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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion March 26, 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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Lent 4C    March 31, 2019

Joshua 5:9-12
Psalm 32
2 Corinthians 5: 16-21
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Today is the Fourth Sunday in Lent, known as Laetere, Rejoice Sunday, from the opening words of the mass from Isaiah “Rejoice, O Jerusalem, and come together all you that love her….” (Isaiah 66:10)  In the British Isles, this day is known as as Mothering Sunday, when people would return to their mother church, the church where they were baptized and servants would be allowed to visit their mothers.

This joyful note is found in our opening reading from Joshua. After their long journey through the wilderness, the people of God celebrate their first Passover in their new home. The manna disappears and they eat the produce of the land. They have moved from slavery into freedom.

In our epistle, Paul echoes this sense of joy and freedom. “So, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. Everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new. All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.”

In our gospel, we come to one of the best known of Jesus’ parables. Biblical scholar Fred Craddock calls this the “Parable of the Loving Father.” Before our Lord tells this story, the text tells us that “ all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus.” We know that tax collectors were hated because they had taken jobs with the Roman occupation government and made good salaries collecting taxes from their neighbors to benefit the Roman occupiers. On the topic of sinners, Fred Craddock writes, “Sinners were persons so designated because their offenses had gotten them thrown out of the synagogues.” (Craddock, Preaching through the Christian Year C, p. 259. Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners, and the Pharisees and the scribes are upset that Jesus allows these people, who are generally considered offensive and beyond the pale, to actually draw near and listen to him. And now Jesus tells this parable.

“A man had two sons.” The focus is on the man. He  loves his two sons. The younger son asks for his inheritance. A younger son was entitled to one-third of the estate, but he usually inherited this at the time of his father’s death. The father breaks with tradition and divides the property. Scholars tell us that the neighbors were probably scandalized.

The son goes to a “distant land” and spends every penny in “dissolute living.” Scholars tell us that this doesn’t necessarily mean that he spent it on prostitutes as his older brother will later accuse him of doing. It means he wasted the money on useless things. He has taken his family’s legacy and blown it. He has taken something very precious and ground it into the dirt.

Now a famine comes and he gets a job as a hired man feeding pigs. This means that he is breaking the religious law and is considered ritually unclean. Religious people should avoid him. He is eating the pods of the carob, something reserved for animals and the very poor.

Each of us in our own discipline of self-examination can identify with the feeling of shame, uselessness, and hopeless that arises when we make a series of unwise decisions and end up feeling alone, alienated from the people we love, and alienated from God.

We have a moment of sanity. The text says that the son “came to himself…” When we get off the path, we have to recover our true self. We have to go home. And we go over the list—I did this and this and this, and I am unworthy and I am sorry. And we want to get back on track.

If this father had been the traditional patriarch who says, “Jump” and you say “How high?” he wouldn’t have been out there at the end of the driveway waiting for his son. But he isn’t the traditional patriarch. Before his son says a word, he hugs and kisses him. Then he puts a robe on his son, probably his own robe, puts a ring on his finger, and sandals on his feet. Scholars tell us that no slaves wore sandals. Those sandals are signs that he is freed and restored to his true self. And then the feast begins.

But this father has another son. The elder son refuses to go to the feast. He is operating from a theology of scarcity. There’s only so much love to go around. My younger brother gets everything. I get nothing. His father loves him just as much as he loves his foolish younger son. The father comes out from the feast. The elder son lets him have it. The father stands there patiently, lovingly, And then he tells him, “Son, everything I have is yours, always has been, always will be,  but your brother was dead and now he’s alive. We have to celebrate.”

We have all made bad decisions. We have all done things we wish we had not done. We have all sinned.

For many centuries, we humans viewed God as someone who hurled thunderbolts, spewed forth fire and brimstone, and, all in all, was extremely scary. The word was that God did these things especially when we humans went astray. I suppose this was supposed to help us stay on the path. In my humble opinion, this misunderstanding about God is not very helpful to us, especially when we are acutely aware of our sinfulness. It makes us scared to go home.

Thanks be to God, Jesus came among us. Here he is, telling this parable because the Pharisees and scribes, the elder brothers so to speak, are grumbling that he hangs out with those detested tax collectors and sinners. Heaven forfend, he even called a tax collector to be one of his apostles!

For some of us humans, certainly for me, and I trust for you, the huge depth and breadth of God’s love is a source of great hope. The sheer fact of God’s love and grace makes everything new!  And here in the midst of Lent, we rejoice.



Lent 3C    March 24, 2019

Exodus 3:1-15
Psalm 63: 1-8
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Luke 13:1-9

In our first reading today, we are looking on as Moses goes about his daily work as a shepherd for his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian. Moses is already a walking miracle. When the Pharaoh decided to kill all the Hebrew boy babies, his mother and sister made a little boat out of rushes and pitch and put it out into the bulrushes along the banks of the Nile; the Pharaoh’s daughter came walking along, heard the baby crying, took him to the royal palace, hired his mother as nurse, adopted him and raised him as a prince.

One day, Moses went out into the world to see how his people, the Hebrews, were doing. Though he appreciated the compassion, courage, and generosity of the Pharaoh’s daughter, he knew who his people were. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew man, and he killed the Egyptian. When Pharaoh put out the word to have him killed, he fled. He settled down in the land of Midian under the protection of the priest, married the priest’s daughter, Zipporah, and now has a family.

He is going about his daily work, taking care of the flock. And he sees something—a desert shrub that is on fire but is not consumed by the flames. And Moses turns aside. And that is a big part of this story. How many of us will turn aside? How many of us will delay the next meeting or phone call or letter or load of laundry and just take a minute to turn aside?

Moses quickly discovers that he is standing on holy ground and he is in the presence of God. And God turns out to be much more observant and much more compassionate than Moses had realized. Moses hides his face because he knows God is mighty and powerful, but Moses hadn’t quite realized how much God cared.

When God tells Moses that God has seen the suffering of God’s people and God is going to free the people from oppression, Moses is quite impressed. He had noticed that oppression before he left Egypt.

But now God is asking him, Moses, a guy who killed an Egyptian and had to run for his life, a guy who is number one on Pharaoh’s list of the Ten Most Wanted, to go back to Egypt and lead the people to freedom. Like all the prophets before and after him and most of the people ever called to serve God, Moses feels inadequate. There is good reason for this. We  humans are inadequate. But God gives the answer God always gives to us when we realize that we can’t do something alone: God says, “I will be with you.”

And then Moses wants to know how he is supposed to tell the Israelites that God has sent him, little ordinary Moses, to lead them out of Egypt, God says, “I am who I am,” “I was who I was,” “I will be who I will be.” God is powerful and dynamic. But God also tells Moses that God is the God of their ancestors, the Holy One who has brought them to this point and will lead them into the future.

As we all know, Moses says Yes, but this wonderful passage from Exodus is a reminder that we are on a journey from slavery to sin to freedom in Christ, and God is with us every step of the way.

Our epistle for today reminds us that our freedom in Christ is not a license to do anything we want to. There is a huge difference between freedom and license. Some of the Corinthians are saying that now that they are baptized and receiving the sacraments, they can do whatever they please. They can commit immorality, they can go to pagan festivals and eat meat sacrificed to idols and still be faithful followers of Jesus. Paul does a recap of the Exodus journey to make it clear that we have to put God first. If we are worshiping idols, we are not following Jesus. Paul also reminds us that Our Lord gives us the grace to stay on the path and follow him.

In today’s gospel, the people have questions about two events. In the first, some people from Galilee came to the temple in Jerusalem to offer their sacrifices. Pilate had them killed and mixed their blood with the blood of the animals they had sacrificed. Although this is something that Pilate might well have done, scholars tell us that there is no mention of it in any other historical document. The people seem to be thinking that, because this awful thing happened to these people, they must have been sinners.

In another event, the tower of Siloam fell and eighteen people were killed. Siloam was a reservoir. Once again, scholars tell us that this event is not mentioned in any other documents. Jesus’ response remains constant: just because this disaster happened to these people does not mean that they were worse than other people.

In Jesus’ time and now, there are still folks who believe that if something terrible happens to someone or a group, they must be bad people. That is why Rabbi Kushner wrote his excellent book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Because even now, in the twenty-first century, this belief persists. In our quest to try to find explanations for things, we revert to that ancient belief that bad things happen only to bad people.

The thing is that none of us is perfect. We are all frail and fallible humans, and, if God operated on the basis of demanding total perfection at all times, we would all be in deep trouble. God calls us to be compassionate toward one another.

This may be why Jesus tells the parable of this poor fig tree. In those days, you gave a fig tree three years to grow to maturity. During that time you did not pick any of its fruit. In the fourth year you could pick the fruit but you had to offer it to God. This tree is three years old. The owner wants to cut it down.

But the gardener says, “Just give it one more year. I’ll dig round it and put on some manure, and then, if it still bears no fruit, you can cut it down.” Our collect points out that we “have no power in ourselves to help ourselves.” Thanks be to our loving God, who is always there to help us bear good fruit.  “Inch by inch, row by row, gotta make this garden grow.” Amen.

Lent 2C   March 17. 2019

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
Psalm 27
Philippians 3:17-4:1
Luke 13:31-35

In our opening reading for today, we meet those shining examples of faith, Abraham and Sarah. At this point, their names are still Abram and Sarai. God has called them to leave their comfortable life in Mesopotamia and journey to Canaan.

Abram and Sarai have no children, and God has promised them that they would have many descendants. They have been through trials and tribulations and challenges too numerous to describe, and, although they are humans like us, they have stayed on the path and kept the faith as well as anyone could  under the circumstances. Yet, they are still childless.

Back in those days, around 1600 years before the birth of Christ, having children was everything. If you had children, you had a future, If you had no children, you had no future. If you had children, you could leave your land and flocks and herds and fields to them and they would take care of you. If not, it was easy to feel that you had nothing to live for.

By this time in their lives, Abram and Sarai are very old, way beyond the childbearing years. Yet God has made a covenant with them, and now Abram is asking God, when are you going to keep your end of this bargain? God takes Abram outside and shows him the night sky. See that? That’s how many descendants you will have.

Abram still needs more proof, so God actually tells Abram to carry out a liturgical offering, a sacrifice. Then Abram falls asleep and has a dream in which God confirms that the promise will come true.  

Have you ever thought you didn’t have a future? Have you ever thought God had broken a promise? Has your faith ever wavered? Here we have Abraham, that great icon of the faithful person, needing reassurance from God. And God responds.

In today’s gospel, the Pharisees warn Jesus that Herod is trying to kill him.  Jesus has little patience with the machinations of worldly leaders. His response is terse, “Go tell that fox that I’m going to keep on healing people and helping people and on the third day I finish my work.”

Jesus knows exactly what is going on. These days we would say he is streetwise. He knows that Herod is a fox who is ready to raid the hen house and eat the chickens. He is totally focused on his mission, and he knows that he has to go to Jerusalem. Yet he tells us a tragic truth. Jerusalem, the city where the temple is located, the city which is supposed to be listening for the voice of God and following God’s leading, is a city in which the leaders, both sacred and secular, do not hear the voice of God. Beverly Gaventa writes, “Ironically, tragically, the city that houses God’s Temple also houses a persistent refusal to hear God’s word.”  (Gaventa, Texts for Preaching Year C, p, 207.

Because of this, Jesus wants to protect his little chicks. Like a mother hen, he wants to gather us under his wings and protect us from the likes of Herod and other foxes. But he cannot do this. The powers that be in Jerusalem are not going to permit it. He is called to go to Jerusalem, and he will go, but he will not be permitted to offer healing and comfort and protection to the people. The earthly powers will stand in the way. They will kill him. Jesus knows exactly what a fox is, because he has the vantage point of a mother hen, or maybe even a chick.

How easy it is for us humans, when we acquire a great deal of money and a great deal of fame and power, to lose our bearings. The recent scandal involving very rich people paying money to insure that their children get into the best colleges and other people running a business that facilitates these transactions is a glaring example of this.

What would we do if we had that amount of money and power? What would we do without our faith? What would we do without God and Jesus and the Spirit guiding us and giving us grace?

In his letter to his beloved Philippians, Paul reminds us that, ultimately, we are not citizens of this world. Yes, we are called to stay informed and participate in our government and exercise our vote, but, as Paul writes, “Our citizenship is in heaven.” We are following Jesus, “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith”. We are waiting for him to come and complete his work of creation. And we are not waiting passively. We are doing all we can to help him build his reign of peace, harmony, and wholeness.

Sometimes, on this journey, we wonder, where is God in all of this? Sometimes we may feel that God is far away. Abram felt that way, even though he was a person of deep faith. He called out to God and God answered him.

In today’s gospel, we stand beside our Lord as he shares his profound grief, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it. How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” Even  before we call out to him, our Lord is ready to help us.

And yet, our Lord knows that he will not be allowed to offer that comfort and protection to Jerusalem. He will be killed.

But we are listening, and we know that, at this very moment and always, Jesus is offering us his presence, his grace and strength and guidance. He is with us right now, doing just that. We don’t even have to ask him, We don’t have to call on him. He is here.

May we accept his gracious gift of himself.  Amen.

Lent 1C RCL    March 10, 2019

Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
Romans 10:8b-13
Luke 4:1-13

In our opening reading, from the Book of Deuteronomy, we have the opportunity to look on as Moses prepares the people of God to enter the promised land. They will be planting crops and raising cattle and sheep. When the harvest comes in, they are to offer the first fruits of that harvest to God in thanksgiving for all that God has done for them. God has brought them out of slavery.

The text offers precise directions for this liturgy. The person is to say certain words to the priest. The priest is to say certain words and perform very specific actions. This is to be done with deep reverence. This text is part of the background for our practice of making and carrying out our pledge of time, talent and treasure to God.

God constantly showers us with many gifts, and we respond with gratitude. This is part of our journey in faith.

Our psalm is one of the most profound statements of faith in the Bible. God is our refuge and our stronghold. The psalm says, “For he shall give his angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways. They shall bear you in their hands, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” This line is a direct link to our gospel for today.

In our reading from Romans, Paul says, “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim.)” This passage can refer to our favorite psalms and other passages from the Bible, which are on our lips and in our hearts, but it also refers to the risen Christ, who is here with us now, very near us, among us, leading and guiding us.

And Paul says something else that is very important. He says, “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek: the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call upon him.” We are all one as Jesus and the Father are one.

Now we turn to our gospel. Every year on the First Sunday in Lent, we read one of the accounts of the temptation of Jesus. This year our gospel is from Luke.

Jesus has just been baptized by John, and God has said that Jesus is God’s Son. Now Jesus goes out into the wilderness, and he is tempted by the forces of darkness. How is he going to carry out his ministry? What values are going to guide his decisions and his actions?

This yearly review of the temptations is a great gift to us. For one thing, we realize once again that Jesus went through just what we go through. He was fully human. He was also fully divine, and he did not succumb to these temptations. This gives us hope that, with his grace, we can faithfully follow him. We can resist the things that would draw us away from God, things that would divert us from following our Good Shepherd who is out in front of us.

This year, the thoughts of Herbert O’Driscoll, one of my favorite scholars and preachers, speak profoundly to me.  He notes that when Satan says, “If you are the Son of God,” it should probably be read in a sneering tone. Satan is questioning the identity of Jesus.

So often temptations have to do with our identity. Who am I? How am I going to conduct my life? O’Driscoll notes that the temptations “appeal to the ego as being self-sufficient.” O’Driscoll says of the first temptation, to turn stones into bread,”We are hearing the temptation to attract followers through bribery, by producing what they want and need. Our Lord refuses.”

When the devil shows our Lord all the kingdoms of the world and offers them to Jesus, O’Driscoll says, “The temptation is to get people to follow by the use of naked power. If you don’t want to bribe them,  then dominate them. Again our Lord refuses.”

In the third temptation, the demon tells Jesus to throw himself off the pinnacle of the temple. As our psalm says, angels would come and rescue him. O’Driscoll writes, “The third option the demon offers is the possibility of impressing people so much that they will be mesmerized by spectacle and will follow. Jesus once again refuses.”

O’Driscoll writes, “Every option is an appeal to his human ego…Jesus defers to a will higher the his own.” And O’Driscoll connects these temptations with that moment of faithful surrender in Gethsemane when Jesus says, as we are called to say from time to time, “Not my will but thine be done.”

Finally, O’Driscoll makes an observation that I think is crucial to us on our journey. After this time of challenge is over, what does Jesus do? He goes to Galilee and calls his first two disciples. O’Driscoll writes, “He has chosen, not the way of the solitary ego, but the way of community, sharing, relationship.”

O’Driscoll notes the line that follows the temptations.”When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.” The temptation to rely on our own strength, to be less than God calls us to be, is always there, waiting in the wings. But, with God’s grace, it is as a speck of dust in the face of the light of  Christ.

O’Driscoll writes, “The demon does not depart permanently even from Jesus. There will be other encounters, other struggles. We know only too well that this is true for our lives. But we know something else—because of the risen life of our Lord, there is grace for us in our encounters with the demon.” O’Driscoll, The Word among Us, Year C, vol. 2, pp. 16-17.)

This Lent, as we let go of things that draw us away from God, and take on practices that help us grow closer to God, dear Lord Jesus help us to remember that you have walked this way before us and that  you are here to help us on the journey. In your holy Name we pray. Amen.

The Last Sunday after Epiphany 3/3/2019

Exodus 34:29-35
Psalm 99
2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2
Luke 9:28-36, (37-43)

Today is the Last Sunday after Epiphany. We move from the Epiphany season, the season of light and mission, into Lent, a time of penitence, self-examination, and prayer, a time for askesis, spiritual fitness, a time to confess our sins, ask God’s forgiveness, and grow closer to God. Today is also called Transfiguration Sunday because of our gospel reading.

Our first reading is from the Book of Exodus. The people of God have been enslaved in Egypt, and they are now on their journey to freedom. Moses, their leader, goes up Mount Sinai to receive the tablets of the law. The skin of Moses’ face is shining with the light of the presence of God. When Aaron and the people see Moses’ face, they are afraid to come near him. They are afraid of God, They believe the old saying that, if you see the face of God, you will die. So Moses covers his face with a veil when he returns from talking with God.

In our gospel, it is about eight days after the feeding of the five thousand and after the conversation in which Jesus asks his disciples who they think he is. Peter answers, “The Messiah of God.” Jesus takes his closest followers, Peter and James and John up to the mountain to pray.

And while he is praying, his entire person shows forth the the light of the presence of God. The two great prophets, Moses and Elijah, are there talking with Jesus, showing that he is in the line of the greatest prophets in history. Peter, dear Peter, says, “Master, it is good that we are here with you. Let’s make three shrines, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. He wants to make sure this moment will be forever preserved in history. He wants to build a monument.

Then a cloud comes over them, the same cloud that covered Moses on Mount Sinai, the cloud that shows God is present, and God speaks, “This is my Son, my chosen. Listen to him!”

If this had taken place in the time of Moses, Peter and James and John would never have been on the mountain. They would never have been in the presence of Jesus and God. If by some strange error they had been, they would have run down the mountain screaming in horror because they were afraid of the presence of God.

But none of that happened. Yes, they had been drowsy but they had stayed awake and they had seen the whole thing—Jesus with Moses and Elijah, and then God descending to the top of the mountain and telling them to listen to His Son. Yet they did not run away howling in terror.

Paul talks about this in his letter today. He writes, “All of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord, …are being transformed into the same image from one glory to another.” In other words, we are being transformed into Christ.

Peter and James and John had decided to follow Jesus. They had prayed with him, eaten meals with him, watched him heal people, listened to his teachings, helped him to feed five thousand people. They had observed how he treated each person with great care and respect. Peter had figured out that Jesus was the Savior whom they had all been expecting, they had all been hoping for.

And yet, when they were on that mountain, and the two great prophets were there and then God was also there, Peter and James and John were in awe for certain, but they were not afraid as God’ s people had been afraid in Moses’ time, a little over a thousand years before.

Why was that? What had happened? Why were these three close followers awe-struck but not running away in terror? Because God had come to live with them, to walk with them, to talk with them, to teach them, pray with them, heal them, lead them as their good shepherd, and be with them every day of their lives.

God had come to be close to them, to be with them, and what they felt most of all, was God’s love for them, a transforming love, and that is what St. Paul is trying to express in this portion of his Second Letter to the Corinthians.

Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. Jesus has come to be with us, to lead us and guide us. Here on Transfiguration Sunday, we see our Lord as he truly is—powerful, but not in a way that paralyzes us with terror. His is the power of love.

As we prepare for Ash Wednesday and for the season of Lent, and as we do honest self-examination and confession of our sins, our Lord calls us to remember that this is part of our ongoing process of transformation. We are becoming more like him. We are placing ourselves and our lives in the hands of our loving God.

He is in our midst, calling us to follow him, not out of fear but out of love.   Amen.