Category Archives: Sermons

Sermon: Mary of Bethany

Here is a sermon I preached on the story of Mary of Bethany anointing Jesus’ feet before his final Passover.  

The Scripture text is John 12:1-8, which is the Gospel appointed for the Fifth Sunday of Lent in Year C, and in slightly longer form, for the Monday of Holy Week.


The commentary by Karoline Lewis on definitely influenced my approach. 

What Are You Hungry For?

Proper 15 B: John 6:51-58
August 19, 2018
The Church of the Good Shepherd, Pawtucket, RI
The Rev. Gillian R. Barr

What are some of the things you’re most often hungry for?

As I was recovering from surgery this summer, I treated myself to my favorites: carbs, carbs, carbs.  Any pastry with  cinnamon. Maybe for you it’s red meat. If you’re lucky, it’s healthy vegetables.

Do you find your body craving something?  I’ve learned to trust my body when I suddenly start craving something outside my normal routines or when I suddenly lose my appetite for something.

How do you know you’re hungry?  What are some of the signs that tell you or those around you that you need to be fed?

a.    Feeling in your stomach; growling
b.    Craving
c.    Can’t fall asleep
d.    Can’t focus
e.    Get grumpy—”hangry”—my boyfriend has learned to keep me well-fed.
f.     If you’re a little one–Cry?  Fuss?
g.    Pet owners know the signs—the distinctive meow or woof or jump on the bed that means “Feed me now!”

Sometimes we can be hungry but not know it. Maybe we act hangry or are restless and distracted and it’s only later that we realize what made us be snippy or short-tempered.

When we figure it out, what do we do?
a.    Stop what we’re doing and eat.  Raid the fridge
b.    Tell the people we’re with we need a break to eat
c.    Go for our emergency snack stash in our desk or glove compartment.
d.    If we can’t eat right then, we may do something to distract ourselves—drink water, engage in some consuming activity.

Sometimes we’re hungry for things other than food
a.    For rest
b.    Friendship and companionship
c.    Recognition
d.    Admiration
e.    Forgiveness
f.     love
g.    Sense of worthiness rather than sense of shame

Just like when we’re hungry for food, sometimes we try to distract ourselves from these other hungers.  And usually these behaviors are not healthy in the long term. We may go shopping and buy things we don’t need with money we may not have. We may seek friendship and companionship in the wrong places with people ill-suited to provide true care. We may defend ourselves against a sense of guilt or shame by isolating ourselves. We may use alcohol or drugs to numb our feelings. We may confuse emotional hunger with physical hunger and over-eat. We may try to meet our need for intimacy and control, or try to salve our wounds from earlier hurts, by exploiting and hurting others.

When we recognize these numbing and distracting behaviors for what they are, we can begin to probe beneath them to see what the real hunger is, and we can begin to find ways to nourish ourselves more appropriately.  This is one of the times that a good therapist or a good recovery program can literally be a life-saver.

We are not alone in these desires—these desires for connection, for love, intimacy, the desire to be needed and valued and admired, a desire for purpose and meaning in our lives. This yearning for something beyond ourselves is part of what it means to be human.  To be created in the image of God.  To be created in the image of a God whose very nature is relationship and love and creativity and purpose and passion.

Jesus knows we need these things.  When the author of the Gospel of John uses the words “eternal life,” they’re not speaking about lengthof life, but about depthof life.  Eternal life is life when it’s lived with rich connection to things beyond ourselves and a deep connection with God.

A life in connection with God is a life where these deeper needs are acknowledged without shame, and are addressed and met by God in various ways.  Not met instantaneously or magically. Not like the immediate feelings of satiation when I eat a gooey cinnamon roll or buy something new and pretty.  But God guides and nourishes us to sources of fullness over time.

At our denomination’s General Convention this July, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, described a set of seven habits, a pattern of life, which can lead us into these depth dimensions.  It’s a pattern of life tested and proven over 2000 years of Christian discipleship.  He’s labeled it “The Way of Love.”  We’ll be talking about it and the seven habits A LOT more in the coming months.  So I won’t go into detail about the particulars now.
The Way of Love starts by asking, “What do you seek?”

Or, in other words, “what are you hungry for?”And the reply is:
“We seek love, freedom, and abundant life.  We seek Jesus.”
We don’t have to be experts in these seven practices to get started on, or to continue along, the path to the abundant life God promises us.

One of the practices is something we do every Sunday—worship, and specifically receiving the Holy Eucharist.

God doesn’t have to wait for us to say we’re hungry to know.  God wants to feed us. God has prepared a meal for us. In this meal God says:

Remember that I created you
Remember that I love you
Remember that I forgive you
Remember that I desire you.
Remember that you are amazing and beautiful in my eyes.
Come.  Let me feed you.

So, when you come forward today to the communion rail, and extend your palms to receive Jesus in your hands, I invite you, in the silence of your heart, to tell Jesus what you’re hungry for right now. Name that hunger. Be specific. Ask him for help in satisfying it in whatever way is truly best for you.  Ask him to continue to nourish you to be even more the person he has created and desires you to be.

Take and Eat.  Amen.