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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.