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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 5B RCL March 25, 2012

 Jeremiah 31: 31-34
Psalm 51: 1-13
Hebrews 5: 5-10
John 12: 20-33

In our first lesson this morning, the prophet Jeremiah is speaking a word of hope to God’s people at a time of discouragement and despair. King Nebuchadnezzar of the great Babylonian Empire has conquered Jerusalem and the people have been deported to Babylon to spend years in exile. They are trying to hang on to their faith and keep to the law, but the threads of hope are fraying to the breaking point. This is a time of great suffering.

In the midst of this terrible pain, God speaks through the prophet Jeremiah. God is going to make a new covenant with the people. This new covenant is not the covenant of the law that was received at Mt. Sinai. God will put God’s law within the people. God will write the law on their hearts. There will be deep intimacy between God and the people. They will not need others to teach them about God, for each of them will know God. The love and guidance of God will be within the people.

As Christians, we believe that the new covenant is present and active in Jesus. Through his grace, he helps us to write God’s love in our hearts and to live according to the Great Commandment: “Love God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

In our gospel for today, it is the feast of the Passover, the celebration of the freeing of God’s people from slavery. People from all over the world have come to Jerusalem. Some Greeks, that is, Gentiles, approach Philip, possibly because he is from Galilee, which had a large population of Gentiles. “Sir, we want to see Jesus,” they tell Philip. So Philip takes them to Andrew, and the two apostles take these men to see Jesus. Scholars tell us that the approach of these two Gentile seekers lets Jesus know that his ministry is to the whole world. He knows his hour is coming soon. He is going to be glorified by dying on the most shaming, humiliating, agonizingly painful instrument of torture ever invented—the cross.

He addresses the crowd and us. He calls us to be like grains of wheat, falling into the rich soil of God’s love and life to be bread for the world. He calls us to lose our lives for his sake, to let go of our careful control which gives us such a sense of security and let God propel us into a new dimension of living–life on God’s terms.

And then he shares with us his full humanity. He is troubled, deeply torn. What should he do, ask not to go through this? Of course he does not want to hang on a cross and suffer. And he has a choice, He can choose to go into hiding, avoid the authorities, live quietly, maybe do a few quiet healings and help people in some small way.

Then, “Father, glorify your name.” The decision is made. I think most of us have had those times, perhaps one time especially when we had a choice to protect ourselves, stay in control, not take the quantum leap which would propel us into the service of God’s transforming love, into God’s kingdom. We know our comfortable little world, and, if we can just stay in control, stay on the safe path we know we won’t have to take this big risk.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain, but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “ According to John, Jesus died to fill the world with wheat, with so many sons and daughters of God that no one would ever want for bread again.”

She continues, “Because Jesus was willing to die, God could raise him from the dead. Because Jesus was willing to die, people could discover that death was not the worst thing that could happen to them. Because Jesus was willing to die, a new community could form in his name, one that redefined its life on the basis of his death.

She continues, “One of the main points in that redefinition was a new view of suffering. It was no longer something to be avoided at all costs, nor did it mean that God was mad at you. It might in fact mean that God loved you very much, because when someone on a path toward God deliberately chooses the self-offering that goes with that path, then suffering becomes one of God’s most powerful tools for transformation. It is how God breaks open hard hearts so that they may be made new…

“When Jesus died, this power was made manifest. By absorbing into himself the worst that the world could do to a child of God and by refusing to do any of it back, he made sure it was put to death with him.  By suffering every kind of hurt and shame without ever once letting them deflect him from his purpose, he broke their hold in humankind. In him, sin met its match. He showed us what is possible. These are just some of the fruits of Christ’s death, things that could never have happened if he had not been willing to fall to the ground. (God in Pain, pp. 64-65.)

As we move closer and closer to Good Friday, and as we contemplate the enormous love which our Lord has shown for us, we are called to make our own choices.  Can we love and trust God enough to let go of some of our control and offer ourselves to God on a deeper level? Can we come to a more profound sense of the depth and breadth of God’s love for us, love that can free us so that we can allow God to help us grow into the person God is calling us to be? Can we let go and let God bring us into new life?

Loving and healing God, give us the grace to offer ourselves to your service that we may be partners with you in building your shalom.

 Amen

 

Lent 4B RCL March 18, 2012

Numbers 21: 4-9
Psalm 107: 1-3, 17-22
Ephesians 2: 1-10
John 3: 14-21

Our Lenten journey is mirrored in the journey of God’s people. They have to go around the land of Edom because the Edomites have not granted them permission to cross their territory. The people become impatient. They forget all that they went through making bricks for the pharaoh in Egypt, all the suffering and the slavery. They are thinking only of the great food they had there, and the water, and all the comforts. This is so helpful to us thousands of years later because we do the same thing.

 Sometimes, when the journey becomes particularly challenging, we tend to look back on times in the past when, as we recall though rose-colored glasses, everything was so much better and things went so much more smoothly. Nostalgia can be deceptive. As we look back with that idealized vision, we can forget the bondage that was involved. At any rate, the people start to complain about Moses and his leadership and about God.

 The text says that God sent poisonous snakes. In those times, everything was attributed to God. The snakes bite some of the people and they die. The people come to their senses.  They realize that they have sinned against God. They have not trusted God to lead them. Moses prays to God, and God instructs him to make a serpent and set it on a pole. The people look on the serpent and are healed. In ancient times, snakes were thought of as having healing properties. To this day, the symbol of the medical profession, the caduceus, is a staff with two snakes wound around it and two wings at the top. The people look at the serpent and they are healed. The journey goes on.

 Our gospel for today begins by referring to the lifting up of that healing serpent in the wilderness journey of the people of God. Jesus is going to be lifted up on that horrible instrument of torture and death, the cross. He will also be lifted up at the resurrection into new life and he will be lifted up at the ascension.

This portion of John’s gospel follows Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a leader of the Temple, who comes under cover of night to meet Jesus. Jesus tells him he must be born again. The first step in being born again is to believe that Jesus has faced every form of death and has overcome all of them. This is where we read that stirring summary of the Good News, “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son so that everyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Jesus came to share God’s love, but God’s love is like the light. It shows things as they truly are. We can’t hide anything. Jesus has come to bring everything into the light. As the hymn says, we are called to walk as children of the light.

 In today’s epistle, Paul talks about how our Lord came to us when we were living in the passions of our flesh. For Paul the flesh does not mean the physical body, but self-centeredness.  When we do whatever we want to do, without any thought for others and with no thought for the consequences of our actions, things can go downhill fast. When all we are thinking of is ourselves and our wants, which we often frame as needs, we become alienated from God, from other people, and from our true selves. Also, there is no sense or community if each person is living only for himself or herself. As a Pharisee, Paul also knows how it feels when we have a code of laws to follow but we just can’t do it.

 In the face of this human dilemma, Paul writes, “God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

 Have you ever felt enslaved to something? To a habit, perhaps, or to a trait of character you wanted to get rid of but just couldn’t seem to shake? Have you ever kept breaking one of the Ten Commandments over and over? I think Paul could probably answer yes to all of those questions, and I think many of us can as well. We try and try and we just can’t get out of that pit.

 The love of God, expressed in the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord, is our way out of that pit. It’s a path to new life, life in an entirely new landscape, with a completely different outlook, so  different that it feels like being born again, and, for all practical purposes, it is as though we were a new person.

 Paul puts it so well. He writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”

We have a wonderful reminder of this in the banner which DiAnne made and which hangs here to inspire us.

 God has given us a great gift—the gift of newness of life. This gift has required nothing of us. We did not have to earn it. God loves us so much that God comes among us and gives us this gift. But we do need one thing, one thing in order to open this gift. God also gives us this one thing—the gift of faith. 

 This fourth Sunday in Lent marks a turning point, a lightening up in the discipline. In years past, we called it “Mothering Sunday.” People went to visit their mothers. People also enjoyed the delicious fruit cake known as simnel cake.

 Let us take some time today to think about this gift we have been given—the gift of faith and the gift of new life in Christ. Let us take time to give thanks for God’s immeasurable love. And let us remember that nothing can separate us from that love.

 “By grace through faith….”

 

                                                           Amen.

Lent 3B RCL March 11, 2012

Exodus 20: 1-17
Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 1: 18-25
John 2: 13-22

The people Israel have arrived at Mt. Sinai. God has freed them from slavery and they are making their way through the wilderness to the Promised Land. Scholars tell us that today’s summary of the Ten Commandments was actually a liturgy, a worship service which was performed down through the ages to celebrate God’s leading the people out of slavery and the covenant which provided the foundation of their life with God and with each other.

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” The first commandment makes it clear that God has acted first to bring us out of bondage. Now we are called to respond.

We are not to make idols. Obviously, we shouldn’t manufacture golden calves for ourselves to worship. But the commandment not to make idols covers all those things we may put in the place of God. Apparently, Volvo at one time identified itself as “a car that can save your soul.” Gert Behanna said that we put “In God we trust on the thing we really do trust.” A great mystic said that our souls are restless until they find their rest in God. It is so easy to put things in the place of God, but there is only one God.

“You shall not make wrongful use of the Name of the Lord your God.”

 “Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.” Sabbath time is so important. We need to stop and rest and have fun with friends and family and enjoy recreation. We are also called to worship God, to share and reflect on the Word of God, pray together, receive the sacraments, and support each other on our journeys.

“Honor your father and your mother.” Family is so important, and this commandment and the ones following it all have to do with how we conduct ourselves in the context of ur own families and the family of faith.

 No murder, even with the tongue or the pen or the computer keyboard. Be faithful to your spouse. Honor the relationships of others.  Don’t steal. Be honest. Do not covet anything that anyone else has. These guidelines are wise and tried and true. They are a wonderful framework for our lives and for our life together.

As we turn to our epistle today, we remember that, as Paul moved around the Mediterranean Sea building congregations, he was dealing with two groups who were joining the new community of faith.  Neither of these groups had any use for a leader who had been crucified. The Jews saw crucifixion as a criminal’s death for the lowest of the low. If someone had been crucified, that immediately made him suspect. The Greeks respected philosophy and philosophers, not crucified leaders. We need to remember that Paul was well-versed in Greek philosophy and in Hebrew scholarship as well.  Paul was no dummy. We would make a big mistake if we were to think that Paul is telling us to forget reason and scholarship as we try to understand the scriptures and our faith. Some people seem to think that Paul is anti-intellectual, and that is not the case.

I believe that Paul is making a very important distinction between human wisdom and divine wisdom. Yes, we are called to study and to learn and to be responsible in how we think about theology. But human wisdom only goes so far. Some people in the congregation in Corinth felt that they possessed superior wisdom. That’s when Paul said that knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.

Paul is saying that our God has come to us as one who is crucified, as one who suffers the death reserved for the lowest of the low, as one who lets go of his life and then rises to new life. Power is not about holding on to control and bossing people around and getting them to do what we want them to do. Power is about letting go and letting God bring the new life. That’s what Jesus does on the cross. And we are called to let go and to fall into the endless healing power of God’s love so that God can make us new. The whole Christian faith is a huge paradox. As our own Episcopal Church ads say, God does not ask us to check our brains at the door. God gave us brains and we are called to use them to the utmost. Then we take the next step and experience God, and that goes beyond the human mind. That’s where the Holy Spirit touches our hearts and lives.

In today’s gospel, we find Jesus in the great Temple in Jerusalem. Once you had climbed the steps to the outer courtyard, you had to pay the temple tax. To do this, you had to exchange your Roman coinage for the temple coins .The money changers charged a fee for their services, and this weighed most heavily on the poor. Jesus is not attacking the idea of worship. He is not attacking the spiritual tradition in which he has grown up. But he is very angry that people are making a sacred space into a marketplace, a place to make money, especially from those who could least afford a surcharge that shouldn’t be there in the first place. The temple worship had gotten to a point where it was placing barriers between the people and God. Jesus wanted people to be able to meet God face to face.

Obviously, we don’t make animal sacrifices and we don’t have money changers in church these days. But our readings pose some questions. Are we worshipping God in spirit and in truth? Are we putting barriers in the way of seekers who might come to our door? Are we, like the Corinthians, getting sidetracked with irrelevant points, such as who has the greatest knowledge among us?

I have been thinking about our worship here at Grace. We come together. In the winter, it can be cold. I never hear a complaint. I hear good-natured joking, but that’s a different thing, a good thing. Our worship is simple.  Every one pitches in. Everyone sings, people read, we pray. I have rarely seen such a depth of commitment as I see here. These days we are talking about the emergent church, the church which emerges from the ashes of the Christendom era. Communities which can love God and each other, use the gifts they have, travel light, rejoice in being together, share the food and drink which our Lord gives us, and go out into the world to spread his love and healing, are the kinds of communities we will need.  Grace Church is a living, positive response to our readings for today.  Well done, good and faithful servants!

 

                                                          Amen.