Tag Archives: GRB Sermon

Feast of the Transfiguration 2017

Luke 9: 28-36
Church of the Good Shepherd, Pawtucket

Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration. One of the feasts on the Church calendar deemed important enough that if it falls on a Sunday it replaces the usual readings.  So we take a detour out of our trip through the Gospel of Matthew and Jesus’s teaching over to the middle of Luke.

In this morning’s Gospel we join with Peter, James and John as they accompany Jesus up a mountain for a time of prayer.  And while there they have a profound Kingdom of God moment.  While praying Jesus is joined by Moses and Elijah, in a moment removed from normal time and space, as Moses and Elijah had each died centuries before. All three are shining with divine glory.  A cloud, a traditional sign of God’s appearing, encompasses them and God speaks, Peter, James, and John have been ushered into the transcendent realm of God, dwelling for a few moments more in heaven than on earth.

They see Jesus in his full divinity, shining like the sun, and God, in an echo of the words uttered at his Baptism, describing him as his Son, with more authority than Moses or Elijah, greater than the Law and the Prophets.

They had had intimations of his divinity before—as he healed the sick, cast out demons, and fed thousands—and if you read back just before today’s passage in Luke you realize that Peter has just said that Jesus is the Messiah.  But on the mountain they don’t get just a hint, or a growing suspicion, or a partial understanding, of Jesus as holy.  They see him in his full glory, and hear him discussing the events which will usher in his glory permanently: his crucifixion.  And when that crucifixion happens, the veil in the Temple is torn—the veil that separated fallen humanity from God is torn in two.  The human and the divine are once again able to be in close relationship.

When the disciples go with Jesus up the mountain, they see the man they had been traveling with for months—the one they’d probably slept under the stars with and traded corny jokes with, the one they’d seen be hot and sweaty and hungry and tired, as well as tender and compassionate—they saw this man they knew to be fully human—they see him alight with the whole glory of God, fully divine.

This complete mixing, one man totally human and yet fully divine, the prayerful miracle worker who goes willingly to his death as an innocent man, this man is God’s Chosen. In this moment Peter, James and John get a true glimpse of the kingdom.

Linda McMillan, an Episcopal lay woman who writes essays about the weekly scripture on the blog Episcopal Café, writes about the Transfiguration:

“Holiness is out there, sort of free-range and unsupervised. It might show up anywhere. On someone’s face, in nature … or the exhilaration of a deep and pure breath.  This week most of us will seek God in a holy place. But the wise among us will be on the lookout, because wild and untamed holiness is out there beyond the walls and beyond the symbols. Where, exactly? I don’t know, but I’m on the look out!”

This summer here at Good Shepherd we’ve all been on the lookout for kingdom stories, kingdom moments, when love and compassion break through into the ordinary. Not ones which come with clouds and shining glory, but more everyday moments in which God’s more subtle presence is revealed to those who have eyes to see. I’ve promised I’d give you regular opportunities to share the kingdom moments you’ve seen

What are some of the kingdom moments you have seen recently?

(Go out into congregation and have them share any recent recent kingdom moments)

I have two to share myself.

A friend of mine is always careful to engage w/ the people around him, counter helpers and the like—addressing them by name and making it clear he sees them as real people.  Sometimes it takes them (and me) aback, as it is so not a part of our American culture to engage w/ strangers in that way, but sometimes it is clearly a blessing to them, to realize that they are seen as individuals, not automatons.

Yesterday I saw Dunkirk.  A marvelous, if hard to watch, movie.  Tells the story of ordinary Britons who sacrificed, to save others.  One of the plotlines was about a British civilian gentlemen who answered the Navy’s call to take his small sailing yacht to Dunkirk to rescue soldiers—accompanied by his teenage son and his friend as crew.  They pick up a shipwrecked sailor from a torpedoed ship in the middle of the Channel and the sailor insists they must turn back to England—that to go on to Dunkirk, where he had just been, is certain death.  But they continue onwards, compelled by duty and compassion to risk their lives to save the trapped soldiers. I saw such nobility, and even a glimpse of holiness, in their willingness to sacrifice themselves as civilian volunteers for people they did not know.

The human shining forth with a bit of the divine.

What do we look like after we’ve seen God?  How does our appearance change?

I see it every Sunday at the altar rail, when I distribute communion, placing the bread in your palms with the words, “The body of Christ, the bread of heaven.”

When I am on the receiving side of those words, with my palms outstretched, I’ve always heard “the body of Christ” as referring to the wafer in my hands, which I’m about to ingest. And so it is.

But when I stand on the inside of the rail now as a priest, and am the one placing it into your hands, I experience it totally differently.  Each time I say, “The Body of Christ”, I am looking at one of you, in the face.  You, individually.  You are one part of the body of Christ, and I am handing you the bread of heaven. That is my prayer as I distribute communion, that I truly see each one of you as a part the Body of Christ, and that you see yourself that way, more and more each Sunday.

Brother Geoffrey Tristam SSJE has a wonderful prayer he offers for Transfiguration: “So today, as on the day of your baptism, allow God to re-clothe you, to transform you, to transfigure you, that like Christ, you too may shine forth “in raiments dazzling white.”  Amen.

 

 

 

 

Trinity Sunday, 2017

Here is my sermon for Trinity Sunday.

 

Sources quoted:

Thomas G. Long, “Homiletical Perspective on Matthew 28:16–20,” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Year A (ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor; vol. 3; Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 345.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Fount Paperbacks, London:1997, p.135

Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, Long Text, chapters 73 and 86. (Quoted in Amy Laura Hall, Love in Everything: A Brief Primer to Julian of Norwich. The Princeton Seminary Bulletin,  Vol. 32, New Series 2015.)

With additional inspiration from  Eric Funston (thanks for the C.S. Lewis quote), David Lose (the Great Promise), Karoline Lewis “Dear Working Preacher” for Trinity Sunday 2017,,  and Daniel Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding (and class lectures).  And hopefully the Holy Spirit.

 

Pentecost 2017: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and the Holy Spirit

Here is the sermon from Pentecost Sunday:

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Hogwarts Castle at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando. Inside are reproductions of some of the rooms from the school and a thrill ride mimicking Quidditch and flying on a broom.

Merchandise

My Harry Potter wand and map showing where in the theme park you can “cast spells”

If you’re curious about the theme park itself, here are my photos and videos from my trip.

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Extra Pentecost pinwheels in front of the church

 

3 Easter: when the puzzle comes together

Here is the sermon from Sunday, April 30, 2017. The Gospel text was Luke 24: 13-35. Listen here: 


On Sunday I was actually working from a full manuscript, which I don’t always do.  Here is the manuscript I took into the pulpit–I may have re-ordered some things as I preached it.

Imagine that you have started trying to put together a large jigsaw puzzle at a friend’s house or at a recreation center.
You picked the puzzle out from a large assortment of puzzles and spread the pieces on a table. After putting together the obvious edge pieces, you immediately run into problems.
When you do find pieces that fit together, you can’t figure out how they relate to the picture on the lid of the box.  The picture just won’t come together at all.  You are getting increasingly frustrated. You have lots of pieces, and little islands of color, but no way of assembling a coherent picture out of them.  You have what appear to be trees, but no trees are in the picture, which just shows a grassy lawn.  The picture says you should have a puppy’s face, but all you can see are bits of a tiger-striped animal.  You are very disappointed in this puzzle—it’s not fun at all.
Then the owner of the puzzle collection comes by and sees your dilemma.  After looking at the bits you’ve managed to put together, he goes to the shelf of puzzles and comes back with a different box lid.  Somehow the  boxes got confused when they were last put away and you’ve been using the wrong picture to try to assemble yours.
Looking at this new picture is very different.   Instead of a picture of puppies in a yard, you are actually assembling a scene of wild animals in a jungle. But now that you know that, you can see how the pieces fit together.  What was a confusing and frustrating mess of puzzle pieces begins to come together into a clear design.
That is kind of like the situation the disciples in today’s story from Luke found themselves in on the afternoon of the first Easter. As they had come to know Jesus, they  had begun to think that he might be the Messiah—but they had certain assumptions about what the Messiah was to look like and do, thanks to what they’d heard in their religious upbringing previously, and what they’d assumed when they’d heard and read Scripture, and what was going on in the world around them.
The picture they had of a Messiah was of a leader who would help unify the people of Israel to fight again the foreign oppressors, the Romans, and throw off their rule, so that God’s people would once again truly be in control of their own destiny and government. So they pictured the Messiah as a combination political and military leader, someone who was strong and focused on marshaling power and force to launch a fight and take over the country. They were very excited and hopeful that years of oppression were about to come to an end.
But when it had come to a conflict between Jesus and the Roman authorities, Jesus hadn’t fought back in any way, much less led his followers in a rebellion. Jesus had ended up detained,convicted of sedition, tortured and killed in a brutal public humiliating way.  He certainly didn’t live up to the picture they had of the Messiah.  And they were crushed, because they had hoped he was the one to overthrow the Romans and put the people of Israel back in charge.
So they find themselves on a 2-1/2 hour walk home from Jerusalem 3 days later, despondent, accompanied by this stranger who is evidently the only person who doesn’t know what had happened to Jesus,  They tell him what happened, and even mention some of the crazy rumors some women in their circle had started that morning about Jesus’ body being missing from its tomb and that he was alive, resurrected from the dead.
And then the stranger begins to have a discussion with them about the bible—things it says about the Messiah that they hadn’t really paid attention to before.  Using images from throughout what we would call the Old Testament, He begins to paint a picture of what the Messiah is to do, who he is to be, that is very different from the assumptions the disciples had made and the picture they’d had, the picture Jesus hadn’t lived up to. The stranger demonstrates that the Messiah is to be a suffering servant, not a conquering hero, someone who walks alongside God’s people and helps them actually become the people of compassion and mercy and justice that God has always wanted them to be.
They are so intrigued by what he’s saying that when when they reach their house in Emmaus at dusk they invite him to join them for dinner and to stay overnight, since it’s too late to keep on traveling.  They continue the conversation as dinner is served.  Then their  guest does something very odd—instead of acting like the guest at their table, he suddenly takes the host’s role.  He takes some bread in his scarred and wounded hands, and blesses it and breaks it.  And in that moment, as his wounded hands offer them blessed and broken bread, all the puzzle pieces suddenly fit together.

They recognize that the teacher with the wounded hands offering them broken bread is actually Jesus—that he  is alive, that he’s been resurrected as the women had said. And that he really is the Messiah, the suffering servant described in the Hebrew scriptures, who has overcome the forces of death and hate.

In the moment when they recognize him for who he truly is, he disappears—but now they know who he is, and they run out in to the dangerous night and hurry back to Jerusalem to tell the others this amazing good news and rejoin the larger community.  All the pieces have come together once they looked at them from the right perspective, and they want to share the beautiful new thing.

And the news travels from disciple to disciple, across miles and then across generations and so wehear their good news—that Jesus is the Messiah and is alive, and that God comes among us not as a conquering powerful ruler but as a compassionate servant, marked with the signs of suffering, a Messiah who walks with the outcast, feeds the hungry, shows mercy to the condemned, heals the sick, encourages the brokenhearted, and shows us, his followers, how to offer ourselves to others just as he offers himself. And that the forces which tried to kill him and overturn this rule of love and mercy have been shown to ultimately be defeated.

Yesterday all the vestry wardens, treasurers and clerks from all the parishes in the diocese—all the senior lay leaders in parishes–were invited to gather for a day of training in the nuts and bolts of parish leadership.  The day began with remarks from Bishop Knisely about the role of vestry officers as  spiritual leaders of their congregations.

He talked about how we often base our image of what our congregations should be—how we should be putting the pieces of ministry together, what a properly assembled and successful parish “puzzle” looks like — based on a picture from the 1950s. This was when there was an explosion of  young families, when prosperity meant that people had time and energy and money to dedicate to community institutions, when civic involvement and religious affiliation were seen as socially positive things, and so churches grew rapidly, Sunday Schools were filled to capacity, and seemingly everyone belonged to a church. There was no need to go out into the community  —the community came to the church.

The church had status and influence—theologians were on the cover of Time and Newsweek–and impressive size. The church’s energy could be focused on providing programs and fellowship for all the people inside the church walls.  Each church could support multiple clergy and lots of people came forwards for ordination. But actually the 1950s and the 1960s were an exception in the history of this country and the history of the church.  Statistically, historically, they were an atypical blip, not the norm, or an indicator of the future.

If we use the 1950s and early 1960s as the picture by which we measure what the church should look like, and try to recreate that, we will be trying to assemble a puzzle using the wrong box lid, the wrong picture, and we will not be successful.   Just like the first disciples imagining a messiah who would be a powerful civic leader and ruler, we will be looking for the wrong thing.
Bishop Knisely told the parish wardens,
“Your job is *not* to focus on keeping the church open so it doesn’t close on your watch. Your job is to be a spiritual leader to help your congregation join God in the community doing the work God is already doing there.”
One of the ways we do that at Good Shepherd is through our support of the Pawtucket Soup Kitchen, which feeds thousands of people here in Pawtucket every year.  We support them by monetary contributions from our Outreach funds and our Advent Fund and collections of tangible items, such as those we’ve gathered this Lent—and through our support of Episcopal Charities.
Episcopal Charities is the diocesan organization which helps us sharing our financial blessings with agencies doing the work of feeding and healing and clothing and loving those in need. Every year we are each invited to make a financial contribution to Episcopal Charities. The Episcopal Charities Fund then takes that money and gives it out as grants.  One of the agencies which Charities supports is the Pawtucket Soup Kitchen, and later in the service we will hear from Adrienne Marchetti who will tell us about their work.
The picture we should be using to assemble the puzzle of our parish ministries is a picture like to that which Jesus painted for Cleopas and his friend as they walked to Emmaus.  A church which focuses on meeting the brokenhearted on their journey, a church which offers itself as a blessing, which feeds the hungry, shows compassion and mercy to the outcast, a church which is not ashamed of its scars and isn’t seeking prestige or status, but is rather seeking out the same people God seeks out—the lost, the sick, the outcast—and is joining with God in the work of healing and feeding and loving.  That is the picture we aspire to recreate.
Jesus took the bread, and blessed it, and broke it, and shared it, and his disciples’ eyes were opened, and they recognized him.
O God, open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold Christ in all his redeeming work, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.  

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