The Rector's Visions are also published in our monthly newsletter, The Crier.
When we were baptized, we (or our parents on our behalf) responded to a number of questions about how we will live our lives for God by saying “We will.” It is our covenant with God which we make before the people of God, our church family. But it’s not just our promise to God to always be good and right. Unless you’re wildly different from the way all human beings are described and understood in the Scriptures, you will invariably fail to always be good and right. You can’t do it on your own. So we actually say at our baptisms: “We will, with God’s help! We recognize that we can’t do it on our own. Our answer affirms the most important thing we are doing at baptism: we are choosing to live in deep relationship with the Divine. We will not depend just on our own ways of seeing and understanding. We will not act out of our own emotions and opinions without first connecting ourselves with the one who sees the much bigger picture, who is the much bigger picture.
We live in a time that honors individuals’ emotions and opinions in ways that are dangerous. The internet has allowed us to honor democratically the individual opinions in new and powerful ways. But it has also meant that we often simply believe whatever we want to believe without God’s bigger picture. In the early church, individual’s opinions and emotions were called “passions.” Without prayer and carefully connecting the fears and feelings and emotions of the individual with the life of God, people would go astray, wander into myths, hurt one another and themselves. We are seeing this in spades in our world today. In the historical Christian tradition, the image of the heart is not just the place for emotions. If we live only out of emotions and opinions, we live in “Peyton Place” or “As the World Turns.” Again, witness the daily news stream. The heart, in our tradition, is the place where intuitions meet prayer, emotions face God’s call to responsibility and love of neighbor, and individual opinions meet the Truth of God (which seldom settles so easily into a human-defined way of being either conservative or liberal). It is a place of much more hard
work than a place where we simply react and live out of our own opinions or emotions, our “passions.” In-
terestingly, that old world, passions itself comes from the same root word for passivity. Passions are simp-
ly reacting out of our own immediate opinions and emotions which is always dangerous to ourselves, oth-
ers, and our relationship with the Almighty.
We are not called to live out of our fears or immediate personal desires, but we are called to live more
deeply and truly out our binding our own understandings with the unknowable understanding of God. To
be authentic human beings, to be truly alive, is not to live reactively out of our own personal opinions and
emotions, but to engage ourselves in the larger life of God with all that we are. We can learn a lot from our
emotions and reactive opinions if we examine them closely with the eyes of prayer and faith. They can
show us the way to a deeper life. But if we simply live “passively” by them, we will lose our way and be-
come distant from God and true life. Each day, it is good to arise and say: “Today, I will be, with God’s
help” and then work at it.
This month our diocese elects a new leader. The new bishop diocesan won’t be consecrated until December, and they must first go through an approval process with the other dioceses of the Episcopal Church, move to Richmond, and begin the training to be a bishop (baby bishop school). Meanwhile, this month, our clergy and lay leaders will elect that person. How do Christians elect someone for leadership? When the early church needed a twelfth disciple after Judas’ death, they found two likely candidates and then let the Holy Spirit work out in the luck of the draw which one was to serve (see The Acts of the Apostles 1:23-26). We have four people to choose from, but we won’t draw straws between them. We will have a ballot. And your delegate, Lisa McCann and I will be there to vote for the person we think the Holy Spirit would give the best straw, the one God is calling to serve and lead in our diocesan family. We don’t have parties (Democratic or Republican), but we aren’t all independents either. We are fundamentally dependent on God. It is easy enough to let our personal preferences enter into our voting. This person is too “High Church” or that person talked too much about issues of justice which are important but begin to sound too “liberal” after a while. One candidate has a wife who suffers from dementia, is that an issue? One candidate has lots of friends in our diocese. Do we go with the known quantity and the guy we all know and love? Or do we need new blood from someone with a completely different perspective? There are many who are frustrated with the slate we have, as well. They are four white men in a church that is much more diverse than that and a huge diocese (the largest Episcopal diocese in the United States) that has congregations of all colors and many languages. No doubt God wants someone who can lead all these people with diverse politic visions, religious understandings, colors, languages, and understandings of church systems. Who can do that?
It is, frankly, daunting to try to prayerfully choose the one God means to be called. Obviously, it needs to be someone who prays a lot! It needs to be someone who knows Jesus well and knows how to engage in the work of the Kingdom of God in the real world, and specifically in a diocese of many church schools, Westminster Canterbury Retirement Homes, retreat centers, college chaplaincies, the largest seminary in the Anglican Communion, and parishes small and large, plus about 200 clergy. And I think any of the four candidates could do the job; so, which one does God want? The only thing more daunting than picking this person with God, is being this person! When you say your prayers, pray for Lisa and me and pray that the Holy Spirit will show us and all the diocese the way on June 4th. The Gospel tells us God calls people and equips them for ministry. God will do the divine part, I am sure. May we do our part to work with God faithfully in this and in all things.
As we prepare for the beginning of Lent and our journey through the wilderness to the Cross and beyond to Easter, I have one question for you: Are you ready? The ancillary question is this: Have you noticed that we are all getting older?
There is an instruction in the prayer book often overlooked on page 445. This is how it goes: “The minister of the congregation is directed to instruct the people, from time to time, about the duty of Christians to make prudent provisions for the well-being of their families, and of all persons to make wills, while they are in health, arranging for the disposal of their temporal goods, not neglecting, if they are able, to leave bequests for religious and charitable uses.”
This is one of those times for this minister to do that. There is a magnificent resource available to us through the Episcopal Church Foundation for free online. Put this in your google spot: https://bit.ly/ECFBooklet. If you don’t have a way to get it online, let us know in the office. It’s a lot of good material and nearly 40 pages long. It covers the following:
The truth is that we too often look at these things and say that we can put them off until tomorrow. But if you take the time to deal with them, you will feel very good! And it is good stewardship! And the loving thing to do for your family. If you can, you may even leave a bequest for the furthering of the kingdom at Kingston in our general endowment fund or a memorial gift.
If you haven’t done this work, or if your will is perhaps a bit outdated, make it one of your Lenten disciplines. It needn’t take long, but it is good for each of us to remember, as we are going to say on Ash Wednesday: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” This is a way to also say as we say in the burial service: “Yet even at the grave, we make our song Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!”
P.S. What else are you doing for Lent? We’ll have a Lenten retreat about deepening our relationship with God through prayer on Saturday, March 26th you can plan to attend. Also, you can always have fun learning about the Saints by playing with Lent Madness where the March Madness brackets meet the holy ways of God. See www.LentMadness.org online.
One of the many joys of my work at Kingston is the chance to mentor and teach Christian formation classes with you all. And this Epiphany I really bit off more than I should by teaching two different courses at the same time, one on Mondays by zoom and a second one on Tuesdays in person. The Tuesday class has been a “Romp through the Scriptures” this time around. How do you look at a book of stories compiled over at least three millennia with pages that number in the thousands in 7 weeks? Well, it takes a certain amount of foolishness on the teacher’s part. But in my defense, Episcopalians who have been doing the worship in church thing for a number of years have had the chance to get a good overview of the Scripture if they are paying attention, and most of you seem to pay attention! We range over most of the Scripture in three years’ time on Sundays. And for those of you who do Morning Prayer or use Forward Day by Day or maybe another daily devotional, the lectionary of Scriptures used for those covers the range of Scripture every two years. So much of what I am doing in our class is giving folks the overview they don’t get in the weekly or daily readings. I find that Episcopalians in general actually know lots of Scripture, but they don’t know how to put it together, and they often don’t think they know much Scripture at all.
How do you understand Scripture in your own walk with God? It is, of course, one thing to read the words in the book and another to experience the Word of God. It is one thing to wonder if those miracles in the stories really happened and how they happened, and quite another to engage God so deeply in our lives that the miracles come alive for us today. It is one thing to read the holy stories because they are “authorized” by King James or a church, and quite another to experience God’s love letters in prayerful reading so that we come alive. Too often, if we pick up the Bible at all ourselves, we pick it up as if it were a textbook or a history book instead of as a doorway into a transforming and life-making relationship with God and God’s people.
The book itself is nothing less than a miracle. And like so many of the miracles in the stories, it is a double-edged miracle. You can be on the side of the slaves fearfully but faithfully walking through the waters of the Red Sea on dry feet, or you can be one who wants to win and conquer like Pharoah and end up washed up dead in the surf. Scripture requires a reverence that means we come to it uncertain and faithful, questioning, exploring, trusting that God’s love will overcome all obstacles. When you think about how the Bible came to be, there is miracle right there! Oral stories passed down by folks at campfires in the desert ended up written on scrolls of papyrus. Some were chosen and others were prayerfully set away. Scrolls were copied through the years when the old copies wore thin with little changes and chances made by scribes. And eventually some umpteenth generation of papyrus later, these stories and poems, songs and praises, were gathered by rabbis to create a Bible. And the Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament) was written in an ancient Hebrew that is an alphabet without vowels. Grammar was fairly simple, and the words and sentences and paragraphs were all strung together without much punctuation or any space between them. There were no section headings or verse or chapter numbers and even the book titles were often nothing more than the first word of the book (“Genesis” is just our fancy English way of say the first word of that book which is “in the beginning.”) The ancient Hebrew was translated probably first into Greek and then later into Latin and eventually into all the languages of the world. And our New Testament went through its own amazing birth over a couple centuries with the church prayerfully deciding which Gospels belonged in the Church’s canon of books etc. Translations were not always good. (One quick example: the holy name of God in the Hebrew is: יהוהSince there were no vowels to easily understand how to say what we might transliterate as YHWH or JHWH, and since in faithful Jewish tradition you never say the name of God anyway, some scholars got together and decided that the English version of this would be “Jehovah.” Consulting wise Jewish folks, we eventually discovered that those vowel sounds were completely wrong. The better way to say that is “Yahweh,” and perhaps the most faithful way to deal with it is to do like our Jewish family and just replace the name, as the New Revised Standard Version does with “THE LORD,” all in caps.) Invariably things can get lost or misinterpreted in translations. Cultural differences impede understanding. The layers of meaning, confusion, and mystery pile up around most of the Scriptures. I believe all those layers are part of the miracle. And they are part of why we read Scripture by prayer and with the help of the Holy Spirit. It’s not about finding historical facts. It’s not about playing with it like a Ouija board and opening up to any page to see what God is saying to us today. It’s about living with it until we meet the Living God, THE LORD.
How do you take time to live with God’s Holy Word? How do you honor the miracle of it all? How might your relationship with God grow fuller with some prayer time romping through the Scriptures?
God’s Peace, Gary+
A new year! Whew. I don’t know about you, but these years these days are little like birthdays have become in my gathering dotage. Eh! Or even: Ugh! What new strange things will 2022 bring us? What hurdles will we get to jump this year? How often will we find ourselves not jumping high enough to clear the hurdle?
There are always new things God is doing, of course, in addition to the challenges and hurdles. Our God never rests. And new things are kind of God’s main business. January is part of the season we call Epiphany – the season not of hurdles, but of God’s light breaking through. Epiphany begins with God’s light being so bright to some foreign wise ones that they journey from Persia to Bethlehem looking to see the light. But you need to have special glasses of wisdom and faith on to see this light. For most of the world, I guess, this light was not even noticed. After all, it was a poor baby born to a poor woman and a man who were not even married. God was doing a new thing. So it goes again and again in the stories of Epiphany. God breaks in with something new that many folks don’t understand or welcome. Only people who take the time to put on their wisdom and faith glasses get to see that Jesus comes out of the baptismal waters to the voice of God and a mission like no other. Only people who are willing to do more than just party notice that the best wine at the wedding comes when Jesus changes the waters of purification into a celebration. Only the few who climb all the way up the mountain with Jesus get to see the light that surrounds him in white and the appearance of Elijah and Moses in the Transfiguration – God doing a new twist.
When I find myself in the fatigue about these days, I try to put on some wisdom and faith glasses to see just what God might be up to knew to transfigure the darkness into light. God did this before – the scriptures are full of stories of God doing this. And God will do this again. Just because the scriptures end doesn’t mean God has stopped acting. And it also doesn’t mean we don’t need to put on some hiking boots to climb the mountain with Jesus. The light is still breaking through.
As people of faith, God has graced us with eyes to see, glasses of wisdom and faith. And our world so desperately needs to know this is not just our world, but God’s world where new things and great light are breaking in every moment. Some days, the light is like the glow of Jesus transfigured. But somedays, it’s a silent darkness that still speaks a whisper of God’s new life. That poor baby sitting in the feeding trough with a dirty diaper and crying may not look like much, but there is light there like no other if we learn to see as God sees.
Whatever 2022 brings – the good and the bad – there will be one thing for sure: God will be bringing light. So put on your wisdom and faith glasses and let’s see what we can find for a world that needs a new light still.
Advent is my favorite season of the year. All the waiting and wonder and expectation and hope are, well, wonderful. And to work and wait for a Light that is eternal and always beyond all my work during the season when so many are busy stringing temporary lights and decorations of a rather superficial happiness, helps me to remember what I am – what we as Christians are – about. The Light of the World is breaking in. And after pandemic, the Christmas decorations go up earlier and earlier still in hopes of standing against the darkness of this crazy world. They may help a bit – I love all the lights and decorations and many do point to the Light that never goes out. What do you do in Advent to reach beyond the temporary distractions of our lives to the ultimate Light of the world? In these days of winter darkness and chill, of all manner of political darkness in our country and in the world, in the darkness of a pandemic, where can you find and be the Light that never goes out? How can we give this Light to others who are struggling in the darkness? And where is your darkness? There are the darknesses of old age and loss, of economic challenge, of moral confusion, and of so many other sorts. How can you walk courageously through that darkness holding onto the Light of the World? And how can you help someone else along the way? These are a few of the joys and challenges of Advent. May you hope throughout these days. May you seek and search with expectation that God will bring the fullness of time, the Light of the World to our world.
I grew up watching the movie White Christmas every year. And I remember well Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney singing about falling asleep counting your blessings instead of sheep. It’s not a bad way to fall asleep, of course. But lists of good things have a way of becoming overwhelming or even falling apart. What I have learned to do instead is think about why I believe I have been blessed and what I can do with the overwhelming sense of gratefulness life gives me. I am blessed most fundamentally because that is what God does; God is in the making blessed business. And God has made each of us and blessed us with life and love and faith and … well, there’s the beginning of that list again. My point is this: we are each blessed because God is God. There is so much in this world and in our lives to be grateful for. There are more blessings than we can count. And we could sit up all night with Bing and Rosemary counting our blessings and not put a dent in the list.
Sometimes rather than counting my blessings, it seems to me to be very good and right to get up out of bed and give blessings out myself. If God is in the making blessed business, then God’s people are to be in that business, too! We sometimes call this “ministry,” but really it’s probably better to just live it out in every thing we do and who we are; it’s better to always live in gratefulness. I know many families will gather around the table on Thanksgiving Day and let each person say one thing they are grateful for. This can be lovely, of course. But let me suggest a twist this year. Ask everyone at your Thanksgiving table to say one thing they are going to do for others out of their gratefulness for life.
One of the richest blessings of a church community is the many ways we come together to live out the gratefulness we feel for life and for our loving God; what joy there is in all the ways we live out our grate fulness in action and love for one another, our community, and God’s world. We worship together around the Eucharistic table, the altar, the thanksgiving table. (Remember Eucharist is just the Greek word for Thanksgiving.) We offer our voices in singing and reading and praying -- and our hearts and souls as well. And when one of us is sick, we help out. When someone in the community needs help, we try to be there for them. When the world aches, we, the grateful Body of Christ, reach out with healing. And just as there is really no end to our gratefulness, there is no end to the work of life to make the whole creation groan with gratefulness. What gift of yourself will you offer to others and to God as we celebrate the day of giving thanks, knowing that it is not about just one day, but about a way of being alive?
A superficial cut is a good thing; it heals pretty quickly. Not many other things superficial are worth much. Most
often they are worse than that; superficial things and thinking can lead us astray or distract us from the deeper
realities and truths.
I recently had one of those sales pitches offered to me by a man that tried to show me how financially beneficial
it would be for me to buy his product. Looking carefully at his numbers, it may have been advantageous for me
to actually buy what he was selling. But here’s the thing. However much money must figure into my life and
decisions, money cannot be the final reason for me to do something. God is the final reason. If I am going to
make money, great. But if I make money at the expense of God or God’s justice and truth, then I can make all the
money I want, but I’m really building a house on sandy ground, and it will wash away at some point. My money,
my time, my life and all are gifts from God that I am blessed to have and share with others for the good of God.
Anything less than that is foolishness or sinfulness, or more likely both.
Now making decisions in life deeper than the superficial and grounded in God, is no easy thing. I find that it’s not
just a matter of working hard to “know all the facts.” It’s a matter of praying constantly until I begin to see with
God’s vision. And it’s cumulative. If I make a big decision for the quick income boost rather than out of a deeper
vision of my life and God’s world, that has repercussions that last and last and are detrimental. And when I am
led into a good decision by God, that also has repercussions and helps me see the wider horizon and deeper way
of living God is calling me into all the time.
How do you make your financial decisions? How deeply do you go? How much is your faithfulness and God’s way
a part of your decisions? Some folks seem to think the church is “meddling in their personal lives” when we bring
up money. And I bristle myself when I see “church” throw guilt about in order to make a church budget. But God
is not meddling in your personal affairs. God is already right there and a major part of your personal affairs.
All this means that, as we look at our pledges and gifts to the church for 2022 in the month ahead, you won’t be
hearing from me that you must give 10% of your household budget, a Biblical tithe, or suffer the consequences.
(The tithe is a very helpful guideline, but it is a guideline, not a rule. How does your giving relate to the tithe is a
good question!) You also won’t hear me asking you to give a certain amount so that the church bills get paid – a
simple tit for tat transaction like the bills we pay. You can’t buy worship or the pastoral care. You are not paying
for classes or other activities at Kingston Parish. When you give for God, you give for different reasons, for the
good of God in a whole new way that is deeper and truer and infinitely bigger than the superficial products you
get or give in a year at Kingston. Giving out of God’s abundant gifts of life is not just a transaction, but a holy
action. It’s about thanksgiving and hopefulness and the dream that God’s will can be done on earth as it is in
heaven. I urge you not to be superficial as you think about your pledge to Kingston and all the rest of your
finances for 2022. Give instead with faithfulness, gratefulness, joy. This is not pie in the sky impractical, but
incarnational and more real than any superficial amount you figure with a pencil on a page once all the other
bills are paid. When it comes to money issues, God actually affects the bottom line. May God bless you in this
season when we look at our finances with God’s vision and a hopefulness that means your financial choices are
not made out of fear but out of faith.
We are born into this world longing. Infants first long to return to the safety of the womb. They may not “consciously” know this, but the cries of a newborn are cries to return to what they knew of the womb. That longing transforms in a relatively brief time into wanting to be cuddled and fed. As we grow up, the longings become more complicated. We long for that certain tasty dish of food we had once long ago. We long for a friend, a beloved, a trip to the Caribbean, protection for our loved ones, a cure for cancer, success, a political agenda, the end of prejudice and economic disparity, the reign of God ....We all probably know a marriage of dear friends somewhere along the way that crashed largely because the couple had lost the ability to long for one another’s company and companionship; they took each other for granted, lost the longing for more, and somehow the love seemed to fade with the longing.
St. Augustine of Hippo wrote: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” At the root of all our longings is the one longing to be in perfect communion with God. What are you longing for these days? And how does that longing play out for you in your relationships with others and with God?
I seem to be going through a period of especially intense longing. I long for deeper friendships. I long for more and deeper life at Kingston Parish. As I deal with people struggling with finances in our area and the sick and the grieving in our congregation, I long for healing and hope. And in some way, my longings are not likely to be fulfilled. As Jesus put it: “the poor will always be with you.” I will always want more friends. I will always wish and work for more for Kingston Parish just as I long for more for my own children. And I long for God. I long for a prayer life that doesn’t have days when I don’t feel very connected or focused. I long for a faith that knows what I am really called to do today and for the future. I long for a certainty that the great mystery of God never affords. And in momentary flashes of deeper wisdom, which is about as close as I get to wisdom, I know that the longings of my life are themselves gifts. Longing to love more is love. Longing for God more is faith. We so often tell ourselves that we want to “possess” the answers, success, our goals, whatever. But the deepest most important things in life – especially people and God, are not ours to possess. Even we ourselves are not in our own grasp in some ways. I am most alive when I am not in control, but in God’s mysterious grasp. Longing is a gift. Waiting, wanting, searching, aching and groaning for more – they are all part of the journey that never ends, the eternal life God gives us in abundance. May you and I always yearn for more of God.
I was recently with some friends who were talking about the things they learned through the pandemic. And I was surprised at how many good things everyone had learned. “I actually need to do less and enjoy more.” “I discovered daily prayer and Bible reading, and I’m never going back.” “I discovered I can say ‘no’ to things I don’t find interesting or life-giving.” The list went on and on. Not small stuff! Big discoveries that came only because we had time to not do all the things we thought we’d do if we had the time. What did you discover about yourself, or about God, or about “life” over the last two years?
I say I was surprised at how many beautiful and positive things came out of hardship and challenge. I have been trying to follow Christ for most of my life, so I shouldn’t have been surprised, of course. It’s in the storms on the lake that the disciples discover who Jesus really is. It's among the sick and the poor. It’s among the hungry when there isn’t enough food. So why was I surprised that the deepest life might be in the loneliness and uncertainties of these recent times? Of course, God redeems the darkest Good Friday and our own dark days. As we look ahead to August, I am hearing rumblings of a roller coaster with some more masks and social distancing and, therefore, perhaps days without singing in worship or even in-person worship together again. I don’t know where we’re headed. And I dread the uncertainties and difficult possibilities. But I have learned what I have been taught by the Holy Spirit so many times before. Challenges in life are inevitable. But God is there and great good comes out of even the darkest storms.
I am so grateful to be with you all through these strange and dark days. I am grateful for the days we can gather together and hug and sing God’s praise. And, while I have to work at it a little more, I am trying to be grateful for the darker days as well. It is a blessing to be with you and to know we all have God with us through all of this. May the worst storms be past, but if that is not the way it shall be, then may we weather the storms together and for others in need in the arms of one who walks on water and calms the storms; the one who dies a terrible death on a cross only to bring us all home through every storm life might offer us. How have you met Jesus in the storm and how will you be with him in the days of clearing and new beginnings?
The Very Rev. Gary Barker