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Morning Worship: You are not necessary; you are loved, Barnes says

“Being dutiful is a virtue of the Elder Brother,” said the Rev. M. Craig Barnes at the 9:15 a.m. Tuesday morning worship service in the Amphitheater.

“The challenge is that the Elder Brother has too many duties — to his Father, the fields, his friends, the animals, himself and his estranged brother,” Barnes said. “How can he hold it together without carving up his heart?”

Barnes sermon title was “The Gospel of the Dutiful,” and the Scripture was Luke 15: 29-30. This was the third sermon in the series on “The Gospel for the Elder Brother.”

Barnes told the following story as an illustration:

There was a man in your hometown last Saturday who was excited because he had a free day. As he brewed himself a cup of Starbucks coffee, he contemplated how to use it.

He remembered that he was having a dinner party that night and there was nothing in the refrigerator, so he would have to go shopping for food. While he was there, he would pick up a brownie mix to make snacks for his daughter’s Sunday school class.

That idea got him thinking that as long as he was in the area, he should pick up his dry cleaning to wear to his presentation at work on Monday. That thought reminded him that he needed to put together the PowerPoint slides for the presentation.

And since he was getting the dry cleaning, he should get a haircut, which reminded him that was something his mother always told him. His mother’s birthday was soon and he needed to stop at the drugstore to get her a card and remember to order a present on Amazon Prime.

Barnes continued:

Now the man was getting grumpy, and he thought he should get some exercise, but first he decided to check the baseball scores. That act reminded him that his ex-wife hated sports.

Remembering his ex-wife reminded the man that he needed to call her attorney, and now the man was worried about money.

“He was lost in the chaos of life,” Barnes said. “The notion of a free day was lost in competing demands.”

Everyone has more than one responsibility in life. Barnes demonstrated this by using his arms to show a pie chart in the air. About half the pie was given over to work, another quarter to errands and other “things that need to be done,” and the rest for what brings pleasure or sleep.

“You may divide the pie differently than I do, but you can’t get a bigger pie,” Barnes said. “There are only 24 hours in a day and it is a struggle to get everything in the pie done.”

The only way to meet all your obligations is to give a bigger slice of the pie to one part of your life, but that means that another slice of your life will be smaller, he told the congregation. More time at work means less time with family.

“If you decide to spend more time with your family, your colleagues will say that they understand, but don’t expect them to be thrilled,” Barnes said. “Or you can bring your big project home and when the little ones come wandering into your home office it is hard to say, ‘Not now, Mommy is busy.’ ”

Each slice of the pie is not just asking for your time but also for your heart, he said. Every slice wants more of you and if you give another slice less, it will complain.

Elder Brothers have a legacy of divided hearts. Part of that legacy is constantly feeling like a failure because success in one part of life comes at a cost to another part of life, Barnes said.

“All Elder Brothers struggle with the math and there can’t be more than 24 hours. Elder Brothers feel necessary to each part of life,” he said.

When Barnes was in seminary, he took a class from New Testament scholar Bruce Metzger. One day in class, as Metzger was talking about the Book of Revelation, he stopped and said, “I hope you pastors will get down on your knees every day and thank God you are not necessary.”

Barnes remembered that sentence and puzzled over it. When Barnes returned to Princeton for his five-year reunion, he stopped Metzger and reminded him of that marginal comment, and asked if he wanted to take it back.

Metzger said: “No. Craig, you are not necessary; you are too important to be necessary. The blessing is that God chose to love you. Why would you want to be necessary when you are loved?”

Barnes said he saw that “chronic volunteers” often did not trust that they are loved, so they settle for being necessary.

“Don’t be dutiful when you can be loved,” he said.

In addition to the legacy of feeling like a failure, Elder Brothers struggle with having a different identity in different cultures. Different cultures have different ways of measuring success.

At work, Elder Brothers are called to be wolves, to be competitive, pushing and productive. At home they are asked to be lambs, not wolves; at church they are supposed to be sheep.

“The problem is that there really are wolves who eat lambs for breakfast,” Barnes said. “When should you be a wolf and when should you be a lamb? It is hard for them to lie down together.”

Barnes said that he often feels like a 16-year-old around his 88-year-old mother. When she broke her hip, he and his brother went home to help. After time in rehabilitation, she went home and Medicare workers were supposed to come with some equipment for her toilet.

The Medicare people did not come the first day, and so Barnes went to a medical supply store to buy a toilet seat. They came the next day and insisted, for insurance reasons, on installing their own equipment.

Barnes prepared to put the used toilet seat in the dumpster but his mother insisted that he take it back to the store and get a refund.

“As president of a seminary, I say no to people all day long,” Barnes said. “But I told my mother, ‘Yes, OK.’ ”

He passed many dumpsters on his way to the medical supply store but could not bring himself to throw the toilet seat away, even though his mother would never find out.

He asked for a refund at the store and the clerk asked if the seat was used. He told the clerk yes and she said the store manager would have to approve it and she was not in, so he would have to fill out a form.

Barnes started to write his name and the clerk said, “My husband reads books by an M. Craig Barnes.”

“No kidding. It’s a very common name,” Barnes said to the clerk.

The clerk told him that her husband was upset because ever since Barnes had become president of Princeton Theological Seminary, he had stopped writing books.

Barnes owned up that he was the person she was talking about.

“We have divided hearts,” he told the congregation. “We have different roles and different identities in different places.”

The third problem for Elder Brothers is that being dutiful brings about a preoccupation with the self.

“When you don’t feel success in every part of your life, you begin navel-gazing, taking your own pulse,” Barnes said. “You drive home and feel that people at work don’t appreciate how hard you are working and when you come home, your family does not stand and sing the Doxology.”

Barnes said when he gets tired of being intoxicated with himself, he goes to church to hear about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

“I want to be part of a gospel that includes me but is about what God is doing in the world that I get to participate in,” he said.

Everyone’s story begins with “in the beginning was God.”

“That is the beginning of your life story and with God’s creativity, it is your story for the telling,” Barnes said.

If you are concerned about the end of life, he told the congregation, look at the final verses of Revelation where God is living among mortals and a river of life flows through the city.

“ ‘The Word became flesh’ is my favorite part of the story because it means God is with us,” Barnes said. “For worship to be renewal, it has to be centered. And in Colossians, Paul wrote that all things hold together in Christ, not in you.”

When the pieces of the pie are held together by a clear center, the pieces will hold. Barnes said it is a mistake to make worship relevant; rather, people should be made relevant to God.

“Worship is not about you — you are about worship,” he said. “It is Christ’s duty to be the Messiah. You are not necessary but should enjoy salvation with everyone else.”

The Rev. Robert Hagel presided. Zoë Garry read the Scripture. She is the Christian coordinator of the Abrahamic Program for Young Adults at Chautauqua this season. She just finished her first year at Princeton Theological Seminary and is seeking ordination through the Presbyterian Church (USA). In the fall, she will work as the junior chaplain at the Princeton University Chapel and she plans to be a chaplain at a higher education institution. She is certified to facilitate interfaith dialogues through the Interfaith Council of Greater Philadelphia. The Motet Choir sang “Turn the World Around,” by Harry Belafonte. Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, directed the choir. The Gladys R. Brasted and Adair Brasted Gould Memorial Chaplaincy provide support for this week’s services.

Tags : morning worshipreligionRev. M. Craig BarnesThe Gospel for the Elder BrotherThe Gospel of the DutifulWeek Eight
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The author Mary Lee Talbot

Mary Lee Talbot writes the Morning Worship column. A Presbyterian minister, she preaches at the Seneca Reservation in Irving. She is the deputy managing director of People Helping People International. Her latest book is Chautauqua’s Heart, the first full history of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle. She lives in Chautauqua with her dog, Max, and is beginning her second term as a member of the Board of Education of Chautauqua Lake Central School District.