The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 24, 2023
Fr. Larry Parrish
I keep calling attention to my age, but do any of you remember the old tv series, “Mission Impossible”? That was loooong before Tom Cruise and the current movie franchise! Remember that it always started with one of the characters receiving a tape—as in reel to reel audio tape (are you still with me?) When played the tape would voice, “Your Mission, should you desire to accept it, is . . .” Then the message, “This tape will self destruct in 10 seconds . . .” and “Poof!”
Jonah received such a message. There was no “if you accept it”—God was the voice on the tape. “Your mission is to get on a boat, land on the beach of a country that hates your country, walk inland to its major city, and tell people that they are evil and that if they don’t repent they are toast.” And when the tape ended, Jonah almost self-destructed! He immediately bought passage on a boat—going the opposite direction! For the country was Assyria and the city was “that wicked city” Nineveh. Let’s not be too hard on Jonah. If God appeared to us in some unmistakable way and said, “I want you to go to Moscow, and when you get there, walk into the city until you get to the Kremlin, then stand at its entrance and say, All of you people are doomed! God said so!” We would be buying a plane ticket to Sydney!
Well, you probably know the rest of the story. Jonah fled, was thrown overboard by the ship’s crew, was swallowed by a large fish, was thrown up by the fish after three days onto the shore of Assyria and walked to and into Nineveh.
When he got not the middle of the city, he pronounced his message—perhaps as quietly as he could, to avoid being noticed: (whispered) “Repent or you are doomed.” And to his surprise—and chagrin—the whole city repented, its King repented, and even all of the animals repented! Jonah should have been elated. Instead he became angry with God, and went into a major sulk. “I knew it!” he says to God, I knew you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. I’m so angry at you that I could just die!” I endure an ocean storm, almost drown, spend three days in the belly of a stinkin’ fish, and risk my life in a hostile country, and you FORGIVE these people without making them pay for what their foreign policy has done to MY country! I KNEW you were going to be merciful!”
I can easily get why Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh. I have faced situations where there was such hostility that I would eagerly have taken ship in the opposite direction if I were able. What I have trouble fathoming is why Jonah is angry that God made his mission successful. The people of Nineveh did not jail him or stone him to death. They heard the call to repent and did. They and all their animals! Most people would have been ecstatic that things worked out as they did. But Jonah wasn’t. He was angry. He had stepped up—probably forgetting he had been thrown up—by a fish—onto an Assyrian beach after reluctantly agreeing to act like a prophet—and said what God told him to say, though probably not very loudly and not very long, and he had 100% results. And he was angry at God for not destroying every last person in Nineveh!
Well, maybe I do understand. It sometimes makes me cranky to hear of someone on the lecture or TV interview circuit that has done illegal, maybe even awful, things and then repented of it and amended their life, and are now getting appearance fees and book royalties—and worse yet, public acclaim!—for their turned-around new lives! I have been reasonably moral, and faithful, and reliable, all my life, and I never received a book deal! Or someone I know who I expect the worst from, surprises me with a great act of kindness, or an apology. Instead of being delighted, I want to go on disliking them, and I find myself justifying why I can do so!
But the Jonah story is about more than just human behavior, it is about who God is and how He works. It is an Old Testament mirror image of Jesus’ parable in our Gospel reading for today.
Jesus tells the story of a landowner who needed grape harvestors and went to the unemployment office in the town and hired some guys at the beginning of the day to work in his vineyard. He made an offer of fair wages for the day, saying that he “would pay them whatever is right.” By 9:00, he needed more workers, so he went back downtown and signed up more. At Noon, same thing. He needed still more at 3:00, so he hired them. Finally, with the sun getting low in the sky, and the job still not finished, he went back at 5:00 that afternoon and employed another group. Those who came to work closest to sunset were paid first: a full day’s wages. All of the other shifts got the same amount. Including the guys that had been working hard in the hot sun all day! And they were livid about it! The landowner shrugged his shoulders. “I paid you going daily wage. That’s what you agreed to. I chose to give everyone who came to work today the same amount. Can I not choose what to do with what belongs to me? Are you envious because I am generous?”
“Are you envious because I am generous?” Exactly. Jonah was. He wanted to be on a different standing with God than those folks from “the Wicked City.” In a world filled with pagan gods, he had worshipped the True God. The God of Abraham and Isaac, etc. He had even endured hardships to do his will (forgetting that he would have avoided those hardships if he hadn’t been running in the opposite direction from where God wanted him to go!) But these people who had scoffed at God and even did bad things to Jonah’s people now had the same standing just because they turned their hearts to God—and in response to the threat of extinction even! It just wasn’t FAIR!
So while he was outside of Nineveh sulking in the hot sun, God gave caused a bush to grow up over him to give him precious shade. Jonah was thankful. Then the next day, God caused the plant to die. Jonah was angry again! Angry enough to die! So God said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?” “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?” Any question about who the landowner in the parable represents?
The parables of Jesus—and many of the Old Testament stories-- can’t be made to represent humanity’s “business as usual.” We can’t box them in, anymore than we can box Jesus in, or God, WHO Jesus is the human face of. We can’t build a tidy ethical system from them in the complications of our world. We can’t build an economic system from them, or a system of government from them. We can only stand before God without status, without standing, without merit, and let Him/Her love us as we are, and usually in spite of who we are—and to admit that He loves all people (and all of his creatures?) just as much as he loves us.
The parables not only unravel our preconceptions about God and ourselves, they leave us with questions we can spend the rest of our lives struggling to answer. This parable does not say that good works are fruitless, that we cannot disappoint God, that there is not evil in the world and in others. It does not say that because we are equally loved by God we can do whatever we feel like doing, or that we can suck our thumbs and do nothing. We have a mission from God and St. Paul hints at the shape of it.
St. Paul, speaks of “fruitful labor,” but the work he speaks of Christians doing is not keeping busy, but living “in Christ” and striving “for the faith of the gospel,” which is the recognition by us and telling others that God loves us dearly and steadfastly, and loves everybody else in the same way. Loves us so much that He was willing to come in our shape and form and die on a cross to prove it. It is our mission, it is the Church’s mission, it is St. Mary’s mission. It might seem to be our “mission impossible.” However, is work that God will do in us and through us: through His Holy Spirit; through the Sacrament of His Body and Blood in which “we dwell in Him, and He in us.”; and through the company of the saints, and the company of each other. It won’t be through our power alone. It won’t be without struggle. Life will continue to happen. We will encounter people who don’t want to be loved by God, or by anyone else. We will get in our own way, and in God’s way.
I can only promise you that you won’t be swallowed by a big fish and that God won’t abandon you. And while I can’t promise it 100%, I believe that you will find joy.
Matthew 18: 21-35
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Sean C. Kim
17, September 2023
The Gospels are filled with difficult passages. And today’s reading from Matthew is one of them. Sometimes, the difficulty lies in trying to understand what Jesus meant. We’re separated from Jesus by more than 2,000 years and vast cultural and social differences, never mind the challenges of translation. But the problem with today’s text isn’t about understanding what Jesus meant; rather, the difficulty lies in following what Jesus tells us to do. And what is that message? Forgive.
Peter comes to Jesus with the question: “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus responds: “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times (Matthew 18:21-22). He follows this up with a parable. A king forgives a servant who owes him a huge sum of money, but then that same servant fails to forgive a fellow servant who owes him a much smaller sum of money. The point of the parable is clear and simple: forgive as you have been forgiven. But this is so much easier said than done.
Practicing forgiveness is hard, and, at least for me, preaching on forgiveness is also hard. But, fortunately for today, I had some great outside help. The last time I preached on forgiveness, one of our parishioners sent me a kind email that provided a wonderful summary and commentary on my sermon. And, quite frankly, her feedback was more lucid and eloquent than my sermon. So, in preparing today’s sermon, I dug up that email and used it to help organize my thoughts. I don’t want to put that person on the spot, so I won’t mention her name, but thank you for the help!
Forgiveness is hard because it runs counter to our nature. When we are wronged, we want to seek revenge and restitution. Think of when we watch a movie or read a novel. There is something deeply satisfying about the villain getting his just desserts at the end of the story. Forgiveness, on the other hand, requires us to abandon the idea of getting even. It requires us to rise above our self-interest and even risk vulnerability and rejection.
But, no matter how difficult it is, Jesus commands us to forgive. Moreover, he has personally set the supreme example of forgiveness. As he hung on the cross, he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). And throughout Christian history, the faithful have turned to Jesus as the example and inspiration for forgiveness.
As many of you know, I was born and raised in the Korean Christian tradition. Our family used to attend a small Korean Presbyterian church on the corner of 81st and Holmes in south Kansas City. The Presbyterians don’t commemorate the saints in the same way that Anglo-Catholics do, but they do have their own unofficial saints whom they remember and honor.
One of the Korean saints that has left a deep impression on me is Pastor Son Yang-won. Almost every Korean Protestant has probably heard of Pastor Son, and he is remembered by the Church for an act of radical forgiveness. Pastor Son was a Presbyterian minister who lived through the turbulent history of Korea under Japanese colonial rule and then the painful division of the country into North and South Korea. In 1948, a couple of years before the Korean War, a communist insurgency took over his town. The rebels descended on his family, attacking them for their Christian faith. During the persecution, one of the insurgents, a young man named Chae-son, shot and killed two of his sons. When the government restored order in the town a week later, Chae-son was apprehended and found guilty of murder. But before the sentence of execution could be carried out, Pastor Son intervened and pleaded for Chae-son’s life. And he also made a surprising and unusual request. He asked the court for the prisoner’s release so that he could be adopted as his son. The court granted the request. Chae-son was released and adopted by Pastor Son, who cared for him as his own son and taught him the Christian faith. Later in life, Chae-son himself became a Christian minister. Tragically for Pastor Son, he was killed by the communists during the Korean War, becoming one of countless martyrs who died for the faith.
Not many of us can practice the kind of radical forgiveness that Pastor Son exemplified. He is remembered precisely because what he did lies beyond the reach of most people. But, even if we don’t attain to the spiritual heights of Pastor Son and other saints, we are still under the same command to forgive.
To return to today’s reading from Matthew, at the end of the passage, Jesus tells his disciples to “forgive your brother or sister from your heart (Matthew 18:35). To forgive with our heart is the start of the process of forgiving. When we forgive with our heart, we make the choice to set aside the desire for getting even and commit to restoring the relationship. It involves the intention to follow Christ’s command and example to forgive. What comes next, however, may often be beyond our control.
At one of the churches where I’ve previously served, I knew a saintly woman who embodied Christ’s love and was a faithful member of the parish. Kind and compassionate, she gave generously of her time and money to the church and the community. Everyone respected and admired her. I was surprised one day during a small group meeting when she shared that she had been estranged from her son for several years. In spite of her attempts to reconcile, they had not talked for a very long time. And soon others shared their stories of unresolved conflicts in their lives.
An idea that we encounter in our culture as well as in church is that once you forgive, everyone lives happily ever after. It’s seen as a kind of on-off switch. Just do it, and everything will be fine. But, of course, life is not that simple. Forgiveness is not that simple. Yes, it involves making the choice to forgive, but in following through, we may encounter struggles and challenges. In fact, there may be situations in which the only thing left to do is to leave it to God and pray for reconciliation. Forgiveness can be a long, messy process. Forgiveness is hard work.
But, as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, forgiveness is not optional for us. It’s an integral part of our faith commitment. Soon, as we gather at the altar, we will join together in the Lord’s Prayer, in which we pray that God “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Each time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, at the Eucharist, or in our private devotions, we are not only reminding ourselves but making the resolve, the intention, to forgive.
But, of course, it does not stop there. The hard work of forgiveness takes place in the messiness of our daily lives. Who among us is immune from slights, grudges, and grievances? And confronted with difficult situations, we may not always succeed in our efforts to forgive. But Christ calls us to try over and over again – even if it means seventy-seven times.
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Sean C. Kim
10, September 2023
As many of you know, the head of our national church, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, is ill. Hospitalized twice this year for internal bleeding, he was scheduled to have surgery this past Friday, September 8, but that has been postponed to September 20. Please keep him in your prayers.
Bishop Curry was elected Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church in 2015, the first African American to hold the position. The Presiding Bishop serves as the Chief Pastor, President, and Chief Executive Officer of our denomination for a term of nine years.
Since his election, Bishop Curry’s tenure has been marked by one simple message: love. Wherever he has gone, he has preached the Christian faith as the “Way of Love.” He points out that before Christians came to be called “Christians,” the movement that Jesus began was called “the Way,” and that it was “a community of people whose lives were centered on Jesus Christ and committed to living the way of God’s unconditional, unselfish, sacrificial, and redemptive love.”
Some of you may have seen Bishop Curry on TV, preaching at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding in 2018. I had the privilege of seeing him preach in person right in the middle of the Power and Light District on his Visitation to Kansas City in May of 2017. He is a powerful and inspiring preacher. If you haven’t seen him preach, I would recommend looking him up on YouTube. In addition to his preaching, Bishop Curry has also written books on the subject of love and developed a rule of life centered on the practice of love. Bishop Curry is, in short, a modern apostle of love.
In today’s Epistle, we find the Apostle Paul preaching love. We read in Romans: “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments…are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:8-10). There are many passages on love in the Gospels and other parts of Scripture, but what I find striking about today’s text is the word “owe”: “Owe no one anything, except to love one another.” Love is, in other words, an obligation, something we owe others.
Paul’s injunction to owe no one anything is, of course, impossible to follow, except perhaps for monastics. For the rest of us, I don’t think it’s meant to be taken literally. Our lives are filled with various forms of obligations. We have financial obligations to pay our mortgage on our homes or cars. We have professional obligations at our jobs, tasked with specific responsibilities and duties. We have social obligations. If someone does a favor for us, then the proper thing to do is reciprocate or at least send a thank you note.
So, to owe no one anything is unreasonable. And I think Paul here intends it as hyperbole to make the point that love is the ultimate obligation. All other obligations are secondary and unimportant in the light of the supreme obligation to love.
Paul’s view of love as an obligation is rooted in Jesus’ command to love. In the Gospel of John, at the Last Supper, Jesus tells his disciples, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34). This verse is the origin of our commemoration of Maundy Thursday during Holy Week. The term “maundy” is Middle English for the Latin word, mandatum, commandment.
You may be asking at this point: why do we have to be commanded to love? Why is love an obligation? Shouldn’t love come naturally? Well, love does, of course, come naturally to us for some people, such as family and friends. But Christ commands us to love not just those close to us and those whom we like but everyone, including the stranger and the enemy. Now, that doesn’t come naturally.
Throughout the pages of Christian history, Jesus’ command to love everyone has inspired the faithful to extraordinary acts of courage and compassion. On the Episcopal Calendar of Saints, yesterday was the feast day of Constance and Her Companions. Constance was an Episcopal nun, belonging to the Sisterhood of St. Mary. In 1873, she and other sisters in the order went to Memphis, Tennessee to establish a school for girls. The city was soon struck by a yellow fever epidemic. While others fled the city, the sisters remained to care for the sick, and Constance and several of the sisters died from the disease. What motivated them to minister to sick strangers even at the cost of their lives? Jesus’ command to love. On the Roman Catholic calendar, yesterday was the feast of St. Peter Claver, a Jesuit missionary to Latin America in the seventeenth century. Peter ministered in the slave ships that arrived in Colombia. Under the horrific conditions in the slaves ships, he spent most of his waking hours burying the dead, transporting the sick to hospitals, and preaching the Gospel to all who would hear him. When he wasn’t ministering to the slaves, he labored in a nearby leper colony. Why did he do the work that no one else wanted to do? Jesus’ command to love.
We may not be called to the same kinds of heroic self-sacrifice that we read about in the annals of the saints. But we are all called to obey the same command to love everyone. So, the next time you see the homeless on the street corner, you might remember Jesus’ command to love. The next time you are cut off on the road by a reckless driver, you might remember Jesus’ command to love. The next time you have to deal with the annoying colleague at work, you might remember Jesus’ command to love.
This past week, I came across a shocking statistic. During one of the meetings at church, I learned that sixty percent of nursing home residents do not have outside visitors. And many die alone. A few of us have begun to discuss how we as a church might address this crisis and develop a ministry. We owe the aged and the lonely our love. Jesus commands us.
But, the fact is, it’s one thing to have good intentions. To actually carry out Jesus’ command to love all, is no easy task. Our egos and self-interest get in the way. In fact, we cannot fulfill our obligation to love on our own. We need God’s help. At the end of our passage from Romans, Paul addresses this need for outside, divine help. After listing the various ways in which our egos and selfish desires lead us astray, he proposes a solution: “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14).
In a moment, we will approach the altar for Holy Communion. And it is there that we will not only be reminded but empowered to fulfill our obligation to love. For it is in the mystery of the Blessed Sacrament that we are united with Christ. We die to ourselves and rise to new life in Christ. Or to put it another way, we take off our old clothes, stained by selfish desires, and we put on new clothes, the armor of light that is Christ. When we put on the Lord Jesus Christ, we will find the courage and strength that we need to love. So, dear sisters and brothers, come. Come to the altar to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, our holy food. And, when the service is ended, let us go forth into the world to be Christ to one another and to the world, proclaiming the Way of Love.
Matthew 16: 21-28
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Sean C. Kim
3, September 2023
In last Sunday’s Gospel reading, we found the Apostle Peter in an exalted state. He had been blessed by Jesus for his bold confession of faith. While the other disciples were silent, Peter responded to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” with the resounding proclamation: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:13-16). Jesus praised Peter, saying: “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). But in today’s Gospel reading, we find a dramatic turn of events. Ironically for Peter, following the praise comes condemnation. When Jesus foretells of his impending suffering, death, and resurrection, Peter takes him aside and rebukes him: “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” Jesus turns to Peter and tells him: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things” (Matthew 16:21-23).
Peter must have been stunned by this sudden reversal of fortune. One moment he is the rock on which Jesus will build his church. The next moment he is a big obstacle to Jesus, compared with none other than Satan himself.
What just happened? Well, it looks like Peter didn’t quite get Jesus’ true identity after all. He seems to be still clinging on to traditional Jewish expectations of the Messiah. Grounded in the historical experience of the Israelites, the Messiah was believed to be the deliverer to come. As Moses led his people out of their bondage in Egypt to the Promised Land and as King David drove out the Philistines and established his kingdom, the Messiah was supposed to deliver the Jews from Roman occupation and oppression, and usher in a new and glorious age for God’s people. But, far from such hope of deliverance and restoration, power and glory, here we have Jesus talking doom and gloom. He informs his followers that he will undergo great suffering, be killed, and on the third day be raised. Although Jesus here mentions the resurrection, Peter and the disciples don’t seem to even notice. What has caught their attention is the part about suffering and death.
If we might read a bit into Peter’s psychology, it’s not just concern for Jesus’ well-being that leads to his vehement protest. Peter loves and cares for his Lord, but he must also have been wondering what’s going to happen to him now. Yes, this movement that Jesus started is not about Peter; it’s about Jesus. But Peter didn’t leave everything behind to join Jesus so that the movement would end with the leader’s death and execution. And what would then happen to him and the other disciples? Peter had been hoping to share in the power and glory that would come with being part of Messiah’s inner circle. Imagine becoming Jesus’ lieutenant. Moses’ right-hand man, his lieutenant, was Joshua. And look what happened to him. Joshua succeeded Moses and took charge of the Israelites to carry out the conquest of the Promised Land. He brought himself and the Israelites wealth and power. When Jesus promised Peter that he would be rock on which he would build his church, Peter must have been heady with visions of grandeur of being the Messiah’s right-hand man.
But before Peter has had time to fully enjoy his fantasies, Jesus utters something strange and disturbing. He is going to suffer and die soon. We can understand why Peter reacts the way he does: “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you” (Matthew 16:22). What kind of Messiah suffers and dies at the hands of his enemies?
Jesus presents a radically different vision of the Messiah than what the Jews had believed. As he explains to Peter, “you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things” (Matthew 16:23). What are these human things with which Peter is preoccupied? Simply put, power and glory. Jesus’ chastisement of Peter finds a parallel with his rebuke of Satan earlier in the Gospel of Matthew during his temptation in the wilderness. Satan takes Jesus to a high mountain and shows him the kingdoms of the world in all their power and glory, and he makes an offer: “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus responds: “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him’” (Matthew 4:8-10). Jesus’ rebuke of Peter “Get behind me, Satan!” is a direct allusion to “Away with you, Satan!” It isn’t that Peter has actually become Satan; Peter is expressing Satan’s opposition to God’s will. Or to put it another way, Peter would have been happy with Jesus the Messiah taking possession of all the kingdoms in the world.
The kingdoms of the world stand on the foundations of power and glory. They rely on mechanisms of domination and coercion, and make war on each other. But the reign of the Messiah, as preached by Jesus, rests on a different foundation. The great theologian Saint Augustine, whose feast day we just commemorated this past Monday, wrote a book in the fifth century titled The City of God. He composed it soon after the city of Rome was overrun and sacked by Germanic tribes in the year 410. In the book Augustine juxtaposes two different visions, an earthly city and the City of God. Here is a brief excerpt: “Two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by love of self, even to the contempt of God, the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The earthly city glories in itself, the heavenly city glories in the Lord. . . . In the one, the princes, and the nations it subdues, are ruled by the love of ruling; in the other, the princes and the subjects serve one another in love.”
The City of God, for Augustine, is the city based on the love of God and love of one another, in opposition to the earthly city, based on love of self and power and glory. And it is to that City of God that we aspire.
To go back to the parallel between Jesus’ rebuke of Satan and his rebuke of Peter, there is one crucial difference. To Satan Jesus says “Away from me!” but to Peter, Jesus says “Get behind me!” In spite of his rebuke, Jesus still wants Peter to follow him. The Greek word here is, in fact, the same one that Jesus used when he first called Peter to be his disciple” – get behind me (Matthew 4:19).
Just as Jesus invited Peter to “get behind him,” to follow him, he extends that same invitation of a life of faithful discipleship to us. He calls us away from setting our minds on the human things – power and glory – and to focus on the divine things – self-denying love and service. He invites us to become citizens of the City of God, where love reigns supreme.
Audrey West,“Commentary on Matthew 16:21-28,” Working Preacher. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4565.
 Augustine, On the City of God Against the Pagans, Book XIV, Chapter 28.
Fr. Larry Parrish
August 27, 2023
St. Mary's Episcopal Church
Jesus’s disciples had been with him awhile when the story told in our Gospel text begins. They had listened to his teaching and tried to understand what they were hearing. They had witnessed miracles at His hands and tried to understand what they meant, too: miracles of healing, a couple of major miracles involving feeding a rock concert sized crowd using somebody’s lunch and had witnessed him walking across the water of Lake Galilee in a storm and then stilling that storm in an instant. Now their teacher had given them a pop quiz. He suddenly asked them, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” --referring to Himself. The disciples, who had stood in crowds gathered to see Jesus and had been listening to people talk, came quickly back with some answers: “Well, some say John the Baptist; some say Elijah; Some say Jeremiah . . .or one of the prophets.” “But who do you say that I am?” Peter, who had the inclination, that some of us today share, of putting his mouth in gear before his brain was fully engaged, blurted out, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” Playing with this passage—which by the way is a perfectly acceptable way of studying a story from Scripture—I can see the disciples doing eye rolls—“Ah! Peter just put his foot in his mouth again!” But this time ..Peter was right. Jesus (maybe hugging Peter) exclaims, ”Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in Heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, (Greek for “rock—his Jewish name was Simon, which means “rock”) and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”
The thing about Scripture is that it is a living document. When Jesus talks to his disciples in a Gospel story we can’t keep him at a 2000 year’s arm reach back in time, he is talking to us who say we belong to His Church today. When Paul writes a letter to the Church at Rome, he is writing to St. Mary’s, 13th and Holmes.
Jesus asks us both the question, “Who do others say that I am?” and “Who do YOU say that I am?” The answer matters, and it matters whether or not we answer both of these questions, and how we answer them.
The figure of Jesus looms so large in world history and people have been trying to make sense of the impact of his personality and actions, as well as His crucifixion and resurrection for the past two millennia. In fact, He is the reason we talk about two millennia, as it has been said, “He has split our calendar,” so that we talk about B.C. or A.D. Before Christ, or Year of our Lord. Pre-Christian Era and Post-Christian Era. He cannot be easily categorized, and there are some ways He cannot be categorized at all.
And even those who claim to be Christian and call Jesus “Lord and God,” cannot truly say just anything they want about him. Throughout history, well-meaning people, and not-well-meaning people have tried to superimpose on Jesus their own ideology and agenda. His Name has been invoked to reinforce the power of leaders of religious cults and personality cults. He and His movement have been invoked to subjugate anyone who isn’t white, straight, and male, justify slavery, and overturn governments with force or chicanery.
Throughout recorded history, It has been a human characteristic to define God as an extension of ourselves, and, accordingly, Jesus, as the human face of God, as well. It is not a new phenomena. As a wise priest I know, and am fond of quoting*once said, “God created us in His image, and we have been trying to return the favor ever since!” -Fr. Robert Layne.
It was an issue in the early days of the Christian movement, as Paul wrote his letters and mailed them to the new Christian community in Rome. He was reminding them that they might be Roman citizens, but that they weren’t to adopt Roman attitudes, ethics, and religious values as the way of Christ. In the letter read from today, he pleads with them, and us, to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds, so that we may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. What we THINK is important. We are to give our bodies, i.e. our hands, feet, talents, abilities, to God so that we might love others as God has loved us, and that includes our minds, our intellects and our discernments, too. We are to THINK, really think—not blindly assume—about who God is and who we are in relationship with Him doing the best we can—“by the mercies—grace—of God” “according to the measure of faith” that God gives us. We are not alone. We are not without resources in doing this.
A good many of the resources are at hand every time we gather for worship. The reading of Scripture, the Church’s Book, is one. I think that the Sunday morning study here on the texts for Sunday is very beneficial to those participating. I think you have noticed that we are printing the texts of the readings in the service leaflet now. I like that, even though you can now more easily question me on what I didn’t say or whether you can’t see how I got what I said from what was written! I welcome after-sermon conversations!
Every Sunday after the sermon we stand and recite the Nicene Creed. It is a compilation of hard thought and hard fought- -for answers to Jesus’s question, “Who do you say that I am.” It keeps us from reinventing the theological wheel each Sunday. The same wise Episcopal priest I quoted earlier once said, “We say the creed right after the sermon, because no matter what the preacher just said, we still “believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty . . . etc”! It centers us in the faith we proclaim. That doesn’t mean we have to understand every word of it—questioning and honest doubt are part of the thought processes that God has created in us to come to a deeper faith.
United Methodist Bishop, Preacher and Teacher of Pastors, (and, I think, closet Episcopalian!) Will Willimon tells the story of a time he invited an Orthodox Catholic bishop to speak to a class on basic Christianity he taught at Duke University. One of his students told the Bishop that he couldn’t recite the creed because he didn’t understand or believe all the parts of it. The Bishop told him, “Young man, it is not YOUR creed. It is the Church’s creed. You keep saying it until you come to understanding and belief!”
Then there are the stories and collects we find in our Lesser Feasts and Fasts book told and prayed at the weekday Masses here. We get acquainted with those who knew God and how they lived out of that relationship.
In the Mass, our souls are fed and our minds renewed by the Body and Blood of Christ that digests within us and courses through our veins. This is another great mystery that I have given up trying to understand and instead let myself experience. I learned a long time ago that there are some things that are true that can’t be shaken up in a test tube or proved by calculus.
This is a good place to mention an Anglican tradition of discerning who God is and who we are in His life: It’s an image of a “Three Legged Stool”. One of the legs is Scripture and another is Tradition. The third one is Reason. We are to apply our reasoning and what we know about what is true in the world, to interpreting both Scripture and Tradition for exploring who God is and who we are. Anglican priest and unintentional founder of Methodist, John Wesley, added a fourth leg, Experience. We use our life experiences and those experiences of God that seem to come from “outside” of our experience and yet manifest themselves “within” us, (Wesley’s “Heart strangely warmed” experience of grace and the love of God, for instance.) That is sometimes called Revelation. Jesus’ response to Peter’s blurted out affirmation was “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but my Father in Heaven.
There is another great resource for continuing to think through, and continuing to affirm who Jesus Christ is for us, and we all sit in the midst of it this morning:
In the passage from Paul’s letter this morning, he goes on to describe the community of faith, the Church, as a body, as “one body in Christ and individually we are members one of another,” in which “all members do not have the same function” but each of us have a gift or gifts—abilities or talents—to share with others. Taken in the context of “the renewing of our minds” earlier in the passage, and further in the context of Jesus asking for responses to his question of ALL of his disciples, I see an extension of the usual definition of this image beyond pooling our talents and abilities to make the church “work” for God and others: I see it also as an affirmation that in any gathering of Christians, the members not only have abilities to share, but thoughts, insights, learnings and experiences of how God has become real in their lives, and how they experience what it means to be in Christ. I see this especially true about this church, St. Mary’s KCMO, and all of you who are a part of it. You not only have multiple abilities and gifts to share in the ongoing operation of this church, you also have knowledge and thoughts to share about the nature of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and how you have experienced the reality of His presence and the power of His love in your lives. All of the rest of then, can be gifted with your insights!
Who do I say that Jesus is? (Remember, “no matter what the preacher just said” I still believe . . . ! –and all insights need to be tested by Scripture and Tradition). I say that the Jesus of the Gospels is not just the Jesus of History, but God in Three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The one who appeared in our shape and form to inhabit our humanity so that we could share in His divinity. As part of His shape and form we are His body, in this location here at 13th and Holmes, (but not limited by this location, this parish, or this denomination), to show forth His love and power, and the reality of His presence in the lives of those of us who proclaim him Lord, to others that are not only still struggling to answer the question, but to those who have yet to hear the question!
In the name of The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Feast of St. Mary the Virgin
Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
20 August, 2023
This past July Fourth is one that I will never forget. I received the phone call that I had been dreading. Fr. Charles Everson called to inform me that he would be leaving St. Mary’s. I responded with mixed emotions. On the one hand, I was happy and excited for my colleague and friend for his new ministry in Chicago, but, at the same time, I was seized by panic: “What will happen to St. Mary’s now?” I could not imagine St. Mary’s without Fr. Charles. He had hired me as his assistant priest four years ago, and we had worked closely together. He had guided the Church through the many challenges, including Covid, and placed us on a firm foundation. His departure would create a huge vacuum in the life of our church.
After Fr. Charles made the announcement of his resignation to the congregation the following Sunday, my good friend and fellow historian, Dr. Bill Stockton, came up to me and said, “You must be feeling like Harry Truman when he took over from FDR.” To say that Franklin Roosevelt left big shoes to fill would be an understatement. FDR was a beloved leader who had served an unprecedented four terms as president – 16 years, guiding the nation through the Great Depression. And when he died, the nation was in the middle of World War II. I think Truman probably sensed some panic when he heard the news that he would be taking over. So, it’s an appropriate analogy to our situation now, when we are worried by the uncertainties of what might come next.
But, actually, when I think about it, I rather like the comparison. As some of you know, I grew up in Independence, Missouri, Harry Truman’s hometown, and even graduated from Truman High School, and hence there’s the personal connection. But, more importantly, Truman turned out to be a great president, providing decisive leadership not only for the United States but for the world during World War II and the Cold War. So, Truman has become a kind of inspiration for me during this time of major transition for our Church.
Another source – a much greater source – of inspiration and strength for me these days is the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Patroness, whose feast day we observe today. Mary knew something about change. She knew what it was like to be suddenly faced with a momentous responsibility. Mary was a teenage girl, recently engaged to Joseph, when one day the angel Gabriel appeared to her and announced that she was to bear the Son of God (Luke 1:26-38). And how did she respond to this extraordinary news that would change her life and the life of the world forever? She could have responded like Moses with a litany of excuses. I’m not the right person for leading your people out of Egypt. The leaders of Israel aren’t going to listen to me. I’m not a good speaker. At one point, Moses flat out told God: “Please send someone else” (Exodus 3 and 4). Or Mary could have responded like Jonah. When God called Jonah to go to Nineveh with the message of repentance, what did he do? He fled, ending up in the belly of the whale while trying to avoid God. No, Mary did not come up with excuses or try to flee. On the contrary, she responded with the words: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it unto me according to Thy word” (Luke 1:26-38). And with Mary’s act of humble obedience to God’s will began the history of our salvation.
Be it unto me according to Thy word. I pray these words every day when I pray the Angelus as part of the Daily Office. The prayer reminds me to set aside my anxieties and worries and leave it all to God. It calls me to turn away from my ego and self-centeredness to focus on God’s will, not my own. Of course, this is much easier said than done. It is a daily, perpetual struggle.
Well, you’ll be glad to know that the initial panic has subsided, but the hard work of the transition has begun. Fortunately, my job as Priest-in-Charge has been made a lot easier by everyone who has stepped up. From the Clergy and Vestry to the Staff and Volunteers, many have rolled up their sleeves and committed themselves anew to maintaining and growing the rich and vibrant life of our Church.
St. Mary’s is special in so many ways. To begin with, we are only one of a handful of Anglo-Catholic Churches in the entire country. And here in the Midwest, we are the only Anglo-Catholic parish in a multi-state area. It is rare to find the kind of glorious traditional worship and piety that you find here, and I’m not aware of many Episcopal Churches that have the devotion we have here to the Virgin Mary. Moreover, located in the heart of downtown Kansas City, there are opportunities for service here to the poor and needy that you won’t find in suburban churches. We are a beacon of hope and love in our community.
Let me share with you an example. This past Friday afternoon at church, I witnessed Fr. Larry and Mary Parrish, and Raja Reed, our Parish Administrator, ministering to a young homeless person, a victim of abuse. Not only did we provide him with food and other necessities; we purchased a long-distance bus ticket for him to get back home, and the Parrishes even provided a ride to the Greyhound station. The most moving part of the experience for me was when we all held hands in our Church office, and Fr. Larry prayed for God’s protection and guidance. What a beautiful and holy moment. This is what our faith is about. This is what Our Lord Jesus Christ calls us to do.
It is truly an honor and privilege to be your Priest-in-Charge at St. Mary’s. I do, however, have a complaint. I don’t like my title – more specifically, the phrase “in charge.” The fact is, I’m not in charge here. I’m just part of the team – yes, with a leadership role but nonetheless still part of the team. God is the one in charge of St. Mary’s. It is God who will lead us through this transition. It is to God to whom we should turn for guidance and inspiration.
And it is God who is calling you today. How will you step up? In what way is God calling you to serve? Perhaps you are being called to assist us in our worship by reading Scripture or serving at the altar. Perhaps you are being called to serve behind the scenes to help with reception and hospitality. Or perhaps you are being called to one of our many outreach ministries. This past week’s newsletter featured the Blessing Bag ministry, and we have distributed hundreds of bags filled with food and other necessities to our homeless neighbors. We will be featuring other ministries in our newsletter in the weeks to come.
Dear sisters and brothers, the Church needs your help. You are part of the team. I pray that you will open your hearts and minds to God’s calling. And whatever God is calling you to do, I invite all of you to join me in your daily prayers to offer to God the prayer of Our Blessed Mother: Be it unto me according to Thy word. Amen.
Fr. Larry Parrish
Psalm 133 Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
“It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
These words must have cut like a knife to the heart of the mother who was desperately seeking help for her mentally ill daughter. How her child suffered, tormented by a broken mind. Even worse, her precious child was ostracized by the people of their town. They said she was demon possessed! For a fleeting moment, she had hope. A travelling teacher with a growing reputation as a healer and exorcist had unexpectedly shown up in their village. Maybe he could do something to relieve her daughter’s suffering!
She waited by the roadside with scores of other people as he approached. Finally he was in front of her! She shouted out to him, “My daughter has a demon!” He looked at her, no he looked through her, as if he hadn’t even heard, hadn’t even noticed her. She kept calling out to him, trotting alongside him. She could tell his travelling companions were upset. She could hear them urging him to tell her to get lost.
He stopped, and looking at his companions, said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” The frantic mother’s heart sunk a little. She knew he was a Jew. She even intuited that he was someone special within that faith and race. But his words reminded her that she was not of his faith and race. In fact, she was of Canaanite stock, and the Canaanites had been the traditional enemies of Israel—and vice versa—for centuries! Who was she to ask anything of him? But she was a Canaanite mother and her child needed help, and she was not going to be ignored! She forced herself in front of him and knelt down, “Sir. My daughter is mentally ill. Seriously ill. Please help me. Please help her!”
That’s when the traveling preacher said those awful words: “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” This was much more than a sensible proverb. The imagery was unmistakable. The “children” were the Jewish people. The “food” was whatever the teacher’s mission and gifts were. And she, a Canaanite was one of the “dogs.” It was a terrible, hurtful insult! And the person who hurled it was named Jesus.
You know that there is more to the story. But let’s pause the story right here and do a little soul searching.
Is there any person, or any group of people, any ethnic group, any race, any faith group that you consider lower than a snake’s belly and undeserving of the gifts you have to give or help you have tagged to go only to your “own kind.” That they are,
in your eyes, sub human? Maybe you don’t have such a group, and God bless you for that, but there are folks around who do.
The recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a rally of white supremacists erupted in violence, seem to be part of a growing trend whereby folks who have a hatred of Jews and anyone who is non-white are moving out of the shadows of our society where they have dwelt for decades and boldly announcing their hate of anyone who is not like them. They claim membership in the Ku Klux Klan and/or openly adore Nazi principles and history.
How can this be in this time and place? The KKK held sway in the south for a hundred years, killing, beating, torturing, lynching, and generally terrorizing black folks and anyone who would stand up for them. I thought that their excesses of the sixties, with their bombing of churches and the kidnap and murder of white people trying to encourage black people to vote had finally made them persona non grata in our society. Now they seem to be getting a louder voice in the public sphere.
And the neo-Nazis! Didn’t we fight a world war to defeat the Nazi’s and their fanatical efforts to declare a pure race, while murdering millions of Jews and anyone else that tried to stand in their way? How dare the grandchildren of men who fought, and sometimes died fighting, to eliminate Nazis from the earth, openly stand up in public in America today and spew the same rubbish and hate, and ape the same actions, as the Nazis of Adolph Hitler’s Germany?!
Neither of these groups or any of their ilk have any problems identifying who the “dogs” are in their world! Since it isn’t uncommon for white supremacy groups to identify with Christianity or use Christian symbols or language, it is important for us who claim the name of Jesus in our faith to remember, and to tell others, that Christianity does not underwrite, condone or advance the agenda of these groups.
So, back to our story.
The mother might have felt insulted, but she wasn’t deterred. She looked up in Jesus’ eyes and—and I like to imagine there was a twinkle in her eyes and a smile on her lips when she replied, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” I would be willing to bet that Jesus threw back his head and roared with laughter when she said this! And then He said, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly. So what’s with Jesus’ harsh words to this mother seeking help for her child? Was he serious? Was he just messin’ with her? Was he trying to make a point?
We don’t know what the historical moment looked like. Jesus was God in our shape and form, but as fully human, He was a man of His times, so He could have been serious. What is important is to realize that whether He backed down from the quick witted Canaanite Woman, his mind changed, or set her up to make a point about the Kingdom of God, at that moment, His mission “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” now included the historic enemies of Israel also!
While God started out to bless the entire world through a particular people in a particular place (Abraham and Sarah and their descendants “the children of Israel” and “Israel”, His purpose was, and is, to draw all people into His Kingdom. This doesn’t mean we are all the same, it means that God is about drawing all people to Himself.
Of course, human nature being what it is, within a very short time after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, His followers started seeing themselves as the “children” and their spiritual ancestors, the Jews, the “dogs.” St. Paul had to remind the members of the early churches that just because God, through Jesus, had included them, He hadn’t excluded His “chosen people.” “God has not rejected His people whom he foreknew. For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.”
That’s why it absolutely bumfuzzles me why anti-semitism is so stubbornly persistent. God started His work in the world through those who became known as Israel, and while He has expanded that work into other faiths and ethnic groups, He has not condemned or disowned the Jews. They remain the foundation of His work. Judaism is the foundation of our faith and of God’s work among us, as well.
That doesn’t mean that our distinctions as ethnic or faith groups are erased. Those distinctions, those unique qualities of race or faith, are honored by God. In the sayings of Jesus that precede the story we have just walked through, he refers to the Pharisees, good intentioned keepers of the faith, and how they judge people based on certain ritual practices. Jesus said that what is more important than ritual actions are the actions which “come from the heart.” God looks at the heart and the actions that come out of the heart, rather than the distinctiveness of religion or the skin color. Evil actions come from evil hearts. Good actions come from good hearts.
We can’t personally control the actions of those who claim superiority over others because of race or ethnicity. We cannot personally control those who preach hate or sow seeds of discord among people whom God chooses to include in all their diversity as His children. We can resist such evil when we encounter it, however. In the meantime we can guard our hearts from being poisoned by the poison of hate and bigotry and stop the spread of hate and disunity within our own spheres of influence.
What we see in the story of Jesus and the Canaanite mother is the heart of God in Jesus. Through the story we can see the heart of God, the intentions and passion of God, applied to a situation of human disunity. As God was in Jesus, sharing His heart with all of humankind, so through Jesus. we have the heart of God made available to us. All of us.
Through prayer. Through worship. Through acquainting ourselves with Scripture and the vast story of God in relationship with His creation. Through the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ. Through our encouragement of one another. Let the heart of God beat as one with our hearts.
Lord, turn our hearts towards love and away from hate. Work through our hearts to change the hearts of others in the same way.
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Church
One of the greatest joys of being a priest is that I get to be with people at poignant moments in their lives. Looking back over the past six years, I can think of so many of these moments with many of you, including hospital visits, painful conversations after a job loss, walking with folks through their last days and being with them when they die. Equally poignant are joyful occasions like the baptism of a new Christian, or the blessing of a new home, or the witnessing and blessing of a marriage.
At poignant moments like these, the meaning of the gospel and the nature of God sometimes become clear to us in ways that transcend ordinary experience. In these and other mountaintop moments, we may discover a purpose or a calling that casts a radiant light over the rest of our lives.
In the Transfiguration of Jesus, we, like the disciples, witness such a moment in the life of our Lord. In this crazy scene we get the entirety of the gospel: echoes of Jesus’ baptism, his passion predictions, his fulfillment of the Law and prophets; his death, resurrection, and ascension, as well as his coming again in glory. On Mount Tabor, with Jesus “wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistening,” as the opening prayer puts it, God the Father identifies Jesus as his son, and tells the disciples to listen to him in what had to be a tender, poignant moment between Father and Son. In this moment, Jesus’ purpose and calling become clear.
In the second reading, we hear St. Peter’s thoughts about his experience on Mount Tabor not long before his death, likely a poignant moment for him. He says, “I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to refresh your memory, since I know that my death will come soon…we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.” In other words, “As long as I’m here, I’m going to say this until my dying breath which is coming soon: we didn’t make this stuff up. This really happened. I was with Jesus when he was transfigured.”
In echoes of the night before Jesus’ passion in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter can barely stay awake with Jesus while he is praying. Barely awake, Peter and John and James sees him in all of his transfigured glory. Peter’s response is to try to memorialize the moment and build permanent dwellings for everyone, as if anyone sane would think it’s normal for someone to propose living on the top of the mountain. We can’t blame Peter for wanting to freeze time and live in that powerful moment forever. But people don’t generally live on the tops of mountains. We climb mountains, but every time, we come back down and spend most of our time in the valley.
My sister and brother-in-law (who happen to be here today) just celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary living out of a van in Alaska for two weeks. Following their travels on social media gave us all a glimpse of the glory they saw there, including a sea otter munching on fresh crab, a group of humpback whales bubble-net feeding, killer whales, sea lions, harbor seals, bald eagles, puffins, and a variety of other birds. I’m sure the pictures don’t do justice to the beauty and wonder they experienced. After an amazing two weeks, they are back in the valley in Kansas, with the cares and concerns of everyday life including going to work, and paying the bills, and taking the kids to all sorts of events. Their time on the mountain changed them in ways that will affect them for the rest of their lives. Whether it’s going to Alaska or making a personal retreat at a monastery or at a milestone moment with your priest, the memories of these mountaintop experiences help sustain us during everyday life in the valley.
If you’ve been around for six years, you’ve heard me talk about my own mountaintop experiences, usually not on this feast as it rarely falls on a Sunday, but when today’s gospel is appointed on the Sunday before Lent. The first time I preached a sermon on the Transfiguration of Jesus was on February 11, 2018. Fr. Patrick Perkins, 20th rector of St. Mary’s and my boss, had just left two weeks earlier to begin a new ministry at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. As the #2 priest who was also a full-time banker, I was anxious as the way forward for St. Mary’s and for me was unclear. Both the Vestry and I were uncertain of whether Bishop Marty would allow a priest who had only been ordained a little over a year to lead the oldest Episcopal parish in Kansas City, a parish with so few resources that we hadn’t been able to pay our assessments to the diocese in many years. Like now and like most of our history, the Eucharist was celebrated daily. My first instinct after Fr. Patrick announced his departure was to cancel the daily mass because I was leery that I would have the time to keep up this practice, even with the help of Fr. Bob and other priests. To say that I was an anxious mess is an understatement.
It was not too long after I preached that sermon that Fr. Larry and Mary came along, and then a year later, Fr. Sean, and the daily celebration of the Eucharist continued as it always had. Looking back, I’m very glad I didn’t give in to my anxious instincts, because in the midst of the anxiety any parish feels when there is a transition in leadership, it was the Eucharist that sustained us through it all.
We have the memories of our mountaintop experiences to help sustain us in the valley, but memories can fade. When Moses and the Hebrew people were wandering the wilderness in the desert for 40 years, God provided manna from heaven to sustain them on their journey to the Promised Land. Centuries later, Jesus connects this manna with himself in John chapter 6 when he says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh… This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”
During this time of transition between rectors, let your mountaintop experiences here at St. Mary’s and beyond help sustain you. But even more importantly, come to Mass, for God longs to give you his grace and love in the bread of heaven and the cup of the salvation. Fed by that holy food and drink, God will give you the grace you need to continue to welcome the outcast and care for the stranger, to care for each other, and to pitch in around here. If your standard practice is to come to church and then head on to the next event, I encourage you to “press in” to this community during this interim period and get to know people, whether it’s at coffee hour, or the Dinners for 8 ministry that recently started, or at the pub after mass on Wednesday evenings. Week after week, day after day, in Spirit-filled community with one another, in this most holy sacrament, God will grant you the grace and wisdom you need call a skilled and holy priest to be the 22nd Rector of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church.
Dear friends, in a moment, when you approach this altar as, like me, you likely have many times before, know that the same Christ who stood on Mount Tabor with his face shining as the sun is the same Christ who will enter the very depths of your body and soul. He who is at the right hand of God will manifest himself in this most Holy Sacrament as really and fully as if he were visibly here. We take and eat of his sacred Body and Blood as truly as St. Thomas touched Jesus’ hands and put his hand into his side. When he went up on the holy mount, his face shone as the sun and his garments were white as light. By faith, this is what we see in the consecrated bread and wine, despite everything looking as usual to the passerby. In the simple creatures of bread and wine, God conveys to our bodies and souls his own gracious self as food for the journey, food that, unlike our fading memories, will sustain us to everlasting life.  Amen.
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 11
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Church
Last week, we heard what is commonly called the Parable of the Sower, and this week, we hear the Parable of the Weeds, or the Parable of the Tares as the King James puts it. Despite having attended a fairly rural, Texas high school whose biggest student club was the Future Farmers of America, I’m a Johnson County boy at heart and don’t know a thing about farming. Thankfully, others have written about some of the farming issues involved in this parable which begins with Jesus saying that the kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field, but while everyone was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away.
The weeds here are thought to be a specific plant called bearded darnel. This plant looks identical to wheat above ground, but below, it wraps itself around the wheat, intertwining itself into the root system, taking away nutrients and moisture from the wheat. It is a deceptive little plant. Rather than producing seeds that are nutritious like wheat, darnel seeds are toxic to humans and cause anything from hallucination to death. In Jesus’ time, sowing darnel in a field for the purposes of revenge was illegal, meaning it must have happened often enough to warrant such a law!
In this parable, Jesus uses this noxious weed to illustrate evil. “An enemy” intentionally sowed these weeds among the wheat. When the farmhands discover this, they propose to the farmer that they go and gather the weeds. Like me, these farmhands weren’t up-to-speed on their horticulture. If they had been, they’d have known that doing so would result in the wheat coming out of the ground at the same time, destroying the crop.
All too often, you and I become preoccupied with who is in and who is out. Like the farmhands, we think that we have what it takes spiritually, mentally, emotionally to separate the wheat from the tares. But as in the parable, trying to separate the wheat from the darnel hurts both plants. This phenomenon also happens in the Church today when we try to separate the “real Christians” from those who have a different stance than we do on a particular issue. In trying to weed out those who are impure, or even the heretic, we do damage to the faithful as well. Beyond the church, our world is full of dichotomies, and it seems increasingly so, perhaps especially in politics. What is the solution to this tendency to divide the world in two? The farmer instructs the farmhands to let both the wheat and the tares grow together until the harvest when all will be revealed. For at the harvest, the wheat and darnel bloom differently, and it becomes obvious which is which. And even then, it won’t be up to us to decide who is in and who is out. Jesus tells us in the second part of the reading that the Son of Man will send his angels to do this work. Then, and now, it is our job to trust that God will sort through the wheat and the tares in a way that only God can do. No matter how similar they look, no matter how intertwined the root systems are, God will send his angels with the appropriate knowledge and skill to separate the tares out without damaging the wheat.
While this parable is explicitly about the kingdom of heaven and thus the “last things”, I can’t help but think that my own life is often like the farmer’s infested field, with weeds and wheat intertwined in my heart, soul, and mind. Paul said it this way: “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” When someone begins to come to private confession regularly for the first time, it usually only takes two or three confessions before he or she says to me something like, “Father, I keep confessing the same sins over and over. Is that normal?” Yes. Yes, it is. All of us are plagued with the temptation to commit specific sins over the courses of our lives, each of us influenced by both nature and nurture, and no matter how holy we become, it’s unlikely that our pet sins will change over time. Usually the next question is, “Since I keep confessing the same sins, why am I confessing them over and over again?” Not to force an analogy into this parable, but perhaps the grace the penitent receives from God through absolution is like the water and nutrients the plants in the field receive for sustenance. When we repent from our sins and intend to amend our lives, we only do so by God’s grace. While we can’t stop sinning completely on this side of the veil, we certainly can learn to trust God more and more in the midst of the sin and chaos in our hearts and in this world, holding fast to the hope that at the Last Day, God will send the reaper to bring in the harvest.
We hold fast today to that hope – the hope that the weeds will one day be uprooted and destroyed. As St. Paul said in the second reading, all of creation waits “in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
We wait for it with patience, letting both the wheat and the tares grow together, trusting that no matter what the Enemy sows around us, God will fulfill our hope of a bountiful harvest at the Last Day.
 Romans 7:15b
Proper 10, Year A
July 16, 2023
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Some folks like a preacher to have a good amount of poetry in his or her sermon. They think poetically, and thus want the preacher to make them think and consider what is being said. Other folks are the opposite. They ask for something different out of sermons – cut the crap and tell me what to do. In today’s parable, we get both. We get the poetic and allegoric language in the first part, and then for once, Jesus actually explains what the parable means in the second part.
First, let’s take a look at the figure of the sower. In this parable, the sower isn’t identified except that he or she is the one who spreads the good news. Some believe that Jesus intended for us to see the sower as him. Others believe that the sower represents a missionary, you know, like the kind of missionary that earns their living spreading the good news overseas. Others believe that the sower represents the priesthood. In any case, the sower is one who spreads the good news. It could be Jesus, it could be me or newly ordained Fr. David, it could be you. Note that the sower doesn’t know in advance what is beneath the soil’s surface – where the ground is hard, where the soil is shallow, or where the weeds are already growing. The sower doesn’t know the quality of the soil before throwing out the seed. In fact, the sower would miss the point entirely if he or she were to waste time trying to figure out what is beneath the soil’s surface, or the quality of the soil itself. The point is that the sower is to sow. If the sower is doing his or her job, then the seed is scattered all over the place. And simply by sowing, it is certain that some of the seeds will result in grain. This is good news for you and for me! It isn’t up to us to figure out the scientific qualities of the soil, or become experts in the process of proper germination. It’s not up to us to know the conditions of other people’s hearts. It’s our job to throw out the seed and spread the Good News of Jesus Christ in both word and deed.
But this parable isn’t just about the sower. It’s also about the soil. In looking at the four types of soil Jesus describes, we continue in the journey of discipleship we talked about last week. Remember – being a disciple is about being one who learns from Jesus how to live by listening intently and responding. By relying on the nourishment and refreshment we receive from Jesus at the altar rail week after week. In looking at the four types of soil, we learn from Jesus what the necessary conditions are for fruitful discipleship.
First, the hardened soil on the path. In this case, the seed is thrown on the hardened soil on the path and is snatched up right away by the birds. This is because the person who hears the word doesn’t understand it. Without understanding, the word finds no place to implant, and the Evil One who is always close by snatches away the potential of faith. In order to understand, one must desire to understand. If you hear the Word and have no desire to understand what it means in your own life, it will be snatched up by the birds right away. But if you’re attitude is attentive, and you earnestly desire to understand the Word of God in your own life, the birds might just stay away. I’ve gone through phases in my life when I was super-attentive to the voice of God, and other times when I was distracted and closed off. And usually, when I was closed off, I wasn’t consciously aware of it. Looking back, the key to being attentive to understand God’s Word is quietness and silence. Some monks and nuns make it a point to spend an entire hour or more per day in complete silence and contemplation. You and I would rarely be able to make that happen, but we can spend intentional moments of our lives in silence, listening to the voice of God, seeking to understand what He may be trying to say to us. We can and should take a few minutes each day. If you’re a morning person like me, it might be while you’re drinking your second cup of coffee. It might be at your lunch break at work, or just before bed. The important thing to remember is that these intentional moments of silence provide the space needed to begin understanding what the Word of God means in your life.
The desire to understand isn’t enough in and of itself. The one who is super excited at what they hear is like the seed that falls on rocky ground. Such a person only endures for a brief moment, but when trouble comes, he or she immediately falls away. This trouble can come in the form of opposition of some kind, whether it be opposition to God’s Word in your life or in a broader context. Say you feel that you hear God speaking to you in some way or another, and ultimately become very excited about joining a ministry here at St. Mary’s. But as you begin to go down the road of joining forces with others to do this new work, you see quickly that there is a personality conflict with one of the other team members. Instead of working through it, you quickly decide that it’s not worth the trouble. Maybe the seed fell on rocky ground. You were so excited to serve God in this way, but then encountered opposition and allowed your enthusiasm to fade. Jesus is telling us here is that we need to take that initial joy and enthusiasm we feel when we hear God’s Word in our lives, and see it through despite any opposition.
The third type of soil contains thorns. The seed that falls among the thorns doesn’t grow because the thorns choke the grain quickly before it has a chance to grow. Jesus explains that this represents those who fall to temptation, and you don’t need me to explain temptation and what it feels like to fall to it. As followers of Jesus, we are called to resist temptation, and when we fail to resist and instead fall into sin, we are called to receive God’s forgiveness, turn away from the sin, and by the grace of God resist the temptation the next time it comes around.
As disciples of Jesus, we are called to listen intently to God’s voice, wherever it may be found, and to respond. We do so by listening to God’s voice in silence and contemplation. We do our best, by God’s help, to persist in the face of opposition and allow our initial joy to be seen through to completion. And when we fail to persist, and fail to resist temptation, we receive God’s forgiveness and resist the temptation by the grace of God the next time it comes around.
And throughout it all, like the sower, we spread the good news, liberally and without regard for the quality of soil where the seed is being thrown. Some will be receptive to the message we are called to speak, and some will not. Some will respond with great joy and enthusiasm, but will not persist in faithful practice and will eventually fall away. Yet we are reassured today that if we persevere, by God’s help, even against the odds, what we do matters. What we say and how we embody the gospel of Jesus Christ in practice will in fact usher in God’s kingdom here on earth. Regardless of the obvious fruit or lack thereof, we are assured that at least some of the seed will fall on good soil, and those who hear and understand will indeed bear much fruit with a bountiful harvest. Amen.
 Much of this sermon comes from David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Louisville (Ky.): Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 236-240.
 Ibid 238.
The sermons preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!