Here Comes The Bride?

Sermon by The Reverend Christian Baron, Co-Rector, October 15, 2017, Pentecost 19, Proper 23, Year A, Matthew 22:1-14

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.”
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen

Good morning.

In the spring of 1999… April 7 to be precise… I met my future bride at Billy’s House of Blues in Grand Rapids.
It was a Wednesday and the band Karmic was playing.
I can remember what Jodi was wearing and what I was wearing. I remember what I was drinking. I remember the next week and meeting her again for a concert at the old Intersection in Grand Rapids, to see the band Umphrey’s McGee. I remember meeting her family for the first time. I remember a few other things while we dated. For instance, we would meet up in Manistee because after we both had moved from the Grand Rapids area, Manistee was the half-way point.

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The Grape of Repentance

Sermon by The Reverend Christian Baron, Co-Rector, October 1, 2017, Pentecost 17, Proper 21, Year A, Matthew 21: 23-32

“For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.”

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

Good morning.

Last week I was in Texas. I had a lot of assumptions about the way things would go when I arrived. I left Monday the 18th and returned Tuesday the 26th. I saw
The Ocean.
The smiles of children.
Pelicans diving for fish.
Hope in the eyes of those who have experienced great loss.
A parish experiencing the Eucharistic Liturgy as usual.
A dead cow stuck in a fence.
Miles and miles of brush and debris piled 15 feet high.
The tears of those who feel hopeless. Hundreds of volunteers who had given their time to lend a hand.
Michiganders being hugged by those that we were able to assist. Cockroaches.
Lizards.
Sweaty workers.
A bishop getting his hands dirty. Devastation like I have never seen my entire life.
Morning prayer in a parish in defiance of hopelessness.
Some of these things I assumed I would see.
Some of them I expected.
Some of them totally shocked me and jarred me into a new reality.

I had many assumptions.

I usually have assumptions. I usually have expectations… I guess we all do. Sometimes I am overwhelmed by the generosity of humankind. Other times I am disappointed with those around me. Occasionally, I am upset with the action or inaction of God, the creator of the Universe.

What did you make of the gospel for today? Did you giggle at Jesus and how clever he seems here? Did you think, “Yea… give it to them Jesus… He’s so smart.He’s not falling for it.”

Did you find yourself relating to one of the sons in the parable? Did you think about a friend, or sibling or an acquaintance that you giggle about?

“That is so, Betty… she commits but then can’t follow through.” Or, I am done making plans with so-and-so. She always cancels. I wish she would just say ‘no’ to begin with.”

When I was younger… I never, ever do this now…. I used to always think that I was the good guy. That I was the one who would do what is right. The rest of the world… the rest of the Church… were a bunch of hypocrites. “Do what is right Church. It isn’t that hard,” I thought. Sometimes I’d even say it as a perceived prophetic act.

Then I’d shake my head at the ne’er-do-gooders and high five my buddies doing real ministry. We had it all figured out. We were so glad that we had what it took to make a difference… We assumed we were right. We assumed we were the good guys.

What about this… when you hear this gospel… when you hear this pericope from Matthew… do you assume Jesus is justified? Do you assume he is right? That his snark is “just telling it like it is.” Do you make assumptions about the good guys and bad guys? About the chief priests and elders? Are they the bad guys?

And how about the sons in the parable? Are those the only two options? I am kind of rooting for a son who says he won’t do it and then follows through with it. Then I could truly insert myself into this story 🙂 “Sorry Dad, I’m going fishing… Why don’t you ask if my sisters are busy.” The story ends with me really fishing and the grapes rotting on the vine. But at least I was honest.

Well, I need to confess. The first few times I read this text… the gospel text for today… I imagined myself next to Jesus. At his right hand… standing up against injustice. And maybe I do that from time to time. Maybe you do. Maybe we all do it more than I assume. More than I remember… more than I give us credit for. Maybe…

I find myself, often times, in the gospels relating to those on the outside. I assume that Jesus is speaking to everybody else. But not to me… not me and the prostitutes and the tax collectors.

I assume I’m on the good guy team. In my head, I am on the margins…

Interestingly… at least it is interesting to me… Jesus is judging the actions of the chief priests and elders against the message of John the Baptist.
Who preached a message of repentance…
who lived an ascetic life…
who ate locusts and wild honey…
who wore clothes made of camel’s hair…
who was beheaded…

And honestly…that description of John…. What he stood for… how he lived… that doesn’t sound very much like me at all. Other than being hairy… I don’t resemble John the Baptist at all.

And so I wonder… after reading this text… and trying to set aside my assumptions….

Am “I” willing to pick the grapes that only grow in the vineyard of repentance?

That was the message of John. That is what Jesus is criticising the chief priests and elders over. That’s what the parable is about. Will the folks with the power submit themselves to repentance? Will they make themselves vulnerable enough to examine themselves and submit to the kingdom of God? The question is…
“To whom will you kneel?” To which Kingdom do you kneel?
To whom will you pay homage? Which Kingdom deserves your respect and allegiance?
Who holds the authority?

And the beauty of the Kingdom of God… the beauty of the Prince of Peace… The beauty of this upside down rabbi… is that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. The beauty is that this prince… this kingdom… busts open our assumptions of how things should look.

It busts open our expectations of power and persuasion and prestige. The Prince of the Kingdom of God is the kind of Prince who serves the subjects… who washes their feet… who gives up power and prestige… who follows the path of his cousin John, who called for repentance and… who both died a martyr’s death. That’s surprising. That doesn’t fit in with our assumptions about a prince or a kingdom.

It is shocking and forces the reflective follower to examine life in a different way.

So I leave you with a few questions… “What do the grapes of repentance taste like?” Are they easy to pick? Are they sweet? Are they the Honeycrisps of the grape world? Are they best for making Eucharistic wine? Are they exactly the nourishment that relief workers need in their Texas lunch boxes?

Or, are they bitter? Are they hard to pick? Is the vineyard overgrown with brush and overrun with bugs? Are there snakes in the grass and is the sun too hot for picking?

My guess is that we will all be surprised when we taste the grapes of repentance. So, when you buy groceries this week, pick up some grapes. If you don’t like to eat grapes, consider buying them in their liquid form. Examine them for blemishes. Chew them slowly. Feel the texture and taste all of the flavors. Look on the package at where they were grown and imagine who picked them. Share them with a friend or spouse. Remember the message of John the Baptiser who cleared the way for the announcement of the coming Kingdom.

Amen.

The Gift of Work

Sermon by The Reverend Jodi Baron, Co-Rector, September 24, 2017, Pentecost 16, Proper 20, Year A, Matthew 20:1-16

“Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like…” in the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Good Morning.

I have been thinking a lot about “work” this past week.

What is work and how do we define it?

To me, work gives us meaning to our day, it provides the means by which we provide for our families and loved ones.

It fuels our passions and helps the world move smoother.

It can be oppressive and daunting, it can be fulfilling and life-giving, it can be labor-intensive, or mentally, or emotionally challenging.

It can be thrilling and creative and joyful.

It can be stifling and depressing and evil.

It can be safe and it can be dangerous.

It can be all of these things and none of these things.

But work is something that we all do, no matter what our age is. And our work changes throughout our lifetime. In the world but also in the church.

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Journey Into The Heart of God

Sermon by The Reverend Jodi Baron, Co-Rector, September 10, 2017, Pentecost 14, Proper 18, Year A, Matthew 18:15-20.

“Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Good morning.

About five times a year, I have the opportunity to travel around the diocese, for Diocesan Council, kind of like the Vestry for the Diocese. September is one of the months that Council meets. So yesterday, I found myself in downtown Grand Rapids on a beautiful *almost* fall day, seated around a table with other elected clergy and laity from throughout the diocese to tend to the business of our bigger common life, between conventions.

I went down Friday this time so that I could stay with some friends and not have to get up so early to make the trip. Rarely do I travel without the family and stay the night out of town… I missed them dearly, but it was quite a treat.

These friends I stayed with are really special friends of ours.
Our families have grown together and followed one another through the years, but over the past three, when we returned from Texas, it deepened, I suspect that’s because we both don’t have screaming babies every time we try to have dinner together.

They were curious about this “Council” meeting I was going to, so I had the opportunity to share with them a little bit about the work we do. We deliberate over budgets and policies, pastoral concerns of our sister parishes up and down the coast of Lake Michigan. But this month we had to approve the recommended budget that will be presented at Diocesan Convention in November.

Fun stuff.

But what strikes me, always, about these meetings, is that it is expected that we won’t always agree on things. It is also expected, however, that we will be kind and continue conversing until we are certain we are understood. We usually begin our meetings with reading a covenant that we all signed at the annual retreat. It is a way to frame the way we will be with one another in our work together.

And that is pretty rare these days, don’t you think?

The covenant is steeped in careful language that seeks to create a safe place for honest dialogue, disagreement, and mutual affection to happen. I’ve served on Diocesan Council for two years now and I still can’t believe we read that covenant each time we gather, and I’m absolutely convinced that it is necessary.

Because if we didn’t, we might be tempted to forget what it is we are called to do.

Because… our relationships with one another matter…. words matter, don’t they?

I’ve been fixated on words this past week, especially. Words that create healing and words that create hurt.

Over the past few weeks, there has been a deep well of grief and loss that has opened up for many folks.

Family members dying, friends losing homes, communities torn apart because of racism and hatred, whole towns being swallowed up in water or burned by wildfires.

I looked on this interactive map last night, thinking it might help me wrap my mind around the magnitude of national disasters happening right now and I was stunned.

To read the whole legend that explained what each icon meant I had to scroll down,
and down,
and down,
and down.

The whole of North America, or so it seemed, was either on fire or underwater or in the path of a hurricane or recovering from an earthquake or marching about DACA or marching about Charlottesville.

And people, peppered throughout those areas and beyond carry on with celebrating birthdays and anniversaries and getting married and having babies.

People have to bury loved ones and pay bills. Athletes need to train and doctor appointments kept.

Things are completely ordinary and completely chaotic, depending on where you live.

But language, through all of this,  matters.

Because we all are worthy of love and belonging, aren’t we?

But when I read the headlines and look at my Facebook feed, that does not seem to be what our national dialogue wants us to believe, is it?

These passages this morning are about relationship, remembering God’s mercy, always, and being a people of hope.

And “Relationship” is at the heart of the entire bible.

God’s relationship with us, our relationship with God and our relationship with the rest of creation, the trees and oceans as well as the humans we share this planet with.

All of Creation is filled with our neighbors.

And these past few weeks, I don’t know about you, but I’ve been pretty weighed down with the cares and occupations of the world and our communities.

I’ve spent more hours combing the internet, talking with colleagues and friends, and praying.

And that practice, prayer, is really what brings me back.

When I used to feel this way… filled with anxiety and despair… my Spiritual Director would remind me to remember my practices, remember my Rule of Life.

Pray the Daily Office (at least Morning Prayer), go for a walk, create something beautiful, rinse, and repeat.

What those practices do for me, when I begin to feel overwhelmed, is to teach me about God’s mercy.

They bring me into the heart of God, where my soul can rest and be known.

They remind me that sometimes, all we can do, all we can really ever do, is the next…right…thing.

And I’ve found, that Daily Office prayers steep us in the words of our ancestors. Some of these prayers have been prayed for hundreds of years…that’s holy stuff.

But sometimes our grief is so deep, so raw, that we can’t even muster the energy to open our Prayer Book or say a prayer.

That’s ok.

Just sit. And hold something that has brought you peace in the past.

Maybe it’s a figurine that sits on your window, maybe it’s your prayer book given to you at your confirmation.

Maybe it’s your cat or your grandbaby.

Maybe it’s to make your bed.

Maybe it’s a cup of coffee.

Holding that which used to give you peace, will remind your body that this is your next… right… thing to do.

And then when you ask yourself the next day, “Lord, what joyful expectations do you have in store for me today?”

What you’re asking God for is to meet you where you are at and to show you a morsel of mercy.

I leave you here, with a section of an interview I listened to a while ago from On Being.

It’s from Irish theologian and author, Pádraig Ó Tuama, from his memoir, In the Shelter: Finding a Home in the World.

He writes, “Neither I nor the poets I love found the keys to the kingdom of prayer and we cannot force God to stumble over us where we sit. But I know that it’s a good idea to sit anyway. So every morning I sit, I kneel, waiting, making friends with the habit of listening, hoping that I’m being listened to. There, I greet God in my own disorder. I say hello to my chaos, my unmade decisions, my unmade bed, my desire and my trouble. I say hello to distraction and privilege, I greet the day and I greet my beloved and bewildering Jesus. I

“Neither I nor the poets I love found the keys to the kingdom of prayer and we cannot force God to stumble over us where we sit. But I know that it’s a good idea to sit anyway. So every morning I sit, I kneel, waiting, making friends with the habit of listening, hoping that I’m being listened to. There, I greet God in my own disorder. I say hello to my chaos, my unmade decisions, my unmade bed, my desire and my trouble. I say hello to distraction and privilege, I greet the day and I greet my beloved and bewildering Jesus. I recognise and greet my burdens, my luck, my controlled and uncontrollable story. I greet my untold stories, my unfolding story, my unloved body, my own love, my own body. I greet the things I think will happen and I say hello to everything I do not know about the day.

I greet my own small world and I hope that I can meet the bigger world that day.
I greet my story and hope that I can forget my story during the day, and hope that I can hear some stories, and greet some surprising stories during the long day ahead. I greet God, and I greet the God who is more God than the God I greet. / Hello to you all, I say, as the sun rises above the chimneys of North Belfast. / Hello.”

I don’t pretend that prayer will stop cancer or change the course of the hurricane or stop violence, but I do believe that prayer changes my heart and my response to my brothers and sisters. It creates space in my heart to imagine ways I can help make the world a little bit better.
That’s how, I believe, prayer works.

And so, St. Philip’s, I pray that this week, as we contemplate how to apply the words we hear and say today, to our daily lives, that we will learn to say hello to whatever and whomever we meet along our journey. That we will treat the fellow travelers with kindness and dignity and respect. Just for today… We’ll let the prayers of tomorrow handle tomorrow… one day at a time.

I pray that we will look with loving kindness upon ourselves and have the courage to “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Amen.

The Brick and Mortar of the Kingdom of God

Sermon by The Reverend Christian Baron, Co-Rector, September 3, 2017, Pentecost 13, Proper 17, Year A, Matthew 16:21-28

“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.”

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

Good morning. It has been a gorgeous week this week, hasn’t it? Fall seems to have arrived early. I’ve seen some red leaves on 115 and the mornings have been cool. The salmon have been in the river for a few weeks now and they never get it wrong. All indications look like we will have a lovely fall and a wonderful winter here.

This past week, I took our kids to school to meet their new teachers and to have an ice cream cone. I went to a BBQ and feasted on ribs and sausage and had a margarita. I made some visits to parishioners. I had some meetings at church in the library and drank a few cups of coffee. I had the oil changed in the Prius. We met with the bishop. I cleaned the house. I read. I went to “Shop and Save” to get groceries. I played a couple of board games. I walked the dog. I prayed. My cousin is in town from Arizona and so I fished on the Betsie River. It was a pretty normal week. It was a good week. Not too memorable. Plenty of work to do and home life activities to fill the hours.

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Christian Community: Binding and Loosing and Why It Matters

Sermon by The Reverend Jodi Baron, Co-Rector, August 27, 2017, Pentecost 12, Proper 16, Year A, Matthew 16:13-20

 

“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Good morning.

It is good to be back with you today. While I was away on vacation, I spent some time reflecting on our last year together. Partly because this month, we entered into our second year together, but partly because I needed to search my heart and soul and see if any of this has mattered in the last year.

The 50 or so times we gathered around this table to break bread and sip wine, the dozen or so times Vestry has met and deliberated the important matters that affect our common life, the recitation of the Nicene Creed and Lord’s Prayer, over and over again.

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Make Room In The Boat and Take A Nap

Sermon by The Reverend Christian Baron, Co-Rector, August 13, 2017, Pentecost 10, Proper 14, Year A, Matthew 14:22-33

“It is a ghost!”

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

Today’s sermon is brought to you by the motion sickness medicine: Dramamine. Powerful, fast relief from motion sickness when you need it most.

Trust me… Dramamine will really knock you out. Makes you fall right to sleep. And now we know the rest of the story from Mark 4 when Jesus was sleeping in the front of the boat while the storm tossed the boat around… Only Dramamine could make a person rest so easily in the middle of a storm.

My first experience with Dramamine was back in 1997. My brother, Josh, and I had driven my Dodge Omni to Gulf Shores, Alabama, during Spring Break. There were many adventures to be told from that trip, but those are for another day.

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Transfiguration Sunday and God’s Dreams for Us

Sermon by The Reverend Jodi Baron, Co-Rector, August 6, 2017, The Transfiguration, Year A, Luke 9:28-36

 

“Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.” In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Good morning St. Philip’s!

When I pulled up the readings for today there was something familiar, something oddly familiar about them. Liturgical Feast days tend to have the same readings each year, but this was more familiar than that.

I searched through my normal go tos and finally put my finger on it. Transfiguration Sunday in 2016 was our first Sunday together!

It’s also Fr. Lovett Sundae Sunday, and the anniversary of Deacon Marilou’s ordination, but it signifies, as a community, that we have navigated a complete trip around the sun, together.

The experience of going through change has the potential to transfigure us.
To noticeably alter the appearance of our community.
The experience of talking with God has the power to strengthen our resolve to live into who and what God is calling us, as his beloved children, to be, do, and change.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy, fun, or fast…
even though sometimes it is…

But it does mean that it is an opportunity to allow the Holy Spirit to use our situation to mold our hearts into one body.

To align our hearts and wills with God’s dreams for humanity and work more faithfully, today, toward revealing that dream to those in our circles of influence.

And one year ago, I stood before you to preach on this exact same text.

So it’s time to check-in. We’re coming out of the cloud of all the firsts, and now we get to look back at the last year and reflect on it.

How have you personally changed over this last year?

How have we, as a community, changed?
I can tell you that I have personally been changed over the past year… I see things differently… We know each other better.
I have learned a great deal from you.

I am aware that change is difficult.

Change has the potential to resurface loss and grief.

It reveals things about us that we didn’t know needed to be transfigured.

It opens wounds we thought had healed.

But choosing to lean into change and let the experience wash over us has, even more, gifts than it does obstacles.

There was a reason Moses had to go up the mountain to talk with God…a reason the experience of saying yes to God’s work changed his appearance…a reason it changed his people.

That tablet that Moses came down the mountain with, it was a covenant, a letter of agreement, as it were, that God made with the people.

God said, if you want to be my people, you have to love me and love each other.

You have to love yourself and your neighbor.
Be good to one another, let the spirit of God guide your hearts with how to speak from places of generosity and kindness.

That’s how others will know that you are my people.

There’s a reason Peter’s second letter is reminding the church that they have changed because of their encounter with Christ.

We are all getting out of this life the same way, aren’t we?

In that way, we are the same.

But we are all gifted differently and have different vocations to be agents of God’s love and mercy in the world.

We have different gifts and talents that God wants to use as instruments for good.

Different ideas and opinions that shape our collective experience of the Holy.

And that is what makes us the Body of Christ.

And we are all invited into a fellowship of justice and love.

Like the reading from 2nd Peter:

“So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. First of all, you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

God is the one who changes people. Not humans.

God is the one who calls us into the covenant, into fellowship, to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world. Not humans.

God is the one who pours out her spirit into our lives through scripture, and community, and sacraments. Not humans.

There’s a reason that Jesus took his friends up the mountain so he could talk with God.

And they stayed awake even though they were “weighed down with sleep.”

They stayed awake and got to see Christ’s glory.

So, yes.
St. Philip’s is changing….

There are a few cosmetic changes, but for the most part, the big changes are the changes inside…

God is changing us from the inside…

And we are moving into the next phase of mission and ministry for Benzie and the surrounding counties and our clothes are dazzling white.

We have been on the mountain, in the cloud with our Loving God who has declared that this place is filled with his beloved children.

We are staying awake to the possibilities of how we can live into God’s dreams for us as a community, as a people, who God called to walk in love.

So stay awake, St. Philip’s. God has more to do with us, as a community, with you and me as individuals. I’m excited to start our second year together and expect God to show up in new and powerful ways as we live into this mission, this ministry…together. Amen.

Let It Rot

Sermon by The Reverend Christian Baron, Co-Rector, July 16, 2017, Pentecost 6, Proper 10, Year A, Matthew 13:1-9,18-23

“When anyone hears the word of the kingdom…”

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

Good morning. I have always been fascinated by things that are rotting. When I was young, maybe 8, I remember taking a plastic wheelbarrow out to the tiny street we lived on.

I was so excited because I and my friend Sasha found a rabbit that had been killed by a car. I was sad and mesmerized.

I scooped it up and brought it to my mom to show her… I mostly did it because I was interested in rot… in things that were rotting.

I also started playing football at age 8… the same age as when I found that rabbit… I went to the same school for 13 years, K-12, in the same building… in Allendale.

The school had an old gravel track. It wasn’t good for much except for collecting puddles and letting football players run laps.

The track circled the football field and on the northern side of the track, there were woods.
It was the closest place for the janitors at school to discard the grass clippings for the school.

Every time I’d run around the north side of that track I would hold my breath and run as fast as I could because I hated the smell of rotting grass. But I was still fascinated by the rotting. Why did it smell so bad?

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Nobody Can Imagine What God Is Doing Through Jesus… Except For Infants.

Sermon by The Reverend Jodi Baron, Co-Rector, July 9, 2017, Pentecost 5, Proper 9, Year A, Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

 

“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants…”

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

It is good to be back with you, friends. I’ve been absent the past two Sundays to take advantage of some of the continuing education and vacation time you offer me & Christian each year. It was good to read, rest, and rejuvenate.

It was good to spend time with my family in some of our favorite places, to reunite with friends we haven’t seen in too, too long, to read from authors I’ve neglected since before seminary…whose voices I’ve missed.

Like Rob Bell, for instance. As you may, or may not, know from our Parish Communications, the Education and Spiritual Formation For the Whole Parish Committee has invited the whole parish to join in reading Bell’s newest book, What Is the Bible? How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything.

We gathered at my house last Thursday for dinner and to begin discussing the book, together.

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