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Third Sunday of Advent — Rev. Karen Barfield

Canticle 9: The First Song of Isaiah
Luke 3:7-18

In the name of the one, holy and living God:
In whom we live and move and have our being. Amen.

Today the voice of John the Baptist still echoes from the walls…

“You brood of vipers!
Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
Get over yourselves and let go of your arrogance.
Even as we speak, the ax is lying at the root of the trees.
Time is short: bear fruits worthy of repentance.”

And after that tirade, someone actually had the nerve to ask, “What then should we do?”

The crowds of people stuck around because they were filled with expectation…
expectation that the Messiah would come and turn things around,
make life worth living again.

And perhaps this man, John…perhaps he was the Messiah.

So they ask:
What do we do?
How do we live?

The necessary beginning, John says, is to take a look at yourselves…
a deep look…
an honest look.

Move beyond assumptions about yourselves and your community,
thinking that just because you are the people of God that you’ve got it made.
God has the power to raise up holy ones out of folks you’d never imagine.

Taking a deep look at ourselves is perhaps the last thing we want to do!
It is a frightening prospect. Continue reading

First Sunday of Advent — Rev. Karen Barfield

Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25:1-9
Luke 21:25-36

In the name of the one, holy and living God:
who enlightens our darkness
and offers us the hope of eternal life. Amen.

Today is the first day of Advent,
a season of waiting,
a season of preparation…
for birth
and re-birth.

Advent comes to us as a pinhole of light in the midst of darkness,
beginning with the lighting of a single candle on the Advent wreath.

“In those days” are the scriptural bookends of this Season.

“In those days” begins the Gospel of Luke on Christmas Eve, pointing us back to a specific day and time in history…. “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered” (Luke 2:1).

On a specific day and time in our past,
God became human…
Jesus was born.

But, on this first Sunday of Advent, Jeremiah turns his vision not backwards toward a specific day and time but points ahead toward a future time, “In those days and at that time….”

“In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David;
and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” (Jer 33:15)

Jeremiah speaks to an exiled and crushed people, offering them hope for their future. Continue reading

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost — Dr. Joel Marcus


Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22
Mark 9:38-50

A few weeks ago, Karen preached a good sermon on Mark’s story of the Syrophoenician woman. But she indicated that initially she didn’t like the assignment very much, and briefly flirted with the idea of asking me to preach that Sunday.

Well, I wish she had, because maybe then I wouldn’t have to preach about today’s Gospel text. Mark 9:38-50, with its parallels in the other Gospels, is one of the New Testament passages from which the doctrine of the eternal punishment of the wicked is derived. In other words, hell.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Hell is all about revenge, and I like the theme of revenge as much as the next guy. I like the Die Hard movies, and the Dirty Harry films. When I was trying to get started writing this sermon, I also began to think about some of the early James Bond movies with Sean Connery — still, in my opinion, the definitive portrayal of Agent 007. Specifically, I began thinking about the end of Goldfinger. I couldn’t remember all the details, so I rented the film to rewatch the ending, and then of course I needed to put the ending in context, so I ended up watching the whole film. This was research, you understand, and if there’s anything I’m a stickler for, it’s good, hard, exegetical research.

The scene I was specifically trying to remember, and remember exactly, so I could recount it to you, was the death of the villain of the piece, a repulsive, obsessively greedy man named Auric Goldfinger. Having been foiled by Bond in his cunning plan to blow up Fort Knox with a dirty atomic bomb and therefore make his own gold holdings ten times more valuable, Goldfinger manages to escape. He does so by dressing up as a U.S. general and killing the soldiers guarding the small private jet that is to fly Bond to Washington to be congratulated by the President. The plane, as it turns out, is being flown by Goldfinger’s chief pilot, a woman whose name I cannot even mention in a family-oriented sermon. This woman had at first, strangely enough, seemed impervious to Bond’s charms.

She eventually succumbed, of course—no woman is a match for the charms of James Bond– and she then helped Bond foil Goldfinger’s plot. But now she seems helpless as Goldfinger holds them both hostage with his solid-gold gun as the plane flies through the air. Bond, however, manages to divert Goldfinger’s attention momentarily and grab for the gun, and in the melee that follows he shoots out the window on the plane and the evil Goldfinger, who has killed two of Bond’s girlfriends and several other people in particularly nasty ways, himself meets a horrible end—sucked out of the plane with a terrified look on his face. Bond, stumbling forward to the cockpit, is greeted by his new girlfriend with the words, “What’s going on? What happened to Goldfinger?” And Bond says, “He’s playing his golden harp,” as the plane goes into a nose dive, from which they escape just in the nick of time, I won’t tell you how, because I don’t want to spoil the movie for you.

But I love that line, “He’s playing his golden harp.” Isn’t it just so fitting? The man who has so cruelly dispatched others, even suffocating one of Bond’s lady friends by having her unconscious body painted from head to toe in gold paint—this terrible Goldfinger himself meets a horrible end, and the instrument of his destruction is his own golden gun. Doesn’t that make you want to stand up and cheer? Continue reading

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost — Rev. Karen Barfield

Mark 7:24-37

Well, there’s not much to say as intro to today’s Gospel other than that I wished I had looked ahead and asked Joel to preach!

But (obviously) I didn’t… so I’ll just dive in, offering my reflections for your consideration, sometimes quoting the Rev. David Henson, an Episcopal priest, who has worded his, and my, thoughts so beautifully that I cannot improve them.

Until a few days ago, I have always read the story of the Syrophoenician woman and Jesus as another healing story of someone – in this case a child – possessed by a demon, albeit a story of an uncharacteristically brash Jesus.

As I reflected more deeply on the story, however, I began to wonder if this also might be a story of the healing of Jesus! Continue reading

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost — Rev. Karen Barfield

Song of Solomon 2:8-13
James 1:17-27
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

“The voice of my beloved!
Look, he comes,
leaping upon the mountains,
bounding over the hills….
My beloved speaks and says to me:

“Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away;
for now the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.
The fig tree puts forth its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away.” (Song of Solomon 2:8-13)

When hearing these words, it is difficult not to get caught up in their life-giving Spirit!

Whether the beloved is a human lover or a loving God, one cannot help but take delight upon hearing the words:

“Look, he comes…leaping upon the mountains…bounding over the hills!”

The beloved takes such joy in us that he comes leaping and bounding.

“Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away….”

The cold and wet winter is past,
the flowers are blooming,
the birds are singing,
the air is filled with fragrance,
fruit emerges on the vines.

Life is full,
and overflowing with richness.

It is a moment to breathe deeply.

It is God’s gift of creation
and re-creation.
It is good.

The tenor of our first reading echoes in the first words of today’s reading from the Letter of James:

“Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above…he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.” (James 1:17-18)

We are created by a loving and compassionate God to extend God’s loving embrace to the world in which we live.

When we hear words such as these from the Song of Solomon, it is easy to remember and feel embraced as God’s beloved, and yet as we are reminded in the remainder of the reading from James and in our reading from Mark’s Gospel, it is all to easy to have our hearts swayed by the world around us. Continue reading

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost — Rev. Karen Barfield

I Kings 8:1,6,12-11,22-30,41-43
Psalm 84
John 6:56-69

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

In today’s scripture readings we hear words of challenge, promise and home…a place of being and belonging in the presence of God.

When you were a child or maybe even an adult and were experiencing something frightening, did someone ever tell you: “Go to your happy place?”

What might that place be for you?

….the place where you feel safe and protected…surrounded by the love of God?

For me, one of the places I visit in my mind and heart when I am in need of some Peace is a hillside in Scotland. The grass is green and the air is crisp, but the sun is gently warming my face as I lie there looking up at the clouds drifting by.

At the bottom of the hill is a stream with an old water mill slowly turning.
The ducks are quacking as they search for food.
Occasionally a child laughs in delight.

There is stillness
and life
all at the same time.

In today’s Psalm we hear that

“the sparrow has found her a house
and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young;
by the side of your altars, O Lord of hosts…
Happy are they who dwell in your house!” (Ps 84:3-4)

Whatever the place that you find rest in God…hold that place in your heart while we journey into the gospel…. Continue reading

Combat Theology: Developing Martial Competency for Ministry

Saturday, August 8, 9:00 am – 3:00 pm, Blacknall Presbyterian Church

Since 2008, Centurions Guild has ministered with men and women in the military as well as their dependents, learning together what it means to have been called by Christ but touched by war. What we have learned is that war is too often thought of and taught in abstractions, overlooking the very soldiers and veterans whose lives make war possible. The result is that the people and ideas produced by war often become dismembered bodies left in its wake. Combat, on the other hand, is personal, specific, and impossible to ultimately define. Rather than abstract speculative theologies about war, the Church needs radically engaged theologies of combat and its effects on people we care for.

In this introductory Combat Theology workshop, Iraq veteran and Executive Officer Logan Isaac will provide attendees with resources for meaningfully engaging military personnel in congregations and classrooms alike. Whether you are a pastor, a seminary professor, or a layperson with connections to the military, you will walk away with a better understanding of the complicated intersection of Christian faith and military service. Ticket includes all the materials provided and light break-time beverages & refreshments. Suggested donation to cover costs is $10 – $15.

Join us before the workshop at 8am for “First Formation” (AKA Morning Prayer, from the Book of Common Worship) led by Rev. Karen Barfield in the sanctuary of St Joseph’s Episcopal Church. Blacknall is located right across the street from St. Joseph’s at 1902 Perry Street.

Space is limited; attendees are asked to register in advance.

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost — Dr. David Walbert

John 6:1–21

In lieu of a sermon this week I wrote a poem — or, rather, a story in the form of a poem. The story of the loaves and fishes is, after Christmas and Easter, perhaps the most-told story from the Gospels. But it admits too readily of easy answers I’m not comfortable offering, and the various Gospel accounts give us only sketches. What story, I wondered, might one of the five thousand have told?

We walked for miles to see him, this brand-new prophet,
packed a picnic in the dark before dawn:
bread, a little stale; some cheese, a skin of wine,
more than we needed. My wife overpacks.
On my back I bore this feast, beyond
the town, the stubbly fields, into the desert—
the wilderness, she driving me before her
like a damned goat to die. We lived, of course,
but that was later. Meantime the sun shone hot
and hotter as it climbed, as we climbed
one hill after another, to see another valley
void of life and full of rocks, the few
bare bushes brown, and worse than none.
The sky became a vast and cloudless fire
that washed the world to white. We kept our eyes
down on the ground. A lonesome vulture fed
on carrion—though what could have lived here
long enough to die, I could not guess. Perhaps
another prophet, less successful. This one—
This one they all talk about, the one
the fishmonger says is Lord. I’ve heard it before.
My wife, my neighbor, the fishmonger say to me:
You have to hear him preach! But all I could think,
trudging over hill and sun-baked vale:
If this guy is Lord, someone forgot
to prepare his way. Continue reading

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost — Sam Laurent

I did not want to preach about racism this week. That probably sounds bad. I’m not trying to dodge the issue, and I try hard not to live in denial of all the insidious ways racism has been encoded into our society. It’s not that I don’t care about racism. It’s that I’m so tired of all of the think pieces about it, all the people on Facebook saying “if your preacher doesn’t preach about racism this week, you should leave,” all the things that keep me oscillating between outrage and a ridiculous sense of righteous frustration. It’s exhausting. I’m diagnosing myself with think piece fatigue. Huffington Post syndrome.

A terrible event these days launches a million commentaries, and commentaries on the commentaries. I like Facebook, so I end up immersed in think pieces shared by my wonderful friends. All well intentioned, many brilliant, but after a few news cycles, they sort of sound like a swarm of bees to me. It has a paralyzing effect on me, and my brain kind of just refuses to engage anymore. Instead of more meta-commentary, I start to yearn for something that will ground me, something that runs deeper than outrage without asking me not to feel outraged. Today’s Gospel kind of gets there, and I find that tremendously helpful, because I do believe I need to preach about racism. Continue reading

Third Sunday after Pentecost — Sarah Barton

II Corinthians 5:6-17

May I speak in the name of God: Creator, Redeemer, and Sustaining Spirit, Amen.

At the end of May, I spent a week in Atlanta, Georgia, attending a conference called the Summer Institute on Disability and Theology. This conference brings together a diverse bunch of friends, from priests and pastors to theologians and community activists, people with and without disabilities. This interfaith gathering seeks to create spaces of belonging in the church for people with disabilities. And the conference seeks to renew how we see our neighbors with disabilities.

Having attended the Summer Institute on Disability and Theology in previous years, I am well known to several of the conference’s leaders as an occupational therapist with experience working alongside individuals with disabilities. My friend Bill who is the primary organizer for the conference emailed me several weeks before the conference started, and asked if I would consider supporting an individual with severe cerebral palsy throughout the duration of the conference. Bill mentioned that her name was Christy. He wrote to me that Christy used a wheelchair and was very independent, except that she was unable to get food and feed herself at mealtimes.

I distinctly remember my first impressions of Christy upon reading this email from Bill: she was a nuisance and would be a drain on my energy during a conference where I was presenting my work in theology and also hoping to have fun with my friends without being tied down to helping someone with a disability who I didn’t even know. I deleted Bill’s email. Continue reading