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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:…
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Pentecost 18 Proper 21B RCL September 27, 2015

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:9:20-22
Psalm 124
James 5:13-20
Mark 9:38-50

Our opening reading, from the Book of Esther, is filled with drama. It tells us about the origins of the feast of Purim, which commemorates the saving of the Jews from Haman’s plot to kill them all. Here is some historical background to the story.

Along with many others,  Mordecai, a Jew, is taken captive when king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon conquers Jerusalem. Mordecai is taken to the city of Susa, where he becomes a respected member of the king’s court and a trusted advisor to the king. His cousin, Esther, becomes an orphan, and Mordecai takes her into his own home.

Through a series of events, Esther becomes the Queen of Persia. We are now in the reign of King Ahasuerus, which is his name in Hebrew. He is perhaps better known as King Xerxes I, who reigned from  486-465 B. C. Haman, a ruthless, arrogant, and anti-semitic member of the court, is plotting to kill Mordecai and all the Jews in the kingdom. With great courage, Esther appeals to the king to stop this genocide. Because of the antisemitism in the kingdom, she has hidden her Jewish identity, but now she ricks everything to save her people.

Her wish is granted, and Haman is hanged on the gallows he had built for Mordecai. The point of the story is that Esther is a heroine. Like Moses, she has freed her people.

This reading can lead us to all kinds of themes to think about. Our Jewish brothers and sisters suffered the holocaust, one of the greatest horrors in history. Anti-Semitism has no place in the Christian faith. Even today, Jews, Muslims and others are being persecuted in many places. God is a God of love.

The Letter of James is so down to earth, so practical. Are we suffering? What should we do? We should pray. Are we cheerful? We should sing songs of praise. In every circumstance, we should pray.

When we pray, we are asking God to come into the midst of our lives with love and grace.

James says that when we are sick, we should call for the elders of the church to come and anoint us with oil and lay hands on us. Many churches have the laying on of hands and anointing with oil at or after the Eucharist on Sundays. When we are sick or suffering, it is a wonderful thing to share that and ask others to pray for us. James goes on to say that we should confess our sins to one another. In the early Church, this actually happened. People confessed ad received absolution in front of the congregation.

Nowadays, we tend to be more private, but it certainly helps to share our burdens with each other and ask for prayer. We can also confess to each other or we can confess individually to a priest. All of these things lead to spiritual health.

This is one of the wonderful gifts of Grace Church. We do share our burdens with each other. We don’t try to carry them alone. We ask each other to pray for us and for our families. With genuine gratitude to God and the community of faith, we ask for help. We don’t pretend to be perfect. We don’t pretend to be self-sufficient. We ask for help and prayers. And the power of those prayers helps each of us to be more healthy spiritually, emotionally, and physically. And that means that our community of faith is also more healthy, because we are all sharing our burdens and counting on each other and God for help. This is one reason why we do not have strife and division the way James’ community did. Because we know each other as frail and fallible human beings who are trying, with God’s grace, to be faithful followers of Christ, and we are all working together.

Our gospel builds on these themes of God’s love, mercy. and healing. The disciples see someone healing people in Jesus’ name. They ask Jesus whether they should stop the person. Jesus says, absolutely not. If people are doing good things, give them encouragement. Don’t stop them.

He tells them and us not to put barriers in people’s way. If some of these little people are trying to believe in hm, we should help them. We should explain our faith and live our faith in a way that encourages them to believe in Jesus.

And then our Lord tells us that if anything is getting in the way of our following him, we need to get rid of it. Maybe we have an addiction to something. We need to get into recovery. Maybe, like some of his disciples  last Sunday, we are consumed with ambition and we want to be the greatest in his kingdom. We need to revise our thinking. If anything is getting between us and Jesus, we need to ask his help to remove it. Because we want to follow him with our whole heart and soul and mind and strength.

This week is an extraordinary week. Pope Francis has come among us. He is such an extraordinary person, such a holy example, an embodiment of God’s love, mercy, and healing. He has identified himself as someone from an immigrant family and has called us to work together to create an inclusive society in which all persons are treated with respect. He has called us to take climate change seriously and work to protect and preserve our beautiful planet. He has called us to protect the vulnerable people of our world and to work for “reconciliation, peace, and freedom.”

Our beloved bother, Pope Frances lives what he preaches. He causes untold worries for those who are trying to protect him by leaving his Pope Mobile to go out into the crowd and touch people and pray for people who need God’s love and healing. This brings hope and new meaning to people’s lives. To all of our lives. Pope Francis is a living and inspiring example of the points of all our readings today.

May we follow his example.


Pentecost 17 Proper 20B RCL September 20, 2015

Proverbs 31:10-31
Psalm 1
James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
Mark 9:30-17

Our opening reading, which is the concluding portion of the Book of Proverbs, begins with a question: “A capable wife who can find?” The passage then launches into a description. Biblical scholars have a range of views about this passage.  Some scholars advise that we should really skip this passage because it comes from a patriarchal culture. It is true that the excellence of the good woman enhances her husband’s status in the city’s gates, where all the important decisions are made, and, in a patriarchal society, women did not participate in those decisions.

But other scholars encourage us to take a deeper look. Some say that, yes, this text was written in the midst of a patriarchal culture, but that it describes a strong, gifted woman, and that she and her husband have a good relationship based on mutuality. Some say that  this woman is a personification of wisdom and that the word“husband” is actually describing the followers of wisdom. Some even say that the passage describes the qualities of God. If we keep in mind that Jesus is closely associated with wisdom, that is not a huge leap.

Let’s take this on the literal level first. This is a description of a “capable wife.” Kathleen O’Connor of Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia says that, if we look carefully at the original Hebrew,  “The woman is more literally a ‘strong woman,’ a ‘woman of worth,’ a ‘warriorlike woman.’ She is a mysterious figure who greatly rewards anyone who settles down to live in her household.”

She is creative; she weaves and makes clothes for her family; she wakes up early and works hard; she manages and takes care of her household; she buys fields and plants vineyards. Commentator Neil Elliot translates, “She girds herself with strength and makes her arms strong,” into, “She works out.” In other words, she is strong. She dresses herself and her household well. They do not have to fear the snow. They will be warmly clothed. She is a person of justice. She helps the poor and needy. She cares about her community and the world. In addition to conducting real estate transactions and running a vineyard, she has a business making and selling linen garments.

She “laughs at the time to come,” Her faith is so deep that she is joyful in the face of the future. She is a teacher, and she teaches wisdom and kindness. Her family sees that she is happy, and they praise her. She has many wonderful qualities, and the most important one is her deep faith.

Even if we take this passage at the literal level, this woman is a wonderful holy example. If we take it as a description of wisdom, or living the life in Christ, it is still a fine example for us to follow.

Wisdom is strong; it is creative; it is industrious; wisdom enhances those who associate with it; it is competent in business transactions; wisdom takes care of the people in its household;  wisdom has deep faith.

Our passage from the letter of James says, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits; without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.”

Apparently, the congregation he is addressing has been suffering from conflict and division, and he is trying to show them the way out of that.

In our gospel, Jesus has begun to talk about the cross. He is among us as one who serves, and he calls us to serve others in his Name. But the disciples are having a difficult time making the transition from a worldly military hero carrying out a revolution to our Lord, calling us to allow him to transform us.

On the way, they have been arguing and when they get to Capernaum, he asks them what they have been talking about. They are so ashamed that they fall into silence, because they have been fighting over who is going to be the greatest in his kingdom.

Of course, he knows this. They are in the house. He sits down and calls the twelve to him. We can imagine that he asks them to sit down with him. When we are trying to communicate things that are hard to grasp, it is good to get quiet, sit down together, ask God to be in our midst, calm ourselves, and put our full attention on the matter at hand.

And then Jesus says those great words of wisdom: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” That dissolves any thoughts of who is going to be the greatest. That removes any possibility of competition or comparison. We are here to serve each other, and we are all called to put each other first. That’s how his kingdom works. That’s the basis for his shalom. That’s the blueprint for the reign of God.

Then he takes a little child in his arms. In that society and time, children had no status. They were considered chattel, property, possessions. And Jesus says, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”

He is turning everything upside down. If we welcome a little child, we are welcoming him. The quality of our faith and our discipleship is based on how we welcome and treat those who are the most vulnerable. The quality of our discipleship is based, not on how great we are but on how much we serve others.

Blessed Lord, give us the grace to love and follow you and to love and serve others, especially those who are most vulnerable. In your Holy Name we pray.  Amen.

Pentecost 16 Proper 19B RCL September 13, 2015

Proverbs 1:20-33
Psalm 19
James 3:1-12
Mark 8:27-38

Our first reading today is from the Book of Proverbs. Wisdom is portrayed as a woman. Herbert O’Driscoll says that wisdom is “a part of God, an aspect of God. The figure of wisdom expresses the mind of God.” Wisdom, or Sophia in Greek, is often associated with our Lord. Wisdom is more than ordinary knowledge. O’Driscoll writes, “We are being asked to consider a relationship with God as the deepest and richest knowledge of all.”

In our gospel for today. Jesus and his disciples are in Caesarea Philippi. They have gone beyond Galilee into a major center of the Roman Empire where troops were brought for rest and recuperation.

Jesus asks the disciples a question. “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples tell Jesus what they have been hearing. Some people are saying that Jesus is John the Baptist come back to life; some are saying that he is the prophet Elijah, and some say that he is a prophet. Jesus is getting a report on what they have been hearing on the street.

But them he asks that searching question, “But who do you say that I am?” This changes the situation from giving a report to expressing our beliefs. Immediately, Peter says, “You are the messiah.”

At that time, most people believed that the messiah was going to be a great military leader like King David who would go out into battle, against the Roman Empire, defeat the Romans, and bring about a revolution in which the reign of God would begin on earth.  In one way or another, we can assume and imagine that the people following Jesus were beginning to think that this was what he was going to do.

So, when Jesus begins to say that he is gong to suffer and that he is going to be rejected by all the authorities, and he is going to be killed, this simply does not fit the expected scenario. We can imagine that the disciples were in shock. Here they thought they were going to be part of a triumphal military revolution, and now they are hearing that their leader is doomed. What if Winston Churchill had said he was gong to die and we were going to be defeated in World War Two?

We would have been shocked. Well, Peter was shocked, He took Jesus aside and tried to tell him, “Lord, you’re mistaken. This can’t happen!”

When you know that you are called to do something that is going to be very difficult and painful and will probably cost you your life, you need the support and understanding of those closest to you. In Isaiah and other prophets, there is another understanding of the messiah. The messiah is the servant who carries out a quiet but very powerful revolution that will change the world. It is a revolution of peace and harmony. It is God’s shalom. But Peter did not want to hear about that. And that hurt Jesus. It was difficult enough for him to walk the way of the cross, and he needed his friends to help him to do that, not to try to argue him out of it.

That is why Jesus told Peter to get behind him. Get out of the way. That is why he called him Satan, Adversary. Because Peter was like an attorney arguing Jesus out of the way he knew he was called to go. Peter had dreams of following a General Eisenhower or a General Colin Powell to victory and Jesus was talking about dying on a humiliating instrument of torture called the cross.

To be sure, Peter loved Jesus and he didn’t want his Lord to have to go through that. We want the best for those we love. We don’t want them to suffer. So Peter said what he said, and Jesus said what he said, and other things happened, and later the two of them reconciled all that.

But the bottom line is that our Lord is calling us to take up our cross and follow him. Sometimes that involves choices that the world thinks are crazy. Somebody has a great job and is making lots of money and moving up the career ladder and they feel a call to work with an NGO in Zimbabwe or work with adolescents in a juvenile correctional facility or teach kids in Thailand or go into the Peace Corps at a fraction of the salary. Yet when you see them, they have an unmistakeable serenity and joy. That’s what it means to take up our cross. People may scratch their heads and wonder what in the world we are doing, but we know it’s what our Lord is calling us to, and we find a deep joy in answering that call.

When we lose our life for Jesus’ sake, we are not jumping into a black hole of destruction or hurting ourselves. We are allowing him to free us from our limited ideas of what life is about. We are the little seed jumping into the fertile soil and growing into a field of wheat. We are a little creature clutching onto a rock and finally letting go and allowing ourselves to be part of a loving, flowing current. We are becoming part of his shalom.

We live in him. He lives in us. We become one with him. There is much joy in that. There is much peace in that.

If we are following our Lord, we will also be following wisdom, and our tongues will speak words of compassion because our hearts are filled with compassion and our lives are rooted and grounded in the love of Christ.

O God, because without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with  you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Pentecost 9 Proper 12B RCL July 26, 2015

2 Samuel 11:1-15
Psalm 14
Ephesians 3:14-21
John 6:1-21

Our opening reading is almost shocking in its stark portrayal of human sin. Here is King David, who loves God and has performed many courageous and noble acts and is much loved by his people, sinking so low that it almost takes our breath away.

First of all, he is not doing what a king is supposed to be doing. He is not leading the troops in battle. He has put Joab in command of the army. David looks down from his rooftop quarters and sees Bathsheba bathing. He finds out that she is the wife wife of one of his most outstanding commanders, Uriah the Hittite. This information should bring him to his senses. It should be a warning. There are precious webs of relationship here which should not be torn apart.

But he has lost his moral compass. He has Bathsheba brought to him and uses his power as king to commit adultery with her. Some time later, she tells David she is pregnant, and he calls Uriah back from the field of battle. When David tells Uriah to go home and be with his wife so that people will think the child is Uriah’s, his faithful officer sleeps outside. Uriah’s loyalty to God, his country, and his fellow soldiers who are sleeping outside makes him continue to observe military discipline. Then David gets Uriah drunk. Uriah will not enjoy the comforts of home when his men are fighting. So David sends Uriah back into battle with a letter ordering Joab to set up Uriah’s death.

Uriah’s self-discipline, loyalty, and integrity provide such a stark contrast to David’s selfishness, depravity, and duplicity that we are forced to face our own potential for darkness. This is a low point on David’s journey. How could someone with so much courage and so many gifts sink that far?

Our own dark times are probably not quite as dramatic as this one, but this story reminds us that we are all sinners.

Our reading from Ephesians is a prayer of adoration to the only One who can lift us out of those depths and save us from our own weakness and sinfulness. A little paraphrase. We bow our knees before God, who is the father and mother of all of us. God is the One who strengthens us in our inmost selves through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is God working in us and in the world. Christ dwells in our hearts through faith, as we are rooted and grounded in love. Because of God’s grace, we are able to accept and in some mysterious way understand the depth of the love God has for us. We are filled with the fullness of God. And we give glory to God who can do these things.

Like our ancestor and brother, David, we are sinners.  And yet, at the very same time we are filled with the fullness of God. And this is all reflected in our gospel.  Last week we read the parts in Mark which go before and after the feeding of the five thousand. Now, we read that wonderful story in John’s gospel. The crowd is following but now Jesus and the disciples go up the mountain and sit there together praying. They are in the presence of God. They are fed by that presence.

But the crowd follows them. More than five thousand people, if you count the women and children. Jesus asks Philip, “Where are we going to get food for these people? And Philip answers, “It would take six months’ wages to buy food for them, and then that wouldn’t be enough.” Uh-oh, we’re in trouble. We don’t have enough. Now here is Andrew. “There is a boy here with five little barley loaves and two fish.” But then Andrew goes into that scarcity model: “What is that when we have so many people?”

Jesus asks them to make the people sit down. It is a grassy place. Green. Refreshing. He leads us to the green pastures. We sit down with our extended family group. We feel cherished and safe and taken care of. He takes the loaves, thanks God, and breaks them, and they are shared with all the people, He takes, blesses, breaks, and distributes. A Eucharistic action and it is the time of the passover. Here is the heavenly food of his presence and power and love.  Here is the food that leads us out of slavery to sin.They and we are “filled with the fullness of God.”

There are twelve baskets left over. With Jesus we always have enough, There is always a way to feed folks and care for them. The people try to make Jesus king. This gospel provides a contrast to the story of David which we just read. Jesus does’t want to be an earthly king. He goes up to the mountain to pray and be with God.

The disciples get into the boat and start across the sea to Capernaum. A storm comes up. The wind is blowing so hard you can hear it whistling in your ears, and the waves are several feet high.  They row three or four miles in the wind and waves. That is hard work. He comes walking to them on the sea and they are petrified. And what does he say? “It is I; do not be afraid.” Right away, they reach their destination.

We are sinners. We get lost. We are weak. Thanks be to God, we are not alone. God loves us. We are fed with the fullness of God. We do not have to be afraid. Every day and several times a day, we can go up  toward the mountain to that grassy place and be with our Lord and be fed by him. Every week we can gather at the altar and be fed with his life-giving presence.

Today, we see two different kinds of kings. David was a great military commander who loved God and danced in joy before the Ark of the Covenant. David was also a human being who made some bad choices in our story today.

Centuries after King David came another King, who was of the house of David. Like David, he was a shepherd, our Good Shepherd.

May we follow him and be the people he calls us to be.  Amen.

Pentecost 15 Proper 18B RCL September 6, 2015

Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23
Psalm 125
James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17
Mark 7:24-37

Our reading from the Book of Proverbs makes some clear ethical statements. Biblical scholar James Newsome goes back to the Hebrew root words in our lesson. His translations would go something like this. “It is better to be known for your honesty and integrity than for great riches. A spirit of generosity and compassion is better than silver or gold.” We may think the rich and the poor are different from each other, but that is an illusion. God makes us all, and everyone is worthy of respect. There are strong warnings throughout the Bible not to take advantage of or oppress those who are vulnerable.

James is echoing the values of Proverbs. As Christians, we are called to treat all persons with respect and compassion, and we are called to take care of those who need food, water, clothing, shelter, and medical care. All of us have been praying for the refugees from Syria and other places who are trying to get to freedom in Europe. Episcopal Relief and Development has been working with this tragic situation together with many other organizations. I hope that we will consider making a special contribution to help in this effort.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is going into Gentile territory, into what we would call Syria.  He goes into a house. He has been surrounded by the crowd, and he is hoping for a respite. But a woman comes to him. Her daughter is very ill, and she is desperate and determined to get Jesus to heal the little girl.

At that time in history, Jews did not talk to Gentiles, and women did not talk with rabbis.  At this point in his ministry, Jesus is thinking that he is called to minister only to the Jewish people.  Perhaps he has begun to wonder if he is called to reach beyond those boundaries. In this extraordinary encounter, this courageous woman, this outsider who would be scorned by all those in authority, is also an excellent theologian.  She breaks through those boundaries and helps Jesus to realize that he is called to minister to everyone. Jesus heals her daughter, and he goes on to heal a man who has been unable to hear or speak.

One of the great blessings of the Church is that we celebrate saints’ days. On August 24, we celebrated St. Bartholomew. He is one of our capital S saints. But we have a lot of small s saints like you and me, and their feast days are found in Holy Women, Holy Men, formerly Lesser Feasts and Fasts. This past Tuesday, we remembered David Pendleton Oakerhater. His story illustrates  some of the points in our readings for today. Here is the account from Holy Women, Holy Men.

God’s Warrior” is an epithet by which David Pendleton Oakerhater  is known among the Cheyenne Indians of Oklahoma. The title is an apt one, for this apostle of Christ to the Cheyenne was originally a soldier who fought against the United States government with warriors of other tribes in the disputes over Indian land rights. By the late 1860s Oakerhater had distinguished himself for bravery and leadership as an officer in an elite corps of Cheyenne fighters. In 1875, after a year of minor uprisings and threats of major violence, he and twenty-seven other warrior leaders were taken prisoner by the U. S. Army, charged with inciting rebellion, and sent to a disused military prison in Florida.

Under the influence of a concerned army captain, who sought to educate the prisoners, Oakerhater and his companions learned English, gave art and archery lessons to the area’s many visitors, and had their first encounter with the Christian faith. The captain’s example, and that of other concerned Christians, from as far away as New York, had their effect on the young warrior. He was moved to answer the call to transform his leadership in war to a lifelong ministry of peace.

With sponsorship from the Diocese of Central New York and financial help from a Mrs. Pendleton of Cincinnati, he and three other prisoners went north to study for the ministry. At his baptism in Syracuse in 1878 he took the name David Pendleton Oakerhater, in honor of his benefactress.

Soon after his ordination to the diaconate in 1881, David returned to Oklahoma. There, he was instrumental in founding and operating schools and missions, through great personal sacrifice and often in the face of apathy from the Church hierarchy and resistance from the government. He continued his ministry of service, education, and pastoral care among his people until his death on August 31, 1931.

Half a century before, the young deacon had told his people, “You all know me. You remember when I led you out to war I went first, and what I told you was true. Now I have been away to the East and I have learned about another Captain, the Lord Jesus Christ, and he is my leader. He goes first, and all he tells me is true. I come back to my people to tell you to go with me now in this new road. a war that makes all for peace.”

The captain at that prison and the other Christians involved, lived out our readings for today. Back in the 1860s, in spite of their advanced language and culture, Native Americans were seen by some people as savages and less than human. Yet this captain and Mrs, Pendleton and the others saw David as a gifted fellow human being. Thank God for them and for David and his ministry. And I thank God for the openness and inclusiveness of Grace Church.

Let us pray the collect for the remembrance of David Oakerhater.

O God of unsearchable wisdom and infinite mercy, you chose a captive warrior, David Oakerhater, to be your servant, and sent him to be a missionary to his own people, and to exercise the office of deacon among them: Liberate us who commemorate him today, from bondage to self, and empower us for service to you and to the neighbors you have given us; through Jesus Christ, the captain of our salvation, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.