The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
September 26, 2021
Today, we the apostle James tells us to pray – whether we’re suffering or cheerful, sick or sinful, prayer is the proper response of the people of God. This isn’t just a call for us as individuals to pray for one another, it’s a communal call for “the elders of the church” – the presbyters, or priests – to pray on behalf of the entire body of Christ.
James doesn’t stop with intangible, spiritual action like prayer. He calls sick Christians to ask the elders of the church to “pray over them” – a phrase that is linked elsewhere in the New Testament with the idea of the physical action of the “laying on of hands.” Likewise, the elders are to anoint the sick with oil, a practice that was quite common in most cultures in the 1st century Ancient Near East. To you and me, this passage seems to be saying that when we get sick, we should go to a priest, not a doctor. The priest will treat your sickness with prayer, the laying on of hands, and holy oil, and presuming the prayer is made in faith, the Lord will heal your body.
But that presumes an understanding of illness that you and I have – that scientific analysis alone is able to assess your state of health. St James tells us that prayer, anointing of the sick, and the laying on of hands will, in the words of one Biblical translator, “restore the weary,” which is substantially more than prescribing antibiotics can do. 
The restoration promised here is much more than physical healing, it’s a restoration of the whole person – body, mind, and spirit. This is why James links the healing of the body with the forgiveness of sins in verse 15. Physical illness, in the minds of those hearing this letter, wasn’t limited to the body. For the body and the spirit weren’t separated in the way our worldview seems to assume they are. Illness of the body and the soul – physical sickness and sin – were flip sides of the same coin. The restoration of the whole person promised here is nothing other than salvation.
And salvation flows from the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus Christ in the manger at Christmas. Christ became incarnate to save us, and the sacraments are the means by which God works out our salvation. God didn’t send a spirit into the world to save us, he sent his Son to be physically born of a human being. To become one of us. It was only in becoming one of us that he could redeem us. And this redemption – this restoration – isn’t merely a spiritual restoration, it’s a restoration of the whole person. Christ became incarnate to save our bodies, our minds, and our spirits – and the continual physical interaction with God through the Sacraments of the Church is the way God works out this salvation in our lives.
What are the Sacraments of the Church? According to the catechism, the “two great sacraments given by Christ to his Church are Holy Baptism and the Holy Eucharist.” But the catechism doesn’t stop there. It says other sacramental rites which evolved in the Church include confirmation, ordination, marriage, confession, and the anointing of the sick. Though the prayer book doesn’t say it this way, it’s safe to say that throughout history, in the East and the West, these are the seven rites that are generally agreed upon as the sacraments of the Church.
We’re quite used to the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist simple because it’s celebrated here at St. Mary’s every day, and perhaps less so, Holy Baptism, though most if not everyone here has been baptized. When was the last time a priest anointed you with oil? When is the last time you went to confession?
The apostle James not only lays the foundation for the sacrament of anointing of the sick in this passage, he also alludes to confession when he continues, “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” In my evangelical days, I understood this to simply mean that we should confess our sins to any other Christian, and that we should all pray for each other. But James says this in the context of the previous verses in which he calls church to call upon the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil. In the gospel of John, Jesus says to his apostles, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” That authority to forgive sins, and the authority to bind and loose Jesus gave his apostles in Matthew 16, has been passed down from bishop to bishop throughout the centuries, and ultimately to priests like me when the bishop laid his or her hands on our head. In The Episcopal Church, private confession is optional, not required as it is in the Roman Church. But just because it’s optional, and perhaps even foreign to your personal piety, it doesn’t make it any less powerful a means of grace for the average Christian.
Confession and anointing of the sick are by far the most underutilized sacraments of the church. Friends, I’m here to tell you, there is a lot of grace to be had in these two sacraments. All the baptized have access to the riches of God’s grace in these two sacraments, and yet very few take advantage of them. One of the reasons I’ve heard people say they don’t is practical: they aren’t publicly scheduled, and “I don’t want to bother you, Father. I know you have a busy schedule.”
Let’s clear that up right here and now. I’m busy, yes, but never too busy to administer the sacraments of the church. Beyond preaching God’s word, the main duty of the priest is to rightly and duly administer the sacraments of the church. If it’s an emergency, I’ll drop everything to bring the sacraments to you. If it can wait, sure, we’ll schedule a meeting at a convenient time for both of us, but administering the sacraments is not a burden to me. It is a joy.
And speaking of scheduling, we do have a regularly scheduled time for private confession: 5:00 on Wednesdays. It’s available by appointment too, but the church is open with a priest here at 5:00 on Wednesdays waiting to hear your confession, offer counsel, and grant absolution. And beginning this Wednesday, we will begin offering the anointing of the sick each week during the 6 p.m. Wednesday Mass.
Are any among you suffering? You should pray. Are any among you cheerful? You should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? Call me. I’m happy to pray over you and anoint you with oil in the name of the Lord. Are any of you stuck in a cycle of sin, or have committed a sin that is particularly weighty upon your conscience? Come on Wednesday evenings, or call me to make an appointment. If you prefer to go to confession with a different priest, that won’t hurt my feelings at all. I’m happy to connect you with another priest, either from St. Mary’s or from the wider diocese.
Friends, avail yourself of God’s unconditional love and grace in the sacraments of the Church. For in the sacraments, our salvation is literally fleshed out and we are restored to wholeness of body and mind and spirit. Restored and refreshed by God’s grace, we are given the strength we need to choose to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world and bring about restoration and wholeness to all of creation. Amen.
 David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B ed., vol. 4 (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 113.
 Andrew Davison, Why Sacraments? (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2013), 1.
 BCP 858-860.
 John 20:30
Proper 19, Year B
The Rev. Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
September 12, 2021
I’ve been reminded this week of the long history of our parish, and specifically, this building. We are under construction! From the flood in the parish hall and the upcoming construction to make things as they were, to the 41 bags of pigeon carcasses and droppings that have been removed from the tower, it has been a busy two weeks. The tower has been sealed up to prevent future avian infestations, all the organ pipes in the tower and many of them behind the reredos have been removed for refurbishment, over 100 years’ worth of redundant or failed organ equipment has been deposed of in the blue dumpster in the parking lot, the small organ has been hoisted into its permanent location in the northwest gallery, and the sanctuary lamp has been reinstalled in its place.
There is plenty of lore to go around at St. Mary’s, including the story of the origins of the sanctuary lamp the very same sanctuary lamp. It is said that this piece was part of Catherine of Aragon’s dowry given in exchange for her nuptials with a certain Henry VIII, and that it was brought to this land by Christopher Columbus on the Mayflower.
One of the stories more likely to be true that has become part of our history was told to me shortly after I arrived by Deacon Gerry, and you may have heard me tell this story before. Shortly after his ordination to the diaconate, he preached his first sermon from this very pulpit. After the service, he stood in the back to greet people, and an older woman walked up to him and said, quite firmly, “You can go straight to hell.” She continued, “Who are you to ask me to change? Who do you think you are? I don’t need to change, I’m fine just the way I am. Maybe you’re the one who needs to change.”
This woman may have been rude and unseemly, but I empathize with her. Many come to church to feel good, not to be told that they need to change. We humans surround ourselves with people who are positive and affirm the beliefs and attitudes that they affirm. I’ve often heard people say, “I stopped going to such-and-such church because I wasn’t getting anything out of the preacher’s sermons.” Or, when someone moves to a new city and starts looking for a church, they may say, “I am looking for a place that feeds my soul and makes me feel good.” In other words, “What’s in it for me?”
We often approach Jesus in this way too. There are cultural ideas about Jesus that we learn from movies and art and even verbally from our parents. If you were taught you that Jesus is always meek and mild and kind, it might be unsettling to hear him say what he said to his friend Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
When Jesus asked him, “Who do you say that I am,” Peter responded, “You are the Messiah.” Jesus was apparently fine with this response. But he proceeded to describe a very different Messiah than Peter had in mind. Peter, along with the bulk of first-century Jews, assumed the Messiah would be a monarch – a king who would come with great power and ultimately overthrow the Emperor, free the Israelites from Roman oppression and domination, and “make Israel great again” in the sight of the other nations. Jesus turns Peter’s preconceived ideas of what the Messiah will be upside down, and says that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering...and be killed.
This was so upsetting to Peter that he began to rebuke his Lord. For what Jesus said was scandalous. The gospel of Jesus Christ is in and of itself scandalous because it offers the startling and inexplicable claim that this person Jesus of Nazareth is both a real human being and God incarnate. But the specific scandal we heard about today is the claim that the Messiah must suffer humiliation, torture, and death rather than overthrow the government and wear royal robes. Jesus says, “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering…and be killed.” This is scandalous because it means that God experiences suffering and pain and even death, just like we do. This doesn’t fit with many of our notions about the Divine. The scandal doesn’t stop there. Jesus not only up-ends Peter and the other disciples’ notions about God and the Messiah, he tells them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
Taking up our cross means being willing to suffer the consequences for following Jesus faithfully, whatever those consequences might be. It means putting Jesus’ priorities and purposes ahead of our own comfort and security. It means daily struggling to reorient our entire value system to put the values and priorities of Jesus’s kingdom ahead of the values of this world. It means being willing to lose our lives by living for others -- using our time, resources, gifts, and energy so that others might experience God’s love made known in Jesus Christ.
This radical re-ordering of values and priorities doesn’t just happen the moment we’re baptized. It takes a conscious effort – an intentional putting on of our baptism – day in and day out, until the day we breathe our last breath. The woman who commented about Deacon Gerry’s sermon honestly didn’t grasp that in order to follow Jesus Christ, she would have to change.
It is only in losing our life that we save it. Following Christ means that we choose – day after day – to follow Jesus all the way to the cross with its suffering and shame. But just as Jesus’s story didn’t end with the Good Friday, neither does ours. Jesus rose victoriously over sin and death when he rose from the grave, and we too rise up from our baptism with the grace we need to resist temptation and to reorient our value system from the values of this world to the values of God’s kingdom.
Well, I’m not sure what I’m more likely to hear after the service. “Nice sermon, Father” or “You can go straight to hell.” Either way, the call to you and me this morning, to quote our closing hymn, is this: “Take up your cross, then, in his strength, and calmly every danger brave: it guides you to abundant life and leads to victory o’er the grave.” Amen.
 Verse 33.
 Verse 31.
 Much of this paragraph comes from David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B ed., vol. 4 (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 68-69.
 The Hymnal 1982, hymn 675.
Proper 18, Year B
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
James 2:1-14, 17
September 5, 2021
A few years ago, a young man came to our church for the first time. He was homeless for a number of reasons, and he found St. Mary’s to be a welcoming place, kept coming week after week. One time, he told me about an experience he had when visiting another church here in town. He told me that they required the homeless to sit in a designated area of the church. Yeah. They segregated the homeless people in church.
In the epistle lesson from the book of James, we see a hypothetical scene unfold in which a rich person and a poor person show up in the assembly of early Jewish Christians. The rich man comes into the assembly wearing two markers of status in that culture: The gold rings on his fingers are not only indicative of wealth, but that he’s in the upper echelons of Roman nobility. In contrast to this rich, important figure, the poor person wore filthy rags. One can imagine him smelling as if he hadn’t bathed in weeks, and living in a perpetual state of humiliation because he has no money, or social standing, or place to call home. The greeter in this early Christian assembly responded to the rich man by rolling out the red carpet and seating him in a prominent and important place, while the poor person was told to stand off to the side or to sit on the floor by the greeter’s feet.
The greeter made a distinction between the rich man and the poor man, a distinction that society continues to make in our day. The values represented by the rich man in this story – political and social status and wealth and outward beauty – these are the values of this world. The kingdom of heaven has an entirely different value system. The kingdom of heaven is the reality of existence brought about by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in which the poor have been chosen to be rich in faith – in which the last shall be first and the first shall be last. The most important in the kingdom of heaven are the worthless rags of earth. We experience this kingdom partially now, but the powers of this world are not yet vanquished. The distinctions made in this story between rich and poor represent the spiritual forces of evil we fight as we battle on for the advancement of God’s kingdo here on earth. As we use our weapons of kindness and tenderness and love to fight this battle, we fight the urge within ourselves to make distinctions. To show partiality. To play favorites. Our ultimate goal in this battle is to fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
When people ask me, “What is the congregation like at St. Mary’s,” I usually find myself talking about how diverse we are – from a socioeconomic perspective, sexual orientation, age, etc. It’s one of the things I love most about this place – that the distinctions that human beings usually use to build barriers are the very least less important in this community. But before we pat ourselves on the back too quickly, let us ask ourselves this question: what values of the world do we hold too dear? With whom do we play favorites? Where do we even give the appearance of making distinctions?
James’s challenge sounds so simple and cliché: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The word “love” here is agape in Greek, which means “divine love.” This kind of love is far above and beyond all other forms of love and is distinctive to Christianity. This divine love trumps conditional love and partiality. But in much of our lives, partiality appears to win the day over agape love. St. James reminds us today that we are called to resist the urge to play favorites and make distinctions: we are called to unconditionally love others just as Christ loved us.
Many in our congregation bear a certain level of privilege. I don’t just mean those who have plenty of money, but many in our congregation have family members who love them, a steady and meaningful job, a shelter to go home to, plenty of food, and so on. St. James’ point isn’t to make anyone feel guilty for the privilege that we have, for whatever reason. For as the writer of our lesson from Proverbs said, “The rich and the poor have this in common: the Lord is the maker of them all.” We are being reminded this morning that when we were baptized, we were buried with Christ in his death, and we began to share with Christ in his resurrection. In baptism, we signed on to the values of the kingdom of heaven, and committed to fulfill the royal law, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” – to unconditionally love everyone. And every time you walk through the doors of St. Mary’s, you’re at least given the opportunity to dip your fingers in the holy water stoop, make the sign of the cross, and put on your baptism once again. And in so doing, recommit yourself to joining in the spiritual battle with all of your fellow misfits here at St. Mary’s using the weapons of kindness, tenderness, truth, and love to build a parish – even a world – where there is no favoritism, distinction, or partiality.
Let us ask the Lord to open our eyes to the opportunities we have this week to love others unconditionally – without partiality, without distinction, without favoritism. And let us ask the Lord to show us how we can continue to break down man-made barriers and welcome all in Christ’s name here at St. Mary’s Church. Amen.
 Vs. 5.
 Vs. 8
 David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word. Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 40.
.Proper 13, Year B
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15; John 6:24-35
August 1, 2021
In this story from the book of Exodus, the Israelites are out in the middle of the desert with nothing to eat. God had promised to provide for them, but they are hungry…so hungry that they wished they were back in Egypt. It is better to live in slavery with full stomachs than to die of starvation, right? The Israelites don’t have the courage to confront God directly and accuse him of betraying them, but instead grumble to their leaders Moses and Aaron.
I’m not sure about you, but were I faced with being in the desert with no food, especially after God had promised to provide for me, I would likely feel resentful toward God. God had set them free from the evil yoke of slavery they had been under in Egypt, but they were still far from trusting him. They thought God would let them die of starvation. Faced with this deep fear , they didn’t seem to remember God’s loving promise to Abraham and his descendants to bring them safely into the Promised Land.
Despite their resentful attitude, God responds not in anger, but by generously fulfilling his original promise. He immediately commits to satisfying their physical hunger by giving them meat in the evening and bread in the morning. The Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction.” Yes, God provided food to satisfy their physical hunger, but he does it in part to test their obedience and trust in his providence. This story is more about faith and trusting in God’s promise than it is about physical food.
Fast forward nearly 1,300 years to this scene from John’s gospel. As we heard last week, Jesus had just fed 5,000 people with five loves and a couple of fish, and he has literally walked on water to get to this scene. So the crowd’s first question is a bit strange: they ask him when he had arrived. Instead of answering their bizarre question, Jesus shows that he knows their true motive in seeking him out. He says, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” The crowd didn’t get the purpose of the loaves and the fish – they responded to that miracle by trying to kidnap him and make him king by force! Likewise, they don’t get it when he says to them, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”
Despite the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 – despite Jesus’ having walked on water – they still demand some greater miracle! They remind him that during the Exodus, God supplied their ancestors with daily bread from heaven, not only for one meal but for forty years. The crowd still doesn’t get it. They are looking for physical sustenance, like the manna God provided the Hebrews in the desert, to provide for their physical needs. They certainly didn’t expect to hear that God sent his son Jesus to provide the world with food that endures for eternal life.
The key to this passage is verse 29 when Jesus said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him who has sent me.” Believe! John never uses the Greek noun for faith but always its verbal form which is translated here “to believe.” Biblical scholar Raymond Brown defines its use in John as denoting an active commitment to a person, especially Jesus. Significantly, 74 out of 98 uses of this verb in John are in the first thirteen chapters where Jesus invites people to have continuing and active trust in him.
Jesus finally corrects the crowd’s misunderstanding. They demand, “Sir, give us this bread always.” What they demand is what they already have in the presence of Jesus: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty”.
Like the crowd, we too are far from trusting in God. No matter how many times God tells us, we still fall back into thinking that we can only receive God’s grace by working hard – by pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps. We often think that God loves good people and doesn’t love bad people, and since we often behave badly, God doesn’t love us. We often fear that God won’t provide for our physical or emotional needs. Like the ancient Israelites in the desert, we are far from trusting him.
When God reassured the Hebrews that he would indeed fulfil his promise to them, he told them only to take enough bread for that day. Later in Exodus chapter 16, we learn that despite Moses telling them to not “leave any of it over until morning,” not all of them listen, with some trying to store some of the bread until morning only to find the excess the next morning to be spoiled and foul.
Like the manna that fed the Hebrews in the desert, God’s grace cannot be stockpiled. We can’t build up reserves of grace to be used whenever we need it, but only receive it moment by moment as part the daily bread we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer.
The only way we can actively trust in God is to live in the present moment. We have no hold on the past – we can’t change the slightest bit of it. We often try to relive past events that we consider to be failures – “I should have done this, I should have done that” – but these imaginary scenarios are fantasies: it isn’t possible to change a thing that is past. Likewise, we have very little hold on the future. Despite all of our planning and foresight, everything can change in the blink of an eye. Who would have thought that we’d be in the situation we are in with COVID-19 in July 2021 with rising cases and a new mask mandate despite a nearly limitless supply of vaccine!?!? We can’t program our lives in advance, but can only receive it moment by moment. It is only in the present moment that we can actively trust God to provide for our every need.
Jesus said, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him who has sent me.” Dear friends, let us believe – let us actively trust our Lord, moment by moment, to provide for our every need. Let us ask God for our daily bread – for the grace we need in this moment, and when he provides it to us in the bread and wine at the communion rail, let us receive with joy and gladness this food that endures for eternal life. And let us recommit ourselves to trusting in him today and every day until we are brought at last to the Promised Land of heaven. Amen.
 John 6:26.
 John 6:14.
 John 6:27.
 https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-18-2/commentary-on-john-624-35-5, quoting Raymond Brown.
 John 6:35.
 Ex. 16:20
 Jacques Philippe, Interior Freedom, trans. Helena Scott (New York, NY: Scepter, 2007), 88.
 Most of this paragraph is from Philippe 81-82.
Year B, Proper 10
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
July 11, 2021
We continue on in Mark’s gospel, as we will most Sundays between now and Advent. Last week, Jesus sent his disciples out to do the ministry of casting out demons and healing the sick and inviting everyone to repent believe in the Good News! Mark’s gospel is filled with dramatic, almost apocalyptic stores of demons and exorcisms, but today’s scene from chapter 6 is more of a tale of gruesome, political drama.
It begins with Herod, the Roman ruler of the region of Galilee, who had just heard about the disciples’ healing of the sick and casting out of demons. He had a flashback of sorts of the time when he had ordered the execution of John the Baptist.
Herod’s half-brother Philip had died, and he proceeded to marry Philip’s widow Herodias. According to Levitical law, marrying your brother’s widow was illegal, and Herodias had developed a grudge against John the Baptist for simply telling Herod the truth about the matter. The marriage of high-ranking Roman officials often had an international political component, and this one was no different. John’s prophecy against this marriage was less than politically desirable for both Herod and Herodias, and surely John was aware of the potential consequences.
Upon the occasion of his birthday, Herod organizes a banquet for the local political leaders and others in the upper echelons of society. He bestows an honor on his daughter by making a public oath promising to grant her any request. The problem is that she asks for something he really doesn’t want to give. Herod likes John the Baptist, despite throwing him in prison for getting in this middle of his marriage and political life, but he’s stuck between a rock and a hard place. He can either do what is shameful and break a public promise he’s made, or do what is shameful and do something he knows is morally wrong.
She asks for her mother’s opinion on what she should ask her father for, and Herodias responds, “The head of John the baptizer.” Herod delivers on his promise, and Mark gives us the painful description of what happened in gruesome detail. He orders one of his soldiers to bring him John’s head. The soldier goes to the jail where he is imprisoned and beheads him, bringing his head on a platter, and presenting it to the girl who then gives it to her mother. This was no ordinary political execution – it is nasty.
In the end Herod, didn’t have the moral courage to choose do the right thing. He chose to honor his oath to his daughter so that he wouldn’t look bad in front of the others. It is difficult to come away from this story without feeling that these people are monsters.
They killed John the Baptist for telling the truth. Yes, Jesus says that the truth will make you free, but as we heard in today’s gospel reading, telling the truth might get you arrested and even killed. This is a paradox that is difficult to accept. Of course, there are times that call for prudence and caution, but there are times that call for uncompromising and unwavering truth telling, consequences be as they may.
It’s somewhat like the paradox we see in the gospel itself. Jesus Christ died to set us free from our sins, but in order to join with him in his resurrection, we have to die to our old selves. To experience the joy of Easter, we must first suffer through the devastation and heartache of Good Friday.
Last week, I talked about how disciples of Jesus are called to die to our old selves. After Mass, one of our dear parishioners asked me if I’d consider expounding on this concept of dying to one’s old self. Like most preachers, the common feedback I get is, “Nice sermon, Father” or something of the sort, and on the rare occasion I receive a “request” like this, I’m more than happy to oblige.
St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans, “we are baptized into Christ’s death…For if we are united with him in a death like this, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” The baptismal life is a daily cycle of dying to the old self and rising to a new life filled with the hope of resurrection. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul describes the process of dying to self like this: dying to self means being “crucified with Christ,” and now I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. Paul’s old life, in which he chose to follow the ways of the world as opposed to the ways of God, is dead, and the new Paul is the dwelling place of Christ who lives in and through him. This is not to say that when we die to self we become automatons, nor do we feel ourselves to be dead. Rather, dying to self means that the things of the old life are put to death, most especially choosing to sin as our nature bids us to do. Paul says, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.” Dying to self means choosing to form habits that lead us to naturally choose the good of others before our own good. To choose that which pleases God rather than gratifying ourselves.
Put another way, the cycle of dying and rising is the pattern of sin, repentance, confession, absolution, and forgiveness. This cycle is daily because despite putting to death our old selves at our baptisms, our old selves don’t stay dead, at least on this side of the grave. Our propensity to sin does not go away at baptism, but through baptism, we are “reborn by the Holy Spirit.” By the help of the Holy Spirit, and through the grace we receive in the Sacraments of the Church, we are given the grace we need to face an evil tyrant and stand up for the truth, no matter the consequences. In the Sacraments, especially in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, we are given the grace we need to resist temptation and choose to put others before ourselves. When we fail in matters great or small, when we stumble in our footsteps, when we put our own sinful desires before those of the Lord, the cycle begins once again. We confess our sins to God, arise from the baptismal water absolved and forgiven and transformed, and we go on about our business of loving God with all our heart and our neighbors as ourselves.
Whether it’s this week or next, you and I will find ourselves faced with a paradox like John the Baptist was: do we tell the truth, despite the potential consequences, or do we remain silent? While I hope that speaking the truth doesn’t result in your head being served as the last course at a local politicians’ house, I hope and pray that you face the situation with a firm conviction that you’ve died to your old self and that Christ is dwelling in you. Be courageous in your truth telling, for you are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus! Know that in receiving the grace given in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, you have become participants of the divine nature and transformed (just a little) into the image of Jesus himself.
And so, I invite you to come to this table, not because you must but because you may. Not because you have reached your goal of holiness but because you are on the way there and need food for the journey. Not because you love the Lord a lot, but because you love him a little and would like to love him more. Come.
 John 8:32.
 Romans 6:3-5.
 Galatians 2:20.
 Galatians 5:24
 Much of this paragraph comes from https://www.gotquestions.org/dying-to-self.html, accessed 7/10/2021.
 BCP 306.
 Romans 6:11.
 2 Peter 1:4.
 This invitation to communion is Scottish in origin, and I learned it over a decade ago from The Rev’d Canon Andy Griffiths, currently Continuing Ministerial Development Adviser for the Diocese of Chelmsford.
Proper 9, Year B
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
July 4, 2021
After spending some time healing the sick and performing other miracles around the Sea of Galilee, Jesus returns to his home town. He goes to the synagogue and begins to teach, and his message does something to strike a nerve in the people who heard it. Usually, in his gospel, St. Mark gets to the point quickly and provides little detail. He could have skipped to his summary of their reaction, “They took offense at him” (v. 3), but instead he decided to include their specific questions. Anytime St. Mark decides to give us detail, it’s worth paying attention to!
First, they ask him about the nature of his power and where he got the power. Then they say, “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary… and are not his brothers and sisters here with us?”. Aren’t you the Jesus we’ve always known? The one we know is a simple carpenter and is one of us, not some sort of miracle worker! In the first part of this lesson, we see the folks in Jesus’s hometown reject his authority. They don’t have faith that Jesus is who he claims to be. Because of their lack of faith, Mark notes that Jesus could “do no deed of power” there, except in a few isolated instances.
In the second part of the story, Jesus gives this same authority that his kinsfolk rejected to his twelve closest followers! He sends them out with his authority to do the same type of ministry he’s been doing – the ministry of casting out demons and healing the sick and inviting everyone to turn from their old ways and believe in the Gospel! In other words, Jesus sends them out to join with him in reconciling the whole world to himself.
You and I are called, like the Twelve, to this ministry. In order to do it, we first have to understand that the authority to do so doesn’t come from us. Doing this ministry of reconciling the world to God isn’t about us. We have no authority to do so on our own, only that which is given to us by God.
The faith that was lacking in Nazareth is present in the sending out of the Twelve disciples. Jesus doesn’t tempt them to go do this work by promising luxury or an increase of their fame and stature. He says, “Go out two-by-two. Take nothing with you – no food and no money. Instead, have faith that I will provide for your every need.” How does he provide for their needs? He tells them to be completely dependent on the hospitality of others. How vulnerable they must have felt with no assurance of a living, or even where to sleep each night!
When we talk about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in our own day, we often hear of the need to pray and study the Bible personally, at home. While these are certainly helpful spiritual practices, following Christ requires us to first acknowledge that we cannot do it in our own. We must be dependent on others, humbly acknowledging that life isn’t all about self. The Christian life is inter-dependent with the lives of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Christianity is a communal religion, not something that we can do all alone.
This interdependency on others is poignantly seen in the sacrament of marriage. The two individuals getting married become one. They submit themselves one to another and put the other’s needs above their own. They are at their most vulnerable with each other, for better or for worse, and much humility is required. They don’t lose their individuality entirely, but in a very real sense, in holy matrimony, a new creation is born when the two become one flesh.
Likewise, a new creation is born in the waters of baptism. A deep faith in Christ – like that of the Twelve – leads us to follow him into his death through the waters of baptism – at our physical baptism, and when we put on our baptism each and every day. St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans, “we are baptized into Christ’s death…For if we are united with him in a death like this, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” The baptismal life is a daily cycle of dying to the old self and rising to a new life filled with the hope of resurrection – a bodily resurrection, just like Our Lord.
This continuous cycle of dying and rising is the pattern of the Christian life. At baptism, by water and the Holy Spirit, we receive the authority that Jesus gave his first disciples. Authority to engage in the ministry of casting out demons and healing the sick and inviting everyone to turn from their old ways and believe in the Gospel! At baptism, we are committed to join with the whole Church in the work begun by Jesus of reconciling the whole world to God and God to the world.
Dear friends, we cannot live out our faith in Christ alone. Let us renew our commitment to live interdependently with our fellow members of St. Mary’s and the wider Church, no matter how messy that can be. Like the disciples, let us claim this authority given to us by our Lord and say yes to taking the Gospel – both in word and in deed – to those around us, and thus join with Christ in reconciling the word to God and God to the world. Amen.
 Verse 3.
 Karoline Lewis, Rolf Johnson, and Matt Skinner, "Sermon Brainwave Podcast," Working Preacher (podcast), July 8, 2018, accessed
July 7, 2018. https://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=1037
 Romans 6:3-5.
Proper 6 – Year B
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
2 Corinthians 5:6-17
Sunday, June 13, 2021
The experience of being truly loved changes us.
Being in relationship with another person requires intimacy and transparency. Being in relationship with someone means letting them in to see beneath our polished, outer presentation and experience the unpleasant underbelly that we all seem to have. When they love us anyway, it gives us hope! When a long-time friend knows that something is awry and offers to take you to lunch just so that you can vent, you gain just a bit of hope to face another day – not because all of your problems are solved, but because you know that the other person loves you.
The writer of our second lesson today was someone who was drastically changed by the experience of being loved. The love of Christ literally transformed St. Paul from a persecutor of the church into a tireless missionary who couldn’t keep his mouth shut about so great a love! He means it when he says, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”
But in order to become new, in order to be reborn and become a new creation, death comes first. We were baptized into both Christ’s death and resurrection, and are called upon as disciples of Jesus to die daily to sin.
St. Benedict, in his rule that he wrote to regulate the lives of his monks in the sixth century, said, “Day by day, remind yourself that you are going to die.” By itself, this phrase implies that death is something to be feared or even dreaded. But in light of the phrase before it, “Yearn for everlasting life with holy desire,” it is clear that, for Benedict, death and eternal life are not separated. To gain eternal life, death comes first.
Using the parallel Greek verbs “to be at home” and “to be away from home,” Paul acknowledges the distance between being in the body and with the Lord, and tells us that he would prefer being at “home with the Lord.” But whether at home or away, whether in the body or with the Lord, he says, “we are always confident.” Confidence here means not simply self-confidence, but faithfulness and security in believing. Confidence whose true giver and object is God.
It is with this deep, abiding confidence that Paul reminds us that each of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil. We will all be held accountable for our actions when we cease to be at home in the body and go home to be with the Lord.
This is what Benedict had in mind when he said “remind yourself daily that you are going to die.” He continues in his rule, “Hour by hour keep careful watch over all you do, aware that God’s gaze is upon you, wherever you may be.” At first glance, this seems to say that God is watching over your shoulder and will punish you for all the naughty things you do. But in context, it simply means that we should live our lives knowing that temptation is just around the corner, and when it comes up, by God’s help, we should resist; and if we fall, we should repent and return to the Lord. In other words, the death into which we were baptized – Christ’s death – is something we have to intentionally put on each and every day.
Dying isn’t a fun process. It is usually painful, I’m told. But it is only through death that we can attain eternal life. It is only through death that we can be reborn and made new. It is only the experience of being loved by God that we can receive the hope not only to face another day, but the deep, abiding confidence we need to choose God’s will before our own, to put others before ourselves, and to continue with the constant cycle of death and rebirth that is our daily burden to bear. It is when we know and embrace the fact that despite our flaws, despite our underbelly, Jesus loves us so completely and deeply, that we will have the confidence to walk by faith, not by sight, and to share God’s overwhelming love generously with those around us.
“If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” Amen.
 Rule of St. Benedict 4:47
 Ibid 4:46.
 David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word. Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 135-136.
 2 Cor. 5:10.
Ordination of the Rev’d Isaac Petty to the Priesthood
May 29, 2021
Isaiah 6:1-6, Psalm 43, Hebrews 4:16-5:7, John 6:35-38
The Rev’d Charles W. Everson
Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral
Good morning! What a joy it is to celebrate today with Isaac, our diocese, and indeed the whole Church. Today, Isaac will be ordained a priest. Later in the service, Bishop Field will address the good deacon and remind him that he is being called to work as a pastor, priest, and teacher. A teacher teaches things, and a pastor serves as the shepherd of his or her flock. I want to focus on why Isaac is being ordained a priest, and not simply a pastor or teacher. We Episcopalians are mostly unique amongst those whose heritage is in the Protestant Reformation in that we call the leaders of the local congregation priests and not pastors or ministers. This may seem to be a matter of semantics to cradle Episcopalians, but there is an important reason we do so: priests offer sacrifices, and pastors don’t.
In today’s lesson from the letter to the Hebrews, Jesus Christ is referred to as a high priest. In the early history of the Hebrew people, Moses ordained Aaron as the first high priest, the one charged with entering the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, to make atonement for his sins and the sins of the people by offering sacrifices to God on an altar.
At first in Israel’s history, the high priest’s status was secondary to that of the king, and his authority was limited to the religious sphere and specifically to the liturgical and sacrificial work in the Temple. Later, the authority of the high priest extended to the political arena. The office of the high priest and that of the monarch effectively became one and the same.
In today’s lesson and throughout his letter to the Hebrews, the author links Jesus not to Aaron, the first high priest of the hereditary Levitical priesthood, but to Melchizedek, a mysterious figure from the book of Genesis who pre-dates Aaron by six generations. Melchizedek is only mentioned twice in the Old Testament, but in short, he is described as having been anointed by God as both a priest and a king, offering bread and wine to God. In the late 1940’s, when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the desert caves of the West Bank, a manuscript from the 1st century BC was uncovered that indicated that the figure of Melchizedek had developed considerably in Jewish thought by this point. He was depicted as a heavenly redeemer figure, a leader of the forces of light, who brings release to the captives and reigns during the Messianic age. The author of Hebrews knows that his audience is familiar with both the Old Testament and intertestamental traditions when he declares that God appoints Jesus as high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.
The priests of Aaron became priests by their lineage, but for Melchizedek, there is no record of his family tree. He was appointed a priest by God to an order that had no beginning. Jesus is a priest forever according the order of Melchizedek, and thus the order has no end. The word order doesn’t mean Trappist or Dominican, it means after the manner of Melchizedek's priesthood. Later in this letter, the author goes on to make a sharp distinction between this order and the Levitical priests who continue to offer animals in sacrifice. They had to sacrifice millions of sheep, millions of goats and millions of cattle with millions of gallons of blood running down through the temple. Why? Because of the Golden Calf. Before that event in the life of the Hebrews, there was a clean, unbloody priesthood that Melchizedek represents, and as is recorded in the book of Genesis, Melchizedek’s priesthood included offering bread and wine.
Since very early in the Church, a connection has been made with the bread and wine offered by Melchizedek as a foreshadowing of the bread and wine offered by Christian priests at the Eucharist. When Jesus was sacrificed on the cross, the priest and the offering were the same. But at the Eucharist, the priest and the offering are different, as it was with Melchizedek. The once-and-for-all sacrifice of the eternal great high priest on the cross is continued through Christian priesthood, a priesthood prefigured by Melchizedek’s offering of bread and wine on the altar, and perpetuated by thousands upon thousands of priests throughout history who have offered the same gifts on the altar in the name of Christ. This point was driven home to me personally when I was ordained priest and opened so many cards of congratulations that said, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”
St. Mary’s, the parish I serve and the parish that raised up Isaac for ordination, has a long history of offering the Eucharistic sacrifice every day throughout the year. When the pandemic hit last some 14 months ago, I felt it important to model the “stay at home” order, and so my bar at home became an altar and I learned the fine points of livestreaming. The Church has always taught that having at least one member of the Church Militant (meaning a living, breathing person) present at the Eucharist in addition to the priest is strongly preferred, so I had to think quickly who might be able to come over each day for Mass. It turns out that Isaac lived only a few blocks away from me at the time, and every day for nearly two months, he made the trek – sometimes by foot, sometimes by car – and was present for the Eucharist. I didn’t have to explain to Isaac why I needed to offer the Eucharist for the flock God entrusted to my spiritual care. He knew. And during those two months, I could see both his and my devotion to Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar deepen in those surreal-yet-life-giving moments at my bar-turned-altar.
Like me, Isaac was formed how to be a pastor and a teacher in a different denomination. And like me, he owes a debt of gratitude to his former denomination for forming him as a disciple and follower of Christ. I know he feels this gratitude toward the Nazarenes, not because he’s said it explicitly, but because each year without fail, he sends me a joyful and almost gleeful text message to remind me of John Wesley’s commemoration in our church calendar.
That said, I’m sure his feelings towards his former denomination vary wildly depending on the context. Yes, he owes them a debt of gratitude, but he also bears the wounds inflicted by some of their wounded individuals and power structures – wounds that are bound to heal over time but are ever fresh and painful. Isaac sacrificed much by making the decision to be honest about who God made him to be, the consequences of which rallied so many of his friends and colleagues both within the denomination and in ours to support him as a Christian and as someone called to serve the church as an ordained leader. He came to The Episcopal Church with both the academic training and quite a bit of experience as both a pastor and a teacher. But today, Isaac is being ordained into a priesthood that offers sacrifices, again and again. The Church doesn’t teach that priests re-sacrifice Jesus at the Mass. The crucifixion happened one time in history and can never be repeated. At the Eucharist, the priest offers to God a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving on behalf of the people, a bloodless sacrifice of bread and wine as foreshadowed by Melchizedek. This sacrifice makes the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus on the cross present for us in our day and time. In the Eucharistic sacrifice, time stands still as earth and heaven are joined, and we are transported to that green hill called Calvary, and Calvary is brought here. And when we receive our Lord into our bodies, our sins are forgiven, our union with Christ and the Church is strengthened, and we experience a foretaste of the heavenly banquet which is our nourishment in eternal life.
Isaac, this is the priesthood into which you have been called. In a moment, when the bishop and the priests lay their hands on you and ask the Holy Spirit to make you a priest, you will be united with your Lord into an order that has no beginning and no end. The Holy Spirit will transform your diaconal character into that of a priest, giving you awesome power and responsibility to confect the sacraments which are the outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace. Your personality and your outward appearance will, of course, remain the same, but the Holy Spirit will transform your inner character to that of the Great High Priest. You will become an image – an icon – a visible manifestation of Jesus Christ in the world.
Your hands will be anointed to signify this change, for by your hands, the bread of life and the cup of salvation will be consecrated, and by your hands, the people will be fed with the holy food and drink of new and unending life. A Bible will be given to you as a sign of your authority to preach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments. It’s not in our ordination liturgy, but a little birdie has informed me that you’ll be given a chalice and paten, the holy vessels of the sacrifice of bread and wine, signifying the continual sacrifice that you will offer for the sake of the people and indeed the whole world.
As any of the priests in this room can testify, there will be times you will want to take off your priesthood. To undo what is being done today, just for a moment, whether it’s from fatigue, or because the collar around your neck limits your ability to say or do something as if it is choaking you, or perhaps because a parishioner has hurt your feelings and you can’t even imagine how you can continue to love them. In those moments, remember the weightiness of the hands placed upon you. And remember the grace given to you in that moment, grace that you will need as you offer yourself in sacrifice for the people until the day you die.
Dear friends, let us give thanks to God for the gift of the priesthood, and for Isaac’s willingness to answer God’s call to sacrifice himself as a priest for the salvation of souls and the redemption of the world. Let us give thanks that by the Holy Spirit, the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is made present for us on this altar today. And when we receive our Lord into our bodies in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, let us give thanks to God for filling us with hope in this foretaste of the heavenly banquet which is our nourishment in eternal life. Amen.
 Levine, Amy-Jill, and Zvi Marc Brettler, eds. The Jewish Annotated New Testament: New Revised Standard Version Bible Translation. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2017, 470.
 Keener, Craig, ed. Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2019. 38.
 BCP 860.
May 23, 2021
The Rev’d Charles W. Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Happy feast day to you! And what a glorious feast it is in which we commemorate the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the fledgling Christian Church The earliest believers were together to celebrate the Jewish Festival of Weeks, or Shavuot, 50 days after the Passover. The Festival of Weeks celebrates the anniversary of the giving of the Law by God to the people of Israel on Mount Sinai in 1312 BC, an event for which Jews who were scattered all about the land regathered in Jerusalem.
God’s ongoing presence in the world in the person of the Holy Spirit, long foretold by and promised by Jesus himself, begins with a vision of a reconstituted Israel. It’s not a reconstitution of the 12 tribes, but of a diaspora of Jews who live in all sorts of far-flung places, brought together for a common purpose. In this moment, God breaks in and announces Good News. It is fitting that on today’s feast of Pentecost, St. Mary’s begins a new chapter in our common life together at this phase in the pandemic by having our first meal and social event together) in over fourteen months (tomorrow after Mass).
It is, of course, an incredibly happy occasion, but many of our parishioners are coming back to church after being fully vaccinated only to find new people they’ve never met. And more than a few of you became a part of this community during the pandemic and have never met some of our long-time members. St. Mary’s is a different community than it was when the pandemic began, and it will take awhile for everyone to get to know one another and find out what the “new normal” looks like.
On that first Pentecost Day, the disciples and others heard a sound like the rush of a violent wind bringing divided tongues as of fire causing them to speak in other languages. When the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, Luke says they were bewildered, astonished, and perplexed. “What does this mean?” they ask (v. 12). They mill around, stepping on each other’s toes, their faces reddening, their voices rising in confusion. This confusion sounds just like the story of the Tower of Babel when in response to the people trying to build a tower tall enough to heaven, God confounds their speech so that they can no longer understand one another, and scatters them around the world. With the arrival of the Holy Spirit, the confusion of Babel begins to be reversed. Instead of widening confusion, there is a growing understanding, little by little. In this fantastical moment, divided humanity begins to come together in harmony as people speak languages other than their own and understand one another.
The Holy Spirit continues to work in this way in our world today, and even here at St. Mary’s. Pentecost reminds us that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is for all people. No one is excluded. We humans like to erect divisions between ourselves, mostly to find ways to show that we’re better than others. Peter quotes the prophet Joel in his Pentecost sermon to indicate that God is pouring out the Holy Spirit on both sons and daughters, the young and the old – even the slaves representing those at the margins of society are included! The Roman imperial authorities allowed groups of people like the Hebrews the freedom to be themselves in most ways, but they required each of these linguistic and national groups to stay in their own silo as a way to control them. We do the same today in politics, religion, race, socio-economic class, national identity, etc, but the Holy Spirit powerfully unites those of us who acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord despite our differences making us one body, one Spirit in Christ.
St. Mary’s is not the same community it was in March 2020. But we are united by the Holy Spirit who has continued to work in and through each of us whether we were here in person or in quarantine. I can think of many ways in which I saw direct evidence of the Holy Spirit at work throughout the past year at St. Mary’s, in person, and in our online small groups, and perhaps especially in the many phone calls and porch visits between parishioners and clergy, caring for one another as best we can.
As we begin to explore what the “new normal” looks like in the coming months, I encourage you to do a lot of listening. At the barbeque after Mass (tomorrow), have a conversation with someone you don’t know. Listen to how the Spirit has worked in his or her life over the past year, and tell a little about your story. Whether you’ve been at St. Mary’s 1 week or 12 weeks or 12 years, the Holy Spirit unites us in our common baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection, and continues to work in our midst. The Holy Spirit continues to break down barriers that divide us, bringing bring order and understanding to confusion and chaos.
On this joyful feast day, let us pray for the grace to recognize the work of the Holy Spirit in our midst. And let us pray for the strength and courage to join in the Spirit’s work of breaking down human divisions wherever they exist, here at St. Mary’s, and in the world around us. Amen.
 David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Louisville (Ky.): Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 19.
Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year B
May 16, 2021
The Rev’d Charles W. Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
What does reading a mystery novel and going on a retreat at a monastery have in common?
Both are forms of escape from the world. When you read a mystery novel, you get lost in the story, fantasize about the lives of the characters, and so on. When you go on retreat at a monastery, you’re at least supposed to disconnect from electronic devices and the world at large and spend time in prayer and meditation. In both cases, you get to escape from the world around you.
We all need escape from time to time. We live in a world of constant pressures including complicated relationships, budgets, commutes, and other time constraints. It’s also full of temptation to sin, and oppressive societal pressures like sexism and racism and terrorism and the like.
Since the beginning, Christians felt the need to escape from the world. We want to follow Christ with all that we are, and being in the world in the midst of temptations and those who challenge our faith can be exhausting. We’ve glimpsed a vision of what is good and holy, and have experienced genuine Christian community where we forgive one another and learn to love each other despite our faults. We even experience a foretaste of heaven each time we celebrate the Eucharist together.
Some Christians throughout history have responded to this by living communally with likeminded Christians in monasteries or convents. On a smaller scale, many more occasionally visit monasteries or convents for a brief retreat from the world around us. In both cases, there’s an attempt in some way to “create a space, unencumbered by the world, that allows for a fuller realization of a faithful, holy Christian life.”
I remember back in my evangelical days when I was taught that allegiance to Christ meant avoiding certain movies, or abstaining from alcohol, or observing the rule that persons of the opposite gender couldn’t come in my dorm room as it might lead to an inappropriate sexual encounter. We were taught to avoid chunks of the world in order to be able to avoid becoming entangled in the world in such a way that living a faithful and holy Christian life isn’t possible.
The early Christians who heard Jesus’s prayer from St. John’s gospel lived in a conflict-ridden world in which being a Christian resulted in persecution. I can only imagine that they fanaticized about escaping to a world in which the Roman Emperor became a Christian, got baptized, and stopped persecuting them. A world where practicing one’s Christian faith was seen as admirable. A world where it was easy to gather with other Christians to tell the stories of Jesus and regularly receive him in the bread and the wine. A world where simply being a Christian isn’t dangerous.
This is the context of Jesus’s prayer. Note that it doesn’t include a request that they be allowed the luxury of escaping from this world. He instead asks the Father to protect them in his name. Jesus acknowledges that he and his disciples “do not belong to this world.” (v. 14) But he specifically prays, “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.” Christ didn’t call them into community to escape from the world, but instead to stay in the world under God’s protective care. We too are called to stay in this world, in the midst of the terrors of mass shootings, and nuclear weapons, persistent racism, gender inequality, and even a global pandemic. But to stay in the world under God’s protective care. We are called to live life amid all of the evil in the world without ourselves getting entangled in it.
The fuller realization of a faithful and holy Christian life cannot be found in escape from the world, but instead in dedicating oneself to God entirely while still being an active part of the world. In verse 17, Jesus prays “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” The word “sanctify” means “total dedication to God.” This realization of holiness isn’t found in escape, but is found in the truth of God’s word – Jesus – as he is revealed in our world day in and day out.
Remaining in the world is not without its risks. Being a Christian without being wholly dedicated to Jesus leaves us open to succumbing to the evil around us and getting off track. What does being totally dedicated to God look like in everyday life?
The key is prioritizing one’s life by putting God before everything else, and more specifically by setting aside intentional time to pray and read the Bible.
Our evangelical brethren call this setting apart of time to spend with God “a quiet time.” It was a time when one is supposed to read the Bible and pray. My problem was this: I often found myself wondering what part of the Bible to read, or what to pray. I would pray for my family, and those who were sick, and various church leaders, but after that, what was there to do?
It was the discovery of what our prayer book calls the Daily Office that answered this question for me. In The Episcopal Church, the Daily Office consists of Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline with Morning and Evening Prayer being the primary and most important of the offices. These prayer services mark the hours of each day and sanctify the day with prayer. The Daily Office isn’t a magical thing to be done when you feel the need to escape, but it is a tried and true method to be sanctified in the truth. It’s all about prayer and the Bible, all tidied up and ready for you and I to use in our everyday lives. On the one hand, when I discovered Morning and Evening Prayer, I was grateful that the Church provided a systematic way to pray that has stood the test of time, and grateful that I no longer had to wonder how to proceed in private prayer; on the other hand, I no longer had an easy excuse when I didn’t know what to pray.
The Daily Office may not resonate with you. There are plenty of organized ways to pray and study the Bible out there, both new and old. The important thing is actually making time to pray and read the Bible! If that’s not something you’re doing now – or have ever done in your life – don’t be scared! Take the plunge and give it a try! Spend five minutes in the morning in quiet prayer, beginning by praising God and thanking him for his grace, followed by a few minutes listening to God, and then ending with intercessory prayer for those you love.
Jesus prays, “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” This is the opposite of getting out of the world! That said, we can’t escape the temptation to escape from the world. But Jesus is redirecting our desires today. We should look to “create a space, unencumbered by the world, that would allow for a fuller realization of a faithful, holy Christian life,” not by escaping from the world, but by dedicate ourselves to Jesus Christ while living our lives in the world under God’s protective care. We are called to live life amid all of the evil in the world without ourselves getting entangled with the world. In order to do this, we need to intentionally spend time with God in prayer by sanctifying ourselves in the word which is truth. One way to do this is by praying the official prayers of the Church in the Daily Office, but there are many other ways. We are called not to disengage from the world, but intentionally press into God while still in the world, and in so doing, we receive the grace and fortitude to live as a Christian in the midst of our broken world that we might have a more abundant life, right here, and right now. Amen.
 David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Louisville (Ky.): Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 545.
 Verse 11.
 Feasting 547.
 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), 1910.
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!