walls of the parish hall. With one obvious exception, Mtr. Lauren Lyon, the newcomers have had a plethora of white men to gaze at. Some are young, some are old, some look happy and content while others look scared and seem to lack self-confidence.
I’ve recently done some digging around the St. Mary’s archives at the Central Library, and during this first round of research, I’ve focused on my predecessors, both those who made the cut and are featured in the parish hall and those who did not.
Fr. John Klaren was one of the latter. He was priest-in-charge for about 8 months in 1918 at the end of World War I, and I came across a one-page court deposition in which the secretary of the Vestry gave testimony that Fr. Klaren had approached him and said a lot of nasty things, including the fact that the vestry and the wider parish were made up of “wicked men and must be rebuilt from the bottom up.” He added, “You yourself are not quite as wicked as some of the others, and I hope, perhaps, to make a place for you on the new Vestry [I wish to form].” The deposition also mentions that Fr. Klaren made the following announcement to the congregation on Easter morning: “The congregation are requested to pray for Arthur W. Miller into whose heart Satan has entered as he did in the heart of Judas Iscariot. Let us all join in silent prayer for our brother.”
Fr. Klaren’s portrait is not on the walls of the parish hall for a reason.
Beyond the occasional juicy tidbit like this, the archives are full of articles and photos and newspaper clippings and vestry minutes that exude holiness, and this is certainly true when it comes to the two longest-serving rectors of this parish, the portraits of whom are not only in the parish hall, they’re also hanging prominently on the back wall of St. George’s Chapel. Fr. James Stewart-Smith served as our rector for nearly 24 years from 1891-1915, and there are so many beautiful stories about his devotion to prayer, both at the altar and in private, and about his love and devotion to the poor of Kansas City. He developed the hobby of creating wrought iron scrollwork from the ironworker who created and installed the rood screen and this very pulpit. Various items that he made out of wrought iron are still with us, most importantly the cover for the baptismal font at the back of the church, and the crucifix in the inner sacristy where the clergy vest. Fr. Stewart-Smith died of a heart attack late one evening not long after his 64th birthday when he climbed the steep staircase leading up to the apartment after counseling the family of a deceased parishioner.
Fr. Stewart-Smith has become one of my heroes.
Another is Fr. Edwin Merrill who served this parish for 35 years from 1918 to 1953. He, too, was devout in prayer and in service to the poor. He was particularly gifted as a musician, and during his tenure, the congregation (and outside benefactors) raised the money to install a new organ in the church tower as well as replace the clear glass windows with many of the beautiful stained glass windows in existence today that lead us all to God. One evening, after hearing a confession, Fr. Merrill climbed the same steps to the apartment to retire for the evening and stopped to catch his breath, and died peacefully at the age of 74. At his retirement party, Bishop Welles said this of Fr. Merrill: I have tried to think of an apt quotation to describe the life of Fr. Merrill, and I believe that the 13th verse of the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians fits him well. “And now abideth faith, hope, and love…” Not only has he promoted the Christian faith, he has, himself, faith in human beings. During the Great Depression, and those were tough times for this downtown church, he never lost hope, and his hope was contagious.”
Like all the saints throughout history, these two men were considered especially holy for one reason: they allowed themselves to receive the riches of God’s grace and mercy through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. And that’s what we celebrate today on All Saints Day: those Christians who in some way figured out how to allow themselves to receive God’s grace and forgiveness despite their own sin and wickedness – those Christians who loved God with all they are and their neighbor as themselves.
In my initial research in the archives, I focused on the clergy of St. Mary’s, but intermingled in their stories is, of course, the stories of your predecessors in faith in this holy place. Some of them stand out as particularly holy, and some do not. Today, on this great feast of All Saints, we remember the heroes of the faith and ask for their prayers, not because of their blameless lives, but because of their extraordinary ability to receive God’s unconditional grace and mercy. After the Creed, we will ask the saints to pray for us. As we do, you will recognize many of the names of the heroes of the faith. They represent the million upon millions of souls who have followed Christ through the ages. They represent the many thousands of souls who have walked down this aisle here at St. Mary’s to receive the body and blood of Christ. They represent “all those who rejoice with us, but upon another shore, and in a greater light, that multitude which no man can number, whose hope was in the Word made flesh, and with whom in the Lord Jesus we are one forever.” They represent the whole Communion of Saints to us because they figured out how to allow themselves to receive God’s extravagant grace and mercy.
As you and I ask for their prayers, let us be mindful that just as Fr. Merrill had a contagious hope, we should be hopeful that even the likes of the apparently awful Fr. Klaren may have lived a later life of holiness. For as St. Augustine once said, ‘There is no saint without a past, no sinner without a future.” All ye holy men and women, saints of God, pray for us, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. Amen.
 From the service of Nine Lessons and Carols.
The sermons preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!