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I’m Going Fishing

I’m Going Fishing

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

“I am going fishing.”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

Acting Out the Great Drama of Salvation

Acting Out the Great Drama of Salvation

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

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

 

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

 

Good morning!

 

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

 

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

 

Springtime and Eastertide.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Will…Not…Believe.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

In a word, Evangelism.

 

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

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

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

 

So bring your unbelief, your chaos, your hurt.

 

Bring your joy, your healing, your belief.

 

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

Whom Are You Looking For: The Lord Is Risen!

Whom Are You Looking For: The Lord is Risen!

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Praise be to God…

 

Amen.

The Paschal Triduum: Good Friday

The Paschal Triduum: Good Friday

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Welcome to the Paschal Triduum: Maundy Thursday

Welcome to the Paschal Triduum: Maundy Thursday

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

But it hasn’t always looked like this.

 

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

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

 

It is sacramental.

Mystical.

Transformative.

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

 

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

 

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

 

Follower of Jesus.

Fisher of Men.

The tradition I grew up in, Disciple of Christ…

 

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

 

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

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

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

the world.

 

She describes seven attributes of the disciple as

follower,

worshiper,

witness,

neighbor,

forgiver,

prophet and

 

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

 

It’s complicated and multidimensional.

 

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

 

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

 

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

different,

set apart, and

strangely foreign to those not within the faith.

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

weak,

slow,

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

 

He washed the feet of his followers.

Their dirty,

nasty,

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

 

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

 

He allowed his friend to kiss him with betrayal.

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Practice means disciplining ourselves to a life of service.

 

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

 

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

 

Confession Is Good For The Soul

Confession Is Good For The Soul

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

We talked about the future and the past.

 

Jobs, College, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

We see the strained relationships.

 

The lack of dignity and respect for family.

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

It was… sinful.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

He remembered the Father’s love.

 

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

 

The Father’s love drew him back.

 

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

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

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

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

 

And so we come back to our sin.

 

Your sin and mine…

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Amen

 

Our Millstone

Sermon by The Reverend Christian Baron  Pentecost 18. Proper 21 Year B. Mark 9:38-50

large-millstone

Mark 9:38-50

John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell., And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

“For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

 

 

“for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.”

 

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

 

Good morning.  Summer is over. I’m sorry, but it truly is. Did anybody out there have a great summer? Time spent at a cottage or on the beach? Maybe camping at one of the state parks… Perhaps you went to church camp, or boy scout camp, or to the boundary waters. Did anybody get a leach on them this summer? How about a tick? How about a mosquito bite?

Sorry for all of the audience participation, but our friends from Oklahoma came to visit this weekend. Alexis and Bella are here from Tulsa. Alexis is married to an Episcopal Priest and we were neighbors in Texas in seminary. Well, she told me yesterday that whenever an episcopal priest gets up to speak, something gets shut-off. She just stops listening. And although I was completely offended, I decided to accept the challenge.

 

I’ll bet that whatever you did this summer, you were near the water. Maybe you have been able to squeeze out a bit more of summer from this fall. It has been nice weather. I sure have stretched the summer this week. In fact yesterday i went fishing on Lake Michigan with one of our very own Grace folks. It was so wonderful to watch the sun rise over the dunes. To feel the wind cross the water and to watch as waves picked up and tossed us around… back and forth. To chat about the Great Lakes fishery and the water quality. Remembering the alewife beach problems of my childhood. Anybody remember those smells? Whew! I remember as a boy clearing a path among the alewife from our beach spot to the water moving those little fish out of the way to get to the cool lake. Like many smells, they help me to remember those scenes well.

 

Is there anybody that was here last Sunday for church? The Bishop was here. It was a wonderful day. We were able to host him and then continue to participate in the future of our local parish in a strategic doing session. One of the things that Bishop Hougland said in his sermon has stuck with me all week. In fact,I think it will always stick with me, forever. He mentioned the fact that our Diocese and our State has miles and miles of beachfront and miles and miles of waterfront. It was very powerful to hear him connect the significance of the largest sources of freshwater, In the world… with our baptism and the use and significance of water in the scriptures.

 

It changed how I fished this week. Yesterday I took our guests to the beach. Their first time to Lake Michigan. It changed how I saw the beach and the water and my thoughts as I watched the kids swim and play in the waves. As they immersed themselves and explored the shallow water and how they wanted to get out deeper.  Deeper into the water over their heads. Into the water that was definitely… not… safe…

 

In the gospel today, I read something kind of scary. There is talk about hell and unquenchable fire. The text uses a violent example of cutting off your own hand or foot or gouging out your own eye if they cause you to stumble. I read a story about water. I read a story about water and baptism and how to care for one another.

 

The passage starts with the disciples talking about a group of people doing the same work that they are called to. The same work that Jesus is doing. The kind of work that brings freedom to all. They say to Jesus in their whiniest voices, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” This is so great. The author is intentionally poking fun at the disciples here because in the previous chapter he mentions that the disciples were not able to perform this exact task. I won’t spend any time talking about this little nugget, but you can see the irony of them rebuking these prophets that are not following the disciples.

 

And so Jesus gently helps them to see the importance of a universal moralism. He says, “Look guys, Goodness belongs to God. Healing and freedom belong to the Kingdom. Competition is not one of the fruits of the spirit. Those who dwell in the Kingdom are filled with ‘charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity’.”  

 

He goes on to make his point with an example… He connects the prophets who are performing miracles and setting people free, with offering a cold drink of water to those who are thirsty.

 

This is the baptism connection: Through our baptismal covenant, we are called to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourself, and striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being. For our purposes today, this translates as “Give a drink to those who are thirsty.” So simple, and at the same time, the most difficult thing for any of us.

 

The bad news is that Jesus then gives an example of a different kind of baptism. He starts by talking about a baptism of immersion… the kind of immersion via millstone. The kind of baptism that leads to suffering: our own and the suffering of those around us. He goes on to talk about a baptism of fire. A baptism of immersion of Hell on earth. A baptism of unquenchable fire.  Powerful and extreme and provocative language. Offensive language that is meant to shock and repel.

 

The bishop’s mention of Lake Michigan and baptism and our local context will stick with me. But there is another recent image that will stick with me a as I think about baptism and sin and drowning. I think about the Syrian refugee… the three year old Aylan that drowned in the Mediterranean, seeking asylum from violence and war. A violence and war that he knew nothing about. A casualty of war because of the sins of the powerful around him. A refusal and an unwillingness of the world to treat each other with dignity and respect… an unwillingness to live inside the Kingdom of God.

 

I will not be able to forget that red shirt… the blue pants… the tiny shoes… And I wonder about millstones.  I wonder who may need to wear one. I wonder how large mine is and if there is something I can do for penance. Something that can help usher in the Kingdom and keep me from any culpability.

 

Where can I find a glass of water to offer those who are thirsty? Where can I be the hands and feet of Jesus and bless all of those I encounter…

 

I’ll wrap up my sermon by telling you another quick story… I was on a boat this week. Maybe a boat like the boat Aylan was on. I usually fish with people I don’t know very well. I meet folks on an online  fishing bulletin board that I have begged to ride along on their boats and fish for salmon and trout. The conversation at some point gets to vocation and work and I proudly tell them that I work for the Episcopal Church. This always leads to more conversations. Sometimes these folks see our time together as an opportunity to ask a priest all of the questions they have about God or to tell stories of harm that the Church has done. This week, one of the fishermen asked me this question, “So, Christian, what do you think about the Pope?”  I was glad for the question because I happen to really like the pope. I REALLY like this pope. So I was able to share a couple of examples of how Francis has refused much of the power and esteem that goes with the position, and instead spends a large amount of time with those who have no power or agency. People that are ugly, and messy and broken.  People who are down and out and homeless and helpless.  

 

And then, the other fisherman says, “I haven’t been to church in over 20 years. But I like this guy. I heard he refused to live in the Pope Palace and instead lives in the servant’s apartment. I heard that in Washington, he ate with homeless people instead of eating with Senators and political big-wigs. He seems different from most of the church people that I’ve met. He seems like a guy I can follow”  

 

Ughh!  This was both a millstone for me as well as a glass of water.  While I don’t need to take on all the responsibility for the hurt and pain of this fisherman’s religious past, there is still some personal pain when somebody feels damaged and hurt by the Church.  The Church of which I belong. The one Church of Jesus Christ. And, I feel like he offered me a glass of cold water and an outside perspective of the Church. He gave me a little nugget of the work that we have to do.

 

While I don’t really believe that Jesus has made a millstone for you or for me, it is helpful for me to think about the water that I offer to those who are thirsty as a way to chip away at that granite stone.

 

I’ll finish with this quote from Pope Francis that makes me glad to be a part of a parish that gets dirty…

 

“I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.” Pope Francis

 

May we continue to seek to put the needs of “the other” over our own and to seek areas in in the life of our Church our personal lives that we still need to chip away at our millstones.

Amen!

 

 

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.

 

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?”