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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:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion April 9, 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:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion April 16, 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:…

Pentecost 14 Proper 16C RCL August 21, 2016

Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-6
Hebrews 12:18-29
Luke 13:10-17

Our reading from the book of Jeremiah is one of my favorite passages in the Bible, and I hope it might be one of yours, too. God is calling this young man—scholars tell us he was about eighteen—to a prophetic ministry that was going to be extraordinarily difficult. At various times, Jeremiah would be put in prison, thrown into a cistern, which, fortunately, had no water in it, and finally exiled to Egypt when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem.

Even though Jeremiah did not know exactly what was going to happen, he did know that the ministry of a prophet is never easy. In all sincerity, he told God that he was simply too young to accept such a vocation.

God told Jeremiah two very important things, and God is also telling us these same things. First, God has known each of us forever. God has loved each of us forever. Before the galaxies leaped into being God had each of us in mind, and each of us was the apple of God’s eye. God loves you and has loved you since before time began.

Secondly, God told Jeremiah that God would put God’s words in Jeremiah’s mouth, and God tells us that God will do whatever is needed so that we can do what God calls us to do. God will put God’s words in our mouth when we can find no words to speak. God will give us the strength and compassion to sit with someone who has just lost a child. God will give us the love and power to comfort someone who has a terminal illness. God will give us whatever we need to show God’s love and caring to our brothers and sisters on this beautiful blue/green earth. God will give us the will and the way to preserve this beautiful planet, this jewel of the universe which God has given us to tend. God loves us and will give us the gifts we need to carry out our ministries, individual and corporate.

In our epistle from the Letter to the Hebrews, we trace the history of our understanding of God. Long ago, even at the time of the Exodus, a little over three thousand years ago, God was scary. If you went up the mountain and you saw the face of God, you would die. People were deeply aware of the raw, huge power of God.

Over time, as God told people like Jeremiah that God had known them even before they were in the womb and that God cared about them and would help them, our human view of God began to change.

But we still didn’t really get it. So, finally, God came among us. He came just the way we did, as a little baby. He didn’t come as one of the rich and famous. He came to this wonderful couple, Mary and Joseph, faithful good people who lived in a little out of the way place called Galilee, in a little town called Nazareth. Joseph was a carpenter, and you can’t do better than that. He wasn’t a hedge fund manager or  a king or a general, but he was a descendant of the greatest king Israel ever had.

Everything Jesus did breathed forth God’s love. When you were with him, you  knew that God’s spirit was within you, and he would tell you that very thing. “The Holy Spirit is within you,” he would say. In the presence of Jesus, people found new hope, new strength. Jesus was God walking the face of the earth, and Jesus is risen and with us this very moment and every moment.

And so we come to our gospel for today. Jesus is teaching in the synagogues on the sabbath. He sees a woman who has been crippled for eighteen years. She is bent over and she is unable to stand up straight.

She does not have to ask Jesus to help her. He notices her. He calls her over. He does not ask her any questions. What is wrong? How did you get this ailment? Do you follow the law of Moses? Do you say your prayers every day?

He does not do any of that. There is no examination. There is no test to pass. He simply says, “Woman, you are free from your ailment.”

We should remember that this woman is considered unclean on two counts. First, she is a woman, and second, she is sick. Rabbis were not supposed to associate with women, and being around sick people could make you unclean, too. But Jesus is not focusing on the law, which is so preoccupied with keeping ritually clean.

God wants all of us to be whole and healthy, and Jesus is here to make sure that we understand that.

The woman stands up straight for the first time in eighteen years and begins praising God.

The leader of the synagogue is upset because Jesus has cured on the sabbath. Here, we need to be careful. We do not want to be anti-Semitic. If we look at ourselves as the Church, we can recall many times when we became quite legalistic. Think of the furor over the “new” prayer book (1979), the passing of the Peace, the “new” hymnal (1982), the ordination of women, and I could go on and on.

Jesus does the classic argument from the lesser to the greater. We feed and water our oxen and our donkeys and our cows and horses and chickens on the sabbath. Don’t you realize that God wants us to take care of our brother and sister humans as well?

Yes, the sabbath is important. We need time to rest and refresh our bodies and spirits. We need time to worship and to thank God for God’s many blessings to us. And Jesus has come to free us and to heal us. Making people whole is a good thing to do at any time or season.

What are our readings telling us today? First, God has loved each of us forever. Second, God gives us what we need to do our ministries. Third, Jesus wants us to join him in healing and freeing our brothers and sisters. Grace Church has been joining Christ in his ministry of healing and freeing people for two hundred years. May God richly bless you as you go out into the world this week to share God’s love and power and healing and compassion. Amen.

Pentecost 13 Proper 15C RCL August 14, 2016

Isaiah 5:1-7
Psalm 80:1-2. 8-18
Hebrews 11:29-12:2
Luke 12:49-56

In our opening reading, the prophet Isaiah tells us a moving story of God’s love. God has a vineyard. With utmost care, God plants the best vines, builds a watchtower, and makes a wine vat. God expects this vineyard to yield grapes, but, as scholar James D. Newsome translates literally, the vineyard produces “stinkers.” (Texts for Preaching Year C, p. 470.)

The Southern Kingdom of Judah is enjoying great prosperity, but there is no justice. As in our society, the rich are becoming richer, but the poor are losing ground. There will be invasions by foreign powers—first Assyria and then Babylonia.

In our second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, the new converts are reminded of the powerful history of faith from the time of the Exodus onward. God frees God’s people. God leads us out of all forms of slavery. God brings us safely home.

And then the reading moves into that stirring call to faith and action which we read on the feast of All Saints: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”

The journey of faith is envisioned as a race. We are spiritual athletes practicing askesis, spiritual discipline. Sin is like ankle weights that have been fastened to our legs, slowing us down, deflecting us from the goal. We are called to put aside the weight of sin, focus our eyes upon Jesus, and run with all the energy we can muster. Jesus is our goal. Living in him and allowing him to live in us is the source of the meaning and purpose of our lives.

But then we reach today’s troubling gospel. It makes us stop short. Our Lord, the Prince of Peace, is talking about strife and conflict. Not only that, he is describing deep conflict between members of families—father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, on and on.

Following Jesus is not easy. Our Lord is talking about what  Bonhoeffer called “The Cost of Discipleship.” It is important that we remember that he is on his way to Jerusalem, and he is well aware that the authorities are already keeping a close eye on him. He is attracting huge crowds. The authorities do not like this because they perceive a threat to their rule and control. Indeed, they have every reason to be threatened because the values of his shalom are the opposite of their values. They use violence to control their own people, and they will eventually kill Jesus.

When faced with this passage, I always think of our own Civil War. I think of families in the South, people who owned plantations, who treated their slaves well, and I think of the growing awareness that owning another person is not acceptable. Last Sunday Jesus said that when we wait for the master to arrive, he will sit down and serve us!

Even though slavery was accepted and practiced in Biblical times, it is not acceptable. But think of the pain and turmoil those families in the South endured. Some members of the family still felt that slavery was scriptural and permissible. Others were beginning to see the high standards which are set by the gospel.

During the nineteen fifties and sixties, we grappled in earnest with the issue of racial equality, and that struggle continues into the present.

It is so difficult for us to realize that, in God’s eyes, everyone is infinitely beloved.

In every age, following Christ can cause division. A father wants his son to carry on the family business. The son feels a deep vocation to the ordained ministry.

The son tries to fight this call. He does not want to hurt his father. Finally he sits down with his Dad and shares his vocation. The father is hurt and angry. They make a decision to pray about it and to keep talking together. Finally, the father works his way, with God’s help, to a place of acceptance.

Or, it goes the other way. The father simply does not understand his son’s selfish, willful lack of respect for the family business. This creates a chasm between the father and the son, an abyss of grief and anguish, and suffering for all the family members.

The values of God’s shalom are not the values of this world. God is still calling us to work toward that shalom, but we are not there yet. We can see the conflict, the birth pangs of God’s shalom everywhere.

How can we faithfully follow Christ in the midst of all this conflict? How can we possibly choose the values of his shalom in the midst of all this turmoil? Well, we can,  as our diocesan mission statement says, and as St. Augustine said many years ago, “Pray the prayer of Christ, learn the mind of Christ, and do the deeds of Christ.” In other words, we can root and ground our lives in prayer; meditate on and study and absorb the life of Jesus; and make his life the model for our lives.

Lisa W. Davison, Professor of Religious Studies at Lynchburg College in Virginia writes, “The good news is that Jesus has already run the race, marked the course, and provided a role model for us to follow.”

(Davison, New Proclamation Year C 2010, p. 183.

Let us run the race; let us follow him with all our heart and with all the grace he can give us. In his holy Name we pray. Amen.


Pentecost 12 Proper 14C RCL August 7, 2016

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Luke 12:32-40

The prophet Isaiah had a long ministry in Judah beginning in roughly 740 B.C.E. during the reign of King Uzziah and ending in roughly 701 B.C.E. It was a turbulent time. The Northern kingdom of Israel was taken over and annexed by the Assyrian Empire. The Assyrians then began to threaten the Southern Kingdom of Judah.

In the midst of all of this upheaval, Isaiah is called to speak God’s word to the people of Judah. In today’s reading, God is telling us that our actions must be in harmony with our worship. No matter how many services we may offer; no matter how beautiful those services may be, they mean nothing if we do not “learn to do good.” Specifically, God is calling us to “seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” In other words, God wants us to be sure that we take care of the most vulnerable among us.

In a sense, all of our readings today are about faith, and in our passage from the Letter to the Hebrews, we meet that icon of faith, Abraham. This letter was written to new converts from Judaism. Theirs was not an easy journey, and the writer wanted them to think deeply about the life of this patriarch who was called to leave his home and all that he knew, take his family and whatever belongings they could bring, and go to an unknown land to which God would lead them.

Theologian Frederick Buechner lives in Southern Vermont. Here is his description of Abraham and Sarah.

“They had quite a life, the old pair. Years before, they had gotten off to a good start in Mesopotamia. They had a nice house in the suburbs with a two-car garage and color tv and a barbecue pit. They had a room all fixed up for when the babies started coming. With their health and each other, and their families behind them they had what is known as a future. Sarah got her clothes at Bonwit’s, did volunteer work at the hospital, was a member of the League of Women Voters. Abraham was pulling down a decent salary for a young man, plus generous fringe benefits and an enlightened retirement plan. And then they got religion, or religion got them, and Abraham was convinced that what God wanted them too do was pull up stakes and head out for Canaan where God had promised that he would make Abraham the father of a great nation which would in turn be a blessing to all nations, so that’s what they did, and that’s where their troubles started.”(Buechner,  Telling the Truth: the Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale,  pp.50-51.)

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” On their journey to the Promised Land, Abraham and Sarah had many adventures, some of them quite scary. Yet they never lost faith. They trusted God. They loved God, and they knew that God loved them.

God had promised that they would have descendants as numerous as the stars, and they believed God. True, there were some rather pointed conversations as they grew old and no babies arrived, but finally the day came when they found out that Sarah was actually going to have a baby, and she laughed, and they both laughed, but it happened. They did have descendants as numerous as the stars or as the grains of sand on the beach. God is calling us to have faith like that.

Jesus is calling us to be ready for the coming of his kingdom. He tells us not to be afraid, not to let fear govern our actions. We are called to pray that fear into faith. He tells them to sell their possessions and give alms, to travel light. Does this mean that we have to sell everything? No, but it does mean that we are called to live simply and to share what we have with others.

He calls us to be ready, to have our lamps lighted, so that when the master comes, we will be ready to wait on him. But then Jesus says the master will wait on the servant. In his kingdom, there is no hierarchy. We all help each other.

The main theme of our gospel today is that we are called to be ready for his coming. We are called to be alert.

What are these lessons telling us? First, that the ideals we express in our worship are the ideals that must govern our lives. The values we express in our lives must be in harmony with the values we express in our worship and in our faith.

Secondly, that we need to have the deep and strong faith of Abraham. He left everything and followed God’s leading to a new land and a new life. We do not necessarily have to go to a new land or a new place physically, but we are constantly moving to a new and a deeper place spiritually.

Finally, we are called to be alert, to be ready to put our faith into action, to serve those who are most vulnerable, for they are beloved of God.  Amen.