Epiphany 3: “Follow Me”

Sermon by The Reverend Jodi Baron, Co-Rector, January 21, 2018, Epiphany 3, Year B, Mark 1:14-20

In the name of the God our Creator, God our Redeemer, God our Guide.

Over the past two days, your newly constituted vestry has been meeting, on retreat, to have focussed and intentional discussions about what it means to be the elected body of leaders in this parish.

We talked, at length, about how we wanted to work together, commonly referred to as “Group Norms”.

We asked ourselves questions about the way in which we wanted to be together, what we, as individuals had to offer, and what God’s dreams were for this place.

The focus of the retreat was around what it means for us today to be disciples of Jesus, to head Jesus’ invitation to “Follow” him, to live into our vocation.

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Epiphany 2: Can anything good come out of Nazareth?

Sermon by The Reverend Christian Baron, Co-Rector, January 14, 2018, Epiphany 2, Year B, John 1:43-51

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

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

Good morning…. You probably all know this, but the readings that you hear each Sunday have been selected by a committee. The Revised Common Lectionary Committee chose the readings, on a three-year cycle a long time ago.

It was first set in 1969, updated in the seventies and eighties and the three-year cycle that we have now was set in 1994. So these readings that we just heard… including the gospel… were selected to be the readings for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany for year B…

And that’s pretty boring…

unless you have watched the news in the past 72 hours.

Then, I think it is pretty exciting. But as you know… I’m kind of a Bible nerd. You can decide for yourself if the wisdom and intentionality of the Lectionary Committee, the global news, our local church calendar and the Spirit of God have collided in a way that is more than coincidental.

And, as I mentioned, today is the 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany. Epiphany was last Saturday, Jan 6. The readings for that day are on the three Magi… the three wise people who happened to be men, who travel from far away to pay homage to sweet baby Jesus. They follow the star and bring gifts to, whom the author of Matthew calls, Jesus, the king of the Jews.

Theologically, the Church interprets this as the Incarnation of God. The way that God has put on the flesh and bone of humanity. It’s a pretty big deal.

And then… on the first Sunday after the Epiphany… our text was from Mark on the baptism of Jesus. Jesus was at the Jordan with John and a whole bunch of Judeans… getting baptized.

Being washed and repenting.

And Jesus is picked and possessed by God. Anointed by baptism as other Kings and prophets had been throughout the holy scriptures.

This was THE moment for Jesus. This was his Epiphany.

The time where the heavens parted and he saw and heard a vision and a clear path forward.

And after church last week, one of you said this to me, “If God can choose Jesus to be picked and possessed… and if Mary can be picked and possessed… that’s terrifying… because that means he might pick and possess any one of us, at least if we are willing”

Wow! I’ve thought about that all week.

And since Jodi has been assembling all of the annual meeting things all week, I got tapped to preach again.

Which is fine. We both love preaching, and we both love tending to the administrative duties that help keep this place running, hopefully smoothly.

But for me, it was more than fine because of these texts. And on weeks that I preach, I read through the texts several times throughout the week.

I look at commentaries.

Sometimes I listen to Bible nerds talk about the texts on their podcasts. Or I call friends and we talk about Bible nerd stuff.

And when I RED the passage from First Samuel, I was so excited for two reasons:

#1. This text has always been personally very special to me. In college and before I was an Episcopalian, I found that Christianity wasn’t very useful to me. The stories were great and all, but I didn’t find the entire package very useful for me in my life. And after years of struggling with whether or not I wanted to be a part of the Church and of Christianity, I started to say this prayer to challenge God: “Speak Lord for your servant is listening.” The same prayer that Samuel prayed.

Sometimes that prayer was sincere. Other times it was meant to taunt God into action.

It was my mantra for years.
For at least 10 years, when I said prayers, this was the prayer that I prayed.

Speak Lord for your servant is listening.

#2. This passage is special to me because this was the passage that was read and preached on at my and Jodi’s ordination to the priesthood.

I listened to the sermon yesterday, delivered from our friend Jared Houze who lives in Texas. I listened to it as I was preparing for this sermon today. It was special three years ago and it was special to hear it yesterday.

And after reading the Samuel text all week… and listening to the sermon that was preached at my ordination to the priesthood, and after thinking about that conversation with one of you about being terrified of being picked and possessed…

I am blown away by Samuel’s Epiphany… About how Samuel was picked and possessed.

And if you take these few instances and place them next to each other, the Lectionary Committee, the Liturgical Seasons and the biblical passages that go along with it… it may just be a coincidence for me personally.

Maybe exciting to you… maybe not… Maybe worth preaching on… maybe not.

*** But… then I heard the comments on the news about El Salvador and Africa and Haiti.

These words shocked me.

Not because a naughty word was used. It takes a lot to make me blush.

But the more I thought about the words used and the underlying paradigm that was at the root of this fig tree, the more that I was able to have compassion… for the president and for those that his words resonated.

For people like… Nathaniel….

Can anything good come out of Nazareth?

Can anything good come out of Africa?

Can anything good come out of El Salvador?

Can anything good come out of Haiti?

And I am again, struck with the words spoken after church last week. If God can pick and possess Mary, and Jesus… then God can do that to me. God can pick and possess me. If I am willing.

Mary, Jesus, Samuel, Nathaniel. Philip. Andrew. Peter.

Christian… And, you can insert your own name to that list.

And if Nathaniel… a cynical and critical man… Who had written off a total group of people from a specific region… Nazareth… if he, through the intentioned and kind invitation of his friend Philip, St. Philip.

If he is able to have his own Epiphany and is able to have his mind totally changed… then… I have hope.

I have hope that even a multiple college-dropout… even a middle-aged priest from the region of Michigan known as Allendale… I have hope that maybe even a person like that can be picked and possessed.

Even he can be used by God to help usher in goodness and the Kingdom of God.

And if that is the case… then God can pick and possess any willing human being… elected officials included. If they are willing.
And if that wasn’t enough for us to feel like our real world has collided with the scripture chosen for today, I have one more significant incident to mention.

Today, after church, we will walk into the parish hall. We will eat and drink and laugh and look at our life together over the past year.

We will look at our family finances and report on the work that we have accomplished.

And we will choose… we will elect… we will pick… four members of our parish to be on the vestry.

To lead and guide us.

To put us in the way of the next divine collision so that we as a parish can be possessed by the God of the Universe.

And as we continue on our path as disciples of a rabbi from Nazareth… there will be no question of whether or not anything good can come from Benzie County.
Saint Philip is calling you to

“Come and See.”

Christmas Eve 2017

Sermon by The Reverend Jodi Baron, Co-Rector, December 24, 2017, Christmas Eve, Year B, Luke 2:1-20

“But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see– I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.”

The summer between my first and second year in seminary, we all had to do a Chaplaincy Internship called Clinical Pastoral Education. The model was a ½ day of intense group work dissecting how we interacted with patients and where we helped them notice God, and the other ½ of the day “on the floor” making visits to complete strangers at their most vulnerable, worst day/s of their lives. Sounds fun, eh?

One of the floors I covered had patients who were suffering from some sort of lower gastrointestinal problems. Everything from Gastric-bypass surgery, to gallbladder surgery, to Crohn’s disease. The other floor was the maternity and Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

Both of these floors were in a level 2 hospital in Austin Texas. We didn’t see major trauma but what I did experience was a lot of people facing some of the scariest moments of their lives. Cancer diagnosis, pregnancy loss.

And then there was me.

A complete stranger with a badge that gave me access to their room to ask them questions about how they were processing what they heard the doctors telling them.

The goal of chaplaincy, at least for those of us navigating it for 11 weeks, was to make enough space in our hearts to carry the stories of people who were suffering.

To learn how to set ourselves aside and be present with God’s children who, most of the time, found themselves questioning whether or not God was even paying attention.

It was a really challenging and emotionally-draining summer.

About halfway through the summer, we had to do a project for our supervisor that reflected what we had learned so far and what we hoped to learn with our remaining time. It could be written or it could be something entirely other.

My supervisor was open to us exploring whatever medium we needed in order to uncover the deep learning we were experiencing.

Being a seminary student, I sighed deeply at the thought of writing one. More. paper.

My brain was tired after the steep 1st year of learning to get into the academic rigor of graduate level work.

She encouraged me to think about what gives me life and to use that as the medium through which I process my summer.

For me, creating things is important. Being creative is how I reflect and how I make sense of what is going on around me.

I decided to try my hands at making an icon. Because Icons are more than beautiful pieces of art. They are prayers used as windows into deeper truths about life and ministry and the faithful who’ve gone before. We have them all around our sanctuary, we have some in our study, they hold the candles behind our altar. There’s even one on your worship booklet of Mary and Jesus. I was taught that when you soften your eyes with an icon, it is meant to reveal symbols that point to God.

The image that kept coming to me was an ancient icon of Jesus, called the Pantocrator. The word, Pantocrator, is from the Greek word for “Almighty” or “All-powerful.”

I chose it because of what the word, “Pantocrator” means, but also for how it shaped into my prayers and gave me space to work out all the hurt, all the fear, all the pain, all the hopes, and dreams, that each of the patients I visited shared with me. It is the oldest image of Christ known to man and is displayed in St. Catherine’s Monastery at the base of Mount Sinai.

When you gaze upon this image, one can notice the nuances of his face and how different and yet similar his eyes appear. One side of his face depicts his humanity and the other his divinity.

In his left hand he holds an ornamented book of the gospels and in the left, his hand is raised in the traditional position of pronouncing the blessing.

His robes have earthy blues and reds which represent his royalty. And he has a ring, or “halo”, of gold around his head representing holiness.

This halo is both Jesus’ declaration and profession. The three letters on the halo speak to us with words of hope and comfort; “The One Who Is,” “I am here for you” and “supports, helps”. Perfect. As a Chaplain, I served as one who stood in the gap until family members could arrive. I scratched, gently, at words that stood out to me in our conversations. I prayed with folks, or read scripture, or anointed their head with oil. I felt God’s presence with them whispering in those rooms, “I am here for you, to support you.”

In this dual nature of Christ, depicted in his face, for me, *is* the Incarnation.

God, here with us, Emmanuel.

God breaking through the barriers of our intellect and power and control… and becoming human.

In the icon I made, I didn’t use paint. I used magazines. I scoured pages of Home & Garden, People, New Yorker, and any other magazine I could get my hands on.

I searched for the colors depicted in that original icon that is displayed at the base of Mt. Sinai.

I tore the pages into tiny pieces and kept them sorted. I sketched the rough outline of the icon and left notes for which colors went where.

And then I began to slowly place each tiny piece of torn paper upon a piece of poster-board with Elmer’s glue and a prayer.

When I started to work on the golden ring around the head of Jesus… the ring that represents his holiness, I searched my pile of magazine scraps, for images of faces. Babies and grown-ups, people who had lost their hair due to chemotherapy, young and old… because for me… those lives… those relationships… filled with brokenness and love and heartache… from birth through illness, baptism, marriage, Eucharist, and even to death… those very human, very mortal aspects of our existence…

those things are the essence of HOLINESS.

And God… wanted to know how those things felt… God wanted to experience human relationship…to help us flourish more, help us know of the divine within us each.

To me, the beauty of God’s incarnation, that we celebrate tonight, is that he took on flesh in the most incredibly vulnerable and uncertain way, to dwell among us.

And through that vulnerability, that uncertainty, we heard in tonight’s gospel the angel gave the shepherds the message …”Do not be afraid; for see– I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.”

Do not be afraid.
I am bringing you good news.
For all the people.

Each year, on the eve of the Feast of the Nativity, we gather to hear the story of God becoming human, of God putting on flesh to dwell among us and taste what we taste. Feel what we feel. See what we see. To show us what the arch of the covenant between God and humans points toward.

Jesus’ mission among us was not one of comfort only, or of quick and easy answers to life’s challenges. I believe his mission was to reveal God is with us, in our relationships with God, with one another, and with all of creation.

I believe his life and ministry hold up a mirror to humanity to remind us in whose image we were created.

His ministry among us was to remind us that when we love one another, when we feed & clothe our neighbors, when we care for the widows and orphans, when we visit the sick and care for everyone, then…then…we experience human flourishing when we are ushering in the kingdom of God… living with God, in God, for God.

When we remember to create ministries where Kingdom Justice holds hands with Christian Charity, then we usher in God’s kingdom on earth. Then we see God’s creation with the loving eyes through which all this was made. Then we have the courage to love our neighbor as ourselves, to fight for those among us who have no agency. To speak for the voiceless and distribute power to the margins.

“But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see– I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.”

Advent 4: Our God Has Favored You

Sermon by The Reverend Christian Baron, Co-Rector, December 24, 2017, Advent 4, Year B, Mark 1:1-8

“Let it be with me…”

Good morning. Welcome to the 4th Sunday of Advent. It’s a pretty special one because you don’t have to “labor” long from the Annunciation until the birth. This year, we have like a seven-hour gestation period. Modern medicine sure has improved our lives. Conception to birth… 7 hours.

And maybe this short period between Advent 4 and Christmas is a blessing. Maybe the darkness is just too thick. Just too void of light this year… Maybe this will be your first blue Christmas in a long while or maybe your first blue Christmas ever. Because, as we know… the Christmas and Holiday Season often brings with it pain and suffering and memories of loss… nostalgia and regret and disappointment… Maybe this will be a blue Christmas for you…

For now… it is still Advent… still dark, though the sanctuary is getting more and more illumined. We are now prepared for the birth of God which is good because the Incarnation is coming whether we are ready or not. But before the birth narrative… before God is birthed in the form of a human baby… we get to hear and contemplate this story…

We get to wrestle with the story that has been controversial for everybody from Mary to the very children sitting in the pews today. Mary says, “How can this be?” I know of plenty of people that can’t or won’t say the Creed because of the Virgin birth. Maybe they remain silent during that line in the Creed or maybe they aren’t at Church at all to say the Creed. And they just smile and shake their heads if the topic of a virgin birth is brought up. Maybe this is the case for you. Maybe the virgin birth narrative is just too “out there” for you. The beauty of the Episcopal Church is that we have room for your theology surrounding Mary and how Jesus came to be. Good news for all of us.

Because the fact is that this text and the theology around Mary are pretty important for how we understand Jesus. Earnest theologians will be quick to wag their fingers about those who are skeptics of the virgin birth. “If Mary and Joseph conceived that child, what would it mean?”

For many, it would mean that Jesus could not be sinless and tainted. And if Jesus is tainted… then he can’t be the perfect sacrificial atonement for the sin of the world. And if that is the case, then the sacrament that you and I will partake in today (twice today), doesn’t count. So, for these theologians, the house of cards comes crashing down. All hinging on Mary’s purity.

That’s a lot of pressure on her… A lot of pressure on her 2000 years ago and a lot of pressure on her today. That’s how easy it is to ruin a good story. I don’t mean to make light of the importance of this matter. I think that the virgin birth answers a lot of questions. It allows us to make theological connections that would be difficult if things were different. And I certainly don’t want to denigrate any of you that find this piece of theology to be the centerpiece of how you view your own place in this world.

And… honestly, this text is pretty explicit that it was very important to the author of Luke, that Mary was indeed pregnant from the Holy Spirit and not from Joseph. And I don’t understand the biology… well, I mean I understand this aspect of biology and how procreation among humans works, but the biology wasn’t important to Luke. At least not important enough to go into detail. Because it does leave all of us asking the same question that Mary asked… “Um… How can this be?”

But what is important to me for today is the fact that Mary was favored by God. This is a big deal for the original hearer of this gospel. It is a big deal because she is the hero… and, she is a poor young woman who is engaged to be married and who is currently or about to be… pregnant. This is the quintessential character who has zero agency in her own life. In a culture that was certainly male-centric and patriarchal… Mary was vulnerable… she had everything to lose. She was in transition between the household of her parents and the household of her soon-to-be husband. And now, both of those relationships are tenuous at best.

I don’t want to make this story about Joseph because it’s not… but can you imagine the conversation after Mary finishes her musical soliloquy…. After she sings the Magnificat. I’m guessing, Joseph wasn’t a supportive and understanding fiancé. I doubt he felt favored.

And the point of this story… at least for the purposes of this sermon… is that she did feel favored. She heard the words of Gabriel… and she marveled. She was amazed… she was filled with anticipation and expectation and maybe, even though Gabriel said not… I’m guessing she was a bit afraid. She was favored and she felt favored.

And to further accentuate the fact that Mary was an unlikely candidate for this favor, the author of Luke tells us, just before this story, the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth and the conception of John… John the Baptist. Zechariah was a priest. He had connections. He had political power. He was visible. He was… important and privileged… He too was… favored. But in a completely different way.

And this professional man of God… could not turn his own “How can this be” into “Let it be with me” like Mary was able to. Mary is quick to accept and even embrace this new reality. To embrace the reality that she is the God-bearer… the Eastern Church calls her the Theotokos.

And for me… this is the punch of this text. Not that Mary was sexually pure… but that the very beginning for Jesus was scandalous…. That even the way in which he was brought into being was scandalous. That the things that God favored were not the things that humanity favored. God’s favor… the way that he picked and possessed the mother of God was upside down and backward. That he would choose to break into this world a poor child with a questionable paternal origin, in which there were disgrace and turpitude… scandal and assumption. In which there would be gossip and rumors and whispers…

Because how else right? Now that we know the full story, we see why this is so fitting. We understand, (as much as we can), the brilliance in this. The divine brilliance.

Our assumptions as humans are ripped open. Heaven and Earth are brought close together, because Mary, the Theotokos was willing to carry in her body the creator of the Universe. Talk about being favored…

And I wonder what things would look like if God decided to be incarnated a second time. Or if God decided to choose 2017 to pick and possess a God-bearer. What would she look like? What color would her skin be? What would be her nationality? Would she be young? Would she be older? Would she be married or single? Divorced? Would she be affluent? Working class? Would she be gay or straight? Homeless? A refugee? I wonder… I wonder what the mother of God would look like in 2017.

Maybe she would look just like you…
Laugh if you must…
But God has done stranger things before. Because in fact, each of you… even the men… are in fact pregnant. God has planted the divine seed in each one of you. In each one of us. And it will be a joy to watch you as you raise and nurture the new divine life that will be birthed in 2018.

And slowly the darkness is being driven out. It is hard to tell because it is so gradual. Because it is arriving so slowly. It will light the way for you and for me.

Because our God has favored you… just like Mary…
our God has favored YOU. And, new… scandalous light and life…. Will arrive in Benzie County this year. I can’t wait to see it.

Amen.

Advent 3: A Time of Anticipation

Sermon by The Reverend Christian Baron, Co-Rector, December 17, 2017, Advent 3, Year B, John 1:6-8,19-28

“He came as a witness to testify to the light.” In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Good morning… It is good to be with you, here today… at St. Philip’s… for the Third Sunday of Advent. To be able to hear this fantastic text from Isaiah and from John. Because these texts are absolutely filled with goodness and motivation and invitation…

A couple of weeks ago, I told a story about camping and darkness and coldness. A story about waiting…

And last week, Mother Jodi preached about reconciliation and how it is both the response *to* Grace and, paradoxically, how it makes space *for* Grace.

How reconciliation is the Church’s wheelhouse… how it is our main business and mission.

And slowly… our sanctuary is more and more lighted. Today we have lit the third candle… the rose candle.

Who knows why we have a rose candle?
who knows what the fancy name of the rose candle is?

(Gaudete, which means Joy… a break in the darkness…)

For many people, Advent is a penitential season… Just like Lent.

And there is definitely an element of penitence within the waiting… within the preparation…

But honestly, I see Advent more as a time of Anticipation.

As the story of the desire of God to break into the lives of his people… For God to initiate this indescribable act… into your life and mine and into all of Creation.

And so, there are is this theological/liturgical argument among some Episcopalians.

Is the Advent color Penitential Purple or Sarum Blue?

So I want to weigh in on this contentious issue right here and right now… I want to finally put to rest how I think theologically about the Advent colors… And because our ritual is very important to me, because our sacred space is very important and because it assists us in telling the Story of God… it must be addressed.

So…Call the bishop if you must, but…

*****drumroll

I don’t really have a preference…

I kind of like how “we” do it here. It seems pretty middle of the road… pretty Anglican.

It isn’t Lenten purple… penitential purple… and it isn’t really sarum blue… it’s kind of neither… and both… which is nice… because really, nobody gets what they want… Church the way it was meant to be 🙂

These liturgical colors also signify Anticipation…

true anticipation is filled with many emotions.

Excitement… Nervousness… Fear… Joy…

It is complex.
It can be infuriating… nerve-racking… intense…
When is the last time you experienced intense… passionate anticipation?

Musicians say that they experience this before a big solo… or people experience this before a big job interview that may bring an enormous life change… Or maybe you felt it at your wedding… or in a doctor’s office or hospital emergency department… Or before the big Frankfort/Benzie Basketball game that happened this past Thursday… Or right before a fierce conversation in which the outcome is unclear and the potential is great for hard feelings, misunderstanding, hurt feelings or deep, satisfying, reconciliation.

With Anticipation… there is so much at stake… so much to gain or so much to be lost…

Like…when a mother is expecting a child.

When I was younger… over 12 years ago… Jodi and I anticipated the birth of our first child…

We were definitely excited about bringing new life into the world, but we were also terrified.

We didn’t feel responsible enough to bring a living breathing human being home from the hospital…

We didn’t feel responsible enough to feed and care for something so precious and fragile.

We didn’t know where we would come up with the extra income to pay our bills…

We lived on the West Side of Grand Rapids where there were lots of gang and drug problems. Was it really even very responsible for us to bring new life into such a place?

And then… a month early… after some testing… we found out that our baby would be coming early… that she would arrive the very next day via emergency C section.

We were terrified by this change. Terrified and anxious. This was not what we had anticipated…

What would it mean? What could it mean for my daughter… for us… for our family… for our future?

Jodi did her best to sleep the night before. I stayed up and watched The Family Guy for a few anxious hours with my Mother in Law.

Once we were at the hospital, things happened pretty quickly.

And as she was born… as she entered this world, as I laid my eyes on her for the first time… I saw that she was blue… that she was gray. A million emotions streamed through my body.

And I was terrified. Terrified that something was drastically wrong.

But, then she breathed her first breath… and I heard her squawk… I held her and brought her to her mama… And most of the anticipation was over.
The joy had arrived. It had overtaken much of the fear… it had brought light to the darkness.
The hope of the present and future had overcome the potential despair of the past… And all… was… well…

I hesitate to tell you this story because it is a story about a baby.

It is a story about light and hope…

About darkness and the potential for great pain and suffering…

And for me… it is a little too close to the Christmas Eve Story.

But friends… Advent is for anticipation.

And we anticipate God’s intervention in our lives. We anticipate God busting into our lives through the womb of Creation in an uncontrollable way… a way that is out of our hands… in a way that has the potential to change lives forever…

We know that there are many problems all around us. That there is great injustice at every turn. That for some of us illness and pain and suffering *are* our constant companions.

That women are continually subjected to unfair pressure and sexism.

That globally, human beings enter into death because we haven’t come up with a way to share all you have given us.

That we as a country are wrestling with our involvement with racism and a system of racial injustice in America.

That we are trying to figure out what it means to be a Christian and an American each and every day.

Should I support this tax plan or reject it? Should I read the newspaper and engage in the dialogue or sequester myself for my own sanity?

There seems to be great peril and calamity all around us. And we have no idea… what in the world we should do about it.

And we wonder where you are God. We wonder what you will do. We feel inadequate and that we are unable to bring about any kind of real change.

We want to bring about your Kingdom, but our own initiative has been impotent.

We feel hopeless and helpless… And maybe we read this text from Isaiah and can’t put ourselves into the story. For many of us, Isaiah is too far away from our own current reality…

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;

Because we have been reading this text for a long time. We have anticipated your justice for far too long.
And the passage just seems too far off right now. Maybe there is just too much at stake for us… Maybe…

Even though it is Advent 3… and even though we have lit the rose “Gaudete” candle… even though we are supposed to take a break from the darkness and even though we remember that we are supposed to be joyful… maybe we still feel like we are sitting in utter darkness…

And there is space for that… there is space for you here, even if you feel all these feelings or none of these feeling… even if you are in a place of despair or in a space of great consolation…

But… maybe today… you can muster a spark. Maybe you can see a bit of light… maybe you can remember a time where light was your companion rather than darkness…

I’m sure you have something in mind right now… a wedding. A birth… a wonderful friendship… a time where you were very close with a brother or sister… a time where your parents made you feel special…. A time where you held your child close to your chest rocked him or her to sleep.

Because that’s what John was testifying about. That’s what John was a witness to… He could identify and remember the spark… he could see a light that nobody else could see… He pointed the way to true hope… he pointed the way to Jesus the Christ…. The light in the darkness… The one who would bring Kingdom Justice.

And so, Church, it is our work… it is your work to try to notice that spark. To see that spark as God’s initiative… to get yourself to a space where you can see that spark from any angle as you and I sit in the darkness.

Because if it isn’t there now, that spark is coming.

God is coming.

Amen.

Advent 2: An Invitation from John the Baptizer

Sermon by The Reverend Jodi Baron, Co-Rector, December 10, 2017, Advent 2, Year B, Mark 1:1-8

 

“Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.” In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.

John the Baptizer has got to be one of my favorite biblical characters of all time. Especially the way that Mark describes him, illuminating his diet and wardrobe. And I especially love it when it his story falls during the season of Advent. It gives the season a bit more of a Lenten feel, with all the talk of repentance. But this kind of repentance is more internal work needing to be done, as a vehicle to get the people to a place of re-formation as God’s people.

The focus on his diet and wardrobe connotes an anti-establishment message that is inspiring, convicting, and has the potential for being romanticized.

John came at a time when the Roman Empire was establishing order through oppressing the Israelites and distracting them from living the God-life.

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Advent 1: Keep Awake

Sermon by The Reverend Christian Baron, Co-Rector, December 3, 2017, Advent 1, Year B, Mark 13:24-37

“Keep awake.”

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

Happy New Year. Welcome to Advent 1.

When I was a younger man… I used to camp. I used to camp more often than I should have. Whenever I had a free weekend, I would call up my friends and we would decide where we wanted to camp.

Sometimes we would camp near Newaygo on a small little lake. But that was over an hour away from the tiny town of Allendale, so we didn’t go to that place very often.

When we didn’t want to travel so far, we would drive back through the dirt roads in our town, through a nursery where a farmer was growing acres and acres of shrubs and bushes.

Often times it was dark after work on a Friday night in December… and so we would drive through that nursery at twilight or sometimes it was completely dark.

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Awakened to God’s Dream For Us

Sermon by The Reverend Jodi Baron, Co-Rector, November 26, 2017, Last Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 29, Christ the King, Year A, Matthew 25:31-46

“for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink…” In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

It is the last Sunday before Advent, the day known as “Christ the King.” This weekend has been filled with the whole spectrum of human experiences for us. Some folks traveled to be with family over Thanksgiving, some stayed home. Some friends and families said goodbye to loved ones at funerals and others welcomed new ones into the ranks for the first time. Some shopped, some cooked, some cleaned up messes.

This season coming up has long been one of my favorite seasons of the liturgical year. It’s dripping with ritual and opportunities for meaning-making. Our own family looks forward to the re-set of our Christian practices we’ve been employing for more than a decade. We love to put on Sufjan Steven’s Holiday music, bring up the “Advent Boxes” from the basement, which intentionally are kept separate from the Christmas Boxes (heaven forbid). Our Advent Boxes aren’t meant to be snobbish, or even pious. They are meant to help us frame and hold integral the story that is told within the boundaries of these 20+ days.

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The Joy of Your Master

Sermon by The Reverend Christian Baron, Co-Rector, November 19, 2017, Pentecost 24, Proper 28, Year A, Matthew 25:14-30

“Enter into the joy of your master.”

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

Good morning. Mid-November has always been an important time in my family. From a very early age… in fact, as long as I can remember, my father would be gone a few extra hours each night after work. My dad was a school teacher. He taught every elementary grade except kindergarten.

But in mid-November, our family would have to do without him. We would have to learn to share him. At least until my brother and I were old enough to participate in the family pastime…

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