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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…


The Great Thanksgiving.



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.




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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


“Get up, be opened.”


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


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


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


Let us pray.

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


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

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

Good morning!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

“This is my body broken for you.”


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

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

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


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

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


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


Bread, wine, flesh, blood…

These are all components of the daily human experience.

The language Jesus chose was intentionally provocative.

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

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

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


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

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


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


Without food and water, you will die.


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

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


That’s a good question.

I’m glad you asked.

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


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


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


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


Eucharist isn’t something you do alone.


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


It is done in community,

with people who look like you and not so much.

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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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

When we feed people,

or give them laundry soap or toilet paper,

or give them music to heal their souls,

or coffee and conversation…

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


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

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


None of that really matters.


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


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

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


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

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

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


Out there.

Not in here.


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


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


Even a sinners like you and me.


You are what you eat

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

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


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


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

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


Quotes about Bread:

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Here ends the Sunday School Lesson. Amen

The Word of the Lord.


Gentle Meals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks be to God.


Brown Baggin’ It

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


I love a good sandwich.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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



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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


But back to today’s daily bread.


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


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


Compassion and Touch.


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


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


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


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


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


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




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


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


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


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


What faith!


What courage!


What strength these people showed!


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



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


The kind of healing that no human can provide.


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


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


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


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


Strength in Need

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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







Here is a link to the sermon preached by Presiding Bishop-Elect, The Rt Rev. Michael Curry at the closing Eucharist of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church on July 3, 2015.  We watched and listened to this sermon on Sunday, July 5th at Grace, Holland.  Thank you, Bishop Curry!

Small but Mighty

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have to notice. And we have to tend.

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

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

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

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

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

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










Send us, God. Send us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Send us, God. Send us.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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