Full Disclosure

At the end of Sunday’s sermon, the one about Jesus cleansing a leper, I referred to my tenth grade yearbook picture. Several people have asked to see it, and although it pains me to post it (I’ve saved it under the file name “Yikes!”) here it is, along with the last few paragraphs of the sermon. Be gentle.


Last week some of my old classmates from Sherman High School in Seth, West Virginia, caught up with me on Facebook.  They were happy to find me.  They didn’t know what had happened to me.  And they have been very, very kind.  But as I looked through some of the yearbook pictures they had posted on that site I began to realize why they hadn’t heard from me: those two years at Sherman were some of the most painful in my memory. 

My dad, as I’ve told you, was a kind of missionary to the desperately poor in that county and I felt like a missionary kid.  We lived in a house with no running water and no indoor plumbing, which meant that I went to school most days looking kind of rumpled and smelling sort of…unwashed.  And I was a little kid!  I went to high school a year early and didn’t get my growth spurt until two years later.  I was about five feet two with teeth that seemed way too big for my mouth and the worst haircut I’ve ever had in my life.  When I looked through those yearbook pictures I remembered those tall, handsome, confident boys, and those pretty, outgoing, giggly girls, and suddenly there I was, looking like a scared rabbit, trying to hide my face under my crooked bangs when the photographer took the picture.     

When I look closely I can almost see the pain in those eyes. 

But I would guess that I’m not the only one in this room who had that kind of experience in high school.  In fact, there may be a third of you who don’t have your yearbook picture hanging on the wall at home.  Those are such vulnerable years, and we feel so tender; one unkind word can cut us to the quick.  “If you want to you can make me clean,” the leper says to Jesus, and maybe all he really means is, “If you want to you can save me from being a social outcast, you can bring me into the community, you can help me find a place.”  And Jesus says, “I want to,” and then he reaches out and touches the leper.  Who knows how long it had been since anyone offered to do that?  But in that moment, in that action, his leprosy is cured.  He is made clean.  Jesus told him not to say anything about it but he couldn’t help himself. 

It was the best thing that had ever happened to him.

Think about those people, not only in high school but in every church, who have trouble fitting in, who are almost terrified to visit a Sunday school class where everybody already knows everybody, and where there aren’t any available seats.  Think about how hard it is for some people to walk up the front steps of this church for the first time, not knowing if they will be made to feel welcome or turned away at the door.  Think about those people who have failed at life, who have lost a job, who have been divorced; people who are struggling hard and who need a home; people who have been pushed to the fringes of society because in one way or another they have become “unclean.” In this first chapter of his Gospel I think Mark is being very deliberate in showing us three different things that have no place in God’s kingdom: 1) evil, 2) illness, and 3) exclusion.  Jesus takes his stand against all of these.  He drives out the unclean spirits (vss. 21-28), he cures those who are sick (vss. 29-39), and he welcomes the outcasts (vss. 40-45).  And when he does those things God’s kingdom comes, and God’s will is done,

On earth as it is in heaven.

9 thoughts on “Full Disclosure

  1. I, too, was enough of an ugly duckling to appreciate how you describe feeling — the PK (preacher’s kid, for the uninitiated!) who was at 12, at least half long legs, and often wearing not particularly well-fitting clothes that were hand-me-downs from thoughtful people – or ones my sweet mother had made, and with brains yet (not acceptable for girls in the early 40’s), and who was so shy that my nick name was “stick-in-the-mud” — not really conducive to add to one’s confidence + I was 2 years younger than most of my contemporaries, so I almost feel like we’re playing “can you top this?” !!! Well, God is good, and we grow up, and learn to talk, and learn to make friends, and then someone loves us and all looks remarkably different — even though it’s the same old place with the same old challenges. FBC’s Vesper Club and Forum, and Mae and Pat Hoggard, Ma Brown, and Pa & Ma Bethel made a huge difference for me. Then I had an FBC scholarship to Westhampton College, and many good friends from my UR days, so now I look back (way back!) with quite a bit of nostalgia, at least every once in a while. Thanks for helping us all recognize how much we can mean to others, even when we’re unaware of it!

  2. That young man in the photo has come a long way since the time when that photo was taken. He has every right to be proud of everything he has accomplished since that photo was taken. However humble our beginnings might have been, I think that it is important not to be ashamed of those times and I sense that, even though I am sure you did not always enjoy those times and would not want to go back to them, you are not ashamed of those times of your life. The events of our life, good and bad, help to shape us into the people we are today. Being able to acknowledge and accept the unpleasant events as well as the pleasant events of our life helps us to be whole. So many people do not feel complete and one reason for that may be that they are unable to accept the bad things that have happened to them over the years. The bad things that have happened are just as much a part of a person as are the good things. Until we are able to embrace the darker parts of our life that help to make us who we are, we can never be complete as a person.

    Thanks for sharing this little part of your life. I agree with Betty Ann Dillon in that we all have have our “ugly duckling” moments we could tell about different times in our life. Hopefully, we are able to come to remember that the “ugly duckling” grows, if not literally then at least figuratively, into a beautiful swan.

  3. Jim, many of us had humble beginnings, just like you. Looking back I am thankful for the closeness we had in that little small house in Boone County, WV. Six children in a three bedroom house. We all shared a bedroom with a sibling and two slept in the living room on a sleeper sofa (hide-a-bed — as we called it). Mother made most of our clothes. Hand-me-down clothes were a necessity – I was fourth of the girls.
    My father was a minister and my sisters and I sang together. We were known as the “Barker Sisters.” We traveled along with daddy as he preached at revivals and other special services. What a bond our family had at that time. We had an old piano that was beyond proper tuning, but how we loved to gather around it and sing together, with my oldest sister playing the piano and daddy and my younger brother playing the guitar.
    Today all of us serve the Lord. I am so thankful to have parents who brought us up going to church and having prayer in our home. We did not have a TV.
    In our society today many of us want the huge house with a television in every room and an intercom system for communication. Families are missing out on the closeness once felt by the small dwellings our families had.
    My oldest brother is a minister and your messages and sermon recaps remind me so much of his sermons. He speaks of his tender years quite often.
    May God continue to bless you in the ministry in Richmond.

  4. Good Doctor, I just popped in to see if you had updated your blog and was delighted to see your early high school picture! Nowadays you could have been another Justin Bieber or other teenage heart throb! Maybe you and your brothers should have gotten together as a singing group! ;> Anyway, at least you had hair. Even at that age, I was starting to lose mine and trying to figure out ways to look like I wasn’t. So, how about pictures from your prep school and college years?!

  5. Hello, brave pastor.
    You’re brave to show a picture that you file under “YIKES!” But really, It’s way cool. Your description of yourself as a teenager from the pulpit might lead one to expect a creature from the black lagoon. Not even close!!! Your picture shows a really neat kid with honest eyes and a great smile. You should be gentle with yourself.

    Speaking of which—-I am helping three days a week at St.Paul’s Episcopal Church for the Lenten lunches, and your name comes up anytime someone asks about crowded lunchtimes. I hear comments like—

    “Wait until Jim Somerville come here to preach. You’ll see a big crowd.” or—

    “Listening to Jim Somerville, I’m tempted to become Baptist.”

    That’s when I smile and say, “Well come on over to the Boulevard. We’d love to see you.”

    The church, on 815 East Grace Street, has inspiring messages,worshipers from all over the city, free parking, an amazing atrium and courtyard, huge stained glass windows in the sanctuary, a historic past, kind people, wonderful food, . There is even a silent auction for beautiful art displayed in the lobby and in the main dining room.

    People all over RIchmond await your appearance on March 5th and that whole week. I look forward to being there.

    Bon appetit!

    –Trisha Grizzard Tetlow

  6. I would like to know whether Tina Barker Taylor was in any way related to the minister/evangelist Carey Barker. I think she might be several generations younger than he but I remember his coming to the church of which my father was pastor when I was a little girl.

  7. Jim: The year s have been kind to you, and given you a handsome face,but
    more important is how your Christian life has grown. AND the blessings we all receive as you share your life with us at First Baptist. God truly blessed us when He sent you to us. You and your ministry are daily in my prayer time.

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