Epiphany 2 – John 1:29-42
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
January 19, 2020
Annual Parish Meeting
According to the national canons of The Episcopal Church, every parish church must have an Annual Meeting in which the members of the parish gather to elect new members of the Vestry, our governing board, and conduct other important business. It is a time to reflect on the previous year and look forward to the year that is to come. As our Annual Meeting is today after the 10:00 service, it did not escape my notice this week when a member of another parish posted a meme on Facebook entitled “Why people attend the Annual Parish Meeting.” It was a pie chart showing about 2% attending because they are the priest or deacon and have to, 4% have a report they have to present, 25% attend to nitpick the budget, 69% because there’s lots and lots of food, and 0% because they feel it’s important.
If you’ve been in The Episcopal Church for any length of time, this meme is funny because you’ve seen, as I have, an Annual Meeting or two drag on and on and on, with one or two people overtaking the conversation in an incredibly negative way. This parish, like any other, has had our share of negative and tedious annual meetings over the 163 years of our existence.
But as I was reflecting on our last year together in preparation, I was filled with such a sense of peace and happiness and even joy. What a great year it has been! I want to share just a few highlights with you:
In terms of sacramental ministry, seven of you were confirmed or received into the Episcopal Church. One of you was baptized. There were several dozen hospital or home visits to bring communion to those who were sick. There were three weddings here in the church, and two performed by our clergy elsewhere. A couple dozen private confessions were heard. Incredibly for a small parish like ours, the Eucharist was celebrated nearly every day with less than a dozen cancelled because no one showed up or because of bad weather. There is an incredible team of seven priests from around the diocese, including the four of us who serve here, who give of their time and energy to make sure that the Eucharist remains the beating heart of St. Mary’s. Thankfully, we’ve had no funerals since the last Annual Meeting. And importantly our average Sunday attendance was 13% higher in 2019 than it was in 2018, and is now 50% higher than it was during 2017.
When it comes to outreach, hundreds upon hundreds of people in need have been given groceries from the food pantry. Over a hundred have received non-food necessity items thanks to your generous donations. You donated many coats and scarves and other items for those who can’t afford them. And we’ve raised money and collected items for several outside charities that serve those in need in Kansas City.
The Music Ministry at St. Mary’s continues to serve as a bedrock of our liturgical leadership. The choir has led us in exquisite beauty in countless High Masses, Evensongs, and Sung Compline services. We continue with our fruitful partnership with the William Baker Festival Singers, and welcomed many guest choirs and musical ensembles from all over the nation throughout the year.
In March 2019, after having served for over 14 months as Assistant to the Rector despite the fact that we had no rector, I was named priest-in-charge. A couple of months later, we welcomed a new priest – Fr. Sean Kim – who not only helps tremendously in relieving some of my workload, but shares his many wonderful gifts and talents with our whole community. I’ve heard from so many of you how much you’ve grown to love and appreciate Fr. Sean.
At the end of the year, Dcn. Gerry Shaon retired as our parish administrator and we welcomed Raja Reed as he began in that role at the beginning of the month. I’m grateful to Dcn. Gerry for his countless years of service, and am so glad that he is continuing to serve as a clergy leader of this parish.
On the financial side, our Treasurer Chris McQueeny will share the details with you after the service, but I’ll steal his punchline: 2019 was a great year, with 2020 looking even more promising.
God is continuing to raise up faithful men and women at St. Mary’s to serve Him and the wider Church in ordained. In 2019, Bishop Field named two of our own as postulants as they continue to prepare for ordination to the priesthood: Isaac Petty and David Wilcox. And we have at least 3 others who are ready to begin formally discerning a call to serve as a deacon or priest.
I could go on and on, but suffice it to say, we’re growing…in depth of faith, in number of souls, and in tangible resources to help support and expand the ministry we’ve been called to do in downtown Kansas City.
I think it’s no accident that today’s assigned gospel reading provides a helpful construct for us as we think about who we are and where we’re headed. 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. The three synoptic gospels – 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.” Then John himself enters the scene, and identifies himself as the voice crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord” in the words of 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 sees Jesus coming toward him and says, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” 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 describes him as the Lamb of God. Instead of an all-powerful being who would deliver God’s people in might and power, John says that God chose to send the Messiah as a weak, sacrificial lamb like the one the Hebrews sacrificed each year at Passover.
How is this passage helpful to us as we think about who we are and where we’re going? I’ll always remember a comment that Fr. Sean made this past Easter when he came to sit in the pew before he was ordained priest. After the service, during which I had talked about the importance of the physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead to our faith, he said, “I’ve never heard an Episcopal priest publicly affirm the physical resurrection from the pulpit.” In that vein, it isn’t unheard of these days to hear Episcopal priests publicly teach that parts of the Nicene Creed simply are not true in violation of their own ordination vows. Friends, I commit to you that you’re never going to hear such nonsense from this pulpit as long as I’m around. The Christian faith is rooted in and founded upon the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. As St. Paul puts it, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain….if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins…If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied…but in fact Christ has been raised from the dead!”
What you will find at St. Mary’s is a safe place to ask questions without fear of judgment…to explore the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! When you struggle with your faith – and I promise, you will! – whether that be doubting parts of the Creed or even doubts about the very existence of God, your brothers and sisters at St. Mary’s will be here for you to say the Creed on your behalf. No matter who you are – Jew or Greek, male or female, black or white, Democrat or Republican, cis or trans, gay or straight – you will find a safe place to explore the faith that has been handed down to us from the apostles, and at St. Mary’s, you’ll find the grace and power you need to serve others selflessly without expecting a thing in return.
And yes, you’ll find a pesky priest who will relentlessly encourage you to respond with joy and excitement every time you see Jesus in your everyday lives and proclaim like John did, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” When you do, your friends and family will hear you, and some of them by God’s grace will respond like the disciples did and decide to follow Jesus.
When he saw John and the disciples following him, Jesus said, “What are you looking for?” They ask him where he’s staying, and he says to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw and “remained with him that day”, a Greek phrase that essentially meant 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.”
My friends, what an exciting time it is to be at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church! As we reflect on the past year and look forward to the year to come, like Jesus did the disciples, I invite you to “Come and see.” Come and spent time with Jesus! Come and hear him proclaimed in God’s Word, come and experience his unconditional grace and love in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, come and see him in the faces of all of us who call St. Mary’s home. As we encounter our risen Lord again and again, by God’s help, we will continue to grow in numbers, to grow in love for each other, and to grow in service to those desperately in need of Good News. Amen.
 David Bartlett, and Barbara Brown. Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008, 263.
 Selected verses from 1 Corinthians 15.
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!