Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
27 November 2022
Today, we begin the Season of Advent, the period when we wait and prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of Jesus as a baby born in Bethlehem and in the Second Coming in all his glory at the end of time. As part of this preparation, one of the traditions in the Church is to reflect on the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. So, during this Advent, we will have a sermon series based on the Four Last Things, beginning with the one today on Death. And, for our book study this Advent, we are reading C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, which is an allegory about a bus ride from hell to heaven. So, while you may be shopping in the stores to Christmas carols on Muzak, here at St. Mary’s, you’re going to get a heavy dose of Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell.
We often hear about how American society avoids the subject of death. For instance, we use the euphemism, “passed away” or “passed on,” instead of “died.” And these days we prefer the term “celebration of life” rather than “funeral.” It’s not just contemporary American society that is reluctant to confront death. In China, Japan, and Korea, there is an old tradition of avoiding the number 4 because it is a homophone for the word “death.” So, just as we treat 13 as an unlucky number and try to avoid it, many East Asians will go to elaborate lengths to avoid the number 4, such as not having a floor in a building marked the fourth floor. The psychological term for this fear and avoidance of the number 4 is tetraphobia.
In contrast to the world, our Christian faith does not allow us to avoid the subject of death. We have constant reminders of death. Just look around you. The columbarium, where the ashes of our beloved dead are interred. The relics, which are usually on our altar, but they’re not there today because it’s Advent. They’re bone fragments from the bodies of St. Cecelia and St. Theresa. And the crucifix, on which hangs the dead body of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. If these visual reminders are not enough, we have constant references to death in our liturgy. At every Mass, we pray for the dead in the Prayers of the People, and we remember Jesus’ death when we receive the Blessed Sacrament. And soon we will hold a Requiem Mass for our beloved parishioner and friend, Kristina Krueger, who died yesterday.
In our daily devotions, the service of Compline, the fourth and last prayer of the Daily Office, which we pray before lying down to sleep, is filled with references to death. It begins with the line: “The Lord Almighty grant us a peaceful night and a perfect end” (Book of Common Prayer, p.127). The earlier version used to say, “a perfect death.” And later on, we find the prayer: “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit” (Book of Common Prayer, p.132). These are the last words that Jesus spoke as he died on the cross (Luke 23:46). And Compline ends as it begins, with a reference to death.
Lord, you now have set your servant free
to go in peace as you have promised;
For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior,
whom you have prepared for all the world to see:
A Light to enlighten the nations,
and the glory of your people Israel (Book of Common Prayer, p.135).
This is the Nunc Dimittis, the beautiful prayer that the aged Simeon prays when he encounters the baby Jesus, brought to the Temple by Mary and Joseph. Now that he has achieved his life goal, he can die in peace (Luke 2:25-35). Compline is, in short, a gentle reminder of the sleep of death that will come to us all.
But our Christian faith doesn’t just end with reminders of death. It tells the story of how death has been vanquished by Our Lord Jesus and gives us hope of eternal life in him. The reason why we are not reluctant to confront death is because it no longer has power over us. We need not fear death because of Our Lord’s work of redemption on the cross.
I've recently been coming across the phrase “holy death.” We don’t hear this too often in Protestant contexts; it seems to be more a part of Roman Catholic piety. There are prayers to die a holy death, and, in Mexico, there is even a saint named “Holy Death” or Santa Muerte, venerated by the faithful and whose image is a skeleton clad in a hooded robe and carrying a scythe and a globe.
When I first came across the phrase holy death, what first came to mind was a scene of a quiet and peaceful death, a faithful Christian who has lived a long and good life and is surrounded by family and friends on her deathbed. But not all faithful Christians die this way. What about those who perish in natural disasters or tragic accidents? And when we think about the martyrs of the Church, they died anything but serene deaths – mauled by wild animals, burned alive, decapitated.
Clearly, a holy death does not depend on the circumstances in which we die. We have no control over the state in which we will find ourselves at the moment of death. Nor is a holy death a kind of psychological state that we attain through our own efforts. Some of you may be familiar with the Tibetan Book of the Dead, a Buddhist manual for guiding your mind through the process of death. Other than Last Rites and individual prayers, I’m not aware of any counterpart in our Christian faith to such a guide for a holy death.
For the Christian, our death is made holy by the presence of Our Lord and Savior Jesus. As we read in the Letter to the Romans, “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8). In life and in death, we belong to the Lord Jesus, and we are made holy by this relationship, cleansed of our sins and saved from hell unto eternal life.
For me, one of the most beautiful parts of our Prayer Book is the Commendation in the Burial Rite or funeral service: “Into thy hands, O merciful Savior, we commend they servant. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech thee, a sheep of thine own fold, a lamb of thine own flock, a sinner of thine own redeeming. Receive him into the arms of thy mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light” (Book of Common Prayer, p.483). In life and in death, we belong to Jesus. In life and in death, we are made holy by his presence.
Advent is a season when we reflect on the coming of Jesus in many forms. We think of his coming primarily as a baby in a manger in Bethlehem and in the Second Coming at the end of time. But Jesus comes to us in many other ways – in the hearing of his Word, in the receiving of the Blessed Sacrament, and in the presence of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives. And, in the end, Jesus will come to us at the moment of death. He will be there, granting us a holy death. We will fall asleep in the arms of his mercy and awaken to new life with him.
 Charles Pope, “The Night Prayer of the Church as a ‘Rehearsal for Death,’” https://blog.adw.org/2019/09/night-prayer-church-rehearsal-death/
Click here to download the bulletin for this service.
Christ the King
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
November 20, 2022
It’s a joy to celebrate this great feast of Christ the King with all of you, a feast which, unlike many of the things we do here at St. Mary’s, is a relatively modern development in the life of the church created by Piux XI, Bishop of Rome, in 1925. From the 8th century until the year 1870, the bishops of Rome not only had a leadership role in the Church with respect to other bishops, they held temporal power over territories of land of various sizes throughout the centuries. In other words, they were both bishops and kings. In 1870, after decades of increasing nationalism, King Victor Emmanuel of Italy annexed the last vestiges of the Papal States, and just like that, the Bishop of Rome lost his earthly kingdom. The Italian king quickly took up residence in Quirinal Palace, the papal residence where Pius IX had been elected in conclave and which many Roman citizens viewed as the ultimate sign of authority in the city. When asked for the keys to Quirinal Palace, the old pope reportedly asked, "Whom do these thieves think they are kidding asking for the keys to open the door? Let them knock it down if they, like Bonaparte's soldiers, when they wanted to seize Pius VI, came through the window, but even they did not have the effrontery to ask for the keys." Ultimately, a locksmith had to be hired. This bitter sting and horror at losing his earthly, temporal power certainly contributed to the proclamation of papal infallibility later in 1870, as well as his successor’s proclamation of this feast, “The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe” a few decades later in 1925.
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus at least appears to be more self-aware than the pope was – he acknowledges that his kingship is “not of this world.” He said, “’For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth.” Jesu] is, as he says here, from another world. The church calls this the incarnation: the descent of God from the eternal realm of uncreated light into the violence, darkness, sickness, and death of this world.”
Jesus is indeed King of the Universe, but he’s a king unlike any earthly king. He rules over a kingdom where the King came not to be served, but to serve. In God’s kingdom, those who are first are last of all and servant of all. This kingdom has an entirely different value system than this world does. The kingdom of God is the reality of existence brought about by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in which the poor have been chosen to be rich in faith – in which the last shall be first and the first shall be last. The most important in the kingdom of heaven are the worthless rags of earth. In God’s kingdom, the rich are sent away empty and the hungry are fed, the mighty are cast down from their thrones, and the lowly are lifted up.
You and I were made citizens of God’s kingdom not by swearing an oath to a Republic or earthly king, but rather in the waters of baptism. After making promises, or having promises made on our behalf at baptism, we are made citizens of God’s kingdom and adopt the value system of this kingdom that is in utter and complete opposition to the values of this world. It is through baptism that we submit ourselves, as sons and daughters, to a father who loves us without condition. It is in our baptism that we first bend the knee to a king who has no temporal power, but reigns in the hearts of the men and women who trust not in their own righteousness, but in the King’s manifold and great mercies. Our civic duty in God’s kingdom is to deny ourselves daily and take up our cross and follow Him. To put others before ourselves and put God’s ways before the ways of the world. Peace reigns over war; unity conquers division; love overcomes evil and hate.
We experience this kingdom partially now, but, and I state the obvious here, the powers of this world are not yet vanquished. War and racism and poverty and division abound. When will we get to realize the kingdom in its entirety? When will we realize the fulfillment of God’s promises to us to create a new heaven and a new earth where there is no more pain nor death, neither sorrow nor crying, but the fulness of joy? When will we get to live as our true selves, without the awful effects of sin, the way God intended things to be?
I’m not going to try to attempt to answer this question today as the Church has set aside an entire season of the church year to contemplate the Last Things – the season of Advent which begins next Sunday. In the meantime, we live in this world which is God’s creation given to us for our joy and benefit. We are given this time – our earthly lives – to do our part to reconstruct and redeem the unjust power structures of this world so that they may begin to reflect the Creator’s original intent. By the power of the Holy Spirit, through the grace God continually pours upon us through the Sacraments of the Church, we are empowered to live out our baptismal promises to “seek and serve Christ in all people, loving our neighbor as ourselves; to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.”
As we begin this journey of Advent next week and live into the waiting and the wondering for Christ’s first coming in the manager, and his third coming at the Last Day, thanks be to God, we don’t have to wait for his second coming in the bread and wine of Holy Communion. As citizens of God’s kingdom, we can approach this altar at which we are transported to the altar in heaven before God’s throne to receive a foretaste of the great banquet of heaven – a banquet so fulfilling, so filled with rich conversation and joyful delight – that even a foretaste of it is powerful enough to bring about God’s restoration and wholeness and topple unjust power structures in our world today. On this great feast, the Church invites us to renew our allegiance to the King of King and the Lord of Lords not by offering our sword or by paying our taxes, but by receiving God’s manifold and great mercies at this altar, giving him the proverbial keys to our hearts to reign in us and through us.
 Fleming Rutledge, Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2018), 228-229 .
 James 2:5
 BCP 305.
Proper 28, Year C – Luke 21:5-19
The Rev. Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Church
November 13, 2022
As the scene opens in today’s gospel reading, Jesus engages with his disciples as they talked about the beautiful Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple was the center of public life for the Hebrew people, in matters of religion, politics, and commerce. The original structure was built in the mid-10th Century BC and was destroyed in 586 BC by Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar who forcibly deported the bulk of the Jewish people into exile. Seventy years later, the Temple was rebuilt, and it was this reconstructed Second Temple that existed in Jesus’s time. It was adorned with beautiful stones and lavish gems and lots and lots of gold.
Jesus delivers the shocking news that the Temple will be destroyed. This immediately brings to mind the old stories that everyone knew of the destruction of the first Temple, and the misery and despair that their ancestors experienced when they were forced to be slaves for the in Babylon. Jesus’s words invoke fear.
He goes on to predict even more dire conditions: wars, insurrections, nations rising against nations and kingdom against kingdom, great earthquakes, and famines and plagues. On a more personal note, he tells them that they will be persecuted, and that some of them will be put to death because of their allegiance to Him.
I’m not sure about you, but this doesn’t seem like good news to me. Surely, this message of doom and gloom evoked a similar type of fear that you and I experience at various times throughout our lives. The kind of fear that arises when we lose our job, or a family member dies unexpectedly, or divorce shatters a family, or sometimes, when we turn on the news.
Most scholars believe that St. Luke wrote his gospel around the year 85 AD, about 15 years after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD. Meaning his readers would have heard this story as a reflection on something that had already happened rather than a prediction of future events. When the Romans sacked Jerusalem, they not only destroyed the Temple, but they killed hundreds of thousands of people, mostly Jews, and ended up sending the budding Christian movement underground into persecution. The folks who heard this story were living in a hellish world, and these words gave them hope for a brighter future: “But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance, you will gain your souls.”
In our baptismal liturgy, the candidate or the parents are asked, “Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?” The candidate responds, “I will, with God’s help.” This promise to persevere in resisting evil is a bold promise that is not for the faint of heart. It’s much easier to succumb to fear, isolation, and the selfish acts of sin than it is to persevere in resisting evil. And thanks be to God, we aren’t expected to persevere in resisting evil on our own strength. It only makes sense in light of the previous question and answer in which the baptismal candidate promises to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellow, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers.”
This “endurance” that “will gain your souls” is not a strong-willed resistance to temptation, nor is it achieved by pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. Saving endurance does not rely on human strength, but trusts in God’s persistent and unfailing love. Paul says this in his letter to the Romans:
“We also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
Saving endurance is found in trusting in God’s love. Think of the Christians you know who have endured amid terrible suffering. When confronted with admiration for their persistence, they don’t say, “Yeah, I worked really hard and was able to win the battle and came out unscathed.” No, you hear something like, “It was only by God’s grace that I was able to make it through to the end.” They view their terrible ordeal as what Jesus calls “an opportunity to testify” not of their own strength, but of God’s persistent and unfailing love.
Dear friends, when your life seems to be falling apart, when you hear of the horrors of what’s happening to innocent civilians in Ukraine, when the world seems to be going to hell in a handbasket, when you are faced with doom and gloom, do not be afraid. Look to Jesus, who for the joy that was set before him endured the suffering and shame of being tortured to death on a cross. When you’re suffering, silently or before all the world to see, lean in to sacramental life of the church – what the baptismal life calls “the prayers and the breaking of the bread” – by which God will give you the strength you need to persevere to the end. Lean into the opportunity to testify to the hope he has given you – hope that unlike the beautiful stones and lavish gems that made up the earthly Temple in Jerusalem, you have been made a living stone built into a spiritual house that no one can destroy.
 Romans 5:3-5, NRSV.
Sermon for All Saints Sunday
November 6th, 2022
Given at St. Mary’s Church, Kansas City
Mr. David Wilcox
Believe it or not contrary to popular perception seminary doesn’t give you much time to think. As nice as it would be to be sitting on a mountain doing nothing but thinking about God they keep us pretty busy going from one thing to another. So, as I look back on my almost three years at the seminary the most moving experiences that I’ve had have been the times set aside for intentional prayer and quiet reflection where we are invited to look at our lives and take stock of where we are, where we’ve been and where we hope to go. On the last occasion the speaker asked us to think about how we live into baptism by loving God and loving our neighbor. Where were the places in our lives that we were already living out that great commandment? where were the areas where we were failing? The places we could strive to do better. When she challenged us to do that, it caught my attention because we rarely have time to just sit and reflect in our busy lives. So, I set aside some time to think and really take stock.) and when I did, I realized I’m not doing so hot. The places I fail are honestly a lot more in number than the places where I succeed, and as I sat with that, I have to admit I started to get a little discouraged. I got discouraged because, honestly, I’ve been trying my best, and my best isn’t cutting it. I mess up. I do the wrong thing. Even when I try to do the right thing, things don’t always go to plan.
The good news is that’s OK. I’m human, and I am going to mess up. We all are. We are going to fail in some places and get it right in others. God knows that. God knows that, and He doesn’t leave us all alone in this endeavor. We are not left to our own devices in learning how to follow Jesus. Today’s feast of All Saints reminds us that in following Christ, we are never alone because we are united to a great cloud of witnesses in baptism. Today’s feast reminds us that when we struggle to live up to the life Jesus calls us to, we can look back to the lives of Christians who persevered and were shining examples of what it looks like to live the great commandment.
Christians like Luke, the doctor who wrote down the story of Jesus and spread it throughout the world. Like Margaret the Queen, a wife and mother who loved her family and used her gifts to care for the sick and needy. Or Joan, the shepherdess who heard God’s call and fought for her people’s freedom. Like Martin the Solider, who risked his life to clothe a beggar and ended up clothing Christ. John the priest who was faithful in the care of his flock or Ignatius, slain by a fierce wild beast for refusing to put the emperor in place of God. The stories of these Saints and countless others known and unknown from every generation inspire us, give us something to strive for, and remind us what is possible with God’s grace. As we try time and time again to live into that grace, the Saints are right there with us, walking alongside us to cheer us on and to lift us up in prayer.
But we do not look back only to recount the lives the Saints lived on earth. We look back to be reminded of the lives they live now in the very place we also long to be: resting in the light of the One we strive to serve. We look back to remember the hope that beckons us forward: God’s promise of eternal life. Because as the hymn we just sang reminds us, the saints of God are just folk like us. Folk like us who united themselves to Christ in baptism. Folk like us who allowed the Holy Spirit to work in their lives. Folk like us who failed and kept trying followed the call to repent, return, and remember that those struggles do not define them. We, like them, are defined by something much greater: God’s grace.
God’s grace which does not depend on where we fail or where we get things right. God’s grace which does not depend on how often we fall. It is grace that calls us to strive after the great commandment and allows us to try. It is grace which unites us in one communion and fellowship with the Saints, and grace which is making us -and the world- new until one day we come to that heavenly city where there are no tears, no pain, or sighing, hunger or thirst and where the Home of God is among mortals. We are all intimately united in the eternal life God promises to those who love Him.
[In just a few minutes we will process to the font and through water and the Spirit little Marvin will die to sin and be raised to new life with Christ, he will be marked as Christ’s own forever and receive adoption as a Child of God entering the fellowship with the saints that we all share. In Baptism, what Christ achieved on the cross for our salvation will become part of him. Marvin will be immersed in this grace. Today we celebrate the new life that Marvin will receive but our work is not done when the service is over. Each and every one of you is about to make a promise to do all in your power to support Marvin in his life in Christ. So, pray for him, and in the years to come when his journey with the Lord is a struggle, and he falls and fails (and he will because he is human) lift him up and remind him that he does not and never will walk this journey alone for…]
My friends, the grace given to us in baptism is strengthened each time we come to this Altar to receive Holy Communion and feast on the Lord’s Body and Blood. And it is here at the Lord’s table that we unite our voices with angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven and where our bond with all the Saints who have gone before us known and unknown is the strongest on this side of eternity. So come, come to this table for the grace you need and to meet the Saints, the friends who are always with you cheering you on until one day, by God’s grace you are counted among their number.
The sermons preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!