Fourth Sunday in Lent
The Rev’d Charles Everson
John 9:1-13, 28-38
March 19, 2023
Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior? Are you saved?
This is a question many of us have been asked, and some of may have asked it of others. In certain corners of the Christian faith, it is taught that this is how you become a Christian: at the moment in time when you admit to yourself and to God that you are a sinner, and you ask Jesus to come into your heart, you are “saved” and then are guaranteed a spot in heaven.
When I was 11, my step-dad got transferred to Texas, and once we got settled there, some friends at school invited me to a youth group gathering at Trinity Oaks Baptist Church in Red Oak, Texas. It was there I had such an experience. And wow, was it an emotional experience! I felt closer to God than I had ever been – as if I had met him for the first time and all of my spiritual and emotional wounds were healed! I was convinced that what they were telling me was true. Finally, I knew I’d get to heaven!
The youth pastor and other, having heard about my experience, encouraged me to be baptized. For the Baptists, baptism is something you do in response to the purely inward and spiritual act of accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. No grace is imparted in the waters of baptism. You get baptized only out of obedience as an outward sign of what has already happened in your heart.
In the passage we heard from the gospel of John, we see the conversion story of a man who was born blind. Jesus brought about healing and wholeness to the blind man not by teaching him what to pray or what to believe, but by spitting on the ground and making clay with the saliva and spreading it on the man’s eyes, then saying, “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam”. So he went and washed and came back able to see. This man’s conversion involved clay from the earth, Jesus’ saliva, the touch of his hands, and the words he spoke.
It wasn’t until years after my “conversion experience” at age 11 that I learned that this is exactly how the Sacraments of the Church work! By the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus infuses and transforms the simple creatures of water, bread and wine, and oil in order to communicate his grace, his healing, his wholeness to us. Salvation isn’t just something that happens in the secret places of our hearts, it is also something that happens to the body. There really isn’t any room in Christianity for separating the two.
This passage also exposes another unhealthy dualism that was as common in Jesus’s time as it is in our own. As Jesus passed the blind man, his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Many of us get it in our heads that if things are going well for me, God must be happy with me. On the other hand, if my life is going to hell in a handbasket, God must be unhappy with me. I must have done something wrong.
Friends, that isn’t Christianity. God’s grace and favor toward us are by definition unearned and undeserved and not related to anything we may have done or left undone.
Rather than treating the human body and soul as separate things, from the earliest of times, the Church has taught that we are one, whole, fully integrated person that is, in a sense, born blind. We are all born with the tendency to sin, and once we’re old enough and have the ability to choose right from wrong, we often choose to engage in sin.
This past Friday night, Bishop Bruce was here and she baptized and confirmed a young woman named Jordan (Jordan works on Sundays, so she’s been coming during the week), and she confirmed eight others: Jami, Aaron, Kait, Monica, Abby, Matthew, Cat, and Minor. Using the tangible elements of water, and the bishop’s hands, God’s grace was bestowed on these nine persons. Each of them acknowledged in their heart and publicly before this faith community and the Almighty that he or she is a sinner. By water and the Holy Spirit, God bestowed the forgiveness of sins on Jordan. The others renewed the covenant they made at their baptism (or was made on their behalf when they were infants) and by the laying on of the bishop’s hands and the Holy Spirit, they were strengthened with God’s heavenly grace and empowered to do the ministry God has called them to do as mature Christians.
While I know some of them better than others, it is certain that they all came to God for his grace on Friday from very different upbringings, experiences, and having made very different moral choices throughout their lives. Jesus met each of them where they are, and using physical elements transformed by the Holy Spirit bestowed his grace on them, not because they were worthy because of their own merit or success, but because God lavishly bestows his grace and love to those who don’t deserve it at all.
That powerful moment at Trinity Oaks Baptist Church at the young age of 11 was certainly when I realized for the first time that I was a sinner and in need of redemption. But I had been baptized as a young child at Village Presbyterian Church in Mission, Kansas. While she may not have had the theological language to explain why, my mother knew that baptism was once and for all and did not want me to get baptized again. I was a persistent and unruly child and ended up wearing her down, so she relented, and I ultimately got dunked by the Baptists. But in hindsight, I don’t think that was the moment I became destined for heaven, nor was my baptism when I was a child for that matter. When asked now if I’m saved, I respond, “I was saved, I am being saved, I will be saved.” Salvation isn’t a one-time event, but rather the culmination of a continual cycle of death and resurrection – of falling to sin and repenting and returning to the Lord – that begins at baptism and ends at the resurrection of the body at the Last Day, peppered with spiritual highs and lows and everywhere in between, littered with good and bad choices, and continually nourished by God’s grace given to us freely and undeservedly in the Sacraments of the Church.
And now, as we do week after week, we come to the altar of God and ask the Lord to bless and sanctify, by his Word and Holy Spirit, the simple creatures of bread and wine, receiving God’s pardon and peace in our bodies and in our souls, and eating of that foretaste of the heavenly banquet, giving us hope that just as Christ was raised from the dead, so we will be raised at the last day. Dear friends, let us run with haste to this altar as the wise men did to Bethlehem to greet our Savior Jesus Christ who came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world, confident that he will evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him. Amen.
Wednesday, March 8, 2023
The Rev’d Charles Everson
1 Thess. 4:13-18
When I was 32-years-old, I began to discern a call to ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church. The call previously manifested itself in a Southern Baptist context, and it never really left during the time I was Roman Catholic and eventually Episcopalian. During the interview process with the Commission on Ministry in Kansas, I was asked the typical questions: “Why do you feel called to be a priest” and “What excites you most about the thought of leading a parish” and so on. One question I hadn’t thought about before then was, “What causes you the most fear and anxiety when you envision life as a priest?” The answer came to me immediately without any additional thought: “I am afraid of dealing with death. The thought of being pastoral with those who are dying, and with their families, is scary to me.”
Death is not something we deal with very well in our day and age. When this building was built in 1887, life expectancy in the United States was 41.1 years of age and by 2020, it had climbed to 78.81 years of age. When the average person dies at the age of 40, death is part of human existence from a very early age. I didn’t experience death of a close family member until my grandmother died when I was 20.
Not long after that Commission on Ministry interview, I was called on to officiate a funeral of the 17-year-old son of a co-worker at the bank who had hung himself from a tree. Two years later, the bank owner’s son died at the age of 20 of a drug overdose. My second funeral here at St. Mary’s was for now parishioners Erika and Bryan Atkins’ daughter who died tragically at the age of 18, and just this week, my step-dad’s best friend’s 33-year-old son named Tim died suddenly and I’ve been asked to officiate his funeral.
I no longer fear death. No matter when death occurs – tragically at a young age, or after a long and fruitful life full of love – fear is no longer part of my experience. But sadness and grief certainly are. As Paul says to the Church at Thessalonica, we Christians do not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. This isn’t an intangible hope that we just feel in our hearts, it is palpable and manifested perhaps most fully in the gritty elements of bread and wine. In the Eucharist, we are given a foretaste of the heavenly banquet when we will be united with Jesus and those in Heaven in a way we can’t even begin to fathom. When we receive the bread and wine, we are given a sure and certain hope that one day, we will be reunited with those we love but see no more.
Dear friends, as we celebrate this requiem mass, we grieve and mourn our beloved dead, but we do so without fear. For Christ has conquered death, and through these simple creatures of bread and wine, we have hope that we will feast with them in heaven where there is no death, neither sorrow nor crying, but the fulness of joy with all the saints.
First Sunday in Lent
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
February 25, 2023
As we begin our forty days and forty nights in the wilderness of Lent, we hear Matthew’s account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. But first is the story of Adam and Eve in the garden. They are in paradise, and all is well in the world. Along comes a serpent with cunning words, and the next thing you know, Adam and Eve fall for his lies and treachery and paradise is lost, seemingly forever.
Then we hear the story of Jesus’s temptation by the devil. While Adam and Eve are in garden with all of the sustenance they need and all the beautiful weather they could ask for, Jesus is famished in the wilderness left to struggle with his temptation alone.
In the first temptation, the tempter quotes Scripture and encourages Jesus to satisfy his physical hunger by turning stones into bread. He says, “If you are the Son of God,” but this doesn’t mean that he’s expressing doubt about who Jesus is. The word “if” could be translated from the Greek as “since” – “since you are the Son of God.” He’s rather trying to deceive Jesus into using his power to satisfy his own physical needs rather than trusting God the Father for them. Jesus responds not with his own words, but by quoting Scripture, affirming that life is sustained by more than physical food; it is sustained by every word that comes from the mouth of God. Jesus will not misuse his power to satisfy his own physical needs.
The second test focuses on the need for security and safety. The devil quotes Scripture again, and this time, he tempts Jesus to make himself safe from injury or even death. Jesus recognizes once again that the devil is taking Scripture out of context: the Hebrew Bible does not endorse testing God’s protective grace for the sake of self-protection. Jesus will not misuse his power to make himself safe and secure.
In the third temptation, the devil tries to seduce Jesus with prestige. He offers him control over all the kingdoms of the world, along with the glory and splendor that comes with that, if he will only swear allegiance to the devil. Jesus rejects the tempter’s deception and quotes Scripture again in context saying, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” Jesus will not misuse his power to gain earthly power and prestige.
Just as Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, so we will be this Lent. Jesus didn’t respond to temptation as Adam did by succumbing to it, or fleeing to another selfish vice to escape, or by complaining to God, or by wondering what he may have done wrong to deserve it. He responded by deepening his dependence on God. The very temptations he experienced – materialism, false security, and prestige – are not foreign to us. We experience them every day. Consumerism is ubiquitous in our culture, something I’m reminded of when I look at my Amazon purchase history. In the richest country in the world, we often misuse our vast resources to try to make ourselves safer at the expense of the vulnerable and marginalized. And as Fr. Sean mentioned last week, Christianity isn’t looked upon favorably by many in our culture. We are regularly subjected to temptations to compromise our faith or values in order to gain prestige before others. We learn from our Lord that the appropriate response in resisting these and all temptations is to turn to God for help instead of relying on our own power.
Unlike the other accounts of Jesus’ temptation in Mark and Luke, Matthew’s account tells us Jesus being tempted after having fasted for forty days and forty nights. For Matthew, Jesus’ time of fasting was a time of preparation for temptation, not the means by which it happens. It was his intentional forty days and forty nights of fasting that prepared him to endure and ultimately overcome these temptations by the devil.
Intentional self-denial is helpful in the spiritual life because it reveals the things that control us. We cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but by denying ourselves, the things that control us come to the surface. If pride controls us, it will be revealed. Anger, bitterness, jealousy, strife, fear – if they are within us, they will surface during intentional periods of fasting and self-denial. When they surface, we will be tempted not only to stop denying ourselves, but also to sin. If we’re properly prepared and watching for these things to surface, we can then respond as Jesus did: we can turn to God for help and rely on his grace to strengthen our will to choose to overcome all assaults and temptations of the devil. Self-denial reminds us that we are sustained “by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (v. 4). Whatever it is that we’re giving up – that is not what sustains us; God sustains us. When we give something up during Lent, we are learning to rely on God to give us everything that we need and more. 
During the coming weeks, our fasting and self-denial will engage the dark places in our hearts, giving us an opportunity to come face to face with them, name them, understand them, and seek forgiveness for them. We will be tempted to rely on our own strength rather than the grace of God to overcome temptation. We will fall into sin and then be further tempted to allow the guilt we feel to hold us captive. Rather than being about guilt, Lent is about freedom from the control that our fears and insecurities have over us. It is about the amendment of life and new beginnings.
…new beginnings which are possible because as we will sing in our offertory hymn, in the “loving wisdom of our God, when all was sin and shame, a second Adam to the fight and to the rescue came.” Friends, paradise was not lost forever when Adam and Eve sinned. Human flesh and blood failed in Adam, but we strive afresh against that ancient foe, again and again, knowing that we will ultimately prevail not because of anything we’ve done, but because God’s free gift of grace redeems our flesh and blood through the one man Jesus Christ.
Dear friends, as we are tempted this Lent, let us ask the Lord to come quickly to help us, and as he knows the weaknesses of each of us, let each of us find him mighty to save. Amen.
 David Lyon Bartlett, and Barbara Brown Taylor. Feasting on the Word. Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009, 47-49.
 Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline, pp. 54-55.
 Feasting 48.
 “Praise to the holiest in the height” by John Henry Newman.
The Last Sunday after the Epiphany
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
February 19, 2023
What are you giving up for Lent?
That was a question that I heard during my teenage years around this time of the year from my then Roman Catholic stepfather. I was a very uptight, self-righteous Southern Baptist kid, and let me tell you, Lent was one of the more irritating aspects of Roman Catholicism to me, perhaps partly because my stepfather always gave up something seemingly trite like chocolate or potato chips. How is that a sacrifice that leads you closer to Jesus? Lent represented everything about dead ritual that I thought needed to go.
Since then, I’ve experienced Lent twenty times over, and it has grown on me. A lot. The Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving have forced me to grow spiritually, but they are not easy. They are difficult – on purpose! – and usually bring with them some spiritual twists and turns in the wilderness.
As we prepare for 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness of Lent, we hear Matthew’s account of the transfiguration of Jesus on Mount Tabor as well as the much older story of Moses receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. These two glorious mountaintop experiences were essential in preparing those present for the arduous task ahead of them: for Moses and the Hebrew people, for their forty-year journey through the wilderness begins; and for Jesus and the disciples, for the painful journey of the terrible last days of Jesus’ earthly life. As we begin our Lenten journey to the Cross, we hear of these mountaintop experiences in all their glory and wonder if God will give us what we need to deny ourselves and take up our cross for these long forty days and forty nights.
The truth of the matter is that denying ourselves and taking up our cross isn’t just something we do during Lent. Just before this story in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells his disciples, “‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
Aaron, by choosing to be baptized, this is the life you’re choosing to willingly to take on. In a moment, amongst other things, you will promise to renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God, and to follow and obey Jesus as your Lord. In the waters of baptism, you will be buried with Christ in his death. Thanks be to God, you won’t stay dead. St. Paul says, “Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” To Moses, God appeared as a devouring fire. And before the sight of the disciples, Jesus was transfigured with his face shining as the sun and his garments white as light. Today, Aaron, you will encounter the very same God in the waters of baptism and be reborn by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Beginning with baptism, the Sacraments of the Church are a continuation of God’s incarnation in the world in the baby in the manager at Bethlehem. In the Sacraments, God is made manifest to us, not as a devouring fire or transfigured in garments of white, but through water and oil. In bread and wine.
Aaron, when you join us at the altar and make your first communion, 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, giving us the grace we need to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow him.
While self-denial is a daily aspect of Christian life, it is intensified during Lent. Through intentional prayer, fasting, and giving to those in need, the Church invites us to we get back to the basics of our spiritual lives and in a sense retrain ourselves how to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. As I have for the past few year, I am giving up both chocolate and potato chips in thanksgiving for my stepdad who kept up many of the routine religious practices that have become so dear to me, and yes, I am also giving up something more substantive and sacrificial. If any of the last twenty years is an indication, I will fail at some point, and as we will all say in a moment, when I fall into sin, I will repent and return to the Lord with God’s help, especially through the strength and assurance of the Sacraments of the Church: through the grace I received at my baptism, and through the routine spiritual disciplines of frequent confession and absolution and frequent reception of Holy Communion.
Dear friends, let us celebrate with joy Aaron’s entrance into the household of God and the beginning of his new life of grace, and renew our own baptismal promises. And let us come to this altar with wonder and delight and awe, as if we were standing on Mount Tabor before the transfigured Christ. As we receive Our Lord into the depths of our being, let us hear anew the voice of the Father saying how much he loves us and that he has adopted us as his sons and daughters. And let us us begin our Lenten journey this Wednesday confident that God, in all of his dazzling glory, will sustain us with the love and grace we’ve received on this holy mount through the temptations of Lent, through the suffering of Holy Week and, and lead us to the glory of the resurrection at Easter. Amen.
 The italicized text is a paraphrase of language in John Henry Newman’s Sermon 9: https://www.newmanreader.org/works/parochial/volume4/sermon9.html
The Third Sunday after the Epiphany
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
January 22, 2023
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
When you hear this phrase out of context, it doesn’t sound like good news. Like me, many of you have been part of a Christian community that uses this phrase as a weapon. Hearing it read aloud may be disturbing, but it was indeed something our Lord said in this passage from the book of Matthew which announces the beginning of Jesus’s public ministry.
John the Baptist had just been arrested for his announcing of the kingdom of heaven and for criticizing King Herod, and in response, Jesus withdrew to Galilee. The Greek word translated here as “withdrew” connotates fleeing – it’s the same word used to describe Joseph, Mary, and Jesus fleeing to Egypt because of King Herod’s evil deeds toward the Jewish people. He flees from Nazareth to Capernaum which is on the northwest coast of the Sea of Galilee, “in the territory of Zebulun and Natphtali.” Zabulun and Natphtali were the old Assyrian names of the Israelite tribal territories in northwest Galilee from the 8th century BC when the Assyrian Empire annexed them and sent the Hebrews into exile. The use of these old names would have been striking to those in the first century – perhaps a bit like referring to Istanbul as Constantinople, or New York City as New Amsterdam. Matthew doesn’t use these old names for nostalgia’s sake, he uses them to reiterate that Jesus’s move to this part of Israel is a fulfillment of the prophecy we heard in Isaiah 9. The people who sat in darkness refers back to the Hebrews who had been exiled by the Assyrians so long ago in Isaiah’s time. They are the ones to whom God will bring the light. Now, the people who live in the same geographic area are again ruled by the Gentiles – this time, the Roman Empire. And Matthew proclaims that they are receiving that light promised so long ago in the person of Jesus.
This is the context of Jesus’s declaration, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” This is the same message that John the Baptist proclaimed to prepare the way of the Lord, but the difference is, Jesus himself is the inbreaking of the kingdom of heaven. John is the long-expected one who will save Israel from their enemies, he is the one who will bring the exiles home, he is the one who will give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, he is the one who will heal the sick, he is the one who will guide our feet into the way of peace.
And, even better news - this promise that the kingdom of heaven is at hand isn’t about how to escape from this world into another one, it’s about God’s reign coming “on earth as it is in heaven.” It’s not about the afterlife, it’s about the here and now.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Jesus then started walking by the Sea of Galilee and saw Simon Peter and Andrew as they were fishing. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” The text says “immediately” they left their nets and followed him. The putting down of their nets meant that they left their livelihood to follow him. When their two other brothers, James and John, decided to follow him, they left not only their nets and their boat, but their father. These disciples gave up literally everything – their means of an income, even their families.
It is the conclusion of this passage where we see the inbreaking of the kingdom of heaven begin to be played out. Matthew says, “And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people.” The area around Galilee it was inhabited primarily by Gentiles (those who are not Jewish), meaning Jesus was not only teaching God’s chosen people who were viewed as insiders, he was proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing those who were considered outsiders.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Friends, rather than spiritual weapon, this is a beautiful promise! The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. This is good news that so many in our world need to hear, whether it’s those who are the most marginalized those without housing, or those wrongfully imprisoned, or those who are told to repent of something that is innate to their very being – or even those of us who have plenty but are struggling with mental or physical illness. Jesus himself is that great light, and he continues to proclaim “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Like Peter and Andrew, he asks us to follow him, no matter the cost. Like Peter and Andrew, he makes us “fishers of men” – Jesus gives us everything we need to invite others to follow him.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
 Working Preacher: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4366
 Michael David. Coogan, ed., The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version: with the Apocrypha: an Ecumenical Study Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 980.
 Feasting 287.
Epiphany 2 – John 1:29-41
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
January 15, 2023
Last week, we heard the story of the Baptism of Jesus from St. Matthew’s perspective, and today, we heard St. John’s retelling of what he saw. Matthew described Jesus’s actual baptism in detail, but in telling the same story, John is more interested in focusing on the signs that might lead others to believe in Jesus as the Son of God. Matthew, Mark, and Luke reveal Jesus’s identity as the Messiah gradually over time, but not so with John. Right out of the gate, he begins his gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Just before today’s passage, John the Baptist enters the scene and identifies himself as the voice crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord” quoting the prophet Isaiah. He says that he is not the Messiah, and that he is not worthy to untie the thong of the sandal of the one who is coming after him. The next day, John the Baptist sees Jesus coming toward him and responds, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” On other words, Look! This is the one I’ve been telling you about! John doesn’t describe Jesus as a royal conqueror or as a warrior – that would have made a lot of sense, as the Jews were expecting an earthly, political Messiah – he calls him the Lamb of God. Instead of an all-powerful being who would deliver God’s people in power and might, God chose to send the Messiah as a weak lamb like the one the Hebrews sacrificed each year at Passover.
From Exodus 12, we know that at the Passover, the Hebrews were to slaughter a lamb, smear some of its blood on the doorposts and lintels of their houses, and then eat the lamb. When God passed through the land to slay the first-born sons of the Egyptians, he would pass by the Israelites’ houses and spare their first-born sons, delivering them from death by the blood of the lamb. This is the first of several times that John links Jesus with the paschal lamb. And very early on, Christians reinterpreted Passover symbolism in light of the Eucharist. Paul says in First Corinthians, “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us. Therefore, let us keep the feast,” a phrase that many of us know from the Rite II Eucharistic liturgy in our prayer book. We also are familiar with the Agnus Dei, the traditional fraction anthem: “O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.” There’s another moment in the historic Western liturgy where Jesus is referred to as a lamb, and that is just before the priest receives communion. You all are used to me turning around and showing you the consecrated bread and wine while saying, “The gifts of God for the people of God,” a phrase that the revisers our prayer book borrowed from the East. The traditional text when the Sacrament is shown to the faithful is John the Baptist’s joyful and exciting proclamation upon seeing Jesus: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who taketh away the sins of the world.”
John responds the same way when he sees Jesus the next day: “Behold the Lamb of God”, but this time, Andrew and Simon Peter heard him say this and decided to follow Jesus.
You’ve heard me refer to my time as a Baptist missionary in Paris, France, in my young twenties. My faith was young and fresh and full of vigor, and I felt called to say, proverbially or literally to anyone who would listen, “Behold the Lamb of God!” But I don’t recall anyone responding by choosing to follow Jesus as quickly as Andrew and Simon Peter did!
But perhaps the point isn’t looking for immediate results. After John the Baptist’s exciting proclamation, Jesus asks Simon Peter and Andrew, “What do you seek?” They ask him where he’s staying, and he says to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw and “stayed with him that day”, a Greek phrase that essentially means that they went to hang out with Jesus. It was this deep, intimate encounter with him that led Peter to confess, “We have found the Messiah.”
This is the pattern of evangelism that is an inherent and integral part of the Christian faith. In a moment, after the Eucharistic prayer, I will turn around and present to you the body and blood of Christ and say, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who taketh away the sins of the world.” Whether it be in a golden chalice or in the face of the poor, when we see Jesus, we are called to joyfully make him known to those around us in word and in deed. Thanks be to God, we aren’t responsible for how they respond. But we are called to be to them, in a sense, the “star of the east” that guided the Wise Men to where the infant redeemer was laid.
On Tuesday, I gave a tour of the church to a group of college students from Baker University taking a class called “Experiencing Sacred Spaces.” Like most tours I give, I had them walk in through the back of the parish hall. As they rounded that corner and beheld St. Mary’s in all its glory, I heard gasps and these comments “How beautiful!” “Wow – I don’t know what to say.” “I’ve never seen a Church so beautiful” and my favorite “This place is heavenly.” The arches in the architecture, the recurring fleur-de-lys symbolism, the saints depicted in the windows, the intricate vestments, the formalized ritual, the amazing gold and silver Eucharistic vessels, the heavenly music – everything here at St. Mary’s is designed to point us to the Lamb that was slain for us, the Lamb that takes away the sins of the world, the Lamb that will be made manifest to us on this altar in the bread and wine of holy communion.
Upon seeing Jesus, John the Baptist responded, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him that taketh away the sins of the world!” When the celebrant shows the consecrated bread and wine to the people with the same proclamation, the people respond with the words of the Roman Centurion in Matthew chapter 8 when he replies to Jesus’s commitment to come and heal his paralyzed servant in his home: “Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my soul shall be healed.” We respond to seeing Jesus by acknowledging our unworthiness and asking him to heal us. For we are about to receive him under the “roof” of our mouths and thus welcome him into the very depths of our bodies and souls. This intimate moment when we receive communion passes quickly, with or without an emotional response on our end, and then we are dismissed with the words “God in peace to love and serve the Lord.” And the cycle begins anew. Empowered by the grace we’ve been given in the Sacrament, we go out into the world and proclaim God’s love anew to those we encounter in word and in deed.
Dear friends, don’t be afraid to talk about your faith with others, not to attempt to convert them or get them to believe all the right things, but rather as a natural outpouring of your own encounter with the risen Christ. Keep the eyes and ears of your hearts open and be on the lookout for Jesus throughout your daily lives. As you encounter him, whether it’s in a golden chalice or the face of the poor, respond with joy and excitement and proclaim as John did, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”
 David Bartlett, and Barbara Brown. Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008, 263.
 Keck, Leander E. The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary. Abingdon Press, 2015, 451.
 1 Cor. 5:7b-8a.
Feast of the Holy Name
The Rev’d Charles Everson
January 1, 2023
When we hear that a woman is pregnant, one of the first questions we ask is, “Do you have any names picked out?” Parents choose names for their children for a variety of reasons – perhaps they choose the name of a saint in the church that has been particularly meaningful to them, or maybe they choose a more modern name that exudes life and freshness and spunk.
No matter which name is chosen, it is safe to say that parents put a lot of thought and time and energy into the decision of what to name their child.
My name, Charles, was given to me by my parents primarily because it was both my grandfather’s and father’s first name. In order to distinguish me from the elder Charles’s, I was called Chuck and that nickname stuck until I was 22 years old. I had just arrived in Paris, France, to serve a two-year stint as a Baptist missionary, and my boss took me to services at St. Michael’s Anglican Church, a Church of England parish with services in English. The vicar’s name was Antony, and his wife was Claire (though we lovingly referred to her behind her back as The Queen due to her formal accent and mannerisms). I introduced myself to her by saying, “My name is Chuck.” She giggled and said, “Oh, how American!” I’ve been Charles ever since.
In 1st century Jewish Palestine, it was common to both circumcise and name boys on the eighth day after birth. We hear in today’s gospel, “After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” The name “Jesus” in the Greek comes to us from the Hebrew name that we normally translate as Joshua in English. It literally means, “The Lord saves.”  From the name of Jesus comes good news: God himself has come to save us.
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he quotes a popular hymn that was sung in the early church. This hymn is essentially a commentary on the name of Jesus. The first stanza speaks of Jesus starting out being in the form of God, but ultimately humbling himself by becoming human and being obedient to the point of death on a cross. In the second stanza, God exalts Jesus and gives him the name that is above every name, thereby winning the allegiance of those in heaven and on earth (and even those “under the earth”!).
In the preceding verses, Paul begins by asking the Philippians to “be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” He continues, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” He then launches into the hymn that we talked about by saying “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”
Paul frames this hymn – this commentary on the name of Jesus – by exhorting the Philippians to be of the same mind that was in Christ Jesus, to be humble, putting the interests of others before our own.
Humility is often confused with humiliation, or letting others walk all over you, but that’s not what it means. Humility is a “quality by which a person considering his own defects has a lowly opinion of himself and willingly submits himself to God and to others for God's sake.” Jesus modeled humility by emptying himself, being born in human likeness, and becoming obedient to the point of death. But humility isn’t a virtue that should be exercised only in extreme situations of life and death; it starts in the small, mundane choices of everyday life.
Saint Benedict, in his rule written to guide the lives of Benedictine monks, writes humility means that monks must submit to their superiors in all obedience for the love of God. He goes on to say, “In this obedience under difficult, unfavorable or even unjust conditions, his heart quietly embraces suffering and endures it without weakening or seeking escape.” One of my bosses in my previous banking career was an overbearing tyrant who liked to micromanage and criticize everything I did. For a time, the situation was certainly unfavorable and probably unjust, but I needed this job to feed my family as Jay had gone back to school full time and wasn’t working. I was faced with a dilemma: get emotionally worked up and fester on it at the risk of blowing up at him, walk out in protest, or quietly embrace the suffering and endure the situation? Another example that comes to mind was a relatively minor issue, but no less relevant. I have an acquaintance that constantly gets on everyone’s nerves due to his overbearing conversational habits and behaviors. No one likes to spend time with him out of utter annoyance, but he asked me to have dinner with him on a holiday evening a few years ago, and I knew that he was lonely and didn’t want to spend the holiday alone. I would have much rather spent time with family or friends, but I knew that the humble and obedient response would be to forgo the festivities and spend time with him instead.
Humility is a virtue to be practiced in all areas of our lives, both individual and communal. How can you and I practice humility in our communal life here at St. Mary’s? Is there some ministry or area of need that could benefit from your time and treasure, but you’ve been ignoring the still small voice leading you in that direction? Or perhaps there’s someone in our community that you know could use a friend right now, but you haven’t yet taken that step to reach out and ask them to share a meal? How might God be calling you to practice the virtue of humility by putting the interests of other parishioners before your own interests?
How about outside of these walls? How might you put your spouse’s interests before your own, or your children, or a co-worker, or a lonely acquaintance, or those who experience racism or oppression in our society?
When the deacon or priest prepares the altar at the Offertory of the Mass, he or she pours a bit of water into the wine and prays, “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” On this the Feast of the Holy Name, let us leave this place empowered by that Great Name to practice the virtue of humility and put others’ interests before our own, and thus come to share in the divinity of Jesus, the One who has come to save us.
 F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 872.
 Brandt Montgomery, "'What's in a Name?': A Meditation for the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus," The Living Church: Covenant, http://livingchurch.org/covenant/2017/01/01/whats-in-a-name-a-meditation-for-the-feast-of-the-holy-name-of-jesus/.
 David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown. Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word, vol. 4 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 110.
 Arthur Devine, "Humility," CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Humility, 1910, December 31, 2016, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07543b.htm.
 Benedict, RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in Latin and English with Notes, ed. Timothy Fry, O.S.B. (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1981), 197.
 Ibid 197.
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
December 24, 2022
There’s a popular way of characterizing the focus of the three historic Christian churches in the Catholic tradition. The Roman Catholic Church emphasizes Christ’s suffering and death on the cross on Good Friday, the Eastern Orthodox Church focuses on the glory of Christ’s resurrection at Easter, and Anglicanism, our own tradition, is captivated by Christmas when God took on human form and dwelt among us.
I think there is some truth to this stereotype. So great is this feast of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ that we pull out all the proverbial stops. From the joyful carols to the fresh flowers on the altar; [from the smell of incense to the heavenly music sung by the choir]; [from the red bows to the exquisite manger scene]; from the beautiful vestments to the poinsettias. This place exudes that formulaic “Hallmark Christmas movie” feel with its predictability and warmth and almost schmaltziness.
And yet, as we heard from St. Luke’s account, the birth of our Savior in a manager in Bethlehem was anything but a Hallmark moment.
Jesus was born during a time of intense political and societal unrest amidst the filthiness of cows and goats and sheep. The long-expected Messiah came into a world filled with fear and oppression and sin, much like our world today. God came into the world in the midst of human sin and suffering and met the Hebrew people where they were.
The angel appeared to bring the good news of great joy of the birth of the Messiah not to the important people of the day – not to the Emperor, not to the Governor, not to the Jewish religious leaders – but to the lowly shepherds. Shepherds at that time were at the bottom of the social ladder. They were seen as poor and dishonest people who grazed their flocks on other people’s lands. An example of this in our society might be a loan shark or a convicted felon. These shifty characters who probably didn’t smell so great from living out in the pastures believed the angel and immediately went to Bethlehem to see the child in the manger…the child who came to bring peace to all men and women, but especially to the poor and lowly.
The Christmas story we heard tonight was from the second chapter of Luke’s gospel. The first chapter began with an announcement by an angel of the birth of John the Baptist in the place the Jews understood to house the presence of God…the Temple. The angelic announcement of the birth of Christ that immediately follows was not in “God’s house” but in the fields. The contrast between the two couldn’t be more striking. God came into the world as a human child not in the Jewish equivalent of a place like St. Mary’s Church, but in the grittiness of human existence, ox and ass and stable and all.
Friends, this is good news of great joy, not only to the shepherds watching in their fields by night, but to all of us gathered here. Note that almost all the Christmas hymns we sing speak of Jesus’s birth in the present tense, not the past tense. “Come and behold him, born the king of angels” not ages ago, but now. Like with the shepherds, the Creator of the universe stoops down and meets us where we are in the grittiness of our lives.
And yet, as we heard St. Paul say in the epistle reading, “we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” The birth of the babe begins the process of the redemption of the world, and we rightly rejoice tonight. But we know all too well that this old world is still deeply wounded, and sin and suffering and abound. In this child born to poor parents in a remote and backward part the world, God begins that work of restoration and healing and wholeness that we have access to today. We don’t have to wait until we are in God’s presence face to face to experience it. We can receive the very same grace given to us in that manager in the waters of baptism and in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, giving us the strength we need to shine Christ’s light in our own day.
And so we pull out all of the stops for this great feast. As St. Leo the Great reminds us in his great Christmas sermon, the extraordinary birth of Christ in all of its grittiness gives us every reason, to “rejoice and be glad. There is no place for sadness among those who celebrate the birth of Life itself. For on this day, Life came to us dying creatures to take away the sting of death, and to bring the bright promise of eternal joy. No one is excluded from sharing in this great gladness. For all of us rejoice for the same reason: Jesus, the destroyer of sin and death, because he finds none of us free from condemnation, comes to set all of us free. Rejoice, O saint, for you draw nearer to your crown! Rejoice, O sinner, for your Savior offers you pardon!”
Advent IV – Year A
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
December 18, 2022
Isaiah 7:10-17 and Matthew 11:18-25
Many of our Protestant cousins mark the four Sundays of Advent respectively by thinking about love, hope, joy, and peace. Not so at St. Mary’s. Since at least the 15th century, Advent sermons have been marked by the Four Last Things: death, judgment, and heaven, which we’ve already heard about.
Hell is this week’s topic, and frankly, hell is not something I’ve thought a lot about since becoming an Episcopalian. It’s not because I don’t think there is a state or place called hell – the Bible is clear that there is – it’s because hell was regularly used as a weapon of fear by the leaders in my evangelical past. “Do this, and you’ll go to hell.” “Be like them and you’ll go to hell.”…and so on.
While the Bible may be clear about hell being a thing, it isn’t clear at all about what precisely hell is.
Hell – sheol in Hebrew – is vague in the Old Testament. It is the place where the dead go, and is sometimes translated as the grave, death, destruction, the pit, and sometimes hell, all of which have very different meanings in English. In the New Testament, the two Greek words most often translated as hell are hades and Gehenna. In short, hades is the Hebrew sheol - the place of the unseen spirits – the realm of the dead – while Gehenna is place of fiery punishment after death.
In our first reading from Isaiah, Sheol and heaven seem to be at the opposite ends of the extremes of the universe: “[as] deep as Sheol or as high as heaven.” You’ve heard me talk about heaven kissing earth in the Sacraments of the Church, especially in the waters of baptism and the bread and wine of Holy Communion Quoting the book of Genesis, we sing this verse when a new church is consecrated by the bishop: “this is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” Our burial liturgy speaks of Holy Communion as “the foretaste of that heavenly banquet.” If we experience heaven, even impartially, in our world today, might it be true that hell manifests itself in this world?
I just read a heartbreaking news story detailing the horrors of what’s happening behind the scenes in Ukraine. Mass shootings abound in this country. Women are arrested for not covering up their entire bodies except for small openings for the eyes in Afghanistan and other places. In the East African nations of Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia, the is such an extreme drought that food shortages are likely to cause one death every 36 seconds between now and the end of the year.
We may be deluded into thinking hell on earth is having to park a 10-minute walk away from our destination, or having to deal with supply chain shortages when ordering new appliances like dishwashers. But one doesn’t have to look to the most horrible atrocities on the planet to see hell right in front of our face. Beyond the obvious tragedies of the loss of loved ones at too young an age, the ravaging of cancer, and so on, we only must look at even the smallest effects of human sin, particularly in the mirror. You and I know full well how we are complicit in making hell known by our own sin. No matter what hell is in the afterlife, there is no doubt that hell is a very real thing that we experience and even contribute to in big and small ways here and now. We are desperate for a sign of hope in the midst of our warfare and strife.
Seen in this light, I’m not sur that it is helpful to speculate who, if any, comprise the population of hell. Hell is not a place we assign those with whom we disagree, but is rather a place where it seems that God is not. It’s hard to see where God is at the bombed hospital in Kiev, or with those who will be sleeping in the -10 degrees weather expected this Thursday night. It’s also hard to imagine that a God of love would subject anyone to an eternity of fiery punishment, but it’s impossible, for me at least, to believe that God doesn’t love enough to give us a choice whether to accept him or reject him. I’m what you might call a hopeful universalist. We don’t know with any certainty the final destiny of any human being, and while none of us will escape the Day of Judgment that we talked about three weeks ago, God’s mercy is so great that it is unfathomable to our feeble minds.
Isaiah’s promise of a sign – a son born of a virgin named Immanuel – gives hope to the house of David in a time of warfare between Israel and her neighbors. This passage was quoted by St. Matthew in our gospel lesson, leading to a lasting Christian connection between the child promised by Isaiah to the son of Mary and adopted son of Joseph of the house of David hundreds of years later.
As Advent makes its turn toward Christmas, we hear the end result of when heaven kissed earth for the first time at the Annunciation when the angel announced to Mary that she would bear this Immanuel in her womb. Rather than focusing our imagination on what hell will be like – who is in and who is out, how long it lasts, how precisely separation from God will be experienced – let us set our sights and our hopes on this child, this Immanuel, God with us, who is coming to rescue us from the hell we’re in now. Let us look to the babe in the manager who will bring the love and grace of heaven to this lost and broken world. Immanuel, God with us, even in the midst of hell on earth.
“Come thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free! From our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee.”
 Isaiah 7:11.
 Gen. 28:17.
Advent II – Judgment
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
December 4, 2022
It is an understatement to say that the Church’s treatment of these weeks preceding Christmas is counter cultural. Even though in our opening collect, we prayed that we may “greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer,” Advent is a penitential season and joy seems only visible far off in the distance. And yet the “joy of Christmas” exploded all over the place from the radio to Costco to the Plaza over the last few weeks, while we gather and soberly attempt to reflect on our final destiny – on death, judgment, heaven and hell, intentionally subduing our joy as we take stock and prepare our hearts for Christ’s coming in the manger and at the Last Day.
Last week, Fr. Sean talked to us about death, and this week, it’s judgment. Advent bids us to set our death before our eyes and prepare for the judgment that is to come. Theologians generally talk about judgment as it relates to the “last things” in two ways: the particular judgment and the general judgment. The particular judgment is what happens when a person dies. God judges the individual for his or her deeds, and the person then awaits their final destination (the two traditional final destinations being discussed the next two Sundays). The Church affirms that upon our death, each of us will be called to account for our life, with Christ as our judge. In that moment, we will not be able to hide our darkest secrets and deepest emotions. All will be laid bare.
Just as the time of reckoning arrives at last for the individual, so it does for all of creation in the general judgement. One day in the future, human history will come to its conclusion, and Christ “shall come again, with glory, to judge both the [living] and the dead” as we affirm in the Nicene Creed. Christ will return at the sound of the trumpet, and the souls of the dead will be reunited with their bodies at what we call the general resurrection. At the final judgment, all the departed come before the judgment seat of God, body and soul, no matter their station in life. It will be a day of rejoicing for some and a day of doom for others. Jesus warned in Luke 12, “Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.”
Neither the particular nor the general judgment sound like a fun time. This isn’t a sermon topic that one chooses to attract newcomers to the church. The idea of God judging us for our actions doesn’t feel very inclusive and welcoming, bringing back traumatic memories for many of us who were judged unfairly, or who, by the judgment of others, weren’t deemed worthy of heaven. Advent’s reminder of God’s judgment at the hour of our death and at the Last Day isn’t designed to scare us into submission. It isn’t the Church’s way of controlling us to behave a certain way, to prompt us to clean up our act on our own, or to marginalize and exclude. God’s judgment leads us to mercy. And we prepare for God’s judgment by judging ourselves, lest we be judged by the Lord. We examine our lives and conduct by the rule of God’s commandment and acknowledge our sins before Almighty God with full purpose of amendment of life. We heed the warnings of John the Baptist and prepare the way of the Lord, making his paths straight in our hearts, turning from our selfishness toward God’s abundant mercy.
But we can’t gloss over the fact that the Day of Judgement will be terrible. Referred to in Scripture by the prophets as “The Great and Terrible Day of the Lord”, it is described in vivid detail in the old Latin funeral hymn Dies irae, which was actually written for the season of Advent. It begins by warning that the Day will reveal God’s wrath upon all injustice and unrepented sin.
The day of wrath, that day,
will dissolve the world in ashes
…the hymn begins. Fear seems to be the only response possible! The hymn continues,
How great will be the quaking,
when the Judge is about to come,
strictly investigating all things!
The trumpet, scattering a wondrous sound
through the sepulchres of the regions,
will summon all before the throne.
Death and nature will marvel,
when the creature will rise again,
to respond to the Judge.
The written book will be brought forth,
in which all is contained,
from which the world shall be judged.
When therefore the Judge will sit,
whatever lies hidden, will appear:
nothing will remain unpunished.
Judgment shall be according to our deeds, whatever is in the Book. But also in God’s Word is the hope for mercy. Our hymn continues,
What then shall I, poor wretch [that I am], say?
Which patron shall I entreat,
when [even] the just may [only] hardly be sure?
King of fearsome majesty,
Who gladly save those fit to be saved,
save me, O fount of mercy.
Just Judge of vengeance,
make a gift of remission
before the day of reckoning.
I sigh, like the guilty one:
my face reddens in guilt:
Spare the imploring one, O God.
You Who absolved Mary,
and heard the dying thief,
give hope to me also.
God’s judgment leads to his great mercy! It is only by his great mercy that we will make it through that Great and Terrible Day. And so the hymn continues and calls on the Lord who said in the gospel of John, “No one who calls on me will I ever reject.”
My prayers are not worthy:
but You, [Who are] good, graciously grant
that I be not burned up by the everlasting fire.
Grant me a place among the sheep,
and take me out from among the goats,
setting me on the right side.
Once the cursed have been silenced,
sentenced to acrid flames,
Call me, with the blessed.
[Humbly] kneeling and bowed I pray,[my] heart crushed as ashes:
take care of my end.
Tearful [will be] that day,
on which from the glowing embers will arise
the guilty man who is to be judged:
Then spare him, O God.
Merciful Lord Jesus,
grant them rest. Amen.
As terrible as the judgment that is to come may be, judgment leads to mercy. For the God who mercifully redeems us is the same God who judges us. And he uses the same means to both judge and save: his unconditional love, a love that has both effects – first judgment, then mercy. Advent judgement calls us to put ourselves in in a position – by prayer, fasting and repentance – by watching and waiting – to receive the unconditional love of God in Jesus Christ both now and at the hour of our death. That having heeded the warnings of the prophets and forsaken our sins, we may greet the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer with perhaps a bit less fear and a lot more joy. Amen.
 Luke 12:2-3 (NRSVA).
 Exhortation, 1979 BCP.
 Joel 2:31, Malachi 4:5
 Rev 20:12; Romans 2:6
 John 6:37
 This treatment on the Dies irae comes from this blog post by Msgr. Charles Pope: http://blog.adw.org/2011/11/sing-the-dies-irae-at-my-funeral-a-meditation-on-a-lost-treasure/.
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St. Mary's is a parish of the Diocese of West Missouri, The Episcopal Church, and the Anglican Communion.
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Kansas City, Missouri 64106