Gratitude for grace we receive changes lives, Barnes preaches

The Rev. M. Craig Barnes, president emeritus of Princeton Theological Seminary, opens his week of sermons last Sunday in the Amphitheater. Barnes completed his Week Four chaplaincy Friday morning, with a sermon titled “After Healing?” Dave Munch/Photo Editor

Column by Mary Lee Talbot

“Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, the place where important holy things happened, and he was interrupted by 10 men with leprosy asking for mercy,” said the Rev. M. Craig Barnes. “But responding to people in need, to give mercy, was always Jesus’ mission, so it was not an interruption.”

Barnes preached at the 9:15 a.m. Friday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. His sermon title was “After Healing?” and the scripture text was Luke 17:11-19. 

From the text, nothing is known about the men except they had a disease — leprosy — in common, which made them all outcasts. One was a Samaritan, which meant he was an outsider, but that did not matter to the rest of the men. 

“It is significant that they did not ask for healing. Maybe the disease had gone too far. They asked for mercy,” Barnes said. “Perhaps we can find ourselves in the text. Like Jesus, we should be ready to be interrupted and provide mercy. That is a good reading but an easy one. As a pastor, I have seen a lot of human drama, and sooner or later we will find ourselves in the community with leprosy and our only prayer will be for mercy.”

When do people ask for mercy? Usually, the day after a funeral when prayers for healing were not answered. Or, when all the strategies to help a child get back on track have been exhausted and there is nothing more to do. Maybe during a long, dark night with the person we love when words have done too much damage but the silence is doing more damage still. Or even on a long drive home from a miserable but necessary job.

“It is in those times when we are not sleeping out of guilt over what we have done or not done, living with shame as our companion, that we say ‘Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy,’ ” Barnes told the congregation.

When Jesus heard the 10 men call to him and turned to look at them — and actually saw them — he did not offer advice or empathy. Instead, he told them to go and show themselves to a priest. Only the priest could declare that they had been healed. Jesus told them to walk toward their healing, to have faith in the mercy of God. 

“It is the irresistible response of God to heal. We have faith that God will have mercy. In faith, we find healing and our faith is a response to God’s grace,” Barnes said.

When two people are dating, he said, someone will be the first to say, “I love you.” It might happen after a candlelight dinner and the words tumble out and land on the table.

“The person who said it begins to think about the implications, because they are at a crossroads in the relationship. If the other person says, ‘Thank you for sharing,’ it is time to get the check and leave because you can’t just hang out anymore,” Barnes said.

God, however, goes first and says “I love you,” and puts God’s sacred love on the line. It is a move toward healing when God says, “You are my beloved, with you I am well pleased.” That is when we find ourselves moving toward grace Barnes told the congregation.

Barnes shared the story of his brother Roger and the gift of grace the Barnes family gave to Roger. 

“There was a woman who came to my father’s church with her son, Roger, and she would sit in the back and weep. My father tried everything he could to help her, but she and her husband were drug addicts. The best he could do was to get her to allow him to put his phone number on the wall beside their phone. He told Roger that if anything went wrong, he should call my father,” Barnes said.

One night Roger called and said he could not wake his parents. They had both died of an overdose. Pastor Barnes told the police he would take Roger home for the night and figure out where he could go in the morning.

“On the way home, my father decided to adopt him,” Barnes said. “I would like to think he called my mom to run the idea by her, but when he got home he woke my brother and me up and said ‘This is Roger, he will be your brother, a part of our family.’ Roger became a part of the family solely by my father’s grace.”

Barnes described his parents as “pietists of the first order who never met a rule they did not like.” They thought if you followed the rules, you could get close enough to heaven that faith would take you the rest of the way. Roger had never met a rule. Yet Roger learned and lived in gratitude for the grace he had been given, like the Samaritan in the scripture reading who returned to thank Jesus for his healing.

“Most of the faith shaping came from my mom. She was the Holy Spirit at the dinner table saying, ‘No, no Roger, we don’t do that at the table,’ ” Barnes said. They taught Roger that he could trust the family to give him food, to speak in soft tones, to become part of the family.

He continued, “This extraordinary young man honored my parents and would beat us up if we disrespected them.” Roger made it through high school but did not have the grades for college, so he joined the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War.

“My parents were very proud and worried,” Barnes said. One day a telegram arrived — with bad news. “It said he was killed in action and that he died while performing a heroic act.” Barnes’ mother wondered how Roger could have been a hero, and Barnes said to her, “Ma, it was your table lessons that showed Roger what it meant to be your son.” 

As a minister of word and sacrament, Barnes stands behind the Lord’s table for communion. “I hold the broken body of Christ and the cup of salvation and I know what people bring to the table that does not belong in church.”

He continued, “I hear the Holy Spirit, who still sounds like my mother saying, ‘No, no, we don’t do that here, not in this family.’ Don’t bring your cynicism, bitterness, fury, resentment. Don’t try to be the victim at the Lord’s Table. Rejoice in the mercy you have received. You are changed and are joint heirs of God’s kingdom with Christ. You have been healed and made grateful and gratitude changes our lives. In the name of the Father, Son and Spirit.” 

The Rev. Mary Lee Talbot, author of Chautauqua’s Heart, presided. Stephanie Dawson, coordinator of Group One at Boys’ and Girls’ Club, read the scripture. The prelude was “Adagio for Flute and Organ,” by Albert Becker, played by Barbara Hois, flute, and Nicholas Stigall on the Massey Memorial Organ. The Motet Choir sang “Geistliches Lied,” by Johannes Brahms for the anthem under the direction of Joshua Stafford, director of sacred music and Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist, and accompanied by Stigall on the organ. The postlude was “Toccata,” from Symphony No. 5 by Charles-Marie Widor, played by Stafford on the organ. Support for this week’s chaplaincy and preaching was provided by the Mr. and Mrs. William Uhler Follansbee Memorial Chaplaincy.


The author Mary Lee Talbot

Mary Lee Talbot writes the recap of the morning worship service. A life-long Chautauquan, she is a Presbyterian minister, author of Chautauqua’s Heart: 100 Years of Beauty and a history of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. She edited The Streets Where We Live and Shalom Chautauqua. She lives in Chautauqua year-round with her Stabyhoun, Sammi.