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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion December 11, 2022 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion December 18, 2022 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion December 25, 2022 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…

Palm Sunday RCL March 28, 2010

Palm Sunday RCL March 28, 2010

Palm Sunday is such an intense, powerful, paradoxical time. We begin by welcoming our king. By the end, he has been crucified.

We begin at the Last Supper, when our Lord takes the bread and cup and tells them this is his body and blood. He tells them that he is among them as one who serves, and he calls them to be servants of others.

Then they go to the Mount of Olives and he prays, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me, yet, not my will but yours be done.” And in the intensity of his prayer and obedience, he sweats blood.

Then the crowd comes, led by Judas. Our Lord is betrayed by Judas, denied by Peter, He is ridiculed and insulted.

He is questioned by Pilate, who sends him to be questioned by Herod, and then he is sent back to Pilate. Pilate, seeing no crime in Jesus, offers the people the choice to release Jesus, but they choose Barabbas.

Our Lord then undergoes the agony of a criminal’s death.

And what is his response to all this? “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” His response is forgiveness and love.

This week we will walk with our Lord through these events, the institution of the Eucharist. the washing of feet, and the stripping of the altar on Maundy Thursday and then the Good Friday Liturgy.

And all through the way of the cross we will focus on those two powerful things about our Lord—his forgiveness and his love.


Aurora Ancient Music – June 18, 2010

“The Wild and the Sacred”
Aurora Ancient Music is Liz Thompson. Amity Baker, and Susan Comen – three of Vermont’s finest singers.  On June 18, they will perform a concert of medieval and new songs for the earth.  Music will include chants of the medieval mystic Hildegard von Bingen; the complex harmonies of the English late medieval composer John Dunstable; processional songs from 13th century France; and new works by Vermont’s Don Jamison and Aurora’s Liz Thompson.  A donation of $15 is suggested.  For information about Aurora Ancient Music, contact Liz Thompson, 802-453-4353.

Lent 5C RCL March 21, 2010

Lent 5C RCL March 21, 2010

Isaiah 43:16-21
Psalm 126

Philippians 3:4b-14

John 12:1-8

God is doing a new thing, Isaiah tells us. “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
God is bringing the people back from exile. God is reaching out to us in our exile. God is rebuilding the creation just as the temple was rebuilt in Jerusalem when the people of God finally returned. God is restoring the creation, bringing in the kingdom, creating the Shalom of God, the realm of peace and harmony which encompasses the whole earth and all its creatures. Water bursts forth in the desert of our loneliness and isolation. The wilderness springs forth with life. Our hearts leap with hope and joy. The descriptions of the restoration of Zion reflect the landscape of our spirits, which are ever renewed by the loving presence of God.

Psalm 126 is a beautiful and powerful song of praise about the restoring of the temple after the exile. The people are coming home again. They are filled with joy. Their hope is renewed. And we can understand how they feel because we have endured times of exile in our own lives, times when we felt God was far away. We all know what it is to struggle to keep the faith when all seems lost. We may question, we may struggle, we keep on praying and trying to trust until at last the light breaks through again and we know that God was right there all the time. So, we know what our ancestors in the faith felt when they finally returned to Mount Zion.

And then we have Paul writing to his beloved Philippians, telling them and us that everything in his life is so much rubbish, so much garbage, compared to his relationship with Christ. He has lost many things, but he does not care, because he has found all that matters. He has found the risen Christ in the middle of his rantings and ravings and persecution of the church. On the road to Damascus, his Lord has spoken to him and asked him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” and from then on, everything has been changed, and changed utterly. His world has switched around one hundred eighty degrees, and that’s all there is to it. Paul is one of the most dramatic examples of metanoia, conversion, that about face in which by the grace of God, we make the transition from walking away from God to walking toward God. Saul becomes a new person, He becomes Paul. He goes from being an enemy of the church into being one of the church’s greatest and most stalwart friends.

And Paul tells us that we must share in the sufferings of Christ if we are to share in his resurrection. This is so true. There is no new life without the loss of old things which we thought were important, even essential. But they turn out to be rubbish, not necessary for the journey. We are called, through prayer and awareness, and experience, to come to some understanding of the death of Christ and that means we are called to experience, in ways that are appropriate to our lives and circumstances, the many forms of death and brokenness which rob our brothers and sisters of hope and wholeness. And then, in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection, we are also called to help to heal that brokenness.

Paul tells us that he is constantly striving toward the goal. “Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”…”Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call in Christ Jesus.”
In today’s gospel, it is just a short time after Jesus has raised Lazarus from the dead. Some people believed in Jesus from that moment on. Others went right to the Pharisees and reported what had happened. The Pharisees went to the chief priests and they all went to the council, and the decision was made to kill Jesus. So Jesus’ raising of Lazarus was the thing that made the powers that be decide to take Jesus’ life.

Jesus is in the home of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. They are his dearest friends. He has visited frequently in their home. It has been for him a place of safety, a place where he can relax. And they are giving a dinner at which Jesus is the guest of honor.

Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with costly perfume. The whole house becomes fragrant with it. Mary does this out of gratitude to Jesus for raising her beloved brother from the dead. She is also washing Jesus’ feet as he will soon call all of us to do at the Last Supper. She is being a servant, as Jesus calls us to do. She is also making a large financial offering by purchasing this nard, which scholars tell us, was brought from the Himalayas.

Judas brings up an insincere and false concern about the cost of the perfume. His real interest was in stealing the money for himself. But Jesus tells us the third meaning of this anointing. It is from gratitude, yes; it is an expression of the servanthood to which he calls Mary and us, yes; but, most of all and most poignantly and most paradoxically, Mary is anointing him for burial. This scene propels us into the grim reality which is about to unfold.

God is doing a new thing. Lives are transformed from spreading hate to sharing love as Paul’s life was transformed. Jesus is here to give new life to all, and for that, he will die. Here, in the midst of his closest friends, in one of the few places where he could be safe, he faces the reality of his coming death.

Herbert O’Driscoll writes, “As we move toward the events to come in the next couple of weeks, we are given this most human moment. Our Lord is doing what all of us love to do—sit at a table with friends. This house at Bethany was for Jesus the treasured place of friendship. Such moments must have been for him piercing reminders of the cost of the decisions he was making. His humanity must have rebelled against the possibility of death, just as ours does. The gesture of Mary, coming from a deep affection…, must have reminded him of what he was sacrificing by taking the road that led to danger and confrontation, and death.

The fact that he must already have had some suspicions about Judas’ intentions added to the deep hurt of this evening.”

“All of these things pointed to the awful cost of his faithfulness to his own vision of the kingdom of God. Victory there would eventually be, but a most costly victory. If we seek reasons to offer him our gratitude, let it be for his willingness to pay this great cost.” (The Word Among Us, Year C, Volume 2, p 47.)


Shamrocks & Thistles – Music from Ireland and Scotland – July 23, 2010

New to Summer Music at Grace this year, Melissa Ewell and Gianna Izzo Messier perform Scottish and Irish music in a program called “Shamrocks and Thistles – Music from Ireland and Scotland” on Friday, July 23rd, 2010.

Gianna Izzo Messier is a native of Williston, Vermont.  She holds a Masters Degree in Music Education from the University of Hawaii at Manoa and Bachelors Degrees in Violin Performance and Music Education from the University of Vermont.  Gianna teaches instrumental music at Swanton Elementary School.  She has performed with the Burlington Chamber Orchestra, Champlain Valley Oratorio Society, the Burlington Choral Society, the Hanover Chamber Orchestra, and the Vermont Symphony Orchestra.  Gianna lives in Swanton with her husband Armand and their daughter Madeleine.

Melissa Ewell grew up in New Britain, Connecticut but has deep family roots in Vermont going back to the early 1800’s.  She earned a Masters Degree in Arts in Education from St. Michael’s College and a Bachelors Degree in Music Education from Johnson State College.  Melissa has taught music in public schools in Vermont for 32 years, most of them in Swanton.  Choosing early in her piano career to be an accompanist, she has played for dozens of concerts, recitals, musicals, operas, and operettas and performed from 1983 to 1993 at Master Classes taught by the eminent vocal coach and accompanist John Wustman.  Melissa lives in St. Albans with her husband Michael and their canine child, Trailor, the Bernese Mountain Dog.

Full Circle – Friday, August 13, 2010

Grace welcomes back Full Circle on August 13. This summer, Full Circle is performing a program of Celtic Music. From lively reels and jigs to meditative airs, the music of Scotland, Ireland and
Wales will be presented with voices, recorders, dulcimer, harp, guitar,
whistles and percussion. Members of the group are Maeve Kim, Beth London,
Susan Reit, Linda Rodd and Mary Ann Samuels.

Lent 4C RCL March 14, 2010

Lent 4C RCL March 14, 2010

Joshua 5:9-12
Psalm 32

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Luke 15:1-3; 11b-32

In today’s lesson from the Hebrew scriptures, specifically the Book of Joshua, the people Israel celebrate their first Passover in the promised land. Their wilderness wanderings are over. They will settle in their new home. The people recount their history and remember how much God has helped them and guided them through all their challenges. The manna now ceases and they begin to live from the produce of their new land. God’s generous providence has brought them to this point.

It has often been said that the parable of the Prodigal Son should be called the parable of the prodigal father. The expectation was that the younger son and his older brother would run the farm together. When the younger son asks for his part of the inheritance, he is breaking up the family’s legacy. When he actually spends the money, he is acting as if his father were already dead. The level of selfishness and destructiveness is almost impossible to describe.
He sinks as low as anyone can sink. For a Jew to be tending pigs and eating their food means that he is associating himself with unclean animals which cause him to be ritually unclean. He has gone as low as anyone can go.

And then comes that line. “But when he came to himself.” Sin and selfishness are like that. Sin takes us away from our true self, the person that God calls us to be. “When he came to himself.” Lent is about this. Lent is about coming to ourselves. Lent is about cutting through all our dodges and defenses and rationalizations and seeing our sin, the ways in which we have allowed ourselves to be separated from God, from other people, and from our true self, the ways in which we have failed to respect others and to take God’s promises seriously.

It is not easy to do an honest inventory of the state of our souls. In fact, it is extremely difficult. This is why we have this parable. If we attempt to look at the horror of the brokenness which our sins, individual and corporate, create, without the sure and certain knowledge of God’s unconditional love toward us, we would all go into bottomless depression. This parable assures us that God is waiting for us at the end of the driveway even before we get there. We have not even given our accounting and owned up to all out thoughtless foolishness and uncaring and lack of trust before God wraps us in a hug that says, “I’m so glad you’re back. I missed you so much,” and then throws a party.

We would not be able to confess; we would not be able to come to ourselves and look at what we do if it were not for God’s loving care.

Let’s look at the older son for a moment. He represents the Jews, who have followed the law all these centuries, and now comes this Jesus turning everything upside down and extending salvation to everyone, even tax collectors and sinners and drug addicts. When we read the gospels and the text refers to the Jews, we might insert the term “The Good Church People.” The Good Church People were upset that Jesus was associating with people on the margins of society.

I think that we know that we are the younger brother. We know that we have sinned. But we need to realize that there are parts of us that can be like the older brother—you know, those self-righteous parts of us. Here I am, trying to lead a good life and do the right thing, but what’s the use if God is going to go out and scour the countryside and bring in all these social undesirables to attend the feast? There’s an older brother inside every one of us. And he breaks up the family legacy just as much with his legalism and smug, closed attitude.

God is bringing to birth a new creation. Everyone is welcome. Rich and poor, young and old, black, white, red, yellow, people who can run the four minute mile and people who are in wheelchairs, sanitation workers and CEO’s.

If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; the old has passed away. Part of being in Christ is taking a long, hard honest look at the ways in which we have squandered God’s love and head home asking for God’s help to get back on track. We can’t do it alone. We need God’s grace, and we are called to open our hearts and lives to that grace.

In this whole process of opening up to God, getting honest with God and with ourselves, owning up to who we really are, it makes a huge difference, I think, to picture God, knowing exactly what the reality is, loving us in the midst of that reality, rejoicing that at last we have seen the light, overjoyed that we are coming home, and waiting there, arms wide open.


Lent 3 C RCL March 7, 2010

Lent 3 C RCL March 7, 2010
 Exodus 3:1-15

This morning, we look in on one of the most dramatic and crucial scenes in the Bible. Moses is tending the flocks of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian. In other words, Moses is going about his daily routine. He leads the flock into the wilderness, near Mount Horeb, and there he has an encounter with God which changes his life forever. “Moses, Moses,” God calls. Moses answers, “Here I am.” So holy is the presence of God that Moses must remove his sandals. The very place is holy ground. Moses is afraid to look at God. Remember that ancient belief that humans could not stand to see God, that they would die.
And God is awesome. Yet God has seen the sufferings of the people Israel and is calling Moses to lead the people of God out of slavery. When Moses asks God’s name, God says, “I am who I am.” God is the source of all life, all being. And in Hebrew, verbs have fluid tenses. I am who I am, I will be who I will be, I was who I was, even I am who I was. The very being of God is constantly in motion, yet eternal, stretching back into the past and forward into the future—beyond time itself, ever active and ever life-giving.
Moses encounters God, the source of all Being, and Moses answers the call of God to lead the people out of bondage into the promised land. Every Lent, each of us, on our spiritual journey, moves from bondage to freedom, in the individual ways God is calling us to become more free, so that the story of the people Israel becomes and is our story. We are ever moving from the bondage of sin into the freedom of forgiveness and new life.
In his Letter to the Corinthians, Paul is reminding the people that they and we have all made this journey out of slavery into freedom, and we continue to make this journey. We will not be tested beyond our ability to remain faithful to God. But we are called to be faithful to our discipline as Christians.
The Gospel for today makes at least two major points. One is that disasters and tragic events are not punishments for bad people. The rain falls on the just and the unjust. The other point is that God likes to allow the maximum opportunity for change and growth. The poor fig tree has not borne as it should, but let’s dig around it and feed it well and nurture it and give it the optimal conditions for success before we give up. Can’t you just see God, the skilled and compassionate Gardener, doing whatever is needed to help us all to grow? God is the generous giver of second and third and infinite chances. God is the God of hope. God is the God of opportunity. Some people picture God as ready to gunch everybody, keeping track of all our crimes and misdemeanors. Nothing could be farther from the truth. As someone has said, God is a lover, not a lawyer. With God, there is always another chance.

You and I probably have not seen many burning bushes which, though on fire, are not consumed. But we have had moments when we knew God was truly present and when we sensed the awe-inspiring power of God. In these moments, we do feel inadequate, we feel unworthy, we know we are standing on holy ground. We can fully identify with Moses. It is amazing that the eternal God would come to meet with us and would call us as God did Moses, but it’s true.Each of us has encountered God in our own way. It may not have been a dramatic mystical experience such as seeing a burning bush, but our experiences are just as real as Moses’ was. From these experiences—it may have been looking at a beautiful sunset; it may have been looking into the eyes of a baby, or hearing a glorious piece of music or spending some time with a friend or walking through the woods, or standing at the seashore and watching the endless rolling of the waves and hearing the hiss of the undertow and the cries of water birds—all these and many more can be moments of encounter with God. Receiving the Host in our hand each time we share Eucharist, passing the Peace, our sign of oneness with each other—all are encounters with God. Through these encounters, we realize that God is always reaching out to us in love and compassion. This generates in us the hope and faith which enables us to respond to God’s call.

Just as God called Moses, God is calling you and me. God is calling us to be faithful to our part of our covenant with God, to live our lives as citizens of the heavenly realm, to remain steadfast in the values of love and compassion, and to be a caring and loving community in Christ.

The beauty of it is, God really does figuratively dig around our roots and give us the nourishment we need. God gives us everything we need in order to respond to God’s call and do a fine job. Like Moses, we need to keep going about our daily tasks and spiritual disciplines, and lo, and behold, just when we least expect it, there is that burning bush or perhaps our less dramatic equivalent, and there is God, letting us know what to do next.

God is always and forever loving us, and God is always and forever calling us. By God’s grace, may we respond in faith and trust.


Psalm 63:1-8
I Corinthians 10:1-13
Luke 13:1-9

Lent 2C RCL February 28, 2010

Lent 2C RCL February 28, 2010

Genesis 15:1-12. 17-18

Psalm 27

Philippians 3:17-4:1

Luke 13: 31-35

Abram and Sarai had a very comfortable life in Ur of the Chaldees until God called Abram to pack everything up and travel long and far through all kinds of difficulties to the land of Canaan. Abram has been faithful to God’s call, but he finds himself this morning caught in a net of discouragement, perhaps even despair.

“O Lord, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and my heir is Eliezer of Damascus?” Abram has no children. To be childless in ancient Hebraic thought meant to be out of favor with God. To be childess meant you had no future. Abram was planning to leave everything he had to his servant Eliezer.

Abram is a man with no future, no hope. But God reassures him that it is not over yet. How does God get through to Abram? God gives Abram a different perspective. “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” That’s how many descendents you are going to have. And God seals that covenant with the sign of fire, another ancient ritual symbol.

God asks Abram to look at the stars, to look up instead of looking down, to take the long view, the cosmic view, instead of, as it were, contemplating his feet and his sandals and being generally downcast. When we are preoccupied with our own immediate problems, it is very easy to become discouraged. But when we take God’s eye view, things begin to take on a new appearance. Faith happens. Hope happens. As you know, God’s promise to Abram came true.

In today’s epistle, Paul is very upset that the Philippians have taken the freedom of the gospel, the fact that our sins are forgiven, and twisted that loving grace into permission to commit sin. These people are thinking that, since Christ came to fulfill the law, we can forget the law. No so. We are called to live, not only the letter of the law, but the spirit as well. We are citizens now of a higher realm, the heavenly realm, and we are called to live lives worthy of that identity.

In the gospel, too, we see these two realms, the earthly and the heavenly. Those who were tied into the rewards of the status quo were against Jesus from the start. Jesus calls Herod, “That fox.” We know how cunning foxes are as they stalk the chicken coop. Jesus portrays himself as the mother hen gathering her brood and protecting her chicks—namely, us. This is a beautiful image of God’s care for us.

Jesus is not going to let the political forces of this world get in the way of his ministry. The foxes are not going to stop him. He laments that Jerusalem, the center of life and worship for his people, is also the place where God’s loving intervention is thwarted and denied, the place where prophets are killed and where he himself will be put to death.

You and I are citizens of the heavenly realm. You and I are called to live lives which reflect this citizenship. The values of this realm are very different from some of the values which prevail in the world. It is not easy to live the Christ-centered life. Like Abram, we will have doubts, we will be discouraged at times. Doubt is a part of the journey of faith. With God’s grace and help, we will be able to lift our eyes to the hills and to the stars and allow God to restore our hope and renew our vision.

There are many forces which call us away from being faithful to our heavenly citizenship—pride, wrath, greed, envy, gluttony, lust, and sloth, to name a few. The temptation to cut a few corners here, to skew a few facts there, to ignore or stretch the truth. Perhaps the most subtle tempation is to adopt the values of the world, thinking that we just have to in order to survive. Sometimes we give in. Sometimes we slip. We fall short, we ask forgiveness, we get back on track.

Our Lord knew exactly what the situation was. He was no dreamer with rose-colored glasses on. He saw reality for exactly what it it was. But he refused to go by the values of this world—aggression, cruelty, political one-upmanship, power-over others. He chose to walk the way of wisdom, compassion, understanding, and love. It led to a cross, and it will lead us to some crosses. But that is the only way to Easter.

What a courageous model we have in Jesus. May we strive to be faithful citizens of the kingdom he is building even now. Amen.

First Sunday in Lent Lent 1C RCL February 21, 2010

First Sunday in Lent Lent 1C RCL February 21, 2010

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

Psalm 91:1-2,9-16

Romans 10:8b-13

Luke 4:1-13

Our lesson from Deuteronomy reminds us that we are called to offer to God our worship and also the first fruits of our time, talent, and treasure, which, of course, come from God. God is as close to us as our own bodies–our lips and our hearts. The psalm assures us powerfully and poetically that God is present to protect and support us through everything.

But as we gather on this first Sunday in Lent, it is the gospel that helps us to realize how closely our lives are identified and linked with the life of Christ. He has walked the journey before us; he walks it with us; he knows how it is. He is fully divine, yes, and he is fully human.

The temptations begin right after his baptism. His identity as the Son of God has just been affirmed. Immediately, the temptations occur. This is an axiom of the spiritual life. The highs are followed by the lows. The moment the realm of God begins to advance, the forces of evil accelerate their efforts. This happens in our own lives and in the life of the Church. Times of almost inexpressible closeness to God are followed by periods of temptation, wrestling, and doubt. Periods of spiritual growth and community building are followed by periods of darkness and struggle.

Jesus is in the desert for forty days, an echo of the forty days the people Israel wandered in the wilderness, a mirror or the forty-day fasts of Moses and Elijah. The desert has sand, miles and miles of it, and on that sand are bread-shaped limestone rocks. The temptation begins. “If you are the Son of God….” The theme of these temptations is: prove your identity. Question your identity and feel the need to prove it in actions which fall short of your real ministry, actions which look like cheap public relations stunts. “If you are the Son of God, turn these stones into bread.”

By this time we can assume that Jesus was famished. He could have used some food. He also knew that it is important to feed the hungry. This was both a personal temptation to produce physical food to take care of his own hunger and a temptation to water down his ministry. We know that he fed people. We know that he cared deeply about people’s physical needs. He told us that if we give water to a thirsty person or food to a hungry person, we are giving it to him. It is good to feed people. We are called to care for the physical needs of our brothers and sisters. But in this temptation, Jesus is being given the opportunity to compromise his ministry by doing a good thing. That is a really tough one, and we face it all the time. Do this second best thing, which is a fine thing to do, and miss the point of what you are really being called to do. One definition of sin is missing the mark, and this situation is an example of that very thing.

Jesus could have become very popular and very famous for feeding the hungry. He could have run the biggest soup kitchen in the world. But he refused.. Because he did not come here only to feed people. He came to transform people.

Next Satan shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. Ultimate irony: Satan is offering to the eternal Word who called the creation into being, the power of this world. But Jesus’ ministry is not about power, not about politics. He is not the Messiah of military might here to overthrow the Roman Empire by force. In a very real way, Jesus died for this choice. People became very angry when he would not lead the revolution against Rome.

Now up to the pinnacle of the temple, some 450 feet high, and a valley falls way from that wall. Jump off. You know the angels will come to save you. Throughout history, false messiahs have actually jumped of that wall hoping that that verse would become true for them. Prove who you are. Create a media event. The press will gather in droves; the headlines will blare: Son of God saved by angels.

Part of the struggle to be who we really are, namely, sons and daughters of God, is that we do not really trust that is our identity. We do not trust God. And that is the crux of this temptation for Jesus. Maybe I’ve made a big mistake. Maybe I just imagined what happened at my baptism. But Jesus chooses to trust God rather than to test God. And we see this all through his ministry. He goes apart to pray. That is how the trust grows, when we spend time with God, letting God know what is going on with us and listening to God’s guidance. Sometimes we test God when we really need to trust God.

The Way of the Cross. Jesus stuck with it, and I think it is true that these temptations did not happen just once. They happen many times in our lives, and they happened many times in his. Jesus’ unerringly adhered to what he was called here to do. He did not settle for a lesser good which would have deflected him from his transformative ministry. He did not succumb to the world’s ideas of power. And he did not put God to the test, but chose to trust completely in God’s love.

And so Jesus chose the Way of the Cross. Everything he did and said was focused on helping us to realize and accept that God loves us and welcomes us into a new dimension of life. The Way of the Cross is not easy. It demands great courage. The Way of the Cross calls us to trust in God, to let go of the usual ideas of power, and to seek and follow God’s call to us.

We all face temptations. We all face choices which involve compromising our faith. In a profound sense, temptations give us an opportunity to trust in our authentic identity as children of God and to live as sons and daughters of God are called to live. May each of us, by the grace of God, choose wisely and well. May we turn to God in prayer and follow the spiritual disciplines which will nurture our true identity as followers of Christ.


Ash Wednesday February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday February 17, 2010

Isaiah 58:1-12

Psalm 103

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

Matthew 6:1-6;16-21

Every year, we gather to begin the season of Lent. We take ashes which have been made from the palms used on Palm Sunday last year, palms which were used to welcome our Lord with Hosannas in a procession appropriate for a hero. Those palms have been burned, and now they are placed on our foreheads in the sign of the cross, the very sign that marks our foreheads in baptism, marks us as Christ’s own forever. Only now the words which are said are, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

And we do this to remind ourselves that we are frail, we are flawed, we are mortal. That is the absolute truth. Here, in the beginning of the twenty-first century, it is tempting to forget this. We can do so much. In some ways, we are so powerful. We know so much. We humans have achieved so much. Yet it is crucial for us to remind ourselves of how much we need God.

And even as we focus on this dust, we remember the creation story in Genesis, that old, old story which contains so much truth. In that story, God makes humanity out of the dust. And God breathes God’s breath into that dust in order to make it live. Within each of us is the divine breath, the divine spark. And so, as we face that fact of our limitations and our mortality, we also have hope because the spirit of God is with us and within us.

Isaiah calls the people to a corporate repentance. And that is what we are called to on this day. We are reminded that to be true followers of Christ means to care for our fellow human beings, to feed and clothe and care for our brothers and sisters. If we claim to love God, we need to be reaching out to others. “Shout out,” Isaiah says. There is an urgency to this call to let our lives be transformed, to let our actions speak the love of God.

And there is also an urgency in Paul’s letter. “We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” In the preceding part of the letter, Paul has been talking about Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. He has been saying that, though we humans are the ones who have moved away from God, God is the one who has made the first step to close the gap we have created. So there is a certain urgency in our responding to this generous action.

Paul also acknowledges his own frailty and shortcomings. He does not pretend to be perfect. But he also points out that, by the work of the Holy Spirit, God’s power is made perfect in weakness. As we contemplate our own mortality, Paul’s faith in God’s ability to work with us imperfect humans can be a great comfort.

The gospel for today is the continuation of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is talking about giving alms, praying, and fasting. He is asking us to look carefully at out motives. Do we give so that people will think well of us? Do we give to boost our egos? Do we contribute generously to an organization in order to gain power in the structure of that organization? Are we contributing for selfish ends or in the service of God?

Our Lord even calls us to look at our motives for praying. We pray in order to take time to be with God, to listen to God, to sense God’s love for us, to open ourselves to God’s guidance and direction. To paraphrase Martin Smith, our prayer time is a time to let God’s love surround us and seep into our beings.

We are dust. We are full of mixed motives. We humans know so much and yet we know so little. It is a good thing that we take time on Ash Wednesday to act out the drama of our mortality by placing cross-shaped smudges of ashes on our foreheads.

In a profound way, this clear acknowledgement of who we are and who God is is the perfect beginning for a Lenten journey that will bring us more closely in harmony with God’s will, both individually and corporately. I believe that is why we are gathered here. Because we all want that. It isn’t easy or fun to look at our dark places, but we know it is necessary. And we trust the light of Christ to illumine this journey and to bring us to the wholeness God intends for us. That is the light that brings us out of the darkness to begin the celebration of the Easter Vigil, the feast of new life. And it is the light that will be with us every step of the way as we embark on the journey of transformation this Lent.

O God, may your creative love and power be with us as we journey. O Spirit divine, who lives within each of us and enlivens your whole creation, be with us. O Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer, lead us on the Way you have walked for our sake and help us to walk in your light. In your holy name, we pray. Amen