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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:…

Christmas 1 December 27, 2015

Isaiah 61:10-62:3
Psalm 147: (1-12) 13-21
Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7
John 1:1-18

God, the eternal Word who called the universe into being, who created everything, including “this fragile earth, out island home,” has come to be with us, to live as one of us.

He did not come as a mighty ruler seated on a throne, but as a little baby born in an out of the way place to parents who were not rich or powerful. He came into this world just as each of us did, as a baby.

We call this the Incarnation, the enfleshment, of our Lord. Since he has come among us as Emmanuel, God with us, we can be sure that he knows all the joys and all the challenges of our lives. And because of the life and ministry of Jesus, we can approach God in the most intimate way. We can call God Abba, Dad, or Mom.

Because we love to sing here at Grace, and because we have our beloved brother, Erik, here with us at the organ, I am going to ask you to sing two hymns.

The first one expresses the depth of this mystery of faith, the Incarnation. The second expresses our response to God’s immeasurable love.

“O most mighty, O most holy.”  Song sheet.

“In the bleak midwinter,” Hymn 112.

“O come, let us adore him.”  Amen.

Advent 4C RCL December 20, 2015

Micah 5:2-5a
Canticle 3, p. 50
Hebrews 10:5-10
Luke 1:39-45, (46-55)

“For nothing will be impossible with God.” This is what the angel Gabriel says to Mary as he is telling her that she will be the mother of our Savior. Gabriel says these words just after he tells Mary that her kinswoman, Elizabeth, who is far beyond childbearing age, has been pregnant for six months.

In the Gospel of Luke, Mary’s visit to Elizabeth  is the next thing that happens. Mary is so wise. She knows that she and Elizabeth will be able to support each other, so she makes the journey to see Elizabeth.  In those days, women did not travel alone, and I think Joseph went with her. We know how protective and supportive he was, and I am quite certain that he would not have wanted Mary to take risks.

The text tells us that Mary goes into the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth, and, when the two women greet each other, John the Baptist leaps in his mother’s womb! Even when they are babies in the womb, John recognizes and honors his kinsman and Lord. From the beginning, John knows he is called to prepare the way of the Lord.

Elizabeth bursts forth in the Hail Mary. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” Elizabeth recognizes the world-changing significance of this moment. Here are these two cousins, Mary and Elizabeth, at the center of events that will change the world, events that will let us know that nothing is impossible with God.

Both women are filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit. Mary bursts forth with her immortal song, the Magnificat, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” And then Mary shares with us God’s vision of  shalom. God scatters the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. No longer does brute power rule the world. God brings down the powerful from their thrones and lifts up the lowly. God feeds the hungry and sends away those who have more than enough. God cares especially for the ordinary people. God stands against any form of oppression.

Here are these two courageous, prophetic women, Mary and Elizabeth, called by God to give birth to a new order, called by God to change the world.  May God give us one-tenth of the courage they have! May God give us the grace to leap at the sight of our Lord!

It is the fourth Sunday in Advent. Christmas is close, but it is not quite here yet. Here we are, between the first coming of Christ as a baby and his second coming to bring in his kingdom of love and peace.

And, of course, we are still praying for Paris, Brussels, Mali, Colorado Springs, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, New York, refugees fleeing from Syria,  Afghanistan, and other places where life is impossible, and our whole beautiful world, which is filled with loving and caring people and yet is racked by so much violence and hatred.

This week, Beth sent us a poem by Madeleine L’Engle which expresses our situation. It’s called The Risk of Birth.

This is no time for a child to be born./ With the earth betrayed by war and hate/ And a nova lighting the sky to warn/That time runs out and the sun burns late.

That was no time for a child to be born./In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;/ Honor and truth were trampled by scorn—/Yet here did the Savior make his home.

When is the time for love to be born?/ The inn is full on the planet earth,/ And by greed ad pride the sky is torn—Yet love still takes the risk of birth.

“For nothing will be impossible with God.” Amen.

Advent 3C RCL December 13, 2015

Zephaniah 3:14-20
Canticle 9
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:7-18

Our opening reading today is from the prophet Zephaniah. Scholars tell us that he was probably a descendant of King Hezekiah, who was one of the most highly respected kings of Judah. Zephaniah’s ministry took place during the reign of King Josiah, from 640 B. C. to 609 B. C.

Josiah was another one of Judah’s great kings. In 621 B.C., a book of the law was found in the temple, and Josiah led the people in great reforms. The period preceding his reign had been marked by corruption in public and private life, and by the worship of false gods.

Josiah brought the people back to following God’s law.

The theme of our reading is that God will bring comfort to those who repent and make the changes necessary to serve God faithfully.

Our epistle today is short but powerful.  Paul is writing from prison. He is writing to a beloved congregation which is suffering persecution. Yet he can encourage us to “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice!”

That is why this Sunday is called Laudate Sunday. Laudate is the Latin for “rejoice!” We also have lighted the rose candle today. This candle symbolizes joy and also reminds us of Mary, the mother of Christ.

So here is St. Paul, writing from prison, encouraging us to rejoice. Epaphroditus, a man from the congregation in Philippi, has just made a visit to Paul, a visit during which Epaphroditus fell ill. Now he is well and is returning to his home congregation. He has brought gifts and support from the Philippians to Paul. Even as they are facing persecution, they reach out to him and support him. Even as he is in prison, he tells them to rejoice. He has been through every trial that one could imagine, including arrest and threats to his life. From that cauldron of challenge and threat and adversity he writes to share his God-given strength and faith with them. What does he say?  Here they are facing adversity, possibly death. And Paul says, “Let your gentleness be known to everyone.” Gentleness is not weakness. Gentleness does not mean that we are wimpy. It does not mean that we fail to take care of ourselves. Compassion is the true strength. One observer of the early Church said, “See these Christians, how they love one another.”

Paul says, “The Lord is near.” This can mean at least two things. One, Christ is coming to complete and heal the creation and make it whole. Two, Christ is right beside you. Christ is in our midst. Do not worry about anything. Someone has said that ninety-nine percent of the things we worry about never happen. Whenever we begin to worry, we need to stop that thought and begin to pray. Let us tell God what we are concerned about and thank God for being near so that we can ask for help. And the peace from God will guard us and keep us in a state of faith and hope and cooperation with God. This is a wonderful passage.

In our gospel, once again we encounter John the Baptist. He is telling us that we all need to examine our consciences and make the changes that are necessary to bring us into harmony with God. John is not vague. People ask him what they should do, and he tells us. Share with others, Help those who have little or nothing. Be honest. Live your lives with integrity. Don’t abuse power. Don’t be a bully.

But then he says the thing that makes him such a towering example. John is such a holy example that people think he is the Messiah. So he tells them, “Someone is coming, and I am not worthy to untie his shoe. I baptize with water to help you cleanse yourselves and prepare, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

John knows exactly who he is. He is not the messiah. He is very famous and he draws huge crowds, but he is not the messiah. And he knows that. He is not tempted to go for the fame and glory and power. He is not going to try to compete with Jesus. He is going to prepare the way.

Part of the work of Advent is for us to realize exactly who we are. We are all children of God, and this is one of the reasons that we can rejoice.

How can Paul write from prison to a congregation facing persecution and tell them to rejoice, let their gentleness be known to everyone, and not to worry? Because “The peace of Christ, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Because we have our Good Shepherd leading us into his peace and his victory, and because we are following him, we can actually stop worrying, trust him, and abide in his peace. In other words, we can turn our worrying into praying and trust that God is working to make all things right.

There is much to be concerned about in our world today, and each of us has personal concerns for family members and other people we love. We all have many things that we can worry about. I am not suggesting that we should all become complacent. What I am suggesting is that, when we begin to worry or fret, that we immediately pray about that matter, whatever it may be, and put it into God’s hands. If we start to worry about it again, we give it to God again. We may have to do this hundreds of times a day. But gradually God will work with that issue and we will be changed.

One way to do this is to say something like, “Dear Lord, I’m worrying about that again. It’s too big for me to handle. I offer it to you, I put it in your hands. Your will be done. Amen.

That is how Paul can say, “Do not worry about anything.” Because God calls us to turn our worries into prayers. May we trust God in all things. May our prayers increase our trust and faith in God.  Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice.  Amen.

Advent 2C RCL December 6, 2015

Baruch 5:1-9
Canticle 16
Philippians 1:3-11
Luke 3:1-6

Our opening reading takes place in the time of the Babylonian Exile. Jerusalem has been devastated. Many people have been deported. The temple is in ruins. Jerusalem is addressed in this passage. She is in mourning because of this terrible defeat and destruction. The prophet calls her to “take off the garments of sorrow and put on forever the beauty  of the glory from God.” The exiles, her children, are going to come home in safety. God’s mercy and righteousness will fill the land.

Our psalm this morning is Canticle 16, the Song of Zechariah. Let us think about the story of Zechariah for a moment. Zechariah was a faithful priest in the temple of the Lord. He was married to Elizabeth. They had no children, and they were “getting on in years,” as the NRSV says.

One day, Zechariah is serving at the altar and offering the incense when suddenly something very strange happens. There is an angel standing on the right hand side of the altar. Zechariah is terrified. The angel tells him that Elizabeth is going to have a son and that Zechariah is to name him John, meaning “God is gracious.”

The angel goes on to say that John is going to be a prophet who will bring many people to God. Zechariah asks how this can happen, since he and Elizabeth are old, and the angel Gabriel assures him that  this is indeed going to happen. From that day until after John is born, Zechariah is unable to speak. Our canticle for today is the prophecy which Zechariah utters after John was named.

Now we have two powerful bursts of light and hope in the face of darkness and despair: against all odds, the exiles return and John is born.

Let us look at our next reading. Paul wrote this letter to the Philippians from prison.  The community in Philippi was the first church Paul had founded on European soil. They have supported him throughout his ministry, and he thanks God for them every day. They pray for him, and he prays for them. They have a close relationship because they are members and ministers together in the Body of Christ. There is an abundance of love between Paul and these people, and they are looking forward to the day when Jesus will come to complete his shalom. They call the time of his second coming the “day of Jesus Christ.”

What does Paul pray for these wonderful people and for us? He prays that our “love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you determine what is best….” Paul is praying that, in all the love God showers on us, God will help us to determine what is best. God will help us sort out our priorities. God will help us focus on the things that are most important and not focus on things that are less important. God will help us to get into harmony with the values of God’s kingdom.

In our gospel, we focus on one of the great Advent figures: John the Baptist. Luke makes sure that we know exactly when John’s ministry took place. He names all the worldly rulers; he names the high priests. And then Luke tells us what is really important: the word of God came to John the Baptist in the wilderness. Far, far away from all this worldly power and empire, out in the wilderness where God can speak to us, the wilderness where the people of God journeyed for forty years from slavery into freedom, the wilderness where priorities become clear, where there are no distractions. John comes to us. He calls us to repent. He calls us to prepare the way of the Lord. He calls us to do whatever we need to do to get our lives in order so that we can follow our Lord into freedom and wholeness.

John is quoting the prophet Isaiah (40:3-5) when he calls us to prepare the way of the Lord, and John calls us to the vision of God’s shalom in an earlier chapter of Isaiah: “the wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the failing together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11: 6, 7a,9.} Peace comes to the world. Former enemies live together in harmony. All creatures and humans and the whole creation can grow and flourish as they should.

How can we prepare the way of the Lord? Some of us work to protect our environment, That is one way of helping God preserve and restore this beautiful creation. Some of us help children and young people to move from abusive homes into safer settings. Some of us work to help people who are trying to free themselves from domestic violence. Some of us work to help people recover from addictions. We have recently sent an offering to help refugees who are fleeing from terrorist attacks. These are all ways to help God build God’s kingdom of peace.

This past Wednesday, fourteen people were killed and twenty-one people were injured when a husband and wife opened fire on a group of people at a holiday gathering in San Bernardino, California. Once again, we are horrified. I ask your prayers for those who were hurt and killed, and for their families. I also ask your prayers for our leaders, local, state, and national, and for all of us, that we may follow God’s leading in finding ways to bring peace rather than violence.

The prayer of St. Paul for us today is that God will help us to determine what is best. Syed Farook went to the mosque and prayed every day. The morning service was at 4 AM. The leader of the mosque said that Syed was quiet and appeared to take his faith very seriously. He also said that a person would have to be crazy to murder people as Farook did. Muslim leaders have condemned this horrible act and are offering prayers and support to the families and loved ones. All of the major religions of the world, including Islam, are religions of peace.

What is God calling us to do—or not do— in this tragic situation? What actions will help to stop this tragic repetition of mass killings?  Several observers have said that we are in danger of becoming so numb to this violence that we might accept it as the “new normal.” I hope and pray that we will not do that.

What actions and attitudes can we take in order to help God to build a world of peace instead of this world of increasing violence and bloodshed? I do not pretend to have an answer. I do think that we are called to ask God for guidance in deep and intense prayer, as individuals, as faith communities, as a nation, and as a world community.

In spite of almost impossible odds, the exiles came home; Elizabeth and Zechariah had a son, who is now leading us to prepare the way of the Lord. Even now, our Lord is quietly building his shalom. Even now, in the face of this horror.

O God our Creator, O Jesus our Redeemer, O Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove, lead us, we pray. Give us the grace to be agents of your peace and healing. We pray in the Name of Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.