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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion April 2, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
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Pentecost 19 Proper 21C RCL September 25, 2016

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16
1 Timothy 6:6-19
Luke 16:19-31

Our first reading today is one of the most tragic yet powerful passages in the Bible. It is the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah and the eighteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Babylon is what we now call Iraq. The Babylonian Empire is laying siege to Jerusalem. This is a situation very similar to what is happening in Aleppo, Syria right now. The year is 588 B.C.E. and in the next year Jerusalem will fall to the Babylonians. The temple will be reduced to rubble. The people will be deported to Babylon.

Jeremiah has been put in prison by King Zedekiah because he told the king this would happen. Jeremiah will be deported to Egypt and held captive. It is Judah’s darkest hour.

And yet—in the midst of this tragedy, Jeremiah describes in minute detail a real estate transaction. Jeremiah is from Anathoth, a town about two miles northeast of Jerusalem, just outside the city wall. Hanamel, son of his Uncle Shallum, comes to him and asks him to buy a field. According to the law, if you needed to sell a piece of property, you were required to try to sell it to the nearest relative. In Judah, just as in Vermont today, families valued and cherished their land.

Jeremiah describes the transaction very carefully. Then he asks his secretary, Baruch, to store the scrolls recording this transaction in a clay jar so that they will last a long time. We recall that the scrolls found at Qumran lasted for two thousand years.

God’s message is that fields and vineyards will again be bought in the land. At the darkest hour, there is always hope with God. The Exile will be a terrible time but out of that crucible will come deep and careful scholarship,  a more profound commitment to God’s law, and a renewed dedication to worship and to compassionate life in community.

Our gospel for last Sunday ended with Jesus’ words, “You cannot serve God and wealth.” Today, he tells us the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. This is not the same Lazarus who is the brother of Mary and Martha.

There is a rich man who has the most expensive clothing, eats the most luxurious foods, and generally has the best of everything. At his gate lies the poor man Lazarus. He is starving. His body is covered with sores, which scholars tell us makes him ritually unclean. The dogs lick the sores.

Both men die. The rich man is buried, The poor man is carried by the angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man looks up from the underworld and sees Lazarus beside Abraham. He calls to Abraham to send Lazarus to dip his finger in water and satisfy his thirst. This is the shocking part. The rich man knows Lazarus’ name!

The rich man has gone by this man every day of his life. He has done nothing to help Lazarus. Yet he actually knows his name! His wealth and power have blinded him to the needs of this fellow human being whose name he knows. Now he is asking that Abraham allow Lazarus to become his waiter, his slave, and bring him some water.

But Abraham says No. The great reversal of the kingdom of God has happened. A chasm has been fixed. No one can cross it. The rich man then thinks of his five brothers and asks that they may be warned. But Abraham says they have Moses to warn them. In other words, the law of Moses calls us to love God and to love others as ourselves. But how easy it is to forget that law, especially when we have a great deal of wealth and a great deal of power.

That is why Jesus tells us that we cannot love God and wealth. We are called to love God first and foremost and to love others as ourselves. If wealth comes our way, we are called to put it in its proper place as a gift from God and to be good stewards of that wealth, which includes sharing it with others.

Even in our reading from the Letter to Timothy we are cautioned about the seduction of wealth. Paul writes, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil….” We see this in our own society. The accumulation of wealth and possessions appears to be the goal of many in our world. This parable gives us an insight into what is dangerous about wealth and power. When we humans become extremely wealthy, that wealth gives us power. People are deferential to us because our wealth gives us power over them. Then we begin to live in our own little world in which we are supreme. No one has the courage to set us right, and perhaps that is because we do not want to hear the truth. For example, King Hezekiah did not want to hear the truth that Jeremiah was trying to tell him on behalf of God, so he put Jeremiah in prison. The religious and secular powers of Jesus’ time were threatened by his message, so they had him killed.

Someone has come from the dead to lead us in the way of compassion. Our Lord Jesus calls us to know our neighbors by name and to care for them. Those neighbors may live in South Dakota or halfway around the world, and we are called to treat them as we would want to be treated.

One of the most powerful things about the history of Grace Church is the great good work done by people like Mary Catherine “Kate” Whittemore and the many others who over two centuries have ministered to the needs of our brothers and sisters in South Dakota, have helped our neighbors locally, and have supported ministries here in Vermont, in our country, and around the world.

We will be continuing to collect money to help a family who lost their home to fire, and, as we move toward the time when we make our offering to Episcopal Relief and Development, I ask you to continue to keep in mind the suffering of refugees, especially in Syria. I ask your prayers for Syria, and especially Aleppo, and I encourage us to do anything we can to help our brothers and sisters who are suffering.

Paul’s guidance to Timothy is good counsel for us, and I paraphrase: “May we pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. …May we  fight the good fight of the faith, may we take hold of the eternal life, to which we were called….may we be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share…that we may take hold of the life that really is life.” Amen.


Pentecost 18 Proper 20C RCL September 18, 2016

Jeremiah 8:18-9:1
Psalm 79:1-9
1 Timothy 2:1-7
Luke 16:1-13

As we think about our first reading today, we recall that Jeremiah was one of the major prophets of the Old Testament. His ministry began in 627 B.C.E. during the reign of one of the greatest kings of Judah, King Josiah. Judah had long been trying to defend itself against the Assyrian Empire. In 627 B.C.E., the year Jeremiah was called to his prophetic ministry, the king of Assyria died, and Assyria became much less of a threat to Judah.

Somewhere between 622 and 620 B.C.E., as their sense of freedom returned with the lessening power of the Assyrians, the people of Judah were rebuilding the temple which had been destroyed by the Assyrians, and they found in the ruins a scroll of the law in the Book of Deuteronomy. King Josiah began a time of reform, a time of renewal of faith, of renewed commitment to God’’s law—“love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” Led by Josiah, the people rededicated themselves to life in community grounded on faith and love for God and each other.

In 609 B.C.E., King Josiah was killed in battle with the Egyptians.

It did not take long before his reforms were undone. Love of God and each other was a thing of the past. The rich got richer and the poor became poorer and poorer. The temple worship was not properly conducted. One scholar notes that the temple was the place you were supposed to be able to go and hear the truth. But the temple clergy no longer had the courage to tell the truth.

Meanwhile, the Babylonian Empire was gaining power. At the time of our reading, it was about to conquer Jerusalem. Jeremiah is in deep grief over this situation. The leaders are so corrupt and so faithless that they cannot remind the people that there is indeed a balm in Gilead that cures the sin-sick soul and that God is as close as their breath. The people think that God has abandoned them, when in fact they have drifted away from God.

Today’s gospel is one of many portions of Luke that deal with money and material goods and how to handle them in the kingdom of God. This parable is puzzling, to say the least, and scholars have many questions and disagreements about it.

Jesus has been talking to the Pharisees, but now he turns to the disciples. He tells them a parable. There is a rich man who has a manager.  Most scholars agree that the rich man is an absentee landlord who has hired a manager to collect payment from the farmers who are working the land.

Charges are brought that the manager is squandering the property of the rich man, and the rich man is going to fire the manager. We do not know exactly what the manager has been doing. We really do not know whether he has even done anything wrong. We simply do not have the details.

The manager thinks to himself. He is going to lose his job. He is too proud to beg, and he is not strong enough to do manual work, such as digging.

So he calls in the tenants. He asks the first one how much he owes. One hundred jugs of olive oil. He reduces it to fifty. Our translation reads “jugs,” but the actual measurement, one hundred baths, is an enormous amount of olive oil. R. Alan Culpepper, Dean of the School of Theology, Mercer University, Atlanta, Georgia, tells us that a bath is nine gallons, so this man owes nine hundred gallons of olive oil. He tells us that the second debtor owes one hundred kors of grain. Culpepper says that estimates of a kor range from six and a half to twelve bushels, but that the total is clearly substantial. He concludes that this landowner is dealing in “large commercial interests…and not in household quantities.” (Culpepper, New Interpreter’s Bible, p.308.)

To put it bluntly, the rich man is very, very rich.

Some scholars think that the manager is simply reducing the total amount owed by giving up his commission, but Culpepper’s view is that the manager is actually reducing the amount owed to the rich man.

Sharon Ringe, Professor of New Testament at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., agrees. She tells us that the original Greek translation of the manager’s title is “manager of injustice.” She points out that the economy of those times was an “economy of scarcity, where the quantity of wealth available is fixed. Some have more only if others have less.”  Ringe writes, “Any excessive accumulation in the hands of one (such as the “rich man”) is by definition evidence of injustice that must be redressed by that redistribution of wealth called “giving alms.” By reducing the amount owed by the (obviously poorer) debtors to the rich man, the manager is doing justice—a way of doing his job as “manager of injustice” that no longer aims at perpetuating and even adding to old inequities, but instead reflects the new ‘economy’ of which Jesus is the herald.”

Ringe continues, “For the disciples, this provides a ‘management model’ for their own role as leaders…. Instead of urging upon them a lifestyle or even an ideal of poverty, or advice to keep themselves pure from contamination by wealth, it challenges them to manage wealth in the direction of justice. In the process, they will be creating new communities and relationships that will allow their mission to go forward and that will support the enjoyment of abundant life by all people.”   (Ringe, Westminster Bible CompanionLuke, p. 214.)

Our Lord is calling us to help him create his shalom, which retired Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori describes as “a community where people are at peace with each other because each one has enough to eat, adequate shelter, medical care, and meaningful work. Shalom is a city where justice is the rule of the day.” (A Wing and a Prayer, p. 35.) Part of the work of bringing in God’s shalom is reducing the gap between the wealthy and the poor. That is what this “manager of injustice” is doing.  May we be faithful in all things, both large and small. May we love God and our neighbor.  Amen.

Pentecost 17 Proper 19C RCL September 11, 2016

Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28
Psalm 14
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-10

In our first reading, the prophet Jeremiah is telling the people that, because the people are drifting away from God, there will be an invasion from the north and the land will be laid waste.

Back in those days, people believed that everything that happened was directly caused by God. Herbert O’Driscoll offers a modern example. He writes, “Some time ago in Australia, rescuers had to drag bodies from  a number of shattered ski hostels that were demolished by a landslide. Nobody today would say that this was a judgment of God. Yet people did acknowledge that, because of the scarcity of good ski hills in Australia, this area had been heavily over-developed by business interests wishing to make high profits. It was well known that this development was stressing the mountain side severely. In other words—to use the language of morality—greed and stupidity prevailed over intelligence and a healthy respect for the created order.”

O’Driscoll is offering us an excellent example. In biblical times, people would have said that the landslide was sent by God. Now, we have a much more scientific understanding of events, and we also say that moral and ethical laxity have consequences. This is what was happening in Jeremiah’s time. Leaders were forgetting God and relying on human power. They were also failing to care for those who were most vulnerable in the society. Jeremiah is saying that there will be consequences, and he is also saying something else that is very important. God’s love and mercy will prevail.

Our epistle is from the First Letter to Timothy. Most scholars think the this letter was written by a student of Paul, but for simplicity’s sake, I am going to call the writer Paul. From his years of experience, Paul is advising and guiding his beloved assistant, Timothy. Paul can be so refreshingly blunt and honest. He begins by thanking God for judging him as faithful and appointing him to serve God, even though Paul has many flaws.

God chose a persecutor of the Church to be the apostle to the world. Through God’s love and mercy, Paul was given the gifts and strength to speak God’s love and forgiveness to hundreds and hundreds of people around the Mediterranean basin. But Paul does not focus on his life and ministry. He ends by giving glory to God in the words we use in one of our most beautiful hymns. He writes, “To the king of the ages, immortal, invisible. the only God, be honor and glory, forever and ever.”

In today’s gospel, the Pharisees and Scribes are saying that Jesus “welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Yes, our Lord opens his arms to us sinners and does that most intimate and nourishing thing. He breaks bread with us.

Then he tells us how he feels about us. If we are that lost sheep, he is going to look and look until he finds us and brings us back home on his shoulder. He is going to hunt for us the way the woman looked for that lost coin.

As my beloved mentor. David Brown, has said, “The Church is the Communion of Saints, but it is also a hospital for sick sinners.” We have all done things which we ought not to have done and we have all not done things which we ought to have done. We have sinned. We have committed sins of commission and omission. Our Lord has reached out and welcomed all of us. Because of his love and forgiveness and healing, we have been made new in him.

This very day, September 11, 2016, is the fifteenth anniversary of one of the most tragic and horrific events in our history. It is a day that we will never forget. It was such a terrible day that we actually call it by its date—Nine-Eleven.

I am not going to attempt to comment on the meaning of that day, except to say that it has marked each of us and all of us forever. I am not going to try to analyze how we might have avoided that day or how we might prevent another day such as that from ever happening on this earth. I know that we all pray for peace. We pray for all those who lost their lives, and those who were wounded on that day, and we pray for their loved ones. We also pray for the first responders, police, fire fighters, and the many others who went to help and who were injured or lost their lives, and for their families and all who love them.

We pray for the members of our armed forces who put their lives on the line in the fight against terrorism.

When I hear the fighter jets of the Vermont Air Guard flying overhead, as I often do, I always remember that they were the ones sent to protect New York, and we all know that they fly missions all over the world.

As we remember the events of fifteen years ago, our collect offers us some very profound and wise guidance. “O God, because without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts. through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

As we move forward in this day and beyond, may we seek the guidance of God in all things; may we work with God to bring in God’s shalom. Amen.

Pentecost 16 Proper 18C RCL September 4, 2016

Jeremiah 18:1-11
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17
Philemon 1-21
Luke 14:25-33

Our readings for today are thought-provoking, to say the least. Our opening lesson is from the prophet Jeremiah. God is the potter. We are the clay.  In our reading, God is calling the people of Judah to follow God’s will. More than fifteen hundred years later, God is calling us to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves, to be people of justice and compassion.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is attracting huge crowds. He is continuing to point out how difficult it is to be a disciple of his. He is not telling us to hate our families. He calling us to have discipleship as a high priority. Choosing to follow Jesus in the early days of the new faith could mean being disowned by one’s family. Persecution of Christians has occurred over the centuries and is occurring even now. Following Christ is a decision not to be made lightly.

Our epistle is from the Letter of Paul to Philemon. This is an extraordinary letter. First, it is the shortest epistle in the Bible. We have read the entire letter today. Secondly, it is not addressed to a congregation but to a person. Third, there are many mysteries about this letter.

We really do not know where it was written. Paul was in prison, but scholars are still trying to figure out where Paul was when he wrote this letter. Some scholars think Paul was in Caesarea. Others think he was in Ephesus, which was a major city near Colossae, where Philemon’s congregation was located. Other scholars, including Herbert O’Driscoll,  think the letter was written when Paul was in prison in Rome.

Here is Paul in prison, not for the first time. Let’s just suppose that he is under house arrest in Rome. There is a Roman guard keeping watch, but Paul is allowed to write letters and even to have visitors. Somehow, Onesimus, an escaped slave, shows up at Paul’s door.

Paul welcomes this young man into his quarters. According to Roman law, Paul could be killed for harboring an escaped slave. As a follower of Christ, Paul obeys a higher law, the law of love and hospitality.

Onesimus has escaped from the household of Philemon, a wealthy man from Colossae. Philemon is the man who has made his house available so that the followers of Jesus can meet and worship. This is how the early Church began, in the houses of generous people who had the space to offer a place for worship and learning. Church buildings did not happen until centuries later.

We do not know why Onesimus has run away. We do not know why he goes to Paul. Perhaps he has heard Paul’s name mentioned in his home community and has sought him out. If Onesimus has had a problem in the house of Philemon, he might he coming to Paul in order to ask Paul to help him resolve this problem with Philemon.  The law provided for such mediation. If he is seeking this kind of help, Onesimus will not legally be considered a runaway.

As time goes on, Paul begins teaching Onesimus about the new faith. Eventually, Onesimus is baptized. Paul grows to love Onesimus very deeply. He writes that he has become the spiritual father of this young man, and he calls Onesimus “my own heart.”

But now, Paul is sending Onesimus back to Philemon. And here, we have another very important piece of the puzzle. Paul is Philemon’s father in the faith. Years ago, he instructed Philemon. They were very close, and we can tell from the letter that Paul is grateful to Philemon for nourishing the faith of so many other people. There is a great deal of love between Paul and Philemon.

Now we need to keep in mind that Paul has written, “In Christ, there is no slave or free, no Jew or Greek, no male or female, but we are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:22.)

Paul is saying that in Christ new relationships are formed between and among people. Once we come to believe in Christ, we do become brothers and sisters. Onesimus has become his son, his heart. Philemon is also his son in the faith, although Paul is careful not to ask any privileges because of that fact.

Paul is saying that the love of Christ which binds us together makes us equals, and he is asking  Philemon to grant Onesimus freedom to come back to Paul and help him. Onesimus actually means “useful,” and it is apparent that Onesimus had become extremely useful to Paul as a secretary and an assistant in carrying out his ministry, for that is what Paul is doing, even from prison. He is exercising a vibrant ministry of correspondence and receiving visitors.

As members of the Body of Christ, we are equals. We do not lord it over each other. We certainly do not own each other. Paul does not ask for the freedom of Onesimus in so many words, but he trusts that Philemon will read between the lines.

The risen Christ is in the space between us and among us. A new kind of relationship has been forged between and among us. We are equals. We are the infinitely precious children of God, and some of us are mothers and fathers to our younger folks in the faith, but we are also equals.

Beverly Gaventa writes, “By virtue of his conversion, Onesimus has become a brother in Christ, which necessitates that he be treated as brother. …One who is a brother in the Lord can scarcely be a slave in the flesh.” (Texts for Preaching Year C, pp. 503-504.) Paul writes, “If you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.”

“In Christ, there is no slave or free no Jew or Greek, no male or female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.” Amen.