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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 24 Proper 26C RCL October 30, 2016

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
Psalm 119:137-144
2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
Luke 19:1-10

Our first reading is from another of the Minor Prophets, Habakkuk. We know very little about this prophet, but, from references in the text, we think that he was writing at the height of Babylonian power, but before the conquering of Jerusalem and the Exile.

Habakkuk could see the disaster that was about to come. Once again, the words of this prophet from twenty-five hundred years ago echo our own feelings. He writes, “Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails.” He is pleading to God to correct these wrongs, but nothing is happening. So he goes to a watch post to stand and wait until God speaks.

And God answers. God tells Habakkuk to write the prophecy in large print so that a runner can see it as he speeds by. God says, “Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.” Things will be set right, and we are called to wait in faith until that time.

In our second reading, Paul, Sylvanus and Timothy are writing to a church that is dealing with persecution. Even in the midst of this challenging time, the faith of the Thessalonians is growing, and the members of the community continue to love one another. Paul says that he and his assistants boast of the Thessalonians because their faith is so strong and steadfast.

And then Paul tells us that keeping the faith in times of trial, and continuing to love and serve others as our Lord called us to do glorifies the Name of Jesus.

This is something that I have noted in the history of Grace Church. In 1853, our ancestors found out that the foundation of the church building was crumbling. At the same time, the iron foundries had gone into decline, the local economy was in trouble, and membership was declining. The Rev. Albert Hopson Bailey was Rector then, and he rallied everyone together. In spite of the bad economy, they rose to the task and constructed a new building.

In more recent years, I can’t tell you how many people, having spent some time visiting here, have commented on the genuine love and caring which they see in this community. They feel that they have encountered a Christian community as it is meant to be. These kinds of things glorify the Name of Christ. Paul, Sylvanus, and Timothy could well have sent a letter to you.

In our gospel, we have the story of Jesus’ encounter with Zaccheus. Zaccheus is a tax collector and he is rich. As a tax collector, he is despised because tax collectors worked for the Roman occupiers. They were required to collect a certain amount for the Roman government, but they often collected an additional amount over and above that to line their own pockets. Zaccheus lives in a mansion in a very nice neighborhood, but he has no friends. He is very rich and very much alone.

In spite of all the strikes against him,, Zaccheus is in the middle of the crowd this day because he absolutely must see Jesus. He feels compelled to find out more about Jesus, even though people are sneering at him and directing all their hatred and scorn at him. On top of everything else, Zaccheus is short.

He is not tall enough to see over the crowds, so he runs ahead and climbs a sycamore tree so that he can see Jesus. Jesus arrives at the base of the tree and looks up at Zaccheus. And then Jesus says the most amazing thing. He tells Zaccheus to get down out of that tree because he, Jesus, is going to stay at his house! So Zaccheus clambers down and welcomes Jesus.

When Jesus sends us out two by two, he tells us to stay wherever folks extend hospitality to us. But here, he is choosing to stay in the house of this sinner, this tax collector hated by everyone. The crowd begins to grumble about this. It takes people a long time to realize that Jesus has come to turn the world upside down. Yes, he chooses to stay with sinners and eat with them. And, of course, we are all sinners.

But then Zaccheus says some amazing things to Jesus. He says that he is going to give to the poor half of everything he has. He also says that, if he has defrauded anyone, he will pay them back four times as much. This is very generous restitution.

Jesus has not even asked Zaccheus to share his wealth. Just by having this encounter with Jesus and seeing him in the flesh and sensing the love and healing and forgiveness flowing out of Jesus, Zaccheus sees what he needs to do. He needs to share with others and he needs to make restitution for the harm he has done. And that is exactly what he is going to do.

And Jesus tells those who are complaining that this hated tax collector is also one of us and that he, Jesus, has come to save the lost. We are all sinners. We are all lost in one way or another. And we can all be honest about it and ask our Lord for help.

In our first reading, God assures Habbakuk that God’s justice and mercy will prevail. In our second reading we remember the faith and endurance of the Thessalonians in trying times and we recall the enduring faith of our forbears who, working with God, created and sustained the Grace community. And in our gospel, we remember Zaccheus, the despised tax collector who threw decorum to the winds and climbed a tree to see Jesus. His life was transformed. And ours are being transformed even now as we meet our Lord this morning, and as we follow him day by day.


Pentecost 22 Proper 24C RCL October 16, 2016

Jeremiah 31:27-34
Psalm 119:97-104
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Luke 18:1-8

Our first reading, from the prophet Jeremiah, is an amazing statement. We have watched the disintegration of Judah. The king and other leaders have grown more corrupt. They have not led the people in loving God, living ethical lives, and sharing the wealth with those who are less fortunate. The powerful Babylonian Empire has invaded and leveled Jerusalem. The leaders and many of the people have been deported.

Last Sunday Jeremiah encouraged the exiles to build houses and raise families in Babylon. This week, we hear the word of God, and it is a word of restoration and hope. God tells the people that God will sow the seed of humans and animals. God will sow. This is an image of spring, an image of growth. At the darkest moment comes the light of hope.

God is going to make a new covenant with God’s people. “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people….they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” God and the people are going to have a relationship that is even closer than the one they had before. Everyone, from the least to the greatest, will be a part of this loving community.

We are living in very difficult times. There is a huge toll of death, injury, and destruction from Hurricane Matthew stretching across the Caribbean into our southern states, and especially North Carolina. Violence of all kinds seems to be striking everywhere. People are starving and suffering in Aleppo. Our presidential election campaign is reaching new lows.

This reading reminds us that God is always with us. There is hope. If we adhere to our own most faithful understanding of God’s will and God’s values and God’s vision for the creation, God will guide us.

In Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy, Paul continues his guidance to the young minister. This passage contains the famous passage, “All scripture is inspired by God….” As Christians, we believe that the Holy Spirit has inspired all the people who have written the scriptures. The Fundamentalist movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century interprets this passage to mean that the Bible was actually dictated by God word for word to a sort of divine secretary, and there are many people today who believe this.

In fact, the Bible is really a library, a collection of books written between 950 B.C. and about 200 A.D. Scholars can examine the book of Genesis, for example, and find that there are four distinct writers, J, the Jahwist writer, who worked around 950 B.C., E, the Elohist writer, who dates back to about 750 B.C., D, the Deuteronomist writer, dating to about 620 B.C., and P, the Priestly writer, dating to 450 B.C. In the New Testament, we have four gospels, each written at different times by different people. Mark is the earliest, John the latest. If we look at the epistles, we know who wrote some of them, and we are not sure who wrote others of them.

The Bible contains all kinds of wonderful wisdom, but it also contains some things that are not very edifying. For example, there are chapters and chapters of begats that would interest only the most dedicated historian. As one of my mentors, the Rev. Al Smith, who served for many years at St. James, Essex Junction, used to say, “The Bible contains all things necessary to salvation, and a lot of things that aren’t.” If we read passages in context, with guidance from the Christian community through the work of learned scholars and teachers, we can learn a great deal and gain much inspiration. But it is not responsible to pick passages out of context, and it simply is not true that God dictated the Bible word for word.

Paul encourages Timothy to remember the strong foundation of faith given him by his mother and grandmother and to “…proclaim the message: be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable.”

Like Timothy, we can always proclaim God’s message of love, hope, and faith.

In our gospel, Jesus tells us about a woman who is persistent. She is a widow, which means that she is the least of the least. But she does not give up, and finally the judge, who is not the most sterling example of his profession, grants her justice.

God is very different from this judge. Our gospel reinforces our reading from the Hebrew Scriptures. God is faithful; God is always listening. We are called to be persistent in our prayers and in our pursuit of justice.

As I have said, these are challenging times. It would be easy to give up all hope. It would be easy to become cynical. But our readings today are all calling us to remember who God is: God is a God of justice, love, hope, and healing. God cares about everybody, especially those at the margins. Any responsible reading of the scriptures makes this clear.

As we consider the decisions we have to make, we are called to keep in mind our understanding of God and of God’s vision of shalom, in which everyone is respected, loved, and cared for.

As Christians, we can look at the life of our Lord Jesus and we can see the values of God expressed in a human life. We can use his life as a model for our lives, and we can feel him among us. He is with us now, calling us to his vision of shalom. In a few moments, he will be feeding us with the energy of his very self so that we can go out into the world and live and proclaim his message of love and hope.

Loving and gracious Lord, may we be like this faithful and feisty widow. May we persist in hope, prayer, and the pursuit of justice for everyone. May we follow where you lead.    Amen.

Pentecost 21 Proper 23C RCL October 9, 2016

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
Psalm 66:1-1
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Luke 17:11-19

In our first reading, the Babylonians have captured Jerusalem, leveled the temple, and sent the leaders and many of the people into exile in Babylon. Imagine what it would be like to be conquered by an enemy and then forced to move to the country of your conquerors. It would be devastating and demoralizing.

In this darkest hour for God’s people, the prophet Jeremiah writes a  letter to the exiles. He tells them to “build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce,” he advises them to get married and raise families. And he tells them to pray for the people of Babylon because in the welfare of Babylon is the welfare of God’s people.

Biblical scholar James D. Newsome says that this advice from Jeremiah is what allowed the people not only to survive, but to thrive in their captivity and then to return home and rebuild.

What amazing advice. In the midst of disaster and exile, pursue your life and flourish. Pray for your captives.

Many scholars tell us that the Church in America is in exile. It is not “the thing to do” to attend church. People do not really care what the church has to say. The church has become irrelevant. So often our values are different from the values of our surrounding culture, It is easy for us to complain that people do not come to church, that the culture is materialistic, and so on. Yet we are called to reach out to our neighbors, love our neighbors,  and serve our neighbors rather than mourn and weep about the fact that they don’t join us for services on Sunday.

The exiles worshipped God, asked for God’s help, studied the scriptures, and strengthened their sense of community. After fifty or so years, they would return home with deeper faith and a stronger community that they had ever had.

Our epistle for today is the Second Letter to Timothy. This is a profoundly personal letter which expresses Paul’s theology in a powerful way, and it shows a deep sense of love and care for Timothy. We can imagine Paul in prison in Rome in 64 C.E., in the last months or even weeks of his life before he was martyred. Paul is in chains, but the gospel is not chained. He is passing on the legacy of faith and congregational leadership with every ounce of his energy and all the grace that God can give him. Christ loves us with every ounce of his energy. He has died for us. If we have died to our old lives in baptism, we are now rising with him into newness of life. It’s that simple. And that new life is happening in our lives right now.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is heading to Jerusalem, going through the area between Samaria and Galilee. He is on the outskirts of the village. This is where the outcasts such as lepers live. The law requires them to stay away from people. They live together in groups because no one else will associate with them.

But as Jesus enters the village, ten lepers approach him. This is very unusual. They do not call out, “Unclean!” as the law requires. They know Jesus is different. He is approachable. He is loving. He is a healer. Instead of yelling out “Unclean,” they cry out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

He looks at them with love and healing in his eyes and heart and he tells them to go and show themselves to the priests. That was the law. You had to go  to the temple and show yourself to the priests and they would certify that you were healed. Then you could go back home and be with your friends and family again.

The ten lepers have complete faith in what Jesus has said and done. They immediately head out to the temple to see the priests.  But one of them happens to look at his hand or his arm and realizes that he is already healed. He turns around, praising God with all his might and prostrates himself at Jesus’ feet in worship and thanks him.

Then we get another piece of information. This man is not a member of the orthodox faith. He is a Samaritan. He is a double outcast—a leper and a Samaritan. Just as in the parable of the Good Samaritan, the outcast is the holy example. He is the only one who gives thanks. The other nine report to the priests, get a clean bill of health and go back to their former lives.

There is so much power is stopping and thanking God for all the blessings God bestows on us. If we take the time each day to thank God for the many gifts God gives us,  it puts a different light on our day, a different light in our hearts and lives.

Even as we thank God for so many blessings, I ask your prayers for our brothers and sisters who are dealing with the destruction wrought by Hurricane Matthew in the Caribbean and along our East Coast  and for all those who are helping with rescue and recovery. We can be thankful for all the planning and preparation which reduced injuries and deaths, but many are still suffering, especially in Haiti.

Episcopal Relief and Development is asking our support for the Hurricane Matthew Response Fund, and I’ll be asking your thoughts on that at the Peace and at coffee hour.

As we journey through this bicentennial year of Grace Church, and as I reflect on gratitude, I think that our ancestors were sincerely thankful to God, and that gratitude was reflected in their outreach to people here and around the world.  We can all be thankful that we are a part of this community which is so deeply rooted in faith, gratitude, and generosity.

Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Pentecost 20 Proper 22C RCL October 2, 2016

Lamentations 1:1-6
Psalm 137
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Luke 17:5-10

In our first reading today, from the Book of Lamentations, the worst has happened. The Babylonian Empire has conquered Jerusalem. The temple and the city lie in ruins and most of the people have been deported to Babylon.

There were some people who actually remained in Jerusalem and in Judah. Every day they had to look at the rubble and wonder whether the temple would ever be rebuilt.

Others were living among alien people and alien gods who were nothing like their God. Psalm 137, our Psalm for today, captures their immense sadness. “By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept.” Their captives are asking them to sing songs from their native land. But they cannot sing. Their grief is so great. Then their grief turns to anger and revenge, which is natural and understandable, but something God calls us to avoid.

In the middle of the psalm is a prayer for the community to remember Jerusalem and remember their faith. And that is the prayer that prevailed. They used this tragic and terrible period of time to study the scriptures, to increase their commitment to prayer and worship, and to seek God’s guidance.  Jerusalem was leveled in 587 B.C.E. In 539 they returned home to rebuild. Fifty years of exile and spiritual journeying toward deeper faith.

We all have times of exile on our own lives, times when we are in grief, when we feel as though all is lost. We may even feel angry. At such times we need to turn to God for guidance, and we need to remember that God is a God of hope.

In our second reading, Timothy has apparently faced some kind of a major challenge in his ministry. We do not know what that challenge was. Paul reminds him of his mother, Eunice, and his grandmother, Lois, who nurtured him in the faith. Now, as we celebrate the bicentennial of Grace Church, we are blessed to be gifted with our own parents and grandparents in the faith. The Rev. Albert Hopson Bailey, who served here for 26 years and served our diocese, Kate Whittemore, who led the Women’s Auxiliary and started a junior auxiliary to teach young people about our faith and to support them in doing mission, and then the elder generation whom some of us have known—Hoddie, Charlotte, Laura, Arthur, Gertrude, Harriet, Geraldine, Gwen, and Ruth, to name a few.  We are building on their faith, and that legacy of faith and service supports us in our ministries.

Also in this letter, Paul writes, “…for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but of power and of love and of self-discipline.” The King James version says, “For God hath not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a a sound mind.”

Timothy had been through some difficult things. When we encounter obstacles and challenges, one thing we can do is to become fearful. Many in our nation are becoming very fearful right now. As a very wise person has said, “Faith is fear that has said its prayers.” As Christians, we are called to have faith. And we are called to remember that we have been given a spirit of power and of love and of a sound mind. We are not called to surrender to fear. We are called  to stay centered in God’s power and love. We are called to have self-discipline and to keep in the center of our hearts and minds that God is the God of faith, love, and hope. Like the exiles returning, we can build and we can rebuild God’s shalom in our world and in our communities.

In today’s gospel, the disciples are making a request: “Increase our faith!”

They are on the way to Jerusalem, and they are probably getting the idea that this journey with Jesus is not going to be easy. I think Jesus is trying to tell them that they have enough faith to do what they are called to do.

Basically he is saying that if we have faith the size of a mustard seed, we can do things we think would be impossible, with his help and with his grace and guidance. And then that mustard seed of faith is going to grow and grow.

After all, the exiles returned and rebuilt the temple, the city, and their community life. Timothy had some moments of apprehension but remained a faithful minister of Christ. The disciples had some less than noble moments—Peter denied Jesus three times, Judas betrayed him, many of them ran to the hills after the crucifixion— but they they came back and there was Pentecost, and they spread the faith all over the world, and our Grace Church saints passed down the faith to us and here we are with our mustard seeds of faith carrying on our ministries here and around the world, part of a faith community which is trying to bring the love and healing of Christ to everyone who needs his presence.

Our readings today are calling us to be people of faith, hope, and love. In our world today, some people are spreading messages of fear, hopelessness, and hate.  As Christian people, we cannot accept such a worldview.

In many of our cities, there is violence. We have not yet fully healed our corporate sin of racism.  We have made progress in healing racism, and, yes,  we have more work to do, but we cannot stop now. We have all kinds of violence, not just shootings and angry mobs of people looting but also the quiet, largely unnoticed epidemic of domestic violence and sexual abuse. And we have an epidemic of addiction.

All of these issues have been going on for a very long time. We just didn’t pay attention to them. We are making progress, and now we have to really get down to work and make more progress. As our dear sister Priscilla would say, “We need to see the glass half full.”

In the eighteen-sixties we began to realize that slavery was wrong. A century later, in the nineteen-sixties, we began to pass things like the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act to welcome our African American brothers and sisters to full citizenship. We are well on the way. We are not yet fully there. This is not the time to give up.

Domestic violence has been around since the birth of time, but no one dared to talk about it. Now we are doing something about it. Other forms of violence have also been around for centuries. We have been working on these crucial issues. Our diocesan convention will be a hopeful, faithful, look at that work.

All of these issues are related to the building of God’s shalom of peace and harmony, where everyone has a safe home to live in, food, clothing, medical care, and good work to do. God’s shalom is about peace in our hearts, peace in our communities, and peace in the world.

Let us be a people of faith, hope, and love. We have come a long way. Let us not falter. I believe that our Lord is telling us that what we see as mustard seeds of faith can help him to bring in his shalom. Lord, help us to be a people of faith, hope, and love. Help us to work for your shalom. In your holy Name. Amen.