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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.

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.

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

 

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.

 

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?”

Faith & Action

Sermon by The Reverend Christian Baron Pentecost 5, Year B Mark 5:21-43

“My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.”

 

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

 

This has been an incredible week. For me, it has been a roller coaster, filled with ups and downs. A time of great sadness about the human condition and at other times, I felt some of that hope restored. It has been a time of extremes for sure. We are still mourning Charleston and the nine human beings who were killed because of the color of their skin. There has been a raging national debate on race and racism and whether we should reasonable gun restrictions or whether individuals should arm themselves to the teeth for personal protection.

 

Should government buildings be allowed to fly a flag that for many is a symbol of heritage and pride and for most others a symbol of oppression and institutional racism. A racism that has built this nation on the backs of black men and black women and black children. A racism that still affects this country to its core. A racism that is difficult to notice if you happen to be Anglo and a racism that is a constant reality if your skin is not the same shade as mine. A racism that built the Episcopal Church in America and that oppressed and prospered from the slave trade.

 

Absalom Jones was an abolitionist and Episcopal priest that led a black congregation in a white church. The group refused to sit in the balcony and wanted to be treated as equal and as baptized followers of Jesus. But the Philadelphia Church refused and so the black members walked out giving birth to the black church…  The same denomination, The American Methodist Episcopal Church that was the site of the newest nine martyrs of the Christian Church in Charleston, South Carolina. . For those of you that didn’t know this story, I’m sorry to tell you. I’m sorry that the Church that you love has black eyes and that the body of Christ has an ugly and broken past.

 

Though it seems like last Sunday was weeks ago, a few of the members of Grace sat with the community at Maple Ave Ministries and heard some speakers and sang lamentations for the nine who were killed. One of the speakers talked about the birth of the black church and told the congregants about Absalom Jones made them aware that the need for the black church in America was due to the racism of the Episcopal Church. I’m sure he didn’t know that there were Episcopalians in the pews. I felt ill. I was angry.  I wanted to stand up and say, “Yes!  But we aren’t like that anymore.” I’m glad I sat and remained silent. I sang with and wept with those in the pews. And I felt helpless. I had no idea what to do. This isn’t something that many of us feel very often. I knew that I couldn’t fix anything but i knew I wanted it to be fixed as soon as possible. I felt like I had no agency. I felt desperate.

 

And then three black churches were burned in the south, presumably by Anglos because of hatred and racism and sin. Last week Jodi preached about Jesus calming the storm. The disciples cried out “Jesus, don’t you even care if we perish?”  I could have just read that sermon today.  You there Jesus? Do you care about what is going on? Do you care about what we’re doing to ourselves and to your children?

 

And if we’re waiting for the kingdom of God that the apostle Paul speaks about… These are the parts of the Kingdom that are not yet finished.  Not yet redeemed. Not yet realized.  Not yet arrived.

 

The text for today is one of my favorites.  I love Mark and I love how he writes. I can see things in the text and can imagine being right with Jesus. It isn’t difficult for me to put myself in the sandals of Jairus. A man whose daughter is deathly ill. A man with no hope. He has exhausted all of his options. tried everything.  Feels like he has no agency and no other place to turn. “God do you care about my daughter? Do you care if she perishes?” HIs idea seems crazy and at best a longshot. He has heard about Jesus… a man who can do things that are almost magical. He can heal people and calm storms.  “If he can command the storms, surely he can heal my daughter simply with his touch.”

 

And now we get one of Mark’s sandwiches. Mark’s gospel is full of stories within other stories and this is one of the best. In the middle of the Jairus story, Jesus is in a crowd of many people. In Mark, the crowds signify chaos and anxiety and tension.  In this crowd, Jesus feels power leave him. A woman who has been bleeding for 12 years touches his cloak and is healed immediately. What?  Magic clothes? Surely desperate… this woman would not have been permitted in worship because of a strict purity code for men and women.

 

But the Markan sandwich offers us two distinct kinds of people. A wealthy and powerful leader of the synagogue. A man.  And a woman who would have even less agency than a Jewish woman living in the first century. An outcast. Both helpless… both dependent. Both desperate for healing.

 

And the woman receives healing. Not because of Jesus magic or because of magic clothes. Jesus says that it is her faith that heals her. And that, in and of itself is perplexing.  Her faith has healed her. Because we need to get back to Jairus and his dying daughter.  The text says that as he is speaking the words of healing to the nameless woman, a messenger arrives to declare that Jairus’ daughter has died. The tension has mounted… now what?  I can imagine hearing this the first time and thinking “How tragic. What will Jesus do now? No Jesus… don’t tell everybody that she is just sleeping.. that isn’t going to work.”

 

And then he touches her, just as Jairus had asked… similar to the touch of the nameless woman… and says “Talitha Cum”. Get Up!  He resurrects her and tells them to feed her… It is a great story. Filled with twists and turns and pithy statements and dozens of theological nuggets. It is in fact good news.

 

And, we could use some good news couldn’t we?  Is there good news in this gospel text today that can speak to our racism in America?  to our racism in the Church? We need a task list don’t we? Well, I think there is good news for us and for our context. I think there is healing in this text.

 

Both Jairus and the nameless woman, took matters into their own hands.  Their faith in God pushed them to action. Jairus certainly could have sent a messenger to find Jesus and beckon him to help. He could have sent several. But he was desperate. He was all in and much more committed to the task than a messenger. This was his last shot and didn’t want to risk leaving it up to somebody else. He got his hands dirty and got to work.

 

And the nameless woman… she also was desperate.. she sought her own healing. She yearned to be well.  And she had to break the purity code to do it. Because of her ailment she was not supposed to touch others. She wasn’t supposed to be in public. But when you’re desperate, you are willing to risk. You are willing to do whatever it takes.

 

The powerful must take action on behalf of those without agency. The action must come from Jairus because his daughter cannot. Her problem has become his problem. Both are relying on his action.

 

Faith and action… Faith and action… This is our problem… What will we do Grace? What will we do as individuals and corporately? What action must we take on,  on behalf of our black brothers and sisters? For our healing and for theirs.

 

May I offer a couple of suggestions?

 

Sit in uncomfortable places. Put yourself out there and be willing to be vulnerable. Find where the conversation is… and lean into it.

Listen to real experiences about how people of color feel on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, not much of this work can be done on the internet.

We must go to the places, like Jairus and the nameless woman, crowded places…

Places that will not be easy to get to or go to.

We will need to sacrifice our schedules if we want to experience this healing.

It will take work and the work will be slow.

It will take intentionality and patience.

 

That is how we begin our journey to healing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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