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The gritty, incarnational, completely provocative Gospel of Jesus Christ, according to Mark.

Sermon by The Rev. Jodi L. Baron -September 6, 2015 -Pentecost 15, Year B: Mark 7:24-37

When I was in high school (or maybe even middle school), we were required to take some sort of public speaking course; either debate or maybe shakespeare?

 

I believe those were my two choices.

 

Being the shy, introverted young woman I was at the time, I almost got physically ill contemplating having to “debate” another human being!

I hated arguments, disagreements, anything that involved one person winning and another person losing.

 

Anyway, over the years I’ve had to rethink what “debate” means, in its context of oral traditions and speaking styles.

 

While you still won’t see me sign up to become Holland High’s Debate coach, I have grown to appreciate a well developed argument. One that is civil and organized and has a clear outcome, not necessarily win or lose, but maybe.

 

This morning’s gospel had an epic debate scene.

Did you hear it?

Everything introducing it was setting the stage to highlight how out of place this woman was for even speaking to a Jewish man, let alone the Son of Man, who came for Israel.

Everyone knew this.

 

I like the account given us in Mark about this woman because it’s clean and simple and direct.

We don’t hear about the woman being overcome with emotions and wailing about causing a ruckus to win an audience with Jesus,

but instead, we see this very simple, confident, witty mom approaching this man whom she’d heard heals all sorts of ailments.

 

So unencumbered by social customs and thoughts of what her elders would think of her if they knew she spoke to this Jesus, she fell at his feet, we read. Desperate for healing for her daughter who was far away and had an unclean spirit.

Both of them unnamed. Both of them whom had no place in that room.

 

When she approached Jesus and began to beg him to heal her daughter, what happened next was unnerving.

I find myself, each time I hear this story in the context of Holy Eucharist, being very unsettled with how he spoke to her.

 

Calling her a dog.

 

This, the Jesus we proclaim as our God and Lord.

This, the Jesus we come to the table to receive his gift of bread & wine.

This, the Jesus who is all God and all Human.

 

I don’t know about you, but when I read about Jesus being a downright Jerk, that gets me a little edgy.

I don’t want to think about Jesus being a jerk. Do you?

 

And yet, Mark gives it to us. Right there, in black and white.

 

Jesus calls this desperate woman…a dog!

“Let the children (Israel) be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs (Gentiles).”

 

Just incase you were tempted to soften this exchange, like I have done, from what I could find, the word Jesus used in this passage could not have been mistaken as a dearly beloved house pet.

 

In fact, I read that this same word was used in six other places throughout scripture (both in the Hebrew text as well as the Greek); 1 Samuel 17:43, Proverbs 26:11, Ecclesiastes 9:4, Isaiah 56:9-12, Matthew 7:6, and Philippians 3:2). In all of these other places, this word was used to insult someone, to denigrate those to whom it was used.

 

Jesus was rebuking this woman for daring to ask for healing of her daughter when he was clearly sent to the children of Israel first.

 

Wow!

 

Some scholars have called this episode a miracle. The miracle of “the overcoming of prejudice and boundaries that separate persons.” (New Interpreter’s Bible, 611)

 

Jesus. The Son of Man. Fully Human in this scene, not yet transfigured. (That happens in Chapter 9).

 

But right here. In this pericope. We see Jesus subjected to the same prejudices and boundaries we find ourselves amidst to this day.

 

And this woman. This woman with no name. She dared to go toe-to-toe with Jesus in this argument.

 

And she won. She jolted Jesus from his complacency, apathy, and prejudice; “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

 

Indeed, this woman, this unnamed woman is being elevated for her ability to stand up to Jesus and say, “Do you hear what you are saying? I, too, have come for healing. Even if it’s only a crumb!”

 

Wake up Jesus, “the dogs under the table are within the household; the are not strangers to the family.” (New Interpreter’s Bible, 611)

 

The next scene is equally provocative, in my mind. We read that Jesus was again brought to him someone in need of healing. “A deaf man who had an impediment in his speech.”

 

Jesus, we read, “took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue.”

 

This morning we have in one story Jesus performing healing from so far a distance that no one, not even the person requesting the healing for someone else, is touched. They merely exchange words, they debate, she wins, daughter is healed. end of story.

 

In the other we see Jesus taking that same energy, that same audacity that he learned from the woman, and performing a healing that is profoundly, uncomfortably, physical, close, human, tactile.

 

Some translations use the word “thrust” instead of “put” when describing how Jesus’ fingers wound up in another person’s ears!

 

And again we hear Jesus speaking an Aramaic command “Ephphatha” (ef-fath-ah)…Be opened.” as he did with Jairus’ daughter “Talitha cum” “Get up.”

 

“Get up, be opened.”

 

I like the gospel of Mark’s portrayal of the life and ministry of Jesus. It’s gritty. It’s messy. It’s incarnational; fleshy and divine. It starts in the middle and ends with an empty tomb.

 

I wonder if this morning’s gospel is inviting us to be more bold. To be bold in how we approach Jesus, our faith, our story, and our song.

 

I wonder if we are being invited to “be opened” to the ways in which the spirit is moving about going toe-to-toe with prejudices and biases that lead to divisions among persons, in our lives.

 

Let us pray.

Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart [and especially the hearts of the people of this land], that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (from the Book of Common Prayer)

 

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.

 

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?”

I’ll have a Markan Sandwich, hold the meat.

The Rev. Jodi L. Baron –  July 19, 2015 – Proper 11, Year B: Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

“Wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.”

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about sandwiches this week.

 

I love a good sandwich.

 

Right now, my favorite has been smoked turkey with avocado, lettuce, tomato, a little aioli on multi-grain bread.

 

The kind of bread that has flecks of seeds and grains embedded right into every bite.

 

The kind of bread that makes you hungry smelling it bake.

 

Judging by its central role in our sacrament of Communion, I think Jesus must have liked bread a lot too.

 

There are two parts about this mornings text that have to do with bread.

 

One part is the giant void of one of the greatest stories in Mark (the feeding of the 5,000) that we didn’t read (verses 35-44). The one where his disciples beg him to dismiss the people so they can go get something to eat and he says to them, “You feed them!” (I love that part)

 

So they manage to gather up 5 loaves and 2 fish and Jesus turned that into enough to feed all who were gathered, so much so that there were 12 baskets of leftovers.
I bet that bread tasted amazing to those folks gathered on that hillside to hear Jesus teach.

I bet their tummies rumbled in anticipation when they heard Jesus give God thanks.

 

 

Then there’s the other part about bread. It’s not actually in the text but more about the text.

 

 

Mark is well known for his literary style of “sandwich” stories. We heard one a few weeks ago with the Temple Leader and the Hemorrhaging Woman.

 

Today’s reading is also one of those sandwich stories. Only without the turkey and avocado and all the fixin’s.

 

Today’s story was just the bread of the sandwich.

 

I like to look at in context of what is coming down the pike in our lectionary over the next 5 weeks.

 

You see, after today we’re taking a little break from Mark. Well, not really a break…more of a zooming in on the contents between the pieces of hearty bread.

 

Over the next few weeks our lectionary will move us into John where we will hear about the feeding of the 5,000 and the walking on water by Jesus, but told for the community that were a part of John.

 

And, oddly enough, Mark’s version of these two miracles doesn’t actually get read when we’re together on Sunday. Not once in all three years.

 

I invite you, therefore, good Gracians, to take up your bibles at home and read verses 35-52 about these two miracles and then come back and see if you notice anything when it’s read from the Gospel according to John.

 

But back to today’s daily bread.

 

There is a lot in these two pieces of bread, even without the fixin’s.

 

Take, for example, the two words that leaped from the page for me;

 

Compassion and Touch.

 

Compassion he showed first to his disciples in seeing their need for refueling and second on the massive crowds that continued to swarm them desperate for healing.

 

Touch recalling the same desperation and faith of those reaching their hands toward Jesus as the woman who was hemorrhaging in the story we heard a few weeks ago.

 

The text tells us that Jesus had invited his disciples to “Come away” for a while to a deserted place so they could rest. Catch their breath. Maybe even catch a few fish.

 

But they couldn’t. As soon as they got on the boat, we read that they were “recognized” and the crowds hurried on foot to meet them.
Word was spreading about Jesus and his disciples. People were hearing what he was doing; touching people and allowing them to touch him.

 

They figured they could use some healing too.
In fact, in this story, the people seemed to be so determined to meet him that they forgot to bring any food with them, and they stayed there all day long, so long that the markets had closed.

 

But Jesus, seeing the great crowd had compassion for them.

 

Sympόnia.

 

It means sympathy, charity, fellow feeling, or commiseration.

 

This is the introduction we are invited into to prepare our hearts for the miracles about to take place.

 

And then the begging comes in. The masses keep bringing their sick on mats to wherever he was so that they might just touch “even the fringe of his cloak” and be healed.

 

“Just a touch, Jesus.” A father says. “I’m not asking you to come with me to where my daughter lies. I’ll carry her to you because I recognize you! You’re the one who heals people even if they only touch the hem of your clothing. I know that if my daughter touches just the hem, she will be made well.”

 

What faith!

 

What courage!

 

What strength these people showed!

 

“And all who touched (the fringe of his cloak) were healed.”

 

 

The God of all of creation, became vulnerable to take on our flesh, so that we might touch the hem of the clothes that he wore and experience healing.

 

The kind of healing that no human can provide.

 

The kind of wholeness that only comes from a relationship with God and in community.

 

The kind of healing that comes from showing up and allowing the Holy Spirit to work through your brothers and sisters so that together we can heal the world.

 

May we be those places where the crowds can bring their wounds to be healed by the balm of Jesus. In the breaking of the bread, in the sipping of the wine, in the prayers of our people.

 

May we have the strength and courage to bring our own wounds and fears and hopes and dreams to the God who has compassion on his creation.

 

Strength in Need

The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams-  July 12, 2015 – Proper 10, Year B: Mark 6:14-29

So I have managed through over twenty-one years of preaching in this place to have never preached on this gospel passage.  And I consider that one of my greatest scheduling victories.  Now this story only comes up in this form once every three years so I’ve only had to avoid it about seven times, but I’ve managed until now.  This congregation has heard Tom, Bill, Henry and Dennis preach on this gospel at least once each and this morning I offer my apologies to both Jodi and Christian for not offering either of them this “learning opportunity.”  Somehow in the midst of General Convention’s calendar and the Barons’ vacation timing, I slipped in what I’ve relied on as my scheduling mastery.  And so here we are with John the Baptist’s head on a platter and me here in pulpit, praying with hopes of avoiding a similar fate.

It is without argument a horrible story. We’d all avoid it if we could. It’s a horrible end to a powerful prophet’s life. But often stories like John the Baptist’s do end this way and I actually think that’s what we need to wrestle with this morning.  Prophets’ stories, at least in a temporal sense, rarely have a happy ending.

And this theme of the lives and deaths of prophets has been in the air now for a couple of weeks.  Last Sunday we heard our Presiding Bishop-Elect Michael Curry preach his closing sermon from General Convention, but the gospel passage that day was about prophets and it was about how prophets can’t be heard in their hometowns.  Even Jesus “had no power” when he preached in his own family’s synagogue, the gospel said.  He was stripped of something there.  And then this week we heard about the death of John the Baptist who had already been stripped of his freedom.  He was in jail the story recalled.  And then from there John was stripped of his life.  Now he was killed for complicated reasons, the gospel said, but they all had to do with John’s speaking the prophetic truths that he’d been given to speak.

So prophets are powerless at home and they’re often destined to meet a painful end. But we need prophets and they play a critical role in the unfolding of the story of God’s people. And so this morning I want us to ask two questions about prophets:  First, if you’re called to be one, what keeps you grounded and strong?  What keeps you going if you’re a prophet?  And then second, how can we be open to receive prophets in our church, in our world better than we tend to do.

First the question about grounding and strength.  What (given other attractive options like “keeping quiet”) what keeps a prophet going?

Well remember that there was nothing about John the Baptist that was overly attached to the things of this world, to put it mildly.  He wore camels’ hair.  He ate locusts.  He hung out in the wilderness.  So, no fancy house.  No overstocked pantry – probably not even a hidden stash of honey.  And obviously, no extensive wardrobe. John the Baptist clearly did not seek his comfort, his grounding in any of the potential trappings of this world.  He wasn’t in this world to fit in it – he was in it to change it and so he didn’t get lost in the temptations that can suck us in.

John was preaching repentance and forgiveness for a living, or maybe better put is that he was preaching repentance and forgiveness to be alive, truly alive.  Remember John was out there at the river every day offering new beginnings for those who had never been offered new beginnings before.  And John knew in his heart and in his soul that he was preparing the way for the one who came after him, preparing the way for the one who would be the way for many.

And my guess is that John got his strength from a couple of places.  First from God, from faith in something larger than himself.  (Perhaps this is a given, but it’s worth noting.)  Remember that it was clear that John had a calling from his very beginning.  He was born to Elizabeth and Zechariah when they were well beyond childbearing years and no doubt John had heard the family story endless times about how he’d lept in his mother’s womb when Mary, the Mother of Jesus had come for a visit to their home.

So John knew all along that he was called by God and so he had a lot to lean into when he hit the tough patches.  Faith was woven into his very bones and he undoubtedly found strength there, even when the walls were closing in around him.

But in addition to his faith, I bet John also found strength from the people he met down by the river. And I think this is an essential dimension in the work of a prophet.  John kept going not only because he’d been called, but because that calling was continually inspired, and re-inspired by the people whom he encountered every day.

Those people down by the river were the kinds of people who were hungry for what the world could be, because the world as it was, wasn’t feeding them.  They weren’t fitting in either, either because of their own sins, or because of something more broadly systemic or both.  And remember that the River Jordan attracted an incredible diversity of folk – there were “the outcasts” and “the sinners,” but Pharisess, religious leaders who had questions came there too.  Even Herod was listening to what John had to say!  I find that an intriguing part of this gospel story: “When Herod heard him he was greatly perplexed,” the gospel said, but Herod “liked to listen to John.”   Herod was even moved in his own limited and lacking way to “protect him.”

So what happened was that over time, John got to know the stories of the people who came to the river. He knew their pain and he knew their hopes; he knew what pulled them out there, or what had pushed them out there.  John knew what they longed for and he knew what the water revealed in them.

And so I think John probably found strength in their need; he found strength in “them” as prophets do.  Prophets come to realize that they have nothing to lose themselves but they also recognize that there are people in this world for whom truly gaining is nearly impossible.

And so John spoke prophetic truth first to them – the truth of God’s forgiveness and the promise that there was more to come.  And then he spoke the same truth on behalf of “them” to those whose power was stifling the world, rather than loving those in it.

I believe that in the hearts of prophets like John the Baptist live the stories of those who long for more.  And within those stories, and in God they find their strength.

Which brings us to the second question I wanted us to ask today:  How can we receive prophets better than we do?  Well, I think the answer is clear; in order to receive the prophets, we need to carry the stories too.  We need to know the stories of the river people, those who hunger, those who thirst, those who question, those who doubt, those who are on the outskirts due to their own searchings or their own sins or the sins of others or some of all of the above.

We need to know the stories, because when we carry those stories in our hearts and then we see or hear prophets speaking on “their” behalf we become cheerleaders rather than threats.   We become the ones helping to clear the way, rather than those who are blocking it.  When we carry those stories, those people in our hearts, we become the ones who dance at the breaking in of the new day rather than those who fear what we have to lose when it happens.

And so one final piece for this morning.  I think that we can be the river, or at least a place that the river runs through. I think this is the collective calling that we share.  We can be that place where prophets meet hurts, meet sins, meet Pharisees, meet questions, meet forgiveness, meet new beginnings, meet God.  We can be that place that helps weave faith into our very bones, however young or old our bones happen to be.

In this place we’ll see not only the needs of the world, but our own needs too and through a grace bigger than any of our callings, the stories will come together and be held as one.  And in these moments of story telling, water sharing, vision bearing, and prophet making –  a new day will begin to take hold.

 

 

 

 

 

Small but Mighty

The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams – June 14, 2015 – Proper 6, Year B: Mark 4:26-34

I love a good mustard seed parable.  Perhaps it’s because it reminds me of that little necklace I had as a child that was popular among some church going crowds right up through the seventies.  It was a sort of globe with a very, very small seed in the middle of it – some of you can probably picture what I’m talking about.  Besides necklace nostalgia, I’m also just drawn to things that start out small but have the potential or promise to be strong – seeds, kids, congregations, hope.  Not to mention that 5’1” soccer player, a defender (and shortest player) on the US Women’s team, who on Friday saved a goal (and the game!) against Sweden with a header on the goal line!  (There, I managed to work in a World Cup reference for those of you who were wondering how I’d do it. And there are still three weeks left in the tournament, so look out.)

OK, back to mustard seeds.  Here’s some detail to remind you of just what we’re talking about here:  mustard seeds are very, very, very small only about 1 or 2 mm in diameter.  And, just for comparison sake, in the world of seeds they’re slightly bigger than poppy seeds and dandelion seeds, but smaller than pumpkin seeds, watermelon, apple or coconut seeds.   Color-wise, mustard seeds can be black, brown, yellow or white.

In terms of the gospels, mustard seed references appear in Matthew, Mark and Luke, and it’s interesting to note that in inter-faith terms, mustard seeds are also used in Buddhist teachings, and appear in both the Koran and various Jewish texts.  So across gospels and across faiths, the mustard seed is that very, very small thing that either grows up into something much larger than would initially seem possible; or it is that very, very small thing that is all we need in order to be faithful people.  The author of Mark put it like this in today’s reading: “It is [almost] the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”  So the mustard seed is a small thing that not only grows much bigger than one would expect it to grow, but also within its very own branches it creates space to nurture others too.

And so in some ways the message this morning is very simple:  the kingdom of God has been planted and it will continue to grow among us.  It’s a done deal.  It’s gonna happen because the sower (capital ‘S’) has done his work.  The seeds are here and they’re already taking root, and holding on, and poking through the surface and beginning or continuing to breathe of the air and drink of the water and reach out into this world with God’s mercy and grace.  The kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven.  Today’s gospel reminds us that that is very simply, a given.

But this also means something else that’s very, very important.  This parable tells us that if we’re willing to look for the kingdom of God, we’ll see it.  That’s the other part of the good news this morning, and this is the piece that’s our work to do.  The seeds have been sown and the Sower will ultimately make this kingdom happen, but we have work to do too.

We have to notice. And we have to tend.

This parable reminds us that we have to take responsibility for how we look at, and therefore engage God’s world.  Do you look out into this world and see something like a garden that’s going to grow big and lush and abundant for all?  Are you willing to see the seeds taking hold and offer yourself to their care?  Are you able to look out into this world and notice the branches reaching out to you, to those who are other than you and tend the growth and expanse of that reach?  Truth is we can be those who see the kingdom breaking through or those who wonder if the seeds were ever planted at all.  And while it’s a leap of faith that we probably have to take over and over again in our lives, the invitation is to believe that the seeds are everywhere. The call is to live and work as if they are.

Know that in their very essence the seeds contain things like forgiveness, hospitality, justice, mercy, grace, and peace.  The seeds contain love and they contain faith and hope.  The seeds were sown in all colors, in all places and reconciliation lives in the core of their being and runs right out through the very tips of all of the branches.  The seeds actually want to grow out into those mighty bushes and trees whose branches provide food and shelter and shade and home and a resting place for all the creatures of this world.

The seeds contain the ability to make the vision of a diverse, peaceable, blessed, loving kingdom a reality right here in this world.

So that 5’1” soccer player (whose name by the way, is Meghan)? When she was asked how she did what she did, she said this, “I was just doing my job on the team.”  And that was that.  I got the sense the reporter was looking for some big explanation when really, her response was about as simple as they come.  “I was just doing my job.”

Well, we all have one – in the church and in the world – a calling or several that are related to helping the kingdom come.  And no matter your height, your size or the amount of faith you’d claim to have – you have enough to do what our post communion prayers calls “the work we’ve been given to do.”

So come on team! Small but mighty seeds have been sown in our midst – mercy, hope, love, compassion, justice, forgiveness are all longing to break through the surface where they haven’t yet and to reach out more broadly into this world where they’ve already begun to take hold.  So open your eyes.  Open your hearts.  Somebody go get some water!  Somebody make more room for the light to come in!  May God grant us the courage and humility to notice the seeds planted, and the vision and the love to help them grow.

Amen.