Pentecost X – Proper 15 – Year C
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
The Rev’d Charles Everson
August 14, 2022
You don’t see it as often these days, but my grandmother Trula Everson kept photo albums scattered throughout her house. Until she died when I was 20, it was not uncommon to see an occasional new photo album appear, but you would never see one go away. As a child, I remember sitting in her lap, asking questions about who is who. She’d point out the various family members and how I was related to them, adding in commentary about what she remembered about their profession, family life, what she knew about their character, pointing out if someone was super rich, poor, and so on.
This is sort of what the author of the book of Hebrews is doing in chapter 11. He helps us remember those in the family of faith who have gone before. Remember those who passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land. Remember Rahab the prostitute who welcomed the spies. Remember those who marched around Jericho, resulting in the walls falling. Remember Sampson and Daniel who shut the mouths of lions. Remember those who won strength out of weakness like Gideon and Ester. Remember those who were torched, mocked, scourged, and tormented. This photo album of our spiritual ancestors reveals something profound about faith, which he earlier describes as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not yet seen”.
Faith isn’t a guarantee that you’ll have what we think of as a “good life.” Some of our spiritual ancestors were tortured, suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. Those who have a deep faith are not more likely to have more money or things or power or good looks than those who have no faith. Faith does not give us a free ticket out of pain and suffering in this life. Said another way, the theology that wealth and prosperity and blessings come as a result of having enough faith or doing enough good things is simply not biblical. For some, faith results in victory, and for others, faith results in suffering.
“Yet all these”, says the author of Hebrews, “though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better….” Before the “something better” is revealed, we hear a verse that Baptist teenagers like I was taught to memorize in Sunday School. I’ll read it in its entirety, and then explain why it has always given me anxiety. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses… There’s so much good stuff there, but despite the fact that I enjoy jogging (as in light jogging), perseverance, in that context, is not my strong suit. At the age of 42, I have a long history of trying to run longer distances, not persevering, then feeling guilty about my inadequacy and lack of endurance. Not a fun cycle to be reminded of.
Over the years, I’ve become convinced that this passage is not intended to evoke feelings of guilt. The witnesses might be referring to fans in a stadium at the beginning or end of a race, or they might be referring to early martyrs who had died for their faith. Either way, it’s a wonderfully encouraging vision of our fellow Christians supporting us and cheering us on, giving us courage and hope that we can indeed persevere in running the race that is set before us.
What is the end goal of the race? Where are we headed? The author of Hebrews finishes his photo album of our spiritual ancestors with a brilliant climax, the most important ancestor of all: Jesus Christ. In a moment, we will sing a paraphrase of this text in the Offertory hymn. “Behold, a Witness nobler still, who trod affliction’s path: Jesus, the author, finisher, rewarder of our faith.”
The message of this passage isn’t how my wounded psyche used to interpret it: “Have faith, do good, try not to screw up but feel guilty when you – and hopefully you’ll get to heaven one day.” The message is that whether we win the battle or suffer a defeating loss, no matter our lot, Jesus is the beginning and the end. He is indeed “something better” – the prize above all measure that we receive at the end of the race after having constantly fixed our gaze on him, and he accompanies us along the way, giving us his own self as food for the journey to persevere when we inevitably encounter both feast and famine. Jesus takes our woefully incomplete faith and makes it whole.
I no longer get anxious when I hear this passage, because rather than despair and guilt, I think we’re meant to be encouraged. But even more so with chapter 12, verse 3, which both the Baptist Sunday School teachers and the lectionary compilers unfortunately fail to include: “Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.”
Dear friends, consider Jesus, both when you have doubts, and when your faith is strong. Consider Jesus, when the whole world seems to be against you, and when you’ve won the greatest victory of your life. Consider Jesus, when your faith leads you through the Red Sea to dry land, and when you feel like you’re drowning and ready to throw in the towel. Consider Jesus, when your faith is in shambles and you have nothing left to hold on to, and when you experience the greatest spiritual high you’ve ever had. Consider Jesus, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. Amen.
 Heb. 11: 39-40, NRSV.
 Heb 12:1, NRSV.
 Working Preacher.
 Heb 12:3, NRSV
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Luke 12:32-40
Fr. Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
7 August 2022
Treasure-hunting is alive and well. I'm sure you've heard about the most recent Mega Millions lottery, worth $1.3 billion dollars. Countless Americans bought the tickets, hoping to be the lucky one with the winning numbers. I read that someone in the Chicago area had the ticket. That person's life will change overnight, soon to be propelled into the realm of the ultrarich. Yes, we hear about how most lottery winners are not really happy and how many of them squander away their wealth. But, to be honest, how many of us would not want a quick billion dollars? Think about the benefits and rewards that would come with that kind of money: the power, the status, the freedom to pursue whatever we wanted.
It is human nature to desire wealth and possessions. And our society celebrates the acquisition of money. The media hypnotizes us with icons of wealth and status, from multi-billionaires to celebrity athletes and movie stars.
In today's Gospel, we have a counter-intuitive and counter-cultural message about wealth. Jesus tells his disciples: "Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treaure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Luke 12:33-40). In contrast to the message around us to accumulate wealth, Jesus tells us to give it away.
Why? For one, there is no enduring value in our material possessions. Wealth comes and goes. Jesus employs the colorful images of worn-out purses, plundering thieves, and moth-eaten valuables to illustrate the fleeting nature of earthly treasures. I heard somewhere that most family fortunes do not survive three generations. What usually happens is that the generations that come after the founder of the fortune usually lack the same kind of hunger for money and end up spending more than increasing the family wealth. In last week's Gospel, we read about the rich fool who makes all sorts of plans for what to do with his money only to die the next day (Luke 12:13-21). As the cliche goes, you can't take it with you when you go.
But there is another, more important reason for not placing our faith in material possessions. Jesus speaks of a different, far superior kind of wealth, "an unfailing treasure in heaven." Unlike the treasures of this world, this heavenly treasure has enduring value; indeed, it is eternal in nature. What is this heavenly treasure? It is none other than Christ himself. Jesus is our "unfailing treasure in heaven."
Jesus is the treasure of God's precious gift of his own Son to the world. Jesus is God Incarnate, God in the flesh. And as God Incarnate, Christ is the source of all creation, the source of all blessings. Everything that we have and enjoy comes from Christ. And through his Passion, Death, and Resurrection, he has become our Savior and Lord. We have the promise of life with him in this world and in the next.
Hence, compared to the treasure that we have in Jesus, everything else pales in comparison. In the parable of the Pearl of Great Price in the Gospel of Matthew, we read of the pearl merchant who finds one pearl of great value (Matthew 13:45-46). He sells everything he has in order to buy the one pearl. For the Christian, Jesus is the Pearl of Great Price, the treasure above all treasures for which we should be willing to sacrifice everything else. As we read in today's Gospel: "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
Throughout Christian history, many believers have done just that, given up everything for their faith. In the Gospels, we read of the disciples who left behind family and possessions to follow Jesus. And we have the long and rich monastic tradition of monks and nuns who have given up everything to take vows of poverty and service to the poor and needy. Yet, at the same time, we also have examples of wealthy believers in the early church who, though they did not give away everything they had, were generous patrons of the church and its ministries. And throughout Christian history as well as in the present, we have believers on all points of the socioeconomic spectrum. Based on the experience of the Church, the degree to which we sacrifice our material possessions for the sake of the faith seems to depend on our individual conscience, to what we believe God is calling us to do. Perhaps because of my very Protestant background (I don't know any monks or nuns), I personally am not aware of anyone who has taken the radical step of giving it all up.
But whatever sacrifices we make, even giving it all up, they are nothing compared to what we receive in return. From the treasure that is Christ flows a stream of spiritual riches that no money can buy. He is our Redeemer, who grants us the the promise of eternal life. He has conquered death and offers us unending life with him. And in this life, we have the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, sent by Jesus to provide us in our daily lives with wisdom and guidance, and comfort and strength in times of trial. And just as earthly wealth can provide the resources to do what we want, the spiritual riches that come from our relationship with Jesus also empower us, not to do what we want but to carry out God's will. Inspired and empowered by Christ, we do God's work in the world, feeding the poor, healing the sick, visiting the lonely, committing ourselves to peace and justice.
Earthly treasures, like the lottery jackpot, derive their value from being rare and limited to the few. But the heavenly treasure that is Christ is available to all of us. It is God's free gift. And it is available to us now. We claim this treasure every time we come to the altar for Holy Eucharist. As we receive the host and chalice, we receive the precious Body and Blood of Jesus into our own bodies. We thus become bearers of the treasure that is above all treasures: Jesus, God-Incarnate. Dear sisters and brothers, let us now join together and come to the altar to receive our divine treasure, the source of all blessings. And bearing this treasure in us, let us go forth to be Christ to one another in love and service. Amen.
Joseph of Arimathea
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
August 1, 2022
Today, we commemorate Joseph of Arimathea. All that we know of him comes from the narratives of the burial of Jesus in the Gospels. Though John speaks of Joseph as a secret disciple of our Lord, and associates him with Nicodemus, another member of the Jewish Sanhedrin who was drawn to Jesus, we know nothing of any further activity of these men in the early Christian community.
Later, however, legends developed about their leadership in the Church. One of the more enduring is the story of Joseph’s coming to the ancient Church of Glastonbury in southwest England and bringing with him the Holy Grail, the cup used at the Last Supper which Joseph had used to catch some of Christ’s blood at his crucifixion. According to the Arthurian legends dating to the 13th century, Joseph died in England, and his eldest son Josephus became the island’s spiritual leader while his younger son Galahad took charge of secular duties. Before he died, Josephus passed the Grail to his nephew Alan and his descendants. Galahad’s grandson, named Galahad after him, is the one we know as Sir Galahad the Chaste.
Galahad was said to be the greatest knight ever, and his virginity is often seen to be the key to his perfection. In other words, he’s the perfect knight because he’s a virgin. Galahad can defeat any enemy who comes before him, and even at an extremely young age, surpasses his father, in terms of strength, chivalry, and ability. Galahad receives the Perilous Seat at the Round Table, which is destined to belong to the greatest knight, who would be the one to end the Grail quests; if anyone else tried to sit there, they would find themselves in peril. Galahad is the only knight who can draw the Sword in the Stone as he is the only knight worthy enough.
Let’s be clear. This is a lovely story, but it is lore, and we have no written documentation of it before the 13th century. But it is holy lore. One of the more recent scholarly works on the Holy Grail, written by Richard Barber, argues that the Grail legend is connected to the introduction of "more ceremony and mysticism" surrounding the sacrament of the Eucharist in the High Middle Ages, proposing that the first Grail stories may have been connected to the "renewal in this traditional sacrament".
That leads us to this stained-glass window right over here of the likely fictional figure of St. Galahad the Chaste. If you haven’t seen it, please come up and take a peek after Mass. It was given by Fr. Edwin Merrill in 1921 and dedicated to a Ralph Albert Parker, and “old college chum”. Fr. Merrill was rector of St. Mary’s from 1918-1953 (35 years!), and his portrait at a much later age is right back there. After completing his first year of seminary at the age of 27, like many young people do, he and Mr. Parker traveled on foot throughout Western Europe for about five months. Mr. Parker later married and Merrill of course finished seminary and was ordained priest. In 1919, the year after Fr. Merrill arrived here, Mr. Parker died of typhoid fever at the age of 32, leaving a widow and one-year-old daughter.
Fr. Merrill was the last “bachelor priest” of St. Mary’s. A story has developed over the years that Fr. Merrill and Mr. Parker were lovers, but let’s be clear. This is a lovely story, but it is lore. But I think it is holy lore. What we know is that they went to college together and were friends, and that they were so close that Parker’s death in 1919 spurred Fr. Merrill to commission this window, with Sir Galahad gazing at the enter of the altar where I will elevate the chalice in a moment. The inscription at the bottom says, “I, Galahad, have seen the Holy Grail. Let us press forward.”
Joseph of Arimathea probably never visited England during his lifetime. But the holy lore that developed over a thousand years after his death is ever present here at St. Mary’s. As we receive communion today, consecrated upon the same altar where Fr. Edwin Merrill celebrated Mass literally thousands of times, let us give thanks for his friendship with Ralph Albert Parker, no matter the precise nature of their relationship. For the fruits of that relationship continue to remind all who see this window that the bravest knight in all of Christendom has found the true Grail, the prize beyond all measure. That prize is nothing other than Jesus Christ in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. Amen.
 Barber, Richard. The Holy Grail: Imagination and Belief. Harvard University Press, 2004.
Proper 13 Year C
The Rev’d Deacon Lynda Hurt
TO WANT more is a basic human instinct. Want for worldly goods is attached to an irrational fear that one day we will not have enough. And the irony is, IS THERE EVER ENOUGH???… enough seems to be just beyond what we have. However…we owe a lot to those that came before us for wanting more… our survival has been dependent on that. By desiring more, we have found ways over thousands of years to greatly improve our quality of life. It’s been said that without a thirst for more we would still be living in caves…OR….the inventions and discoveries in the field of medicine and science that make life more sustainable Human beings are inclined towards life and not destruction or death. So, we can attribute so much of our progress to our instinct for wanting more. But when do we decide we have enough? Or to put it another way, what happens when our desire for more becomes insatiable and isolating.
Jesus has much to say in the Gospels about money and possessions… neither of which are inherently bad. A capitalistic economy is not immoral, …in fact it may be one of the few systems that has the capacity for charity. But in a society where pursuit of self-interest and profit are idealized and even romanticized, it is easy for consumerism to go unchecked. It really comes down to matters of the heart and our willingness to be grateful for our abundance and share what we have.
Today’s Gospel reading is referred to as the parable of the rich fool. Jesus is talking to a crowd of people when he is interrupted by someone asking him to settle a dispute between he and his brother regarding the division of their family inheritance. In ancient times, it was the custom and birthright of the oldest son to receive double the portion of the family possessions…which for most of us might seem like a very good custom if you’re the oldest child. So, this assumably younger brother is asking Jesus to advocate for him and basic fairness as it pertains to his inheritance. After all, he’s not asking for more…just an equal shared, which sounds like a reasonable request. But Jesus recognizes a deeper issue here…one that points to an attitude of greed where one pins their hopes to the security of material things. Jesus rejects the role of arbitrator and instead uses the opportunity to illustrate that a person’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. (pause) He proceeds, as Jesus often does, to illustrate his point using a parable.
In it, we learn that the central figure, the rich fool, had land that produced abundantly. So much so, that it created a storage problem for him, so his only solution was to pull down his barns and build larger ones that will hold his crops. Just to be clear, there is nothing wrong with pulling down your barns to make room for a bigger yield of crops or whatever you store in your barns. But, it is what he said next that reveals the true character of this man. After he has safely secured his crops in the new and bigger barn, he proceeds to say in a rather self-satisfied way, “I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ His words reflect an attitude of someone who believes they alone are responsible for their abundance and that it is the sole source of security.
It's tempting to think that God is condemning this man’s wealth. He is not. Possessions and wealth are not inherently bad. What he’s teaching here has to do with the blind attitude of the rich man who took for granted that his security and strength is tied up in the things he owns. His possessions became an extension of himself and in the process, he lost his sense of the fragility of life. We know from this parable that on that very night the rich man’s life would be demanded of him, he was going to die, and it is then that God asks him what will become of his things, because, as the saying goes, “he can’t take it with him”. God vigorously “disabuses the rich man of his notion that he is an … [a] self-created entity, and reminds him that life and breath are given (and taken) by divine dispensation”. 
The rich man's anxiety mirrors in many ways our own obsession with protecting our things…we have lockboxes and lifehacks to make sure people don’t have access to our stuff…bolts on our doors, passwords, guard dogs, alarms…it is a human obsession to protect what is ours. incidentally…it is not that such safeguards are wrong or are not needed. But when we become consumed with protecting our worldly possession in a way that destroys our connection to community and the Divine, we lose the part of us that enables us to truly be alive. We are deceived by the notion that wealth gives us freedom to “eat, drink and be merry”, when in fact it’s quite the opposite. The worry alone of losing our stuff can be debilitating and rob us of our freedom to live and love.
This parable challenges us to reflect on where we DO draw our strength and security…where does true peace of mind come from? I don’t think it’s STUFF. For the rich man, it DID revolve around his possessions. And what is striking in this passage, and a sad commentary on self-reliance is the dialogue that this man is having with himself. Let me read that part again. “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry”. This is a heartbreaking portrayal of loneliness. It appears that this man has no friends and paints the picture of a man who “does not need anyone else”. His material possessions have become the singular focus of his life’s pursuit with no need of the love of family or friends, nor of a community of support.
The rich farmer is a fool not because he is wealthy or because he saves for the future, but because he appears to live only for himself. The land produced abundantly, yet the farmer expresses no sense of gratitude to God or to the workers who have helped him plant and harvest this bumper crop. How differently would his outlook be, if he saw God as the source of all he has.
God designed us to live and share with others in a community of love, not isolated from the world, gathering up earthly treasure to be hoarded. Materialism for the sake of our own self-preservation destroys our concern for our neighbor and our capacity to trust in God. Our true strength and security lie in the promises of God…it is where we find refuge when we have lost all else.
Feasting on the Gospels--Luke, Volume 2 (p. 39). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.
 (Keck 2015, 212)
 Feasting on the Gospels--Luke, Volume 2 (p. 40). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Luke 11:1-13
Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
24 July 2022
As Christians, we often refer to ourselves as a family of faith. And we use terms that we ordinarily reserve for family members. We call one sisters and brothers. We are children of God, and the head of our family is our heavenly Father. These days, you may also hear God referred to as mother. We use these family terms to express the personal, intimate nature of the relationship we enjoy with God and with one another. We Christians do not think of God as some distant, aloof deity but as a loving and caring God.
In today’s Gospel reading from Luke, Jesus, surrounded by his disciples, reflects on what it means to call God “Our Father.” He presents two brief parables, both using the example of a father-child relationship. We read: “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Jesus employs the element of absurdity to convey his message. What father in his right mind would give a deadly snake to a child who asks for fish, or a scorpion instead of an egg? The parables point out that it is in the nature of fatherhood to provide for the needs of his children – in this case, food and nourishment.
Jesus uses the analogy of a caring human father to explain how we, too, can turn to God with our needs and wishes. God will listen and answer our prayers and supplications. Just as a father loves and provides for his child, God, our heavenly Father, loves and provides for us.
While this message may seem straightforward to us, Jesus’ original audience – his disciples – would have been surprised by this kind of portrait of fatherhood. A father’s love for a child is universal, but as in other ancient societies, first-century Jews viewed the father as primarily an authority figure, the head of the household, someone with absolute power over his family. The father was the one who gave orders and imposed discipline, and the role of the rest of the family – the wife and the children – was to obey without question. In contrast to this stern traditional image of fatherhood, Jesus emphasizes the loving and caring side, and uses it to explain the nature of God’s relationship to us.
Today, most of us no longer subscribe to a harsh, authoritarian view of fatherhood as we have in the past. I am going to date myself here, but my generation is the product of TV shows like “Leave It to Beaver” – reruns, of course – or “The Brady Bunch,” in which the father is warm and loving, wise and understanding, even all knowing - remember the show "Father Knows Best"? But we know that the fathers in these shows are idealizations created by Hollywood. They are fictional characters. How many Ward Cleaver’s and Mike Brady’s do you actually know? Sadly, these days, we even hear tragic stories of parents who abuse their children. Some of you may remember the disturbing news story from a few years ago of the parents in California who kept their thirteen children chained and padlocked to a bed, depriving them of food and other necessities. In spite of the idealization of parenthood and family life in our society, reality does not always match the expectations.
When Jesus draws the analogy between a human father and our heavenly Father in his parables, he recognizes the limits and problems in the comparison. Thus, he explains that while God is like a human father, God goes beyond a human father. We read: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Jesus reveals that God our heavenly Father is far more loving and generous than a human father can ever be. And the reason for that is God gives us a gift that far surpasses any human gift – the gift of the Holy Spirit.
What is this gift of the Holy Spirit? Scripture teaches us that the Holy Spirit is nothing less than God’s own presence dwelling in us. Thus, as our heavenly Father, God gives us, his children, his own spirit to fill our hearts and minds. Because the Holy Spirit dwells in us, we are never alone. God is always with us, whether we are aware of this reality or not. In describing this divine presence in our lives, the Apostle Paul declares that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6:19). Just as God dwelt in the Holy of Holies in the temple that King Solomon built, God now resides in us, blessing and sanctifying our lives. In the Gospel of John, Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as the Comforter (John 16:7). When we experience times of trial or need, the Holy Spirit is there, helping us and giving us comfort and strength. Because of the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit, we never have to face the challenges and problems in our lives alone. God is with us always. And when we are so overwhelmed that we cannot even find the words to pray, we are told that the Holy Spirit prays for us with sighs too deep for words (Romans 8:26-27). God understands our needs even without our asking.
One of the most difficult aspects of the parent-child relationship is experiencing the various moments and stages of separation. Looking back on my own life, I think of how difficult it was to leave my parents to go off to summer camp for the first time or to go off to college far away. Part of the painful process of growing up is to realize that we can’t live with our parents forever. And later in our lives, we have to confront the reality of aging and death that will separate our parents from us.
In our heavenly Father, we have no such worries of separation. God's presence in our lives is eternal. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, God dwells in us now. And in the life to come, we will reunite with our beloved family and friends who have gone before us, we will join our brothers and sisters in the faith, and we will live forever in our heavenly Father’s kingdom. Amen.
Pentecost VI, Proper 11, Year C
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
The Rev’d Charles Everson
Born in 1980, I’ve seen a whole lot of technological advancement in my lifetime. From Atari to personal computers to cell phones to 3D printing – I can’t imagine where the world is going to be when I’m 80 years old in the year 2060, God willing, of course. I can’t remember a single one of these advancements causing much of an emotional reaction, but this past week, when the first images from the James Webb Space Telescope were released, Jay and I piped the images from the computer onto the big screen, and we sat there and cried. They were so beautiful! Jay said, “I can’t imagine how anyone could look at these images and believe that humanity is the only sentient life in the universe.” I said, “I can see that. I can’t imagine how anyone could look at these images and not believe in God.” I can’t. It is unfathomable to me that the distant galaxies and star-forming regions we beheld appeared as they were over 13 billion years ago. During those awe-inspiring moments, this verse from Psalm 19 came to my mind, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handy-work.”
Using the strongest language about the divinity of Christ in all of Scripture, the early Christian hymn we heard from Paul’s letter to the Church at Colossae declares that in Jesus, “all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers.” There was never a time – even 13 billion years ago – that Jesus didn’t exist. “All things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” From the subatomic forces in every single molecule and atom in your body to the Carina Nebula where stars are born – Christ is present even there, holding all things together.
But I imagine that the early Christians didn’t have the stars above in their heavenly courses in mind when they sang this hymn. They lived in a world in which the Roman Emperor ruled supreme, subjugating the various people groups he conquered, including the Jews and the early Christians who lived in Palestine. Scholars believe the letter to the Colossians was written around the same time as the Great Jewish Revolt of 66 AD when the Jews rebelled against their Roman overlords. This hymn, seen in that light, is subversive, even seditious.
In a world in which images of Caesar were everywhere, Jesus is “the image of the invisible God.” In an imperial mythology in which the emperor is considered all but divine by virtue of his lineage, Christ is “the first born of all creation.” In a culture in which the emperor’s preeminence is embedded in socio-economic, political, and military structures, these Christians dared to cry out in song that “all things in heaven and on earth were created…through him and for him.” Even thrones, dominions, rulers, and powers are subject to his rule. Because of his bodily resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ is the one who will come to “have first place in everything.”
This reminds me of some of the hymns that enslaved black people sang that weren’t exactly what they appeared to be. “Wade in the water, children” told people how to escape in a way that the Master’s bloodhounds can’t pick up your scent. Wear black, said another verse, to escape detection. “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” told slaves to find Ripley, Ohio, where a “band of angels” would bring a “sweet chariot” to carry them across the dangerous Ohio River to their freedom.
In a society that allows white people to own black people, Christ is the true Master who brings freedom and liberation to the captive! In an empire that views the emperor as the head of the body-politic, these early followers of Jesus sang that Christ “is the head of the body, the church.” Just as Jesus replaces Caesar, so does the church replace the empire.
In our day, there are many things that hold us captive, but perhaps nothing holds so many who call themselves Christian in this country captive than white Christian nationalism. I’m not talking about patriotism, or love of country, but rather the view that Christian and American identities are somehow one and the same. Christian nationalists believe that the tenants of their version of the Christian faith should influence both our national identity and public policy, even for those who don’t hold that same faith. This view is almost exclusively held by white people, and is deeply embedded in American society, expressing itself in everything from the seemingly innocuous “In God we Trust” on our money to a violent insurrection at the US Capitol Building. We should definitely love and pray for our country, but Christian identity transcends all ethnic and cultural claims and practices. We are Christian before we’re American, and the two are not the same thing. The Church embraces “every creature under heaven” including “Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, and free.” It includes those who identify as American, Canadian, El Salvadorian, black, white, brown, gay, straight, men, women, trans, rich, and poor, even when the law of the land excludes and marginalizes them. Jesus Christ, “the firstborn of all creation, is the head of the body, the church” – a church that transcends all human divisions. Through Christ, “God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”
The early Christians in Colossae needed to be reconciled with God because they were “estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil things,” Paul says. This indictment of their sinfulness isn’t unique to the Colossians, of course, but applies to all of humanity, including you and me. We are all sinners in need of reconciliation with God. This reconciliation isn’t forced by political leaders with the fear of being crucified on a cross as it was in the Roman Empire, nor is it brought about by Christians attempting to impose it on citizens of this country who hold different religious views. It is accomplished through Jesus’s fleshly body, the firstborn of the dead – through being buried with him in baptism and being raised to newness of life in his resurrection. Having reconciled us in his fleshly body, Jesus now presents us to the Father “holy and blameless and irreproachable…provided that [we] continue securely established and steadfast in the faith…”
What does it mean to “continue securely established and steadfast in the faith?” Paul fleshes this out in the next chapter which we will hear next Sunday, but Paul’s desire that the Church continue in allegiance to Christ is the motivation for this letter. Eternal salvation is not a thing that happens once-for-all when you ask Jesus to enter your heart and forgive you your sins, it’s the result of an ongoing, day-after-day journey of faith that begins with baptism and ends with the death of our bodies. Day by day, we struggle with the old self that died in baptism, and when that old self haunts us and we let us win, we turn back to Jesus, confess our sins, receive his pardon and peace, and continue onward on our way toward “the hope promised by the gospel we have heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven.” Creature means all the elements of creation, not only human beings. From the subatomic forces in every single molecule and atom in your body to the Carina Nebula where stars are born – Christ is present even there, holding all things together.
The early Church sang their subversive, even seditious hymn that proclaimed allegiance to Jesus over Caesar, and Church over Empire. Like the hymns sung by enslaved black people before the Civil War in this country, this hymn wasn’t what it appeared to be. The hymn that we will sing in a moment just before the consecration of the elements, the Sanctus, “Holy, holy, holy” also isn’t what it appears to be. Even though we’re singing it in 2022 in Kansas City in this place, we are joining with the Angels and Archangels, and all the company of heaven in singing their everlasting hymn before God’s throne. In the Eucharistic sacrifice, time as we know it stands still as earth and heaven are joined, and we are transported to that green hill called Calvary, and Calvary is brought here. When we receive our Lord into our bodies, our sins are forgiven, our union with Christ and the Church is strengthened, our loyalties are confirmed, and we experience a foretaste of the heavenly banquet which is our nourishment in eternal life.
The Church invites us to come to this altar, no matter what is holding us captive, laying aside our earthly allegiances to king and country, to renew our allegiance to the firstborn of all creation, the head of the church, and the author of our salvation. We marvel at the beauty of the distant galaxies and star-forming regions he created so many billions of years ago, and we behold him in the beauty of the simple creatures of bread and wine. Let us come and receive the One who reconciles us to God us with his own body and blood, receiving the grace we need to “continue securely established and steadfast in the faith.” Amen.
 Psalm 19:1, Coverdale translation.
 Brian Walsh: https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-16-3/commentary-on-colossians-115-28-2.
 Col. 1:28
 Col. 3:11.
 Col. 1:23
 Col. 2:6-20.
 Michael D. Coogan, Marc Zvi Brettler, Carol A. Newsom, and Pheme Perkins, The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version : With the Apocrypha : An Ecumenical Study Bible. 4th ed. (Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford UP, 2010), 2069.
 Amy-Jill Levine and Zvi Marc Brettler, eds. The Jewish Annotated New Testament: New Revised Standard Version Bible Translation. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2017, 411.
 1979 BCP 860.
Feast of the Dedication
The Rev’d Charles Everson
July 10, 2022
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Throughout the week, I often find myself accompanying someone into this building who has never been here before. Sometimes it’s a vendor, sometimes it’s a visiting organist, sometimes it’s a Episcopalian from another parish coming to the noon Mass. Usually, we walk in through the parish hall and come in right over here, but I’ve learned to make it a point to pay attention to the person’s face.
No matter their religious beliefs or socio-economic status, there is a look of awe and wonder on their face. No matter what their duties may be that day, they always take a few moments to take in the beauty of what they see. And sometimes, the person’s facial expression begins to look almost uncomfortable as if the building is too ornate, or too extravagant.
Why do so many Christians around the world decide to spend the money and resources on such structures rather than worshipping in plain, inexpensive spaces? In order to answer that question, we must look to the One that St. Peter called “a living stone” in our second lesson, and specifically to the doctrine that the Church calls the “incarnation.”
There are many controversies and disagreements amongst Christians, but belief in the incarnation isn’t usually one of them at this point in history. According to the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, the doctrine of the incarnation affirms that the eternal Son of God took flesh from his human mother and that the historical person of Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully human. This means that God didn’t temporarily appear in human form, but asserts an abiding union in the Person of Christ of Godhead and manhood without the integrity or permanence of either being impaired. It also assigns the beginnings of this union to a definitive date in human history. Using back-of-the-napkin math, I calculate that 97.48% of Christians worldwide belong to a church that affirms the traditional understanding of the incarnation. It is the doctrine of the incarnation that lays the theological groundwork for the sacraments of the Church.
From about age 11 to age 22, I was Southern Baptist, and was taught that normal way to commune intimately with God by having what they called “a quiet time,” meaning time by yourself in a room with a Bible, praying and studying the Word. Yes, they believe that God inhabits the praises of his people and is present by the Spirit in public worship, but the quiet time was the most important thing to grow deeper in the faith and get closer to God. I was taught that God’s grace invisibly washes away your sin when you ask Jesus to come into your heart. My freshman year in college, much to my Baptist religion professors’ chagrin, I began reading the Church Fathers – the earliest Christian theologians whose writings we still have – and I became aware that practically all Christians in the 1500 years leading up to the Protestant Reformation believed that the grace of God is primarily communicated to humanity via the Sacraments of the Church, most importantly in Holy Baptism and the Holy Eucharist. And I subsequently learned that the vast majority of Christians alive today believe that too! Yes, private prayer is important, but the incarnation of God did not stop or disappear when Jesus ascended into heaven. Jesus didn’t die to save our souls, he died to save all of creation, our bodies included. And thanks be to God, Jesus he kept his promise to be with us always, even unto the end of the ages, when he sent the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Day who continues to breathe life into the Church by the Word of God preached and Sacraments duly and rightly administered.
And this brings us to today’s feast. We are celebrating the dedication and consecration of this building. The earliest church buildings were not formally set apart with any particular liturgical rite, but rather, the consecration of the building seems to have consisted of the first celebration of the Eucharist within the building (a consecration by use, if you will). As with most of the liturgies of the Church, special and impressive rites developed in both the East and the West over time, and while the celebration of the Eucharist always remained the central and essential element of the rites, there were elaborate processions, the asperging of the church with holy water, and the anointing of the altar with chrism oil. As early as the fourth century, the dedication of the church began to be commemorated annually in many places.
Our building was dedicated by Bishop Atwill on June 17, 1888, but it wasn’t formally consecrated until June 19, 1938 – 50 years later. And this is because the building was completed during a strange time between 1868 and 1979 when The Episcopal Church had broken from Tradition and required that all church property be mortgage-free before it is consecrated. Milder dedication rites were developed for use when the building was complete, but since 1979, we’ve been back to a single dedication and consecration service when the building begins to be used regardless of any debt.
Here's the story about the debt. This building was completed in 1887, and when the congregation first moved in, it was known by all that the church was built on the bank of a buried creek. But it wasn’t discovered until the tower was erected that it had been constructed too close to the underground spring which fed the old creek. The water from the spring began to undermine the tower’s foundation, causing it to lean dangerously. Rather than sue the architect, a fellow Episcopalian, the Vestry decided to borrow $12,000, rebuild the tower, and finish the building. [EXTEMP REMARKS ABOUT THE GALLERY AND TOWER ACCESS] $12,000 sounds like no big deal today, but it took the congregation 50 years to pay it off, which is when the building was finally consecrated by Bishop Spencer on June 19, 1938.
For over 134 years, the Holy Eucharist has been celebrated in this building most days of the year. The incarnation of God in Jesus Christ that began with Mary’s Annunciation continues to this day on the altars handed down to us by our forebears. We continue to come down this aisle (and the one in St. George’s Chapel) to receive the Bread of Heaven and the Cup of Salvation and continue to encounter the One that St. Peter called “a living stone” in this place day after day, week after week.
Yes, God can be found in the beauty of nature. We can pray from anywhere in the known universe and commune with God. But we firmly believe in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, and that Jesus keeps his promise to be with us, even to the end of the age. We believe this so deeply, so strongly, that we build buildings that reflect the heights and the riches and the beauty of that faith. The beauty and wonder that we see and hear in this place is physical, and it should find its spiritual counterpart in our hearts. We see here the finished product of stone, wood, brick, wrought iron, and marble; so too our lives should reveal the extravagance of God’s grace that we’ve received here time and time again.
This point was brought home in my heart on April 19, 2019, a day you might remember – a day I’ve talked about a few times in sermons. On that day, the world watched in horror as Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris burned. I was confirmed at Notre Dame, and it represents the heart of Christianity in France, so it was a rather emotional moment for me. During the fire, Fr. Fournier, the chaplain of the Paris Fire Brigade, risked his life to go into the burning cathedral to rescue the relic believed to be the Crown of Thorns Jesus wore at his crucifixion, but more importantly, to rescue the Blessed Sacrament – the consecrated bread reserved in the tabernacle above the altar.
In the subsequent days, some were surprised – even shocked – that so many people showed such deep emotion for a building made by human hands when so many people are suffering in the world. Some have decried the amount of money needed to rebuild it. And some, I’m sure, have thought that it’s ridiculous for a man to risk his life to save a piece of bread.
The Archbishop of Paris said put it this way in a sermon shortly after the fire:
"We must ask why Notre Dame was constructed. Why this human genius? Because they could have done something functional. It's far more than functional. And why? Because what is honored there is absolutely splendid, that's what we believe. And if you want to ask the real question, what jewel is this jewel box for? It's not for the Crown of Thorns. It's for a piece of bread. It's astonishing. How can one construct such a work of art for a piece of bread? That piece of bread is the Body of Christ. And that endures. Nobody will ever be able to destroy it."
Dear friends, we are all stewards of this glorious building. It is not worthy of our worship, and our faith would not be in vain if a tornado were to destroy it. We are stewards of this work of human hands that serves as a jewel box for the One who is the living stone – the One who came not only to save our souls, but also our bodies – the One who loved us so much that he died to set us free – the One who stoops to this altar day after day and feeds us with his very self.
The beauty and wonder that we see and hear in this place is physical, and may it find its spiritual counterpart in our hearts. We see here the finished product of stone, wood, brick, wrought iron, and marble; may our lives reveal the extravagance of God’s grace that we’ve received in this place time and time again. In the words of Joshua our forbear, “How awesome is this place! It is none other than the house of God, and the gate of heaven.”
 F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 872., altered slightly by me.
 Marion Hatchett, Commentary on the American Prayer Book, Seabury Press, New York: 1980, 540-543.
 Origen, Homily 9 on Joshua the Son of Nun 1-2: SC 71 244-246 as quoted in J. Robert Wright’s “Readings for the Daily Office from the Early Church”, Church Pension Fund, New York: 1991, slightly altered by me.
 Paraphrase of Genesis 28:17, NRSV.
Trinity Sunday, Year C
June 12, 2022
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
The Rev’d Charles Everson
This August will make five years since I arrived at St. Mary’s. As you can imagine, I’m often called upon to give tours of this beautiful space, and each time I do, I discover something new – something fresh – some hidden gem waiting to be rediscovered. It is an understatement to say that the tours I give today are completely different than those of five years ago. Yes, the focus is still on the amazing windows and swooping arches – the breathtaking high altar under which is buried our former rector Fr. Henry David Jardine, but I generally start tours now with an invitation to be on the lookout throughout the tour for a symbol that is hidden in plain sight all over this church: the fleur-de-lys.
Despite the deceptive name in French which means “flower of the lily,” this is a symbol of the three petals of an iris. It has a long history within heraldry, most famously as the emblem of the kings of France, and thus in our own day, all things French. Going back to 14th century France, the three petals of the iris are said to represent the three persons of the Holy Trinity – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And the band on the bottom that binds them together symbolizes the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God. The tradition says that without Mary, you cannot understand the Trinity since it was she who bore the Son.
And that is where I want to explore the Holy Trinity with you today. Today’s feast is the only feast in the church year dedicated to a doctrine, rather than a saint or an event in Jesus’s life. And being a complex doctrine that defies our ability to comprehend, the rector often asks a seminarian or associate priest or deacon to preach, mainly for the thrill of chiding him or her for preaching heresy. As I learned this practice on the other side when I was a seminarian, it’s an ecclesiastical hazing ritual I’ve played on several including Fr. Sean and David Wilcox but, decided that this year, I’d take one for the team. But rather than subject myself to charges of heresy by using one of the well-known-yet-flawed analogies about the Trinity, I’d like to take a different approach and explore this relationship that Mary has with God the Holy Trinity.
Lumen gentium, one of the principal documents of the Second Vatican Council, puts it this way: Mary "is endowed with the high office and dignity of the Mother of the Son of God, and therefore she is also the beloved daughter of the Father and the temple of the Holy Spirit.”
In the Annunciation, the angel Gabriel announces that despite being a virgin, she will bear a Son whose kingdom shall know no end, and Mary responds in humble submission, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” So total – so complete is her submission to God’s will that it mirrors Christ’s own self-denial in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” Mary invites us to follow her lead and surrender our whole selves to the will of the Father. The result of her submission to the Father is Mary’s union with the Spirit. Her “let it be with me according to your word” resulted in God taking flesh within her, meaning she received the Spirit into the deepest parts of her being. To be united to the Spirit we must follow the model of Mary and receive God into the inner most parts of ourselves. Her union with the Spirit leads to Mary’s cooperation with Jesus in His mission of freedom and redemption. In giving birth to Jesus, Mary is mystically participating in His mission, bringing Him to the world. This continues in the Visitation, where she brings the unborn Jesus to sanctify John the Baptist in the womb. Her relationship with Jesus as mother cooperating in His mission continues throughout His ministry, from wedding feast at Cana to the cross on that green hill outside the city wall. If we are to follow Mary to Jesus then we must take the same approach of sharing in His mission—even, or rather especially, if it brings us all the way to the cross. 
Perhaps today’s feast isn’t so much about either the doctrine of the Holy Trinity or the fear of missing the doctrinal mark than it is an invitation to relationship. In Mary’s relationship as daughter of the Father, spouse of the Holy Spirit, and mother of Christ, we too are invited into a deeper relationship with God by submitting to the Father, uniting with the Spirit, and spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ.
The Trinity is about relationship, but statistically speaking, many of us have had a dysfunctional relationship with a parent, and especially with our fathers. It is natural to be turned off to the idea of God as Father if you have had a father who was distant and rarely present or who abused you in some way. In Mary, the Church gives us a mother who is decidedly not divine, but rather, as the very first disciple of her Son, does nothing but point us to God. In her complete submission to the Father, her spousal union with the Spirit, and her joining in spreading the Good News of her Son, we are given a model of discipleship – all in the person of a loving mother.
The three petals on that ancient fleur-de-lys emblem are bound together in love by the band that represents the Mother of God, the same Mother of God who continues to point us to the one, holy, and undivided Trinity. Mary invites us today to enter more deeply into relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, modeling for us total submission, total union, total embrace of God’s mission. As we continue in the service with Holy Communion, we are invited to approach this great Sacrament, having submitted to the will of God the Father, to further our spiritual union with the Spirit by receiving Jesus into our bodies, not into the womb as Mary did, but as heavenly food, giving us the grace we need to go out into the world and share about God’s redeeming love.
As you come forward for communion, I invite you, as I do when I’m giving a tour of the church, to be on the lookout for the fleur-de-lys, and I’ll even give you a hint where you might see one. Look down just as you come up these stairs, and on the top of the Marian emblem on the floor, you’ll see the three petals bound together by a small band at the bottom. You’ll walk right on past that small band into the fullness of the flower and ultimately find yourself at the altar, the very gate of heaven and receive the fullness of the Most Holy Trinity into the very depths of your being. Mary invites us to do this not as individuals, but as those who have been grafted into her Son’s body the Church by baptism. We approach God together, as spiritual siblings of one family, and as part of this parish family under the patronage of Mary. As we leave this place nourished by this heavenly food, may we share God’s love with all who will listen, and invite them to join us in relationship with the one, holy, and undivided Trinity here at St. Mary’s Church. Amen.
 https://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html, #53.
 Luke 1:38 (NRSV)
 Luke 22:42 (NRSV)
 I’m grateful to Stephen Beale’s sermon which is the source for much of this paragraph: https://catholicexchange.com/mary-shows-us-how-to-live-in-communion-with-the-trinity/.
Seventh Sunday of Easter
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!