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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.

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.

 

The Thin Space Between Mary and Jesus

The Thin Space Between Mary and Jesus

REV. JODI BARON -March 13, 2016- Lent 5, Year C: John 12:1-8

Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”

 

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Good morning! It is truly a blessing to see you each this morning. As I was heading to bed last night the thought had crossed my mind, “I wonder who will be the ones to forget about Daylight Savings Time?” I actually wondered if I would be the one who forgot. Even if you had, it would’ve been fine (it’s one of those things we like to tease each other about twice a year).

 

It never used to bother me, that time of year that harkens us back to days of the early 1900s…when, after seeing what Canada was able to accomplish by adding an hour to the end of their day, states across the union began to implement this ubiquitous tradition. And it seems as though states have been tinkering with it ever since; the date for which it should happen, when it should “end”, etc.

 

But when we started having kids, all that changed! This annual tradition had now entered into this sacred zone of peace and stability for my children and thereby…the mama… affectionately remembered as ‘sleep.’ Whether throughout the day as they napped or at the end of the day when they met their bed, it was sacred time for me as a new mom. There were no longer little people attached to my limbs climbing, crying, coo-ing, or just snuggling. They were peacefully resting, rejuvenating, and I was too. That morning would happen though, and I immediately started feeling like I was behind as soon as I woke up!

 

I’m kind of kidding, but it really was a fact that I could bank on losing this precious peace for about one to two weeks while their little bodies un-naturally adjusted to the time change.

 

For me, the DST “thing” gives me pause because of the way sleep affects our brains. Scientists have told us now that sleep is that time when our brain processes and files all the things we learned throughout the day.

 

If you saw the movie “Inside Out” you can identify, bedtime was when Command Center would engage in the great memory cleanse. Riley would drift off and the Core Emotions would watch the way her brain processed the day’s events.

 

They always got especially sentimental when one of those memories became, what they called, a “Core Memory.” The ones that developed Riley’s fragile personality islands.

 

For me, some of my core memories have to do with the sense of smell.

 

People who were special to me growing up, had a certain smell attached to them. Whether that was from what they cooked for me when I visited, perfume they wore that clung to me after hugging them, or maybe even the deodorant they wore that I began to associate with “their smell.”

 

I was always amazed how my babies would know it was me before they really knew anything, because of my “smell”. Their special blankets that would accompany them each time they slept, or felt sad, or scared, had that smell about it. To this day, I get flack from them when I have to wash that precious “ya-ya” because the machine takes away that smell.

 

Smell is a powerful sense!

 

It has the power to draw one in (for food, comfort, or trips down memory lane) as well as cast one away.

 

Think about a contrast to extreme olfactory responses you’ve had over the years.

 

I have many of both kinds, I have the smells that remind me of positive family memories; apple pies for gatherings, fresh baked yeast rolls by my great grandma, dirt and rain that revealed spring to my senses…

 

And then their are those I have that elicit powerful memories, that I can now laugh about, but during the experience felt more sick than funny.

Like that time when Daisy met a skunk at 10:30 at night, and we had to give her 3 baths AND put her through the Dog Wash on “De-Skunk”-ing…TWICE! Ooh, that was BAD!

 

And then there was the smell on the other end of the spectrum, my daughter’s baptism.

 

The smells from that day elicit a much different response!

 

The priest who baptised her happen to be of the persuasion that if you couldn’t still smell the chrism (the special oil blessed by the bishop) a few weeks later, you didn’t use enough!

 

He literally poured the oil over Magnolia’s head while he said the words, “you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever.”

 

The whole nave was filled with the fragrance of the oil.

And to this day, everytime I smell the oil, when I open the ambry to retrieve the reserved sacrament, the smell meets me, and I take a deep breath before proceeding.

 

Baptism oil, in many faith traditions, but I know ours best, is different than regular oil because it is usually only blessed by the Bishop. Once a year, during Holy Week, the clergy of the Diocese come together for a time to renew our ordination vows and bring our empty chrismaria (the special containers that hold the special oil) to refill them for the coming year’s baptisms.

 

So, in theory, that’s your parish’s shot for the oil to seal your people by the Holy Spirit and mark them as Christ’s own,

 

for the whole year.

 

If you use just a spear or, like the Priest who baptized Maggie, half a cup worth per candidate, you have to plan accordingly.

 

What is more, it used to be that this particular oil was something that took a long time to make. It’s usually infused with balsam. Cool little factoid I learned about Balsam is that it was made from boiling the stems, leaves, and sap from the Balsam Tree and it was the most expensive spice in Israel. So it was used sparingly, for very special occasions.

 

So we have this oil, infused with Balsam, and now, every time I even think about baptism, I remember that moment I admitted that these beauties before me that I brought into the world, weren’t actually mine to begin with, that they indeed came from God and will one day return to God, well, that was a moment I wanted to promise my best to God. That I would strive to be faithful to this vocation of rearing God’s beloved. Of following God’s example of how to Love, to the best of my ability, until the day I day. And my community promised to help us!

 

That whole memory sequence is triggered by the smell of the Chrism!

When I was meditating on this morning’s gospel that verse about the oil kept bubbling up as something to pay attention to. The preciousness as well as power of the sent from the nard reminded me of our present day chrism.

 

Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”

 

I see the anointing at Bethany as an invitation to enter into the thin space created here between Mary and Jesus. Today we have this beautiful story that radiates God’s love for us, by way of one particular follower of Jesus who does something only an intimate disciple of Jesus could do; some even call her the Apostle to the Apostles.

 

The prototype Disciple.

 

In fact, this whole dinner party was a prototype for Discipleship.

 

Mary, Martha, and Lazarus host this dinner as a response, presumably from a place of gratitude, for the deeds of power God did through Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead in the preceding chapter (recall Martha’s response to Jesus wanting the tomb opened, “But Lord, already there is a stench because he’s been dead four days.” Yet another powerful olfactory experience, the stench of death!). That very act of resurrection was the act that some say cost Jesus his life, for it was from then on that the leaders plotted to have him killed.

 

Jesus, witnessing Mary’s love for her brother, was compelled to such deep sadness that scripture tells us, “he began to weep.” And now, here we are, zooming in on this Thanksgiving Dinner six days before the Passover. The same characters are gathered, and Mary, once again, teaches Jesus how to teach his disciples to love one another. Only this time, through the “wiping” of his feet. Two words in this passage are explicitly used in John for the Last Supper. “Dinner” and “Wipe”, which tells me Jesus was inspired by this family’s devotion that he decided to use their example when he would be at supper with his disciples on the night he was to be betrayed.

 

I like to think that this anointing, much like his experience on the mountain when he was transfigured, gave him the courage to meet the days ahead. This was before daily bath standards, and that oil had plenty to cling to so it is very likely that the nard seeped into Jesus’ feet and the smell was still present with him as he hung from the cross.

 

It is the scent of a king and dead body, all in one.

 

Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”

 

Next Sunday we greet our Lord, who enters Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, with our Palm Branches stretched out and then walk with him throughout Holy Week.

May we be filled with the fragrance of God’s love for us as we journey the rest of the way through Lent, into the Holiest of Holy Weeks, and meet him at the empty tomb on Easter!

 

Amen.

As our closing hymn sung,

“In boldness, love, nor count the cost. Confront the world’s harsh stare: like one who washed the feet of Christ, and wiped them with her hair, poured perfume to anoint her Lord, and left love’s fragrance there.” 

 

THE TIMES WE LIVE IN
THE TIMES WE LIVE IN

THE TIMES WE LIVE IN

REV. JODI BARON – February 21, 2016 – 2 LENT, YEAR C: LUKE 13:31-35

In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

This morning I woke up and felt drawn back to the Old Testament lesson. That part that tells us,

 

“As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him. When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram.”

 

Mostly because, (and I realize this may be the first some of you are hearing this news) as the sun was going down yesterday, our Michigan community experienced a “terrifying darkness” that has descended upon our State, our Diocesan boundaries, our neighbors in Kalamazoo.

 

As I opened the news this morning, (for an updated account on the situation, here is one account from local news WoodTV8) I couldn’t believe what I was reading! It took my breath away to read about yet another mass shooting that has happened, only this time it was just down the highway from us.

 

I’m not going to go into it, because (a) it’s still unfolding, and (b) the families of some of the victims are still being notified.

But I do have a few thoughts that I wanted share, as they pertain to this season of the church calendar we find ourselves in and the scriptures we just got done hearing or reading.

 

First, what in the world?!?!?!

 

I was literally on the street the police apprehended the suspect they believe was responsible for the death of seven human lives in Kalamazoo last night. That violence has stripped away a sense of basic human safety in ways the police have said they have NEVER seen in our area. This violence has created a cloud of darkness that many folks are finding themselves smack dab in the center of right now.

 

Second, if you are the praying type Kalamazoo needs your prayers.

 

Some of the families are just now hearing the news, some of the families are keeping vigil with their loved ones as they fight for their lives in the hospital, the police are in the midst of interviewing this suspect. As this dawned upon me the only thing I could think of was to pray. So I opened my prayer book and searched for a prayer that might offer a glimpse of comfort or the warmth of human compassion for the families affected by this senseless act of violence.

 

That simple prayer, introduced to our Common Prayer in the revision of the 1789 Prayer Book, served as a catalyst to propel me to re-commit to my Lenten practices. The tragedy in Kalamazoo was, and continues to be, a sobering reminder of the times we live in, and why we take up disciplines each year to strengthen our faith so we can have the courage to serve the world in the name of Christ.

Because here we are.

 

Ash Wednesday & the First Sunday in Lent have come and gone and set the course for our pilgrimage to Mount Calvary.

 

How is it going for you?

 

By now you’ve had a chance to settle into the practices you’ve selected for this season, you’ve had a chance to live out the fasting or giving or prayer practices for a while now…

 

So…how’s it going?

 

Training is challenging, isn’t it?

 

I’ve had the opportunity to train for a few different events in my life; baptism, surgery, college, new jobs, marriage, backpacking, giving birth, the priesthood, a 5K…right now I’m in the midst of training for my first 10K.

 

It’s challenging.

 

All of these events I’ve trained for have been challenging in their own way.

 

But all of them share a common motif.

 

God’s covenant and the newness of life offered by transforming grace.

 

Laurence Stookey, a professor of preaching in the DC area, wrote a book awhile ago about a Theology of liturgical time. In it he walks through the church calendar and offers thoughts about the week-to-week cycle we find ourselves in, if we are liturgical christians. I love it because it helps give me insight into the inner weeks of seasons, patterns between years A, B, and C. It pulls me out of my commentaries and throws me deeper into the meaning of each season.

 

He writes that “Lent is like an ellipse: It is a single entity with a double focus. The Forty Days are (a) a time for a probing consideration of our human condition, including sin and its deadly consequences for both individuals and society, and (b) a time for an equally intense consideration of the new possibilities offered to us in Jesus Christ and their implications for practical living.”

 

Some scholars describe this particular week in Lent with the focus on Abram’s vision through God’s gracious initiative and promise (on which we can depend and to which we are called to respond with joyful and sustained obedience), as well as Jesus’ gift of newness of life as we focus in on the Cross.

 

As one theologian said, “Lent is not six-and-a-half weeks of marching around the foot of Mount Calvary. Rather, this season engages us in the process of confronting who we are by nature, who we are by God’s purpose and redeeming action, and what we can become by divine grace.”

 

These interior Sundays, as he describes, “propel us forward so that finally we do find our feet planted at the base of the cross, with our eyes gazing beyond to behold the power of the resurrection and the seek its manifestations even now in our daily discipleship.”

 

But not yet.

 

First we have to train.

 

So if you’ve slacked in your practices, like me, from time-to-time, don’t give up! Start again. This is a rich time of transformation and our world needs your disciplines, now more than ever! Our world, your neighbors, need to cling to your steadfast faith as you knit, run, pray, fast, give, repent…You are a disciple of Jesus and your practices…our practices…are one of the ways God is transforming the world. So, please…don’t stop trying to grow deeper in your relationship with God.

 

Be renewed.

 

Those families in Kalamazoo need our prayers, our fasting, our giving, our comfort.

 

Our families facing horrid medical troubles need our prayers, our fasting, our giving, our comfort.

 

Our friends among us preparing to be baptized, or received, or confirmed into this crazy Christian expression of The Episcopal Church, need our prayers, our fasting, our giving, and our comfort.

 

This is an intense time of Training for Christians. This has been said before, but bears repeating, as a church, this is the annual time in which we are constrained to insist that there is no route to an empty tomb except by way of the cross.

 

Jesus desires to gather all of God’s children, us “as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” Unlike those in Jesus’ audience in this morning’s Gospel, however, let us be willing to be gathered. Let us be willing to bring more into the fold and under his wings. Let us train with perseverance and steadfast faith so that when we gaze upon the empty tomb we are not surprised by grace, but are propelled to live more faithfully the life Christ has called each of us to.

 

‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’

WHAT’S RAGE GOT TO DO WITH IT?

WHAT’S RAGE GOT TO DO WITH IT?

REV. JODI BARON – January 31, 2016 – 4 EPIPHANY, YEAR C: LUKE 4:21-30

 

“When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage.” In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Good morning.

 

Today is a very interesting day, in the life of a church. Especially our church, and most other Episcopal Churches (at least at some point over the last few weeks). You see, this is the time of year when Office Managers, Financial Secretaries, Rectors, Commission Chairs, and Wardens compile all of this wonderful data that humans generate over a period of time.

 

The data could be financial giving reports, participation reports, attendance reports, stories from ministries, and the like.

 

All of this data is then woven into a story that helps us look back, as a community, over this past year and what God has done through the assets we’ve been blessed with and offered for the good of the whole.

 

This story not only helps us capture the story of God’s LOVE we shared this previous year, but it helps us dream of what that story of God’s LOVE could be for this coming year.

 

And for Grace Episcopal Church, this coming year is one that has quite a few transitions to anticipate.

 

We have a few who will be finishing up High School, or college…

Some going on much needed sabbaticals…

Some facing uncertain challenges like job change, moving, health, and financials.

Each of these transitions hold different emotions for us, as a community and as individuals. Which is a pretty normal human response, I would think.

 

Some look forward and feel a little trepidation, some feel excitement, some feel sadness.

 

It seems to me that emotions are a tricky thing.

 

They have the capacity to help us navigate complicated situations with dignity and grace, and to cause rippling effects of further complications.

 

Emotions even have their own intelligence measurement.

 

Apparently one is “emotionally intelligent” when they have the capacity to not only identify, or name, the emotion they are experiencing, but to be able to “manage” their emotions and the emotions of others. I read that EI includes three skills:

  1. Emotional awareness, including the ability to identify your own emotions and those of others;
  2. The ability to harness emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problem solving;
  3. The ability to manage emotions, including the ability to regulate your own emotions, and the ability to cheer up or calm down another person.

These are actual skills being taught now in classrooms as early as second grade, or maybe even earlier.

It’s not just for “professionals” anymore; you know like counselors, pastors, and hostage negotiators.

 

Experts are finding that the more people who hold high levels of emotional intelligence are actually assets to community building.

 

Which, when I think about it, makes quite a bit of sense.

 

Especially when you are the one hearing news that produces a deep emotional response.

 

Having someone in the group who knows how to identify what emotion you are feeling and help you apply that emotion to specific tasks like “thinking” and “problem solving,” seems like that would be a pretty important skill to have in our midst, right? That means they can help you navigate the complexity of what you are experiencing before you act on it. In some circles, this skill is called “diffusing”, referring the the charge that is sometimes amped up when stakes are high. Having someone with High Emotional Intelligence in the room can actually reduce the anxiety in a room rather than fuel it.

 

Emotions, then, are apparently very powerful tools humans have, and knowing how to use them or navigate them seems to be equally powerful.

 

If you were to list the names for emotions, how many do you think you could identify, off the top of your head?

 

Now, I’m definitely not an expert, but I think it’s safe to say that emotions are pretty complex.

Perhaps that is why Philosophers, Anthropologists, and Psychologists have been debating this question,  some sources state at least back to Aristotle, in the 4th century. Likely even longer though, I imagine.

 

From what I could find, current thought tends to land in the camp of somewhere between four to eight universal emotions that humans experience. Some recent research into how the muscles of our face contort according to the emotions we are feeling suggest there are really only four irreducible emotions: happiness, sadness, anger, and fear. Everything else we “feel” is a variation of those four that has evolved over the millennia, those some 7,000 facial expressions we see beginning to develop in infants that seem to peak when they hit adolescence (smile).

 

That is quite mind-boggling, to me. And fascinating on a sociological level. That so much of our human behavior, the things we do, stem from the emotions we feel.

 

A favorite social phenomenon that I studied in Sociology was this thing called “Mob Mentality.” Where you group a bunch of people together and get emotions high and all of the sudden you have those same people banning together for a common goal. Those same people, individually, would quite possible never act out that way, however. It is something in the anatomy of that crowd, or mob, that suggests overpowering urges to conform and join in with what the rest are doing.

 

It reminds me a little of story from this morning’s gospel. If you recall, last week we were in Galilee, also in a synagogue, and the people were amazed with Jesus…remember? In Chapter 4 vs. 14-15 we read, “Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.”

 

Then the story moves to his hometown and, all of the sudden, we read “When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage.”

As in violent, uncontrollable anger.

 

But some psychologists would disagree. They say that “Rage” is an emotion that we feel first. But without mature pathways through that emotion it becomes behavior. And the behavior of RAGE that we read about in this morning’s gospel.

 

If we zoom into this pericope for a few minutes and take a deeper look at the dynamics that were leading up to this moment of “rage,” that compelled the people to run Jesus out to the edge of town, to a cliff (which he thankfully slipped away from), we may just see a window into the nature of the radical message of God’s Incarnation through the birth, life, and ministry of his Son, Jesus Christ.

 

So, what is going on here?

 

We have a synagogue of folks gathered for their ritual hearing of God’s word and a teacher of the law explain it.

 

And then, just a paragraph later we see something much, much darker. Jesus began interpreting scripture in a divergent way from what they had been taught to interpret.

 

You see, prior to this, they had heard the scriptures be interpreted as God’s exclusive covenant with his people, a promise of deliverance from their oppressors.

 

And Jesus’ teaching did reveal deliverance, but not that kind.

 

Jesus just basically told them that God’s kingdom was being radically cracked open to breakdown the human boundaries created to separate us through race, class, gender, or really ANYONE who experienced poverty, oppression, and marginalization.

 

Jesus was teaching that God’s deliverance was radically inclusive! radically open! radically…beyond their wildest imagination!

 

God was manifesting, through Jesus, his inseparable LOVE for humanity!

 

You know, the LOVE that was present at creation, and in every salvific act in Biblical History.

 

The LOVE, infact, that Paul was teaching about in his first letter to the Corinthians. That beautiful and completely mind-blowing passage about what REAL love really is, does, and is capable of.

“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

 

Love, is a theological term, applied to human experiences and emotions. But English just does a downright pitiful job of capturing the complexity of this rich term. Seriously. I mean, in Greek there are four words to describe our one word for love. Paul used at least 8 ways to describe what Love Is and 8 ways it is NOT.

So if we back away from trying to pin this down to definable, explainable, and measurable data…we may.. be able to embrace this force that is quite mysterious in nature, quite lovely.

 

Italian Theologian, Thomas Aquinas, said Love takes up where knowledge leaves off.

 

And love, according to what we read this morning, is a radical, hospitable, open, and more important virtue than faith or hope.

So this letter to the Corinthians, this Gospel according to Luke, they weren’t messages intended for beginners. They were, and I would argue continue to be for us today, messages of good news, of reconciliation in the face of deep, deep, conflict.

 

The kind of conflict that causes separation, war, end the severing of relationship. Jesus was cracking open the covenant to all of God’s creation…and Paul was calling the Church to practice LOVE in the face of these obstacles.

 

That’s what we say we’re about when we call ourselves Christ-followers, that and so much more….but never hate. never rage or calling for the murdering of someone. There’s no room for that in love.

 

We are committed to being radically hospitable, loving, caring, accepting, and at the Table…THAT table, where we break bread and ingest the body and blood of our Lord; week after week after week. For solace and strength. For unity and new eyes to love and serve the world.

 

We are the hands and feet of Christ, Grace. And we have work to do in Holland, West Michigan, and beyond.

We are known to others by the way we LOVE.

 

So tonight, as we gather to eat and give thanks for this past year and look forward to another beautiful year of mission and ministry to the world and with each other, the people of Holland and beyond, my prayer is that we love with radically open arms, Grace. Arms that are willing to stretch out and embrace all that embodies the image of God.

 

REMEMBER YOUR BAPTISM?

REMEMBER YOUR BAPTISM?

REV. JODI BARON – January 10, 2016 – 1 EPIPHANY, YEAR C: LUKE 3:15-17,21-22

“ Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’”

 

In the Name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Good morning.

 

I’m sure you’re wondering right now, “there must be an misprint. Jen was supposed to be preaching this morning.”

 

Well, it’s not a misprint. You have me in her proxy this morning because, unfortunately, she sustained a back injury late last week and has been recovering at home. She wanted me to assure you she is on the healing path and will return to the office soon, just not yet today.

 

But do not fear! Isn’t that what the prophet Isaiah told us this morning?

 

God was speaking to his people through Isaiah in those days of a time when profound healing would take place. That promise of the eschaton, right?

 

Thus says the Lord,

he who created you, O Jacob,

he who formed you, O Israel:

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;

I have called you by name, you are mine.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;

and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;

when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,

and the flame shall not consume you.

For I am the Lord your God,

the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”

 

Baptism, as we practice it in most Episcopal Churches, is somewhat of a more “practical” expression than visceral, like the waters of the Jordan likely were for Christ, when his cousin, John, baptized him.

 

Show of hands, how many of you, at your baptism, were submerged into the waters and then brought back up by the minister?

 

How many of you had a shell of water poured over your head, or sprinkles dotted on you?

 

How many of you remember your baptism?

 

Memory is a tricky thing, you see.

 

For some of us, we can say that we remember our baptisms because we were older when we made that commitment to the church, when we publically accepted our belovedness.

 

For others, that memory is deeper, it is extended to us through our loved ones who witnessed it and made promises on our behalf.

 

For us, neither one is more special or right. Because the act of baptism is a gift, no matter when it is administered. Whether you were two weeks old or 92 years old, Baptism is as much about the one being baptized as it is about the body of Christ which makes promises too. It is the primary way, our Church teaches, one enters into the mystical body of Christ. It’s, for thousands of years, the Rite by which we become woven into the DNA of Christ and thus his body, the Church.

 

And in the 1979 prayer book, the one we get our liturgies from today, the theology of our church makes a shift, of sorts, in how we see this sacrament.

 

It took the sacrament of baptism out of the privacy of the family unit and extended it to a public declaration and incorporation, thus restoring the more ancient understanding, I think, of what we are doing when we Die, Rise, and make promises to Live for Christ through baptism.

 

It is found directly following the Great Vigil of Easter and right before Eucharist. Order, you see, is important when it comes to the composition of our Book of Common Prayer. It, as Leonel Mitchell says,

shapes our believing.

 

You’ve heard the phrase, “Baptismal Covenant,” right?

 

In theological terms, or in God-talk, a covenant is something that brings about relationship of commitment between God and his people.

It isn’t just about the one making the covenant.

At each baptism the whole body remembers their baptism by reciting the Baptismal Covenant.

 

Those promises that God makes with us and we with him… “with God’s help,” we say.

 

In this morning’s Gospel, from Luke, we read,

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

 

Jesus, himself was baptized and declared from heaven as God’s beloved, so by extension, we can be called sons and daughters of The Most High, as well.

 

Sons and Daughters of God.

 

Worthy of dignity and respect, without clauses to remind us of who qualifies, but by mere act of creation, we are God’s beloved.

 

One of my favorite authors, and new Episcopalians, Rachel Held Evans, says in her book “Searching for Sunday,”

 

“Jesus did not begin to be loved at the moment of his baptism, nor did he cease to be loved when his baptism became a memory. Baptism simply named the reality of his existing and unending belovedness.”

 

And Saint Basil (the brother of the getting-better-known-saint Naucratius and better known brother Gregory) said,

As we were baptized, so we profess our belief. As we profess our belief, so also we offer praise. As then baptism has been given us by the Savior, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, so, in accordance with our baptism, we make the confession of the creed, and our doxology in accordance with our creed.”

So, brothers and sisters. On this day, the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord, I call on you to also remember your baptism as we live into this season of Epiphany and stand with me to renew our Baptismal Covenant.

 

The Baptismal Covenant

 

Celebrant Do you believe in God the Father?
People I believe in God, the Father almighty,

creator of heaven and earth.

Celebrant Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
People I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,

He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit

and born of the Virgin Mary.

He suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, died, and was buried.

He descended to the dead.

On the third day he rose again.

He ascended into heaven,

and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Celebrant Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?
People I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy catholic Church,

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and the life everlasting.

Celebrant Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and

fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the

prayers?

People I will, with God’s help.
Celebrant Will you persevere in resisting evil, and , whenever

you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

People I will, with God’s help.

 

Celebrant Will you proclaim by word and example the Good

News of God in Christ?

People I will, with God’s help.
Celebrant Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving

your neighbor as yourself?

People I will, with God’s help.
Celebrant Will you strive for justice and peace among all

people, and respect the dignity of every human

being?

People I will, with God’s help.
GOD IS WITH US

GOD IS WITH US

REV. JODI BARON – January 3, 2016 – 2 CHRISTMAS, YEAR C: MATTHEW 2:13-15,19-23

 

In the name of the God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

A few years ago I was sitting in class chatting with some friends about an assignment we had to do involving a role-playing of sorts.

We had to come up with a fictitious parish and re-tell the class how we processed some aspect of a drama that had developed in our common life. My group had decided on a name for the community, we wanted to call it “Pantocrator” which is the Greek meaning of “Ruler of All” and in the tradition of the Church is commonly depicted as “God is With Us” by being displayed in a prominent place.

 

The oldest icon, of this Pantocrator, is believed to be from the 6th century preserved in a monastery when most icons had been destroyed.

 

We got to work and I took on the job of re-creating the icon for our presentation. As is my custom, I got the idea to do it having never tried it before, and believed it would come together as it needed to.

Well, needless to say, the project that I anticipated only taking me a few hours turned into one that was not possible for me to complete by the deadline. So I did what I could with it and then put it in the basement and essentially forgot all about it.

 

Until many months later when I was about halfway through my summer internship of Chaplaincy at the local hospital and going through some of the most grueling of inner work I had ever done in my life, I was invited to put down my computer and create something as an expression of my work thus far.

 

I dusted off that partially created icon and got to work. Night after night, I tore magazine pages and sorted colors and glued tiny fragments together until the process said what it needed to say.

 

God Is With Us.

It hangs on the wall to this day, in my office, and reminds me that even in the midst of the challenges and tragedy folks faced everyday that I was there, I proclaimed and believed, just a little bit, that God was there with them. With us.

 

I think it’s pretty incredible that for the last 2,000 years there have been people dedicating their life’s work to passing this message along to the next generation. Time and time again, spanning continent and languages and cultures…this message of the Christ child born to an unwed mother in a foreign land who would later be rejected by his own people, hung on a cross to die, and manifest victory over death through God’s resurrection and ascension of this Christ, has been given to us.

 

A royal gift.

A sacred gift.

A gift filled with mystery and nuances and timeless teachings,

and most of all, with Faith and Love.

 

God’s epic love story for humanity.

 

You see, Matthew’s birth story, of God taking on flesh, doesn’t happen in a manger, like Luke’s story does. It begins with a shady accounting of the lineage Jesus was born into. It speaks of God’s protecting, visiting, planning, and taking of the flesh of his creation. It’s entirely spiritual, whereas Luke’s account is fleshy and humanly recognizable.

 

Matthew 1:1 says, “An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” Those first few verses of this gospel tell the whole truth as passed down to this community. All of it.

 

Then in 1:18 we are introduced to the man Joseph, the dreamer, who was being called to do something unheard of, unprecedented.

The mother, Mary, before they even lived together, conceived a child by the Holy Spirit and was going to name him Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.”

 

It tells of a scared and lonely couple fleeing tyranny and threat of death not once, not twice, but three times! It tells of a royal baby who is the obsession of kings and visited by important foreigners who give expensive gifts.

 

It’s a tale which intentionally highlights the faithfulness of the characters needed to play out such a story, but that the hidden main character is God himself.

 

God is the one who is protecting, visiting, planning, and taking on the flesh of his creation.

 

All the while witnessing the horrors that humans are capable of.

 

His own creation, slaughtering of innocents, violence beyond comprehension, poverty beyond comparison.

 

His own heart breaking for his beloved to come back.

 

This love story is the one that we tell over and over again from womb to tomb. Christmas to Easter to Pentecost and all the beautiful days in between till heaven itself is on earth.

 

And along with these stories we tell, we say the Creed, because we believe they articulate a faith in something bigger than what we are humanly capable of believing.

We say, “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,

the only Son of God,

eternally begotten of the Father,

God from God, Light from Light,

true God from true God,

begotten, not made,

of one Being with the Father.”

And sometimes it takes our breath away, if we let it, of what the Creator of the Universe did for humanity by taking on flesh and becoming totally vulnerable, dependent upon the willingness of two unknowns to be faithful to a few dreams they had. Can you imagine?

 

The Creed is much like what Matthew’s community was doing, looking back over the events that had taken place as they processed what it meant that God became his own creation so that he could know us better…and that we could know him, as friend. They needed to process what it all meant, and continued to reveal of God’s love and presence with them in the midst of unimaginable suffering and cruelty and violence. Re-telling the story manifests faith which produces healing which gives birth to hope.

 

And we pray the Lord’s prayer because it articulates a prayer we are often too afraid to pray ourselves. “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us our daily bread…”

 

We come to the table to remember Christ died, Christ is risen, and that Christ will come again, because when we walk out those doors there is an onslaught of pressures threatening to strip us of Hope that is not humanly possible to sustain.

 

I come here, perhaps like you, to pray words that have been prayed for hundreds of years, to hear scripture that has been read in community for thousands of years, and to participate in the sacraments given God’s church to strengthen and give solace to God’s people to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world.

 

It’s a big story. And it’s a good story. An epic story of Love and Friendship and Betrayal and Forgiveness. And it needs to be shared.

 

 

What Does “Hope” Mean?

 What Does “Hope” Mean?

REV. JODI BARON – December 6, 2015 – Advent 2, Year C: Luke 3:1-6

Baruch 5:1-9, Canticle 16   (Page 92, BCP), Philippians 1:3-11, Luke 3:1-6

 

Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to prepare the way for your only Son. By his coming give us strength in our conflicts and shed light on our path through the darkness of this world; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

 

I am here before you this morning with a conflicted heart, as I’m sure many of you are as well. Conflicted because for some reason, every Advent, I find myself falling into the trap of thinking somehow life is supposed to be perfect for these four weeks leading up to the In-breaking of our God Incarnate, as we prepare for Christmas.

 

Some of those trappings come from the hype and circumstance of the season; with making lists, planning menus and get-togethers, re-arranging furniture, and cleaning off things that hold so many memories for us and haven’t been seen in at least a year. As soon as the first week of advent hits our house, Sufjan Stevens becomes a constant voice calling us to (as our Bishop said last week at our monthly clergy gathering) “shhhh, slow down, it’s Advent.”

 

We pull out our wreathe, our wooden Advent Calendar and holder for the pieces. We bring out the creche collection we’ve been acquiring our whole marriage: some from pre-earthquake Haiti, some from Peru, somefrom Yonkers in Marquette, MI and some from The Bridge in downtown Holland.

 

Our children begin to play with the scenes and ask questions about who each character is all to promptly transform them into characters in their elaborate play-world, whether that’s Star Wars, Legos, or Orphan Annie.

 

And for a moment, my heart is filled with a sense of renewal. That maybe, just maybe, this year will be different. There will be more peace, less violence, more education, less hunger, more time, less illness. things will be healthy and whole.

 

So I suppose it’s rather normal and not all that uncommon, then, for a bit of jolting to happen when reality stops the record and we are pulled out of our nostalgia and thrust into the reality of the days we find ourselves in. At least, that’s what happens with me.

 

This past year has been met with too much suffering on the part of those I love and care about. I can’t even count how many people I know who are carrying more than their lifetime share of grief…, suffering…, and pain…. And those are just the people I know by name!

 

Like Jen mentioned last week, it’s not just imaginary that our prayers are including new communities afflicted by war, violence, famine, or unimaginable fear, each week we gather here for prayer.

 

And now, in addition to the communities we add each week, we are finding ourselves needing to specifically include more and more professions to our prayers of the people… whose daily work it is to protect us… who are being asked to do more than their share. The military, Police Officers, and now, perhaps, even Teachers.

 

I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of commentary, I’m sick of opening up the news and reading about another mass shooting, more senseless acts of violence, more lives disrupted by wanton disregard for the sanctity of human life.

 

But, we can’t think that by simply talking about this we can actually change anything. It may give us a little to think about, maybe in a slightly different way, but this, in and of itself not the full potential of what we as Christians are called to do, be, and change in the world around us.

 

As Christians, we are called to be a people of Hope. But what does that look like…what does hope look like for the victims of gun violence… of war…

 

“Hope” is not an emotion, as author Brené Brown writes in her book, “Gifts of Imperfection.” It’s a way of thinking born from the experience of struggle. Which indicates, to me, that it is something that requires cultivation and intention. Especially in this day and age when despair and cynicism are definitely more readily available. But how do you cultivate a virtue like hope when every couple of days we read about more and more deprivation?

 

Suffering, pain, war, violence, famine, fear.

 

These are not new experiences of the human condition. If we were only to spend the next few weeks walking through our own tradition’s account of human misery, we would have our work cut out for us.

 

This is part of the comfort and solace our community of faith is allowed to take in in times like this. That we are indeed not alone, nor the first to go through this.

 

Take for instance, the reading we had this morning from Baruch. Baruch was a friend and secretary of the prophet Jeremiah and was believed to be in Babylonia with the Israelites during the Babylonian Exile.

 

The interesting thing I find about this inclusion of an apocryphal text during Advent, in conjunction with Luke’s song of Zechariah, and the introduction of John the Baptist’s ministry, is that, despite all that is going on around these people…all the oppressive leadership, war, famine, violence, being ripped from their homes and deported to a foreign land for at least 70 years, despite all that…they maintained their religious identity as God’s chosen. They didn’t do this in isolation, however. They did this through a commitment to their community.

 

One source said that,

Elders supervised the Jewish communities, and Ezekiel was one of several prophets who kept alive the hope of one day returning home. This was possibly also the period when synagogues were first established, for the Jews observed the Sabbath and religious holidays, practiced circumcision, and substituted prayers for former ritual sacrifices in the Temple.

 

In other words, they kept employing the tools they were given, to put one-foot-in-front-of-the-other, and do those things their communities knew how to do to draw closer to God…they kept praying, fasting, and reading scripture in community.

 

So much in this world is out of our control, isn’t it?

On a macro level, the world-wide violence…

On a micro level, job-security, long term illness, birth, death…

 

Much of the pain caused by being alive is due to the fact that we are all connected. We hurt only when we love something or someone deeply.

 

And to love is a part of our created essence, because God is love…we are images of that love… the imago dei… and are called to love one another.

 

This week was one of those weeks for me. I opened my news feed I read the news… looked at facebook, or listened to the radio, and post after post, article after article I was inundated with either the vitriol of folks debating gun violence, the refugee crisis, or global terrorism…or folks who were posting things that had nothing to do with what was going on.

 

Both were too much for me. Both led me to dark, dark places about humanity, my role as a faith leader in times like these, and my hopes for all of our children and for their futures.

 

So when I read through this morning’s lessons, introducing the ministry and mission of John the Baptist, I realized that what I needed to do was to take myself to a different place.

 

Not burry my head in the sand, so to speak, but rather to employ tried and true practices that many Christians have employed to guide them through these dark hours our world is experiencing.

 

I needed to fast, and pray, and lament, and read from saints gone before. I needed to cleanse my thoughts and my heart of the confusion that worldly events were threatening to rob me of my hope for humanity, God’s good creation.

 

These are the birth pangs that the Gospel lessons had been leading us to be attentive to as Advent approached. These are the things about which John spoke of needing to take place in order for the Son of Man to appear.

 

These things produce in us a prophetic longing, a hope, one that casts our eyes to the rising sun that comes up from the east and from where our salvation comes.

 

A longing that pulls us out of our heads and orients our hearts to reflect upon the kingdom that God is about establishing here on earth.

 

A longing that dares to hope for the day when the Lion and the Lamb will indeed lie down together, in peace, when the mountains will be leveled and the valleys risen up and the paths made straight.

 

“Be not afraid” is what God whispers to his people, time and time again. Through prophets and sages, angels, and his beloved Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ.

 

“Be not afraid.”

 

I wanted to share this prayer with you from a resource a friend of mine from seminary helped to put together and of which many of my colleagues from Seminary of the Southwest are featured in:

(The resource is called Journey Toward Home: Soul Travel From Advent to Lent) I call it “Breathe!” and it is from the 2nd week of Advent and is part of my prayer for us.

 

In this season of waiting,

breathe in life.

 

Life of the One

who created all things,

whose image we bear.

 

In this season of waiting,

breathe in love.

 

Love of the One

who gave a precious Son

to live as one of us.

 

In this season of waiting,

breathe in peace.

 

Peace of the One

who calmed the sea

and quiets the tumult of our souls.

 

In this season of waiting

breathe in hope.

 

Hope that the One

for whom we wait

is indeed making all things whole.

 

-Christine Sine in A Journey toward Home: Soul Travel from Advent to Lent

 

COPPER COINS AND THE JESUS MOVEMENT

COPPER COINS AND THE JESUS MOVEMENT

 

REV. JODI BARON – November 8, 2015 – Pentecost 24, Year B: Mark 12:38-44

“Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” In the name of God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Has everyone adjusted to the Time Change yet? I think all of our clocks have been updated by now, but this time change thing takes weeks for the kids (and me) to adjust to, and the morning end of it is usually the tougher part. I think every morning this week I woke up in a panic thinking I was late, which was going to make my kids late, and on and on and on.

I didn’t feel that so much this weekend thought, which was a good thing.

I felt more like I was in a space suspended by time.

That’s kind of what our Diocesan Convention ends up feeling like, to me, each time I go. The rhythm is different than the business I take care of during the week, the prayer is different, the worship is different, and the company is different.

You see, our convention is a time when once a year we get together, as a Diocese, to talk about the work of the church in our area. We elect members to serve on particular committees to carry out the work of convention in between conventions.

And all of the sudden the body of Christ which is The Episcopal Church in Western Michigan becomes waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay bigger than this assembled body here present. There are delegates from every congregation from Niles up to Petosky.

This year we met in Grand Rapids.

I won’t share with you all the details of what happened, but I encourage you to seek out your representatives or any of your clergy and ask us about what we did.

I will share with you, however, a few highlights, because there was a lot said, a lot done, at convention.

Our guest speaker this year was +Stacy Sauls, Bishop of Lexington, Kentucky. +Stacy and his wife were the ones who developed the Reading Camp program that has made its way into a few different congregations within our diocese, as a way to carry out the mission of our church.

(To learn more about our Diocesan Reading Camp click here)

He was invited, however, to speak to convention because of his unique take on the sacraments. Specifically a sacrament many of us may have felt in our hearts but rarely has it ever been talked about in the way sacraments are.

I’m talking about the sacrament of the poor. (To read about this concept in more detail and what +Stacy says about it specifically see here)

Our diocese, indeed the Episcopal Church in general, has a built-in reaction to hunger in our world that manifests through various feeding programs all over the world. In our diocese alone there is everything from daily breakfast and lunch meal programs that serve free meals to anyone who is hungry.

We have food pantries for families and individuals who need a little extra help to get them through the month.

We have baby pantries to help low-income moms with diapers, clothes, books, food, formula, and car seat safety checks!

I could go on and on and on…

Our own parish, as you know, is deeply committed to this issue of hunger in our area, through our food distribution program on the second Thursday of every month, Feeding America.

And let’s not forget what we do every Sunday in virtually every Episcopal Church everywhere…

Eucharist.

The Great Thanksgiving.

Mass.

Communion.

What we are doing today isn’t the end of what we do and who we are as a part of the body of Christ.

But it is where we receive the instituted sacrament of God’s body and blood in the form of a meal, bread and wine.

This sacrament, set within the context of a liturgy that moves us from the collected body to the sent body, is the sign God has given us to reflect the inward and spiritual grace given to us once and for all on that hill 2,000 years ago.

The sent body.

Not the stay-put body.

Not the do-nothing body.

The sent body.

Because at the end of the service, as +Stacy pointed out to us, we are dismissed to go out into the world rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit, or to go in peace to love and serve the Lord, or to go forth in the name of Christ.

In our prayer books, there’s a little word next to the liturgical minister who is to do the dismissal.

In our bulletins it reads “Priest” because that’s who you have, but the prayer book intends for this job, the sending out into the world part, to be done by a Deacon.

The order within our church who is charged with having a particular care and passion for the poor and needy of our communities, who brings those needs to us, proclaims the Gospel for the context with which to read these needs, and then pushes us back out there…to be the body and blood of Jesus…out there!

That particular passion for the poor is what + Stacy was addressing to our convention.

And he equated it with a sacrament because he said that in the poor, we are graced with the spiritual presence of Christ.

That the poor are outward and visible signs of the inward and spiritual grace, just like eucharist.

Just like baptism.

And the poor, in this morning’s gospel, was also a widow.

In both parts of the reading we heard Jesus draw attention to the particular circumstance of the widow. In the first part we heard Jesus tell the crowd to beware of the Scribes who like to wear long robes and say long prayers and they devour widows’ houses. In the second we heard him draw a contrast to the “large sums” being given by the wealthy and the two copper coins given by the widow, which was all she had.

In both parts, Jesus seems to be drawing attention to something that is not seen on the outside of the person, but is a matter of the heart.

That it’s the intention behind the giving that matters not the amount.

He is drawing attention to an inequity in the sacrifice offered by the rich vs. the poor.

Now I am quite aware of this topic being one of great uncomfortability. Money is not something that most people like to talk about. And yet, money is addressed in scripture more than any other topic facing the human condition.

Why is that?

I have a suspicion that the reason Jesus takes on money is because of how important it is to know where your heart is about it.

The religious leaders, in Jesus’ story this morning, were the worst offenders of promoting an unjust system that capitalized on the plight of the poor, specifically the widows of the community.

And the wealthy temple goers were making a big notice of how much they were pouring into the alms boxes.

I picture them bring large jars filled with their offering and then slowly pouring the coins out so that each one hits the ones below with particular attention drawn, proving they are generous beyond measure, right?

And then the poor widow quietly, unsuspectingly, puts in her two copper coins, which together amount to a penny.

What can you do with a penny, is what most people say, right?

But that’s the thing that this Jesus movement is trying to counter!

When we all put our two copper coins (meaning the giving of our full tithe, which is the percentage that scripture teaches is the sacrificial threshold) together…we’ve got some serious resources to do some serious mission in the world!

So, Grace, who might the Holy Spirit be inviting us to be for Holland?

Who might be the widow that Jesus is drawing the attention of his disciples to take note of?

Who might Jesus be warning the masses to beware of due to their exploitative practices?

Who might she be inviting us to be for this bigger thing we’re a part of as a diocese, global church and worldwide anglican communion?

+Whayne told convention this weekend that the Jesus Movement, ++Michael Curry is talking about, is like a dance that we’ve all been invited to join in with.

All of us, with our two copper coins giving our all to participate in the sacraments of the church and help to change the world.

We’ve got work to do, Grace. So let’s go!

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.

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

I love a good sandwich.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

But back to today’s daily bread.

 

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

 

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

 

Compassion and Touch.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Sympόnia.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

What faith!

 

What courage!

 

What strength these people showed!

 

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

 

 

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

 

The kind of healing that no human can provide.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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