This morning’s sermon on the Parable of the Sower. You can listen to it here:
This morning’s sermon on the Parable of the Sower. You can listen to it here:
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
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.
Proper 25 B, Oct. 25, 2015
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
A sermon preached on August 16, 2015 at Church of the Good Shepherd, Pawtucket, RI
Proper 15 B RCL: Prov. 9:1-6, Eph. 5:15-20 and John 6:51-58
We are what we eat, as the promoters of every fad diet and “cleanse” program tell us. What we eat affects the composition of our body. What we eat affects what activities we have the energy and ability to do. What we eat affects our short and long-term health.
in the passage we just heard from the Gospel of John, Jesus said that his disciples are to eat his flesh and drink his blood. A startling, shocking image.
For almost 2000 years the Church has taken this saying, along with the stories of the Last Supper in the other Gospels and Paul’s description of the worship of the earliest Christians, as the foundation of the sacrament of Holy Communion.
I don’t know how Holy Communion works on a literal, physical level, transforming our very bodies, though the older I get the more convinced I am that it can and does, though the physics and the the biology of the Holy Spirit are beyond our scientific understanding.
We are what we eat and just like any other special diet, regularly ingesting Christ’s Body and Blood changes us, body and soul.
How can eating a few calories of bread and a sip of wine once a week change our body?
It’s not just about the wheat and the grapes. Just what body are we eating? We are eating Jesus’ body. It is the body he offered up to God’s purposes in his ministry and also in his suffering and death. That is what we are ingesting, that body given up for others. Sort of like a yogurt culture or yeast or some fermentation agent, we are taking into ourselves an agent of growth and change.
Just as what we eat affects our actions, when we consume the Body and Blood of Christ, what we take into ourselves affects how we act. What intentions we have. When we take Communion, we are choosing to be connected to a larger Body. We are expressing our desire to become like the One we’re eating.
We are showing ourselves to be intimately connected to God, a connection established in baptism that can never be broken. We are taking ourselves, our souls and bodies, and offering them up to be blessed, and broken and given away
The OT lesson from Proverbs talks about wisdom. In the biblical world, wisdom isn’t book smarts. wisdom is practical knowledge. It is how to act in a righteous way that furthers Gods purposes for us and the world, acting consistently with the truest parts of what we’re made for. Wisdom is about our daily actions, our habits and practices. And in today’s passage God is personified as Lady Wisdom, exhorting us to grow into God’s hope for us:
5 Come, eat of my bread
and drink of the wine I have mixed.
6 Lay aside immaturity,a and live,
and walk in the way of insight.”
As we ingest the Body of Christ and are connected to the Body of Christ, if we offer ourselves up to God, as the raw ingredients of God’s Body, we can find ourselves and our our habits transformed. We can become more able to lay aside immaturity and walk in the way God would have us walk. We become more aware of the ways we have fallen short, but simultaneously we are enabled to transcend those things and persevere in spite of them, slowly made wiser and more humble.
It is not instantaneous. It can take years. But slowly God takes the raw ingredients that we have offered to God, and makes it into something new, and tempers it in the heat of challenge and struggle, and breaks it open, and offers it to feed the world. We are slowly transformed into living a life which has potential of making a difference, a life with greater depth and connection.
We find ourselves organically bound to the Body of Christ—that Body is not only the flesh and blood Christ who lived in Palestine and the body which dwells now still alive with God, but the Body of Christ is also all our brother and sisters in Christ—those we worship with, those in other congregations, those in other parts of the world. God feeds and nourishes us through this enfleshed body just as he feeds us in the bread and wine.
This week across the Episcopal Church we are remembering the life and death of Jonathan Daniels, an Episcopal seminarian at our seminary just up the road in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who was killed fighting for Civil Rights in Alabama when he was 26 years old, exactly 50 years ago this week. Given the other half of my position, as director of the Jonathan Daniels House, I would be doubly remiss if I did not speak about him this morning.
We may not all be called to a witness as bold and final as Jonathan’s. I hope not. But the way God worked in his life shows the same basic pattern that I’ve been describing, —taking, reshaping, blessing, breaking, giving.
Some of you know Jonathan’s story, but some of you may not. Jonathan was a fairly sheltered son of a small-town doctor in essentially all-white Keene NH. Thanks to some rather romantic ideas about the South and the military from some family connections, he chose to attend Virginia Military Institute for college. For those of you who are not familiar w/ VMI, it is the state-supported military academy in Virginia, where Civil War Confederate General Stonewall Jackson was a professor before becoming a legend. Its plebe year, or Rat Year, is still notoriously difficult, making Plebe Year at West Point look like a walk in the park. In the late ‘50s, when Jonathan entered, no one would have considered it a liberal place. He graduated from VMI as valedictorian, then spent some time in graduate school at Harvard.
As a teenager Jonathan had considered a call to the priesthood, but in college he left the Church and Christianity. While in graduate school he had a reconversion experience which brought him back to the church and to his call to priesthood, and he entered seminary.
While in seminary he did his field education in Providence, in an urban outreach program funded in part by the diocese, in part by the larger church, and in part by a coalition of parishes including this one. It was his work in Providence—where he interacted with blacks for the first time in any meaningful way –that he would spend entire weekends tutoring children, and going into the neighborhood meeting people and trying to support them—that his heart was opened to the civil rights struggle, and he joined the NAACP. The bookish PhD student from Harvard now said he could see himself happily becoming a slum priest.
When Dr. Martin Luther King asked white Northern church leaders to come to Selma to help in the voting right struggle, Jonathan and a few of his classmates from seminary responded. When most of the other white activists returned home, Jonathan and another classmate stayed. He lived with a black family in the projects. He tried to integrate the large prominent Episcopal church in Selma, getting himself in trouble with the local bishop.
One day he and some other activists and locals were protesting for voting rights in a small town in Alabama and they were all arrested. As they endured squalid conditions at the jail, Jonathan’s strength from enduring similar hardships at VMI enabled him to encourage the others and lead them in hymns and prayers.
A week later they were released in the middle of the day. They went to a nearby store to buy a cold drink, where they had been before as a mixed race group, but this time they were met at the door by a deputy sheriff, who brandished his shotgun at the black teenage girl standing in front of Jonathan and screamed at them to get off the property. Jonathan pulled the girl out of the way as the shotgun went off, and the blast killed Jonathan instantly.
God took all the raw ingredients of Jonathan’s life–
his affection for the South
his military training
his time working in an inner city outreach program in Providence
his intellectual gifts, his love of language
his charisma and good looks
and used them to make him a force for change—both in his life, and in his death.
Yesterday I watched the webcast of the pilgrimage and prayers and worship service in Alabama commemorating the 50th anniversary of his death, and the deaths of those others, black and white, who also died in Alabama in those years in the fight for civil rights. Some were beaten by Klan members, some were shot by policemen—the stories had more resonance with current headlines than we’d like.
And I heard Bishop Curry exhort us to keep goin’, for the elders there to help raise up the next generation of witnesses in the spirit of Jonathan Daniels, from among the young adults who were gathered there, who wore t-shirts reminding others of something Jonathan wrote about his time in Alabama just weeks before he died:
“that we are indelibly, unspeakably, ONE.”
Here is the full passage from which that quote is taken [edited slightly to make it clearer taken out of larger context.]
I lost fear in the black belt [Alabama] when I began to know in my bones and sinews that I had been truly baptized into the Lord’s death and Resurrection, that in the only sense that really matters I am already dead, and my life is hid with Christ in God. I began to lose self-righteousness when I discovered the extent to which my behavior was motivated by worldly desires and by the self-seeking messianism of Yankee deliverance!
The point is simply, of course, that one’s motives are usually mixed, and one had better know it. As Judy and I said the Daily Offices [Morning and Evening Prayer] day by day, we became more and more aware of the living reality of the invisible “communion of saints”–of the beloved community [back at the seminary] in Cambridge who were saying [Morning and Evening Prayer] the Offices too, of the ones gathered around a near-distant throne in heaven–who blend with theirs our faltering songs of prayer and praise. With them, with black men and white men, with all of life, in Him Whose Name is above all the names that the races and nations shout, whose Name is Itself the Song Which fulfils and “ends” all songs, we are indelibly, unspeakably ONE. [see http://satucket.com/lectionary/Jonathan_Daniels.htm for source citation]
The Rev. Gillian R. Barr
Priest in Charge, Church of the Good Shepherd, Pawtucket, RI
Director, Jonathan Daniels House, Providence RI
Sermon preached at Church of the Good Shepherd, Pawtucket RI by the Rev. Gillian Barr
Sunday, June 21, 2015 Proper 7 B Mark 4:35-41
As we all now know, this past Wednesday night a small group gathered for Bible study in the basement of a church, twelve members and leaders of a historic African Methodist Episcopal congregation almost 200 years old, the mother church of African Americans in the South. They welcomed a white stranger to their circle, invited him to sit next to their pastor, to participate in their sharing. They were studying the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus’ parable about the sower and the seed, just a few verses before the passage I read a few moments ago. And as the Bible study drew to a close and turned towards the closing prayer, the young stranger they had welcomed into their circle stood up, pulled out a gun, and began shooting people at point blank range, killing 9 of the dozen people gathered before he calmly walked out of the building.
None of us knows what thoughts or words or prayers were on the hearts of the people gathered in the basement of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston in the moments when Dylann Storm Roof began firing. But surely there was fear—there had to be. And in the hours afterwards, amidst the words of grief and horror, there was shock that such a thing could happen in a church. A church which had already borne so much pain in its nearly 200-year history—a church which, before this church building in which we are sitting right now had even been built, had endured persecution, arson, and an earthquake. Now they have experienced cold-blooded racist murder.
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
“Why are you afraid?”
For the past year a relentless procession of headlines has come from places like Ferguson, Cleveland, Long Island, Baltimore. The list of names of black bodies killed or assaulted in questionable circumstances grows. Trayvon Martin. Eric Gardner. Tamir Rice. Freddie Gray. Michael Scott, and others. And now 9 more names in a case where the motive and context is not ambiguous at all. The shooter said at the time why he was shooting: to kill black people.
Our black brothers and sisters surely have cause to cry out, “Teacher do you not care that we are perishing?” and real reasons to be afraid.
And then there are those of us who have a vision of this country as a place of equality, and fairness, who had hoped that the armed conflict of 150 years ago and the protests and legal fights of the past 50 years had brought real change, who had hoped that, as we elected our first African-American President and see people of all colors in leadership across the land, that we were finally overcoming the wrongs and wounds which predate this country’s founding—we see our optimism and our vision perishing.
One thread that runs through all these narratives is that of fear.
Our black brothers and sisters are
fearing for their lives.
fearing people may shoot them any where, even in church
fearing police or neighborhood vigilantes or people to whom they go for help after a traffic accident may kill them
fearing, actually knowing, that- systems and institutions are still rigged against them, with inequities in the real estate and banking systems (this morning’s ProJo has an article documenting that Rhode Island has the lowest rate of home ownership by people of color in the country), in methods of policing and patterns of incarceration, in voter ID laws, in schools and education funding.
If you haven’t been following this story non-stop in the past 24 hrs—authorities have now found a website by the shooter which explains his white supremacist views, and which shows that he was planning this since February. If you read what he wrote—which I do not particularly recommend that you do—you will find, underneath the vile hatred and racism, fear:
Those of us who are not intentionally racist, but who still, by supporting policies and patterns which benefit us, also participate in structures and systems which are racist–we are acting out of fear as well :
Those of us who are aware of our privilege, who desperately want to do the right thing, make a response, work for a more just and reconciled society, fear as well, or at least I know I do:
And into the middle of each of these storms of fear, when we think our safety, our hopes, our best intentions, are perishing, Jesus is with each of us, saying “Why do you fear?”
But there is another narrative coming from the people of Emanuel Church, one we heard towards the end of this week. It was not a narrative of fear.
Emanuel: if you remember from our Christmas carols and our theology, Immanuel means “The God who is with us.” (I still remember the day in seminary Hebrew class when I was first able to parse that word and realized “Yes—it really does mean that—‘with us—God’ Cool!”)
When the shooter was arraigned in court, family members of his victims spoke. If you haven’t read the stories about that or listened to the audio, I do recommend you do that. It is amazing.
It is a narrative of forgiveness. Several of the family members said that they forgive the shorter. Others said that they cannot yet forgive, but that they are praying for him. That they pray that he accepts Christ into his life so that he can be transformed.
The family members insisted that love must win, that hate could not be allowed to triumph. That their loved ones who had died had always emphasized love, as had their church, so that was the spirit in which they had to go on.
They know that Jesus had been with their loved ones in those horrible moments in the church basement, and is with them now. And they were able to look at that hate-filled, fear-filled young man and see Jesus with him as well.
The Jesus who they know is with them is not someone who magically eliminates storms, or even danger or death—this is the Jesus who went to the cross, knowing that he had to suffer and die in order for love to finally triumph.
Now, these family members are not talking about papering over their hurt and the shooter’s hate with simplistic sugary words; this is not “Pie in the sky by and by”—and I definitely am not saying that from this pulpit. There is still anger and hurt and pain and loss. Among the families—not all of whom offered words of forgiveness. And among those protesting in the streets and decrying racism. As there should be.
But they and we are disciples of Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, in the storm, in the boat. Why are we afraid?
What would our lives look like if, every time we found ourselves in fear, we pictured Jesus standing with us. And standing with the person or thing we are afraid of? If every time we found ourselves about to react to someone in fear, or to make a decision about a policy or a vote based on how it protects us from something we are afraid of, we stopped to remember that Jesus is with us, asking us why do we fear? And if at the same time we stopped to also remember that Jesus is also with whatever person or group is on the other side, or raising their voices, in that moment? How would it change our reactions? Our decisions? Our perceptions? Our responses?
It might not make us richer—in fact it might make us poorer in monetary terms. And it might not make us safer. But it is what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
The Episcopal bishop in South Carolina sent out a letter this week, asking for prayers. He asked us to pray one prayer in particular. So to close this sermon, I ask you to take out your Prayer Book from the pew racks, and turn to page 833. Let us say in unison the Prayer Attributed to St Francis.
Lord, make us instruments of your peace . . . . . AMEN.
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 and Romans 8:12-25
July 20, 2014
The Rev. Gillian R. Barr
Church of the Good Shepherd, Pawtucket
My father was a WW2 combat infantry officer, who decided that one way of putting the deadly skills he’d learned to good use after the war was by teaching gun safety and coaching youth who wanted to compete in competitive marksmanship. Since he and my mom were teachers, they had summers free, and for several years both worked as camp counselors at the NRA’s summer camp, back when the NRA really did focus on sportsmanship and safety.
As a result I grew up around guns, had gun safety drilled into me at a very early age, and indoor smallbore target rife was actually my sport as a teenager. Long before I was old enough to actually go to the range and shoot competitively, my father taught me gun safety: Continue reading