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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:…
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Pentecost 5, June 27, 2010

Pentecost 5 Proper 8C RCL June 27, 2010

2 Kings 2:1-2;6-14
Psalm 77:1-2;11-20
Galatians 5:1; 13-25
Luke 9:51-62

“For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” What a stirring clarion call Paul issues to us today.

What does Paul mean by freedom? He does not mean that we can do anything we please. The word for that is license. Freedom vs. license is a helpful polarity when we are trying to define what Paul is saying about the spiritual journey. License means I can do whatever I want to; I don’t have to consider what God would want me to do, and I don’t have to consider the needs or feelings of anyone else.

Freedom is far different in Paul’s terms, and in the terms necessary for us to live a God-centered life. We are no longer bound by the Law, but now we are called to be in a living, growing relationship with God, with Jesus, and with the Holy Spirit. God is here, as close as our breath, and God is here to help. But God has also granted us the gift of free will. So God is not going to force us to do anything.

God loves each of us infinitely, more than we can ever imagine. But God is not going to force us to return that love. God wants us to choose to return that love and to share that love with each other and with those beyond, in fact, with everyone we meet and with everyone on this planet.

True freedom means being in relationship with God, seeking God’s will in everything we do. So there is a constant dialogue going on. The theologian Kenneth Kirk called this the “habit of recollection.” We are called to, as Kirk put it, “refer all questions to God.” It may sound ponderous, but somehow it isn’t. After a while, we get used to asking God, “Well, Lord, what do you want me to do about this?” and wait for that still small voice to guide us. If all of us are doing this, seeking and doing God’s will with God’s grace, we are going to be sharing God’s love with each other. If everyone on the planet is doing this, whether they be Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, agnostics or atheists, no matter what organized religion they do or don’t belong to, the shalom of God will be growing by leaps and bounds. For our brothers and sisters of other faiths and spiritual approaches, God and God’s shalom can be translated into other terms, such as the way of compassion toward others and toward our planet.

Paul talks about the difference between the flesh and the spirit. The flesh is not just our physical nature, the fact that we need to eat and drink, and that we need sleep, those are not negative things. The flesh, in Paul’s sense, is not limited to or even mainly focused on sexuality, though many have thought that was the case. The flesh, in Paul’s terms, can best be boiled down to our focus on autonomy and our selfishness. That can lead into all kinds of problems which may involve our physical nature and/or our sexuality, but those are not the focus.

I think of the song of several years ago, “I Did It My Way.” How about doing it God’s way? A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned a book called The Shack. Reid Farrell commented on it in the Holy Trinity Newsletter, and the folks there eventually did their Lenten study on that book. Folks at St. James, Essex Junction, have also had a discussion group on it.

This book is about many things on many levels, and I wouldn’t even attempt to summarize it, but it impressed me very deeply when I first read it, and I have recently read it again. It gives a refreshing view of God which involves expressing the depth and breadth of God’s love for us. If I were going to try to summarize it without giving the story away, I might say that it’s about a man who undergoes a horrible tragedy, the worst of the worst, and sinks into the depths of despair and then has an opportunity to get to know God and to journey with God in a powerful way which starts this man on his own journey of transformation and healing.

Part of his journey is realizing that we can’t know the mind and heart of God. We’re just too small and limited. But when we begin to realize how much God loves us, even amidst all the brokenness in the creation, which is not what God wants for the creation, but, since God has given us free will, God can’t step in and clear up our messes—when we realize the depth of God’s love for us, and when we begin to let God into our lives, God lives in us and through us, and we begin to see things very differently and we begin to think and act very differently.

God wants to create communities of people who are living lives steeped in God’s love. God wants a planet full of people who are doing this, and, when that happens, God’s shalom will be here.

Paul calls us to “live in the Spirit.” Scholars tell us the literal translation of that would be to “walk in the Spirit.” Every move, every action, thought, word is guided by the love and grace of God. Communities that live that way show the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Communities who walk in the Spirit are like magnets. They are places of safety and nurture, and they are also communities of challenge and service and loving ministry to others and communities which live into and out of God’s mercy and justice.

We are called to ask God for help, to let God help us, to let go of our focus on autonomy and to actually allow God to live in and through us. We are called to do this as individuals and as a community, and then we are called to work with other communities who are doing the same thing.

Loving God, give us the grace to check in with you as constantly as possible, Help us to seek and do your will. Amen.

Pentecost 3, June 13, 2010

Pentecost 3 Proper 6C RCL June 13, 2010
1 Kings 21:1-10, (11-14), 15-21a
Psalm 5:1-8
Galatians 2: 15-21
Luke 7:36-8:3

One theme running through our lessons today is the question: how do we treat the powerless, or how do those in power use their power?

In our first lesson, we hear the story of Naboth the Jezreelite, who owns a vineyard right next to the palace of King Ahab. Ahab wants that vineyard. He demeans Naboth by offering him a better vineyard. Scholars tell us that it would be very difficult to find a better vineyard, since that area was and still is, a prime area for such crops. Then he offers money, and he adds another stab at Naboth by saying he wants to make the vineyard into a vegetable garden. Naboth, of course, says he will not give up his precious inheritance.

King Ahab is disgusted and goes back to the palace and pouts like a two year old. Jezebel asks him what is wrong and he gives an inaccurate summary of events, whereupon Jezebel springs into action to insure the set up and death of Naboth. Ahab goes to take possession of the vineyard and is confronted with Elijah the prophet who tells Ahab that, because of his murderous behavior, calamity will fall upon him. If there were ever two people who use their power in abusive ways, those people would be Ahab and Jezebel.

In today’s gospel, Simon the Pharisee gives a banquet. Into the banquet, which is in the home of one who is most concerned with the laws of purity and proper decorum, comes a woman who breaks all the rules. We think she has had an earlier encounter with Jesus in which she has experienced his forgiveness. In any case, she comes in, falls at his feet, weeps, washes his feet with her tears, dries his feet with her hair, and then anoints his feet with expensive ointment. Simon says to himself that Jesus should know what kind of woman this is, and Jesus reads his mind and tells the story of the two debtors.

In terms of the purity laws, anyone looking on would know that this woman would have much to be forgiven. But, before he pronounces that forgiveness, which has already been given earlier, Jesus points out that she has been a far better hostess than Simon. One point that Jesus is making is that, if we are forgiven much, we love deeply, and, if we are forgiven little, we love little.

Paul is continuing to talk in the epistle about his process of transformation in Christ. He sums it up in the unforgettable words, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.”

Obviously, if we are in a position of power, we do not go to someone and try to cheat him out of his most precious possession, the rich land and productive vineyard which have been in his family for generations. We all cringe at the behavior of Ahab and Jezebel.

But the gospel story is much more subtle. If we were Simon, we might be saying, I give a formal banquet. Everything is done according to the best rules of religious propriety and etiquette, and here comes someone who does not even realize that she is not supposed to be here. She does not have the proper social standing to be attending, and then, after she makes a spectacle of herself, this Jesus person says that she extended warmer hospitality than I did!

Jesus says something very profound. If I know that I have been forgiven a great deal, if I have the sense that I have done some things I should not have done, and I have failed to do things I should have done, and in the process that I have hurt people, and if I also know deep in my heart that God has forgiven all of it and given me a totally fresh start, it is very easy for me to love God and thank God for all of God’s goodness and love and grace.

But, if, like Simon, I think that, by and large, I am close to perfect, after all I have followed all the rules and done everything right, and wear the right clothes and eat the right foods and do the right things, and, yes, God has forgiven me, but really there wasn’t that much to forgive, since I was just a smidge short of perfection in the first place, well, when we get right down to it, I really don’t need God that much, do I? Of course, I respect God as one should and all that, but love God? Love others in that sloppy way? Extend hospitality from the heart? Well, that borders on all that emotional drivel which I think is in such poor taste. This is my little impersonation of Simon, a man who does everything right but has no sense of his sinfulness, his brokenness, whereas, the woman who washes Jesus’ feet has a very clear sense of her brokenness.

Now, how does Paul’s message fit in here? He says that he has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer Paul who lives but Christ who lives in him. If we have had some life experiences which have allowed us to have a sense of our sinfulness, our brokenness, our need for forgiveness, our need for help to move toward wholeness, it is much easier for us to know that we have been forgiven much, and then to love much. With Paul that conversion was so profound that he became a new person. It is now Christ living in him. And that’s what happened to the woman who washed Jesus’ feet at the banquet. When we truly accept God’s forgiveness, we change our lives and behaviors. We are transformed. For some of us, like Paul, it was a dramatic about face. For many of us, it is more gradual.

For Simon, who sees no reason to change, no need on his part for forgiveness, the immediate prospects for transformation look pretty dim. On the other hand, there is always hope.

For Mary Magdalene, who has apparently undergone a radical move toward wholeness, and probably for the other women who are mentioned at the end of the gospel as disciples and supporters of Jesus, we can assume that their devotion to Jesus is rooted in their own transformative relationships with him.

Each of us has experienced the healing and grace of Christ in many ways. Each of us has a sense of God’s love and forgiveness. Each of us has a relationship with God which has nurtured us. That is why we are here and that is the most important thing we have to share—the power of God’s love, forgiveness, and healing. Like the women in today’s gospel, may we follow Jesus faithfully and may we share God’s love and healing. Amen.

Pentecost 2, June 6, 2010

Pentecost 2 Proper 5C RCL June 6, 2010

I Kings 17:8-16, (17-24)
Psalm 146
Galatians 1:11-24
Luke 7:11-17

Our first lesson this morning takes us back to around 870 years before the birth of our Lord. Palestine at that time was divided into two kingdoms. The northern kingdom was called Israel and had its capital at Samaria. The southern kingdom was called Judah and had its capital at Jerusalem.

The northern kingdom had had a series of corrupt rulers who lived lavish lives at the expense of the people, and most of the burden fell on the poor.
The current king, Ahab, had added insult to injury by marrying the infamous Jezebel, who was from Sidon and worshipped the god Baal, a fertility god.

Elijah has been called by God to hold up God’s standards to Ahab and, at God’s direction, has just announced that there is going to be a drought which will last three years. Scholars tell us that this is a direct challenge to Baal, who was considered to be in charge of sending water for the crops. Once he announces this drought, Elijah’s life is in danger. Ahab wants to silence Elijah so that he can silence the voice of God.

Elijah is on the run. First God sends him to the Wadi Cherith, where there is water for awhile. The ravens feed Elijah. But pretty soon the water runs out and, in our lesson for today, God sends Elijah to a widow of Zarephath, which is in Sidon, Queen Jezebel’s home territory.

When Elijah arrives, the widow is gathering sticks. Elijah asks her for some water. As she is going to get it, he asks her for some food, and she explains that she is gathering sticks so that she can use her last meal and oil to make a simple bread for herself and her son to eat before they die. Notice that she says, “As your God lives….” This emphasizes that she is a worshipper of Baal. God is calling Elijah to branch out into new territory.

Elijah could be very discouraged at her news, but, if he is, he doesn’t show it. He tells the woman not to be afraid, but to go and make a little cake for Elijah and then for herself and her son, for the oil and meal will not run out until God sends rain to end the drought. She makes the simple meal, and the oil and meal do not run out.

But then calamity strikes. The woman’s son became so ill that there is no breath left in him. The woman blames Elijah for causing the death of her son. Elijah takes the boy up to his room and places him on his own bed. Then Elijah blames God for killing the boy. Note how we humans like to find someone to blame. But then Elijah stretches out on top of the boy three times and prays to God to bring life to him again. The miracle happens. The boy is alive. Elijah takes him downstairs and gives him to his mother. She realizes that Elijah is a great prophet and that God speaks and acts through Elijah.

The situation of widows in Biblical times was dire. If a woman did not have a man to protect her, she was totally vulnerable. Identity in those days came from your connection to an adult male. Women and children were considered as chattel, possessions, like furniture. By reviving this woman’s son and giving him back to her, Elijah is restoring this woman’s protection and identity.

This story is paralleled in the gospel. Jesus has just healed the centurion’s slave. He and his followers reach the town of Nain and they meet a very sad procession. A young man is being carried out. He is his mother’s only son and she is a widow, Jesus sees her and immediately has compassion on her.
He touches the bier and says, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sits up and begins to speak. The crowd realizes that God has done this.

What are these lessons telling us today? First, no matter how bad things get, there is reason for hope and faith. Secondly, God cares deeply about the little people—children, widows, people who are about to starve, people who are losing what is most precious to them. Two widows are in the process of losing their sons, the worst thing that could possibly happen. But God cares about them, and we as a society are called to care for those who are vulnerable.

Theologian Charles Cousar writes of this gospel: “Jesus sees the woman, has compassion for her, acts in raising her son, and then gives her son back to her. The latter statement underscores her restoration, her return to a place of protection and security, the renewal of her future as a time of opportunity and not misfortune. As one who identifies with and has compassion for a marginalized person, Jesus also acts to remedy her situation. There is more than an understanding look and a sympathetic word. There is a resurrection that reclaims the future. In a sense, then, the raising of the widow’s son foreshadows the raising of God’s Son, where the power of death is defeated once and for all.” (Texts for Preaching, Year C, p. 379.)

Theologian Karl Allen Kuhn writes of this passage, “Everything that counters God’s will for humanity is targeted: oppressive social and cultic [rules], economic inequity, abuse of power, disease, illness, death, sin, as well as Satan and his minions—all these were treated by Jesus as that which the kingdom of God shall overcome.” Kuhn says that we often seem to think of God’s kingdom as “belonging to a time and place beyond our own. … But the kingdom inaugurated and proclaimed by Jesus…belongs as much to the present as to the future. It moves against those elements of our politics, economics, and social boundaries that rob people of life and blessing in the here and now, just as much as it is concerned to defeat the more ‘dramatic’ forces of evil arrayed against the faithful. It is about recognizing Jesus as Lord and opening the way for his saving grace in every aspect of life.” (New Proclamation, Year C, 2010, p.98.)

So this morning, we have two stories about widows, who were considered throw away people in their society. In God’s loving and compassionate view, there are no throw away people. Every one is precious. These passages call us to renew our commitment to the poor and vulnerable in our midst, especially during these challenging economic times. Amen