Honoring Bishop Barbara C. Harris

You can watch the sermon here on the St. Barnabas’ Falmouth’s YouTube Page

At first listen our Old Testament reading sounds like something out of the Marvel comics series. The Israelites are in the wilderness and they are attacked by a mob of poisonous serpents biting their feet – the only way to survive being bitten by one of these snakes, is to stare straight at a bronze serpent made by Moses. It’s undeniably bizarre. 

Yet, as I read this story, I thought of beloved Bishop Barbara C. Harris, who we honor today.  

Yesterday was the first anniversary of the death of  Bishop Barbara. We join congregations across the Diocese of Massachusetts in remembering her life and her witness for freedom and justice. Today we celebrate that on June 12, 1930 Barbara Clementine Harris was born. And we celebrate that in 1979 she said yes to serving God’s church as an ordained minister. And, we celebrate that on February 12, 1989, this Diocese consecrated her as Bishop making her the first woman, a Black woman, in the Episcopal church, showing us that yes, the church can change! 

It could be tempting, especially in challenging times, to want to lean all the way into that celebration – but my siblings, if we do that, we will miss the snakes that are biting at our feet. 

You see, Bishop Barbara’s power lies not only in the change she initiated, but also in fact that she revealed the deep seeded flaws of the church – white supremacy, and patriarchy – the snakes biting at our feet. And, just like in the desert, the only way for us to live, to survive those snakes, is to look them straight in the face. 


Last week, when Mike was reading the 10 commandments from Numbers, I heard something for the first time in the 10th commandment,

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” 

Did you catch that? 

Now, it took me 36 years of hearing these 10 commandments to catch the amount of patriarchy and racism wrapped up into one sentence –  so I’ll break it down. This last commandment is about coveting, about being jealous of what another person owns. 

Of their house, their ox, their donkey …

Their WIFE

Their SLAVE 

Anything that belongs to your neighbor.

What does this tell me? It tells me that (1) these 10 commandments were written to men, that the assumed “neighbors” were male and free property owning people and (2) that women and enslaved people were considered property, animals 

All this, wrapped up in the final of the 10 commandments, one of the foundational texts of the institution of the church. 


When I heard that last week, I thought, “Why was anyone surprised by the reaction to Bishop Barbara’s consecration?”

Just thirty-two years ago when Bishop Barbara was consecrated, the Episcopal Church’s painful and ugly edges were in full display. Prior to the consecration, one diocesan newspaper published her photo on the front page with a black slash through it and she received hate mail and death threats.

Now, why do I say this shouldn’t be a surprise to us. Bishop Barbara was a direct challenge to the foundations of our institution. The “model” for authority in the church, derived from our Biblical texts, was someone who was, male, white, and straight. 

Before Bishop Barabara, there were 834 Bishops consecrated in the Episcopal Church, 28 of them had broken the mold by being Black men – out of these 28 only 10 Black Bishops had authority over white congregations. 

And then, in 1989, after 834 consecrations, Barbara Harris, comes along to challenge the idea that leadership should belong to men in the church. And, y’all, the earth shook.  

 On the day of her consecration opponents to the ordination protested her election and she sat with a police officer behind her to protect her during the service. In a 2009 interview she spoke about her consecration, “The Boston police department offered me a bulletproof vest to wear that day, which I declined. I thought if some idiot is going to shoot me, what better place to go than at an altar.” 

Her life embodied profound courage and hope in the possibility of the church to honor the dignity of all people – and – like the song and scripture say, she didn’t hide it  under  bushel. She preached and spoke tirelessly about injustice: 

In a sermon preached on “Women’s Day” at St. Thomas’s Church, she articulated the power found in this love, “that’s what Jesus is all about—making a difference in our lives, helping us to emerge into our full stature as children of God, not only women, but people of legacy, faith, and hope.” Her life and ministry were dedicated to honoring the full stature of all people. 

At the 2009 Episcopal Convention she concluded her sermon at the Integrity service by claiming boldly, “Indeed, God has no favorites. So to you, gay man, lesbian woman; you, bisexual person; you, transgender man or woman; you, straight person; all of us, the baptized: Let us honor the sacrament of our baptism and our baptismal covenant, the only covenant we need to remain faithful.”

Until 1989 we might have been able to tell ourselves some lies, that there just hadn’t been a qualified woman yet. That, if she had come along, the church would have been happy to consecrate her to Bishop. But +Barbara stopped those lies in the tracks. She exposed the ugly patriarchy and racism baked into the church. She didn’t let us pretend. 

She knew, that if this church wanted any chance at life, real authentic life, then we had stare the things that are killing us as a church right in the face. And today my friends, I’m here to say that the only way to honor her memory, is to continue to stare those snakes in the face. 

Thank God, thank God, since Bishop Barbara there have been more Black bishops (44 total) and more women bishops (38 total). Praise God for progress. But it would be an injustice to Bishop Harris to consider her ministry a full accomplishment and not acknowledge the ways that we are still plagued by injustice. 

In this Diocese of Massachusetts that praises (and often self-congratulates) our election of Bishop Harris, there are still churches where women clergy are not allowed to celebrate the Eucharist and a paltry 8 of 180 congregations are led by Black rectors. And there is not ONE african american woman who is a rector of a parish here right now – it is not enough to recognize people in bold ways if we can not sustain and support their ministry in ongoing ways. 


And the only way to do better, is to look straight at the things that are killing us. We have to come to grips with the ways that the pain of racism and sexism is part of our tradition – not just things that are “out there” but ills that we have perpetuated. And we must work, at every turn, to repair the harm that has been done by creating new ways of being. Ways that celebrate Black and femme leadership is in the church. 

It may not be easy to acknowledge the failings that are part of our tradition. But, if Bishop Barbara can remain courageous and hopeful about what the Church could be, then we can withstand discomfort. 

Recently, I was speaking to Bishop Gayle about the reality of being a woman leader in this church and she summoned these words from Bishop Barbara, “She said, you gotta keep your eyes on Jesus. She said, the only way to do this ministry is with your knees on the ground, hands folded in prayer, and your eyes on the cross.”

It seems to me this is the only way to look at the things that are killing us, with one eye on the pain and one eye on Jesus because it is only through his grace and his power of transofmration that we are going to find healing.

So let us, humbly, and boldly, follow in her example.  Amen.

Prayer for the Rt. Rev. Barbara C. Harris
Lectionary readings for the week. 

Unknown, image found on Experimental Theology by Richard Beck http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2013/05/you-shall-not-wash-my-feet.html

As I Loved You: Lenten Reflection (38)

Scripture for Today: John 13:1-17,31-35

Spoiler Alert: I’ll be preaching this as a sermon at St. John’s Hingham tonight at 7:30 pm. If you’re joining us for service (which you all should!) you may want to wait and hear it then. 

When I preach, I typically wear heels. When people ask me why, I tell them it’s important for me to embrace being a femme leader in the church. Now, of course you can be femme in flats, but there’s something about claiming a little extra femme while I preach. It reminds me, and I hope others, that women are also called to lead the Church.

In addition, they make a great safety blanket. Heels elevate me, they give me a feeling of stature and command. When I take them off I instantly feel more approachable and, in being so, more vulnerable. Without the heels, or in the case of our gospel from today, without any shoes, our flaws, scratches, and not so pristine parts are visible. Our humanity is exposed. And, no one likes that.

That’s what made Jesus so different. He embraced rather than avoided humanity. He touched the scabs and sores of lepers, lovingly accepted the flaws of his followers, and showcased his own hunger and frustration.

And, if that wasn’t clear enough, during his final evening with his friends, he demonstrates an experience of love that is undeniably tied to encountering our humanity. What is more human than our feet? Or feet that sink and sweat? Or feet that are callused from the wear of life?

He says: when you share the imperfect parts of you with someone else and see the imperfect in another — then you will know love.


When I was writing this sermon I couldn’t stop thinking about a friend of mine who died recently from suicide. We met about two years ago; he was brilliant, beautiful, and utterly agitated by the voices in his head that denied these truths. The societal pressures of what it means to “be a man” combined with the violence experienced by black and brown communities constantly tormented him.

At one point, when I was visiting him in the hospital prior to his passing, his father said to me, “I’m not sure I ever knew my son. He was always so concerned with who he was supposed to be.”

He was always running. When we spent time together I would often ask him to stay a little longer, “just five more minutes,” hoping that if he just sat still long enough he could soak up his goodness. But that didn’t happen. He couldn’t soak up that love because soaking up the love required seeing and accepting his imperfect human parts too. And those parts were too much for him to bear.


In our Gospel text from today, when Jesus attempts to see the human parts of Peter, he refuses Jesus. And Jesus responds, “Unless I wash your feet, you have no share in me.”  He is so clear: if we are not willing to expose those parts of us, we won’t know his love. Our experience of love, of freedom, of release from pressures of this life, is tied up in our ability to be human.

Perhaps this is one reason our most intimate encounter with Jesus, Holy Eucharist, centers on remembering — literally, to be connected to him — through his most human parts, his body and blood.

“This is my body, broken for you.” 

In Jesus’ body we are remembered to the physical, mental, and emotional suffering he endured. The suffering of betrayal, loneliness, and rejection that we all know.  And, in lifting up his body we are invited to welcome rather than run from these moments of pain.  To know that in our moments of deepest suffering we are not alone. Rather, we can remember that we are inextricably connected to God and one another: to embody the truth of Eucharist, that we who are many are One body, because we share one bread.


This is my blood, shed for you.” 

This is my blood, it was shed for you because of the human epidemic of violence. It was shed because we attack when we feel afraid, it was shed because we are taught that the safest way to stop a “bad man” with a gun is a “good man” with a gun, because we believe that hate can somehow drive out hate.

This is the aspect of humanity with which I struggle most; I can look at my ugly feet, and I can accept my own suffering, but I do not want to remember that I’m part of the perpetuation of the violence that results in oppression, segregation, racism, and innocent deaths of children in our streets and in our schools. But Jesus stands there, on his last night with us, and says: remember, reconnect to the truth that even though you perpetuate this violence, my Love will never leave you.


Although I can’t fully explain it, I know our ability to give and receive love is tied to our willingness to accept our humanity, to expose our flaws, to share our sufferings, and to acknowledge our propensity to cause pain. And, I think that’s what Jesus was trying to leave his disciples with that last night.

He says: I’ve spent my life trying to model Love for you and, just in case you’ve missed it along the way, here are some tangible reminders of what it looks like: wash each other’s feet, share in one another’s pain, and tend to each other’s wounds.

What might change about the way we love one another if we remembered, literally were reconnected, to the truth that we are tied up in one another’s humanity?

How might compassion for ourselves motivate us to let go of unrealistic standards of wealth, beauty or power and embrace humanity? Instead of exhausting ourselves to do and be we could embrace a freedom that allows us to more fully know ourselves and those around us. I imagine that actually being present to the pain of depression, the fear of being ripped from one’s home, or the fragility of living on minimum wage would change our hearts. We’d love as God loved.

And, in doing so, we’d begin to deeply identify with the pain of others. This sort of love compels us to become keenly aware of the ways we benefit from systemic oppression. We are no longer satisfied knowing that our children attend good schools where they are safe. Instead, we use our energy to overturn unjust practices that unfairly distribute resources, perpetuate poverty, and destroy families. And, in doing so, we glimpse the realm of God; we create a world in which all know they are loved.

In these holiest of days we are invited to consider this questions for ourselves: what might happen if we committed our lives to embodying God’s love, through the washing of the feet, the eating of the bread and the drinking of the cup?

If we “loved one another as I have loved you.”

Pray: Undo the lies of imperfection and separation we believe.

Reflect: What element of humanity most resonated with you in this reflection? What might that reveal about how the Spirit is moving in your life today?

Art: Unknown, image found on Experimental Theology by Richard Beck

Baptism of Jesus Proof by He Qi https://www.heqiart.com/store/p59/17a_Baptism-of-Jesus_Artist_Proof.html

With God’s Help: Lenten Reflection (30)

Scripture for Today: Luke 3:21 – 4:13

The first time I set foot in an Episcopal Church service was for the baptism of my friend Kristen’s child, Ryder. I was immediately struck by the communal and collective rhythm of the service. Prior to attending the service I had been on a year hiatus from church — I left a more conservative branch which had an individualistic bent to their spiritual practice. In that church, were all trying to out-Jesus one another by praying more, knowing more scripture, or singing the loudest during worship.

The communal nature of this new Episcopal church was especially present in its collective commitment to uphold Ryder and to live the Way of God alongside him. Towards the end of the service the congregation articulated their commitment through the words of the Baptismal Covenant:

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
I will, with God’s help. 

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
I will, with God’s help.

I was struck by how much the commitment depended on God rather than self — no one was expected to do it alone. This blanket claim of our humanity is one of the reasons I’ve stayed part of the Episcopal community. There are certainly those who stray from this generalization, but the majority of the Episcopalian community maintains their commitment to God while living very human lives.

And, for a faith tradition looking to follow Jesus, this isn’t too far off the mark.

Today’s gospels emphasize the human nature of Jesus. In his baptism at the River Jordan we meet Jesus as a companion on the Way who, like us, made a commitment to turn from the ways of the world and follow God. In the wilderness we see Jesus tempted by the human desires for comfort, power, and wealth, yet he remains committed to God.

Stories of Jesus’ humanity fill the gospels: his friendships, his hunger, his frustrations, his sadness, his anger, his longing for God’s favor, etc. These stories give us a way of meeting God that is not wrapped up in perfection or in theology, but in the vulnerabilities and practicalities of human life. In Jesus we can claim a new human identity. This identity  is rooted not in the fleeting nature of this world but in the eternal way of God. This identity  restores us to right-relationship with God and one another, through the Christ.

This identity inspires us to follow the way of Jesus, with God’s help.

Prayer: Open me to your help.

Reflection: Where can you connect to Jesus’ humanity? Why does it matter to you that he was human?

Art: Baptism of Jesus Proof by He Qi

Additional Reading:  Unedited version of the Episcopal Church’s Baptismal Covenant.

Called to Relationship – Sermon on Responding to Racial Injustice

January 18th I had the joy of visiting Church of Our Saviour Somerset, a parish that is powerful example of what it means to be authentic Christian community. Their rector, Kate has built a community at Church of Our Saviour committed to learning from one another as they discern what it means to be a disciple of Christ. This mutual learning environment has developed leadership, spiritual depth and a sense of joy that fills the parish.

This culture of Church of Our Saviour made it easy to preach on the call to relationship. The sermon highlights that being a disciple of Christ is primarily about responding to the recognition that Christ abides in humanity and exists in each one of us, this is the miracle of the incarnation. Therefore, we can only fully know God through being in authentic relationship with one another. The work of being in relationship in a way that reveals our identity in God and challenges us to live a life as agents of reconciliation … this is church. This is important in parish life but also in the way that we engage with the pain of the world. The sermon address how this dynamic of relationship MUST be in place if we are to respond rightly to the racial injustices in the U.S. today.

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Embodying Christ – Thoughts On Discernment

This Sunday I heard a powerful sermon. The Rev. Lisa Hunt, rector at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church,  offered a reflection on the conflict between who we are and what we do.  Citing the Israelites recovering from the oppression of the Babylonians, Lisa noted that outside circumstances in our lives make it difficult for what we do to fully reflect who we are: a beloved and powerful child of God.

She went on to note that this contrast is especially challenging in the United States where such value is placed on what we do. In our culture often the first question asked is, “What do you do?” We are fixated on the work or the product of someone rather than the interests or passions that drive one another. This fixation can becoming especially discouraging when, for one reason or another, the structure of our lives change and we are unable to achieve or perform to our desired standards. Lisa encouraged us to remember that what we do, or do not do, does not define who we are as a person. Our understanding is that God’s divine presence is within and available to us all and in that, we can find hope, no matter our circumstances.

I walked away with a reminder that it is my life’s work to discern how, at each present moment, God is calling me to embody the love, light, and power of Christ. In other words, I am continually wrestling to unite what I do with who I am.  This sermon was especially poignant as it came three days after I got a letter admitting me as a Postulant for Holy Orders in the Episcopal Church.

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Church Off Course – A Response to ‘The Man Jesus Called A Fool’ by MLK

I spent Friday night with my mentor, Marshall Ganz. Who recommended I read one of MLK’s sermon’s: The Man Jesus Called A Fool.


Here MLK preaches on the story in Luke where Jesus chides a man for storing his wealth for the future. In this story the wealthy man dies before he has the opportunity to enjoy or distribute all he has earned through his work. King makes it clear that this is not an admonishment of wealth in and of itself but how we interact with our wealth.

In this sermon King is preaching to wealthy blacks in Illinois and challenging them to discern if they have let the accumulation of power (their wealth) become more important than the cause of equality for themselves and their fellows. He calls out people who are focused in the results of their labor: cars, homes and status rather than remembering that those things are a resource and/or a by product but not the end goal in the fight for equality. King summarizes the problem by saying, “And so this man was a fool because he allowed the means by which he lived to outdistance the ends for which he lived.”

It is my deep concern that the current Christian church risks becoming a fool. We have forgotten our charge to free captives, heal the sick, restore the broken. Instead we are focused on maintaining our property, our status, our power, our presence in the world. Rather than proclaim a message of love and justice we would rather preach something ‘safe’ that keeps people ‘happy’ with the church.

The result of this is that oppression still exists: people believe they are not gods children because we reject their very being and deny others the basic goods necessary for a satisfactory life.

The church exists for the sole purpose of freedom in Christ. That is it. The buildings and liturgies and programs and services are beautiful but only to the end that they being us closer to this purpose. It is my prayer and hope that we would not be a fool, that we would examine the ways we prioritize the mans and release them in any instance that they prevent is from offering freedom to our fellows.

Communal Healing – Sermon on John 9

Today I had the joy of being with St. Christopher’s Chatham, my sponsoring parish for ordination. Yesterday I was just overwhelmed with gratitude for this group and their willingness to wade through this process of discernment with me. I have inherited 6 new wonderful pseudo parents … which we all need.

Discernment Committee at St. Christopher's Chatham
Discernment Committee at St. Christopher’s Chatham


They also let me have the honor of preaching on the story of the healing of the blind man in John, chapter 9. When reading this gospel message I was struck by John’s attention to the communal nature of change. Rather than focusing the story on the individual’s transformation, John pays attention to the way that the blind man’s transformation agitates the power structures of the community. In my sermon, I tried to pick up on our unwillingness to look at change that way, we would rather continue to look as individuals as sinners or results of other’s sin rather than take account for our own part in the problem. In fact, when confronted with power shifts, we like the Pharisees would rather attack the person who changed or look for some one to blame than celebrate the miracle of healing! 

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