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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:…
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Pentecost 20 Proper 25C October 27, 2019

Joel 2:23-32
Psalm 65
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
Luke 18:9-14

This sermon will be a bit shorter so that we can have some reports from Diocesan Convention.

We do not know a great deal about Joel, the writer of our first reading, but scholars think his ministry happened after King Cyrus of Persia conquered the Babylonians and allowed the exiles to return home. Joel describes a catastrophic attack of locusts which have destroyed everything. Now God us going to restore the land and make it fruitful.

Even more importantly, God is going to pour God’s spirit on all people. The people will dream dreams and have visions. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. As Christians, we know that God’s saving grace is with us every moment of every day as we follow Jesus.

In our epistle for today, Paul is in prison and he is dying. He sums up his life: “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith….The Lord stood by me and gave me strength. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will save me for his heavenly kingdom.”

Our gospel for today is the well known parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. For context, we need to remember that, in Jesus’ time, Pharisees were highly respected. They were experts in the law and they were trying to figure out how human beings could be faithful to the law. On the other hand, tax collectors were people who collected taxes for the oppressors, the Roman Empire. They were hated because people saw them as helping the Roman government, which was occupying the country.  The text says that Jesus is telling this parable to “some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt.”

The Pharisee is totally self-centered. He thinks he is perfect. He does everything right. He is ever so much better than that tax collector. Not only is he a narcissist on steroids, but he is also judgmental. He thinks he is so much better than other people, but he views other people as “thieves rogues, and adulterers.”

The tax collector does not even look up to heaven. He is well aware that he is not perfect. He does not compare himself to anyone. He is praying to God, the source of all goodness and mercy, and he is profoundly aware that he is a flawed human being. He asks God’s forgiveness. For him in this situation of prayer, there are only two participants—himself and God.

The Pharisee is a closed system. Nothing new gets into his mind and heart. He is talking to himself, and the only person he listens to is himself. The tax collector is an example of humility. Humility, from the same root as humus— good earth plowed and harrowed and ready for planting. Humility is openness to God’s guidance, love, healing, and forgiveness. The tax collector is open to God’s grace. The Pharisee, a privileged scholar of the law, is not. Once again, the outsider, the one at the margins, is our holy example.

Gracious and loving God, may we have the depth of faith that Paul had. May we fight the good fight. May we run the race. May we have the openness to receive your love and grace and to ask your guidance in all things.  Amen.

Pentecost 19 Proper 24

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

In our first reading today, the prophet Jeremiah has been imprisoned  by the king for saying that the Babylonians would conquer his people. The Exile is now happening. The leaders and many of the people have been taken to Babylon. It is a time of despair and hopelessness, one of the most tragic times in the history of God’s people.

The word of God comes to the prophet Jeremiah. God is going to bring the people back and they will build and plant. Everyone will have the opportunity to be responsible for his or her own life. God will make a new covenant with the people, even more amazing than the covenant in which God led them out of their slavery in Egypt.

God is going to put God’s law of love and mercy and justice into the very hearts of God’s people. Each person will know God. Each person will be profoundly aware of God’s love and forgiveness. In this text, God says this will be a “new covenant.” As Christians, we are reminded of the life and ministry of Jesus, God walking the face of the earth, Jesus, the One who embodies and expresses the love, healing, forgiveness, mercy, and justice of God in a human life. Jesus is calling us to be a people of hope.

In our reading from the Second Letter to Timothy, Paul begins by reminding Timothy of the people who have taught him the faith—his grandmother, Lois, and his mother, Eunice, and, of course, Paul, his mentor and teacher. Each of us can be grateful for the people who have formed us in our faith—parents, Sunday School teachers, Godparents, people we have met along the way who have taught us, strengthened our faith, and helped us through challenging times. 

Then we read, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction,  and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, some people began to teach that every word of scripture was dictated by God to a divine secretary, who wrote the Bible word for word, and that the Bible should be interpreted literally.

Through careful scholarship, we know that the Bible was written by many persons over many centuries. We also know that the Bible contains many passages which contradict each other. So, when we say that the Bible was “inspired by God,” we mean that the people who wrote this library of books contained within the Bible were indeed inspired by God to record the events in the history of the people of God, and that the Bible conveys deep truths to us, but it is not meant to be a factual, historical or scientific document. What is important is the depth of spiritual insight conveyed in the Bible. Just to know that God spoke to Jeremiah in a terrible time and reassured Jeremiah and the people that they would return and rebuild gives us hope all these centuries later.

Like Paul, Timothy is called to share the good news of Christ’s love and to be faithful in that ministry.

In our gospel, Jesus is telling the disciples and us a parable about “the need to pray always and not to lose heart.” This parable has two unforgettable characters— a judge who “neither fears God nor has respect for people,” and a very persistent widow. In Jesus’ time, widows and orphans were extremely vulnerable. They had no one to give them financial support or protection. The judge is in a position of great power. The widow is powerless. 

The widow is looking for justice. The judge is not doing his job. Judges were supposed to be people who carried out God’s justice on behalf of the people, but this particular judge is a poor example of his profession.  The woman is unstoppable. She hounds the judge until he at last grants her justice. 

The point of the parable is that God is nothing like this judge. God loves us and wants to hear our prayers and wants to help us. God is on the side of justice; justice is an essential part of God’s kingdom. If this persistent woman can get justice from this judge who is completely devoid of human sympathy and unwilling to do his job, we should be just as energetic and disciplined in our prayers to God as this courageous and faithful widow was in her quest for justice. The parable closes with our Lord asking, “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

As we look around our world, we see a huge gap between how things are operating here on earth and how God and Jesus and the Spirit would have things done. Isaiah and the prophets and our Lord himself have given us a clear picture of the kingdom, the shalom of God. Looking around, it would be easy to give up hope. It would be easy to stop praying.

But then we think of Jeremiah in prison, his country conquered by a powerful foreign empire. proclaiming God’s promise that the people will return and rebuild. We read a message from Paul, also in prison, telling us that the good news is not chained, encouraging Timothy and each of us to share the good news, to love and feed and clothe and welcome people. And Luke, writing fifty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, writing to a  community of faith that was undergoing persecution, calling them and us to be as persistent in prayer as that feisty, faithful widow was because God is a God of Love and of justice. God is listening to each and every prayer. And God will give us the grace to build God’s shalom.  Amen.

Pentecost 18 Proper 23C October 13, 2019

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

Our first reading today comes from the prophet Jeremiah. It is sometime between the fall of Jerusalem in 597 B.C.E.  and the total destruction of the city in 587 B.C.E. The leaders of Judah and many of the people have been deported to Babylon. This was a deeply tragic time in the history of God’s people. Yet biblical scholar James D. Newsome makes a crucial point. He reminds us that the exiles did survive, and he contrasts this with the situation when the Northern Kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrian Empire in 722 B.C.E. Those people were taken into captivity as well, but, as Newsome writes, “they disappeared from history.” Only those who were left at home survived, and they were later called Samaritans. (Newsome, Texts for Preaching Year C, pp. 546-47.)

Jeremiah writes this letter to the leaders of the exiles because false prophets had told the people that the exile would be short and they would return home soon. Jeremiah tells them them that the exile is going to last seventy years. And then he tells them that God is calling them to settle in Babylon, plant gardens, build houses, get married, have families, and prepare for the long haul.  

In 538 B.C.E., King Cyrus of Persia conquered the Babylonians and allowed the exiles to return home. Fifty-nine years had passed. Because they had nurtured their family life, studied and prayed together, and deepened their faith individually and corporately, they remained a cohesive community and were able to return home and rebuild.

Our next reading is from the Second Letter to Timothy, and I confess that I’m now subscribing to the view that this was written by Paul. He is near the end of his life. He is in prison in Rome. He is in chains. But then he bursts forth with the good news, “The word of God is not chained!” As the moments go on, though he has died with Christ in baptism, as we all have, he is dying again in the sense that he is becoming more and more one with Christ. He is becoming less Paul and more Christ. And, through everything, Paul shares his deep sense that, though we humans may be faithless, Christ is always faithful. Jesus carries us when we cannot walk.

Apparently the congregation which Timothy is serving is having some arguments, and Paul tells his mentee Timothy to warn the people that they need to stop “wrangling over words.” How many times in the Church have we gotten into that “wrangling over words.,” whether it’s passing the Peace or revising the prayer book or the hymnal or all the many other issues we have debated. The word of truth is that God’s love can lead us to find harmony in the midst of all these discussions.

In our gospel, Jesus is going toward Jerusalem, and he is now in the region between Samaria and Galilee. He is going toward a village and ten lepers approach him. Lepers are considered to be ritually unclean. They are supposed to shout out and warn people of their presence. Imagine having to do such a thing. This is designed to be sure that no one ever gets near them, They are outcasts. In those times, lepers lived together in little communities. In this way, they were able to offer support to each other.

These ten lepers do not shout, “Unclean! Unclean!” as they are supposed to. They stay at a distance, but they call out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” We can surmise that they have heard about Jesus. They have heard that he welcomes everyone, he respects everyone, from the most humble to the most powerful and everybody in between, and he has healing power like no one has ever seen.

Jesus looks at them with love and says, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” He has seen that they are lepers and he is advising them to go to the priests, who will certify that they are healed and can go back home to their families and resume their lives. On the way, they are healed.

One of them looks at his arm and sees that he is healed. He praises God with a shout of joy. “Hallelujah! And he turns around, goes back to Jesus, prostrates himself at Jesus’ feet. and thanks him. This man is a Samaritan. He’s a double outcast, a leper and a hated Samaritan. And he is the only one who thanks Jesus. So often in the gospels, it is the outcast who is the holy example.

Jesus notes that there were ten and only this one has come back to give thanks. And this one is a foreigner. Not one of us. And then he tells the man, Get up and go on your way, back home, back to your friends and family. You’re finished with your exile. And he says, “Your faith has made you well.”

Our faith can help us to get well and stay well in challenging times. It can give us that spirit of a sound mind and spirit of discipline that we heard about last Sunday. Our relationship with God and Jesus and the Spirit can help us to stay on course, to follow the one who loves us beyond our ability to understand. Our faith can help us to keep our sanity and hold our ground in times of exile.

And there’s one more thing—gratitude. Someone once said, and I do not know who—I heard it second or third hand. But whoever it was said: “As Christians, we know Whom to thank.” We know where all good things come from. We know that there is an inexhaustible supply of love, and it comes from God. And we can thank God for all the many blessings God showers on us. Like those exiles so many centuries ago, we can spend time with God in prayer, individually and corporately, and we can count on God to lead us and guide us in every moment and season and challenge of our lives.

Loving God, Jesus, our Good Shepherd, Spirit of truth, thank you for your unfailing love and for all the blessings you bestow on us. Help us to seek and do your will. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Pentecost 17  Proper 22C October 6, 2019

Lamentations 1:1-6
Lamentations 3:19-26
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Luke 17:5-10

In our opening reading from the Lamentations of Jeremiah, the worst has happened. Jerusalem has been conquered. Most of her people have been deported to Babylon.  The holy city is portrayed as a mother whose children have been taken away. This was one of the most devastating events in the history of God’s people.

Psalm 137 expresses the deep sorrow of God’s people during this tragic time: “By the waters of  Babylon we sat down and wept, when we remembered you, O Zion.”

During the Exile, some people were assimilated into the surrounding population, but some of God’s people kept the faith, re-examined the scriptures, remained faithful in prayer, built a strong spiritual community, and looked forward to the time when they could return home and rebuild. The other passage from Lamentations which we are using as our psalm today describes their hope and faith. Out of that time of exile they emerged stronger and more resilient than ever. “The Lord is my portion,”says my soul,“therefore I will hope in him.”

Our gospel for today is challenging. Why are the disciples asking our Lord to increase their faith? Between last Sunday’s gospel and our text for today, there is a short passage which has been left out of our readings. In that passage, Jesus is telling us that we have to be careful that we do not cause our brothers and sisters to stumble. He says it would be better if a millstone were tied around our necks and we were thrown into the sea than if we caused someone to falter in their faith. In that same brief passage, Jesus tells us that we have to confront a brother or sister if he or she sins, and that we must forgive our brother or sister if he or she sins. He says that if a member of our faith community sins seven times a day and asks us forgiveness seven times, we have to forgive that person seven times a day.

Now we can see why the disciples are asking our Lord to increase their faith. He is calling us not to put stumbling blocks in each others’ way, to confront those who sin, and to forgive those who sin. We might summarize this by saying that, in a healthy Christian community, we support each other, we confront folks when they sin, and we forgive others when they sin. This is a demanding set of expectations.

No wonder the disciples asked for more faith. But then our Lord says that if we have faith the size of a mustard seed, we could uproot a mulberry tree and plant it in the sea. In Matthew, he says we could take a mountain and throw it into the sea. As daunting as his call is to support each other and confront each other and forgive each other, he is telling us that our faith is sufficient to meet this demand.

Then he tells this parable. He begins by asking which one of us would look at our servant who has just come in from plowing or tending the sheep and ask that servant to come in and sit at the table and be served dinner. But then our Lord points out that we would not invite the servant to supper. Rather, we would ask the servant to prepare and serve the supper. But then suddenly there is another one of those reversals and we are the servants. We are only doing what God has asked us to do—support each other, guide and confront each other, and forgive each other. We are the servants of God.

This is a very tall order. We can understand why the disciples asked our Lord for more faith. Yet Jesus is telling us we have all the gifts we need and all the faith we need to be a healthy Christian community.

At this point, we can turn to our passage from the First Letter to Timothy and get some good, solid help. Scholars tell us that Timothy had survived some kind of adversity. We do not know exactly what the challenge was, but scholars tell us that Paul or one of his disciples was writing to encourage his young disciple and protegé. If this was written by Paul, it was toward the end of his ministry and he was in prison. Paul was someone who had faced all kinds of challenges—shipwrecks, beatings, ridicule, prison, on and on. If there was anyone who had been through adversity, it was Paul.

In this letter, Paul reminds Timothy of his mother, Eunice, and his grandmother, Lois, who nurtured him in the faith. How much we depend on our ancestors in the faith, that great cloud of witnesses who cheer us on.

And then Paul writes something that will stand the test of all time and every challenge: “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” The King James translation reads, “For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

God has given us a spirit of power, not to put obstacles in peoples’ way, but to welcome others and share God’s love with them. God has given us a spirit of love to encourage each other and to confront each other if we see each other going astray. God has given us a spirit of discipline, a sound mind to discern what thoughts and actions are in harmony with God’s will and what thoughts and actions are contrary to what God is calling us to do and be. In short, God has given us everything we need to be God’s loving community.  Amen.