Reflections on the Word Made Flesh

Reflections for Christmas Morning, 2016

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The Gospel: John 1:1-14

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life,[a] and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.[b]

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own,[c] and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son,[d] full of grace and truth.

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The Prologue to John’s Gospel expresses the profound heart of our faith in God become human in the language of poetry and hymn. To reflect with you on the mystery of the Word made flesh, I would like to offer the words of three other writers from other times who also offer poetic words to express the paradox that John proclaims. The first two pieces are by 20th century poets, both English women.  The final is by an Anglican preacher from the mid-1600s.

Denise Levertov
20th C British-American poet

On the Mystery of the Incarnation

It’s when we face for a moment
the worst our kind can do, and shudder to know
the taint in our own selves, that awe
cracks the mind’s shell and enters the heart:
not to a flower, not to a dolphin,
to no innocent form
but to this creature vainly sure
it and no other is god-like, God
(out of compassion for our ugly
failure to evolve) entrusts,
as guest, as brother,
the Word.

from The Collected Poems of Denise Levertov Paul A. Lacey and Anne Dewey (editors)


U.A. Fanthorpe
20th C English poet

The Wicked Fairy at the Manger

My gift for the child:
No wife, kids, home;
No money sense. Unemployable.
Friends, yes. But the wrong sort –
The work-shy, women, wogs,
Petty infringers of the law, persons
With notifiable diseases,
Poll tax collectors, tarts;
The bottom rung.
His end?
I think we’ll make it
Public, prolonged, painful.
Right, said the baby. That was roughly
What we had in mind.

Source: Christmas Poems by U.A. Fanthorpe

The Rev. Dr. Mark Frank
Anglican Priest in England preaching in 1630s and ‘40s

Second Sermon on Christmas Day

Text: Luke 2:7
And she brought forth her First-born Son, and wrapped him in Swaddling-clothes, and laid him in a Manger; because there was no room for them in the Inn.

She the gate of heaven: he the King of Glory that came forth. She the mother of the everlasting God: he God without a mother; God blessed for evermore. Great persons as ever met upon a day. …. Eternity a child, the rays of glory wrapped in rags, heaven crowded into the corner of a stable, and he that is everywhere in want of a room. I am determined today to know nothing but Jesus Christ in rags, but Jesus Christ in a manger.

This is our firstborn, which we are this day to bring forth, for it is a day of bringing forth; this we are to wrap up in our memories, this to lay up in our hearts; this the blessed mother, this the blessed babe; this the condition and place and time we find them in, the taxing time, the beast’s manger, the swaddling clothes-all this day preach to us. What though there be no room in the inn, though the world will not entertain him? The devout soul will find a place to lay him in, though it have nothing of its own but rags, a poor ragged righteousness, yet the best it has it will lay him in, and though it have nothing but a manger, a poor straight narrow soul, not the cleanest either to lodge him in; yet such as it is, he shall command it, his lying there will cleanse it, and his righteousness piece together our rags.

What though there be no room for him in the inn? I hope there is room in our houses for him. It is Christmas time, and let us keep open house for him; let his rags be our raiment, his manger our Christmas cheer, his manger our Christmas great chamber, hall, dining room. We must dress with him and feed with him and lodge with him at this feast. He is now ready by and by to give himself to eat; you may see him wrapped in the swaddling clothes of his blessed sacrament; you may behold him laid upon the altar as in his manger.

Do but make room for him and we shall bring him forth, and you shall look upon him and handle him and feed upon him; if we bring only the rags of a rent and torn and broken and contrite heart, the white linen clothes of good intentions and honest affections to swathe him in, wrap him up fast, and lay him close to our souls and bosoms. It is a day of mysteries; it is the way he comes to us today. Let us ourselves wrap him and lay him up in the best place we can find for him, though the best we have will be little better than a manger.


Frank, Mark, 1613-1664.  “Second Sermon on Christmas Day St. LUKE ii. 7.
“And she brought forth her First-born Son, and wrapped him in Swad∣ling-clothes, and laid him in a Manger; because there was no room for them in the Inn,” in LI sermons preached by the Reverend Dr. Mark Frank … being a course of sermons, beginning at Advent, and so continued through the festivals : to which is added a sermon preached at St. Pauls Cross, in the year forty-one, and then commanded to be printed by King Charles the First.

Anthologized in: Christopher L. Webber. Love Came Down: Anglican Readings for Advent and Christmas (Kindle Locations 775-776). Kindle Edition.


“Do not be afraid, for see– I am bringing you Good News” Christmas Eve 2016

A sermon preached on Christmas Eve, 2016 at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Pawtucket, RI.  The Gospel text was Luke 2:1-20.


Please hear “Harry Emerson Fosdick” every time I said “Henry Emerson Fosdick.” Oops. Facepalm.  Even as I said it, I sensed it was wrong, but I had lost my place in my notes so couldn’t gracefully check.

Continue reading

“By your daily visitation” 4th Sunday in Advent

A sermon preached at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Pawtucket, RI on December 18, 2016.

The Gospel text, Matthew 1:18-25,  and the Collect for the Day referenced in the sermon are here.

Here is the audio recording of the sermon:

The Alyce McKenzie quote in the sermon comes from her sermon “The Fear of Betrayal,”  which probably influenced my own sermon in multiple ways. Hat tip to Fr. Eric Funston for pointing me to it via his own sermon blog.

ProChurch Tools Podcast’s tips on volunteer photography ministry

Notes from listening to:

ProChurch Tools Podcast # 129: Building a volunteer photography team for your church’s social media

Guest: Dave Adamson from North Point Community Church in Georgia (6-campus megachurch)

From show notes and listening:  Takeaways

    1. What makes great photography? Creative composition and shots of real people. Dave says that we are drawn to photos of faces (no more than 6 per photo to keep  them recognizable), and photos taken from creative angles. Take photos of people with interesting composition and you will attract more attention on your social media. 
    2. Find people’s best face and find it fast. Facial expressions often contort our natural look when we speak. Catching a speaker when their face looks right is a photographic challenge that Dave recommends you master. Try to snap when they’re pausing between sentences.
    3. Dave teaches his volunteers to take great photos, filter and process them consistently, and upload them almost instantly.  They have a distinctive look after processing that’s part of their brand.
    4. They do all their social media for 6 campuses with a corps of volunteer photographers.
    5. Communication tools like social media only work when we’re inviting people into conversations and engaging with them. This happens when we use more question marks than commas, and when we leverage social media as a telephone, not a megaphone. Ask questions. Respond to people. Engage.

Seeking the lost: September 11, 2016

Sunday, September 11, 2016 (Proper 16 ,RCL Yr C Track 2)
Luke 15:1-10 (click to read passage)

Welcome!  And welcome back!

It is “welcome back” to each of you, even if you’ve been in church every Sunday all summer, because we are finally back here in the church itself after six weeks of being “away,” worshiping in the parish hall during the renovation.  We were on a wandering journey of sorts.  Not lost, but not at home, either. But now, thanks to the hard work of our friends at Houyston’s Remodeling and our Junior Warden, Dennis Tripodi, we are back in the church.

But each of us has had times when we have felt lost.

Perhaps we have lost a job.

Or we have lost out to someone in a competition of some sort—at work, or in school, or on the athletic field, or in our romantic life—we found ourselves coming in second, or fifth–

Or we have found ourselves losing out in popularity—whether in office politics or in the middle school lunchroom–

Or we have lost someone we love—to illness, or conflict within the family, or death–

Or we have lost hope, due to current events, or due to our brain chemicals miring us in depression–

Or we have lost touch with someone, due to a move, or a disagreement—

Or we have lost touch with ourselves. Perhaps we have lost control over a situation we thought we had in hand, lost our balance, our equilibrium–

Or we have lost our way at some point on the journey of becoming who we imagined we could be.

And when we feel lost, we begin to feel invisible, unseen.

When we feel that—lost, and invisible, and rejected— the very human instinct is to separate ourselves, to believe that we really are lost and not worth seeing, not worth belonging.  And so we turn in on ourselves, and often cut ourselves off from those to whom we do actually belong.

In the story from the Gospel of Luke that Deacon Mary Ann just read, Jesus tells two parables to describe God.

In the image of the shepherd who searches for his sheep and the woman who searches for her coin, Jesus depicts a God who searches relentlessly for the lost.

The shepherd has 100 sheep, and yet amidst the noise and bustle of that big flock being all sheep-y on the hillside, notices that one, just one, sheep is lost.  He leaves the 99 up to their own devices while he goes and searches for the one.

The fairly wealthy woman in the second parable has 10 silver coins.  But she notices that one is missing, and sets aside all of her household duties and searches for it until she finds it.

And when the shepherd finds his one sheep, and the woman her one coin, they rejoice.

It’s like when you’ve lost a child in a large crowd—or if your pet has gone on an unscheduled walkabout around the neighborhood—when you find them, the first emotion you feel is an overwhelming joy just bubbling up.  You may feel other things later—anger, relief—but the first feeling is just that flood of joy.

These stories remind us, that when we felt lost, we were not truly lost—not in God’s eyes.  God was always seeking us, looking for us, trying to get our attention and reestablish contact.

And that is one of the reasons we come here each Sunday—to give thanks that we are not ever truly lost, truly alone, that we are always held in God’s sight and in God’s love—and to rejoice.

And we are also meant to do the same as the shepherd and the woman.

We are supposed to notice when one person is missing—whether it is a long-time member or someone in the neighborhood we’ve never met who feels lost and unseen by God and by others.

We are to search for them, to make sure they know they are not lost and invisible, but seen and loved.

Think of the military commitment to leave no soldier behind, and the dedication to POWs and MIAs to continue searching and bring them home.

Think of the civilians and first responders on 9/11 who went back into the towers again and again to bring people down to safety, and lost their own lives as a result.  Think of the flyers posted by family members of the missing—showing a picture, “Missing since 9/11, Floor 105, South Tower.”   Hoping that they would be found.  And think of the searchers or who combed through the pile of rubble for days, months, to recover as many remains as possible, so that no one would be totally lost.

We are to be just as diligent in searching, making sure no one is lost.

Because, just like the shepherd knew that his flock was incomplete when just one sheep was missing, and the woman couldn’t rest while one coin was misplaced, the Body of Christ is incomplete if everyone is not here.

We are to notice the lost, search for them, find them, welcome them into community—this community which is love with flesh on– so they no longer feel lost or unseen.

That’s what’s behind some of the changes we’ve made this summer.  The wall repairs, and the new floor, they just had to be done.  But the air-conditioning?

We didn’t put that in out of a desire for luxury.  After all, all of us grew up without air conditioning.  Some of us have lived in places further south, where it’s hotter. But we’ve learned that because, of health and or age, in the really hot months, there are some people who cannot be here because of the heat, even though they want to be.  So that is why we’ve finally put in air-conditioning. Not out of a desire for luxury, but because without it, some are excluded.  Without it, the body of Christ in this place cannot be complete.

That’s also why we’re rebooting our Sunday School, with some new energy and enthusiasm.  Because we want the children of this congregation to know that they are seen, and a beloved part of the body.  That there is a place for them here—in worship, if they want to be in the entire worship service—but also in Sunday School, if they want a place where they can encounter the Word in a way particularly accessible to them.

Both these changes are so that everyone feels known, seen, sought out, a part of the Body of Christ.

So, welcome back!

Let us rejoice!

The Rev. Gillian R. Barr
Church of the Good Shepherd, Pawtucket RI


Good Friday 2016

a meditation preached at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Pawtucket, RI

March 25, 2016

The Rev. Gillian R. Barr

Today is not only Good Friday, it is also March 25th.  Which on the church calendar is the Feast of the Annunciation, the date on which we remember the angel Gabriel telling the young girl Mary that she would bear a child, and he would be named Jesus, for he would save his people from their sins.  And she replied, “Let it be according to your word.”   These two observances coincide on the calendar only once every century or two, although church Tradition claims that they coincided on the first Good Friday—that Jesus died on the anniversary of his conception.  And this juxtaposition of Annunciation and Good Friday has frequently been the subject of poetry and art.  Here is one such image, which I find particularly evocative.

[1]GF 16 illustration annunc cruci in color Continue reading

Who is blind?

Proper 25 B, Oct. 25, 2015

Mark 10:46-52

The Church of the Good Shepherd, Pawtucket, RI

The Rev. Gillian R. Barr

This morning’s Gospel lesson is about someone blind receiving sight. Who in the story is blind?  On the surface, that’s a really easy question.  The beggar by the side of the road.  We even know his name, which we don’t usually for people healed by Jesus.  Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus.

But is he really blind?  He seems to actually see quite well.  He calls out to Jesus, calling him Son of David—giving him a title usually reserved for the Messiah.  Over the past few weeks we’ve heard several stories about Jesus’s disciples and followers just not getting it and basically being blockheads—James and John bickering to see who is the most important, other disciples turning children away, Peter denying what Jesus says about the Messiah’s future including suffering and death.  But this beggar by the side of the road understands who Jesus is. He calls him by a Messianic title, and he also insists that God’s vision, God’s healing, includes those on the margins, people like a blind beggar.  He sees with God’s vision.  He understands that when God looks at him, God sees someone worthy. He claims that he, even though blind, is someone worthy of Jesus’s “mercifying,” as one commentator suggests the Greek actually reads.

The people in the crowd, however, don’t get it. They don’t see Bartimaeus as a human being worthy of healing.  They see only a distraction, someone in their way. Someone taking Jesus’ attention away from them and their focus on getting to the next place on their itinerary.  They are looking at the man’s demands with a zero-sum mentality. They tell him to be quiet.

But we know better, right?  We wouldn’t do that. We wouldn’t ever tell someone asking for Jesus’ mercy, someone seeking healing and wholeness, to be quiet, would we?

Or would we? Continue reading