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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:…

Lent 2B February 25, 2018

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Psalm 22:22-30
Romans 4:13-25
Mark 8:31-38

In our first reading today, we meet Abram. God has called Abram to leave his comfortable home, pack up all his belongings, and travel with all his livestock to a land Abram has never seen. At this point, Abram has traveled hundreds of miles. This is all happening around 2,000 years ago, and all this traveling has been done on foot. When this journey began, God promised that God would make Abram the father of a great nation.

As the scene opens, Abram is 99 years old. His wife, Sarai, is also far beyond the age when folks normally start a family. Many things have happened since they left their comfortable home years and miles ago. Some of those things have been very difficult. And they still have no child.

God comes to Abram, and Abram falls on his face and worships the Lord in an attitude of complete trust. After all these years and all these challenges, Abram is still faithful. And God tells Abram that he and Sarai are going to have a son.

Sarah is listening in on God’s conversation with Abraham, and after God leaves, she bursts out laughing. She rolls on the floor laughing. So does Abraham. Just when we think all hope is gone, and we’re 99 years old, God tells us we have a future . There is hope after all. Abraham and Sarah were faithful to God. And God made a covenant with them that they would have descendants as numerous as the stars or as the grains of sand on a beach.

In our reading from the Book of Romans, Paul writes about Abraham and the strength of Abraham’s faith. He was 99 years old and he still did not lose faith. This is a powerful example for us. The journey may be difficult, things may look dismal, but God is always there, and hope is always there.

In our gospel, Jesus is telling the disciples that the religious authorities are going to have him killed, and he is going to rise from death. Peter can’t accept this. He tells Jesus to stop saying these terrible things. And Jesus says to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!”

What is going on here? Why would Jesus say such a thing? Peter loves Jesus. He does not want anything bad to happen to him. He does not want to lose this friend and teacher who has become like his brother.

Jesus can see the handwriting on the wall. The authorities are watching him. They will go to any lengths to preserve their power. Jesus is fully human as well as fully divine. He does not want to suffer and die.  When Peter tells him that this horror can’t happen, it makes Jesus wish that it would not happen, but it is going to. If he is true to the ministry to which he is called, the authorities are going to try to destroy him. So, even though Peter loves Jesus and means well, he is actually tempting Jesus to abandon his ministry and run away to safety. That is why he calls Peter by the name of the tempter.

There were two schools of thought running through the Scriptures about the Messiah. One was that he would be a conquering hero who would overthrow the Romans, and the other was that he would be the suffering servant described by Isaiah. Some of Jesus’ disciples saw him as the conquering hero. James and John wanted to sit beside him in his kingdom. But that was not to be. His is not a  kingdom of earthly power. At this point, perhaps Peter did not understand that. Later he did. So did James and John. We are all growing in our understanding of who Jesus is and what he us calling us to do.

Then Jesus calls us to take up our cross. He calls us to stop trying to save our lives and to lose our lives for his sake. This does not mean that he is calling us to do self-destructive things. He wants us to accept his love for us and to take care of ourselves. He is actually calling us to stop doing anything that is self-destructive.

But he is also calling us to readjust our vision. His is not an earthly  kingdom. His kingdom, his shalom, is a world of peace, harmony, and wholeness. There may be some things that have seemed really important to us in the past, but in the light of his call, our perspective changes. As we listen to his call to us, as Abraham listened to God’s call thousands of years ago, our values shift. Things that were once important to us become less important in the light of his call to take up our cross.

Jesus says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Part of this process is to deny our selves, to redirect our egos into following him. Our self becomes a part of his loving and caring and healing self. We experience newness of life here and now as we follow him and help him bring in his kingdom.

Taking up our cross and following Jesus may involve struggle, and sacrifice, but it will always lead to new life. It will always lead to wholeness and to being true to ourselves. It will help us to become the persons he calls us to be.

It is a journey, like the journey of Abraham and Sarah. It is a journey with our Lord, a journey of transformation, a journey of love, hope, and joy.  Amen.

Lent 1B  February 18, 2018

Genesis 9:8-17
Psalm 25:1-9
1 Peter 3:18-22
Mark 1:9-15

In our opening reading for today, God makes a covenant with “every living creature.” Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann writes, “The assurance from God is not only about another flood. It is, rather, a pledge to creation by the Creator, a pledge of fidelity which will keep the world safe from every jeopardy.” (Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching Year B, p. 193.)

The sign of this covenant is the “bow.” I can’t count how many times I have been driving along and suddenly cars are pulling over to the side of the road to look at a rainbow. The rainbow is a sign of God’s grace and protection.  As partners with God in the stewardship of the creation, we are called to work with God and each other to preserve the creation.

In our gospel for today, we are present as Jesus is baptized by his cousin John. The Spirit descends on our Lord, and God identifies Jesus as the beloved in whom God is well pleased. Then the Spirit compels Jesus to go out into the wilderness. Mark does not go into the details of the temptations, but we are told that Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness tempted by Satan. The text tells us that he was with the wild beasts, and that angels waited upon him.

Matthew and Luke provide details about the actual temptations. Mark concentrates on the dangers of being out in the wilderness for forty days. In ancient times, cities and villages were protected, often by walls, and the wilderness was a place of chaos and danger. Wild animals such as wolves, bears, leopards lived in the Judean wilderness at that time, and there could be other dangers as well. Mark points out that Jesus had the protection of angels as he wrestled through the process of discerning who he was and how he would carry out his ministry.

Jesus is in the wilderness for forty days.  Forty is a highly symbolic number in the Bible. After it rained for forty days and forty nights, Noah, his family, and all the animals stayed in the ark for over a year. The people of God wandered in the wilderness for forty years. The prophet Elijah spent forty days in the wilderness after Queen Jezebel said she would have him killed.

The wilderness is also where Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist carried out his ministry. After John is arrested, Jesus comes to Galilee and begins to proclaim the Good News.

Jesus’ ministry began, continued, and ended in struggle with authorities who either could not or chose not to recognize the presence of God. He begins his ministry by saying, “…the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.” Many scholars say that the word translated as “near” could also be translated as “within you.” The kingdom of God is within you.

The First Letter of Peter was written to a community of new Christians in Asia Minor who were finding that it was not easy to follow Jesus. They were surrounded by people who did not share their faith, and they were living in a world that was suspicious of the new faith, a world that tended to persecute Christians.

During Lent, we are following in the footsteps of our Lord. As he wrestled with what God was calling him to do and how he was to do it,  we are called to take time in Lent to discern our own ministries, to acknowledge our sins and failures, to ask God’s forgiveness and grace and to allow God to help us to grow into the persons God calls us to be.

Most of us have been on this journey for quite a bit of time, so it’s more a process of steady growth than a dramatic transformation, but it’s still hard work, and we wouldn’t even be able to begin without God’s love and grace.

Our gospel and epistle for today remind us of something that I find a great comfort, and that is that Jesus went through all of this, and we are simply walking the way that he has already walked.

We may not be going out into the wilderness in a literal sense, but we can identify the things that tempt us to be less than we know God calls us to be.  There are so many misuses of power in this world that it would be easy to say, “Might makes right,” or “The end justifies the means,” and get off track. These abuses of power can also be downright depressing, and we need to remember that our Lord never gave up. He persevered through everything.

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus begins his ministry after his cousin John has been arrested. John was put in jail because he confronted Herod Antipas with his immorality. He was later killed because he had spoken truth to power.

Jesus worked through his process of discernment. He wrestled with his own demons. And he came through it and carried out his ministry in a way that shows us love, courage, and integrity lived in a human life.

Our prayers are with those who died and were injured at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and with their families and friends and all who mourn this terrible loss. May we also seek God’s guidance and take whatever actions our Lord calls us to take in this matter.

Gracious and loving God, lead us and guide us as we follow you this Lent. Amen.


                  

Ash Wednesday    February 14, 2018

Isaiah 58:1-12
Psalm 103:8-14
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Here we are, on Ash Wednesday in the year 2018. Today, we will receive ashes on our foreheads which will remind us that we are frail human beings, and we need God’s help. We are dust, and to dust we shall return.These ashes are made from the palms with which we welcomed our Lord at the beginning of Holy Week.

We are here because we are about to begin another Lent, a time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, a time to deepen our relationship with God, a time to confess our sins, ask for God’s healing and grace, and get back on track so that we can follow Jesus as faithfully as possible.

Our reading from Isaiah comes from the time when the exiles had returned to Jerusalem. They were trying to rebuild the temple, their homes, and their lives, and they were becoming more and more discouraged.  They were beginning to argue with each other instead of working together. Their worship was reflecting this situation. They were going through the motions but not opening their lives to God. They were forgetting that love of God means that we also love our neighbor, and they were even oppressing their workers.

In this passage, God is calling them and us to worship with sincerity and faith and to trust in God’s response to true worship. As we do our work of self-examination this Lent and as we discover the ways in which we need to grow, God will help us with God’s grace. God does answer prayers. In this passage, God is also calling us to remember  that we engage in prayer and fasting and self-examination not only to grow in our love for God, but also to enable us to reach out in love to others.

In our passage from Isaiah, God calls us to “loose the bonds of injustice, …to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke, to share our bread with the hungry,” to give shelter to the homeless and clothing to those who have none. As we accept God’s love and extend that love to others, we are all transformed in the process. As Isaiah says, “[our] light shall rise in the darkness.”

Jesus talks about this in the gospel. Our spiritual discipline is between us and God. It is not a matter for outward show. As we pray, and as we try to increase our giving to others, and as we ask God’s help in dealing with the sins and flaws that keep getting in our way, God’s light and love will fill us more and more.

Lent comes from the middle English word “lente” meaning “springtime.” Lent is a time of growth. Yes, we fast. We simplify our lives. We give up something as a form of self-denial. We give alms in order to help those who need our help. We increase our prayer time if we can in order to spend more time with God and seek God’s direction. All of this helps us grow stronger in the faith so that we can share God’s love and healing more and more.

In our epistle for today, Paul calls us to “be reconciled to God.” Perhaps the most wonderful part of Lent or any time of penitence and self-examination is that such a season gives us the opportunity to grow even closer to God. As we simplify our schedules and our diet, and as we add more prayer time or whatever we feel God is asking us to do, the spiritual light in our lives grows just as surely as the light is increasing with the approach of spring. We are walking the way of the cross, and that way always leads to lightness and newness of life.

As a part of our spiritual life, the Church offers the sacrament of Reconciliation in which we can make our confession to a priest and receive God’s absolution. Lent is also a good time to seek spiritual guidance. If you would like to explore these, please let me know.

May our loving God be with us all as we make our Lenten journey. Amen.