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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion April 2, 2023 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 April 9, 2023 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 April 16, 2023 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 1 Year B RCL February 22, 2015

Genesis 9:8-17
Psalm 25:1-9
1 Peter 3:18-22
Mark 1:9-15

Noah and his family have kept the faith and are saved from the flood to make a new beginning. We have been made children of God and inheritors of the kingdom through the waters of baptism. Now, we begin our Lenten journey in the wilderness with our Lord.

Whenever we take a journey, it is usually helpful to have maps and compasses, guidelines, GPS, something to go by. This year, I thought it might be useful to reflect on the seven root sins and the theological and cardinal virtues. This framework was first suggested to me by David Brown, rector of Christ Church, Montpelier, now retired, who was one of my major mentors.

The Seven Root Sins are pride, wrath, envy, greed, gluttony, lust and sloth. The Theological Virtues are faith, hope, and love. The Cardinal Virtues are prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude.

Pride. Doing it our own way instead of seeking God’s will. This is not the same thing as feeling pride at a job well done. The sin of pride has nothing to do with healthy self-esteem. Pride is the thing that says, “I’ll do it my way.” Pride does not even ask for God’s help. Pride is the opposite of humility and obedience. Humility is openness. It comes from the root word for humus, good, rich open earth ready for planting.

If we have humility, it does not mean that we are groveling or that we think we are worms in God’s sight. It means that we are open to God’s guidance and grace. It is a really good idea to ask for God’s help often.

Here at Grace, I think all of us sincerely want to seek and do God’s will. But we may not want to “bother” God by asking for help when God has so many huge issues to deal with. Please don’t let that stop you. God wants us to ask for guidance and help. That’s how we strengthen our relationship with God. It is impossible to bother God.

Wrath. Wrath is not the same thing as anger. Anger is a normal, human emotion. Anger happens when something is wrong in a situation, when someone is not treating someone else with respect, when someone is oppressing someone else, or dismissing, or not hearing. Wrath is nursing anger, breeding resentment, focussing on a person or a situation until we are consumed with wrath. It destroys us. It eats us alive. If there is wrong in a situation, we need to take steps to set it right, get help if needed, or, if the situation continues to be unhealthy and it cannot be changed, we need to get out of it.

Envy is the inability to rejoice in the blessings which others receive.

Greed is wanting more than we need. Gluttony is taking more than we need. This is something we in the developed nations need to think about. Lust is using other people. Someone once said, We are called to love people and use things, not to use people and love things.”

Sloth (Acedie) has nothing to do with taking sabbath time, enjoying times of rest and leisure. We need sabbath time to renew our bodies and spirits. Sloth is not caring, giving up. Sloth is not to be confused with depression, which is a clinical lack of energy. When we are severely depressed, we do not have the energy to care, but that is not a sin. It is a clinical condition.

The Theological Virtues—Faith, hope, and love. Faith is trust in God. As we noted earlier, the more we ask for God’s help in doing God’s will, the stronger our faith grows

When we are open to God’s help, when we ask for God’s will and seek to do God’s will, we begin to realize the depth of God’s love. That is, we develop a deeper and deeper relationship with God. We realize more and more that God is always there for us, and this strengthens our faith. Faith is that trust in God which comes out of our relationship with God, that give and take with God that happens on a daily, even a moment-by-moment basis.

Hope is the ability to look at a situation in all its complexity, accurately seeing the darkness and brokenness in that situation, and still perceiving the potential for wholeness in that situation.

Love. The ultimate meaning of love is God’s unconditional love for us. That is what we are aiming for. We will never reach it, but it is a good goal.

Prudence. Kenneth Kirk says that prudence is “The habit of referring all questions to God.” Constant communication with God, seeking God’s will. Dear Lord, what do you want me to do in this situation? What perspective do you want me to have on this situation?

Justice—Giving each person his or her just due. Treating everyone with respect, no matter what their social status, education, wealth, power, or any other consideration.

Temperance—balance, humor, flexibility. Fortitude. Hanging in there on the side of the shalom of God.

Perhaps it is because we are having such a cold winter, but this year, it is important to me that Lent comes from the Middle English word for “Springtime.” During Lent, we examine our lives, confess our sins, and ask God’s forgiveness and grace to move away from the brokenness of sin toward the wholeness of God.

Lent is a time for growth. We are called to grow more and more like our Lord as we follow him to the cross and into new life. He is with us, to lead us and guide us. May we turn to him with all our heart. Amen.

Ash Wednesday Year B RCL February 18, 2015

Isaiah 58: 1-12
Psalm 103:8-14
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6”10
Matthew 6:1-6; 16-21

Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines penitence as “Sorrow for our sins or faults.” Webster’s says that to repent is “To turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one’s life.” Our opening reading from Isaiah calls us to penitence and to repentance. Scholars tell us that this reading goes back to the time when the exiles had returned from Babylon and were trying to rebuild the temple and the city. It was such a huge task that they were becoming discouraged, and they were falling away from God.

They were going through the motions of worship but they were not asking God’s help to change their behavior and attitudes. They were observing the fasts, but they were oppressing their workers. They were fighting with each other instead of working together, and they were wondering why God appeared not to be listening to their prayers.

In today’s gospel, Jesus addresses this same issue. As we fast and pray and give alms, we are doing these things, not for outward show, but to grow closer to God. In our epistle, Paul adds a further dimension to this when he calls us to “be reconciled to God.” This is a lifelong process.

Lent is a season of penitence and repentance. We confess to God that we have sinned, and we ask for God’s grace to change our lives, to grow closer to God. We kneel at the altar and receive ashes on our foreheads marking the sign of the cross. These ashes come from the palms strewn in the path of our Lord on Palm Sunday as we welcomed our hero. They have been burned. and now they remind us that “[we] are dust and to dust [we] shall return.”

Lent is a time of increased devotion to prayer, fasting, and giving. We take more time to be with God, to seek God’s will for our lives and just to spend time with God and Jesus and the Spirit and to bask in their presence. We fast. We give up something or things that give us pleasure. This self-discipline helps us to experience the profound self-giving of our Lord on the cross. And we try to increase our giving to others. We fast, not only as a discipline, but in order to share our food with others.

Although Lent is a penitential season and it involves serious work on our part with God’s help and grace, Lent is a time of growth. And there is joy in Lent, because, as we walk the way of the cross, we are moving into new life.The word “Lent” comes from the Middle English word “lente,” meaning “springtime.” As we all know, springtime is a season of growth.

As we move through this season, walking the way of the cross with our Lord, yes, it is hard work, and we will need his help as we keep our discipline, but it is important to remember that we are doing this in order to grow closer to God and to love God and our neighbor more. Every part of our Lenten discipline, every thing we give up or take on can teach us about our own frailty and limitations and our profound need for God’s grace. Our discipline will also teach us about God’s love for us, God’s unfailing willingness to give us grace and healing so that we can grow into the likeness of Christ.

One of our readings for Morning Prayer today is from the Letter to the Hebrews. It begins, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who, for the sake of the joy that was before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of God.”

May we follow him. May we run the race. May we become more like our Lord. Amen.

Last Sunday after Epiphany Year B RCL 2/15/15

2 Kings 2:1-12
Psalm 50:1-6
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Mark 9:2-9

Today is the last Sunday after Epiphany. This coming Wednesday, we will gather for our Ash Wednesday service and will begin the season of Lent.

Epiphany is the season of light. The wise men followed the star which led them through the dark nights to the place where the new king was. They worshipped because they knew that a new order, a new creation, had come into being. They went home by another way. They were wise enough to avoid Herod, who was willing to resort to murder to destroy this new kingdom.

Epiphany is also a time when we focus on the glory of God. God has sent God’s son. God has come to be with us. And today, we go up the mountain with Peter and James and John and we see his glory as we have never seen it before. And we will never forget it.

We see some foreshadowings in our opening reading. The great prophet Elijah is getting old, He is going to leave. He does not actually die, He is carried up into heaven in a most dramatic way. He and his faithful assistant, Elisha, journey to the Jordan. Elijah keeps telling Elisha to stay behind, but Elisha is not going to leave his mentor. The waters part, recalling the crossing of the Red Sea, the journey from slavery into freedom. Finally, Elijah, knowing that he is about to leave, asks Elisha what he can do for him. Elisha asks for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. If Elisha sees his mentor as he is carried up to heaven, the double portion will be his. Then the chariot of fire and horses of fire separate them and Elijah is carried up in a whirlwind. Elisha sees this glory. He cries out in grief and also describes the glory he is seeing. Then he tears his clothes in mourning.

Elijah is one of the great prophets of Israel, but Elisha follows faithfully and is a courageous prophet of God. This is one of the great stories about the passing of the torch from one leader to the next.

This story is a wonderful preparation for the Transfiguration of our Lord. He takes Peter and James and John and goes up the mountain. Mountains are where we meet God. Moses encounters God on Mount Sinai. Jesus becomes blazingly white and surrounded by light. Moses and Elijah are with him.

Peter tries to capture the moment, but, of course, we cannot hold on to those moments. But we have seen our Lord for who he truly is, and that vision will never leave us. That vision will carry us through Lent, to the foot of the cross. It carries us through the dark and lonely places of our lives. It gives us hope when there seems to be no reason to hope.

At the beginning of Epiphany, when Jesus was baptized, God spoke only to Jesus, saying, “You are my son, the beloved. With you I am well pleased.” Now God speaks to Peter, James, and John—and us— and says, “This is my son, the beloved. Listen to him!”

We have this very short time with Jesus on the mountain, a time when we see him for who he truly is. And this is a moment we will carry with us forever. We cannot endure the intensity of those mountaintop moments for long. They are fleeting. But they change our lives. They alter our perspective. They transfigure us.

We see Jesus . We see the reality of who he is—and it does something to us. He is walking with us. He is talking with us and teaching us a new way to live. It is not an easy way to live. It is extraordinarily demanding. And it is quite different from the values of the world surrounding us.

There is a new creation breaking in on the old one. The transfiguration of our Lord lets us know that, as we follow him, we, too, are going to be transformed.

This is where our epistle comes into the picture. Some of the folks in Corinth are apparently having trouble understanding Paul’s message. Paul goes way back to the Book of Genesis, to the point when God was creating the world. God creates the light and lets the light shine out of the darkness. That light shines in our hearts “to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Those of you who have attended the Easter Vigil will remember that, in the darkness, the new fire is kindled and the deacon comes down the aisle in the darkness with the lighted paschal candle, saying or singing, “The light of Christ,” and the people respond. “Thanks be to God.” As St. John tells us, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”

But before we reach Easter Even, we will walk the way of the cross in Lent. And as we walk that way, we will carry the memory of the Transfiguration. We will remember seeing our Lord radiating the glory of God. We will recall the warmth of that light entering into us and giving us power for the journey ahead.

We can’t stay on the mountaintop for long. The emotional high would give us all heart attacks. Life can be boring, and dull at times. It can be like the valley of the shadow of death. It can have times of great joy.

Through the times of boredom, dullness, trial and tribulation, and joy, we will carry those glimpses of the mountain. We will be with him. We will feel him with us, guiding us, leading us, shepherding us. And we will know who he truly is. And we will thank God for his presence and power among us. Amen.

Epiphany 5B RCL February 8, 2015

Isaiah 40:21-31
Psalm 147:1-12, 41c
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Mark 1:29-39

Our first reading today dates back to the time of the Exile in Babylon. The powerful Babylonian Empire swept in, attacked, and eventually leveled the temple in Jerusalem. Then they deported the people to a foreign land where they somehow had to survive for several decades.

During the Exile, the people studied the scriptures and prayed and tried to keep their faith and their community together. But, after a while, they began to feel that God has abandoned them. God no longer cared about them. God had forgotten them.

Today’s reading is God’s response. The captives are going to return home. God reminds them and us of God’s majesty and power. God does not grow faint or weary. but God gives strength to those whose energy is flagging. How many times have we gone through a tough time in our lives and wondered where is God in all of this? Then, after we have journeyed through the difficult time, we realize that God was there leading and helping us all the time. As the poem Footprints says, God never leaves us, but sometimes there is only one set of footprints because God is carrying us.

God gives us the power to fly on eagles’ wings.

In our epistle, Paul is under attack. He feels free to eat food that has been sacrificed to idols if, by doing so, he can bring someone into the community of the faithful. He says, “I have become all things to all people that I night by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel….”

Paul is a Jew, a Pharisee, yet he has become the apostle to the gentiles. He is able to walk in the shoes of the people he meets. He shares meals with them, and, if they are eating meat sacrificed to idols, he is not going to make a big fuss over that. For him, God is the only God and every gift comes from God. So he eats and talks with folks and shares about Jesus, and the next thing you know, they want to join the community of faith. He has a right to receive financial support from the community, but he continues to work as a tentmaker because this helps him to meet people and spread the good news. Everything he does is to build up the Body of Christ. Paul gives us a powerful example to follow.

In our gospel, Jesus has just been in the synagogue, where he taught and then freed a man from a demon. Now he goes to the home of Peter and Andrew. He goes from a public space into a private space among friends where , we think, he might get a few moments of rest.But that is not going to happen. Peter’s mother-in-law is in bed with a fever. There is a need for healing.

He takes her by the hand and lifts her up. Let us just imagine this for a moment. We are in bed feeling feverish and unwell and unable to do our normal work, and Jesus comes in and stretches out his hand and lifts us up, What an image. Think of the touch of his hand, the love, the healing power that flows into us.

How difficult it is for us when we are feeling weak or ill or discouraged or maybe even abandoned by God to realize that God is right here with us. Jesus is stretching out his hand to heal us, to give us strength, to lift us up.

Yet we feel we have to do it ourselves, or we feel that we are on our own, that God has more important things to do, or that God has wound up the universe like a clock and has walked off and left it to operate on its own. But no, there is Jesus, reaching out to us. There is his hand, ready to heal us and lift us up.

She gets up. The fever leaves her and she begins to serve them. She gets back to her ministry, The Greek work used here is diakonia, service. We do not know her name, but Peter’s mother-in-law is a disciple and a deacon.

Then the scene changes. At sundown, they bring many people to him who need healing and wholeness. And he touches them all and heals them. The whole city is gathered at the door. He must be very tired after all this. But in the morning when it is still dark, he goes to a deserted place to pray. Jesus is constantly doing this—going apart where he can be quiet and pray. He needs to be renewed and re-energized. He needs to be in the presence of God.

And then Peter wants him to go back because even more people have come to be healed. And healing is a good thing to do, but it is not the core of his mission. William Barclay says that the people are in away using Jesus. They want that quick fix—the healing—but they are not making a commitment to follow Jesus and help him build his kingdom. Barclay writes, “God is not someone to be used in the day of misfortune; he is someone to be loved and remembered every day of our lives.” (William Barclay, The Gospel of Mark, p. 40.)

Jesus does not stay and continue to heal, as important as that is. He is called to go to new places and spread the good news of the kingdom, the shalom of God. He tells the people that the kingdom of

God is in their midst. And he invites them and us to offer ourselves to be transformed and to bring his vision of shalom to reality.

May we follow him, May we build his shalom. Amen.

Epiphany 4B RCL February 1, 2015

Deuteronomy 18:15-20
Psalm 111
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Mark 1:21-28

Our first reading today is from the Book of Deuteronomy. The people are about to enter the land of Canaan, but Moses is not going with them. Moses is assuring the people that God will provide them with faithful leaders.

Our reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians poses a question which was tearing apart the community in Corinth: Should Christians eat food that is sacrificed to idols? At first glance, this seems like a pretty silly topic. This is not a burning issue for us. But, if we look more deeply into this controversy, it can teach us all kinds of wisdom.

Corinth was a large city which bad many temples dedicated to Greek and Roman deities. If you went to the marketplace to buy meat, all of the meat there had been sacrificed to one or the other of these deities.

When people joined the new faith and became followers of Jesus, some of them felt that it was all right to eat this meat because the Greek and Roman deities were not real gods. There was only one God.

Paul agreed with their thinking. If God is the only true god, then the fact that the meat had been sacrificed to these other deities meant nothing.

Other members of the congregation felt extremely uncomfortable eating meat sacrificed to what they considered idols. On an intellectual or “knowledge” level, they realized that there is only one God, but still the fact that this meat had been sacrificed to Apollo or Artemis did not sit well with them and they chose not to eat the meat.

Paul is asking us to think about the spiritual well being of our brothers and sisters and to put the health of the community first. Some of the folks in Corinth were sure that they were “right.” They were trying to argue their brothers and sisters into doing something that seemed wrong to them. Paul says that “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” Logic and reasoning are important, but we are not to use knowledge to bully our brothers and sisters into doing things they consider to be wrong. The most important thing is to love and respect our brothers and sisters in the faith. This is a good passage to keep in mind when the church gets into controversies.

In our gospel, Jesus has called his disciples, and now they go to Capernaum, a city on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus enters the synagogue on the sabbath. His teaching amazes the people.

There is a man with an unclean spirit in the synagogue. The unclean spirit  calls out to Jesus, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” Jesus responds with compete authority: “Be silent and come out of him!” The demon leaves. Again, the people are amazed.

This is a healing, and it is also a confrontation between Jesus and the forces of darkness. James M. Childs Jr. of Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio writes, “Christ’s triumph over the evils that assail us restores us to community with God and one another. This is a restoration to life and for life. The very real demonic forces of our world, manifest in enmity, jealousy, greed, lust, and manifold forms of cruelty and disregard for life, are divisive. The demonic is mean spirited in its drive to separate us from God and one another and to divide us within ourselves, pitting the impulses of selfishness against the desire to love.”  (Childs, New Proclamation Year B 2002-03, p. 108.)

In this story, our Lord confronts the powers of evil and overcomes them. In the season of Epiphany, the season of light, we remember the words of John’s gospel, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

While we are well acquainted with the love and compassion of our Lord, incidents like this one make it clear that he had no patience with the forces of darkness and brokenness, and that he confronted those forces with unyielding power and conquered them. This is important for us to keep in mind in a world where those forces are so apparent and active. Christ has won the victory over all forces which seek to hurt or enslave God’s children. As Sr. Rachel Hosmer has said, our Lord has won the victory but we are part of the mopping up operation.

Our Lord calls us to build up his kingdom in love, to support each other in our journeys and to reach out to others and extend our Lord’s strength, grace, and healing.

May we follow him. May all our actions be rooted and grounded in love.  Amen.

Epiphany 3 Year B RCL January 25, 2015

Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Psalm 62:6-14
1 Cor 7:29-31
Mark 1:14-20

62them. They make an offering to God and make a vow to God. Jonah, the reluctant evangelist, has helped them to begin their journey in faith. Then, as the sea becomes even more unruly, they throw Jonah overboard.

The scriptures tell us that a great fish swallows Jonah. We most often picture it as a whale, even though whales are not fish but mammals. Jonah is stuck in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights, just the period of time to get a new perspective on things, just the time span to lead us from death to new life. In some of the most moving and powerful words found in the Bible, Jonah prays to the Lord. He thanks God for saving him. God tells the fish to spit Jonah out onto dry land right where he began.

Immediately, God calls Jonah a second time to go to Ninevah and call the people to repent. That is where our reading begins today.

Jonah does not want to preach to Ninevah because he feels that the people of this city are so evil that that they do not deserve to hear the word of God and they are not worthy to receive God’s mercy. So his message does not mention God’s mercy or forgiveness. It is a simple and dire threat” “Forty days more, and Ninevah shall be overthrown!”

The text leaves out a crucial part of the story. The king of Ninevah is a good theologian. He hears the message and he immediately takes of his robes, puts on sackcloth, and sits in ashes. He proclaims that all the people must repent and pray to God. And they must turn from violence and anger. That is what their sin was—violence and anger. And they do repent—from the king down to the lowliest peasant. Everyone in this superpower city repents.

God does not send a disaster upon them. God is merciful to them.

Jonah is upset that God would show mercy to the hated people of Ninevah. He actually goes into a big funk over this. But the reluctant evangelist has converted a city of 120,000 people. The book of Jonah ends with an affirmation that God is a God of mercy. I share this story because I think it is a wonderful story and because it has at least three powerful messages. One, when God calls, it is good to say Yes. Two, God can communicate God’s message of love and mercy even through a disobedient messenger. Three, God reserves the freedom to extend mercy to everyone, even enemies. Biblical scholar Bruce Metzger writes, “With skill and finesse, this little  book calls Israel to repentance and reminds it of its mission to preach to all the nations the wideness of God’s mercy and forgiveness.”  (Oxford Annotated Bible, p. 1186.)

In our gospel, John the Baptist has just died. John was Jesus’ cousin, someone Jesus loved deeply, someone who faithfully prepared the way for our Lord. This was devastating news for Jesus. Yet he summoned powerful faith and perseverance and took the next steps in his mission. He called Peter and Andrew, James and John. He called them into his kingdom a kingdom very different from the kingdoms of this world, He called them into his shalom of peace, healing, and justice. Unlike Jonah, they were not reluctant. They  immediately gave their lives to this vision of shalom and followed Jesus.

God is calling us to build God’s shalom. No one is beyond God’s love. The sin of Ninevah was violence. In cases of domestic violence, we need to keep victims safe and call offenders to accountability. That means that offenders need to stop the violence and be under supervision to be sure that they stay on track, If they cannot or do not truly repent and change their behavior they will be contained.

On an international level, we are called to pray for our enemies and to remember that God is always reaching out to all of us. At the same time, as we did in World War II, and as we do in cases of domestic violence, as a world community we need to protect the vulnerable and contain the violence. Praying for peace does not mean that we just sit back. It involves taking action as well. I will not try to comment on what actions we should take because that is not what I am called to do. I ask all of you to continue to pray for the leaders of our country and of the world and for all the people of the earth as we work together to contain and prevent violence and make our world safe for all people.

As we answer our Lord’s call to be fishers of people, the Book of Jonah has a message for us. God is constantly reaching out in love, and God is able to touch the hearts of all God’s children.   Amen.

Epiphany 1—The Baptism of our Lord Year B RCL 01/11/15

Genesis 1:1-5
Psalm 29
Acts 19:1-7
Mark 1:4-11

This morning, we celebrate the baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ. We begin with the creation of the world. Specifically, our reading calls us to reflect on God’ s creation of light. At every point in the work of creation, God sees that the creation is good, God sees that the light is good,  and God divides the light from the dark and calls the light Day and the dark Night. Always, God sees that the creation is good.

Epiphany is the season of light and mission. The light has come into the world and is spreading over all the earth. As I write this, the temperature is well below zero. For several days, the wind chill has been at record levels. Now, as the light of Christ is coming into the world, we have passed the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, and the days, thanks be to God, are growing longer.

Jesus has come to be with us. A new creation is beginning. Paul says that in Christ each of us is a new creation.

In our epistle for today, Paul goes to Ephesus. A teacher named Apollos had been in Ephesus before Paul arrived there. Apollos was a disciple of John, and he baptized people into the baptism of John the Baptist.That is, he baptized them into a baptism of repentance.  Apollos did not teach that in baptism we become children of God and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven. He did not teach that in baptism we receive the Holy Spirit. He did not teach about Jesus.

Paul does not say anything to the people about the limitations of Apollos’ teaching. He simply and lovingly meets them where they are. He baptizes them in the Name of the Lord Jesus, and, when he lays his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit comes upon them and bestows gifts upon them. When we are baptized, we receive all the gifts which we need to carry out our ministries. We become children of God.  We become members of the living Body of Christ, here to share his love and healing with the world.

In our gospel, John is baptizing people in the River Jordan. His baptism is a baptism of repentance. He is calling people to turn their lives over to God, to confess their sins right there on the river bank, to admit their past failings and their need for God, and begin a new life. Although he is out in the country, far from the power centers of the city, hundreds of people are flocking to him to hear his message and ask God to transform their lives.

John has a clear understanding of who he is and who Jesus is. We remember that, right after the angel Gabriel told Mary that she would give birth to the Son of God, Mary went to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth was pregnant with John, who would later be called the Baptist. When Mary met Elizabeth, the baby John leaped in Elizabeth’s womb. Even at that point, he recognized Jesus, when both John and Jesus were still in their mothers’ wombs.

From the beginning, John recognized who Jesus was. John said he was not worthy to untie Jesus’ sandals. He said that he must decrease and Jesus must increase. John is such an inspiring example of humility. He knew exactly who he was and who he was not. He had no desire to build his own empire. He was not competing with Jesus. He knew that he was called to prepare the way of the Lord, as Isaiah had written many centuries before. And that is what he did.

Jesus wades into the Jordan and allows himself to be baptized by John, But John is saying, “You should be baptizing me.” Jesus, the eternal Word who called the creation into being, walks into the River Jordan so that his cousin John can immerse him, baptize him. As Jesus rises up out of the water, the Holy Spirit descends like a dove and God says, “You are my son, the beloved. With you I am well pleased.”

Herbert O’Driscoll wisely reminds us that God is saying those words to us. “You are my beloved son, my beloved daughter.”

The light is coming into the world, The love is coming into the world. The joy is coming into the world and into our lives. Darkness and brokenness and hatred flee before this light and love and joy.

In baptism, we know who we really are, We are children of God. Jesus has come to be with us, and we know we are not alone. The creator of the universe has come to be our brother. We have seen God walking the face of the earth, and we can follow him.

In a moment, we will renew our own baptismal vows.  We will renew our promise to “persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord.” We will renew our promise  to “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.” We will renew our promise to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves.” And we will renew our promise to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” Our baptism is really our ordination to our ministries in the Body of Christ. We are really promising to be the Body of Christ, to spread his compassion and healing wherever we go.

This is a very tall order. We will not always do it perfectly. We will stumble. We will need to ask for help to get back on track. We will not always be as compassionate as we want to be. But, every step of the way, our Lord will be right beside us. In fact, he will often be out in front of us, guiding us, yes, protecting us, encouraging us, untangling us from the briars of despair, leading us to good pasture and to still waters. Always, always, there will be his light, which no darkness can overcome. Always, always, there will be his love, which is stronger than hate, stronger than death, stronger than fear. Always, always, he will be with is. And gradually, steadily, we will be transformed, and his shalom will cover the whole wide earth.  Amen.