At the Institution of the Rev’d Rebecca A. Barnes
as Vicar of Holy Trinity Church, Inwood
David of Wales, Saturday, 1 March 2014
Holy Trinity Church, Inwood, in the City of New York
Almighty God, who didst call thy servant David to be a faithful and wise steward of thy mysteries for the people of Wales: Mercifully grant that, following his purity of life and zeal for the Gospel of Christ, we may with him receive our heavenly reward; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Thessalonians 2:2b-12
While I can not claim to have been a part of Mother Barnes’ journey from the beginning, I feel that I have been along for the ride for quite some time now. It is, therefore, a great honour to be standing before you this morning, in the far north of our diocese, to share in this exciting day as Rebecca is conferred as your vicar. I first met Rebecca when she came before the Commission on Ministry for a day of interviews to help discern her call to the priesthood. Later on Rebecca sought me out as a field education supervisor and she joined us at Saint Ignatius for a two year placement and we kept her on a curate and the rest, as they say, is history. You have in Rebecca a thoughtful, skilled, loving priest with, a deep spiritual core that will serve this community well as you continue to grow in mission and ministry. Indeed today’s Gospel, from the proper for Saint David of Wales, whom we commemorate today, is particularly apt as we celebrate a new ministry that has great hopes for vitality and life in this place.
I have to say I love the Gospel of Mark. I love its straightforward, no nonsense approach. I love its use of parables to tell us something about the Kingdom of God by showing us a little example taken from human life lived in relationship with the natural world. Today we have this little story of the man who “should scatter seed upon the ground,” and unlike the better known parable of the sower, we are not given any allegorical explanation for each element of the story. No later interpretation has been imposed upon us today. We are left to contemplate the image of this sower and the natural process Jesus describes without being told what to think. We are allowed to look at the story as a whole, to understand it in its own context, and then think about how this beautiful, natural sequence of events gives us a glimpse into the deepest meaning of the cosmos, into the meaning and nature of the Kingdom of God. We are allowed to understand what this story means for us, in this place today, as Rebecca begins her new ministry.
Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed upon the ground, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he knows not how. The earth produces of itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” The Kingdom of God is likened to the process of scattering seed on the ground, time passing, seeds sprouting and growing, and, at the proper time, the grain that has grown up is harvested. The kingdom of God is a process, it takes time, it partakes of nature and at the same time seems to have a magical quality to it. It is always purposeful, but complex. The seeds are scattered generously and abundantly. Not all the seeds that were scattered will sprout, however, and not all the sprouts that have grown-up will make it to harvest, and yet there should be ample grain. The process begins with a gesture of abundance and joy and where the ground is fertile and where the seeds are watered and cared for and the conditions are favourable, there will be a harvest. The sower’s work is only the beginning, part of the process and the outcome is not fully determined by what she does. Many factors, some of which we understand better than others, contribute to the process of the kingdom of God maturing, growing up, and being brought to fulfilment.
When we see the Kingdom of God as a complex social and organic process and not as a mechanistic, cause and effect system, we begin to understand the wonder of creation and the beauty of God’s vision for our reconciliation in Love with all in all. The values of the kingdom as revealed in this story are abundance rather than scarcity, process over stasis, growth and development over stagnation, freedom over control, and yet the process is purposeful. These are all subversive values. They are not the values of safety and security. They do not hold all the answers in a neat package. They are values that demand us to be brave and face the unknown, have courage and open ourselves to being vulnerable, trust in the Love of God that we know from the Love we experience in the world, the love to which we open ourselves when we enter into real relationships with each other.
Today as Rebecca begins her new ministry we can connect this understanding of the Kingdom of God to what happens in a parish. Indeed, parish life can be likened to this emergent process that characterises the Kingdom. The priest, in collaboration with her lay leaders, scatters the seeds, scatters them abundantly and with love. We do this work not knowing exactly how it will all come out. Nevertheless we scatter the seeds of love through our preaching, our pastoral care, our celebration of the sacraments, and by doing the business of the church. We do these things because that is what we are called to do and we don’t know exactly what the results will be. We trust the process. We trust that the seeds will grow; not all of them, but the seeds will grow, and the natural processes of life will take their course as we do the best to nurture the sprouts that grow, and we pray that whether we are there for the harvest or not, that the purposeful, loving process that we helped begin and that we tended will bear fruit.
We are called to play our part, giving our best effort with love and a sense of gratitude and abundance, understanding that we do not control the process, and what matters is that we are in there sowing seeds with love and generosity. Indeed we do not bring about the Kingdom by our own effort and this is something good to remember on Saint David’s day, as he was a champion of this important, anti-Pelagian stance.
I know Rebecca will bring those sensibilities to this place. She already has. Wonderful things are possible if we trust the process, trust the love of God that is growing at this very moment in this place and being nurtured by this loving and growing community. “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed upon the ground, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he knows not how. The earth produces of itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” Pray, therefore, that God will bless and keep this place, hold it in love as this wonderful mystery unfolds.
Andrew C. Blume✠
New York City
Anna Hayward Julia Cooper, 28 February 2014
© 2014 Andrew Charles Blume