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Lord, Teach Us To Pray

Rev. Jennifer L. Adams – July 24, 2016 – Proper 11, Year C: Luke 11:1-13

So last week, (in case you missed it or have since lived through seven full days and filled your brain with other things,) we heard the gospel story of Mary and Martha which is found just before the passage we heard today from the gospel of Luke.

I want to make some connections so here’s a quick recap:

Jesus came to Martha’s house for a visit and her sister, Mary spent time sitting at the feet of Jesus while Martha remained busy bustling about, preparing supper, setting the table and so on. Martha then got upset that she’d been left with all the work (I was not without sympathy, you’ll remember, and some of you were with me on that.) And so, Martha, appealed to Jesus. And Jesus responded to Martha with this, “Martha, Martha you are distracted by your many tasks.” And added that Mary who had chosen to sit and to listen “had chosen the better part.” I shared a quote by theologian Paul Tillich who wrote, “the first of duty of love is to listen.” And so last week, we let Jesus and Mary teach us something about what it means to love. To love one another is first to listen to one another. Which invites us to approach this world a little differently than we otherwise might.

Well this week, we hear that God is listening too. And while that really shouldn’t come as a surprise, it is a profound statement of how God approaches us and we need to let it sink in. This God of love, of power, of wisdom, of grace, this God of almighty-ness is (to borrow an image from last week’s gospel,) sitting at the feet of the world and taking us in. All the time. God is loving. God is listening.

Which is theologically astounding. To genuinely listen is to allow one’s actions to be shaped by what it is the other has to say, by the story that person shares, their hurts, their dreams, their hopes. To listen is to become slightly vulnerable to that other – it is to laugh the laughs and likely share some of the tears of the one whose story it is. It is also to give the other an opportunity to hear them selves further into being, an experience that has power too.

And so this is a remarkable image of God. An all-powerful, yet lovingly vulnerable God who loves, who listens, and then get this, a God who responds.

Which means that part of our work is to prioritize our prayers, not that God isn’t willing to do that piece for us on a pretty regular basis, nor does it mean that there aren’t times when letting every prayer that it in us flow and flow and flow. But integrating a basic discipline of prioritizing within our prayers helps us not only to focus those prayers but to focus in life too.

‘Teach us to pray,’ the disciples said to Jesus in the opening of today’s gospel passage. And his response was something like, “Keep it basic, people.” Perhaps even “reign it in…focus…settle.” Jesus told them to “Ask God to help you through today.” And then he gave them some specifics: First acknowledge that God is holy, in other words, let God be God and you be you. Good reminder. “Ask for today’s bread,” he told them. Pray for the kingdom to come …now. (Which means we might look for it, even help it come into being now.) Ask for the ability to forgive and to receive the forgiveness you need today in order to have a new tomorrow. And the only truly forward-looking piece in all of this teaching was to “save us from the time of trial” which I think staying present probably does. (A topic for another sermon.)

One of the questions I’ve been asked several times over the past few weeks and months as horrendous acts of violence make the headlines is, “How do we talk to our kids about all of this?” Now I have some good resources to share and am happy to, but I think these stories give us a critical dimension of our response to that question.

We can talk to our kids, give them a framework for moving forward by teaching them how to pray. We can better talk to God, ourselves, and one another by making time for prayer. Prayer is in some ways an antidote to the anxiety of our times – not in a sappy or pop-religion sort of way – not as an excuse to not act nor as a way to assert our own power or superiority. We don’t pray in order to be let off the hook or to convince others of our closeness to God. We pray because through prayer we remember that which is most basic, most genuinely needed, most holy: Daily bread. Neighbors. Forgiveness. Kingdom like realities of mercy, compassion, and peace.

Fundamental to our belief as Episcopalians, as Anglicans is that our prayer, teaches us, shapes us, and makes us one. “Lord, teach us to pray,” could be the opening line of our liturgy every week, because that’s why we’re here. Maybe it could be the phrase we all utter in ourselves as we walk through these doors. “Lord, teach us to pray,” as we make space for ourselves, one another and God. We come here first and foremost to allow our prayer to teach us, shape us, and make us one. And our prayer has that kind of power, because God is listening, but also because through prayer, we learn to listen too.

“Listening is the first duty of love,” Tillich said. Each week, here in this space, we take and re-take that first step. Through prayer we remember that which is most basic, most needed, most lovingly vulnerable and holy too. Bread. Neighbors. Forgiveness. Mercy. Compassion. Peace.

And through this prayer that we call “common,” we learn how to listen and how to speak not only God but to this world that is God’s. Listen deeply to and through the words of our liturgy today and every week. We say things like: “Have compassion on those who suffer from any grief or trouble,” “forgive us those things done and left undone,” “we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves,” “Almighty God. . .strengthen you in all goodness,” “the peace of the Lord be always with you,” “the gifts of God for the people of God” and more! Through this prayer that is common we learn how to speak to God but also to this world that is God’s and our actions become grounded in this holy conversation that allows us to glimpse both a kingdom that is coming and a world that desperately longs for it to be so.

Through prayer we acknowledge that God is God and we are us and in such love we are given room to share ourselves, to listen to the needs of others, and to trust that God is doing the same.

The Lord be with you, Grace Church.

And also with you.

Let us pray…

 

 

 

 

Love’s First Duty

Rev. Jennifer L. Adams – July 17, 2016 – Proper 10, Year C: Luke 10:38-42

So whenever I hear this text about Jesus, Mary and Martha, I always feel a little defensive – for Martha.  I just feel like she sort of got a bad rap in this one.  I even struggled this week picking out the kids’ coloring page for the pew pals because so many of the images showed Martha as this sort of grumpy, busy, complaining person while Mary was all relaxed and attentive and sitting at the feet of Jesus.  In one image (not the one I chose for the kids!) Martha had just burst into the room holding a large pot, practically waving a ladle, and talking to Jesus and Mary and wearing an unattractive scowl on her face.  And so I kind of want to speak up for her:  “Of course, Mary was relaxing,” I think to myself “someone else was cooking dinner!” “Sure Mary chose the better part, but how fair was that? Martha was doing all the work!”

And I bet I’m not the only Martha sympathizer in the house today.  You know who you are. “Go, Martha!” we cry. “Power to the do-ers!” I’m glad I’m not alone.

I also know that when I react this way, I probably need to take a deep breath.  I need to step away from the initial, familiar, perhaps even slightly self-justifying interpretation and I need to listen.  I need to go at the the story again so that it can go at me.  I need to listen to the words and the people, to try again and listen for what I need to hear.

And that kind of listening is some of the hardest work of all.

But that’s the work that Mary was doing that day when Jesus came over. It’s simple, really: Mary was listening.  She was undervalued in that moment by Martha and those of us (which is pretty much all of us) who can go to that Martha-like place, “distracted” as Jesus put it “by our many tasks,” but she was listening.

Now just to be clear, we don’t go to that “Martha place” because we’re bad people; we go there because we’re good, busy people and sometimes, if we’re honest, we’re anxious people.  Our tasks aren’t bad tasks; often they are very, very good tasks.  Heck, often we’re busy feeding people like Martha was!  Pot and ladle in hand.  We’re doing work that other gospel stories have given us to do!

But what Jesus was saying in this story is that Mary was doing something too.  And it mattered every bit as much as the Martha work did.  Mary was listening and there are times when that’s “the better part.”  It might even be some of the holiest, most necessary work of all.

Theologian Paul Tillich wrote, “the first of duty of love is to listen.”  The first duty of love is to listen.  What if that’s true?

Listening is a skill that we’re losing all too rapidly in our society (understatement of the week.)  I think that we’re becoming better and better at shouting in large part because we’ve gotten very, very bad at listening.  The volume is rising and it shouldn’t need to.  If we continue this course, pretty soon we’ll all be in different corners shouting whatever truth it is that we simply, desperately want someone who is not us to hear.

So one way to break this destructive societal pattern is to get our Mary on. As church we can be more Mary-like, taking time to listen for the Christ in another.  We can begin with the assumption that there is something we need to hear and that there is something that others need to have heard. We can listen.

And so as I hear the news of the past few weeks and if I take listening to be the first duty of love then there are people whom I, whom we need to seek out.  Like Mary sat at the feet of Christ, we need to sit with the policeman, the policewoman, the black man, the black woman, the gay person, the trans person, the Muslim, the person for whom France is home . . . to name a few.  We need to seek out Christ in the other and do our duty.

So Carlos Fossatti, and Reinink brothers of Grace Church, we see Christ in you! Tell us what it’s like to be a cop these days?  As you grieve the deaths of fellow officers, as you protect, as you serve, as you learn, tell us something that we need to hear about you.

Denise Kingdom-Grier, my only black female pastor colleague in this town, we see Christ in you! Tell us what it’s like to be raising your children in Holland, Michigan.  Tell us what it’s like to be pastoring a multi-cultural congregation and talk to us about what these ongoing deaths of young black men in our country mean for you. Tell us something that we need to hear about you.

People of France, we see Christ in you! As you grieve again this week, tell us what it’s like to be strong and to be victim and to refuse to lose hope even as you struggle so very hard to stand up today.  Tell us something we need to hear about being a diverse people who are trying to make it as a free people in this world.

And on a much lighter note, because we need those too: Nineteen year old boy who is now glued to your cell phone and wandering our parking lot, we see Christ in you too! Tell me what it means that Grace is a Pokemon gym! In all the news this week, yours made me smile as I learned that imaginary, yet digitally visible beings are apparently working out in this building ALL THE TIME! So it’s true – I am never alone.  What is it about these little creatures that pulls you out of your day to day and helps you be a kid again?  Tell me something I need to know about you.

Kate DiCamillo who is one of my favorite authors of children’s books wrote a book called The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.  It’s a story about a little china rabbit who was loved by a little girl but (as many profound children’s stories go,) this rabbit who is somewhat fragile, gets lost.  And then this rabbit gets re-found over and over again, encountering fishermen, city folk, country folk, old and young along his way.  And toward the end of the story, DiCamillo says this about Edward,  “He knew what it was like to miss someone. And so he listened. And in his listening, his heart opened wide and then wider still.”

He knew what it was like to miss someone, and so he listened, some of the hardest, holiest work there is to do. It’s the key and I think that’s what this gospel story is all about.  Mary was missing something and she knew it, and so she listened, and in essence she was taught a lesson in what it means to love.

We are missing each other too.  I think that’s at the heart of the collective grief that lives right beneath the surface of our every day.  And so it’s time for us to listen, broadly, deeply, lovingly not instead of doing, but to make sure that all of our doing and eventually our proclaiming is informed, maybe even inspired and genuinely shaped by the stories, needs and desires of those whom we serve and who serve us. Some of those whom we need to seek out have been talking for a very long time and it’s time to tune in, occasionally even laying down our ladles to listen.

And what better place to practice that skill than right here at Grace? What better place to embody that gift than Grace Church?  Like Mary and Martha and even Edward, our hearts will open if we do this simple duty.  Our hearts will open wider and wider still as we listen to those who desperately seek only to be heard.

In doing so love comes to be.

Greeted by Demons

The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams – Sunday, June 19, 2016

Proper 7, Year C: I Kings 19:1-15a, Galatians 3:23-29, Luke 8:26-39

So this is one of the gospel stories that at first glance is sort of hard to know what to do with.  How’s that for a relatively understated opener?

It’s a strange little story isn’t it? Almost comical in some ways, at least if you let the images of the story hit your somewhat sophisticated, twenty-first century self.  Demons and voices and swine?

Jesus and his disciples had just arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which (in case you were wondering) was just opposite Galilee.  And as they arrived, there was an unclothed man, who met Jesus as Jesus was stepping out on to their land. Now this somewhat unusual and undoubtedly surprising, “Welcome to our country,” experience also included a demon who spoke right up as the man shouted out to Jesus.  When asked his name, the answer was “Legion,” meaning the demons were “many”. And so this was a complicated demon at that.

Then Legion, after having revealed themselves and having talked a bit with Jesus, left the man and entered into a herd of swine who (unfortunately for them one could say) happened to be walking by on a near-by hillside.  And then the swine, having become the new landing place for Legion, ran themselves into the lake and drowned.

And the people were afraid, which makes some sense. And the man was healed; I like that part.  And that’s sort of how this little story played out. There was a greeting by a complicated demon.  There was Jesus talking to them and giving them permission to leave a man.  There were some swine who hit on some hard luck.  There was a healed man and a confused people.

And so then if I go a little deeper I have to say that right beneath the humor of this, there is something like a very sad sort of hurting.  This man had been tormented by Legion for a very long time.  He didn’t live in a house, he lived in the tombs, the story said.  He had spent much of his life “under guard and bound with chains and shackles,” but even those chains couldn’t hold the demon and so the man was often driven by them into the wilderness.  And in the wilderness it was extremely hot and in the wilderness it was extremely cold.  The wilderness was a lonely place and there were wild animals there and so this man was probably on some very deep level, afraid too.

So after this is a strange story, but before it’s a healing story, it’s a hard story.

And since we’re together this morning and being present to hard stories is easier when you’re not alone, I want us to sit in the hard place for a few minutes.  Besides, the truth is, we’re already there.

We are being greeted by demons on an all too regular basis.  And that’s not typical language for me; in some ways it’s really not very Episcopal language nor is it what one might call a “sophisticated” analysis, but I’m coming to believe the language fits.  Last week we had barely stepped on to the land of Sunday morning when news of the shootings in Orlando greeted us in our news feeds, if we were lucky to have that kind of distance.  Others, not so lucky, were greeted by demons when they danced.

And one year ago this weekend a congregation in Charleston was greeted by demons, presumably because they had spent their lives fighting that kind of evil out in the open of this world.  That shooting took place in a church whose gospel proclaimed truth and justice and peace.  As these shootings seem to do, they tend to find people in places that should be safe, that should literally be sanctuary for them. Maybe that’s how demons work.  There were the children in Newtown, the children, teens and young adults in their neighborhood streets and playgrounds of Chicago, the students at a university in Virginia, the people dancing in a gay bar in Orlando, the movie goers in Colorado and so many, many more.

Now I want to be very clear that I don’t believe that the shooters themselves are the demons. One of the most important messages of this gospel story is that hidden beneath the demon, even a legion of demons, there was and there is a human being.  Someone who for whatever reason or circumstance became the place in which the demons landed, or were planted, or were placed.  I can’t say that I understand how evil works and I think we’re fooling ourselves if we do, but I absolutely believe that the man in this gospel story was suffering. And I can only believe that our modern version of this man – out of control, unstable, not yet having found the help he needs to be in this world, driven to the wilderness… I have to believe that the modern version of this man is suffering too.  And so were and are the people around him.

So these stories are disorienting at first, strange and almost unreal.  And some of us, like the disciples in this gospel did, still have the luxury of being surprised when the morning’s news brings a demon’s greeting. But then like this gospel, the stories become real and obvious even from a distance, because so many layers of hurt are exposed and revealed to us all.

And so if we’re going to follow this story through to the end (which is what we are called to do,) if we are going to follow this story through to where the healing happens, we have work to do.

We need to name the demons and in this story they actually named themselves.  They are legion. They are many. And they are complicated.  Which makes this the hardest kind of work we’ll ever be called to do. And not only because demons are complicated but because at some point, if we’re honest while we do this work, and full present when we do this work, we’ll start to see the demons in ourselves too.

Now there are several dimensions to this process of healing and some are relational, deeply and intentionally so.  It’s not a coincidence that many of the victims in these stories are minorities or those who have been labled as some sort of “other.”  We really aren’t really all that good at reaching across divisions with understanding, let alone with gifts of compassion and love (the second understatement of this sermon.)  But remember the people of Galatia from our second reading today. They were coming together as one and they were reaching over very strict and ancient divisions to do so.  And Paul helped them to hack through their divisions without hacking through each other.  It’s possible. At some point there is neither Jew or Greek, Christian or Muslim, slave or free, gay or straight, white or black, male or female.  There are just children of God each and every one of us and each and every one of “them” whoever the them happens to be. The people of Galatia managed.  So can we.

There are also pieces of this healing process that are legislative. As a country, as a society we have work to do.  In some ways we are the hurting man in this gospel story. We are naked, exposed to some very hard truths not the least of which is our all too common tendency to seek violent answers to human questions.  This is an uncomfortable place of self-reflection but it’s also an honest place to be.  If nothing else, we can see from here that we can do, that we need to do better than this.

Finally, there are dimensions of this healing process that are very simply and profoundly made of hope, a stubborn, passionate hope that is grounded  in prayer. And the prayer is individual and communal prayer.  And its Chrstian and Inter-faith.  Our gatherings matter.  Our vision of peace and unity matters.  Our stories in which healing happens matter.

Now there is a “bigness” to all of this work that can be intimidating or at times even stifling, but remember that in the gospel, and in our lives and in our world, grace is legion too.  That’s the good news: grace is legion too! Don’t ever forget that.

Did you catch that the demons in this story asked for mercy?  I think that’s one of the most important lines in this whole story.  It’s almost like they didn’t really want to win, or maybe more accurately, they knew that in the grand scheme, they didn’t stand a chance.  Even the demons begged for mercy.  And so this morning and every morning we sit in a place that is hard, because we are human and we are here in this world.  From here we hear the whole story – the whole strange, hurting, healing story.  And we grieve. And we listen. And we hope and we love and we pray.  And then we put both feet on the ground and we do the work we have been called to do, the work of releasing the demons.

We set to the work of releasing the demons, so that the people living with them, and that would be all of us, can be free.

Amen.

I Say to You, Rise!

The Rev. Jennifer Adams – Sunday, June 5, 2016 – Proper 5, Year C: I Kings 17:8-24, Luke 7:11-17

“Young man, I say to you, rise!”  And he did.  The young man sat up, began to speak, got off the bier that his friends were carrying (a bier is sort of a frame that carries a casket, in this case would have been carrying his casket), he got off the bier that his friend were carrying and then he went home with his mother. The end …and the beginning of the story.

OK so what does that mean for you? For us? I mean those as serious questions.  We know how this gospel story played out, so you don’t really need me to unpack it very much. This passage is about as straightforward as they come.  Man died.  Community gathered and mourned. And then Jesus said to the man who was as dead as he could be,” Rise” and he did.  The young man sat up, began to speak, got off the bier that his friends were carrying and went on with life. End (and new beginning) of that story.

As preacher , I really can’t add much to that.  Jesus brought the guy back to life!  Period.  Exclamation point! Or more appropriately, “Amen!”  Luke’s pretty clear about it all.

And so what I want to know is about us.

Young man, old man, young woman, old woman, teenager, fourth grader, kid, middle schooler, college student, young adult, highschooler, recent grad, pilgrim, hurting person, happy person, every person, Jesus says to you, “Rise.”  And I want to know what happens next.

Granted nobody here was carried in to these pews not breathing this morning.  But everyone walked in with something, some part, something that needs resurrection, some part of ourselves or our lives that hopes or longs for resurrection even if we are sometimes a little scared to name, let alone share it.  The community hasn’t gathered to mourn any of us today, but maybe it’s more like each of us has carried a piece of ourselves in on a bier today. A piece that longs for new life.  And Jesus just spoke to us, invited us to rise.  And so it’s our job to prayerfully respond and to come to know what happens next.

And sometimes what happens next is that resurrection is as dramatic and obvious as it was in this gospel story.  But often it’s not. And that’s the kicker isn’t it?  If only new life were always as clear as the dead breathing again. End and beginning of story.  But resurrection is usually a little more a little more complicated perhaps, more multi-faceted, more mysterious?

And yet, “Rise,” Jesus tells us in the here and in the now, rise.

Now something I’ve come to notice from watching new life take hold is that what we might call “life circumstances” don’t always matter as much as we might think when it comes to experiencing resurrection. I have experienced people who “sit up and talk” who are themselves actually dying, people for whom an illness is terminal but whose spirit is not and new life actually flows through their very being.  I have witnessed people who face unbelievable suffering, hardship, injustice who in the midst of it all are “sitting up and talking”, not only managing to breathe themselves but miraculouslly breathing new life into those around them. I’ve also experienced people who are phystically perfectly healthy and whose lives are as absolutely as “together” as they could possibly be, but in some ways they they aren’t alive at all.  And so life circumstances can’t determine or control resurrection.  Resurrection is a little more complicated, perhaps more multi-faceted, more mysterious?

Young man, old man, young woman, old woman and everyone inbetween Jesus says to to us, “Rise.”

And so what I’ve come to believe is that resurrection has more than one ingredient to it and because God is God the particular amounts in the actual recipe don’t seem to matter much. Nor does the coooking time – that seems to vary too.  I actually think an ingredient or two can occasionally be missed and God will still make something happen because in the end new life is a miracle no matter how or when it comes.

But I also believe that most of the ingredients are here among us always, and that’s part of the grace of it all.  As people of faith (or even as people struggling to believe) our work is to make sure we’ve done everything we can to share the ingredients that make for our rising and the rising of others.

And so we gather, ingredient one.  Community, friends, family, matter.  It’s hard to “sit up and talk” alone and so we come together.  And we risk giving voice to our own healing and we ask for a little help when we need propping up and we just keep doing all of that for each other.

And  we pray, ingredient two (and for the record, these are not in any particular order.)  We have been invited into something larger than ourselves, a God who creates, and loves and re-creates, and forgives and redeems and so we pray even when the prayers are silence, even when the prayers are tears, we pray. Even when the prayers are hopes that don’t have words, or are so many words they don’t make any sense – we pray.

And we tell stories- an important ingredient in this process of helping to make for resurrection. We tell stories from Scripture (how about that story of the prophet who raised the widow’s son in the reading from I Kings today?)  We tell stories from the gospels and stories from our lives and stories from our world. We tell stories in which healing happens! Stories about young men rising, young girls rising.  Stories about the deaf hearing, the blind being given sight and captives being set free!  We tell stories about swords being beaten into plowshares.  Because if we don’t hear the stories, it’s hard to believe that anything like resurrection is possible at all.  The stories shape us and they open us to new.

And so we listen, we open ourselves to possibility and we pour what we have into helping create the reality of new life right here and right now (although like I said, the timing can vary and isn’t exactly under our control.) We actively pour some of the things of God into the mix – we practice things like forgiveness, compassion, and love. We look for redemption and invest in reconciliation. And pretty soon what we’re doing LOOKS something like resurrection. And it feels something like resurrection: Those who are dying becomng bearers of new life.  Those with what the world would call “very little” become those who are blessed beyond measure.  Those who seem to have it all, realize there is more, so much more when it comes to the mysteries and promises of God.

Young man, old man, young woman, old woman, teenager, fourth grader, kid, middle schooler, college student, young adult, highschooler, recent grad, pilgrim, hurting person, happy person, every person, Jesus says to you, “Rise.”  This is the end and the beginning of our stories too.  I can’t wait to see what happens next.

 

I’m Going Fishing

I’m Going Fishing

REV. CHRISTIAN BARON -April 10, 2016- EASTER 3, John 21: 1-19

“I am going fishing.”

 

Good morning… Happy Easter… Can you guess what the sermon is going to be about today?  This one isn’t my fault. The fishing text just fell in my lap. I don’t want to belabor this point, but I’m just so excited to not have to try to forcefully squeeze a fishing story into my sermon. This is truly proof of the resurrection. At least for me.

 

Here we are and it’s Easter 3. I hope you have been feasting like you are supposed to. Kids, on the way home from Church, remind your parents that it is Easter and that it is our job to feast and not to fast… Go ahead and put sprinkles and fudge on that ice cream too. Maybe caramel.

 

The text for today is one of my favorites. It is filled with humor and oddity and rich with the abundance of God.

 

Now, I haven’t always been the prolific steelhead fisherman that you see before you today. No… no… it’s true. There was a time in the recent past that I was just a bass fisherman… Just a sport fisherman. Only recently has my hobby become a true obsession. It is true that on my day off this past week, I woke up two of my girls, at 3am and jumped in the car to head to the Allegan Dam.

We were in fact the first to arrive at the Dam and were rewarded with  the best fishing spot on the entire Kalamazoo river. It is the farthest upstream the the steelhead can make it on the journey to procreate. The next person arrived at 6:45. To their dismay, they realized that the good spot was taken. I thought, “might as well just pack it up folks. Head back home. Have some breakfast and try again tomorrow. We had 8 rods set out. We were tired but prepared for a great day of fishing. It would only be a matter of time before these fishers would be able to watch me and my children pulling fresh meat from the Kalamazoo River. I imagined their embarrassment as a 10 and 7 year old reeled in fish after fish while they sat twiddling their thumbs and shivering from the lack of action.

 

I imagined the scene that would come into being the following week. “Hey kids, wanna go to Craig’s Cruisers and then to the movies. Maybe get some ice-cream after?” “No dad, we wanna go fishing… But can we stay the whole day this time?  Last time we only caught 8 steelhead.”

 

Beforehand, they would serve me coffee from my #1 Dad mug and make me breakfast as they sang the “Dad is Great” song.

But suddenly, I was shaken out of my fantasy… shaken back to reality because…. The guys to the left of us hooked up. That’s right, they caught a steelhead.

 

But I wasn’t rattled. That meant the fish were biting now. I rubbed my hands together and prepared for the onslaught of fish. “Now we’re ready,” I told the girls. “It’s fish thirty… time for the bite.”  An hour later the guy on our right hooked up. He couldn’t get the good spot, so he had gone and sat in the woody area, with stumps and fallen trees. I prayed that he’d lose the fish. That he would snag and sever his line. But God couldn’t hear my cries. The man landed a nice male.

 

10 minutes later the first guys, on my left, caught a second fish.  This time a female… loaded with eggs. The prize catch for river fishers. A hen, or female steelhead, was filled with bait. Without eggs, catching steelhead is nearly impossible. The reason I know they caught a hen, is because they came right over and offered me and the girls a cookie and to show us the 2 fish. I forced a smile and refused the cookie.

 

How could this be?  What was going on? I did my due diligence. Had the right bait. The right spot…

I said the prayer and blessed the rods and the girls, just like I always do… My reward for being faithful to the tradition… was bored children and bragging fishermen. Now I wished I had accepted that cookie. We stayed longer than the others… We stayed so long that the kids demanded we leave. I kicked some rocks, walked to get the car and then packed up the gear.  We drove home in complete silence drowning in the waters of scarcity.

 

I wish I could say this was unusual. But, if i’m honest… IF i’m really honest, this is pretty normal. More often than not, I get blanked. I come home empty handed. You’d think this would discourage me, but it really only antagonizes me and calls me back again as soon as possible.

 

I have heard that fishing addictions are like gambling addictions. No matter how good or bad things get, either the positive reinforcement brings you back for more, or the negative reinforcement calls you back for that next fish.

 

And, I think Peter had it bad.  I think Peter had it worse than anybody. Much of the gospel of John is spent talking about the future. The Johannine community was very concerned about what would happen now that Jesus was gone.

Not only are they persecuted by the Romans, but they are persecuted by the rest of the Jewish communities. Rejected by both groups and without the leader that kept them plugging along towards a Kingdom of Justice and freedom. Their identity was “the other.” They were very concerned. And the author wanted to make sure to communicate that hopelessness was not an option. In this gospel Jesus appears several times. He appears to mary, to the disciples without Thomas, Once with Thomas and this last time on the sea of Galilee.

 

What about the future for Peter? For the other disciples? What would their future be? In this account, Jesus seems to be telling his friends… “see. I haven’t left you.  I will continue to be with you… you are not alone.”  The reason this story is important is because although Jesus was persecuted and tortured… and even though he was raised from the dead… from death to life…. And even though he showed himself to Peter two times before… Peter goes back to what he knows… Peter has totally lost it… Is he depressed?  Hopeless? Feeling helpless? Is he still suffering the humiliation and shame of denying Jesus three times? Has he lost his position and status among his friends because of that denial? We just don’t know.  And scholars make different meaning out of these different theories.

But in my mind… Peter is lost. He has watched his best friend be tortured… and though he has been risen… he misses him dearly now that he isn’t around regularly… Misses him dearly now that he can’t even recognize him when he seems him face to face. Jesus has totally changed… Everything has totally changed…

 

Now what? Now what should we do? We have no purpose. We followed this teacher to the edge of death and back and now what? We have no future.

 

“I’m going fishing.”  Peter says. I’m going back to the life I once had. Back to what I know.  Back to what I was good at.  Back to the only way I can survive and have meaning. Back to the future i had hoped for… Back before I was called to this life that led up to this emptiness… to this loneliness…  Let’s just forget this whole mess..

 

“Yeah,” the others say… “Why not? Jesus called us away from fishing… and look at us now?  We’re in real trouble. I guess Peter’s right.” So they all pile into the boat. They too, rub their hands together and prepare for success. But, they fish the evening bite…. And they fish all night… with nothing… Their effort is rewarded with nothing… total scarcity.

 

And then Jesus offers them a proverbial cookie… “Hey… you guys… How is the fishing?  Any chance I could get a couple from you for my breakfast?  I’m starving over here and could use some of that delicious protein from some commercial fishing experts. I can see Jesus with a wry smile… trying not to giggle. “Oh, Pardon? What’s that you say?”  Oh, I see… Well I have a few suggestions about how you can catch some fish…

 

It’s a good thing Jesus is a hundred yards from shore, because I guarantee there was murmuring in the boat. “What did he say?  Oh! He did NOT just say to put the nets on the other side.  Oh, I’ll tell him where he can put the nets… “

 

But they try it… And the miracle of the fish is the the author intentionally reminding the reader of the wedding in Cana.  It is absolutely absurd that fishing on the other side of the boat would yield 153 fish. It was absurd that the wedding party would have so much fine wine after the cheap wine had been consumed. Both miracles, the first and the last, remind the reader of God’s abundance. It’s at this point that the disciple whom Jesus loved… the same disciple who beat peter to the tomb in a foot race on easter morning… let’s Peter know that the guy on shore was in fact Jesus… And Peter, suddenly aware that he’s naked… throws some pants on… and then jumps in the water to get to Jesus. This intentionally makes no sense. Peter, worried about appearing naked and vulnerable in front of Jesus… the same Jesus he denied and refused to be vulnerable on behalf of, in the courtyard… is in such a hurry he doesn’t think things all the way through. He’s a 100 yards from shore will certainly not beat the boat back. Puts on pants to jump in the water… It is a comical and ridiculous scene.

 

And, here’s the beauty of the story for me… Jesus is letting them know… that they are no longer called to those jobs… No longer able to just go back to the way things were. Everything has changed Peter.  Everything has changed guys.  Nothing can ever be the same… The Resurrection wasn’t just a historical event to be recorded in a book.

 

Jesus is saying, “My resurrection was THE RESURRECTION…. It was your resurrection. It was the resurrection for your families… for your wives and future wives… for your children and grandchildren… The trajectory of creation has been changed and resurrected… The kingdom is here guys… and this is what it looks like… It looks like jugs full of fine wine… and nets full of 153 fish…

And Peter… it looks like reconciliation between you and your best friend.  You are forgiven for your betrayal Peter. You are forgiven as many times as you betrayed me and even more so.

 

So, Peter, you are no longer called to feed yourself.  No longer called to tend to your own needs. Follow me Peter… in the feeding and tending of my people… Follow me to death and back…

 

Grace Episcopal Church Holland… the resurrection has happened… the resurrection is happening… You can see it by placing your hands inside the torso of Jesus like Thomas did, or by being reminded that after your baptism… after you have been called to the Kingdom and to participate in the Justice of God, that there is no going back… Don’t lose heart. Don’t forget your calling. The resurrection of our God is our strength and supplies us with the nourishment for our mission and journey. It repairs our relationships and breathes new life into them. It saves marriages and heals our broken hearts. Our God has made things new because of his abundant love. So, Happy Easter… Grab a glass of fine wine and some fabulous fish prepared by Jesus and share them with the world… and while you’re at it… spend time doing what you love with your friends and neighbors… .   I’m going fishing… I hope you’ll go with me.

Acting Out the Great Drama of Salvation

Acting Out the Great Drama of Salvation

REV. JODI BARON -April 3, 2016- EASTER 2, John 20:19-31

“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

 

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, our Advocate & Guide. Amen.

 

Good morning!

 

And for those of you on Spring Break, Happy Spring Break!

 

I have been having to tell myself, repeatedly, since the snow started flying yesterday, that this is INDEED spring.

 

Springtime and Eastertide.

 

The Great 50 days that expand our understanding of what happened when Mary found the tomb they had laid Jesus in, empty.

 

Of what happened to that group of followers who chose the way of the cross, following in the footsteps of their king, who was convicted and executed for insurrection.

 

Springtime evokes happy bouncy bunnies, chocolate and candy-filled easter eggs hidden behind bushes and atop picture frames, of flowers blooming and bright mornings. A time of the earth waking up from her deep sleep over the winter. (and occasionally forgetting that we already said goodbye to winter)

 

But Easter. Easter evokes some of those similar responses, but that’s only on the surface.

 

Under all the bells & smells is the memory of what happened on Friday, before that terrifying moment when Mary wept after discovering her Lord’s body missing.

 

Easter kind of loses its intensity if we skip over Lent, and especially Holy Week, don’t you think?

 

I think about the symbol of the cross, and all the ways it’s been portrayed over the centuries. This icon of torture and humiliation elevated to a place of reverence and adornment. A place of piety even.

 

Like this cross I wear every day. A good friend of mine gave it to me after my ordination. It’s a Coptic Cross and she used it in her ministry and now wanted me to have it, a symbol of healing.

 

And that is what resurrection is, isn’t it?

 

Resurrection takes this object of scorn and humiliation and transforms it into a symbol of peace and healing.

 

That’s one of the reasons we set aside this Sunday each year, to flower a cross.

 

Each year, on Easter 2, the children of Grace spend the first half of the liturgy weaving fresh cut flowers into a cross covered in chicken wire and then they process it in and place it on the high steps of the sanctuary.

 

We do this to mark the celebration of the Resurrection. We do this to participate in a tangible, visible, sacred practice of proclaiming the transformation of sin into connection through the forgiveness that takes place through the Cross.

But this Sunday, Easter 2, is also known for another annual remembrance.

 

It’s also referred to as Thomas Sunday, because every year we read about this fantastic part in the story where we witness the Johannine version of the beginning of the church’s post-resurrection life together.

 

No longer could they roam from town-to-town following the one whom they called Teacher & Friend. No, now they were being sent out to do the work Jesus empowered them to do.

 

And in this pericope we read about this fascinating character, Thomas (referred to as “The Twin” and known to be one of the remaining 11 of Christ’s Apostles).

 

He was the one who, “was not with them when Jesus came.”

 

So the guys had to tell him what they had just experienced. What they had just seen.

 

And we read that he said he wouldn’t believe unless he could see & touch for himself, the wounds of the crucifixion.

 

He said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

 

Will…Not…Believe.

 

That doesn’t sound like uncertainty, to me. Like a synonym for doubt.

 

The definition of doubt is: a feeling of uncertainty or lack of conviction.

 

He wasn’t expressing a lack of conviction in the Resurrection. He was expressing what he needed in order to believe.

 

Belief is that Trust, Confidence, and Faith in someone or something; acceptance that a statement  is true or that something exists.

 

Unbelief: lack of religious belief, and absence of faith. Unbelief, then, not Doubt, is what Thomas was experiencing.

 

He wanted to believe. But it was just so…so…unbelievable! This story, this message the disciples just gave him was the EXACT same message that Mary Magdalene had given them in verse 18. And they too, not until they saw Jesus with their own eyes, and touched him with their own hands, would they finally believe.

 

And what I love about this passage is the way Mary and Jesus presumably handled this unbelief. We didn’t read about either of them feeling rejected or about them shaming them for not being able to get their minds around the fact that Jesus was dead and is now alive!

 

Instead, Jesus gave them each what they needed for his faith.

 

It wasn’t Thomas moving toward God that produced belief. It was Jesus, freely offering himself to Thomas, God moving, once again, so close to humanity, that he could put his hand inside the wounds of Jesus. God saying to Thomas, “I see you, Thomas.” That movement, that showing up again to give his Disciple what he needed in order to believe, that was what made Thomas fall to his knees and his eyes truly open to the power of Christ’s Peace & Love offered to the whole world.

 

And Christ calls us each to love one another like this.

 

I believe that by loving one another as Jesus loves us, the church has an opportunity to reveal God to the world,

 

and by revealing God to the world, the church makes it possible for the world to choose to enter into relationship, to experience healing, to witness radical acceptance from this God of limitless love.

 

And we are empowered to do that because of one of Jesus’ Easter Promises; his gift of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete.

 

Through these “Easter Promises” our community gets its mission: To have

  • A life shaped by joy
  • A life grounded in the gift of  his PEACE
  • A life guided by the work of the Spirit.

 

The Church’s mission is to bear unceasing witness to the love of God in Jesus…

 

In a word, Evangelism.

 

This is where we bring our messiness, our unanswered questions and unbelief.

This is where we offer our healing, listening ears, and belief with others.

This is where we act out the great drama of salvation for the world to see, to share with our neighbors, and friends, the sick and marginalized, the poor and outcast, that Love is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

 

So bring your unbelief, your chaos, your hurt.

 

Bring your joy, your healing, your belief.

 

It’s all folded in as we see Jesus in the breaking of the bread, in one another, in the love that guides our common life.
“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

Whom Are You Looking For: The Lord Is Risen!

Whom Are You Looking For: The Lord is Risen!

REV. CHRISTIAN BARON -March 27, 2016- EASTER SUNDAY, John 20:1-18

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit… Amen

 

Good morning. Happy Easter! Goodness… Lent seemed extra long this year didn’t it? Extra cold… extra dark… Am I wrong? I’m so happy for the warmth and the sunshine and the Resurrection. Glad you are here with me. If you are visiting, we’re glad you are here with us.

 

The past few days have been a whirlwind. Maunday Thursday… Good Friday… Holy Saturday… the Easter Vigil last night.  It has been a special and wonderful week.

 

I have been struck this week by the text and the usage of the word “whom.”  The good Friday passage Jesus asks the authorities twice “whom are you looking for?”  Turns out they were looking for Jesus. They were looking for him so that they could try him and kill him.  So that they could bring Jesus to a rigged trial. The trial of a man, Jesus, who was in fact guilty of insurrection.  That’s right… Jesus wasn’t an innocent victim. He wasn’t innocent of his charges… He shouldn’t be pitied because he was, in fact, guilty of creating an uprising against the powers of darkness.

 

It is quite a story… an amazing narrative… a story of power and authority… of struggle and oppression…. And until last night… we lost… those who are friendly with Jesus Christ… those who consider Jesus their Lord and King… we lost… Until last night…and this morning…  the Romans and those who participated in a system of injustice, in fact won… they killed the biggest threat to that power and to that system…

 

But this morning… last night… Christ overcame their efforts…  Overcame death… Showed us a new kingdom… Overcame a system of sin… Taught us a new way to see power and weakness… He responded to their hatred with love… a love that could overcome death.

 

And then in the gospel for today Jesus asks Mary, “Whom are you looking for?”  And she still doesn’t recognize her good friend Jesus…

 

And in this story… the story of resurrection… people are changed by God’s action… changed by the work of God who overcame death….

 

Jesus and the disciple that Jesus loved… John… return home after finding the tomb empty. They find an empty tomb with the burial rags wrapped up… folded nicely… burial rags that are no longer needed because the dead man is risen… Whom are you looking for, Peter?  Whom are you looking for, John?  And Peter and John return home to their lives… forever changed…

 

And Mary… the woman that loved Jesus in a way that no other human could… finally saw… finally realized that Jesus was in fact alive… In fact, Jesus had been dead but, had now been raised from the dead… And Mary, who had anointed Jesus before the last supper and who had arrived at the tomb to anoint him after his death… was the first to see him… It was a special experience for her to be able to experience the resurrected Jesus…  Changed forever… Whom are you looking for, Mary? Whom are you looking for?

 

And Jesus himself was changed… Things were so real… so intense… that Jesus couldn’t be touched… Things were too new… too bright… too real… his physical body couldn’t be touched by a human being…

 

This morning we have two baptisms.  Erica and Penelope… I think it is pretty fantastic that we have an adult baptism and a baptism of a baby.  Two human beings who will experience an ontological change.  A change that will affect the trajectory of the rest of both of their lives.  And we pray that they will both continue the path to be like Jesus…. Whom are you looking for, Erica and Penelope?  Whom are you looking for?

 

If we had a full immersion baptism font, I think the imagery would be a bit more clear. The baptism candidate would be placed under the water to signify death… death to the individual desire and then raised into a new life with Christ… Death to the old Kingdom and raised up into a life in the new one… into a life in Christ the King who constantly sacrificed himself for the good of all and not himself…

 

And you also… Grace Episcopal Church… You are called to renew your baptismal covenant.  You too are called to be changed by the resurrection…

 

and you visitor… you too are called to this. You are called to treat all of humanity… and all of creation with dignity and respect…  and to be a good human…

 

Because… for you and I… for Peter and John and Mary… for Erica and Penelope… because of the resurrection of Jesus, we can experience resurrection in our own lives… we must experience it. And, we are called to proclaim resurrection in the lives of those around us and to assist God in that work.  We are called to help all of humanity get into position… to get into the tomb, like Jesus… so that they can experience it for themselves. So that all of creation can proclaim the Resurrection… So all of creation can experience new life.

 

And so today we feast… we will go home and eat our ham or what-not and remember that because God has chosen to become a human and because he has raised Jesus from the dead, that we are not to fast… that we are instead to feast… We fasted for 40 days… and now we shall feast for 50… May it be a 50 day feast to remember!

 

Praise be to God…

 

Amen.

The Paschal Triduum: Good Friday

The Paschal Triduum: Good Friday

REV. CHRISTIAN BARON -March 25, 2016- GOOD FRIDAY, Year C: John 18:1-19:42

“Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”

 

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…

 

I started my day early today in Fennville.  After my friend turned the car off, it was cold and quiet. There was no sound except for the bitter wind. My friend and I arrived in Fennville extra early to get the good fishing spot. We set six lines and began to wait. It was pitch black at 5:30, so we put jingle bells on the ends of the rods. There was no light in the east, no birds peeping. No cars driving by. No boat motors. It was calm and beautiful and yet there was an eerie and haunting feeling.

 

I grabbed the axe and began to split kindling for a fire. By now, my fingers were chilled to the bone. I should have taken gloves I thought. My fingers ached and stung as I split the wood. It was difficult to use the axe properly with my hands as cold as they were. Kris and I traded off, and I put my hands in my pockets as he split wood. I blew into my fists in hopes that they would warm up. Finally we had finished splitting the wood. The newspaper was balled and we lit the fire. We huddled around it waiting for it to really take. When the wind blew, it stoked the fire, but made the air unbearably cold.

 

At some point the fire offered us the warmth we had been seeking. We warmed our hands and listened for those bells to ring. Up to this point we were pretty quiet. Hoping for the morning and the light. Waiting for the sun to warm the air. Hoping the wind would stop. I pulled out my phone, creating a false light that temporarily lit my face and hands. I began to read the Good Friday gospel… The one I just read to you a minute ago. We took turns reading it. Neither of us responded or commented on it. We just let it sit there. It seemed extra heavy in that coldness. Cold in the darkness.

 

“Where were those bells,” I thought. “I can fish in any weather if I’m catching fish,” I told my friend. “Where are those bells?” I said. Waiting… Hoping…

 

Today is Good Friday. Good? Maybe… Cold? Dark? Yes… Good Friday is the coldest and the darkest day of the year. It’s the day we hear the story of Jesus best friends letting him down. Betraying him… denying him… The story has so many outs for the characters… so many options to make things right… It leaves the first time reader hope. Hope that the villains won’t won’t be villains. Hope that Jesus’ healing act will repair not only the ear of Malchus, but the entire awful situation. Hope that Peter will be the rock we’d like for him to be. Hope that Judas can take things back and make things right… But instead… all is black… all is dark… all is cold.

 

God it’s dark… where is that sunlight?  Where are those bells?

 

Why won’t Jesus admit to being the King? Is he refusing to be our King? Is he in fact crumbling?  Afraid of what will happen if he admits it and accepts the crown?

 

Maybe he’s no better than Peter. “Should have never rode into Jerusalem on that donkey, Jesus. Should have stayed safe. Kept things moving… Healing the sick. Lifting up the lowly.  Would we all have been better off if you wouldn’t have put yourself in this pickle, Jesus. What kind of king are you, Jesus? We don’t understand.”

 

Now you’re gone… You’ve left us here to defend ourselves with your seemingly broken and uncompromising way of being. Now what? Now what should we do? Is this really the end of the story Jesus?

 

God it’s cold.  It is so dark… Where is that sunshine? Where are those bells?

 

Fellow Christians… Good people of Grace. Our king has been laid in the tomb. Our God has died. It seems that all hope is lost.

Welcome to the Paschal Triduum: Maundy Thursday

Welcome to the Paschal Triduum: Maundy Thursday

REV. JODI BARON -March 24, 2016- MAUNDY THURSDAY, Year C: John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Welcome to the Paschal Triduum. If this is your first time here, welcome, if this is your many-ith time, welcome. This liturgy (tonight, tomorrow and Saturday) celebrate the heart of the Christian faith, message of salvation, and healing power of redemption.

 

The Triduum (or three days) commemorates the Institution of the Eucharist, the Passion, Crucifixion, his descent to the dead, and glorious resurrection at the Great Vigil of Easter.

 

This is the Paschal Mystery, and it takes three days of listening, praying, eating, washing, and waiting to even begin to enter into what it means for us.

 

During this three days, we pass over with Christ from death to life, celebrating each event in the drama of salvation and entering into the mystery of dying and rising again with the Lord of life.

 

But it hasn’t always looked like this.

 

Long, long, ago…these services were set up to be a pilgrimage for the faithful to walk those last days with Jesus on The Way of the Cross into the Resurrection. The pilgrims would travel together from place to place. First at the place of the Last Supper, then the Garden, all the way to Calvary.

It was, and continues to be, one of my favorite and most challenging times to be a part of this tradition. It’s haunting yet beautiful. It is profound and yet fairly simple and straightforward.

 

It is sacramental.

Mystical.

Transformative.

Each year, as I prepare to enter into this liturgy, I’m mindful of the practices I took up during Lent. I try to set aside time to reflect on what each practice revealed to me about my commitment to this calling; as a baptized Christian and ordained minister, a disciple.

 

So I wanted to explore a little bit about this notion of Discipleship tonight.

 

I have lots of things that initially come to mind when I hear the word Disciple, and it’s meant different things to me over different parts of my journey.

 

Follower of Jesus.

Fisher of Men.

The tradition I grew up in, Disciple of Christ…

 

But I read a book a while ago about the Practice of Ministry. It’s all about “discipleship.” The author, Kathleen Cahalan defines “Discipleship” like this:

 

to be a disciple means learning a way of life that embodies particular

dispositions, attitudes, and practices that put the disciple in a

relationship to, and participant in, God’s mission to serve and transform

the world.

 

She describes seven attributes of the disciple as

follower,

worshiper,

witness,

neighbor,

forgiver,

prophet and

 

It stuck with me because it’s not pithy, or cliche.

 

It’s complicated and multidimensional.

 

Most profoundly, it’s communal. There’s no way ONE person could function in all those ways. It takes many.

 

We don’t commit to a flat, one dimensional, or even solitary way of living when we say we want to follow Jesus.

 

We commit to a complex, deep, transformative way of being in the world with our brothers and sisters, that is

different,

set apart, and

strangely foreign to those not within the faith.

Remember, our king rode into Jerusalem, not on a majestic war-horse to flaunt his power and might, but instead on the back of a

weak,

slow,

donkey. A symbol of shared power, humility and equality.

 

He washed the feet of his followers.

Their dirty,

nasty,

about-to-abandon-him-in-his-darkest-hour feet.

 

He prayed in agony over what he was about to submit to in the garden, on the heels of the institution of what we now celebrate as Eucharist.

 

He allowed his friend to kiss him with betrayal.

 

He submitted to be beaten, mocked, and publically executed on the town garbage dump to further humiliate him and publically cast shame upon him.

 

He modeled for us this different kind of kingdom and kingship. He gave this to us and showed us what can happen when we do the same.

When we follow this king into a life of servanthood and love, even to the point of death.

 

My friends, tonight we do not come here wash the feet of our neighbor to make each other uncomfortable, although uncomfortable may be how we feel.

 

We do it to enter into the mystery of God’s love for us in the way he served his disciples.

 

Just as we celebrate the Eucharist because Jesus commanded us to it every time we gather, we wash each other’s feet because Christ tells us that if we don’t let him wash our feet we can have no part of him.

 

We do this because it is a practice that points us to the revelation of Christ the Anointed One, the Messiah.

 

Practice means disciplining ourselves to a life of service.

 

It means a commitment to molding and patterning our lives in the ways of Jesus, over and over again until it becomes so much a part of who we are that it’s in our bones.

 

Jesus, speaking to those at table with him, says, “Do you know what I have done to you?”
No, Jesus. I do not know what it is that you have done to me. But I’m trying. And I promise to keep trying.

 

The Thin Space Between Mary and Jesus

The Thin Space Between Mary and Jesus

REV. JODI BARON -March 13, 2016- Lent 5, Year C: John 12:1-8

Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”

 

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Good morning! It is truly a blessing to see you each this morning. As I was heading to bed last night the thought had crossed my mind, “I wonder who will be the ones to forget about Daylight Savings Time?” I actually wondered if I would be the one who forgot. Even if you had, it would’ve been fine (it’s one of those things we like to tease each other about twice a year).

 

It never used to bother me, that time of year that harkens us back to days of the early 1900s…when, after seeing what Canada was able to accomplish by adding an hour to the end of their day, states across the union began to implement this ubiquitous tradition. And it seems as though states have been tinkering with it ever since; the date for which it should happen, when it should “end”, etc.

 

But when we started having kids, all that changed! This annual tradition had now entered into this sacred zone of peace and stability for my children and thereby…the mama… affectionately remembered as ‘sleep.’ Whether throughout the day as they napped or at the end of the day when they met their bed, it was sacred time for me as a new mom. There were no longer little people attached to my limbs climbing, crying, coo-ing, or just snuggling. They were peacefully resting, rejuvenating, and I was too. That morning would happen though, and I immediately started feeling like I was behind as soon as I woke up!

 

I’m kind of kidding, but it really was a fact that I could bank on losing this precious peace for about one to two weeks while their little bodies un-naturally adjusted to the time change.

 

For me, the DST “thing” gives me pause because of the way sleep affects our brains. Scientists have told us now that sleep is that time when our brain processes and files all the things we learned throughout the day.

 

If you saw the movie “Inside Out” you can identify, bedtime was when Command Center would engage in the great memory cleanse. Riley would drift off and the Core Emotions would watch the way her brain processed the day’s events.

 

They always got especially sentimental when one of those memories became, what they called, a “Core Memory.” The ones that developed Riley’s fragile personality islands.

 

For me, some of my core memories have to do with the sense of smell.

 

People who were special to me growing up, had a certain smell attached to them. Whether that was from what they cooked for me when I visited, perfume they wore that clung to me after hugging them, or maybe even the deodorant they wore that I began to associate with “their smell.”

 

I was always amazed how my babies would know it was me before they really knew anything, because of my “smell”. Their special blankets that would accompany them each time they slept, or felt sad, or scared, had that smell about it. To this day, I get flack from them when I have to wash that precious “ya-ya” because the machine takes away that smell.

 

Smell is a powerful sense!

 

It has the power to draw one in (for food, comfort, or trips down memory lane) as well as cast one away.

 

Think about a contrast to extreme olfactory responses you’ve had over the years.

 

I have many of both kinds, I have the smells that remind me of positive family memories; apple pies for gatherings, fresh baked yeast rolls by my great grandma, dirt and rain that revealed spring to my senses…

 

And then their are those I have that elicit powerful memories, that I can now laugh about, but during the experience felt more sick than funny.

Like that time when Daisy met a skunk at 10:30 at night, and we had to give her 3 baths AND put her through the Dog Wash on “De-Skunk”-ing…TWICE! Ooh, that was BAD!

 

And then there was the smell on the other end of the spectrum, my daughter’s baptism.

 

The smells from that day elicit a much different response!

 

The priest who baptised her happen to be of the persuasion that if you couldn’t still smell the chrism (the special oil blessed by the bishop) a few weeks later, you didn’t use enough!

 

He literally poured the oil over Magnolia’s head while he said the words, “you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever.”

 

The whole nave was filled with the fragrance of the oil.

And to this day, everytime I smell the oil, when I open the ambry to retrieve the reserved sacrament, the smell meets me, and I take a deep breath before proceeding.

 

Baptism oil, in many faith traditions, but I know ours best, is different than regular oil because it is usually only blessed by the Bishop. Once a year, during Holy Week, the clergy of the Diocese come together for a time to renew our ordination vows and bring our empty chrismaria (the special containers that hold the special oil) to refill them for the coming year’s baptisms.

 

So, in theory, that’s your parish’s shot for the oil to seal your people by the Holy Spirit and mark them as Christ’s own,

 

for the whole year.

 

If you use just a spear or, like the Priest who baptized Maggie, half a cup worth per candidate, you have to plan accordingly.

 

What is more, it used to be that this particular oil was something that took a long time to make. It’s usually infused with balsam. Cool little factoid I learned about Balsam is that it was made from boiling the stems, leaves, and sap from the Balsam Tree and it was the most expensive spice in Israel. So it was used sparingly, for very special occasions.

 

So we have this oil, infused with Balsam, and now, every time I even think about baptism, I remember that moment I admitted that these beauties before me that I brought into the world, weren’t actually mine to begin with, that they indeed came from God and will one day return to God, well, that was a moment I wanted to promise my best to God. That I would strive to be faithful to this vocation of rearing God’s beloved. Of following God’s example of how to Love, to the best of my ability, until the day I day. And my community promised to help us!

 

That whole memory sequence is triggered by the smell of the Chrism!

When I was meditating on this morning’s gospel that verse about the oil kept bubbling up as something to pay attention to. The preciousness as well as power of the sent from the nard reminded me of our present day chrism.

 

Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”

 

I see the anointing at Bethany as an invitation to enter into the thin space created here between Mary and Jesus. Today we have this beautiful story that radiates God’s love for us, by way of one particular follower of Jesus who does something only an intimate disciple of Jesus could do; some even call her the Apostle to the Apostles.

 

The prototype Disciple.

 

In fact, this whole dinner party was a prototype for Discipleship.

 

Mary, Martha, and Lazarus host this dinner as a response, presumably from a place of gratitude, for the deeds of power God did through Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead in the preceding chapter (recall Martha’s response to Jesus wanting the tomb opened, “But Lord, already there is a stench because he’s been dead four days.” Yet another powerful olfactory experience, the stench of death!). That very act of resurrection was the act that some say cost Jesus his life, for it was from then on that the leaders plotted to have him killed.

 

Jesus, witnessing Mary’s love for her brother, was compelled to such deep sadness that scripture tells us, “he began to weep.” And now, here we are, zooming in on this Thanksgiving Dinner six days before the Passover. The same characters are gathered, and Mary, once again, teaches Jesus how to teach his disciples to love one another. Only this time, through the “wiping” of his feet. Two words in this passage are explicitly used in John for the Last Supper. “Dinner” and “Wipe”, which tells me Jesus was inspired by this family’s devotion that he decided to use their example when he would be at supper with his disciples on the night he was to be betrayed.

 

I like to think that this anointing, much like his experience on the mountain when he was transfigured, gave him the courage to meet the days ahead. This was before daily bath standards, and that oil had plenty to cling to so it is very likely that the nard seeped into Jesus’ feet and the smell was still present with him as he hung from the cross.

 

It is the scent of a king and dead body, all in one.

 

Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”

 

Next Sunday we greet our Lord, who enters Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, with our Palm Branches stretched out and then walk with him throughout Holy Week.

May we be filled with the fragrance of God’s love for us as we journey the rest of the way through Lent, into the Holiest of Holy Weeks, and meet him at the empty tomb on Easter!

 

Amen.

As our closing hymn sung,

“In boldness, love, nor count the cost. Confront the world’s harsh stare: like one who washed the feet of Christ, and wiped them with her hair, poured perfume to anoint her Lord, and left love’s fragrance there.” 

 

Confession Is Good For The Soul

Confession Is Good For The Soul

BY REV. CHRISTIAN BARON -March 6, 2016- Lent 4, Year C: Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32.

 

“For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

 

I spent 26 hours this weekend in Three Rivers with College Students and folks in their 20s and 30s. Eight of us went on a Lenten Retreat and stayed in a guest house owned by one of the Deacons of our Diocese. It was a wonderful time of deep conversation, juvenile laughter and sacred silence.

 

Some of our conversations revolved around deep theological questions such as sin, human nature, suffering, and the joys and pains of community.

 

We talked about the future and the past.

 

Jobs, College, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.

 

We also talked about life and death, justice and our own personal meat eating ethic.

 

We spent time eating home cooked meals, playing games and sitting in the hot tub.

 

We went to St Gregory’s, the Episcopal Monastery in Three Rivers, and prayed with the monks.

 

We spent Saturday morning in silence as we meditated and read and prayed with mandalas and walked the trails on the property. On the trails we encountered deer and all of creation and a personal God.

 

I’ll remember all of these things fondly as I think back on the relationships that have been formed in our post high school group through our partnership with Hope College and Hope Church.

 

But what I will remember most from this retreat is that for the first time in my life, I was a penitent in the Rite of reconciliation.

 

I confessed my sins to a priest and heard the words of absolution in a new and fresh way. Others also made their first confession though I’m certain they noticed that mine took the longest.

 

You should know, that as one of the priests of this parish, I have sinned. I have done some bad things in my life and even recently. I’m not talking scandalous here… you need not worry… I’m not going to jail or being defrocked… But my sin has affected others.  And it has affected how I see the world and how I treat others. It affects how I am connected to the creator of the Universe. And though my sin won’t make the news and won’t land me in the bishop’s office… in my connections to everything around me, I guess it is pretty scandalous.

 

And you have your own scandals… your own sin… your own broken and bruised relationships.

 

Some of us think more about our sin than is helpful and some of us spend less time thinking about our sin than is helpful. Either way, I don’t think that either approach is intentional… but this expresses the need to live an examined life. We have blind spots. We have sinned. We have hurt people we love…

 

Sins in which you have been the perpetrator, sins in which you have been the victim and everything in between… Sin is a big deal… And, I’ll say, I think that each of you… each of us… is doing the best we can… each of us is working with a different deck of cards and trying to make the best hand. Trying to live fully into our humanness… For those of us in this building, we are trying to become more like Jesus Christ and to live into our baptismal covenant… To work against selfishness and to offer the love of God to all those around us. Part of that is living an examined life.

 

In the parable today, we get to see some good examples of the consequences of sin.

 

We see the strained relationships.

 

The lack of dignity and respect for family.

 

We see the exploitation by those with money and power against those who have very little.

 

We see the bitterness of a son who feels trapped and unappreciated… The bitterness of the daily grind of trying to live a disciplined life.

 

Talk about scandalous, this parable is filled with heartache and scandal. In fact the parable is written to shock and to offend… the account of the sins of the prodigal is Luke’s account of The Wolf of Wall Street. In fact, the way that the younger brother is described is almost exactly like Leonardo Dicaprio in the Wolf of Wall Street. The parties… the squandering… the sexual immorality… the backstabbing… the short term and false relationships.

There is so much here in this story.  So much that we can gloss over because this story is so well known. But if you saw that movie… I think the writer of the gospel… this parable of Jesus… was going for the same emotions we felt watching the film. The character is repulsive.. The reader is meant to be made ill… to ask, “what kind of person would do these things?”

 

The fact is, the youngest son did not care for anybody but himself. His request for his inheritance is to wish for his Father’s death. He cares not for the family nor for the estate. He abandons his culture for immediate gratification…

 

Whether you identify more with the younger son or the older son, it is important to realize how obscene and egregious the younger son’s actions are.

 

Though his father wasn’t actually dead, it must have brought him to a place right next to death. This action would have been humiliating… embarrassing… and the opposite of justice.

 

It was… sinful.

 

It cut off relationship with the father and the father’s other son. With the rest of the family estate. The younger son became dead to the older son… to the servants… to the family estate… he became dead to all… except for the Father.

 

For me… today… this is the brilliance and beauty of this parable.

 

The Father chooses to die for the benefit of his son. He chooses to submit because of his wisdom. He knows his son is in trouble. He knows that his son is on a path to death and destruction. He knows that death is coming for this young man. He knows that pain is inevitable… for all parties involved…

 

But he hopes for reconciliation… He hopes for life. He hopes for a new creation. He hopes for for resurrection. He hopes.

 

But the Father knows he needs to create an environment where resurrection can happen. He knows that his son is on a path that will not lead to life. He knows that this path can only lead to death… and that he cannot stop it.

 

He knows he can only create space for resurrection… and so so he puts his pride aside. He endures the humiliation of giving up half of his estate and watches his son walk away.

 

And what if he hadn’t? What if the father had refused to give up the inheritance? What if he instead made it known that “no son of his would be shaming the family name. Shaming the family, stealing any chance of legacy and spitting in the face of the man who sacrificed so much for his well being.”

 

What if instead of waiting for his son to return with his arms wide open… instead of hoping that someday he would return…  what if he had crossed those arms and refused to submit to his son’s request?

It certainly was a gamble, but instead of gambling on cut-off, he gambled on love.

 

He placed all of his chips, almost literally, on love.

And he lost everything… and… still hit the jackpot. He lost half of the what the family had worked so hard for… potentially generations of hard work and discipline…

 

At some point, the son was sitting in pig feces… eating pig food, closer to death than he ever thought possible… and he remembered the Father’s goodness.

 

He remembered the Father’s love.

 

And… The love, this goodness… drew him back.

 

The Father’s love drew him back.

 

Not because he wanted another portion of the inheritance, but because he finally was able to internally confess his sin and the pain he must have caused the family and specifically his Father.

He turns around… he turns around and starts walking back to goodness.

And the Good Father was watching for him… was waiting for him… was hoping for him.

But without the spiritual death of the youngest son… and the sacrificial death of the good father… the reconciliation would not have been possible. The son seems to have needed to go through this… to go through this painful and messy death… so that he could experience resurrection.

 

And so we come back to our sin.

 

Your sin and mine…

 

Our sins that have separated us from one another and from those that have been placed in our lives and therefore from our God.

 

These sins… these actions and systems that have divided us, need to be addressed.

 

They need to be addressed if we want to be restored in a healthy way to those around us.

The good news is that we say the general confession each week before Eucharist.

 

But the other news is, we all have relationships that have suffered and that are broken or bruised because of our actions.

 

And, the truth is, we cannot be reconciled unless we confess those sins and to clear the air. That is the point of Lent… We want to put ourselves and the Church in a place that is poised for resurrection. We want to create an environment that cultivates resurrection. Without that work… possibilities are limited. Resurrection is stunted. Reconciliation is unlikely. Make space in these next 3 weeks of Lent. Do the hard work composting your scraps so that God can turn our waste into good soil… Cultivate an environment that hopes for resurrection. Have an open posture… with arms wide open… so that when resurrection comes calling, you are ready…

“Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sin is put away.”

 

Amen

 

THE TIMES WE LIVE IN
THE TIMES WE LIVE IN

THE TIMES WE LIVE IN

REV. JODI BARON – February 21, 2016 – 2 LENT, YEAR C: LUKE 13:31-35

In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

This morning I woke up and felt drawn back to the Old Testament lesson. That part that tells us,

 

“As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him. When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram.”

 

Mostly because, (and I realize this may be the first some of you are hearing this news) as the sun was going down yesterday, our Michigan community experienced a “terrifying darkness” that has descended upon our State, our Diocesan boundaries, our neighbors in Kalamazoo.

 

As I opened the news this morning, (for an updated account on the situation, here is one account from local news WoodTV8) I couldn’t believe what I was reading! It took my breath away to read about yet another mass shooting that has happened, only this time it was just down the highway from us.

 

I’m not going to go into it, because (a) it’s still unfolding, and (b) the families of some of the victims are still being notified.

But I do have a few thoughts that I wanted share, as they pertain to this season of the church calendar we find ourselves in and the scriptures we just got done hearing or reading.

 

First, what in the world?!?!?!

 

I was literally on the street the police apprehended the suspect they believe was responsible for the death of seven human lives in Kalamazoo last night. That violence has stripped away a sense of basic human safety in ways the police have said they have NEVER seen in our area. This violence has created a cloud of darkness that many folks are finding themselves smack dab in the center of right now.

 

Second, if you are the praying type Kalamazoo needs your prayers.

 

Some of the families are just now hearing the news, some of the families are keeping vigil with their loved ones as they fight for their lives in the hospital, the police are in the midst of interviewing this suspect. As this dawned upon me the only thing I could think of was to pray. So I opened my prayer book and searched for a prayer that might offer a glimpse of comfort or the warmth of human compassion for the families affected by this senseless act of violence.

 

That simple prayer, introduced to our Common Prayer in the revision of the 1789 Prayer Book, served as a catalyst to propel me to re-commit to my Lenten practices. The tragedy in Kalamazoo was, and continues to be, a sobering reminder of the times we live in, and why we take up disciplines each year to strengthen our faith so we can have the courage to serve the world in the name of Christ.

Because here we are.

 

Ash Wednesday & the First Sunday in Lent have come and gone and set the course for our pilgrimage to Mount Calvary.

 

How is it going for you?

 

By now you’ve had a chance to settle into the practices you’ve selected for this season, you’ve had a chance to live out the fasting or giving or prayer practices for a while now…

 

So…how’s it going?

 

Training is challenging, isn’t it?

 

I’ve had the opportunity to train for a few different events in my life; baptism, surgery, college, new jobs, marriage, backpacking, giving birth, the priesthood, a 5K…right now I’m in the midst of training for my first 10K.

 

It’s challenging.

 

All of these events I’ve trained for have been challenging in their own way.

 

But all of them share a common motif.

 

God’s covenant and the newness of life offered by transforming grace.

 

Laurence Stookey, a professor of preaching in the DC area, wrote a book awhile ago about a Theology of liturgical time. In it he walks through the church calendar and offers thoughts about the week-to-week cycle we find ourselves in, if we are liturgical christians. I love it because it helps give me insight into the inner weeks of seasons, patterns between years A, B, and C. It pulls me out of my commentaries and throws me deeper into the meaning of each season.

 

He writes that “Lent is like an ellipse: It is a single entity with a double focus. The Forty Days are (a) a time for a probing consideration of our human condition, including sin and its deadly consequences for both individuals and society, and (b) a time for an equally intense consideration of the new possibilities offered to us in Jesus Christ and their implications for practical living.”

 

Some scholars describe this particular week in Lent with the focus on Abram’s vision through God’s gracious initiative and promise (on which we can depend and to which we are called to respond with joyful and sustained obedience), as well as Jesus’ gift of newness of life as we focus in on the Cross.

 

As one theologian said, “Lent is not six-and-a-half weeks of marching around the foot of Mount Calvary. Rather, this season engages us in the process of confronting who we are by nature, who we are by God’s purpose and redeeming action, and what we can become by divine grace.”

 

These interior Sundays, as he describes, “propel us forward so that finally we do find our feet planted at the base of the cross, with our eyes gazing beyond to behold the power of the resurrection and the seek its manifestations even now in our daily discipleship.”

 

But not yet.

 

First we have to train.

 

So if you’ve slacked in your practices, like me, from time-to-time, don’t give up! Start again. This is a rich time of transformation and our world needs your disciplines, now more than ever! Our world, your neighbors, need to cling to your steadfast faith as you knit, run, pray, fast, give, repent…You are a disciple of Jesus and your practices…our practices…are one of the ways God is transforming the world. So, please…don’t stop trying to grow deeper in your relationship with God.

 

Be renewed.

 

Those families in Kalamazoo need our prayers, our fasting, our giving, our comfort.

 

Our families facing horrid medical troubles need our prayers, our fasting, our giving, our comfort.

 

Our friends among us preparing to be baptized, or received, or confirmed into this crazy Christian expression of The Episcopal Church, need our prayers, our fasting, our giving, and our comfort.

 

This is an intense time of Training for Christians. This has been said before, but bears repeating, as a church, this is the annual time in which we are constrained to insist that there is no route to an empty tomb except by way of the cross.

 

Jesus desires to gather all of God’s children, us “as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” Unlike those in Jesus’ audience in this morning’s Gospel, however, let us be willing to be gathered. Let us be willing to bring more into the fold and under his wings. Let us train with perseverance and steadfast faith so that when we gaze upon the empty tomb we are not surprised by grace, but are propelled to live more faithfully the life Christ has called each of us to.

 

‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’