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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:…

Pentecost 5 Proper 7B RCL June 24, 2018

1 Samuel 17(1a, 4-11. 19-23), 32-49
Psalm 9:9-20
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Mark 4:35-41

If we think back to our Sunday School days, what Bible passages do we remember? I think today’s first reading would rank near the top of the list for many of us. It is the classic story of the underdog winning the battle.

The text tells us that Goliath’s height was six cubits and a span. Scholars tell us that that translates into a height of ten feet. Goliath is huge; he is scary, and he is a bully. He challenges the Israelites to send one of their men to fight. If Goliath wins the battle, the Israelites will become the slaves of the Philistines.

Meanwhile, David’s father, Jesse, has asked David to bring supplies to his brothers who are at the front. David has gotten up early, left the sheep with a keeper, and brought the supplies. He goes to visit his brothers and hears the taunts of Goliath.

When he goes to King Saul and offers to fight the giant, Saul is afraid that David will be killed. But David assures Saul that, as a shepherd, he has killed bears and lions in order to protect his flock. Saul then offers David his armor, but it is far too heavy and bulky. David goes into battle with his shepherd’s staff, five smooth stones, and his sling.

As Herbert O’Driscoll writes, “David wears armor that we cannot see.” (O’Driscoll, The Word Among Us, Year B, vol. 3, p. 32.)

When David arrives on the battlefield, Goliath hurls threats. David answers, “You come to me with sword and spear, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts.” Goliath is trusting in his own physical strength and brutality. David is trusting in God.

In our epistle for today, Paul is writing to the troubled congregation in Corinth. Some people have gotten the idea that Paul is doing his ministry for his own personal gain and that he is insincere in what he is teaching. With all that Paul has been through, including shipwrecks, prison, and beatings it is difficult to conclude that he is in it for the glory, but that is what folks are saying. In spite of all this, Paul says that his heart is wide open to the people of Corinth, and he invites them to “Open wide [their] hearts also.”

If we open our hearts to each other, remembering that in Biblical terms the heart is the center of the person, the source not only of emotions but also of intention, will, commitment, thought, and intuition, opening our hearts is a powerful thing. We are speaking our truth from the depth of our being. When we can do that in a respectful and loving way, hurts can be healed, issues can be resolved, reconciliation can come out of conflict. Paul was a wise pastor and his words are as true today as they were all those centuries ago.

In today’s gospel, Jesus calls his disciples to get into the boat and go to the quieter side of the Sea of Galilee. They have been surrounded by huge crowds and they need some time away. Of course, the boats follow him. We know the story well. A major storm comes up, with powerful winds and waves so high that the boat is being swamped. The disciples are terrified. Jesus has fallen asleep. They wake him up, shouting, “Don’t you care that we are perishing?”  He asks them, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” And the text says, “They were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the waves obey him?”

Biblical scholar Fred Craddock tells us that at this point in their life together, the disciples had not realized who Jesus was. Craddock points out that Mark wrote this gospel for the Church, for those of us who know who Jesus is.

Jesus is with us at every moment in our lives. God is in the boat with us. God was with David. The Holy Spirit is with us. In every storm in life, God is present. Jesus is with us, leading and guiding us, giving us grace and strength to follow him, to rely on him for courage, to follow his lead in doing the right thing.

As I meditated on these readings this week, especially the encounter between David and Goliath, the words of the prophet Zechariah came to mind: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” (Zechariah 4:6)

In his Letter to the Galatians, Paul listed the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Lord Jesus, our Savior and brother, help us to remember that you are always with us. Give us the grace to transform our our fears into faith. Help us to seek and your will. In your holy Name we pray. Amen.

Pentecost 4 Proper 6B RCL     June 17, 2018

1 Samuel  15:34-16:13
Psalm 20
2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17
Mark 4:26-34

Last week the people wanted Samuel to appoint a king for them. Our reading ended with Saul becoming King of Israel. As our reading opens today, Saul’s reign is spiraling downward. He is a disaster as a leader, and he has little regard for the guidance of God.

While Saul is still alive, God calls Samuel to anoint the next King. The tyranny of Saul is apparent in Samuel’s asking God how he can go to the home of Jesse to carry out this mission, for Saul will kill him. God tells Samuel to say that he has come to sacrifice to the Lord.

You know the story. All of Jesse’s excellent sons pass before Samuel. As wonderful as they are, none is the one called to be King. It is the youngest, David, the shepherd, who will become the beloved leader of his people. In this passage, we read something on which we could meditate for the rest of our lives: “For the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” God does not look at our outward appearance. God looks into our hearts. That is to say, God looks at our intentions, our will, our intuitions, our thoughts. Bishop Tom mirrors this statement about God when he says that we should always evaluate situations, especially vocations, in terms of two things—intentions and integrity. What are our intentions? Are we carrying out those intentions with integrity?

In our epistle for today, Paul is still in difficult circumstances. He actually admits that it is difficult for him to be here on earth alive. He would rather be at home with the Lord. But since he is here, he is going to try to please God. We can all follow his example. Paul says that Christ died so that we would no longer live for ourselves, but for our Lord. I think we are all trying, with his grace, to do that.

Then Paul echoes our first lesson when he says that, because of Christ, we should no longer regard others from a human point of view, that, because we are now following Jesus, we are called to look at others through the eyes of Christ and love them with the heart of Christ.

And then he says this most mysterious thing—mysterious because we can think about it and pray about it and meditate on it, but we probably will never plumb its depths.  Paul writes, “So, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new.” That is what is happening to us. We are being made new. We are being transformed in Christ.

In today’s gospel, we have two parables. In the first, the kingdom of God is as if someone plants the seed, time goes by, the seed grows, we know not how. The grain grows, as if mysteriously, but the growth is energetic and robust. Finally, the grain is ready to be harvested.

In the other parable, the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. very, very small. Yet is grows into a large shrub, so large that birds can nest in it.

What are these parables telling us? Here are some thoughts. The kingdom of God is growing all the time. We do not understand how it grows, but it is progressing constantly without our awareness of how it grows. And, the other amazing thing is that the kingdom of God starts small, just like a seed, like the tiniest of seeds. Yet it can grow into something we would not believe possible.

Here in Vermont, the parable of the mustard seed is very important. Here in Vermont, a very small state which assumes national leadership on all kinds of topics far out of proportion with its size, we really do think that small is beautiful. Bigger is not always better.

In the Church, we are grappling with the fact that we will never return to the glories of the nineteen-fifties, with burgeoning buildings, bulging church schools, and no end in sight. We are now in the post-Christendom era. Membership is shrinking, formation is taking place in different ways, and we are looking around our neighborhoods seeing where God is doing good things and finding ways that we can pitch in and help. Once again, Vermont is leading in this effort, and I give thanks for Bishop Tom’s leadership on these issues.         

One of the things we will want to continue is the practice of placing just as much value on small churches as on large ones. St. Martin’s Church in Houston, where Barbara Bush’s service was held, is the largest parish in the Episcopal Church, with an average Sunday attendance of 1700 people. Vermont has no parish that even comes close to that size in numbers. But in depth of faith, commitment to the life of local parishes,  interest in learning, willingness to help neighbors near and far, the Episcopal Church in Vermont has no equal. In numbers of what we may call “mustard seed churches,” Vermont may be our national leader. This is a great gift, and I hope we will cherish that gift. When people visit with you here at Grace, or even hold concerts here, they sense a deep quality of faith and life in community. This is a pearl of great price.

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation. Let the whole world see and know that things that have been cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Pentecost 3 Proper 5B RCL June 10, 2018

1 Samuel 8:4-11, (12-15), 16-20, (11:14-15)
Psalm 138
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Mark 3:20-35

Last Sunday, we were present as God called Samuel to be the last of the judges, the leaders who mediated between the Israelites when they had a conflict, but were also spiritual leaders and prophets. Ironically, Samuel is now in the position that Eli was in last week. Samuel has grown old; his sons are not able to carry out the work of a judge, and the people want a  king just as all their neighbors have.

Samuel may be old, but he has not lost his wisdom or his integrity. He knows that, in the words of Lord Acton , “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.” Samuel warns the people that their king is going to place their sons in military service; and he will he will take their daughters to serve his court in the palace; and he will take over fields and orchards and give them to his courtiers and will demand tithes of all the produce of the land.

As usual. Samuel consults God about this issue, and God instructs Samuel to listen to the will of the people. In the end, Samuel anoints Saul as king. This is the beginning of a tragic time in the history of God’s people.

As Christians, we are called to understand the right use of power. Here again, we can remember David Brown’s distinction between auctoritas and imperium. Auctoritas, authority, the right use of power, is authorship, creativity, helping the people to be creative and to flourish. Imperium is tyranny, control, the opposite of true authority.

In our epistle, Paul is writing to his beloved congregation in Corinth. People have been accusing Paul of being insincere, and he is struggling to help the Corinthians realize that charge is simply not true. Yet, as Herbert O’Driscoll points out, Paul is becoming discouraged. Paul writes powerfully and eloquently, “Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” We’re all getting older, but God is constantly renewing us. Our “earthly tent,” our mortal body, will perish, but our spirits will dwell forever with God. How anybody could accuse Paul of being insincere about the faith when he could give us such poetic insights about God’s love and the nature of life in Christ is beyond me, but there were folks in Corinth who wanted to take control of the congregation and teach some ideas that were very far from our faith. There again, we have an example of people who were trying to seize power and then misuse that power.

In our gospel for today, we have a complicated and heart wrenching scene. Jesus is surrounded by huge crowds. His truth and his love and healing are magnetic. Word is going around that he has lost his mind. Some people are saying that he is doing all these healings by the power of the devil. It is a very serious and terrible thing when we give credit to the devil for the works that God is doing. It is a serious distortion of reality when we call what is good evil and what is evil good. The scribes, supposedly religious leaders and scholars are doing this. That is a horrendous misuse of power. Jesus vehemently denounces this. Biblical scholar Bruce Metzger writes, “The unforgivable sin is the utter rebellion against God that denies him as the doer of his own acts.” (Note, Matthew 12:31-32, NRSV NT p. 18.) It is difficult to fathom how anyone could watch what Jesus was doing for God’s people and accuse him of being possessed by the ultimate evil forces.

Meanwhile, there is another encounter happening in this gospel. Jesus’ family has come. Even his mother, Mary, has made the long journey. Perhaps they have heard the rumors that Jesus has lost his mind. I think it is more likely that they know the authorities are watching Jesus and trying to entrap him and they are hoping to persuade Jesus to go with them and lie low for awhile. The crowd is so big that they can’t get anywhere near Jesus, but they do get a message to him. “Your mother and your brothers and your sisters are outside asking for you.” And Jesus responds, “Who are my mother and my brothers? He looks around at those near him and says, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Herbert O’Driscoll invites us to think about how Mary must have felt when she heard that. It always reminds me of that time the family headed home and found out Jesus wasn’t with them and went back to the temple in Jerusalem. When they told him how worried they were, he said, “Didn’t you know I have to be about my father’s business?” That must have been a shock to Mary and Joseph.

This time, I think he is trying to say that he is creating a new family. It does not erase the former family, but it includes everyone who does God’s will. It may have hurt Mary and Jesus’ siblings to hear that comment about family.

We do not know the rest of the story, but we do know that Jesus would steal away to the mountains to pray, or take some time and go to the home of Mary and Martha and Lazarus. We can imagine that he found some time to get away and talk with Mary about what God was calling him to do and to reassure her of his love for her and his brothers and sisters. We know that one of his brothers, James, became Bishop of Jerusalem and died for his faith. Obviously, the family of Jesus cared deeply about him. They all showed up to try to help in whatever way they could. Jesus, the personification of love, cared about them as well.

And, of course, we recall that, in John’s gospel, when Jesus was dying on the cross, Mary stood there at the foot of that horrible instrument of torture and John stood beside her, and Jesus made them a family, He said, “Son, here is your mother; Mother, here is your son.” He was asking his beloved disciple John to take care of his mother. That was part of forming that new family. He wasn’t abolishing existing family ties; he was expanding the concept of family to include all of us.

There is so much to think about in these lessons. May we choose leaders who have true authority. May we, with your help, O Lord, accurately discern between good and evil. May we know the power of your love and healing. In your holy Name. Amen

Pentecost 2 Proper 4B RCL June 3, 2018

1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20)
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17
2 Corinthians 4:5-12
Mark 2:23-3:6

Our first reading this morning gives us the privilege of looking into the temple at Shiloh. Samuel is being trained by the elderly priest Eli. The lamp of God has not yet gone out. It is the middle of the night. The text tells us that the word of the Lord was rare in those days. Visions were not widespread. Eli’s sons have committed blasphemy. Eli has not been able to stop them from doing this. Eli is almost blind. He is slipping a bit in his duties. Samuel is sleeping in the temple. Eli is sleeping in his room. As Eli’s sons have been sinking into sin, Samuel has been growing in spiritual depth.

At this moment, a voice calls, “Samuel! Samuel!” The young man immediately responds and runs to Eli, thinking Eli has called him. This happens three times. In spite of all that has happened to his sons, and in spite of his own disappointment, Eli realizes what is happening. He tells Samuel that God is calling him and instructs Samuel on what to do. When God calls again, Samuel responds.

God now tells Samuel that God is bringing in a new order. Eli’s family will no longer hold their priestly offices. Samuel lies awake until morning. How would we feel if we had to tell our long-time mentor and guide that God was going to remove him and his sons from their ministries? A prophet’s job is never easy.

Morning comes, and Eli asks Samuel about his talk with God. Samuel has the courage to tell the whole truth. Eli does not retaliate against Samuel. He does not lose his temper. He has the grace and humility to accept that this is the will of God and even prays that God will “do what seems good to him.”

God is doing a new thing.

In our gospel for today, Jesus and his disciples are walking through a field on the sabbath and his disciples pluck off heads of grain and eat them. The Pharisees immediately challenge this behavior. Under the law, the disciples are harvesting on the sabbath. Jesus counters with the example that David and his companions ate the bread of the presence in the house of God. Our Lord comments that the sabbath is made for human beings and not human beings for the Sabbath.

Then Jesus goes into the synagogue and sees a man with a withered hand. Jesus asks, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life, or to kill?” The Pharisees say nothing. Jesus heals the man. The Pharisees go out and immediately begin to conspire with the Herodians to kill Jesus.

In the ministry of Jesus, God’s love and healing overrule the law. For centuries, the law had been the structure that bound the people together. Now, it is becoming a burden that interferes with the loving and healing work of God.

St. Paul will later write about how his sincere efforts to follow the law made him feel as though he was in prison. Paul writes eloquently about the power of love and grace. That is what we are witnessing in these two vignettes from the gospel.

What is more important, to save life, or to kill?  Jesus is bringing in a new order. He sees a man with an injured hand in God’s house, the synagogue. He heals the man. This power, the power of God’s love and healing, is a threat to the existing structures.

In both our Old Testament reading and our Gospel for today, God is bringing light into darkness and giving birth to new things. In our epistle for today, Paul writes, “For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”  Paul speaks of all the challenges he has faced in carrying the good news “so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.”

Eli’s sons are not able to be spiritual leaders for the people, so God calls Samuel. In our gospel, old structures are getting in the way of God’s healing and saving work, so God comes among us to show us the way to newness of life. Over and over again, when the light is failing or when old structures are no longer able to nourish our spirits, God comes and brings light and life.

May we listen for God’s call. May we respond with faith and courage.      Amen.

 

Our first reading this morning gives us the privilege of looking in on God’s call to Samuel. Samuel is a young man who is being trained by Eli, the priest at Shiloh. The text tells us that “the word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” Biblical scholar James Newsome notes that the fact that Eli’s eyesight has begun to grow dim may be more than a comment on his physical health. Newsome writes, “The implication is that the absence of visions concerning Yehweh’s will among the people does not arise out of a withholding by Yahweh of the truth,  but that the people, because of the blindness of their leader, and thus of themselves, are unresponsive to Yahweh’s overtures. Eli’s blindness is emblematic of the blindness of the people.” (Newsome, Texts for Preaching Year B, p. 364.)

 

Eli’s sons have committed blasphemy. While the sons of Eli have been sinking further and further into sinfulness, the young Samuel has been growing in spiritual depth, and God is now going to call Samuel to be a prophet. But when God calls him, Samuel thinks that it is Eli calling. This happens three times until Eli realizes that the call is from God and instructs Samuel on how to respond. Samuel receives the message from God. Eli and his sons will be removed from their duties because of the blasphemy of the sons and the failure of Eli to stop them and correct their behavior.

 

Eli senses that something is afoot, and he asks Samuel to tell him what God said. Imagine how it wild feel if you had this message to give to an older man whom you loved, a man who had taught you everything you know. Samuel has the courage to tell the truth to this man who has been his mentor and guide for many years, and Eli has the faith and humility to see this as the will of God.