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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 20 Proper 24A RCL October 22, 2017

Exodus 33:12-23
Psalm 99
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Matthew 22:15-22

In our first reading, we rejoin the people of God just after they have made the golden calf. God and Moses are doing the work of reconciliation after the people have broken their covenant with God. Moses is realizing something we all face many times during our lives: he and the people cannot continue on the journey unless God is with them.

God promises to go with Moses and the people, but Moses needs proof. God says that God will “make all [God’s] goodness pass before [Moses].” But Moses cannot look upon the face of God and live. Back in those times thousands of years ago, people believed that the glory of God was so great that they could not look at God and continue to live.

The thing that strikes me about this passage today is that, because of God’s love, which is so clear to us, God came among us. God lived a fully human life in Jesus, and we have beheld the face of God and lived.

There is a story of an old French peasant who came to church every day and just sat and stared silently at the crucifix behind the altar. Someone asked him what he was doing, and he said, “I just look at Him, and He looks at me.”

Our reading from Paul’s Letter to the Thessalonians is, first of all, the earliest writing in the New Testament, from the early 50s A.D. The Thessalonians had faced great opposition in beginning their community of faith; they had moved ahead with great determination; they had changed from worshipping the idols of their surrounding culture and now their faith is so renowned that everyone in Macedonia and Achaia knows about them. They are a shining example to their brothers and sisters in Christ.

In our gospel  for today, Jesus is in the temple. It is the Passover and people have come from all over the world. Whatever is going to happen is going to be seen by many, many people. Various factions who want to protect their power have gathered to trap Jesus. The Pharisees, who are anti-Roman, send some of their disciples to work with the Herodians, who are pro-Roman. They begin with flattery and then they ask if it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar.

Jesus asks them to show him a coin. He does not carry Roman coins, so he is not showing loyalty to the feared and hated Roman Empire. He asks whose head is on the coin. It is the head of Caesar and he is the emperor. And then Jesus says that enigmatic thing that leads us to truth: “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

As we know, everything belongs to God. Charles Cousar, Professor of New Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia points out that the word translated as “head” in this passage is the Greek eikon.  Cousar writes, “The coin of course bears Caesar’s eikon and  belongs to Caesar. Humans, on the other hand, bear the eikon of God. They may pay the infamous poll tax, but they do not belong to the emperor. They themselves belong to God.”

Cousar points out that this passage does not make God and Caesar equals. He adds, “nor are they symbolic names for separate realms. Humans bear God’s image, and wherever they live and operate—whether in the social, economic,  political or religious realm—they belong to God.”

Cousar concludes, “Furthermore, the text operates subversively in every context in which governments act as if citizens have no higher commitments than to the state. When the divine image is denied and persons are made by political circumstances to be less than human, then the text carries a revolutionary word, a word that has to be spoken to both oppressed and oppressor.” (Texts for Preaching, Year A, pp. 532-33.)

We have seen the face of God in Jesus. We have walked with him and talked with him. He has taught us. He has led us to the green pastures and the still waters where we can drink from the freshness of his divine grace.

He has shared with us the vision of his kingdom, his shalom, where all people belong to him just as we do, and where all people live in peace, have the basic needs of life such as food and shelter and clothing and medical care and good work to do.

Because we belong to God, because we are following Jesus, we are called to keep his vision of shalom clearly in mind in all that we do and to make choices that will help to build that shalom.

May we sense how deeply we belong to God and how much God loves us and all people. May we pray the prayer of Christ, seek the mind of Christ, and do the deeds of Christ. Amen.

Pentecost 19 Proper 23 October 15, 2017

Exodus 32:1-14
Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23
Philippians 4:1-9
Matthew 22:1-14

In our opening reading, Moses has gone up on the mountain to speak with God, and the people decide to make the infamous golden calf. Once again, we need to keep in mind that, in the early days of our human acquaintance with God, sometimes we attributed to God the worst of human characteristics. In this case, God becomes very angry and Moses has to calm God down.

Often in the Old Testament, God appears as what I call a bad parent, reacting in a childish or violent way to the bad behavior of God’s people. But this passage makes clear our human tendency to veer off the path and turn to idols of various kinds.

Our reading from Paul’s powerful letter to the Church in Philippi has many truths to tell us. “Rejoice in the Lord always,” Paul writes. “”Let your gentleness be known to everyone.” When we are deeply aware of the presence of God in our lives, when we are able to rejoice in God’s presence, we are more able to remain grounded and gentle. Paul also says, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” The shalom of Christ, his peace within us and his vision of shalom for the creation, enfold us in Christ’s love and fill us with the grace to enable us to live into his vision of shalom.

I want to take time today to focus on this very challenging gospel. Luke’s gospel has the story of the wedding feast, but it is more straightforward and has fewer complications than Matthew’s version. Let us see if we can bring some clarity to this passage.

A king is giving a wedding banquet for his son. He sends his slaves to those who are invited. The first thing we need to say is that we now know that holding slaves is not acceptable. Those on the guest list do not respond properly. Some of them go off and do other things, and the rest hurt and kill the messengers. Scholars tell us that Matthew’s community was a Jewish community which had tried to reach out to the synagogue and met with great resistance and even violence. They were inviting folks to follow Jesus and there was conflict, even violence.

So now the king tells the messengers to go out and invite everybody to the wedding banquet. We now know that Jesus invites everyone to the feast. But there is one person who does not have the proper wedding garment. Scholars tell us that this has nothing to do with literal garments. It isn’t that this poor fellow didn’t have a tuxedo or that he couldn’t afford to have decent clothing.

Scholars tell us that the wedding garment symbolizes our attitude to our Lord’s invitation. Do we have the proper attitude and do our actions match our words? Biblical scholar Charles Cousar writes that the wedding garment symbolizes “[doing} the will of my Father in heaven,” (Matthew 7:21) and having “a righteousness [that] “exceeds that of the scribes and the pharisees” (Matthew 5:20), producing “the fruits of the kingdom.” (Matthew 21:43.) All are expressions to identify the consistency between speech and life, words and deeds, that is appropriate for those who call Jesus “Lord.” The garment represents authentic discipleship and the parable prods the audience to self-criticism lest they find themselves among the “bad,” who are finally judged.  (Cousar, Texts for Preaching Year A, pp. 523-24.)

This is a challenging gospel. This past Tuesday, we had a clergy gathering at Trinity, Rutland. Almost all of the clergy were present. The title of the gathering was “Racial Reconciliation— Acknowledgement.” Acknowledgement is the first stage in our recognition, that, as white people, we have what is called “white privilege.” Our lives have been much easier than the lives of persons of color because of our white privilege. The other thing that we have is called “white innocence,” which means that we deny the existence of white privilege and thereby deny the existence of racism.

I have already sent to you the email which Bishop Tom sent to us as we prepared for this day. The email had readings and other resources which I hope you will feel free to use. Among them is the book Tears We Cannot Stop, by Michael Eric Dyson. This is a wrenching book which tells a truth we may be reluctant to accept.

Another resource is the RACE Implicit Bias Test. There is a link to that on the email. This is a test developed at Harvard University. It is a real eye opener. You are all welcome to take this test.

We also had two speakers. One of them is the Rev. Arnold Thomas, who is serving at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Underhill and has previously served as Executive Minister of the Vermont United Church of Christ. The other speaker was Shela Linton, a founding member of the Root in Brattleboro.

One thing that is clear from our speakers and from the resources on the list, is that racism is very present in our country and in Vermont.

This includes our migrant workers here in Vermont.

For me this means that, if I am to be wearing a proper wedding garment, I must be about the work I know Jesus is calling me to do, and as our 78th General Convention calls all of us to do, which is, “to find more effective and productive ways to respond to racial injustice as we love our neighbors as ourselves, respect the dignity of every human being, and transform unjust structures of society.” I hope and pray that we will all make a commitment to this work.

Blessed Lord, our Shepherd and Savior, give us the grace to be authentic disciples. Give us the courage to make our deeds match our words. Give us the creative holy energy to help you to build your shalom. Amen.

Pentecost 18 Proper 22A RCL October 8, 2017

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
Psalm 19
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46

In our opening reading, the people of God have journeyed to the point where Moses receives the Ten Commandments. Herbert O’Driscoll remarks that some of us remember the time when almost everyone learned and recited these commandments. They were familiar to us. O’Driscoll also reminds us that there is great wisdom behind these guidelines for living. God knows us humans, and these commandments are a basic set of rules for our behavior.

We are called to worship God. We are called to avoid the worship of idols. These days, the idols are not Baal or Astarte. They might be Mercedes and Dow Jones. Use the Name of God with care. Keep the Sabbath. If we work an unusual schedule, the Sabbath may not be a Sunday, but the important thing is to take that Sabbath time to worship God, to thank God for all God’s blessings, and to refresh our body and spirit. Honor your father and your mother. Do not murder. Be faithful to your spouse or partner. Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.

God in God’s wisdom and love has given us these rules to live by.

In his inspiring letter to the congregation in Philippi, Paul, who usually comes across as one of the folks, a tentmaker who earns his own living, now lets us know that he has all the earmarks of high privilege. He is a Roman citizen, which gives him many advantages. He is a Jew. Like our Lord and every Jewish boy, he was circumcised on the eighth day of his life. More than that, he is a Pharisee, an expert in the law.  He also admits that he was a persecutor of the Church.

But one day, after witnessing the stoning of the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen, a deacon full of faith and love, and while rushing to help persecute more Christians, Paul met the risen Lord on the Road to Damascus. He was blinded by the light of Christ. He had to be led by the hand. But then he began to see. And he gave his entire life to Christ. And now he wants to know and love Christ as deeply as possible. He knows how difficult it is to follow the law. He is the one who said that he does the things he does not want to do and he does not do the things he knows he should do, and he asks God to free him from the body of that death. We can know the law, and on our own, we can follow the law to a point, but, for many of us, we get stuck. We need faith and grace to pull us through. And Paul has found that faith and grace in Christ and he is never going to let that go. To him, all his honors are as a pile of trash. All he wants to do is to follow Christ, to grow more and more like him in his love and compassion.

And he knows that he is not there yet, he says, “Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ has made me his own. Forgetting what lies behind and straining to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call in Christ Jesus.”

All we can say is may we do the same thing—press on toward the goal.

Our gospel for today is very powerful. Jesus is teaching in the temple in Jerusalem. He has read the scriptures. He has probably absorbed word for word the writings of the great prophet Isaiah, who described the people of God in various places as a vine or a vineyard. We all know the story. The workers in the vineyard kill the owner’s son.

Jesus is here addressing the religious leaders of his time, who are about to do just that—kill Jesus. The chief priests and the scribes realize that Jesus is speaking about them, but they are afraid to do anything because they know that, at the very least, he is a prophet. They will keep plotting, and our Lord will die a criminal’s death.

When leaders, whether religious or secular, get rid of people or try to diminish people because those people are telling God’s truth, those leaders are misusing their power. In Jesus’ time and in our own time, we need to be aware of those who are practicing imperium, tyranny and control, and those who are practicing auctoritas, true authority, leadership that encourages and empowers people

As Herbert O’Driscoll points out, one of the best things we can do with these readings is to reflect on the Ten Commandments, reflect on the Cardinal Virtues—prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude, and the Theological Virtues—faith, hope, and love, and renew our commitment to using them as the framework for our lives.

And we can also follow the example of St. Paul. He has such a profound commitment to Jesus. He devoted his life to killing Christians. Now he wants to help people follow Jesus. He wants to build communities of faith and love. He knows he is a work in progress, but he is following Jesus with all his energy.

This week, as we look out on our world, we see people in Mexico trying to recover from earthquakes, people in Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Puerto Rico, the Virgin islands. and so many of the Caribbean Islands, suffering from the effects of hurricanes.

And we look upon our brothers and sisters killed and hurt in Las Vegas. Our hearts go out to them and to their friends and families. Our Bishops have issued s statement on gun violence. Each of us and all of us are called to pray for all those who have died and for those who are suffering and grieving and to take action as our conscience leads us.

May the God of mercy lead us and guide us into the way of peace.


Pentecost 17 Proper 21 A RCL October 1, 2017

Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

In our opening reading for today, the people have no water to drink. They complain to Moses, who brings the problem to God. Immediately, God provides water for the people. This reading reminds us that God provides for our needs. I know that we are all praying that food and water and essential supplies will reach our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico as soon as possible.

Our passage from Paul’s letter to his beloved congregation in Philippi gives us a powerful description of the way to be a Christ-centered community of faith. Paul calls us to “be of the same mind.” In our diocesan Mission Statement, we say that we are called to “pray the prayer of Christ, seek the mind of Christ, and do the deeds of Christ.” We are called to be of one mind, and that mind is the mind of Christ.

This means that we are daily seeking in prayer to know the will of our Lord and to do his will. We are of one mind, his mind, because we are one Body, his body.

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.” What a striking difference from the arrogance and narcissism rampant in our culture. If we defer to each other, if we are not competing with each other, what a difference that makes in a community.

“Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” This would mean that we are not focused on ourselves but on others. We are not trying to climb the ladder of success or make all the money we can. We are thinking of the needs of others.

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in human likeness.” Our Lord came among us as a servant of all. He called us to be servants. Because our Lord poured himself out in love for us, we worship him and we follow him. We try to be like him.

Paul then calls us to “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in [us], enabling [us] both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Paul is calling us to continue our journey with Christ, knowing that we will never be perfect as he is, but nonetheless knowing that the Holy Spirit is at work in us, energizing us to be people of love and compassion, people who reach out to those in need, servant people who care about others.

In today’s gospel, Jesus is in the temple in Jerusalem.  The chief priests and elders, the very people who should be seeing the truth of who Jesus is, come to challenge him, asking him by whose authority he is teaching and ministering. It is such a shame to see tyranny pretending to be true authority, and this reminds us of David Brown’s distinction between authority, auctoritas, authorship, creativity, and imperium, tyranny, control beating down the creativity of the people.

Jesus stumps them with his answer, and they are caught between a rock and a hard place. They try to come up with an answer and they realize they should simply say they do not know.

Then Jesus tells the parable about the two sons. The father asks the first son to go out and work in the vineyard. The son says he won’t do it, but later he changes his mind and goes to work. The second says “Yes, Sir,” but he never goes out into the vineyard.

One thing this parable tells us is that it is our actions that count. We can say all kinds of wonderful and flowery things, but, if our actions are not in harmony with what we say, it’s all just flowery words. If we want to find out where someone truly stands, we have to watch that person’s actions. Do they do what they say they are going to do?

The first son said No, but then that No turned to Yes. He went out into the vineyard and worked. The second son politely said, Yes, Sir,” but his actions were the opposite of his words.

Are we congruent? Do we have integrity? Do our actions match with our words? Do our lives reflect our beliefs? Jesus tells these religious leaders that the tax collectors and prostitutes will be first in his kingdom. They are the ones who are living in harmony with his gospel of compassion and service. As Lisa Ransom says, Jesus is turning the world right side up. The last shall be first and the first last.

Jesus is our model for authority—auctoritas. He has true, authentic authority. He is among us as one who serves. He empowers people. He frees up their creativity. He helps people fly like eagles. He does not hold them down and imprison them.

Last Sunday, Kim Erno talked about Paulo Freire and his Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Paulo Freire says that teaching and learning do not go just one way—from the teacher to the learner. He says that we learn from each other.  That is what Jesus did. He let the oppressed teach him. He learned from a Canaanite woman that his ministry was to all people. He called a tax collector to be one of his apostles.

When our Lord calls us to go out into his vineyard, that is the world, and do his work, I think we are going to say Yes and then we are going to match our actions with that Yes. We are going to go out into his vineyard and work for his kingdom, his shalom. May we follow him wherever he leads. Amen.