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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:…

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