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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion February 5, 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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Advent 1 Year C RCL November 29, 2015

Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25:1-9
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Luke 21:25-36

Happy New Year! Advent is the New Year in the Church calendar. We change from lectionary year B to year C. Our vestments go from the green of ordinary time to the royal purple which is so appropriate as we prepare to welcome our King.

Advent is a season in which we look back to the first coming of our Lord as a baby in Bethlehem, We also look forward to his Second Coming, when he will bring in his shalom, his kingdom, and restore the creation to the harmony, justice, peace, love, and wholeness which he has always intended. And there is also a third aspect to the Advent season because we realize that our Lord is constantly breaking in to this world with his grace and love, and that we are called to be open to those moments and to welcome him into our lives.

Our first reading is from the prophet Jeremiah. His ministry took place in very difficult times.  This short reading is a powerful expression of hope, God is going to provide a new leader from the line of David, and this leader is going to bring in a kingdom of justice and righteousness. As Christians, we immediately think of our Lord and his Kingdom.

Our epistle is from Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians. This reading gives us some hints of the key things we should be thinking about as we prepare for our Lord to come into our lives on a deeper level. Paul loves these people. He founded this community of faith and he has been trying to get back to see them, but that has not happened, This is his greatest hope—to visit them. Meanwhile, he has been praying for them and rooting for them.

Paul prays that God will let him visit these beloved people. Secondly, he prays that God will increase their love for each other and for everyone. Thirdly, Paul prays that God will “strengthen [their] hearts in holiness.” Paul’s love for these wonderful people leaps out of the page. Points two and three are good prayers for us as well. May God increase our love for each other and for all people. May God strengthen us in holiness. In other words, may God help us to become more and more like Christ.

This past week, on November 25, we celebrated James Otis Sargent Huntington, the founder of the Order of the Holy Cross, the first indigenous American monastic order for men. The order began in New York, then moved to Maryland and then, in 1902 moved to West Park, New York, on the shores of the Hudson River, the location of their mother house. Huntington, who spent many years ministering to poor immigrants on the Lower East Side of New York, wrote, “Holiness is the brightness of divine love, and love is never idle; it must accomplish great things.”

Our gospel reading for today is another example of apocalyptic literature, like the Book of Revelation. “Apocalypse” means “revelation.”  Usually apocalyptic writings describe how God is going to come and conquer all evil and set up a kingdom of peace and harmony. In all three lectionary years, the gospels for the first Sunday in Advent are apocalyptic writings. In year C we have Luke, in year A, Matthew, and in year B, Mark.

The coming of our Lord is a cosmic event. There is distress among nations. There are earthquakes and tsunamis. There is total upheaval. We could very well look at our own time and say to ourselves, “Well, all the signs of the apocalypse are going on right now.” There are many books and films that dwell on that theme. The “left behind” books are one example, and there are many others.

But those examples are not scriptural. They are not in harmony with Christian teachings, and they are not where Jesus is calling us to put our attention and our energy.

Every age has had many signs of upheaval. We certainly have distress between nations. We have wars and rumors of wars. We have many signs of upheaval. We must call upon God for wisdom and guidance in dealing with the many issues that face us and our world.

Whenever he talks about the turmoil of his return, Jesus tells us not to use up our time and energy trying to figure out when he will come back to us. He also tells us not to consume our lives in fear.

In today’s gospel, our Lord tells us not to waste our time getting drunk and not to let ourselves be weighed down by the worries of this life. Whenever he talks about this topic, he tells us to be prepared. He calls us to be ready to welcome him.

Our Lord says, “Stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

As we observe our world, we can see a huge chasm between the way God wants the world to be and the way it is. We can understand what an upheaval it will take in order for our Lord to restore the creation to the way he envisioned it to be. That is what the powerful and sometimes scary imagery of apocalyptic literature is about. War will cease. Everyone will have enough to eat and drink. Everyone will have a place to live and clothing to keep them warm and decent medical care and useful work to do. Everything in the creation will be for building up and not for destroying. Everything will be about love and not hate.

As we look back to his birth in a little out of the way place ruled by a an efficient and ruthless empire; as we look ahead to his coming to bring in his shalom; let us also be alert to those moments when his loving, strengthening, and transforming presence breaks into the moments of our lives, and let us do whatever we can to help him build his shalom.  Amen.

Christ the King Year B November 22, 2015

2 Samuel 23:1-7
Psalm 132:1-13 (14-19)
Revelation 1:4b-8
John 18:33-37

Today is Christ the King Sunday, the day when the season of Pentecost comes to an end and we prepare to begin the season of Advent. This week, we will celebrate Thanksgiving.

Our opening reading describes King David, and all great leaders in these powerful and beautiful words: “One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.” David is the shepherd-king. Though he had flaws, the people of his kingdom had far better lives and a more just society than did the people in surrounding cultures. Our Lord, the Good Shepherd, is descended from the House of David.

Our second reading is from one of the most misunderstood books in the Bible, the Book of Revelation. Revelation, singular, not Revelations. One of the ways in which this book is misinterpreted is to think that it was written to foretell the future. This book is not to be applied to today or to any future time or events.

Bruce Metzger, the scholarly and careful editor of The New Annotated Oxford Bible, writes, “…it is probable that the author, whose name is John, put the book in its present form toward the close of the reign of the Emperor Domitian (A,D, 81-96. It was then that Domitian began to demand that his subjects address him as “Lord and God” and worship his image. For refusing to do so, many Christians were put to death. Others, like John, were exiled, and all were threatened. One reason for the author’s couching his teaching in mysterious figures and extraordinary metaphors was to prevent the imperial police from recognizing that this book is a trumpet call to the persecuted, assuring them that, despite the worst that the Roman Empire could do, God reigns supreme, and Christ, who died and is alive forevermore, has the power to overcome all evil.”

To summarize, this book was written in code, and the imagery of evil refers to the Roman Empire.

The book opens with a prayer of praise to God and Christ, who is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, who will come to complete the creation, restore the creation to wholeness, and bring in his reign, his shalom of peace and harmony.

In our gospel, we meet our King, and he is on the way to the cross. He is being interrogated by Pilate. “Are you the king of the Jews?” Pilate asks. Jesus asks him whether this is Pilate’s own question, or whether he is asking because those above him told him to ask. In other words, Jesus is questioning Pilate’s authority. Pilate replies scornfully, “I am not a Jew, am I?” He says that Jesus’ own people have handed Jesus over as a criminal.

Finally, Jesus makes a statement: “My kingdom is not from this world.”  In the gospel for this day from Year A, he describes the nature of his kingdom. He tells us that when we feed the hungry or give water to the thirsty or welcome the stranger, we are feeding him and welcoming him.

His is a kingdom built on concern for others. He calls us to care for our brothers and sisters. Our Lord says to Pilate, “Every one who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

The truth is that God wants us to love each other. God is love, God is not hate or worldly power. God is not the conquering of empire. God is not the acquisition of power or possessions or lordship over others as the Emperor Domitian and so many other world rulers have thought.

When Jesus says this wondrous thing, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice,” he is calling us, his faithful flock, to follow him and to help him to build his shalom.

What does this mean for us today?  How can we best follow our King? Well, it strikes me that these times are not very different from the times of John and the times of Domitian. Paris and Mali have been attacked. Christians are being persecuted.

When Jesus is interrogated by Pilate, our Lord does not operate from a place of fear. Pilate, the representative of the world’s greatest empire of that time, is grilling Jesus, and our Lord never loses balance. He questions Pilate’s authority, and well he might, because Pilate is part of an oppressive power structure that wants to preserve its control at all costs.

But Jesus’ power goes so far beyond anything that Pilate or Domitian or anyone else could ever muster. Jesus has already conquered evil in all  its forms. He has conquered death itself. His kingdom is not from this world. It is so much larger and full of light and love that it would blind someone like Pilate.

Jesus tells Pilate, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Everyone who belongs to his risen Body, everyone who responds to his call to care for our brothers and sisters, everyone who is knit together into the  risen body of his love and his new life, listens to his voice.

As we listen to his voice, he tells us not to be afraid. He tells us not to operate from a place of fear.  He calls us to center ourselves in him. He calls us to seek his kingdom and to live from the values of his kingdom. He calls us to be strong in his strength, and he calls us to look at the world and at other people with his eyes and his heart.

Our King is the direct opposite of Pilate and all the Caesars and Domitians and tyrants of this world. He calls us to seek first his kingdom.   Amen.


Pentecost 25 Proper 28B RCL November 15, 2015

1 Samuel 1:4-20
1 Samuel 2:1-10 (Hannah’s Song)
Hebrews 10:11-14, (15-18), 19-25
Mark 13:1-8

As our first reading begins, all is not well with the people of God. The preceding book the Book of Judges, ends with this statement: “In those days there was no king in Israel. All the people did what was right in their own eyes.” The sons of the priest, Eli, the religious leader of the people, are corrupt, and there is moral slippage everywhere.

Something is about to happen. The people of God are on a threshold. God is about to give them a great gift, and that gift is given to Hannah.

In those days, a woman’s worth was based on her ability to bear children, especially male children. Hannah is barren, and Peninnah never lets her forget it. Hannah and her husband, Elkanah, go to the temple at Shiloh to worship, and Hannah reaches the end of her rope. She goes into the temple to pray to God, and the floodgates let loose.

She is sobbing and praying soundlessly. The priest, Eli, at first thinks she is drunk, but, when he confronts her, she explains her deep grief, and Eli understands and blesses her.

Hannah becomes pregnant. In those times, this would be considered a miracle. Samuel, one of the great priests and prophets of God’s people, is born. So often, just when we need it, God gives us a great gift.

In our gospel for today, the disciples are awed by the size of the massive temple in Jerusalem. Indeed, it was huge and impressive. But Jesus tells them the temple is going to be destroyed, and, indeed, that great building was leveled by the Romans in 70 A. D.

Then Jesus talks about birth pangs and says false messiahs will come and that there are going to be wars and earthquakes and famines. The disciples want to know when this will happen, but Jesus just talks about birth pangs. In other places, he clearly tells us not to worry about the signs, just be ready for him to come and complete his kingdom.

The kingdom, the shalom of Christ is growing. As it grows, the old empires of power and wealth and oppression will be overthrown. In her talks at convention, the Rev. Gay Jennings, the President of the House of Deputies at General Convention, spoke about going over new thresholds and being open to new possibilities as Jesus brings in his kingdom.

When King Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 314, Christianity became the state religion. Over the centuries, Christianity became part of the empire, the seat of power in the world. Gay Jennings reminded us that, until very recently, the majority of our presidents, congress persons, judges, and other leaders were Episcopalians.

That is no longer true. We are no longer a part of the empire, God is doing a new thing, just as God did in giving Hannah the gift of Samuel, the leader who would lead the people back to the right path.

God is always with us to give us the gifts we need when we arrive at scary points in our individual and corporate life. Jesus, our Good Shepherd, is out ahead of the flock, leading and guiding us. As his shalom comes in, there will be birth pangs. In the midst of this turmoil, we are called to be rooted and grounded in our Lord and to follow where he leads.

Today, we will gather at Frank and Priscilla’s for our harvest dinner. We are entering the season of thanksgiving, the time when we give to the United Thank Offering our gift, which represents all the times in the past year when we have given thanks to God for God’s infinite gifts to us.

It is also the time when we will be thinking about our pledge to Grace Church, which is also a return of a worthy portion of the time, talent, and treasure God has given us.

When we give to UTO, they take those offerings and help people all over the world. Our neighbors at St, Luke’s, Alburgh, have a composting toilet which they installed with the help of a grant from UTO. Over the years, over three hundred thousand dollars in UTO grants have been given to folks in Vermont.

We will be doing our UTO ingathering until the end of November, and, if you need us to wait into December so that you can give your offering, please let me know. We will need to have our pledges in so that we can make the budget for 2016, something we will be doing in December.

It is all about gratitude. Everything we have comes from God. Our time, talent. and treasure are not our own. They are gifts from God, so we return a portion in thanksgiving.

Our psalm for this morning, Hannah’s Song, captures the attitude of gratitude. She was deeply grateful for the gift of Samuel, and she gave him to God so that the people could have the leader they needed,

Hannah’s song is much like the song of another grateful mother, Mary, who sang the Magnificat. She already knew that her son was not her own, that he had come to be the Savior of the world, but she walked with him every step of the way with incredible courage and resilience.

Resilience is another thing we talked about at convention. We are called to be a thankful and resilient people, ready to cross new thresholds, ready to be part of the birth of our Lord’s kingdom.

May we pray and reflect on all the reasons we have to be thankful. May we thank God with all our hearts.

I thank God for each and every one of you, and for our life together in Christ.  Amen.

Pentecost 24 Proper 27B RCL November 11, 2012

Ruth 3:1-5, 4:13-17
Psalm 127
Hebrews 9:24-28
Mark 12: 38-44

Once again, we are following our plan of placing our attention on today’s reading from Mark’s gospel.

Jesus is teaching in the temple. This passage that we read today is his last public teaching in Mark’s gospel. From here on until his death, his teachings will be for the disciples only.

In the temple are all kinds of people from all walks of life. Some of the people are genuinely curious about what Jesus has to say. Others are literally spying on him trying to collect evidence against him.

Jesus begins by telling the people to beware of the scribes, that is, the teachers of the law. His attack is scathing. The scribes like to walk about in flowing robes. These garments are expensive, and, if you wear a long elaborate robe, your clothing makes it clear that you do not do hard work or manual labor, You can’t move quickly. You can’t really be active. So even what they wear makes it clear that the scribes are privileged. They don’t get their hands dirty. They don’t break a sweat.

Their clothing is in itself a sign that they are an honored group.

They liked to be greeted and honored in the marketplace. They sat in the seats of honor in the synagogue and in the banquet hall. The scribes are powerful; they are privileged people, they say long prayers, and yet, Jesus says, they “devour widows’ houses.”  They are hypocrites. They don’t practice what they teach. They talk the talk but they don’t walk the walk.

What does it mean that they devour the houses of widows? Scholars tell us that, in Jesus’ time, and in that culture, widows were at the bottom of the social scale. Women had no social standing aside from their husbands. When their husbands died, they lost their source of protection and their source of financial support. Often a widow would, with a trusting heart, ask a scribe to help her handle her finances. What Jesus is saying is that often the scribe would take the widow’s money for himself. So, here we have a member of the congregation trusting a leader, a teacher of the law, with her financial resources, and the teacher misusing the power given to him and cheating the woman out of everything she has. This is a serious misuse of power and privilege.

Herbert O’Driscoll writes, “Here Jesus speaks harshly of the scribes. He notes their assumed superiority, their grasping for honours and prominence, and he dismisses their religious acts as posturing and hypocrisy. He does not attack the spirituality of Judaism, but he is highly critical of what the organized form of it had become. To Jesus it seemed as if the whole religious system that centered in the Temple had become cynical, self-serving, even rapacious. There is always a danger that a great religion will descend to this state. Our Lord’s words and actions, not to speak of his death and resurrection, will themselves judge the church to the end of time, calling it to be constantly aware of the temptation to be self-serving and self-congratulatory.”

Now the scene shifts. Jesus moves to the part of the Temple where the collection boxes were located. William Barclay tells us that there were thirteen collecting boxes, one for corn, one for wine, one for oil, and so on, collections for items to be used in the sacrifices at the Temple. The collection boxes were in the shape of inverted trumpets, with the narrow end at the top. Once you had put a coin  into the collection, you could not get it out, and no one could steal the collection.

A widow comes along. She is totally vulnerable in the society. She has nothing. She throws in two coins, known as lepta. One coin was known as a lepton, meaning literally, a thin one. This is the thinnest, the smallest coin.

Other people have thrown in much more. But they have a great deal of money left. This woman has thrown in very little, but she has very little money.

The woman is vulnerable, She has no power in that society. When she throws those two lepta into the collection box, I think she feels that she is giving them to God.  She is taking a courageous action, a leap of faith. It is clean and clear and sincere.

William Barclay writes, “We may feel that we have not much in the way of material gifts or personal gifts to give to Christ, but, if we put all that we have and all that we are at his disposal. He can do things with it and with us that are beyond our imaginings.”

Though we are focusing on the gospel, let’s look at our lesson from the Hebrew scriptures for a moment. There was a famine in Judah and Naomi went to Moab with her husband and two sons. Her sons married two Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah. Naomi’s husband and sons died. All three women became widows. Hearing that the famine in Judah had ended, Naomi decided to go back home. Out of love and faithfulness, Ruth went with her, Once she was back at home, Naomi’s courage increased and she made a decision to secure protection for Ruth by having her marry Boaz, her relative, an honored and honorable man. Their son, Obed, was the grandfather of David, and from that family came Jesus.

The courage and faith of good, ordinary people like us can bear great fruit. Trusting in God is everything. That’s what these stories are about.  Ordinary people who don’t have a lot, but who have faith and trust and hope in God and who seek and do God’s will every day of their lives—people like this widow—are heroes of the faith.

Day by day, dear Lord, three things of thee we pray: to see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly, day by day.


All Saints’ Day Year B RCL November 1, 2015

Wisdom 3:1-9
Psalm 24
Revelation 21:1-6a
John 11:32-44

This morning, we celebrate the feast of All Saints. We remember all of the faithful people who have gone before us, all who are here now, and all who will come after us. We are part of a great cloud of witnesses, all the members of the Body of Christ who are knit together in our common faith. The saints give us deep  inspiration. They have run the race before us, and we can be spiritual athletes as they were.

Our first two readings give us an idea of what heaven is like. Our reading from the Book of Revelation says that, in heaven, God will be with us and will wipe every tear from our eyes. Heaven is a place where God’s joy and peace are completely present. Heaven is a place of safety. God’s reign of peace and protection is complete.

My beloved  mentor, David Brown, used to say, “Heaven is the best time we have ever had with the best friends we have ever had.” He used to talk about “the great fish-fry in heaven.” In other words, when we are in the presence of God and the angels, and all the saints, there is no mourning, only peace and joy. I think there is a great deal of laughter in heaven.

When we think of the Communion of Saints, that wonderful gathering of all the members of the Body of Christ, we remember our favorite saints, those who have inspired us, those whose example we have tried to follow. For example, my birthday is August 1 and the saint for that day in Holy Women, Holy Men, is Joseph of Arimathea, who had the courage to go to the authorities and ask permission to take Jesus’ body down off the cross and bury it in his own tomb. I am inspired by Joseph’s faith and courage, and I ask God to increase my faith and courage. My other birthday saint is Ethelwold, a tenth century monk who became Bishop of Winchester. He founded monasteries, translated books into English, and was a reformer, trying to bring the monasteries and his diocese into the highest levels of prayer and community life. The Penguin Dictionary of Saints notes, “St. Ethelwold…was merciless to the slack, full of sympathy for the good-willed and the unfortunate….”

Hilda of Whitby, Hildegarde of Bingen, Patrick, Francis of Assisi, and my name saint, John the Evangelist, are also favorites.

I share this by way of encouraging all of us to think about our favorite saints. Please let me know yours.

As another of my mentors, Al Smith, long time rector of St. James, Essex Junction, used to say, “There are capital S saints and small s saints.” The much-loved hymn, “I sing a song of the saints of God,” beautifully reflects that fact. In the early Church, letters were addressed to the saints in Corinth, Rome, Ephesus, and other places, We are all small s saints because we are members of the Body of Christ, each offering our God-given gifts to build the kingdom, the shalom of God.

The tune we use for this hymn was written by John Henry Hopkins, the grandson of our first bishop, who was also named John Henry Hopkins. As we look in our hymnals on page 293, we note that the tune is called Grand Isle, where the Hopkins family home is located. Services are still held there each summer.

In today’s gospel, we read the powerful story of the raising of Lazarus. Jesus waits several days before he goes to Bethany. Lazarus is clearly and definitely dead. Mary tells Jesus she wishes he had come sooner so that he could have saved Lazarus. Martha points out that there is going to be a stench. Jesus cries at the death of his friend. Then Jesus calls Lazarus to life, and his beloved friend walks out of that dark tomb.

Perhaps that is the greatest gift we are offered as members of the Body of Christ and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven. We don’t have to be afraid of anything, even death. Jesus has the power to call us into new life. Death has no more dominion over us.

This week, we have our Grace Church timeline hanging on the wall. This is a work in progress. It is designed to give us a sense of the long life of the community of faith lasting almost two hundred years. Up until the nineteen-forties, we have the guidance of a history written by Frederika Northrop Sargent. We also have a history by Laura Crane. Dates from those two histories have been put on the timeline.

Frederika notes that sometime in the nineteen-forties, Grace was yoked with Holy Trinity, Swanton. Services continued. Grace Church never closed. One of our great saints, A J. “Jack” Soule, was Senior Warden for many years, and he made sure that Grace remained open. But things did quiet down considerably between the forties and the eighties.

In the 1980s, what Andy has called the “Grace Renaissance” began. Extensive and careful work was done on the building. The number of services increased, and there were other activities. A group of faithful small s saints , inspired by God’s grace and Vermont grit, shepherded this rebirth: Hoddie and Charlotte, Laura, Harriet, Geraldine, Gertrude, Ruth, and Gwen were our elder generation at that time. Sue, who has gone before us, and Andy used to alternate holding the office of Senior Warden and Treasurer and everything else.

Grace has a strong history of service to those near and far,  inclusiveness, accessibility, care for God’s creation, hospitality, concern for those at the margins and those who are most vulnerable, love of music, faithful worship, and compassionate community are some of the hallmarks of Grace Church.

The timeline is designed so that anyone can add a date or something you feel is important. Please feel free to make additions.

May we always sing a song of the saints of God, and may we thank God for all the saints who have gone before us and will come after us.