The Kingdom of God Has Leveled the Playing Field: All Are Equal

Sermon by The Reverend Christian Baron, Co-Rector, April 30, 2017, Easter 3, Year A, Luke 24:13-35

“But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”

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

Alleluia. Christ is Risen.

“The Lord is Risen Indeed. Alleluia”

Good morning. I am so grateful to be in this place at this time. I was just reminding my kids yesterday, that we live in one of the most beautiful places on the planet. I love watching the trees turn from blossom to bloom. I’m excited for my first full summer up north. I’m not sure that I’ll ever grow tired of the sunrise and sunsets that meet us with each new day. New life is everywhere.

Now, I hate to disappoint you all, but I haven’t caught a fish since good Friday.

You should know, the main cause is the fact that Jodi and I have been sick since Holy Week.

I have mostly recovered, unfortunately… she’s still sick.

But that’s only part of the reason for my fish-lessness.

I did go fishing on the pier once this past week. But I’ve got to tell you I was “blanked”.

Zero fish.

Zero bites… that I know of.

I mention this because when I fish on the pier, or when I fish from shore, there are lots of chances to miss fish.

So, if you’ve never done it before, the fisherperson casts out, up to three lines. The sinker pulls the bait to the bottom, and then some floats in the bait, lift the bait back up off the ground a few feet. So the bait hopefully stays at the correct depth, while the fisherperson sits and waits for a fish to bite.

But there are so many scenarios that could keep that fish out of your freezer. Here are a few of them…

Maybe there are no fish in the area for whatever reason.

Maybe there are fish there, but they aren’t feeding.

Maybe they are feeding but not on the bait that you are fishing with.

Maybe your line is tangled and because you can’t see it underwater, you fish with it for 4 hours with no chance for a bite.

Maybe your bait is too old. Maybe your bait is too fresh…

Maybe your bait is floating too high… maybe it is down too low.

Maybe you hook into a fish and the fish breaks your line.

Maybe you miss a 9-pound steelhead with the net and instead knock the hook right out of the mouth of the fish as your wife is trying to land a monster.

Maybe, maybe, maybe…

But there is one other reason a fisherperson may come home empty handed that is by far the most painful reason…

You stop paying attention for just a minute… you look up at the lines and you discover that you are in the middle of a bite or your rod is straight up indicating that you completely missed a bite.

Occasionally, you can make this mistake and you still get to the rod in time to set the hook.

But most of the time another fisherperson will let you know “Hey buddy… you got a fish on.”

This is absolutely humiliating.

To avoid this kind of mistake there are a few fishermen I know that use alarms or bells.

Some fisherpeople giggle at this idea. They consider this kind of technology to ruin the purity of the endeavor.

But, I am here to tell you, that bells and alarms have put many fish into the freezer for my family and for many of my friends.

But without those alarms or bells, the person fishing has to really be paying attention.

They have to really focus.

They must dial in all of their senses.

They must forget about the rain or the cold… forget about the sun… turn their phone off… keep conversations to a minimum… the first priority must be to watch those rods.

If not, it is a long walk back to the car.
With every tourist or pier walker asking you “How is the fishing”…

Or your spouse asking you, “How many fish did you catch.”

If you don’t pay attention, you will definitely miss the action. You will definitely miss what is happening all around you.

That’s the point of the gospel today isn’t it?

Earlier in the 24th chapter of Luke, some of Jesus’ disciples who were females, discovered the empty tomb and were visited by two angelic figures.

You know the story… they run back and tell the other disciples… who question the women.

In fact the text says, “But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” It sounded like a fish-tale.

This whole aspect of the story is intended to elevate the disciples who could see the truth… the female disciples… and to poke at the men in whom the power of the patriarchal society rested.

The underlying message is that the Kingdom of God has leveled the playing field.

All are equal.

Societal wisdom is deconstructed and rebuilt with a new reality.

In fact, maybe the point of this pericope, the section about the empty tomb… is that those who hold less power and find themselves at a lower cultural status, are in a better position to notice the Resurrection and to be immersed in the Reign of God.

Maybe…

And so, skeptical disciples carry on, immersed in the truth of the tomb rather than the truth of the resurrection. They have chosen or are subject to, the reality of Good Friday over the reality of Easter Sunday. They have literally chosen death over life… They have chosen or maybe just remained in the only reality that they can comprehend.

After the women report the facts, Peter runs to the tomb to see for himself, and the rest of the disciples carry-on in literal disbelief of the resurrection.

And we still haven’t even touched the text for today.

The text says, that same day, two of his disciples were walking to a village called Emmaus. “Talking with each other about all these things that had happened.”

The text makes it apparent that those traveling to Emmaus have not been persuaded by the women about the resurrection. They are fully aware of the persistent reports from the disciples who were females, but would not… could not believe it.

In fact, they seem content to keep Jesus in the realm of teacher and prophet.

They have resolved that he was not the redeemer they had hoped for. Because, what kind of redeemer… what kind of Messiah… what kind of Lord could he have been,

if the authorities could torture… humiliate… shame and kill the one they had so much hope for.

It seems Jesus would just go down in the books as another prophet killed by his own people.

Another teacher killed because of his ideals.

And Jesus, who still has not be recognized says, “How could you be so foolish to think that Jesus would overthrow the system without suffering. How foolish to think that he would be able to accomplish anything without being put to death.”

And yet… they are still blind. They still cannot see that Jesus is present with them.

They cannot fathom resurrection… they cannot comprehend salvation and redemption coming from any other place other than through the sword… they cannot see reality… right in front of their faces… The stone has not been rolled away for them… They are still stuck in the tomb.

But… there is good news. They are curious enough about the truth and about life to beg Jesus to stay with them.

This is surprising to me because Jesus, a stranger to them, just called them fools.

These disciples have been on quite a journey… honestly doing, I believe, the best that they can…

and…they hide after the crucifixion… they refuse to take the word of the women who have spoken with the angelic figures… they scramble to get out of town…. They are unable to recognize the man that they had spent so much time with as they walked together on the road to Emmaus…

And now… in the breaking of the bread… they can finally see reality for what it is.

They are finally flooded with understanding and wonder and amazement. They remember the last time that Jesus broke bread with them. As he served them… As he washed their feet…

It must have been a remarkable thing for those disciples to experience. My hope is that they were overwhelmed with gratitude and joy because their friend was once again with them. I hope that any shame was washed away by the joyful celebration of life over death. I wonder if that mystery and surprise of new life were enough to carry them forth as they changed the world forever.

I suspect that it was. Well, that and the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

What an incredible story. Even those who refused to or were not able to see resurrection when it was apparent, even those who ridiculously could not… would not acknowledge reality… even those stuck in the tomb… were able to experience the resurrected Jesus.

And that is still true, today. We can absolutely place ourselves physically, mentally, spiritually… where we can see new life. We can train ourselves to focus on life… we can put away all distractions and keep our eyes peeled. We can intentionally place bells and alarms all over our lives so that we don’t miss it… when resurrection happens.

In fact, if you are having a hard time seeing new life… If you are having a difficult time seeing Resurrection… A hard time seeing the presence of the divine in your life… the good news is that we can experience the very real presence of Christ…. Today… in just a few minutes. Soon, he will be made known to US…. in the breaking of the bread.

And the acolyte will even ring the bell to grab our attention so we don’t miss it.

And that will act as a catalyst for you and for me. On Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday… while we are at work and we hear a story from a co-worker… Ding ding… Sanctus bells.

Or when we hear a story from our children, grown or in elementary school, about some success or challenge overcome… ding ding… Sanctus Bells.

Or when we encounter that person in our lives that we find it difficult to be around… ding-ding… Sanctus Bells.

Resurrection is all around us, St Philip’s. New Life is here! My prayer for us this week is that we will not be kept from recognizing resurrection in our personal lives, in our common life, or in the world around us.

“Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.”

Amen.

 

Peace and Reconciliation

Sermon by The Reverend Jodi Baron, Co-Rector, April 23, 2017, Easter 2, Year A, John 20:19-31

“Jesus said to them again, “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 God: Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. Amen.

Good morning, St. Philip’s! Happy Easter!!!!!

I hope that your first week of feasting in this great 50 day season of Easter was productive and full of celebration, if not, no worries, you still have FIVE more weeks of Easter to get your feast on! I love it how our liturgical calendar sets us up with a 40 day Lenten fast followed by a 50-day Easter feast.

And that’s how all of the fasting seasons, the seasons of preparation, are set up. Fast then feast. Prepare then celebrate. Do then be.

Both require a lot of planning, a lot of work, a lot of time cultivating space within our hearts to receive the blessings of each day. But it’s good work to do. Holy work. Reconciling work.

This past week I indulged with a few episodes of my favorite podcast on the internet: On Being. Both episodes had something to do with relationships. Relationships with God and with one another, and really, relationship with all of the creation.

In one of the episodes from On being, Krista Tippett was talking with her guest Fr. Richard Rohr, about this notion of “Deep Time”.

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Easter Call to Mutual Relationship, April 16, 2017

Sermon by The Reverend Jodi Baron, Co-Rector, Easter Day, April 16, 2017, Year A, John 20:1-18

“Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!”

In the Name of God: Creator, Redeem, Sustainer. Amen.

Alleluia, Alleluia! The Lord is Risen! — He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia, Alleluia!

Good morning! It is Resurrection Sunday and it is good to be here with you today!

Holy Week was busy around here. Folks gathered for prayers, prepared the space for all of the activities, celebrated the traditional Holy Week Services known as the Triduum, ate dinners, fasted, and then last night at the The Great Vigil of Easter, we feasted. It has been a memorable week. A beautiful week to remember as our first Holy Week together.

And I reflected on all that transpired throughout this past week, I recalled a question I have from time to time. About what it is we do when we assemble here, week after week, year after year. And why we do weird things like “Coffee Hour” and Vestry meetings.

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The Great Vigil of Easter: “The darkness he called Night”

Sermon by The Reverend Christian Baron, Co-Rector, April 15, 2017, The Great Vigil of Easter, Year A, Matthew 28:1-10

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

Friends… it is good to be with you on this night. On this night that is cold and damp… this night that is dark and somber. It is good to be with you on this night in which we remember and reflect on what God has done for us. As we remember the life and death of Jesus.

That’s what humans do when there is death.

We gather together and we remember. We tell stories… we pray. We try to give thanks for the time we had with the loved one who is gone.

I’m sure you have very vivid memories of these types of gatherings. I’m sure you can remember the location of the gathering. Was it at a funeral home? Maybe a friend’s house or the house of a family member? Maybe it was at your own house.
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Our King Has Been Laid In the Tomb: Good Friday Sermon

Sermon by The Reverend Jodi Baron, Co-Rector, April 14, 2017, Good Friday, Year A, John 18:1-19:42

“Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, “Whom are you looking for?”

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

This Friday, despite the beautiful sunshine, the beautiful prayers, and lessons we’ve heard, does not feel “Good”, to me.

There is a heaviness in the air for Christians around the world as we read the news about our Coptic brothers and sisters in Egypt… who have had to cancel their Holy Week services because of the very real threat of violence.

There is a heaviness in the air for Christians around the world as folks read the news about our own government dropping bombs on the holiest of weeks of our entire year.

There is a heaviness as we try to explain to our children why this day, Good Friday, is important, what it all means, why we do what we do…as Christians, as Disciples, as followers of this Christ.

There is a heaviness. Even though we know that Sunday is coming. Even though we know there is nothing to fear for love drives out all fear.

There is…heaviness.

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A Week is a Week: Palm Sunday Sermon

Sermon by the Reverend Christian Baron, Co-Rector, April 9, 2017. Palm Sunday, Year A, Matthew 26:14- 27:66

“So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.”

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

Good morning.

The past week has been a difficult week for me. Maybe the most difficult week that I have had since we arrived last August. I spent hours tossing and turning. Wrestling with the kinds of things priests have to deal with. Will they get mad at me? Will they like me? Whom will I offend?

But priests have to make these kinds of landmark decisions from time to time. We need to put on our big boy (or girl) pants and make the call…

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The Well Is Deep: Bread, Water, Shelter…Connection

Sermon by The Reverend Jodi Baron, Co-Rector, March 19, 2017, Lent 3, Year A, John 4:5-42

“The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Good morning!
I’ve been thinking a lot the last few weeks about a few things I have heard spoken as to why some people have found their way to St. Philip’s, specifically, but The Episcopal Church, in general. I want to share a few of them because I think they point to the essence of this place: who we are, who we want to be, and who others see us as.

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Re-Remember your Re-Birth

Sermon by The Reverend Christian Baron, Co-Rector, March 12, 2017, Lent 1, Year A, John 3:1-17

“How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”

Good morning. I know that change is hard and no change is harder than Daylight Savings Time…in March.

I want to tell you about a friend of mine, Nick. Nick is a good dutchman with a good Dutch name… Zylstra… Nick is a guy I met at college (the third time I tried to finish my bachelor’s degree). He was much younger than me and single so that meant he had plenty of time for my shenanigans.

We played softball and ping pong together… We pondered and giggled about Reformed Theology together…

We helped plant a church together at Founders Brewing Co. in Grand Rapids.

We camped… we laughed… we dreamed about the future of the Church and the world together.

And because of our close relationship… because of our mutual respect for one another… Nick could tell me things that not many other people could.

“Hey Christian… I think you’re funny, but when you made that comment in class, I think you were out of line…”

“Hey Christian, while I’m happy to critique Reformed Theology with you, I think you often times throw the baby out with the bathwater… I think that diminishes your reputation with our classmates and folks will be less likely to hear what you have to say even when you have a valid point.”

Ouch.

“Hey Christian, I know that we joke around a lot, but I really think that you’re a good dad… Thanks for letting in on how your family functions… I think it will be helpful to me in the future.”

“Hey Christian, I know we’ve been playing ping-pong for a long time, but your serve is actually illegal… It breaks the rules because you hide the ball with your hand….”

Nick, in many ways, opened my imagination to the priesthood. He left for California to become an ordained pastor first… and then I followed in the Episcopal Tradition.

I had three kids first… then he followed by having three kids of his own…

Our families had big dreams of starting a real live hippie commune together but things kind of fell apart along the way… I still wonder about that dream and hope that we can start that intentional living community someday.

He is a true friend, and in many ways, was and is Jesus to me, and I think we could uncover some of the mysteries of living as the early Church lived… if the stars aligned correctly.

But instead of smelling like patchouli and living on a school bus, I guess that this st. philip’s gig will do…

I get to live in the greatest place on Earth and get to do ministry with you folks. I get to succeed and to struggle in Northern Michigan with you… and to carry out the mission of the Church side-by-side with each of you. In this place… in this context… I feel pretty lucky…

And you, and Jodi, and my girls, are stuck with me…

So, if Nick is Jesus in this morning’s Gospel… then I’m Nicodemus in the story… I’m the pharisee who comes to Jesus at night because he is unwilling to be vulnerable in front of the rest of the world. Nick is my Rabbi who is unwilling to lie… Who insists on injecting truth into my life… even when it is uncomfortable.

Sometimes, that’s what Lent feels like, isn’t it?

Like the weekly gospel text that insists on infusing truth into our lives even when… even though, it is uncomfortable and even painful, counter-cultural and antithetical, to any other narrative that we can access, dream up or live into.

Lent is a time to re-focus. To re-remember. To make room for resurrection.

So how is your Lent going?

Is there anything you would like to share with us about frustrations or insights that you have experienced because of your Lenten discipline?

Anybody out there who is trying to read more?
Shut out some kind of distraction?
Increase your gifting, particularly to the poor?
Anybody who has incorporated fasting from some type of food?

Don’t give out too much information about it or it may not count….

I feel thankful that you are here, that we are here, together… as we walk to the cross… together…

Lent is a quiet… slow… often times painful journey.

I have personally experienced Lent as a powerful and revealing time in which God has seemed very near.

Other times, Lent has been a time of desolation… a time of despair… a time of loneliness and shame…

Lent can be a time of great consolation and it can be a time of great desolation…Lent has both winter and spring.

And along those lines, there is a thin space between birth and death, between the womb and the tomb.

In the scope of eternity (or even recorded history) your life and mine are just a finite blip.

I don’t even mean the dates that we are alive.

I mean, the few years that I will be breathing… that I will have lived… are so miniscule.

For instance… I looked it up on the internets… which means it must be true… There are approximately 7 ½ billion people on the Earth. That’s a lot of people… living right now.

And…according to the internets approximately 350,000 babies are born and 150,000 people die, each and every day.

If you listen closely you can hear all of creation groaning with birth pangs and those in the throes of death at the same time.

Everyday, every minute of everyday, every second of everyday, people live and people die… all the time…

Plantlife and animals alike, are dying and being born.

Death making space for new life.

Change that is embedded in the Creation Cycle, the creative process, is a part…of life.

And Lent… is the time in the Church calendar where we walk together into darkness and into death, to make way for light…for resurrection.

Morbid? Perhaps.

And though it is true, that we are actually walking closer to our own, personal, physical death, each time we walk through a new Lent, the season is also and maybe moreso, a time to practice that death on a micro level.

In Lent, we reflect on our lives. We examine ourselves and try to be receptive to death.

Everything comes to an end… and in Lent, we try to pay attention to those things.

Because we have the benefit of recognizing the pattern that Jesus has established. Lent prepares us for the Resurrection that is to come.

But Resurrection can only happen after death…

Now, you should know, there isn’t much I remember from my time in seminary, but I do remember that my liturgy professor used the word “anamnesis.”

I only remember it now, because I had to look it up so many times.

In it’s most simplistic form, it means to “re-remember” and yet in a more mysterious way it means to be present at, or present with, the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord.

It’s the part in the Eucharistic Prayer that points to the words of institution where Jesus says to his friends, “Do this in remembrance of me.” The part where we, as Christians, are invited to enter into the Paschal Mystery, each and every time we participate.

As we practice Lent… and the passion of our Lord… we have the Church’s 2000 year old memory… we have the memory of the Body of Christ… to help us re-remember what happened on that journey to the cross…

Each Lent we “RE- Remember”.

And as you and I… as we, spend time being examined in the desert… we must recognize that the same change that is present in all of creation is present in our lives. That the life and death that is present in a physical sense, all around us…. Is present in the rhythms and patterns of our lives.

That change is inevitable…. In our own personal lives, our health will change… we will move away to college… our friends will move… we’ll buy new houses… loved ones will die… we will celebrate births… we will fall in and out of love… The Cubs will win the world series… The lions will lose… well, that may never change… But…things will change….

And at church. Change is inevitable… it can’t be avoided… just like in our personal lives, we have change built in… each year we will have a new vestry… Our leadership will take a well earned break… our clergy will retire… patriarchs and matriarchs will die… The new rectors will make big changes… like painting the office…

We’ll have new life… and baptize baby human beings…we will marry and we will bury people.

The vestments will change… the striping on the parking lot will change… The Bishop will change…. Things will change….

But the Church will remain… those changes will all be a sincere attempt to serve the people to continue to carry out the mission of the Church and move closer to the Reign of God. But it will change.

And hopefully we will see new life because of it…. Hopefully we will see the birth of new things…

And each of us, at various times, will ask this question, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”

“How can I move forward with this conflict… with this struggle… with this addiction… with this illness… with this depression… I want things to be back to normal… what must I do to make that my reality once again?”

When you find yourself there… in the midst of a Nicodemian crisis… you are invited to have the courage to call a friend… not just any friend… but a friend who you know will listen to you… to sit with you as you wrestle… to speak truth to you… to encourage you and to not judge you.

Because remember, Nicodemus had to go through a death of his own in order to witness new life.

The death of his reality is what ushered in new life.
This story, in this morning’s Gospel, is Nicodemus’ own personal Lent.

His willingness to be reflective and to ask questions. He was willing to create space to get the answers to the questions that he had about new life, about God, and about the teaching about the Spirit.

He creates space by acknowledging Jesus as “Rabbi”. Perhaps as HIS own personal teacher. Nicodemus, as a leader of the Pharisees, had to be vulnerable… he had to humble himself and be receptive to another teacher and another teaching… He needed to be vulnerable and he needed to listen.

And Jesus delivers… Jesus offers the truth… he tries to hear Nicodemus’ questions and to answer him where he is at… physically and spiritually.

In his physical darkness and in his spiritual darkness… Jesus shines the light for Nicodemus … He offers truth for Nicodemus…

And each of you, at times, will be invited to be Nicodemus and each of you, at other times, will be invited to be Jesus.

You will be invited…but in order to accept the invitation you may have to be willing to be vulnerable and ask questions that seem ridiculous… you may have to be willing to be vulnerable and tell one another the hard truths of the gospel.

This, I truly believe, is the only way that we can compost our sin…. And the only way that we can encourage growth and new life and even re-birth..

The only way Lent can make room for Easter.

“How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”
Amen.

The Good News of Lent

Sermon by The Reverend Christian Baron, Co-Rector, March 5, 2017, Lent 1, Year A, Matthew 4:1-11

“And they knew that they were naked…”

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

Good morning. I trust that you have started your Lent off right. That it has been holy time for you these past few days. The weather has played a nasty trick on us, hasn’t it?

Many of you, including the male half of your co-rectorship, did not make it to Church on Ash Wednesday. The weather was nasty and there has been some illness being spread around as well.

I’m here to tell you that all is not lost. I joked with a couple of you that since I didn’t get my ashes, then I don’t have to fast.

Of course, I was joking.

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