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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.

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.

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.” 

 

Receiving God’s Gift of Life: The Eucharist and Gospel of John

Sermon by The Rev. Jodi L. Baron -August 16, 2015 -Pentecost 15, Year B: John 6:51-58

Good morning!

 

Many of you may know (but some may not) that the readings we select for Sundays come from the Revised Common Lectionary (which many denominations use). The RCL divides the majority of scripture (both the Old and New Testaments) into three years: A, B, and C. The year we are currently following is year B. Interesting fact about Year B Gospel lessons, it’s the only year out of all three that has us in John for five weeks in a row.

The majority of these passages over the last month of Sundays have had something to do with “Bread”.

That substance that most, not all, but most, people in the world have some form of, that they use for daily nutrition.

Some bread enthusiasts have traced this form of mixing flour, water, and yeast back 12,000 years.

In many cultures, in fact, bread is used as a peace offering.

I find that interesting for the obvious connection that makes to why Jesus chose to talk about it so much and why the author of John chose to use it as a guiding metaphor for the purpose behind the Incarnation.

This gospel has often been categorized as a theological exposition of the life and teachings of Jesus, not the events themselves but the application their deeper meaning has on the gathered community; from the Johannine community to Grace Church.

John takes events in Jesus’ life and then simultaneously holds up his present community’s experience, not in competition with each other but side by each; co-existing mysteriously, incarnationally, eucharistically.

In a way, you could say, as one of my professors in seminary used to say, these readings are conversations with the Gospel of John, of which our voice needs to be heard as well.

These readings may, on the surface, appear to be redundant.

But in actuality, these texts go straight to the heart of our Eucharistic Theology, as a church.

For example, the eucharistic prayer we’ve (as Grace Church in Holland, MI) been praying over this season after Pentecost (Prayer C found on page 369 of our Book of Common Prayer) has the language embedded in it:

“Take, eat. This is my body, which is given for you.”

“Drink this, all of you: The is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

Even today, after 2,000 years of Christians remembering those words Christ spoke, instituting the Eucharist, it makes us think about bread and wine a little differently when we are together.

It sinks into our bones and becomes a part of us. So that every time we pass out bread, or food for that matter, we are extending God’s table to those we feed.

 

My own children, from before they were fully verbal, when we would sit around the dinner table at night and pass elements around (especially on Sunday nights) one of them would inevitably hold up the bread substance (rolls, toast, tortillas, etc.) and then break it and say,

“This is my body broken for you.”

 

Sara Miles wrote a whole book on what putting Jesus’ body and blood into her body did for her before she even knew what the Eucharist was.

Grace read it a few years ago, I do believe, right? “Take This Bread?”

It’s powerful, life-giving, life-changing.

 

But, couldn’t Jesus have just ended this lesson with bread and wine?

Why did he feel compelled to take it even further and superimpose himself as the bread and wine making his flesh and blood the elements he commands us to consume?

 

“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”

 

Bread, wine, flesh, blood…

These are all components of the daily human experience.

The language Jesus chose was intentionally provocative.

He was trying to get through to them that the incarnation was all about collapsing the divide between the sacred and profane.

God didn’t come to earth and take on human form to be kept inside a box, right?

God became flesh to be closer to his creation so they could learn his voice and hear him whisper that they are his beloved.

 

Jesus was that incarnation, that Word made flesh that the Gospel of John opens with in chapter one.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

 

So, yes, he did need to take it one step further. He needed to take his followers into the very sources of what keeps them living and breathing, walking and moving.

 

Without food and water, you will die.

 

Without flesh and blood, you have no life in you.

“How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

 

That’s a good question.

I’m glad you asked.

Because I get asked that question a lot, so I know you aren’t alone.

 

So here’s the thing with this gift of life in Jesus that we celebrate when we participate in the Eucharist.

 

It isn’t something that can be explained or defined or agreed upon definitively by humans, at least not this side of the eschaton, apparently.

 

But to the people in the Johannine community, this participation of consuming the body and blood of Jesus through the Eucharist was, at its foundation, about relationship and presence.

 

Eucharist isn’t something you do alone.

 

And it certainly isn’t something you do from afar.

 

It is done in community,

with people who look like you and not so much.

With people who grind your nerves, and folks you spend every minute of every day with.

 

The Eucharist invites us to listen to God’s word and respond in faithfulness by asking for forgiveness, passing the peace of Christ, and walking up to the Table he has set before us.

The Eucharist embodies and re-members all the parts of Christ’s body through one unified act.

 

Jesus told us that if we participate in this act, of eating and drinking his gift of life, we will be entering into an never-ending dance that goes on for eternity with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

 

That together this dance is always resurrecting, always redeeming, never forgetting, always re-membering those who believe and receive.

 

That’s pretty incredible, when you stop and think about it.

 

This thing that we do every week is what gives us life.

 

But we can’t take it. We have to receive it.

 

Receiving something requires a certain amount of vulnerability. Taking is for the powerful, receiving requires humility and gratitude.

 

It’s vulnerable when we walk up to the table and hear the words,

 

“This is the body of Christ, broken for you.”

 

“This is the blood of the new covenant poured out for you.”

And then hold out our hands in an open posture, and say after we get our gift “may it be so.”

 

That’s what, I think, this morning’s gospel is opening up for us today.

When we have the courage to be ourselves, no matter where we are

When we feed people,

or give them laundry soap or toilet paper,

or give them music to heal their souls,

or coffee and conversation…

We are being the incarnated loving manifestation of Christ’s body and blood to a world desperate to hear words of peace.

 

And we have the courage to do that because we eat him at the Eucharist.

Not our doctrines or catechism or who our priests are or aren’t.

 

None of that really matters.

 

It’s what we do around this table and in these pews.

 

We consume God’s Word and Body and it changes us.

Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”

 

Holding space for new conversation, for new life in Christ;

that’s what we do when we dare to take what we eat on Sunday and share it with our neighbors and friends, our co-workers and people we don’t get along with.

That’s the space where we can dig deep into our  bags of courage and go to the vulnerable places. The places where the people are who Jesus told us to invite to the feast.

 

Out there.

Not in here.

 

This is where we come for the experience of communing with God in a formal, communal, liturgical way.

 

But outside these walls is where the message is needed, that the christianity our community practices is radically inclusive, hopelessly open, painfully incarnational, and has, absolutely, room for all around God’s table.

 

Even a sinners like you and me.

 

You are what you eat

Sermon by The Reverend Christian Baron Pentecost 11 Year B   1 Kings 19:4-8, John 6: 35, 41-51

“I am the bread that came down from heaven.”

 

I’ve heard several people this week complain about the lectionary committee’s decision to have 5 weeks of “Bread of Life” readings. But I’ll tell you what, this is our wheelhouse right? This is who we are as Grace am I right?

 

In fact, I preached in Saugatuck last week. Because the readings all kind of flow into each other, I really could use the sermon I wrote last week.  I don’t know if you know this, but a preacher never gets any negative comments about the sermon the day of. And since I didn’t receive any negative feedback, last week in Saugatuck, I think I’ll preach it again today, this time for you. Wait, was anybody there? Ok, good, you don’t mind getting a warmed up sermon do you?  I’m teasing, but the readings have been so rich and essential to how we as Episcopalians view the Eucharist and how we view the mission of the Church, that the sermons may seem pretty similar.

Bread is a pretty big deal. Some kind of bread exists in almost every culture and every corner of the globe. And if you are gluten intolerant, you don’t get to ignore the teachings on the bread of life, you just need to think about it as the gluten free bread of life. And because it is so prominent globally, I thought i’d look up some quotes about bread. These were my five favorite.

 

Quotes about Bread:

  1. In the Lord’s Prayer, the first petition is for daily bread. No one can worship God or love his neighbor on an empty stomach.Woodrow Wilson
  2. The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.Mother Teresa
  3. Was I always going to be here? No I was not. I was going to be homeless at one time, a taxi driver, truck driver, or any kind of job that would get me a crust of bread. You never know what’s going to happen.Morgan Freeman
  4. Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.John Muir
  5. I came into music just because I wanted the bread. It’s true. I looked around and this seemed like the only way I was going to get the kind of bread I wanted.Mick Jagger

So you may have noticed that the Hebrew Text was different than in the printed leaflet. You may or may not know that in the summer, during ordinary time, that the parish has the option of reading track 1 or track 2. This year we have been reading Track 1 and we have had David and Bathsheba and Uriah and Jonathan. And typically, you don’t switch that track around. But I thought that the story about Elijah and the broom tree in 1 Kings just fit too nicely with the bread of life.

 

So we hear about poor Elijah. He’s walking around like Charlie Brown in the desert… down and out… just having a blue kind of a day.  Why the long face Elija?  You may remember from Sunday School what happens to Elijah before the story of the broom tree.

 

Elijah had been sent by God to tell King Ahab to abandon worshiping Baal and to turn back to God. He had been dueling with the 450 priests of Baal. They set up a competition to see which God was real… You remember the story right? They set up an altar and sacrifice bulls and ask Baal and God to reign down fire. At one point Elijah mocks them and tells them to shout louder because maybe Baal is sleeping. This is how the end of the story goes…

 

“At the time of the offering of the oblation, the prophet Elijah came near and said, ‘O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.’ Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt-offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench. When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, ‘The Lord indeed is God; the Lord indeed is God.’Elijah said to them, ‘Seize the prophets of Baal; do not let one of them escape.’ Then they seized them; and Elijah brought them down to the Wadi Kishon, and killed them there.”

 

So, Elijah presided over the death of Baal’s 450 priests. And Ahab and his wife Jezebel get angry. In fact Jezebel threatens to kill Elijah and so he flees to the wilderness to avoid them. So whether he was down in the dumps because he had killed 450 human beings… created in the image of God, or whether he felt like God had abandoned him, I am unsure. Maybe both. But either way, He wants to just lay there and die. And God takes care of him and his needs. By taking care of his physical needs, God also comforts Elijah and reminds him that he is loved. By taking care of him God says to Elijah, “Even if you kill 450 priests of Baal, I’ll take care of you.” It is a pretty incredible story…

 

And now I’m going to put you on the spot… Is there anybody here who has a story about when God provided for your needs when you felt hopeless?  Maybe a time where you just didn’t know what to do? Felt Helpless? Maybe just needed a respite from something difficult in your life? A time that God took care of you… maybe through a friend or family member or something that seems mysterious and miraculous?

 

Well I’m not sure about your individual theology about Jesus. About your Christology… But I truly believe that the Church acts on God’s behalf because WE are the body of Christ. We can serve as the need for the divine in one another’s lives. We function as the incarnation of God to one another.

 

Can you hear that in the gospel for this week?  Jesus is responding to the needs of the people. Responding to the needs of humanity. Two weeks ago, Jesus feeds the 5,000 plus, hungry people. Last week, Jesus explains to those who seek more mana from heaven… more bread… that feeding the hungry and nourishing the body is very important, but that God has a plan that will also take care of their spiritual needs.

 

Just like the story of Israel wandering in the wilderness, God provides for them by making it rain bread on a daily basis. God provides for their daily bread.

 

And God provides bread for Elijah when he is hungry and water for him to drink when he is thirsty. And this is God’s story right? This is the biblical narrative. And… This is our story… Jesus is God’s gift to us. The way for God to provide for our needs. A way for God to teach us how to live and how to take care of each other.  How to bring about a new way to envision everything…

 

Jesus says to us in the gospel for the day… I am the bread from heaven… God loves you and will take care of you.

 

I really hope this sermon isn’t too elementary for us all… But I think that the entire flow of the biblical narrative is summed up in this gospel text.  It is really fantastic…

 

So, to complete the sunday school lesson, Jesus died right? The bread was broken for us.  For our benefit… So that we may consume our God and by ingesting the divine… we become divine. This is the resurrection story… We become Christ to our neighbor who is sick. We become Christ to the hungry folks in our parking lot… or Hope students and young adults who need community and a meal on Thursday nights… We become Christ to our friends and families who get beat up by Cancer or Crohn’s or Chronic depression and anxiety. We become Christ to those who grieve after the death of a loved one.

 

So, good people of Grace. Remember, You are what you eat. Let us not forget that the bread and wine… the body and the blood that we will ingest… transforms us into walking, talking, living, breathing, loving, and caring extensions of the Creator of the Universe.

 

Here ends the Sunday School Lesson. Amen

The Word of the Lord.

 

Gentle Meals

The Rev. Jennifer Adams -August 2, 2015 -Pentecost 13, Year B: Ephesians 4:1-6, John 6:24-35

So this mornings Epistle and gospel reading come together for me to form something like a “How to be Church 101”.  Put together these readings give us some of the fundamentals, some of the basics of the what we do here as well as the how to be God’s people gathered.  So let’s dive in and explore a bit about what it means to be church.

In the gospel we have the second in a six-week series that focuses in hard on the presence and the value of bread. And sharing bread is part of what we do here – in all kinds of ways.  Which means that this is all very simple and very not but don’t worry, we’ll unpack it together. 

Last week we heard the story of the Feeding of the Five thousand which as you’ll remember Jesus pulled off with a mere five loaves and two fish.  You heard that story referenced in the opening of today’s gospel when Jesus questioned the people’s reasons for following him, “You’re only here because YOU got your fill of the loaves,” he said in the not most welcoming of opening lines. But apparently he needed to make it very clear right from the beginning of this whole ‘Bread of Life’ discourse that simply getting one’s fill was not in itself a satisfactory goal of a life of faith.  Point taken.

Then after that clarify was offered, Jesus began to take next steps with his disciples and all those gathered as he revealed the key to this whole “Bread of Life” discourse.  Jesus explained to them that he came to feed the world not only with loaves (important but not a stand alone) –  he also came to address another kind of hunger, and he did that by feeding the world with himself. Which makes for a theological mouthful. But we’ll get there today. We will actually feast on bread and Christ as bread. Remember, I said a couple minutes ago that that’s what we do here.  Fundamentally as church we pray and we eat and we feed others here.  

But before we get to that feast– I want to bring in the letter to the Ephesians, because it reminds us that “how” we do all of this matters just as much as what we do here.

Go about your life of faith, we heard from the letter to the Ephesians, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. . . There is one Body and there is one Spirit,” we heard and within that Body we all have gifts, we all have callings that involve being people of God within and outside of the church.  We live this faith as prophets and apostles and evangelists, some as preachers and some as teachers, as parents and grandparents and kids.  As musicians and acolytes, bankers and nurses, policemen, poets and priests.  All for the sake of building each other up into Christ’s Body.  And how do we do that again?  By speaking the truth in love to each other. By going about our faith with humility and gentleness, bearing one another in bonds of peace. 

Which means that as individuals and as community, we have tremendous power and responsibility given us by God – the how we go about being church actually has an effect on what we are doing here.  The how we do all of this matters a great deal.  Now we aren’t the only players – the Spirit has a critical role too – but we matter in this whole scheme of being God’s people. 

I’d go so far as to say that how we are together actually effects how the bread tastes- this meal offered with humility and gentleness tastes different than offered other ways.  And how we define ourselves, how we build ourselves up goes so far as to effect who receives the bread- if we see us as all as hungry, all as seeking, all as sinful, all as children of God, all with gifts to offer then odds are better that all are welcome to receive.  Think about that – it’s more power than sometimes I’m comfortable having but we’ve been entrusted with this amazing grace – and that that grace has an effect on the feast itself.  And that in itself is about as humbling as it gets. 

I can tell you that as priest the most profound moments of communion happen not only because Jesus is here in the bread and the wine, but because you are here too in the flesh, at the table with your lives, with your hurts, and your hungers, and your hopes.  When I look around this room on Sunday or whenever we gather you bring out some of the gentleness and compassion that I have to give this world and I become grateful all over again.  And I think that’s how all of this works for all of us.  We come together.  We come together in love.  We come together in peace.  And we offer ourselves to God and one another. And we are fed by bread that is always enough for three or fifty or one hundred or five thousand.  And we are fed by new understandings of humanity and holiness and hope.  And through it all we learn to bear one another, to receive what God has given us because we too are part of what God has given us. 

At this table are the gifts of God  – bread and wine and you and me.  So when you’re up here, look down, look in and look around too.  At this table we open our mouths and we open our hearts to the feast of Christ while also looking across the table at lives different than our own yet bound to ours by grace and in love. At the table the bread is broken and we are broken open to hurts and hopes and hungers similar or different than ours yet bound to ours in gentleness and peace that pass all understanding. 

And so the miracle often unfolds like this: the offering of bread, becomes the blessing of bread, becomes the breaking of bread, becomes the sharing of bread, becomes the feasting on and sharing of lives, the sharing of life.  Lives in the here and the now and the life that is yet to come.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

Brown Baggin’ It

Sermon by The Reverend Christian Baron Pentecost 9. Proper 12. Year B John 6:1-21

 

“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?”

In the name of the father and of the son and of the holy spirit….

 

This past spring, while I was on a trip to Texas with our College, 20s and 30’s ministry, my priest friend said, “Christian. I got a call from a parishioner who just harvested a Nilgai from an exotic species ranch. It’s a 400 pound animal and he has donated it. We need to go pick it up and butcher it. We’ll put it into bags and then we can drop it off at the food bank.”

On Friday,  I went fishing with a parishioner… over near Hopkins.  It came about like this. “Hey Bruce. There is a high school mission trip at Grace on Tuesday. The youth will work during the day, eat dinner with the bishop and then we will all go to the beach for compline and a bishop’s blessing. Part of the work will happen at the Community Kitchen at Western Seminary. Jim Piersma will cook up Lake Trout that some local fishermen caught and donated and then we’ll do some much needed deep cleaning of the kitchen and dining room.  I need your help Bruce.  I want them to notice what we are eating. I want to feed them a unique dinner and tell them about people who don’t have a lot of money or food to eat. Let’s go catch some pan fish and fry them up for them and tell them about the hungry in Holland. And by the way, can you cook fry the fish for the twenty of us that will be there?”

Yesterday, I had a phone call on Saturday from my cousin. “Christian… what are you doing?  Do you want some fish? I have three big King Salmon and a giant pig of a Lake Trout.  Meet me at the fish cleaning station by the boat launch in 30 minutes. Bring zip-locks.”

“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?”

You may know somebody else who has been willing to share their fish… or their table… or their Nilgai…

Did you know that the story from the gospel today… the feeding of the five thousand… appears in all four of the gospels.  This is a pretty big deal because there are very few parts of the gospels that share the same or similar accounts of the same event. This means that it was a story that spread throughout Christianity and that Christian communities held tightly to it. They passed it down orally from village to village and from family to family. It was so important that all four authors of the gospels made sure it was included in their accounts of the life of Jesus.

There are a few things about John’s account though that set it apart a bit from the other synoptic gospels.  The first one is that this is the only account of the five loaves and two fish coming from a person. The text says, “From a boy.” And though it doesn’t say so, I think the boy willingly gave up his lunch.  (but it is kind of comical to think about the disciples taking matters into their own hands).

And this is just one account… one story of a boy… of a Christian… of a human… sacrificing something of value to fill the bellies… or hearts… or souls of those that he didn’t even know. A Nilgai… an afternoon fishing for pan fish… 40 pounds of King salmon and lake trout…. a living room for a hymn sing… Standing out in our parking lot on a cold Thursday night in February, waiting to offer hungry people food… a week gleaning fields in Arkansas in the blistering hot sun… A Wednesday morning feeding our neighbors at Western Seminary’s community kitchen… offering the chalice to a new member… offering the chalice to a member who has been here for 50 years…  and there are many, many others.

Another unique aspect of John’s account of this story is how he describes what Jesus does with the bread and fish. Does this sound familiar? “Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them.” John was intentionally using Eucharistic language. Certainly paralleling the last supper and the same ritual that we practice today, 2000 years later.

Once again, I can’t help but think of the Nilgi… the pan fish… the King Salmon and Lake Trout…. When all things come of thee oh Lord…. we hold things loosely. We remember those who go without… We go out of our way…. We sacrifice… Because that’s what was modeled.  Because that’s what has been passed down from the first followers of Jesus to those who have helped to form us.

Yes, this practice of generosity and sacrifice has been passed down.  Saint Naucratius lived in the fourth century. He was the brother of Gregory of Nyssa and Basil the great. Maybe you have heard of his brothers, but I’ll bet you haven’t heard of Naucratius.  Like his brothers he had a deep spirituality and a robust love for the god-life. But Naucratius wasn’t into politics and was less polished than the rest of the family. He left the public life to move out into the desert to pray and to focus. Think John the Baptist). He became a great hunter and capable fisherman. And, like many of the stories today, God provided him with more than he needed. He too offered his lunch to God. There was a poor community with many elderly who could not feed themselves. So, Naucratius fed them. He would bring his fish and game to the community to provide for their needs. And the only other thing we know about him is that he died doing what he loved. There are conflicting accounts about whether he died while hunting or while fishing,  but he certainly died sacrificing for the good of the poor.

And we have baptisms today. And we get to model to these young ones… what we know to be true… What the local fishermen know to be true… What Naucratius knew to be true… In God’s economy, there is plenty.

We get the chance, to help mold and shape the future. With our hands and our feet…  not only can we do the physical work of Christ… not only will the Church be the physical presence of Jesus, but we can also model Jesus for these little ones… so that the story will continue to be passed down… so it will continue to be lived… Soon, they will be the ones holding brown paper bags filled with five loaves and 2 fish.  They too can offer their lunches back to God and watch God feed the masses.

“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?”

Send us, God. Send us.

The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams- May 31, 2015

Trinity Sunday: Isaiah 6:1-8, John 3:1-17

Today on the liturgical, church calendar, we’re celebrating Trinity Sunday.  You probably picked that up in the opening collect: “ You have given to us your servants grace,” we prayed, “to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty, to worship the Unity.” A mouthful for sure. A heart-full and mind-full too for that matter. This is the day on which we celebrate the mystery and power of God as: Father, Son and Holy Spirit; Mother, Child, Sophia; Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier; Transcendent, Incarnate, Holy Breath of God. And I could go on and on; there are many other traditional and not-so-traditional ways in which we can talk about what the famous hymn (which we will sing in a few minutes) calls, “the three in one and one in three.”

Now this day seems to bring fear in to the heart of many preachers, and perhaps to congregations also as they wonder how or, perhaps, how long the preacher is going to talk about God today.  My Facebook feed and a couple of the websites and some of blogs I read this week were revealing preachers’ fears right up through early this morning.  “How can we possibly put words on this?” they wondered.  “Who am I to talk in terms of that which is most holy?”  “What resources are you using to preach on this the HARDEST SUNDAY of the year?” one person asked.

We also heard some concern in the reading this morning from the prophet Isaiah who was, at the beginning of that passage, in a place of pure awe and humility as he considered the most holy, “Woe for me, for I am lost!” he said as he gained his own glimpses of God. “For I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips and here I am, me of all people bearing witness to the King (capital K), the Lord of hosts!”

We even heard a related fear in the story from John’s gospel, which told us the story of Nicodemus who came to talk to Jesus under the cover of darkness.  Nicodemus came to Jesus by night because his experience and understanding of God was changing, and Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a religious leader, was afraid to share those questions, to have those conversations in the light of day.  He had too much to risk to show up at this point in the story in broad daylight.

And so one of the things I learned this week is that perhaps I’m a little foolish.  There are things that scare me for sure. Trust me I have a list that gets updated regularly and as hard as I work, I have yet to clear it. But talking about God just isn’t on there.  I actually love doing this!  And I want us to love this too.

I don’t want talking about God or talking to God to be on any of our lists of what scares us.   There’s enough out there to be afraid of – this shouldn’t be one of those things.  Our thoughts, our prayers, our new insights, even our foundation-shaking questions and doubts can live among us right here in the light.  We don’t have to be afraid of any of this.

Because if we do anything thing in this place on a regular, daily, basis that is our “normal”, it should be sharing our thoughts and experiences of holiness.  That’s what makes this place a little different, right?  Regardless of the specifics of the particular moment, whenever we come together, we come together for the sake of, in the name of, for the purpose of our relationship with God, and to sort out and act on what all of that means.  God-talk is the most normal thing we do here, which doesn’t mean it isn’t holy.  It just means that it’s what we do.

Now maybe one of the important things to know is that our engaging in this ongoing God-conversation, which means our doing theology together, is not about getting it right which I think is where some of the fear comes in.  If it were about getting it right, meaning there would be divine retribution – lighting strikes, destruction etc. – if we got it wrong, there wouldn’t be any people left.  I’m convinced that the pure ongoing existence of humanity is a sign that doing theology is not about perfection.

Perfection on all things God is just not a part of our history of either society or church, nor is it our goal.  The holiness that is God is in large part mystery and the best we can do is allow ourselves to be taken in to it, to be held by it, created and re-created by IT, healed, fed, nurtured, turned around, forgiven, loved, sometimes even resurrected by this mystery – doing our best along the way with whatever words we can find, whatever song or prayer or doctrine or art we can find to talk about and share those dimensions of our lives.

Now the other important thing to remember in this God conversation of which we’re all part, is that the sources for helping us in this work are endless.  We’re chalk full of them in this place – take the Bible for starters.  “In the Beginning God created” is how it opens.  “God so loved the world that he sent his only Son,” we heard today from John. And last week, “The Spirit came among them filled with grace and truth.” Creator.  Redeemer. Sanctifier laid out quite clearly (and not so clearly at times but present) in the stories and letters and gospels within Scripture which is source number one.  Then there’s The Book of Common Prayer, the Episcopal/Anglican source that’s right here in our pews and whose contents are printed in our bulletins.  Hymns and ancient prayers and stories and psalms, all right here at our fingertips at Grace, in our memories, in our hearts, on our lips. Sources galore!

But even more than that, there’s also all of us, sources one and all, to help us with this conversation, the theology we do as God’s people:

One of the wonderful things about Grace is that I can sit with seminary faculty who have degrees in Scripture and theology and I can sit with three years olds who haven’t been to school yet and with each of those groups, in each of those conversations I/we we can learn something about the wonder and power of God.  One of the most profoundly theological observations of the year came from a five year old who after hearing the story on Good Friday asked me, “Why do we call this good?”  And he meant it.  Church itself is an intergenerational theological endeavor.

I (you too) can sit in the presence of someone who is dying or in the presence of someone who has just been born. And at any given moment those two what we would call ‘extremes,’ thinking linearly, are present within the breadth that is Grace Church.  In either of those circumstances, in either of those profound experiences there is an absolute and sometimes even palpable sense of a divine holiness greater than us all.

We can also stand in the streets and we have, outside of this place with those who are working for justice and peace, as those who are working for justice and peace and we can catch on to a dream that is still being given life and breath among us.  We can catch that Spirit that blows where it will or maybe better, it can catch us, blowing us back into the kind of dream that allows the whole world to be made new, “born again” if you will.

So the sources that shape and re-shape and feed what one theologian famously referred to as “faith seeking understanding” are endless.  We have nothing to fear.

Although I bet, even after all of that we think we do – have something to fear, that is. And so I want to circle back to the mention of that list, those lists of things that scare us just to make sure they aren’t left hanging. Because they shouldn’t be.

Now I’m not going to lay out my list this morning, nor am I going to ask you to but I’d place bets on some overlaps, at least in terms of themes.   Each our lists probably contain things that have to do with unknowns, or loss, or darknesses of the literal and/or metaphoric sort.

The good news on Trinity Sunday, and every Sunday really is that that God is bigger than all of it, whatever it is.  Always. And God is present in all of it, whatever it is. Always.  And God is blowing like the Spirit does through it, whatever it is in ways that surpass our understanding, shaping, reshaping and making new. Always. And so we pray and we sing and we talk and we hope and we love and we hope and we dream.

“Who will go, forward from here?” God asked the prophet Isaiah.

Send us, God. Send us.

 

If it looks like love… and if it smells like love…

If it looks like love… and if it smells like love…

REV. CHRISTIAN BARON – May 10, 2015 – Easter 6, Year B: John 15:9-17

If it looks like love… and if it smells like love…

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

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

I spent time this week downtown at Tulip Time. People came by the busload to try Ollie Bolen and pea soup. They were desperate for Dutch cuisine. Desperate enough that they were willing to pay $2.00 for a water. We dressed up in silly clothes and wore silly hats. I watched a mess of Klompen dancers on stage at the civic and was reminded about my heritage and how much Dutch people like to par-tay.

Though I am 100 percent Dutch, since moving back to Holland, I haven’t fully been able to recall, until this past week, the language of my people, “Passive aggressiveness”. And this week was like a language immersion course in passive aggression.  Teasing… It was a great week.

I saw many of you down at the Civic Center. We washed dishes and and worked in tents with several deep fryers. Some of you ran to the store for emergency supplies or to pick up pop or pastries from DeBoers. We laughed… we got into each others personal space. We worked in harmony with the United Methodists and I watched the veterans work circles around me. And, we made a lot of money. We made a lot of money. And that money will help pay for the group of us going to the United Kingdom next summer on Pilgrimage. And lives will be changed. Lives of the youth in this parish will be changed. Our youth will become more connected to the vine that nourishes them. They will be more connected to the Church and they will return with a fuller understanding of the world on which they must abide.

But what was most memorable for me this week, was watching the members of Grace show hospitality. We were hospitable to the guests, to the United Methodists, to the other Hollanders who came and looked for a taste of the Netherlands. I can’t count the times I saw Jen Wolfe advise a tourist about where they should eat dinner or find a bathroom. The times I saw Doug Zylstra read a nametag of a tourist and call them by name and surprise them.  The times I saw Prescott Slee smile and shake it off when he had to give direction to the new curate or repeat it to a new volunteer. This kindness, It is something I have grown accustomed to since my arrival 11 months ago, but spending a week in close quarters with you folks, reminded me of how special this place truly is.

[pullquoteright] And if it looks like love… and smells like love… it must be Jesus.[/pullquoteright]

Because when that is visible… When people see those things, they see resurrection. They see that Grace is a group of people abiding in the resurrection. They see a group of people connected to the vine. People at the Civic Center could tell… they could see the love…

I’ll be unable to go back to the Civic without seeing the faces of our Grace folks.  And it will not be easy to forget the smells that came from the kitchen and from the food we served. Made with love by our folks and the United Methodists. Made with our hands and our prayers.  And though I won’t need to eat anything fried for a while, I’ll miss those smells.  The smells of the pig in the blankets and the potatoes and kale. And the smells of the sweat and hard work of those working closest to me..  Those smells mixed and made a fervent offering up to God. People at the Civic could tell… they could smell the love.

And if it looks like love… and smells like love… it must be Jesus.

Anybody who has ever experienced authentic love knows that you can’t fake it. The kind of love that John is talking about in the gospel, is unmistakable.  That is why this story… the story of Jesus is so remarkable… that’s why it has lasted this long… That’s why the story is so compelling and why it changes life. It models for us a way to live for something other than for ourselves. Jesus models a way of being and living that is completely counter intuitive to the self centered human condition. But I saw a bunch of Hollanders (and some Hamiltonians) who were living a life of resurrection this week. Donating time and talent to feed hungry people. Just like we do on the 2nd Thursday of each month, and when we feed college students at Hope… and when we feed youth and families at Family Chow… and when we invite one another over for Holy Chow… and when we are fed at the altar… at God’s table…

So be on the lookout for love… Be on the lookout for those sacrificing their time and sacrificing their talents for others.  This is the sign of Christ.  This is the sign of the Church. This is the sign of Grace. And if it looks like love… and smells like love and tastes like love… it must be Jesus.