Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
The Rev’d Charles Everson
October 24, 2021
The year was 1854. The Town of Kansas had just been incorporated as Kansas City, and slavery was still legal in Missouri. A fledgling group of Episcopalians in Kansas City had no formal congregation and no clergy. Judge J.C. Ranson and his wife Elizabeth lived on Primrose Hill at what is now Admiral Blvd. and Tracy Avenue about a mile northeast of here, and one day late in 1854, Judge and Mrs. Ranson and a few other devoted Episcopalians met in a log cabin adjacent to the judge’s property with Deacon Joseph Corbyn, deacon-in-charge of Trinity Episcopal Church in Independence. Bishop Hawks had asked Trinity to share him with this budding parish in Kansas City that called itself St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. Deacon Corbyn either rode his mule or walked each Sunday from Independence to officiate Morning Prayer and preach, sometimes with a congregation of no more than five in attendance.
I doubt that either Judge Ranson or Deacon Corbyn could have predicted that 18 years later, we would change our name to St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, and then three years later, our rector Fr. Henry David Jardine, along with the Sister of the Holy Cross, would sponsor the organization of All Saints Hospital which eventually became the St. Luke’s Health System, a regional health provide that includes 16 hospitals and campuses, including a senior living community called St. Luke’s Bishop Spencer Place where I currently serve on the Board of Directors. Little did they know that by the power of the Holy Spirit, their small congregation would blossom into the flower that is our parish in our day, and that we would still be commemorating St. Luke nearly 170 years later, re-telling their stories of faith and ministry.
The scene in the appointed gospel for St. Luke’s Day is set in Nazareth, the town where Jesus grew up. These folks knew Jesus, and they were not surprised that he went to the synagogue to read and to teach. At the beginning of the story, there had been no prior association of Jesus with the coming Messiah that Israel had been longing and waiting for. Jesus opens up the Hebrew Bible and reads this from the book of Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
This passage from Isaiah had become associated with the Messiah the Jews were longing and waiting for, meaning when Jesus’s family and friends heard him read this passage, they immediately knew what he was talking about. After sitting down, he said to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
In this moment, Jesus reveals the agenda for his ministry. The term “agenda” is used by the late Baptist ethicist Robert Parham about this passage. Parham writes that “Luke 4:18-19 is one of the most ignored, watered down, spiritualized or glossed over texts in many [Baptist] pulpits, evading or emptying Jesus’ first statement of his [moral] agenda. Jesus said the gospel was for the poor and oppressed, speaking to those at the margins of society. Jesus was announcing that he came to liberate from real oppressive structures the marginalized – the impoverished, the war captives, the poor in health, the political prisoners. Jesus came to turn the economic structures upside down, instituting the year of Jubilee when crushing debts were forgiven and slaves were freed.”
Liberation, or freedom is often thought of as the ability to do whatever you wish. Economic freedom is commonly understood to mean being wealthy enough to not have to work. Freedom is also associated with political realities – being freed from the rule of a tyrannical king, or political leaders working to maintain freedoms in our country such as the freedom of speech or religion, or the freedom to live and work in a safe environment.
Jesus brings an entirely different kind of freedom to the world through the Holy Spirit, a freedom that is the release from captivity to death, and the will of the self. Jesus wants to liberate us from the shackles that keep us from being who we were intended to be – those shackles around our ankles are ourselves. By the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus comes to set us free from the captivity of living selfishly – free to live instead for God and for others. In chapter 9 of Luke’s gospel, Jesus says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it” (9:23-24).
I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the past year in our archives at the Kansas City Public Library, and have seen many ways that this parish has brought freedom to the captive in our nearly 170 year history, particularly in the area of hunger relief, a ministry that continues to this day. We also have a long legacy of the physical healing provided by the doctors and nurses of the St. Luke’s Health System. Where might God be leading our parish in 2021 to bring freedom to the wider community in Kansas City? How might God be calling us to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of the sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor in new and fresh ways?
Our archives at the library are chock full of photos, and vestry minutes, newspaper clippings, and old service bulletins. After spending relatively little time perusing these documents, it is clear to me that God has used this little parish to do mighty things, and nearly all of the ministry we’ve done has been financed by the generosity of our parishioners. We’ve never been a wealthy parish. There have been at least a dozen times throughout our history that our parish has had so little money that we haven’t been able to afford a full-time priest, and at least half-dozen times when we’ve been so broke we’ve almost had to close the doors. Thanks to the steady, generous giving on the part of our parishioners, St. Mary’s is on more steady financial footing at the moment than we have been, but the growth trajectory we were on at the beginning of 2020 has been stunted somewhat by the complexity of the pandemic.
As we’re asking God for guidance on how he might want us to bring liberty to the captive in our own day, let us dream big dreams with our hearts and souls, and let us respond generously with the time, talent, and treasure the Lord has entrusted to each of us. Let us throw off the “freedom” offered to us by the world, and instead embrace the freedom of the kingdom of Heaven, getting rid of the shackles of selfishness around our ankles. By the power of the Spirit, let us lose our lives for the sake of the gospel, and in so doing, find healing and freedom for our souls, and the grace to proclaim healing for the sick and release to the captives to our friends and families and the wider Kansas City community. 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), 287.
 Ibid 287.
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!