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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:…

Pentecost 2 Proper 4C RCL May 29, 2016

1 Kings 18:20-21. (22-29), 30-39
Psalm 96
Galatians 1:1-12
Luke 7:1-10

We are now in what the liturgical calendar calls “ordinary time.” Our vestments turn to green, the color of spring and summer growth, and we settle in for that long season until the coming of Advent.

Our first reading is a dramatic turning point in the history of God’s people.  King Ahab of the northern kingdom of Israel is married to the famous Queen Jezebel, who is a princess of Sidon, a coastal city on the Mediterranean Sea. James D. Newsome of Columbia Theological Seminary, tells us that a rich merchant class who had close ties with people in the cities of Tyre and Sidon formed a kind of oligarchy over the northern kingdom of Israel and “enriched itself off the produce of the land. often at the expense of the northern Israel peasantry.”  (Texts for Preaching, Year C, p. 362.)

Newsome points out that these people modeled themselves after their coastal friends in Phoenicia and worshipped Baal, a fertility god of Canaan and Phoenicia.The royal court and the upper classes were greedy and corrupt, and as usual, those at the bottom suffered most.

Scholars tell us that it is around 970 B.C. E. Morality and religious life have declined so much that there is only one prophet of God remaining, the great prophet Elijah, and there are four hundred fifty prophets of Baal.  Elijah is trying to call people back to the worship of God.

He proposes that he and the prophets of Baal will each be given a bull. He allows the prophets of Baal to choose which bull they will have, and they set up their sacrifice very carefully and call upon Baal, but nothing happens. Then Elijah sets up his sacrifice with great reverence and care. After he has prepared the sacrifice, he orders that  it be drenched in water to the point of overflowing. This insures that it will be difficult for God to set this sacrifice on fire. But, when Elijah calls on God, the fire consumes the entire sacrifice even to the point of tongues of fire licking at the water in the trench.

This makes a good story, but it is far more than that. As Newsome points out, the prophets Elijah and Elisha are concerned about two important issues—faithfulness and justice. Elijah is the only prophet of God left in the world. What courage it took for Elijah to engage in this showdown with the prophets of Baal. But Elijah has such deep faith in God that he takes this step. As Newsome writes, “Elijah risks everything, and God responds to that risk.”

Newsome writes that the essence of this text “is to be found in the prophets’ commitment to the God of Israel as the true Lord of life, in their dedication to justice, and in their compassion and intention to help people who did not have the means to help themselves.” (Texts for Preaching, Year C, p. 363.) Immediately after this event, Elijah has to flee for his life.

In today’s reading from his Letter to the Galatians, Paul is responding to a crisis in the life of the Galatian congregations. Some new Christians or perhaps new teachers have come into the communities of faith in Asia Minor, what we would call Turkey, and they are insisting that, as Christians, people must follow the Law of Moses, or at least, must adhere to the practice of circumcision.

Paul states that his authority comes from God, not from human authorities. He reminds them and us that our Lord gave his life to set us free. And then he tells the people how  surprised and shocked he is that they are deserting the gospel. They are allowing humans to draw them away from the good news in Christ to obedience to the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law.

He calls them to return to the true gospel. He reminds them that Christ did not call them to follow the letter of the law, but to follow the spirit of the law of love.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is coming into Capernaum. There is a centurion, a Roman military officer, who has a slave who is ill and close to death. Now this centurion is a powerful and wealthy officer in the Roman occupation army. But he is also someone who cares about his neighbors and supports the local synagogue. He asks some of the Jewish elders to appeal to Jesus to heal his beloved slave.

Jesus goes with them, but then the centurion sends a message to Jesus not to come. “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. But speak the word only, and my servant will be healed.” He has heard about Jesus, and he has sensed Jesus’ authority. Herbert O’Driscoll points out another aspect of the centurion’s reasoning, and that is that, for Jesus as a Jew to enter the centurion’s Gentile home would make Jesus ritually unclean. But the centurion does not mention this awkward issue. He simply and humbly states his own unworthiness to have Jesus as a visitor.

The centurion knows about worldly power. He is at the top of the corporate military structure. He knows about command and obedience. And he realizes that Jesus has a spiritual power beyond anything he has ever experienced. In essence, this centurion has become a follower of Jesus even as he is asking Jesus not to visit his home.

Jesus recognizes the faith of this man, and, when the messengers reach the centurion’s home, the servant has already been healed.

Our readings today remind us that ours is a God of justice and love who cares about all people. Because of the life and ministry of Jesus, we are called to go beyond the letter to the spirit of the law. Most of all, we have three powerful examples of people of faith: Elijah, who as the last living prophet calls on God with total faith and receives God’s powerful response; Paul, who roots himself deeply in faith in Christ and calls us to follow the law of love; and this centurion, with his combination of privilege, compassion, humility, spiritual intuition, and deep faith, who calls upon Jesus to heal his servant. May we follow their example of faith. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Trinity Sunday Year C RCL May 22, 2016

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Psalm 8
Romans 5:1-5
John 16:12-15

Our opening lesson on this Trinity Sunday is about Wisdom. The concept of Wisdom is found in the Hebrew Scriptures and also in the literature of ancient lands near Israel. She is seen as feminine, and she was the first thing created by God. She assisted God in the creation of the world. She was “beside him, as master worker.”

In this ancient text, the idea of the  Christian Trinity had not yet been thought of, but Wisdom is often associated with Jesus because John’s gospel describes Jesus as the logos, the word, who called the creation into being, and that is very similar to Wisdom, who was “beside God as a master worker.” Wisdom, or Sophia, is also associated with the Holy Spirit, who is often seen as feminine. Commentator Douglas M. Donley writes, “Wisdom is the Holy Spirit personified.” Wisdom tells us how delighted she and God were during the process of creation. The creation was and is an action of joy.

Our epistle tells us that we have been justified by faith. Justified means that we have been placed in right relationship with God. Our Lord Jesus Christ has done this for us. He has come to be one of us and he has made it possible for us to be as close to God as a child is to his or her beloved parent. We receive the gift of faith and the gift of grace, and through these gifts our suffering leads to endurance. We are actually strengthened through our sufferings. We are able to persevere through hardships because of God’s love and grace. That endurance produces character. We become stronger, and our faith and our awareness of God’s grace grow. And that character, that strength, that ability to hang in there, that growing awareness of God’s love and God’s gifts of faith and grace, all work together to give us hope, and that hope lasts and lasts and never ends because God’s love is pouring into us through the power of the Holy Spirit.

In our gospel for today, we are with Jesus during his Farewell Discourse, his last teaching time with the apostles. He says something that is so poignant and so bittersweet. He says, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” Oh, these words take our breath away.

He can’t tell them what is going to happen. He is going to be arrested; he will go through a mock trial; he will be beaten; he will be crucified; he will rise again. If he tried to tell them about these things, they would not believe him. They are going to have to live through these events.

And then Jesus says, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth….He will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

Think of what the disciples went through. Jesus was crucified. Some of them ran away. They were devastated. But then he began to appear to them. Here and there. They realized he was alive. But then he ascended to be with God. And there they were, without him.

He had promised to send the Holy Spirit, and, on Pentecost the Spirit arrived like a nighty wind, like the desert ruach, like flames dancing over their heads. And they were able to communicate with people from all over the known world in the languages of those people.

And then, as they went out to spread the Good News, we read in the Book of Acts about how the Spirit guided them to choose Matthias to join them and how the Spirit led them to meet with this person and to go to that town. The Spirit has continued to guide God’s people down to this very day.

“God in three persons, blessed Trinity,” the beloved hymn says. God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, or Sustainer. John Macquarie says that the Trinity involves vision, plan, and realization of the plan. God has the vision of creation. Jesus is the Word, the logos, the plan, the pattern for creation and for human life. Jesus, the Word, calls the creation into being. And the Holy Spirit brings forth and energizes the creation. God at work in us and in the world.

In her sermon, “Three Hands Clapping, “Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “Robert Farrar Capon says that when human beings try to describe God we are like a bunch of oysters trying to describe a ballerina. We simply do not have the equipment to understand something so utterly beyond us, but that has never stopped us from trying.”  (Taylor, Home by Another Way, p. 153.)

God comes to us in so many ways.

Each of us knows God as Creator. We go out at night and look at the sky, or we gaze on a meadow filled with wildflowers, or we watch the first light and then the sunrise, and  we marvel and give thanks.

Each of us knows Jesus, the Christ, our Redeemer. Every year, we sink more deeply into the unfathomable mystery of what he has done for us and how he leads us into new life. So often, some aspect of his life and ministry teaches us something new about sharing his love and healing. Every day. something he said or did gives direction to our lives. Every day, we meet the risen Christ or we see him out in front, leading us.

Each of us senses and knows the power of the Spirit, God at work in us and in our world. A skilled surgeon restores sight to an eye. Compassionate listening heals a broken heart. After much prayer, a direction becomes clear. A wise person sits down with nations that have been at war and helps them to walk the path to a lasting peace.

The concept of mysterium, mystery, something that is far beyond our ability to comprehend, is a wonderful thing. We may never understand the doctrine of the Trinity, and yet we can walk closely with God every minute of our lives.

“God in three persons, blessed Trinity.”  Amen.

The Day of Pentecost Year C RCL May 15, 2016

Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:25-35, 37b
Romans 8:14-17
John 14:8-17, (25-27)

On that first Pentecost, people were gathered in Jerusalem from all over the known world. It was the Jewish feast of Pentecost, a festival much like our Thanksgiving. But scholars tell us that there were many Gentiles there as well.

Jesus had gone to be with God. He had told the apostles that he would not leave them comfortless, that he would send the Holy Spirit. They stayed together and prayed. They chose Matthias to replace Judas Iscariot so that the company of the apostles would be whole and ready to do ministry.

They were together in a house somewhere in Jerusalem when it happened. There was a sound like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled the house. Tongues of fire rested over each of their heads. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in all of the known languages of that time.

Some people thought they were drunk, but Peter explained that the prophecy of Joel was being fulfilled, that God would pour out God’s spirit on everyone.

Pentecost is the birthday of the Church. From this moment on, the apostles will be traveling around the Mediterranean basin planting communities of followers of Jesus wherever they go.

Our epistle for today is brief but powerful. We have received a spirit of adoption. We are children of God. Because of the life and ministry of our Lord, we have been brought so close to God that we can call God Daddy or Dad or Mama or Mom. Because of our Lord, we have an intimate relationship with the creator of the universe.

Our gospel is part of Jesus’ last teaching session with the apostles. Philip says to Jesus, “Show us the Father and we will be satisfied,” And Jesus tells Philip and us that, in seeing him, we have seen God. Jesus is God living a human life. Jesus is God walking the face of the earth. The almost unbelievable quality of love which Jesus shows to all people is God’s love. Jesus and God are one.

Then Jesus tells us that “the one who believes in me will do the works that I do.” In other words, the fact that we bier in Jesus means that we are called to carry on his ministry here on earth. We are called to reach out in love to others; we are called to feed the hungry and to give clothes and shelter to those who need them. We are called to follow Jesus as our model, to live as he lived.

Jesus tells the apostles that he will send the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to be with us, to lead and guide and energize us .

After this teaching time with the apostles, called his Last Discourse, Jesus was crucified. We know that one of the apostles, John, was there at the foot of the cross. We do not know where the others were. It was the saddest day in the history of the world.

But then people began seeing the risen Christ. Two of them walking to Emmaus saw him. He appeared to Peter and the others on the beach. He came through the locked doors of the upper room. Gradually they realized that he was alive. And they gathered as he had told them to do, and they waited together, and they prayed.

It must have been very strange for them to realize that he was alive. More and more people had encounters with him. And then he ascended to be with God. He told them that he had to do this so that the Spirit could come to them.

It is one of the mysteries of our faith that, because of the Presence of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is alive in every corner of the creation at all times. Jesus is here with us now, and he is with people all over the world.

When the Holy Spirit filled the apostles, they were able to share the Good News in every language. They were able to speak of God’s love in such a way that their message reached deep into the hearts of all the people gathered there.

That message has come down to us over the centuries. God loves us so much that God has adopted us as God’s children. God loves the whole big human family.

I would like to ask you to help me end this sermon by singing together an ancient chant. The words date back to a Latin text from the 9th century. The tune was written by John Henry Hopkins Jr. and was published in 1865. John Henry Hopkins Jr was the son of our first Bishop, John Henry Hopkins. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Vermont in 1839 and his master’s degree from UVM in 1845. He taught music at General Theological Seminary from 1855-57, was rector of Trinity Church in Plattsburgh, New York from 1872-1876 and of Christ Episcopal Church in Williamsport, Pennsylvania from 1876 to 1887. He delivered the eulogy at the funeral of President Ulysses S, Grant in 1845.

This beautiful hymn calls on the Holy Spirit to come to us and fill us with the gifts of the spirit.

May the Holy Spirit fill us this day and always.  Amen.

Easter 7 C RCL May 8, 2016

Acts 16: 16-34
Psalm 97
Revelation 22: 12-14, 16-17, 20-21
John 17:20-26

This past Thursday, the Church celebrated the Feast of the Ascension. Jesus has gone to be with God. A week from now we will celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, which will complete the Easter season.

In our first reading this morning, Paul and his companions meet a slave girl who has a spirit of divination. Some men have enslaved her, and they are making a large amount of money from her gift. She is calling out in a loud voice that Paul and his team are followers of God who are showing people the path to salvation.

After several days of this, Paul becomes annoyed and tells the spirit to come out of her. Her owners, whom Herbert O’Driscoll calls “pimps,” are so upset at the loss of their profitable business that they bring charges against Paul and his team. Their accusations are expressed in the most lofty terms. They present Paul and his helpers as enemies of the public good.

Paul and the team are given a severe flogging and placed in the most secure cell.   An earthquake comes, destroys the building and frees them. The jailer is afraid that they have escaped. This could cost him his life. Paul reassures him that his prisoners are present and accounted for. The jailer realizes that Paul and his team are representatives of God. The jailer and his entire household are baptized.

This reading is so timely. We know that human trafficking, prostitution, and other firms of exploitation are rampant in our world.

At our Diocesan Convention this year, we are going to be discussing these issues, and we are going to meet an extraordinary person. Her name is Becca Stevens, and she is the founder of a ministry called Thistle Farms.  According to information on their website, Thistle Farms is “the largest social enterprise in the United States run by survivors.”

Becca writes, When I first began working with women on the streets of Nashville I had one child and was pregnant with my second. The idea of opening a two year free sanctuary for women survivors had been simmering for years. But with the demands of work and a growing family that idea was just sitting on the back burner. Then one afternoon late in 1994 I was leaving work and putting my four year old son in the car when he looked up at me and asked, “Momma, why is that lady smiling?”

The billboard he could see was a huge image of a stripper in a cat suit smiling. The question broke my heart because I knew one day he wouldn’t ask it. The sign would just fade into the landscape where women are bought and sold without notice. On that day, I felt I had a fire burning in my chest and knew I needed to open the first home for women who have survived lives of trafficking, addiction, and prostitution. The woman in the cat suit was a sign. What I would also learn later is that because I have a history of child sex abuse in my background… I had a deep connection to the women I was serving in shelters and in ministry on the streets at that time. My son was a living prayer, and by the grace of God that day I could see the sign and hear the prayer.

I quote from Thistle Farm literature: “In 1997, Episcopal priest Becca Stevens opened one home for four women survivors of trafficking, addiction, and prostitution under the name Magdalene. Today,  the residential program of Thistle Farms serves over 700 women yearly with advocacy and referral services as well as managing a two-year residential program and an inmate program, Magdalene on the Inside. The residential program offers housing, medical care, therapy, education and job training without charging women or receiving government funding. No staff member lives with residents. Instead the community is guided by 24 spiritual principles. We believe that in the end, love is the post powerful force for change in the world.”

Here are the 24 Spiritual Principles and again I quote: “1) Come Together; 2) Proclaim Original Grace; 3) Cry with Your Creator; 4) Find Your Place in the Circle; 5) Think of the Stranger as God; 6) Take the longer path; 7) Make a Small Change and See the Big Difference; 8) Let God Sort It Out; 9) Stand on New Ground and Believe You Are Not Lost; 10) Forgive and Feel Freedom;  11) Unite Your Sexuality and Spirituality; 12) Show Hospitality to All; 13) Laugh at Yourself; 14) Consider the Thistle;  15) Listen to a New Idea; 16) Lose Gracefully; 17) Remember You Have Been in the Ditch; 18) Walk Behind; 19) Live in Gratitude; 20) Love Without Judgment; 21) Stay on Point; 22) Pray for Courage; 23) Find Your Way Home;  24) Leave Thankfully.”

One more quotation: “Why the Thistle? Thistles grow on the streets and alleys where the women of Thistle Farms have walked. Considered weeds, thistles have a deep root that can shoot through concrete and survive drought. In spite of their prickly appearance, their royal and soft purple center makes the thistle a mysterious and gorgeous flower. Being a Thistle Farmer means the world is our farm and that we choose to love all creation.”

Paul and his team freed a woman from slavery. Our epistle prays that the grace of the Lord Jesus may be with all the saints. In our gospel for today, Jesus prays that we all may be made one, and that the love which God has given him may be in us, and that we may be in Christ and he in us.

The theme of Thistle Farms is “Love heals.” The ministry of Thistle Farms is a wonderful response to the call and challenge of today’s readings. You can learn much more at thistlefarms.org.

May we respect the dignity of every human being. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Easter 6C RCL Year C May 1, 2016

Acts 16:9-15
Psalm 67
Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5
John 14:23-29

Once again, our opening lesson places us in the midst of an important scene in the course of history. Paul and his ministry team are in Troas, a city near ancient Troy in what we would call Turkey. Paul has a vision. A man from Macedonia is calling him to “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” We do not know who the man in the vision is, but it is clear that Paul takes this to be a call from God.

We are given the exact route that they follow. They are going from the continent of Asia to Europe. They are going to make history. They are going to proclaim the Good News on a new continent.

They land in Philippi, an important Roman city.  They remain there for several days. When the Sabbath comes they go outside the city gate to a place of prayer by the river. They are hoping to find a synagogue where Paul, a Rabbi, would have the right to teach.

But they find no building. Instead they find a group of women gathered for worship. Paul and his team sit down and talk with the women. There are two striking things going on here. In the ancient world, it would be highly unusual to find a group of women worshiping together, and it also would be unusual for a rabbi to sit down with these women. God is dong a new thing. Barriers are coming down.

Among these women is an extraordinary person named Lydia. She is a dealer in purple cloth. Most scholars see her as a prosperous business woman. Since only the Roman nobility were allowed to wear purple cloth because purple symbolizes royalty, scholars tell us that we can assume that Lydia is accustomed to dealing with the noble class.

Lydia is a seeker. She is a Gentile who is interested in learning about God.  The Lord opens her heart to listen eagerly to Paul, and she and her household are baptized. This is another unusual thing. Lydia is the head of a household.

She takes her faith so seriously that she immediately invites Paul and his team to stay in her house. After some persuasion, they accept, Later, after Paul and Silas are released from prison, they go to stay with her again. By that time, services are being held on a regular basis in her house. It has become a house church.

Lydia and her community of women who are engaged in the cloth trade are the first converts in Europe. The church in Philippi was the first Christian community in Europe, and it was a loving and faithful group of people. Paul loved them very much.

Here we have the story of how our faith spread from Asia to Europe, People meet beside the river to learn more about God and a new faith community is born.

Our reading from the Book of Revelation describes the glorious and eternal worship of Christ, the Lamb of God.

In our gospel, Jesus is continuing his teaching of the apostles in preparation for the ascension. He is going to leave them, and he is trying to give them everything they will need to carry on faithfully when he is no longer here on earth.

He is telling them and us that, even though he will not be here in a physical sense, the Holy Spirit will be with us, and the Spirit is the presence of Christ with us. The Spirit leads us and guides us as it did Paul and his team in our first lesson.

Jesus tells us several very important things in this reading. First, the heart of our life with him and in him is love, and the quality of our love for him will be demonstrated in our actions.

Secondly, we will always have his peace, his shalom. This means that, no matter what happens to us, his presence and his stillness and faith will always be within us. In addition, the vision of his shalom, his reign of peace and harmony for the whole world, will always be our vision.

He has taught us to respect the dignity of every human being, and in our opening reading we see Paul and his helpers sitting and praying with a group of women to whom they would not have been allowed to speak if they had been following the customs and laws of that time.

He has called us to create a world of peace in which everyone has enough to eat, clothes to wear, a place to live, good and useful work to do, adequate medical care, a world in which all people can feel safe. He has called us to  help him to extend his shalom to the whole creation.

Perhaps most of all he has assured us that he will be with us wherever we are. He will be with us in the sharing of bread and wine which is the food of his love and presence and energy. He will be with us as we pray for healing for our brothers and sisters, and our beloved pets. He will be with us in times of joy and in times of loss. He will be with us in every moment. He will abide in us and we in him.

When Paul and his helpers landed in Philippi, and then rested, and then went to the river to find the praying community they brought with them the presence of Christ. Lydia was waiting for that moment. It changed her life. The Church began in Philippi, and countless others were able to experience the presence of Christ in a community of deep faith.

Thanks be to God for two hundred years of that experience of the presence of Christ here at Grace, and thanks be to God for all the saints who, like Lydia, accepted our Lord with all their hearts and spread the Good News.

May we follow in their footsteps.  Amen