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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:…

Pentecost 3A RCL June 29, 2014

Genesis 22:1-14

Psalm 13

Romans 6:12-23

Matthew 10:40-42

Our first reading this morning, the story of Abraham’s possible sacrifice of Isaac, is agonizing and shocking.  It is also one of those portions of the lectionary which illustrates how important it is to pay attention to the context of a lesson from the Bible.

Scholars tell us that this passage was written by the Elohist writer, who worked around 750 B. C. But the story itself comes from a much earlier time, around 1600 B. C., when Abraham came into the land of Canaan.

At that time,  some of the people of that region believed that the gods they worshipped demanded human sacrifice, including the sacrifice of children. This seems truly horrible to us,  but these kinds of beliefs have been held around the world over the years. Some scholars have wondered whether Abraham, coming into this new land, thought his God might be calling him to sacrifice his son Isaac, and have theorized that that idea is the reason for this story.

The story is poignant and wrenching. Would God ever ask us to sacrifice our children? Would God have let Abraham kill Isaac? The answer is No. God does not want us to sacrifice children. God calls us to protect children.

Biblical scholar Thomas Troeger writes, “ If we consider the story from the perspective of ancient society, then we may be freed to glimpse its redemptive meaning. The story rejects the sacrifice of children. In the middle of the story, Abraham says that God will provide a lamb for the offering, and God later instructs Abraham, ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him.’” (22:12) (New Proclamation, Series A, 1999, p. 129.)

Our understanding of God has evolved over the centuries. At one time, people were terrified of God, probably because they were so aware of God’s power and so accustomed to the use of power to dominate and control and instill fear. Over the centuries, and especially because we now know our Lord Jesus Christ, we have been able to realize that God loves us and wants us to offer, not human beings or animals, but our hearts and lives to be renewed and transformed. Throughout this whole journey up the mountain, Abraham has the faith that God will provide the offering.

This passage applies to some complicated and disturbing events that are going on in our own area right now. We have seen the deaths of three young children, and all three had been under the supervision of our Department of Children and Families.  This reading about Abraham and Isaac lets us know that God wants us to make sure that all children are nurtured and kept safe.  This is going to be a complex and challenging task.

In our epistle for today, we have another example of a cultural context which is different from our society. In St. Paul’s time, slavery was common all over the Roman Empire. It was a fact of life. If you were a slave, you had to do whatever your master said to do. If you were free, you were not under such constraints. Paul is telling us that freedom in Christ does not mean that we can do anything we please. Freedom in Christ is choosing to ask him what he would have us do, and then, with his grace, walking in his footsteps and doing his will.  We are called to give our lives to our Lord. so that he can lead us and guide us.

Today’s gospel is the closing section of Jesus’ instructions to his disciples. He is sending them out into the world. They will be depending on the hospitality of others. Scholars tell us that the term “little ones” does not necessarily mean children. Jesus referred to his followers as “little ones” and children. He called us to become as children. Children are open and trusting. That is how we are called to be in relationship to God.

So the context here is that Jesus’ followers are going out to share the good news. How will they be received? We know that some were treated very badly. Some were persecuted. Some were killed. They were scorned and ridiculed, ignored, told to go away.

Sometimes they were welcomed with open arms and invited to stay with a family for days, even weeks at a time. A new family was being formed by these ties as the disciples traveled around. That family now spans the globe and crosses every race and country and culture.  That family is the communion of saints, the big family of God. When we read this very brief but meaningful gospel, we usually focus on the hospitality we are called to offer in the name of Jesus. And, yes, we are called to treat everyone as if he or she were our Lord.

Let us for a moment look at this from the point of view of a disciple, traveling from town to town. It is hot and dusty and your feet are sore, and every bone in your body aches. You go to the door and someone offers you a drink of cold water. This means that they know how hot and tired and dusty you are. This is true caring. They may not say much of anything, but you know they care.  These caring actions are the core of our ministry. When a disciple went to a home and was welcomed in this way, that was often the first step in a strong and deep friendship in Christ.

What are these lessons telling us? Our first lesson reminds us that God calls us to cherish children, nurture them, keep them safe from harm, and help them grow in every way. Like Abraham, we are called to trust that God will provide. We are partners with God and we must do our part, but God’s grace and generosity are amazing.

Our epistle reminds us that, as the Collect for Peace says, to serve God is “perfect freedom.” Following Jesus leads us to paths we would not have dreamed of. And our gospel teaches us that prayer and closeness to our Lord lead to loving action and service to others.

Dear Lord, help us to care for your children.  Help us to put our lives in your hands so that we may follow you and help others in your name. Amen.

Second Sunday after Pentecost Proper 7A RCL June 22, 2014

Genesis 21:8-21

Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17

Romans 6:1b-11

Matthew 10:24-39

In our first reading this morning, Abraham and Sarah have received a great gift—the birth of their son, Isaac. On the day that Isaac is weaned, there is a feast of celebration.

But then jealousy creeps into the picture. Sarah sees the son of Hagar, her maid, playing with Isaac. Years ago, when she thought she would never have a child, Sarah told Abraham to have sex with Hagar so that Hagar might give birth to an heir. Now Sarah sees Hagar’s son Ishmael as a threat, so she tells Abraham that he must send Hagar and Ishmael away.

Abraham is upset. This seems extremely harsh. God tells Abraham to follow Sarah’s orders and God will not only save Hagar and Ishmael, God will make a nation of them. Abraham gives them bread and a skin of water and sends them away. Hagar is devastated. She wanders around until the water is gone, then puts Ishmael under a bush so that he might have some shade, walks off the distance of a bowshot, meaning that she can still keep an eye on Ishmael, and sits down to wait for her child to die. She is so desolate that she cries. Ishmael cries, too, and God hears his voice. God opens Hagar’s eyes so that she can see a well of water right in front of her. Their lives are saved. Ishmael grows up and marries a woman from Egypt.

To us, this story may seem cruel. But back in those days, your heir was your future. Sarah is trying to protect the rights of her son and the future of Abraham and her family. Hagar is a slave. She has no power in the culture. She must obey the orders of her mistress and master.

The key theme in this story is God’s mercy to Hagar and Ishmael. God protects them and gives them a future. God saves their lives.

Biblical scholar James Newsome writes, “The saving of Ishmael’s life and his subsequent marriage to an Egyptian woman fulfill God’s promise [that God would make a nation of Ishmael]. And so, Abraham is on the way to being the father of not one, but two nations, an understanding reflected in the modern Arab view that Abraham is the father of both Jews and Arabs.” (Newsome, Texts for Preaching, Year A, pp. 372-73.) This story, written by the Elohist writer about 750 B. C. reminds us that, in the family of God, there are no outcasts. Also, God’s blessing can be given to more than one person or group.

In our reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans, Paul is dealing with people who think that, since Christ has set us free from sin, this gives us a license to keep on sinning over and over again. Paul is reminding them and us that baptism is a death to sin, death to the old life and rebirth into a new life. In the early Church, baptism was done by immersion. The imagery of drowning, dying to sin, was very clear. Paul closes with that wonderful sentence, “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Through our baptisms, we have been changed. We have been made new. We are new people. The course of our lives has been changed forever.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is preparing to send the disciples out to do their ministry. He is giving them the most powerful guidance that he can offer. He is letting them know that their ministry is not going to be easy. He has already been facing pressures and threats from various authorities. He knows that his followers will face challenges.

One of his most profound messages is not to be afraid. How fear can paralyze us! Someone said that ninety-nine percent of the things we worry about never happen.

Nothing that Jesus teaches is secret. Scholars tell us that the Essenes had secret teachings. We know that other groups do that as well. With Jesus, everything is right out in the open. “What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light,” Jesus says. Don’t be afraid of what people can do to you or say about you. Don’t be afraid. God is holding you in the palm of God’s hand. God knows you and God loves you.

And then he says that thing that is so difficult for us to understand, that he has come to bring not peace but a sword. Sometimes when we answer the call to follow him, it cuts to the core of the most important things in our lives, even our families. A young man feels deeply called to be a medical missionary in Africa, and this means he will not carry on the family business. This hurts his father. The mother tries to see both sides.

A young woman is brought up in a family that does not practice any faith tradition. They do not go to church, synagogue, or mosque.  In fact, they identify themselves as atheists. They feel that all religion, all faith, any kind of belief in God or in a Higher Power, is illogical foolishness. The young woman goes off to college and enters a time of spiritual exploration. She discovers the beauty and depth of the Episcopal Church. She wants to be baptized. Her parents are shocked. They think she has lost her mind.

In the early Church, as folks answered the call to follow Jesus, they were moving into uncharted territory. Their families had no idea what they were getting into. Often, entire families adopted the new faith. But if only one or two family members decided to follow Jesus, there was often great tension over this decision. All of this took place against the backdrop of Roman persecution and hostility from those who looked askance at the new faith. All of these factors put pressures on families.

Is Jesus saying that families are not important? Absolutely not.  Scholars tell us that, when Jesus talks about members of families being set against each other, his premise is that families are one of the highest values in life.  (Fred Craddock, Preaching through the Christian Year A, p. 338.) The family is precious, and following Christ is even more so.

To entrust our lives to our Lord, to give our lives to him, to allow him to live in us and to live in him, that is the goal.  Our Lord ends with this paradox: ”Those who find their life will lose it and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

Sometimes we humans think we know what life is all about. Sometimes we tend to think only in human terms. There is something much bigger than the human level. God loves us beyond our power to fathom. God cannot protect us from every adversity because we live in a fallen creation, but God can help us find wells of new life where we did not see them before, and God can lead us to paths of compassion and service we are not able to discover or travel on our own. Amen.

Heliand Consort at Grace Tuesday, July 8 at 7:30 p.m.

Heliand Consort performs “Ancient Airs and Tropical Dances” at Grace as part of their 3rd annual tour of Vermont. Visit heliandconsort.org for more information about this ensemble and their program, and bring your dancing shoes!

Day of Pentecost Year A RCL June 8. 2014

Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:25-35, 37b
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
John 20:19-23

In our gospel for this amazing day, it is the evening of the first Easter.  Jesus’ followers are terrified. They have watched him die an agonizing and humiliating death.  Mary Magdalene has gone to the tomb and found it empty. The risen Jesus has appeared to her.  Peter and John have gone to the empty tomb.

They do not know what to think, so they have instinctively turned to prayer. They have gathered in the room where they have met so many times before. The doors are locked for fear of the authorities. Jesus comes right through all those walls. He gives them and us his peace, his shalom. Then he breathes the Holy Spirit into them. He had told them that he would have to leave them but that he would give them the Spirit.

Forty days after this time, Jesus ascends into heaven to be with God. Again he tells them that he will send the Hoy Spirit, Again, they wait and pray, probably in the same house where they have gathered.  The Spirit comes to them in tongues of fire dancing over their heads and as the desert ruach, the wind that shapes and molds the desert landscape, Suddenly, these simple Galileans, who have never taken a foreign language course at Middlebury and have never heard of Rosetta Stone, burst forth in all the know, in languages of the world, meaning all the languages of the Mediterranean basin. My way of expressing this is that the followers of Jesus are given the gift to speak heart to heart to all these people who have come to Jerusalem for the  Feast of Pentecost.

Their message is the love and healing and new life that Jesus brings to all of us.

Some people think the apostles are drunk, but Peter explains that this event has been foretold by the prophet Joel.

We speak of Pentecost as the birthday of the Church. This is the day on which the Spirit descended with many gifts as Jesus had promised.

In our epistle for today, Paul tells us why these gifts of the Spirit have been given to us. They are given to us in order that we may be one. Paul reminds us that we are members of the Body of Christ.  We are members in the sense of being arms and legs and hands and feet. Each of us depends on all the others. None of us can do ministry alone. No gift is better than another. No person is better than another. Every gift and every person is essential to the health of the body.

Paul talks about the gifts—gifts of healing, the working of miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits, tongues, and we can add playing the organ, doing the books, paying the bills, mowing the lawn, cleaning, keeping the building in shape, teaching, mentoring, insuring accessibility, preserving our beautiful earth, raising children, being grandparents, serving our communities, helping people in all kinds of ways, gardening, community organizing, being good neighbors. The list of gifts goes on and on. Every good thing that happens in this world and in our lives is a gift from God.

As St. Paul says “We are all baptized into one Body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free.”  In other words, the Body of Christ is inclusive. People of all races and nations, male and female, gay and straight, tall and short, old and young—“and in between”, as Al Smith used to say, people of all colors, all classes, all levels of education, all kinds of jobs, from CEOs to janitors, we are all included.

Why are we here?

First, we are here in order to spread good news, the good news that there is always hope. That life has a meaning. That God is real and loving and present. That Jesus has faced every challenge, even death, and has come through it stronger, and that we can face every challenge with his help. That, sadly, we live in a fallen creation full of brokenness of all kinds, disease, famine, war and suffering, and we are called to help our brothers and sisters who are enduring these things. And, most importantly, God will bring in God’s shalom and make the creation whole, and that we are called to help in that work,

Secondly, we have received the gifts of the Spirit, and that means that, as the Body of Christ, we are called to be one with each other. Yes, we have many differences. There are many gifts, but we are never to lord it over each other. We are called to cherish each other as God cherishes us. No matter what differences we may have, we are one in Christ. We can always look to him to call us together.

Thirdly, we are called to do mission. We are called to reach out, to go out into the world and be there for people as Christ would be there. Our diocese is about to embark on a year of discernment of what we are called to do to serve Christ. There will be a meeting in Rutland on June 29 to begin this work. I hope that many of us will be able to attend. There will also be a meeting for Wardens and Treasurers to be announced at a later date.

The Holy Spirit is God at work in us, in the Church, and in the world. As I said earlier, every time a good thing happens anywhere, the Spirit is at work.

May we be one as Jesus and God are one. May we celebrate the gifts of the Spirit among us. May we spread the good news of Jesus as we go about our daily lives, in actions and attitudes as well as in words.  Amen.

Easter 7A RCL June 1, 2014

Acts 1:6-14

Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36

1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11

John 17:1-11

This past Thursday, forty days after Easter, the Church celebrated the Feast of the Ascension. Our first reading today describes that event.

Jesus takes the apostles to Mount Olivet, a short distance outside Jerusalem.  They ask him whether he is now going to bring in his kingdom. He tells them it is not for them to know the timing of that. It will happen in God’s timing.We can image that they might have felt embarrassed, or scolded. They probably wished they had not asked that question.

I don’t think Jesus is trying to scold them. He is asking them to trust God for the timing of things, and he is letting them know the amazing things that are going to happen. He tells them that they are going to receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon them. That is going to happen very soon. This coming Sunday we will celebrate the Feast of Pentecost. He tells them and us that they and we will be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. And indeed the Spirit did come upon them, dancing like flames of fire over their heads, blowing like the desert wind–ruach and giving them the gift to speak in all the known languages of the world.

At this point, standing on Mount Olivet with Jesus, they had no idea that this was going to happen. But somehow we can imagine that they realized that he was conferring upon them something very important. In fact, he was passing on his ministry to them. He was telling them that they would receive power from God so that they could go forth and share the good news about Jesus.

Abruptly, he is lifted into the heavens. They gaze up as he disappears into the clouds. Two men in white robes appear and ask the apostles why they are staring. Imagine how the apostles felt, Jesus, who has been with them for so long, day in and day out, eating meals with them, teaching them about the scriptures, giving them such a powerful example of healing and forgiving people. He has been their leader, their mentor, their friend, and suddenly he is gone.

The apostles go back to Jerusalem, back to the room where they have been gathering. And they focus on praying. Waiting and praying. Waiting for Jesus to come again. Waiting for the Spirit. Not a passive kind of waiting, but an active, alive, faithful kind of waiting, .Jesus had gone to the Father. There was an ending, But there was also a new beginning.

In our epistle for today, the theme of persecution and suffering is continued. They and we are actually called to rejoice in our suffering because, when we suffer, we are sharing our Lord’s suffering. We are called to cast all our anxiety on God because God cares for us so much. What a thought, to give all our fears and anxieties to God, knowing that God loves us so much and God will carry them for us. We are also called to discipline ourselves, to be alert, to resist evil, to hang on to our faith, and to remember that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, our brothers and sisters in the faith all over the world, and their faith sustains us. God will “restore, support, strengthen, and establish us.” What a powerful promise.

Our gospel is from Jesus’ final prayer for his followers before he goes out and is arrested in the garden. Jesus says, “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world.” Jesus has made God’s name known to us. Jesus has made God known to us. We can now call God Daddy or Papa or Dad or Mom or Mama. Jesus has allowed us to realize how much God loves us. Jesus calls us to abide in God’s love.

And then Jesus asks God to protect this little flock, his apostles, and us, so that we may be one as Jesus and God are one. Jesus asks God’s protection for us, Think of what that means. We do not need to be afraid, No matter what may happen, God is with us, Jesus is with us, and the Holy Spirit is with us.

After Jesus ascended into heaven, the apostles went back to the upper room where they had been gathering.  Mary and some of the other women were with them.  He had just left them but the two men told them that Jesus would return. He had left, but he had assured them that they would receive the power of the Spirit.

They knew what to do. They gathered and they prayed without ceasing. And they waited patiently with great discipline and focus until God would take the next action. And, as they prayed, I think Jesus, though physically absent, became more and more present to them. He was in their midst. They remembered things he had said and done. They felt his love, his faith, his grace. They were strengthened. So that, when Pentecost came, they were ready. In the power of the Spirit, they burst forth speaking the love and grace of Christ and touching people’s hearts.

This week, let us pray for the gifts of the Spirit. Let us think of our Lord and his love. Let us prepare ourselves for the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost. If you have something red, please wear it. Let us open our minds and hearts to the power of the Holy Spirit and the presence of our Lord. Amen.