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Advent 1B November 30, 2014

Isaiah 64:1-9
Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:24-37

 This Sunday, we begin the season of Advent. This is the New Year of the church. We change from lectionary A to lectionary B. We change from the green vestments of the season after Pentecost to purple to denote the coming of our King and also a time of penitential preparation. We begin lighting the candles on the Advent wreath and opening the doors on our Advent calendars to count the days. Advent means coming,and we are looking forward to the coming of our Lord to complete the creation. We are also looking back to his first coming among us as a baby, 

When Jesus was here with us on earth, he began to build his kingdom. But that kingdom is not complete. The world is not a place of peace harmony, and wholeness. As our Presiding Bishop, Katherine Jeffers Schori writes, Shalom is a vision of the city of God on earth, a community where people are at peace with each other because each one has enough to eat, adequate shelter, medical care, and meaningful work. Shalom is a city where justice is the rule of the day, where prejudice has vanished,where the diverse gifts with which we have been so abundantly blessed are equally valued.(A Wing and a Prayer, p. 33.) 

The prophet Isaiah was one of the people who described Gods vision of shalom. Our reading from the Book of Isaiah dates back to the time of the Exile in Babylon, the time after the temple in Jerusalem was reduced to a pile of rubble, the time before the temple was finally rebuilt. Herbert ODriscoll imagines that the prophet has returned from Babylon and is gazing on the rubble that was once the great temple, the center of worship.

Isaiah asks God to tear open the heavens and come downto be with the people. He looks back to the time when God was close to the people and led them out of slavery into freedom. But the people have not called upon God. They have gone about their own ways. Isaiah confesses the sins of the people and asks God to grant mercy. He gives us that powerful image: God is the potter and we are the clay. We need to ask Gods help often so that we can grow into the persons God calls us to be.

For Isaiah and the rest of Gods people, life had been reduced to a pile of rubble. They felt that they had strayed far away from God, and they believed that this had something to do with the fact that they had been conquered by the Babylonian Empire. I think we all understand those points in life when we have tried our best and worked hard and everything falls apart. Everything is in ruins. Thats where Isaiah and the people were. Especially at times like this, we realize that we cant do it alone. We need Gods help.

In our epistle this morning, Paul is writing to the congregation in Corinth. He starts out with his typical greeting. Grace be to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind.

This is a positive thing. But there is an undercurrent. We know that the congregation in Corinth has been blessed with many gifts, but they also have been arguing about which gifts are the greatest. Paul is going to address this in the letter. Also, some of the older members of the community have been telling the newer members that they arent quite as good because they are still new at the faith. I would say that they are bullying the newer members. Paul is building the foundation for telling them us that we need to thank God for all the gifts we receive and we need to value all gifts and all people equally. That is the direction in which we need to be moving in order to prepare for Jesuscoming again.

In our Gospel, Jesus is once again telling us not to spend any time trying to predict when he will come again. He tells us to put our energy into being ready to welcome him with joy when he comes to bring in his kingdom. 

Well, how do we get ready? First, we can take time to be as close to God as possible. Time for prayer. Time for quiet. Time to examine our lives, to take stock. We make wills or update wills. We straighten out our finances and get our lives in shape to be ready when he appears.

As we look ahead to the coming of our Lord, we recall his first advent, when he came among among us as one of us, as a little baby.

In his anguish, Isaiah was asking God to tear the heavens and come and help us, but that was five hundred years before the birth of our Lord. God has already come to be with us, and this sheer, loving fact gives us a way to think about preparing for him this Advent. Through prayer, through taking time to think about how much God must love us, that God would come to be with us, we make room in our hearts and lives for Jesus to be born anew in us. As so many of the mystics have said, we must allow and invite Jesus to be born in our lives over and over again. We must make room in the inns of our hearts so that Jesus can come into our lives and share his love and healing and transform us so that we can transform the world.

God did not tear the heavens to come to be with us. God came to be with us as one of us. If we look back on the life and ministry of Jesus and we model our lives after that life, we will grow more and more like him, and his shalom will be even closer to its completion.

Dear Lord, thank you for your love. Thank you for coming to be one of us. Help us to make room for you in our lives. Help us to become more and more like you, so that, together, we may build you shalom.


Proper 29 A RCL—Christ the King—November 23, 2014

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Psalm 95:1-7a
Ephesians 1:15-23
Matthew 25:31-46

Today is Christ the King Sunday. The season after Pentecost comes to a close. Next Sunday we will begin Advent. This is also the Sunday before Thanksgiving, a time when we think of all the many gifts God has given us. We gather with family and friends to give thanks. After our service, we will go to Frank and Priscillas to share our harvest dinner.

Our opening reading this morning comes from the time of the Exile in Babylon. At the point of our reading for today, the Babylonian Empire has conquered Jerusalem, the people have been deported to Babylon, and they have been living in exile for about ten years. Ezekiel has just learned that the Babylonians have destroyed the temple in Jerusalem, and more refugees will be coming to Babylon.

 The people are devastated. They have been praying and keeping the faith and studying the scriptures, but now, they feel that they have lost everything. In todays lesson, God is speaking to the people. through the prophet and priest Ezekiel. God is going to search for the sheep and rescue them, and gather them, and bring them into their own land and feed them with good pasture. God is going to search for the lost and strayed and is going to bind up the injured and strengthen the weak. God is going to gather the people and lead them home to Jerusalem.

God is going to destroy the fat and the strong,that is, the rich and powerful leaders who had gained even more power and wealth at the expense of the ordinary people. Those who abused the weak are now going to face the consequences of their actions. God is going to protect the flock. This passage from Ezekiel reminds us that God has always had special concern for the weak and those at the margins.

The people have always thought that God dwelled in the temple in Jerusalem. Now that the temple has been destroyed, they wonder where God is. We are not living in literal exile, but we are living in a time when darkness and chaos and violence are all too apparent. We may ask ourselves, Where is God in all of this?This reading from 2,500 years ago reminds us that God is right in the midst of us, leading us through the darkness to the light. This is a message of profound hope.

In our epistle, Paul tells us that our Lord has risen from the dead and is with us now; he has conquered the forces of darkness and he is the head of his living Body, the Church. Christs kingdom is growing even now, growing inexorably in the face of the darkness and brokenness that we see in the world around us. And his kingdom, his shalom of peace and harmony, will be realized when he comes again.

In our gospel, Jesus describes kingdom people. They feed the hungry; they give water to the thirsty; they welcome the stranger; they clothe the naked; they care for the sick; and they visit those who are in prison. They take care of other people, especially those who are vulnerable. And Jesus tells them, Truly, I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these, who are members of my family, you did it to me.

In a profound sense, whether we are kingdom people or not comes down to how we treat folks who are weak, folks who have no power, no money, no say in how things get done. We know this, not only from this gospel story, but also from the life and ministry of our Lord. He was constantly criticized because he associated with the wrong peopletax collectors, prostitutes, people who were considered beyond the pale. He valued women and children, who had no status in his society. He touched lepers and healed them. His love for every one of his children is our example.

As we think about this gospel, we look forward to Advent, when we prepare for Jesuscoming again and we also look back to his first coming. When he came among us, he was not born in a castle. He was born to a carpenter and his wife in a little out of the way place. They were not rich or powerful. They were what Jesus in todays gospel calls, the least of these, my family.Very early in his life, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph had to become refugees and flee to Egypt to get away from King Herod, who was killing baby boys.

This is how the king of creation came to be among us. Jesus knows what it is like to live on the margins of society, to be beyond the pale, to be despised. He is asking us to think about how that feels to folks and to treat our brothers and sisters with respect.

We have been given so much. He is simply calling us to share his many gifts with others. For the next two Sundays, we will be doing our U T O ingathering, and next month, we will be making our offering to Episcopal Relief and Development. We will also be making our pledges to Grace Church in thanksgiving to God.

Christ is our King, but he is a very different kind of King. He is the King of Compassion. He has a special place in his heart for those who are most vulnerable.

Next Sunday, we will begin the season of Advent, and we will once again plumb the mystery of our God, who created the galaxies and the planets in their courses,yet came among us just the way we came into the world, as a tiny baby.

This week, we celebrate Thanksgiving, and we have so much to be thankful for: loving families, our faith community here at Grace, the abundance of our lives, both spiritual and material, and the presence of our loving God among us, leading us and guiding us and showering us with gifts to be shared. Amen.

Pentecost 23 Proper 28A RCL November 16, 2014

Judges 4:1-7
Psalm 123
1 Thessalonians 5: 1-11
Matthew 25:14-30

In our reading from the Book of Judges, God’s people have fallen into the hands of King Jabin. We hear the good news that God is going to give strength to Barak and Deborah to win the victory over King Jabin and live in freedom. In our epistle, Paul once again sounds the theme that we are called to be awake.

This morning, I would like to focus on the parable we hear in the gospel, the familiar parable of the talents. The master gives one person five talents, another two talents, and another one talent. Scholars tell us that a talent is worth fifteen years’ wages. If we recall the work of Thomas Troeger, who actually calculated the value of one talent, basing his figures on a wage of fifteen dollars an hour after taxes, one talent is worth $468,000’ two talents are worth $936,000. and five talents are worth $2,340,000. This master is generous.

I would offer the thought that each of us is the servant who has received five talents. God has given us so much. God has given us the gift of life itself, the gift of loving families, good work to do, comfortable homes, food, medical care, clothes to wear so that we can stay warm in winter. We are rich in blessings. We have so much.

Now, we can say, Well, I worked hard for what I have. And this is true. But who gave us the energy and the intelligence and the drive and the perseverance to work hard? These, too, are gifts from God. The point is that everything good in our lives comes from God.

I always like to suggest here that we make a gratitude list or update our list. I can breathe. I can walk. I can talk, I can see. I can hear. I can think. I can listen. Many people here have the gift of being healers. Some folks here are gifted painters and carpenters. Some folks here are gifted athletes, musicians, gardeners, teachers, creators of accessible spaces. All of you here have the gift of being with other people and helping them to feel heard and giving them hope. All of these are gifts from God. And you honor those gifts from God, Quietly, without fanfare, you use those gifts to God’s glory.

Perhaps the greatest gift that God has given us is God’s unconditional, unfailing love. In our opening reading today, God’s people have fallen away from God, and God is still going to raise up Deborah and Barak to set them free. God can count the hairs on our heads, God knows us inside and out, God knows our strengths and our weaknesses, God knows us, wears and all, and still God loves us mightily. God loves us with a love that will never go away, never die.

This is made so clear to us in the life and ministry of Jesus, God walking the face of the earth. God is not a God who stands far off. God loves us so much that God comes to be with us, to teach us how to live. This is the greatest gift of all.

Let us just pause for a moment and remember: God loves me. If I were the only person on earth, Jesus would have died for me on the cross. God loves me more than I can ever imagine. May God give me the grace to accept that unfailing love.

In response to all of God’s gifts, which are beyond our imagining, we are called to return to God a worthy portion—the Bible says one tenth— of what God has given us. A worthy portion of the time, talent, and treasure that God has given us.

This is what our pledge represents. Our thankful response to God, and our returning to God a worthy portion of what God has given us. This is between each of us and God.

Our pledge includes our service to others in the community, our caring for neighbors and friends and family. I know that all of you are constantly reaching our to others and offering help. Our pledge also includes charitable contributions to organizations such as the Red Cross, Episcopal Relief and Development, the United Thank Offering, the United Way, and many other fine charities.

Time, talent, and treasure. How do we spend the time God gives us? How do we use the talents God has given us? How to we spend the treasure God gives us? Someone once said that we can tell our priorities by looking through our checkbook. That is probably true. We can also get an idea of our priorities by looking at how we use the time and talents God gives us.

As we prepare for Thanksgiving and Advent, please think about these two key things: 1) God loves us more than we can fathom; and 2) everything we have is a gift from God.

After we spend some time meditating on these things—they are mysteries which we will never be able fully to understand, but it is still good to try to plumb the depth of the love behind these truths—then we make our pledge in gratitude.

The Attitude of Gratitude—one of the most powerful things in this world. That is the basis of our pledge and that is the ground of our offering of our God-given time and talents in service of our brothers and sisters.

God has given us so much. May we always be grateful. May God’s Name be praised! Amen.

Pentecost 22 Proper 27A RCL November 9, 2014

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
Psalm 78:1-7
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 25:1-13

In our opening reading for today, God’s people have reached a moment of transition. They are going to settle down in the land of Canaan and they are going to stop being nomads. Joshua also calls them to an important choice. They must renew their covenant with God. They must choose to be loyal to God.

Back in those days, when you moved into a new land, you encountered gods different from your own. There were the gods from beyond the river, that is, the Euphrates, and there were also the local gods of the land of Canaan, most notably fertility gods. Joshua calls the people to renew their vows to God. He leads by example, He tells the people that he and his family will worship Yahweh. The people follow his example.

In our secular age, we are surrounded by other gods—or we might say, idols. Many folks worship power and wealth. Some people strive for their fifteen minutes of fame. We are called to worship God.

In our epistle for today, the situation is that folks in the early church thought that Jesus would return quickly. But now it’s about twenty years after the death and resurrection of our Lord, and someone in the congregation has died. People are wondering what will happen to this person. Paul is telling them that because our Lord has been raised from the dead, we will be raised. Now it has been two thousand years since our Lord was here on earth. We can still be a people of hope because we know that death has no dominion over us. We are in eternal life now and we will be with our Lord and all the saints and angels in heaven.

Our gospel is dealing with a wedding banquet, but scholars tell us that Matthew’s congregation was also dealing with the question of Christ’s coming again. When will he come? Why has he not come already? Matthew was writing about 90 AD, some sixty years after our Lord’s death. Everyone hearing this parable knew how weddings went. If you are a bridesmaid, the first thing you do is to make sure that you have plenty of oil in reserve. It’s going to get dark and you will want to have your lamp lighted, and you will want to be sure that you have enough oil so that, at the crucial moment when the bridegroom arrives, you will be able to welcome him with you lamp burning.

The wise bridesmaids may seem to be selfish when they refuse to share their oil, but everyone knew what the priorities were when it all began, and they are focussing on the important thing: when the bridegroom arrives, I want to have my lamp lighted, with plenty of oil to spare. The foolish bridesmaids have to go off to buy oil and the bridegroom arrives when they are gone. They miss the feast.

This parable is almost a foreshadowing of Advent themes. It has been two thousand years, but our Lord will come and he will bring in his shalom. Our job is to be ready. We don’t want to miss the feast.

How do we go about being ready? Charles Cousar writes,”Watching means seizing the day, loving God and neighbors in each moment….” Texts for Preaching, Year A, p. 561.) Jesus calls us to be ready for his return. He cautions us not to speculate on when he will come, not to engage in theories or hypotheses, not to search the scriptures for signs. Rather, we are to accept God’s love, be ready in each moment of our lives, be people of hope looking forward to the time when he will come to us and establish his kingdom of peace, love, harmony, and wholeness. We are called to be ready for the moment when he will restore the creation to be as he created it to be.

Now we are in a time of transition, We are moving from ordinary tine, the season after Pentecost, into Advent time, beginning to prepare for his coming again.

It is not easy to live in a secular society. We can understand the situation of God’s people settling in Canaan. At times we might be tempted to put our trust in some of those other gods. Maybe the accumulation of lots of things or just the right clothes can make us happy. Maybe retail therapy is the way to a life of joy. That’s what the advertisers are telling us. Maybe clawing our way up the ladder of worldly success isn’t that bad after all. As the saying goes, it’s a dog eat dog world. Did you ever see that TV program called “Monk”?

The theme song has a lot of truth in it. “It’s a jungle out there.”

But the whole point is that, if we love God with everything we have and if we love our neighbors, and if all of us do that, the world will be a peaceable kingdom, not a jungle. That is God’s vision for the creation. Everyone getting along. In fact, everyone helping each other. Everyone having enough—enough food, clothing, shelter, good work to do, love. and caring and peace and healing.

That is the kingdom, the shalom that we are called to be ready to welcome. That’s the feast we are called to attend. That is the vision we are called to bring to fruition. That is why we love God and believe in God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength. That is why we are people of hope, because we know that God loves us and all people and that God calls us to life in a different and richer dimension, eternal life, fullness of life. And that is why was are going to be sure to have more than enough oil so that we can keep our lamps lighted into the dusk and into the darkness, and, when he comes, we will be ready to welcome him and the whole creation will be filled with light.

May we love God in every moment, May we love our neighbors in every moment. May we be ready to welcome our Lord. Amen.

All Saints’ Sunday Year A RCL November 2, 2014

Revelation 7:9-17
Psalm 34:1-10, 22
1 John 3:1-3
Matthew 5:1-12

This Sunday, we celebrate the feast of All Saints.

Our first reading is from the Book of Revelation, the vision of John on the island of Patmos. In our reading for today, a great multitude of people, from every tribe and nation, worships God. Salvation is open to all who respond to God’s love and mercy.

Special honor is given to those who have gone through the great ordeal Scholars tell us that John was referring to those who had suffered persecution by the Roman Empire, but, over the centuries, the Church has especially remembered all those who have been martyred for their faith. Today, we pray especially for those who have suffered and lost their lives at the hands of Isis.

“They will hunger and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat, for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Our psalm continues the song of praise to God, who is so good to us. Our epistle reminds us that, because of God’s love, we are children of God, as close to God as a child is to its mother or father,

And, finally, in our gospel, Jesus gives us the Beatitudes. The poor in spirit, those who admit their need for God, receive the kingdom of heaven, Those who mourn are comforted. The meek inherit the earth. Those who hunger and thirst for a right relationship with God will be filled. Those who are merciful will receive mercy. The pure in heart, those who seek God with all their heart and soul and mind and strength, will see God. Those who are persecuted for their faith are especially close to God. The beatitudes are a blueprint of the qualities of kingdom people. We are called to be meek, not power-grabbers. We are called to be merciful, not out to climb the ladder of worldly success at any cost. These values are counter to the values of our surrounding culture. But they are the values of our Lord. We are called to follow his example.

We are part of God’s big family. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, those who are here now, those who have gone before us, and those who will come after us. We are knit together in the Body of Christ, which spans all time and all the peoples of the world. We take inspiration from the lives of the saints. And, as the beloved hymn tells us, saints are just folks like you and me. They have run the race before us and they inspire us to do the best we can, with God’s help.

These readings today also serve to remind us that our loved ones who have gone before us are there in heaven with Jesus, with God, with the angels, and with the whole communion of saints in heaven, in eternal light and joy.

May we always be thankful for God’s immeasurable love and for the communion of saints of which we are a part. Amen.