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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 22, 2015

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

Our first reading, which dates back to 587 B.C. E., over 2,500 years ago, is the first mention of the term “new covenant” and the only mention of that term in the Hebrew scriptures.

Although he lived all those centuries ago, the prophet Jeremiah had a life that could be made into a miniseries. He was the son of Hilkiah, a priest who lived in Anathoth, two miles outside of Jerusalem. Scholars tell us that living just that short distance outside the center of power made Jeremiah an outsider. When God called Jeremiah to be a prophet, God said, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” This is true of all of us. God has known us from the beginning, and God has called us.

Jeremiah is young, and he tells God that he does not feel that he should be a prophet because he is only a boy. But God says, “I have put my words in your mouth.”

As I thought about this sermon, I began to realize that Jeremiah, like so many of the prophets, reminds me of our Lord. Jeremiah’s ministry was anything but easy. During much of his ministry, the king, the priests, and the official prophets were corrupt. Jeremiah tried to call them back to God;s ways, but they just strayed farther and farther from God.

Jeremiah also had the extremely difficult job of telling those in power that they were going to be conquered by the Babylonian Empire. For that, he was placed under arrest.

Our reading for today is God’s revolutionary proclamation through Jeremiah of a new covenant. This happens after the Babylonian Empire has conquered Judah, leveled the temple in Jerusalem and deported the people to Babylon. It happens in the midst of the deepest possible pain and defeat and suffering, a time when the worst possible disaster has occurred.

It is clear that the people have fallen away from God. but that does not stop God from reaching out in love and mercy. Some of the most significant moments in the life of God’s people and in our lives happen in the midst of crisis and suffering.

God is going to write this new covenant on their—and our—hearts. Everyone is going to have the opportunity to be close to God. Barriers such as social status, occupation, and education, melt away. Everyone will be equal in the sight of God. There will be no need for experts or teachers. Everyone will be able to be as close to God as we are to each other right now. This is the covenant that God offered to God’s people 2,500 years ago. They had erred and strayed like lost sheep. yet God was ready to forgive all of it and begin anew.

God was saying that the spiritual life is not a matter of following rules. It is about interior transformation which leads to changed attitudes and behaviors. In our hearts, we finally realize how much God loves us, and that love touches and transforms us and our lives.

The great Episcopal theologian Urban Holmes talks about how many people still believe that the spiritual journey is about following rules. If we follow the ten commandments and do everything right, our lives will be happy and we will avoid suffering. But that is not what our faith teaches.

Following Jesus does not make us successful in the world’s terms. Following Jesus does not protect us from suffering and disaster and heartbreak and brokenness. In fact, as we see from his own life and the lives of many saints, following Jesus often takes us to a cross of one sort or another.

Sometimes you and I have to undergo suffering. It is not something that God sends upon us. It is part of living in a fallen creation. This world is not as God would want it to be. There is much brokenness that would not be God’s intention. God’s vision for the creation is a vision of wholeness and harmony. But we are not there yet.

The suffering that comes into our lives may be a family situation which is tragic and complicated. We struggle through it with God’s help. We can’t fix it; It is way too complicated, but we ask God’s help and we do the best we can one day at a time.

It may be a point of decision in our own lives. We agonize over it and seek God’s guidance, but nothing is coming clear. It may be a diagnosis that changes our lives. It may be a setback to ourselves or someone dear to us. Sometimes we may grieve deeply and cry. Sometimes we may be angry about it and have to ask God’s help to deal with that. As we look around our world and see the suffering of so many people, we suffer with them.

We are following our Lord to the cross. Our Lord is the embodiment of the new covenant. Life in Christ is not a matter of following the rules as a matter of duty. The love of Christ is engraved in the center of our being. Christ is in us and we are in him.

In 1373, Julian of Norwich, in an England ravaged by plague and war, had fifteen visions of Our Lord on the cross. She wrote, “Do you want to understand the Lord’s meaning in this experience? Understand it well. Love was his meaning. Who showed it to you? Love. What did he show you? Love. Why did he show it? For love. …Thus it was that I learned that Love was our Lord’s meaning.”

That Love has come into our hearts and into our lives. He has suffered the worst. He is with us in our sufferings, and, because we know how much he loves us, we can fall into his loving arms as a seed falls into the ground. Then wholeness comes out of brokenness. Life comes out of death. Because he has suffered and won the victory, we no longer have to fear suffering. We no longer have to fear death. We no longer have to live in fear of any kind. Instead, we can live in faith.

Amen.

Lent 4B RCL March 15, 2015

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

In our first reading, we join God’s people on their journey to the promised land. The people are impatient. They are complaining again.  They encounter a particularly terrifying challenge. They come upon poisonous snakes. When the snakes bite the people, the people die.

God tells Moses to make an image of a poisonous snake and put it on a pole. When the people are bitten and they look at the image of the serpent, they will live.  In a sense, the bronze serpent on the pole is an icon to allow the people to connect with the healing power of God.

Once again, in spite of the people’s complaining, God saves them.

God is constantly leading us to freedom, and we humans struggle with the journey, but God always takes care os us. When we are hungry, God gives us manna; when we are thirsty, God gives us water; when we crave meat, God gives us quail. Yet we forget God’s care and we grumble about how difficult the journey is.

Every one of those people who followed Moses out of Egypt knew that they were leaving a life of slavery and going to the promised land. Every one of those people knew that God was leading them. Yet how quickly we forget. Have you ever made a decision after deeply sincere prayer and  careful thought and then second guessed yourself and God’s leading? I think most of us have done that.

That is why these readings from the wilderness journey of God’s people are so important—because they remind us that we humans can so easily forget that God is with us, leading and guiding us. And we can let ourselves  become confused to the point where we think that the comforts of life in slavery are better than the journey to freedom.

In our reading from Ephesians, we are reminded that, when we humans were living according to the flesh, that is, when we were living self-centered lives, when we were wandering around in that wilderness of self-absorption, God, in God’s love, “made us alive together in Christ…and raised us up with him…” Before we humans even thought to ask God, God had already reached out to save us from ourselves.

The kindness and care and mercy of God are truly amazing. Before we humans even realized how much we needed God’s help, God came into the world to save us, to make us whole, to make us well, to heal us. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”

In our gospel for today, Jesus refers to our opening reading. Like the bronze image of a serpent lifted by Moses to save and heal the people, Jesus will be lifted up to turn death into life. Herbert O’Driscoll writes, “Jesus sees himself as the healing serpent. raised by the obscene act of crucifixion yet giving healing to those who look.” (The Word Today, Year B Vol. 2, p. 31.)

We are walking the Way of the Cross, and it is not easy. We know that Jesus is our Good Shepherd, out in front of the flock, leading us, but it is easy to forget this when the going gets tough. We may be facing a particular challenge in our lives.  We have been told that God never gives us something that we can’t bear with God’s help, but we may be wondering about that. We may even be grumbling a bit. And it is okay to grumble to God. It is okay to say, “Lord, this is really tough. I need some help with this.” In fact, that is the greatest prayer there is—“Help!”  Lord, help.

When the people were struggling in the wilderness, God was right there. Before we even knew we needed God, God was right here with us. God, Jesus, and the Spirit are here with us now. God loves us so much that God walked into and through death itself so that we don’t have to be consumed by fear. Instead, we can be rooted and grounded in faith and we can have new life.

Are we struggling? Do we have fears? Let us look up and look into the face of our Lord and Savior. Let us see the love in his eyes. Let us feel the grace that he is pouring out upon us. Whatever may be troubling us, let us see and know that he is in our midst, that he is giving each of us the strength we need to walk with him and to walk in his light and life.

Are we full of joy? Are our lives full of peace? Let us look into the eyes of our Lord and see the peace and joy that He is bestowing upon us.

Whatever may be going on on our lives, let us look to our Lord. Let us ask him for what we need, and let us have faith that he is as close as our breath. He came to save us before we even thought to ask him.

Here is a canticle by St. Anselm of Canterbury:

Jesus, as a mother you gather your people to you;
you are gentle with us as a mother with her children.

Often you weep over our sins and our pride,
tenderly you draw us from hatred and judgment.

You comfort us in sorrow and bind up your wounds,
in sickness you nurse us and with pure milk you feed us.

Jesus, by your dying, we are born to new life;
by your anguish and labor we come forth in joy.

Despair turns to hope through your sweet goodness;
through your gentleness, we find comfort in fear.

Your warmth gives life to the dead,
your touch makes sinners righteous.

Lord Jesus, in your mercy, heal us;
in your love and tenderness, remake us.

In your compassion, bring grace and forgiveness,
for the beauty of heaven, may your love prepare us.

May His blessing be with us always.   Amen.

Lent 2 Year B RCL March 1, 2015

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Psalm 22:22-30
Romans 4:13-25
Mark 8:31-38

In our opening reading, we meet Abram and Sarai. Abram is ninety-nine years old. They have already come a long way. Back when Abram was a mere seventy-five, God called him to leave everything and move to the land of Canaan. In faith, Abram answered that call.

Now God is again telling Abram that he and Sarai are going to be the parents to a multitude of nations, including kings. God even gives Abram and Sarai new names. Abram means “exalted ancestor” and Abraham means “ancestor of a multitude.” Sarah means “Princess,” which is appropriate, since she will be the ancestor of future royalty.

Following the passage we have read, both Abraham and Sarah burst into gales of laughter over this covenant with God. They are very old. The whole thing is preposterous. And yet….

In our epistle, Paul tells us that Abraham and Sarah hoped against hope that this promise would come true. Here they were, way beyond the age of starting a family, and yet it happened. In the time of Abraham and Sarah, children meant more than having a family. They were the sign of the possibility of having a future; they were the source of hope. Without children there would be no future and no hope.

So, when God promised Abraham and Sarah that they would indeed have a multitude of children, they laughed, and at the same time they believed that God’s promise that they would have descendants as numerous as the stars would come true. And it did.

In today’s gospel, Jesus begins to make it clear that the whole journey is going to lead to suffering. Peter is the one who has said that Jesus is the Messiah. Some people believed that the messiah would lead a revolution and expel the Romans. Many scholars think that Judas Iscariot was a Zealot, a member of a group that saw the messiah as a military hero. Perhaps Peter had this view of our Lord.

But now Jesus is letting his followers know that he is the suffering servant, and Peter can’t bear to hear this. Things have been going well. More and more people are flocking to hear Jesus. Surely this new movement will be successful. That is what Jesus means when he talks about Peter thinking in human terms.

On a personal level, Peter loves Jesus like a brother. Jesus has changed Peter’s life. The idea of losing Jesus is devastating for Peter.

And Jesus has such personal power. Surely Jesus is wrong about all this doom and gloom. Surely he can convince the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders. Surely he can bring them around.

So Peter takes Jesus aside, and says, “God forbid, Lord, that something like this could happen!”

Jesus is shocked. Peter is the one who has seen that Jesus is the Savior. Now Peter is falling apart. Peter is losing his focus and starting to think in human terms instead of divine terms. But worst of all, he is making things more difficult for Jesus. Jesus does not want to die. Later, in the garden, he will sweat blood over this. He will ask God to take this cup from him. In a sense, Peter is weakening Jesus’ resolve. So Jesus says the thing that will be like a slap in the face to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” That must have hurt Peter. What a moment that was in their relationship. Peter could have left. Jesus could have wavered. Neither thing happened. Peter stayed in the group. He was the rock. He was the leader. But he still denied Jesus. He wasn’t perfect.

And that is a great help to us, because we are not perfect either. But we are still following Jesus, and we are walking the Way of the Cross.

Jesus tells Peter that he is setting his mind on human things, and, of course, we do that, too. The idea of our Lord suffering this most horrible form of humiliation and death is beyond comprehension. We know that it happened, and we wish there had been another way.

So we are Abraham and Sarah and we have been on a long journey, and the future is looking pretty bleak. Actually, it is looking non- existent. God comes to us and makes a promise that changes everything. It gives us a future, hope. It gives us everything that makes life worthwhile. On the human level, this is ridiculous, and, if we are Abraham and Sarah, we burst out laughing. But then we stop and think and pray and we realize that God has never broken a promise. God has led us this far. God has always been faithful to us. And that gives us reason to be faithful to God. So we get down to business and put one foot in front of the other and try to be as faithful and loyal to God as we can and go about our daily lives seeking God’s will and doing God’s will. And just believing that it is going to happen.

As we walk the way of the cross with our Lord, we are not going to be able to manipulate this awful situation or control it or make it come out the way we think it should. That is human thinking.

We are walking with a God who loves us so much that he is willing to hang on an instrument of torture and death that is reserved for the worst criminals and die. God does not lash out. God does not kill us.

God forgives. God takes all that death and hatred and works with it and transforms it into new life.

As we walk with him, we can begin to be aware that this is what he is doing. At this point in the journey, our hope may be wavering, and yet our Lord reminds us that there is always reason to hope against hope. There is always new life. It isn’t easy. There are labor pangs. There is struggle. Underneath it all and in all of it is love, the love of God.

There is always reason to hope against hope. There is always reason for faith. Blessed Lord, give us grace to follow you and to be faithful to you.  Amen.