Fifth Sunday After Epiphany — The Rev. Karen C. Barefield

Isaiah 58:1-12    
Matthew 5:13-20

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.

“You are the salt of the earth….
You are the light of the world.”

What if we read these words not as a challenge or a demand but as a promise?!
Not “you better be the salt…”
or “you must be the light,”
but “you already are.”

You already are the salt of the earth.
You already are the light of the world. Continue reading

Third Sunday After Epiphany — The Rev. Karen C. Barefield

Isaiah 9:1-4                                                  
Matthew 4:12-23

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.

“When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee.
He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea,
in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali….” (Mt 14:12-13)

Of the four Gospel writers only Matthew includes these geographical details.

Jesus moves his residence from Nazareth to Capernaum to fulfill the prophecy in Isaiah:
“There will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.” (Isaiah 9:1)

Continue reading

Christmas Eve — The Rev. Karen C. Barefield

Isaiah 9:2-7
Luke 2:1-14

In the name of the one, holy and living God:

in whom we live and move and have our being. Amen.

In those days when Barak Obama was President and Donald Trump was President-Elect, and while Pat McCrory served as Governor, some immigrant farmers were working in the fields, and an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people; to you is born this day a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord….

Do not be afraid. Continue reading

6 Pentecost — The Rev. Karen C. Barfield

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
Luke 9:51-62

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.

Elijah and Jesus are on the final legs of their journeys,
and they have disciples in tow….
disciples who follow along without knowing the destination or, even, the way to it,
but, they are following along as faithfully as they can.

Elisha follows Elijah from Gilgal to Bethel to Jericho to the Jordan.

And at every point along the way, Elijah tells Elisha to “stay put” because the Lord has sent him further along the journey.

Elisha doesn’t know where he’s going, but he is committed to going the whole journey with Elijah wherever it leads. Continue reading

Fifth Sunday of Easter — Rev. Karen Barfield

Acts 11:1-18
Revelation 21:1-6
John 13:31-35

In the name of the one, holy and living God:
who creates, redeems and sustains us. Amen.

“Love one another.”

Peter was there that night,
along with Judas and the others
when Jesus said, “one of you will betray me.”

One of us?

These disciples had spent three years of their lives following Jesus,
giving up their livelihood,
risking derision, rebuke and threats of death.

They make furtive glances around the table considering who it might be until Peter motions to John to ask Jesus.

“It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it into the dish,” Jesus responds.

After dipping the bread, he hands it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot.

Judas, the most trusted of the disciples,
the one who held the common purse,
ensuring the needs of Jesus and all the disciples were met…
and the needs of the poor as well.

responsible Judas.

After receiving the bread, Judas immediately went out.
And it was night.

It was night without – and within.

Not only for Judas but for them all.

For all except Jesus.
Jesus begins to speak about glory! Continue reading

Third Sunday of Easter — Rev. Karen Barfield

John 21:1-19

In the name of the one, holy and living God:
who creates, redeems and sustains us. Amen.

The lives of the disciples have been quite topsy-turvy over the past weeks!

Things were going along just fine…
well, as fine as life can go when following a man who chooses love
over power.

But, despite scrapes with the law, and occasionally hiding out, each morning when they got up they knew they would do good that day…touching the outcast and healing the maimed, lame, blind and possessed.

They had committed their lives to following Jesus – whatever that meant.

Until the unexpected happened.

Jesus had really ticked off the powers that be, and Judas…
well, Judas had succumbed to greed.

So a detachment of soldiers along with the police from the chief priests and the Pharisees interrupted the quiet of the garden, and violence erupted as Peter drew his sword and cut off the ear of the chief priest’s slave.

From that moment nothing went right.

Jesus was arrested and bound and taken to the high priest for questioning.

As he was being questioned Peter stood outside,
warming himself by a charcoal fire,
and it was then that fear overwhelmed him,
and he denied even knowing Jesus
not once,
not twice,
but three times.

Three times!

The cock crowed,
and Peter hung his head…how could he have done such a thing?
He would never have done such a thing.

If this wasn’t bad enough, Jesus was flogged and struck on his face, and a crown of thorns pierced his head.

After he was condemned to die, he had to carry his own cross to the site of crucifixion.

their Messiah, their hope,
was to die a shameful, painful death for all the world to see.

His crucifixion was too frightening and painful for the disciples to watch, except for the disciple whom he loved and a handful of women, including his mother who already had endured the shame and pain of his birth and could not leave him to bear his pain alone,
despite her breaking heart.

This life upon which they had staked their hopes and dreams was over when Jesus uttered the words, “It is finished.”

With haste his body was buried, and the mourning began.

Until the unexpected happened. Continue reading

Second Sunday of Easter — Dr. Sam Laurent

It is our custom in the church, and I include myself in this, to wax rhapsodic on Easter. The magnitude of the resurrection, paired with the buildup of Lent and the pull-out-all-the-stops liturgy for the day set us up emotionally to go over the top a bit with our rhetoric. Easter becomes the panacea for whatever it is that’s really bugging us about the world right now.

I’m not here to criticize that. I gleefully take part in it every year, and have been moved to tears by that moment in the vigil where a priest proclaims “Alleluia, Christ is risen!” A huge burden lifts, both liturgically as the lights come on and also spiritually as we feel the onrushing grace of the moment.

In the wake of Easter Day, though, I find myself feeling like the disciples have maybe not been treated fairly in our hearing of the story. Last week we heard about how, after the women reported that the tomb was empty, Peter rushed out to see it himself. He was, we might speculate, a bit incredulous about their story, and no doubt still emotionally raw from the events of Good Friday and his tri-fold denial of Christ as things got grim.

Jesus had told them he would be raised, and Jesus had been right about pretty much everything else. So, on Easter, we kind of feel like Peter, instead of going to see for himself, should have maybe high-fived Mary Magdalene, and said “sweet!”

It seems like Peter wanted to believe the women. He did go running to confirm the story, which he might not have done if he were so skeptical. Why run to the tomb?

Peter wanted to know. Faith is great, and will move mountains, but knowledge is so, so much easier to maintain. He needed to witness the Resurrection himself.

This week, doubt’s Christian mascot, Thomas, takes center stage. Jesus has appeared to the others, but Thomas wasn’t there. Let’s spot him that credit first. The others had seen the resurrected Christ, and he hadn’t. But Thomas needed to know he wasn’t hallucinating it, or that some elaborate disguise was not at play. He wanted to see the wounds from the crucifixion, and to touch them.

Jesus, as we all know, obliges, and Thomas gets his tangible proof of the Resurrection. And then Jesus says, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” The point is simple enough; not everyone is going to get proof like Thomas gets. For me, and for you, the Resurrection is an article of faith. For Thomas, it was an article of knowledge. Maybe you join me in being more than a little jealous. Continue reading

Easter Vigil — Rev. Karen Barfield

Romans 6:3-11
Luke 24:1-12

In the name of the one, holy and living God:
Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifying Spirit. Amen.

Two weeks ago at our Wednesday night Eucharist, I had finished distributing the bread and was standing behind the altar waiting for James to finish with the chalice.

As I looked around, I saw a young boy with a beaming face turn to his mother and say:
“It is good.”

As I smiled to myself, I let what he said sink in.

It is good.

It is good that we should gather together to celebrate our life in Christ,
to be nourished by his Body and Blood,
to receive strength for our journeys.

Those words “it is good” then immediately took me back to the whole of creation…the true beginning of our story this evening.

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.

“Then God said, ‘Let there be light’: and there was light.

“And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.” (Gen 1:1-4)

God created the earth and the seas and saw that it was good.

And when God saw the earth put forth plants and fruit trees, God saw that it was good.

God made the two great lights: the sun and the moon, and it was good.

And God created the creatures of the sea and the winged birds, and it was good.

The earth brought forth living creatures of every kind, and it was good.

And God created humankind in God’s own image, and iit was good.

“God saw everything that [God] had made, and indeed, it was very good.” (Gen 1:31)

Tonight the story we retell reminds us of God’s redeeming Grace throughout the span of history…a history that begins with creation and ends with a call to proclaim and live into a new life, a new creation, through Jesus’ resurrection. Continue reading

Palm Sunday — Dr. Joel Marcus

Luke 19:28-40

Today marks a somewhat schizophrenic point in the liturgical calendar. This is Palm Sunday, a joyous celebration of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, to the acclaim of the crowds, shortly before Passover in around AD 30. The keynote of the actual Palm Sunday Gospel passage from Luke, which we read outside before we processed into the church waving our palms, is “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” If the words “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest” ring a faint bell, they should, since they echo the beginning of the Gospel. There, at Jesus’ birth, a multitude of the heavenly host praised God, saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace.” There is, then, an echo of the joyous Christmas story in our Palm Sunday celebration.

But, of course, our Palm Sunday celebration also takes place in the shadow of Jesus’ coming crucifixion. In the literary setting of the Gospel, that shadow may help explain the slight difference between the angels’ words in the birth narrative and the crowd’s words here. We hear no longer of “peace on earth” but of “peace in heaven”—perhaps because peace is about to flee from the earth, as Jesus is driven to the cross. And this shadedness of our Palm Sunday celebration is also why, after we entered the church, we heard the whole passion story read. On Palm Sunday Jesus entered the city where he would soon die. Continue reading

Third Sunday of Lent — Dr. David Walbert

The eve of destruction

Luke 13:1–9

It’s 30 AD, give or take. Galilee is abuzz with the news of yet another atrocity of the despised Roman governor Pontius Pilate—one not related by other historians but perfectly in keeping with what we know about Pilate’s character. The best guess is that a band of Galilean zealots who acknowledged no lord but God and refused to pay tribute to Rome had run afoul of Pilate and been ruthlessly repressed. Pilate has, as we hear, “mingled their blood with their sacrifices” in the Temple. Jesus hears the chatter about this incident—maybe someone tried to trap him into taking a position, as people often did to get him into trouble, into either sympathizing with or condemning the zealots—and instead of commenting on the case at hand, let alone the politics of it, he says, “Do you think they were worse sinners than you? Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

If that doesn’t cheer everybody straight up, Jesus tells a parable. A man plants a fig tree, and for three years running it bears no fruit. He wants to cut it down because it’s a waste of good soil. The gardener says no, no—let’s fertilize it again and wait another year. Maybe it will bear fruit next year.

And if it doesn’t, then we’ll cut it down.

Doesn’t sound like good news.

I mean, you were probably hoping to hear something about God’s infinite goodness and mercy, and here he goes setting deadlines.

It is valuable, I think, to remember that while God’s grace and mercy may be without limit in scope and magnitude, they do seem to have an expiration date: we’re all going to die. Maybe there’s hope after that, but the Bible doesn’t say so. Best not to risk it. You have another year. Make the most of it.

There’s also value in remembering that whatever the quality of God’s grace and mercy, our fellow humans with whom we have relationships may not be so patient. You have today. Make the most of it.

If that’s all we took away from this story, that would be something. It would be a pretty good lesson for Lent. Don’t wait. Repent now. Start atoning today. You don’t know what tomorrow will bring.

But I think we need a little more than that from this story. I need more from this story, anyway. Jesus was, after all, responding to a discussion about politics—about the terrors of oppressive regime and the foolishness of the zealots who were trying to overthrow it. People were upset, legitimately upset and fearful, and Jesus seems to be frankly dismissive of their fears. I don’t think he was: I think he was answering them—albeit a little sideways. Continue reading