|John Barr’s Convention Sermon, “I am the Door”|
By The Very Rev. Dr. John Barr
This is an excerpt from the sermon the Very Rev. John Barr, Rector of Holy Comforter, Sumter, preached during the Holy Eucharist service at the 223rd Convention of the Diocese of South Carolina at Christ Church in Mt. Pleasant, on March 14, 2014.
Scripture reading: John 10:1-10
Where are you with the door?”
“It may be some of you have been around door talk so much you’ve thought by osmosis you’ve gone through the door yourself.
And permit me Just tell you about what happened to me. It may be that some of you are continuing in a life you never began – doing Christian things but you never went through the door.
When I was a young priest I was in the Mississippi delta and we had a wonderful lady named Bessie who kept our kids and she just hated it that I had these prayer books. She knew that that was from Satan because she would say, “Why do you have to use a book, can’t you just pray?” And frankly, I couldn’t very well. And she kept saying, “John, I want you to go to my church.” “Well I always had an out. I said, ‘Well, Bessie I’m respectfully employed Sunday mornings, I’d love to go with you, but I just can’t go Sunday mornings.” And she said, “But you don’t understand – it’s 5 o’clock in the afternoon.”
So I went with her and we came down this Mississippi road to this little white church. And I was the only white person in that place. And we came in and I sat on the back row – decided I would audit the course. And as soon as I sat down the black preacher said, “Oh Bessie, who did you bring this afternoon?” and she said, “I brought pastor Barr with me.” And he said, “Pastor Barr, what are you doing sitting back there. I want you to come up here!” And they had stacks of angels and archangels, and deacons and elders and groups of people and I kind of fit in there. And I thought, “Well, this is kind of nice. I can do this.”
And it got time for the sermon, and this is no exaggeration – just rank, raw truth. I sat over there and watched a black man with not much education bring forth the springs of the gospel and truth – practical truth from the scriptures and the gospel. And it wasn’t anything that he’d used whiteout on a piece of paper, like I did. It was not an essay. It was a living and active word. And not only that, there was something about who he was from the guts, from the deep places of his life that just ushered up the gospel of God. And he was so delighted. And he didn’t have to work hard. It was flowing through him.
And I sat over here and I was staggered.
I’ll never forget. I said to myself, “What has to happen to a person to be a person like that?” I know Paul Tillich backwards and forwards. I’ve been to these schools and all this stuff, and I’m not saying it’s wrong, but there’s something frozen inside – I could not do that.
And about that time, he was in the middle of preaching and he slammed his Bible shut and said, “What am I doing? God has sent Brother Barr here to preach!” He said, “I’ve been disobedient!”
And I have to tell you it was the most shattering moment in my life.
I got up and said something cute or funny whatever it was. I had nothing to say, nothing to say. It was shattering.
I’d looked at a man who’d gone through the door.
I said to myself when I got in the car with Bessie and we drove back – in silence – stony silence, not a word. She was so sweet. She put her hands on my shoulder. And I said to the Lord, “Whatever has to happen to me to get me to be able to be a witness for you, for your life to go down deep in those frozen places of resistance in my life – God please do it.
And three or four weeks later my wife and I were together at a church and a group of people prayed for us and the Holy Spirit came upon us and the love of God poured down deep in our hearts. Christ became real and something in me died and I stepped through a door. And the door was Jesus.
And I’d been a bad screw up in a lot of ways, but my life was changed that day as I walked through that door.
Jesus says NOT, “There’s a hallway of doors. Go down to Barnes and Noble to the spirituality section.”
He says, “Come through me.” Have you been a person in any way that you’ve been going towards Jesus, but you didn’t go to Jesus? Have you been a person who’s been doing a lot of church but you’ve never gone through the door?
Jesus says, “I am the door.” If anyone comes to me, in me and through me, he will find salvation, go in and out and find pasture.