Sermons Author: The Rev. Shawn Evelyn

Whether you are a long-time member or seeking a deeper connection with God, progressive, theologically-grounded teaching can be encouraging. St. James clergy and renowned guest preachers speak to issues of faith and public life that both challenge preconceived notions and call to action.

For daily reflections on the Gospel readings, our #SermonOfTheDay Series, follow St. James Cathedral's YouTube channel. Sunday Sermons are posted on this page the Monday following their premiere. 

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Never Forget to Shine

August 07, 2022

Are You a Mary or a Martha?

July 17, 2022

To protect and serve. That is the motto of the Los Angeles Police Department. In many situations we can agree that it does not do what it says. I grew up in Los Angeles, especially during the riots of 1992 that followed the outrage of seeing the footage of Rodney King’s irrational punishment and the lack of disciple the officers in question received. The cry heard from many at the time burned into my memory that says, “no justice, no peace.” The events that led to the uprising and the chaos that proceeded from the police there were not good examples of what it means to protect and serve. In bringing this up it is not my intention to bash the police. Pun intended. My intention in bringing that up is only to highlight that not all things can be taken at face value.

To protect and serve, these are the pillars of hospitality. In Greco-Roman culture, hospitium, is the term used that describes hospitality as the divine right of the guest and the divine duty of a host which not only afforded a guest to be served and have shelter, but to also have protection. Early English law also provides rules for hospitality under another’s roof that include protection and refuge. For those familiar with the fantasy series Game of Thrones, if you share your salt and bread with a guest, they are granted safety while they are in your home and in your care. There are many ways of making a guest welcome and as we can see historically, and even through fiction, those rules carry over. For the most part, in our context when a guest comes to our home, the implication is that they have protection, especially when any and everyone is quick to file a law suit these days. However, regarding hospitality, the portion that includes service, varies.

Our Gospel today looks at welcome, our Gospel today looks at hospitality. Jesus visits with Martha and Mary. Biblical scholarship has agreed that this is the Martha and Mary of Bethany, siblings of Jesus’ friend Lazarus, making them all chummy. Despite this, we are still in the 10th chapter of Luke. The chapter opens with Jesus sending out the 72 to help prepare people for his arrival and ministry. He tells them, carry no purse, bag, or sandals, because they will have everything they need. And everything they need will be taken care of through hospitality in the homes that they will visit. Jesus says, “…Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if a person of peace is there, your peace will rest on that person, but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide…” Jesus continues and gives warning to those houses that do not provide welcome to his messengers indicating that their fate will eventually experience dire consequences.

Clearly hospitality is at the forefront of what we have today. Even our first reading shows us another version of the story of Abraham and Sarah being blessed with a child even though there was no way this would ever be possible. Both Sarah and Abraham, are as the scripture says, “…old and advanced in age…” This blessing was bestowed on them as they provided excellent hospitality to three individuals. Their identity is not revealed but all evidence and legend associate these guests with the Lord. We see here different from our Gospel more of the specifics regarding how guests were granted welcome. Yeast was measured for each to make bread, water brought to wash their feet, greetings, salutations, beef and milk. Because they provided such hospitality to, the Lord, they received a blessing, the beginning of one of the greatest covenants that says, “…Sarah shall bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.” Our ancestral line is drawn back to this, the children of Abraham thus became numerous as the stars in the sky.

Based on everything we have heard, the question may arise, are you a Mary or a Martha? Similar to the magazine articles you may find at the checkout stand or the click bait found online that tries to lure you into a website, as if we have to be involved in another “us versus them” scenario. There is Mary who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened and Martha who had many tasks who came to him and put Mary on blast for not helping. If you recall, I started earlier by saying we can’t take things at face value. There is peace in this home, and the guest is being served. The tenants of hospitality are not broken nor are they in question. However, we must not fall victim to having to choose or more importantly, pit these women against each other. I would like to say in the past, but it happens even now, where passages like this are used to provide fodder for suggested gender roles, or that women should not be active and quiet as they sit at a mans feet. And even if we are not that extreme, we may still look at this and conclude that Mary is displaying the behavior we should be modeling because Jesus defends her. Let’s defend Martha for a bit. First off, why was she not invited to join in. Why did Jesus not say, “Martha come sit for a second.” Also, in what context does a host complain to a guest about something another host should be doing unless they were friends and this was a casual dialogue between buddies. If it were that serious, wouldn’t Martha talk directly to Mary instead and ask her for help? What we see is Martha being a tattle tale, and we all know, no one likes a tattle tale. Martha is actually awesome and we need to remember that. When her brother dies, she is the one that tells Jesus he should have been there. Also, she is legendary as the feast of St. Martha also celebrates the story of how she slayed a dragon. Its not all about St. George. Legend has it she encountered the creature near the bank of a river and compelled it to be still while she tied it up with her girdle so it would be immobile, and folks would kill it. Again, this is a legend, and the way this creature is described fits the description of a crocodile that may have gotten loose in route to a delivery.

Not all things should be taken at face value. One of the most flagrant comparisons to come out of the Mary and Martha useless identification debate would have some describe Mary as the right kind of Christian. If that sounds wrong then I agree, because I feel Christianity is as diverse as it is complex. It bothers me to no end when I hear that or even more recently when the Supreme Court of the United States overturned the historical landmark case of Roe vs. Wade and seeing the response of those who disagreed saying that this action was an exercise of “Christian Law.” Now, I may not be the smartest man, but I do know that the both the Law and the Prophets are fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and what I deem to be Christian Law comes from our commandment to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Not all things should be taken at face value. Both Mary and Martha are wonderful women and Jesus has been with them on many occasions so they must be doing something right. So let us go forward without putting these two women in a category. Let us see they are not against one another, nor are they models for what some would call proper behavior. Let us not get between family and friends and remember to always provide welcome that includes service and refuge to all who enter our doors. Amen.

Liberation and the Resiliency in Freedom

June 19, 2022

Faithfulness is the mark of true freedom. Keeping the faith despite injustice is the mark of liberation. I want us to talk about Juneteenth, I want us to talk about Black Theology, I want us to talk about liberation, it seems we can’t have one without the other. I say we can’t have one without the other because of the unfortunate nature of all of this being predicated on the fact that Black People in this country have been continuously responding to trauma and will continue to do so for an indefinite amount of time.

Juneteenth of course is the commemoration of the freedom from slavery acknowledged by the entire country that began with the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 declared by Abraham Lincoln. Following the Civil War, Texas was the last holdout state to comply. On June 19, 1865, Texas finally joined with the rest of the country to engage in emancipation. We all know that this did not solve the problem. There was still indentured servitude, sharecropping, Jim Crow laws, and of course the loopholes brought to us by the 13th Amendment, all of which continued the evils of slavery on a legitimate basis. Despite everything, Juneteenth was definitely a step in the right direction but not enough. Slavery, its legacy, and White Supremacy continue through racism which is still alive and well in this country. It doesn’t matter that our athletes are on a national stage, nor that we had a Black president. I still find it odd that we refuse to teach children in our schools more of how this country was born, the story that includes slavery and how people were brought over as property and seen as inferior. I find it odd that one of those responses for that refusal is the claim that it will teach children to hate this country. The fact that we can’t trust children with truth is more damaging than withholding information from them. It also shows how little we respect and how great we underestimate them. Juneteenth though, has only garnered more national attention as of late. Along with our country’s continued struggle with race relations inspired by the death of George Floyd, President Joe Bidden signed into law this commemoration as an official holiday last year. Juneteenth shows us freedom through faithfulness, despite the injustice that it was born out of.

Our reading from Isaiah models for us what it takes to have freedom through faithfulness, despite injustice. The words spoken through the prophet continue to show a new and greater exodus from oppression. With the book of Isaiah being so large scholars have gathered it should be separated into two parts with the part we are involved with today representing the theme of redemption through suffering. Black Theology, specifically inspired by James Cone, echoes this theme. As a type of liberation theology, Black Theology challenges White Supremacy taught and developed through Christianity to reflect the struggle of Black people in this country in the face of slavery and racism and in their coming redemption. James Cone gives us perspective by showing us that God is the God of all people and if God has taken all of who we are into God’s self, then God knows the struggle and oppression of Black people and that too is a part of God. This is evident in our reading from Isaiah especially when it proclaims, “I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask, to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, ‘Here I am, here I am.’ To a nation that did not call on my name.”  God here speaks to the unwillingness for a people to find peace. Nevertheless, the reading shines on redemption, the light on the other end of the tunnel, and that it is not possible without resiliency. It’s all about staying the course and doing so with a head held high even when times are hard or when you are not seen or heard. It’s also the courage to say, “here I am” to a nation that does not call on your name. This portion of the reading only parallels the cries we make today. If people won’t call our name, with a loud voice we tell them, “Say her name,” with a loud voice we tell them, “I can’t breathe,” with a loud voice we tell them, “Hands up, don’t shoot,” with a loud voice we tell them, “Black Lives Matter.”

Our Gospel for today can also be looked through the lens of Black Theology and even mirrors what we know about Juneteenth. The story of the Gerasene Demoniac is a strange tale found also in the Gospel of Mark where it is longer and more detailed. It is a type of superhero story that shows Jesus enforcing power over demons. In this version, a man possessed is restrained but loses control by the same evil that holds him. Jesus is identified by this demon and knows that it can’t win so looks for a way to escape by asking to be transferred into pigs nearby and later throw themselves off a cliff. Understanding this story requires contextual clues. The demons have been perceived as representations of the Roman army. The name Legion was a popular identification of the Roman army and is the name the demon calls themselves. The demon is also identified as evil that turns good things vile or evil. They were no match for Jesus and were placed into unclean animals, pigs. As a show of their cowardice and unintelligence, they jump off a cliff. After all this takes place, and Jesus heals this man and rids the place of evil. The people though, are still afraid of him. It is not a stretch for us to see this evil, this Roman army, this metaphor also as a representation of White Supremacy. It comes over people and places with the power to corrupt them. It is the cause of restraint and madness that effect Black people in need of liberation. Even when the chains are broken, it still is a source of PTSD, anger, and injustice. However, in the face of the divine, White Supremacy cannot win. Even during the end, there were many who were afraid of Jesus and wanted to go back to the status quo. There were people who were content with ignoring the problem rather than deal with the results even when peace was an option. The calls for liberation from supremacy, its affects, and the complacent nature of others still did not solve the problem, but it was a step in the right direction, just like Juneteenth.

Resilience is the essence of faithfulness. Through captivity, evil, and complacency, with heads high, and while moving forward, Black people in this country will continue to say, “Here I am” to a nation that does not call us by name. Faithfulness is the mark of true freedom. Not freedom written into law, but true freedom made possible through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Keeping the faith despite injustice is the mark of liberation. If you want to know what resiliency looks like, pay attention to the words of our Black National Anthem so Lift Every Voice and sing. Amen.