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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:…

Christmas Eve   December 24, 2019

Isaiah 9:2-7
Psalm 96
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)

This year, I have been thinking of the word Emmanuel—God with us.

What does that mean? In what way or ways is God with us?

In one of the gospels appointed for Christmas, which is also the gospel we read on the First Sunday after Christmas, we read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

The Word is the One who called the whole creation into being, the One who has the power to create galaxies, the One who created the universe.

And today, we read of how the eternal Word, God, came to be with us. God didn’t skip any of the steps in being human. God was a little embryo inside his mother, Mary, just as we were inside our mothers.  Because his conception date was before his parents’ wedding date, and people could count, and perhaps some tongues could wag, he was born under a shadow of illegitimacy.

From the first, his family faced challenges. It was a long and extremely uncomfortable journey to Bethlehem for a pregnant woman. And after his birth, Herod decided to kill all the baby boys under the age of two, and the family became refugees, fleeing to Egypt for safety. The Eternal Word, coming to be with us, did not have a life of privilege.

After a while, the family returned to Nazareth, and we can picture Jesus learning the carpenter’s trade. His birth took place in a small town. and his life was lived in another small village. The first witnesses to this birth were the shepherds. For most of us, who live in small towns in Vermont, it is not a huge leap to picture angels calling our neighbor Vermont farmers to come to Fairfield or Montgomery or Fletcher or Franklin or Sheldon to welcome this new king who has been born in somebody’s stable.

God with us. A God who loves us that much. A God who gives us free will and, as we misuse that gift and get into more and more trouble,  comes to join us, to be one of us. That’s why we call Jesus our Good Shepherd. He loves us; he knows each of us, and he, like any biblical shepherd, goes out in front of us and leads us—leads us to the good water holes, the most nourishing pastures, leads us away from briars and poisonous plants, and risks his life protecting us from lions and bears. There actually were lions and bears in Israel in the time of Jesus.

He was just an ordinary guy, working with his Dad in the carpenter shop. By the time he was old enough to do that, his family had faced major challenges that could have killed them. Then he went out into the world to share his message of love—love God, love each other, love everyone because everyone is a child of God just as we are. And he healed and welcomed and loved and taught everyone who came to him

And for that he was killed by people who had turf they wanted to protect. Even religious leaders. And, as Barbara Brown Taylor has told us, on that cross he took all that death and brokenness and hate and worked with it for three days and gave it back to us as life and love.

He was and is truly one of us—completely human and ordinary. He and Joseph could have helped us with the construction of our new interfaith food shelf building. And because he is one of us, and because he gives us his grace, we can follow him— follow his way of love. We can love people, feed them when they are hungry, give those who are thirsty something to drink, welcome people, give clothing to those who have nothing to wear, care for people when thy are sick, go and visit those are in prison, whether there are locks and bars or not.

His is a kingdom of peace, love, healing, and wholeness. If we follow him, if we become more and more like him, we will be helping him to build his kingdom, his shalom, “and the earth will be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.”

Come let us adore him. Come, let us follow him.  Amen.

Advent 4A December 22, 2019

Isaiah 7:10-16
Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18
Romans 1:1-7
Matthew 1:18-25

In our first reading today, it is 732 B.C. E. King Ahaz of Judah is in a tough situation. The Assyrian Empire is growing in power. The King’s other northern neighbors, Syria, with its capital Damascus, and  Israel, with its capital Samaria, want him to join them in an alliance against the Assyrians.

The prophet Isaiah is calling Ahaz to have trust in God and to remain neutral in this conflict. Ahaz is only twenty years old, but he really does not want to hear what Isaiah has to say. Biblical scholar Robert Kysar says that Ahaz is telling Isaiah, “My mind is made up. Don’t confuse me with the facts.” (Kysar, New Proclamation Series A, 1998-1999, p. 25.)

King Ahaz has decided that the best thing to do is to make an alliance with the Assyrians. This will result in disaster as Judah will lose its independence and fall under the control of the powerful Assyrian Empire.

But God never gives up on us, and Isaiah tells the young king that God will send a child born of a young woman, and he shall be called Emmanuel, God with us.

In our gospel, we read about the circumstances of Jesus’ birth. Joseph and Mary are engaged. They have made solemn vows that they will be married and they will be faithful to each other. We enter the story after Mary has told Joseph that she is pregnant. Now Joseph is in an agonizing situation. To all earthly and human appearances, the woman he loves has been unfaithful to him. This astounds Joseph beyond all measure since he has always felt that Mary is as faithful as anyone can be. Looking in on this scene, with two thousand years of hindsight, we know that she is an icon of faith. Later, she will follow Jesus every step of the way and stand at the foot of that horrible cross until every bit of his life has drained out of him.

One thing that always strikes me when we read these lessons is the enormous difference between King Ahaz and Joseph. The text tells us that Joseph is a righteous man. Righteous does not mean someone who thinks he or she knows everything, someone who has rigid beliefs and you have to agree with them. Righteous means having a right relationship with God. It means being open to God’s guidance at all times. As a righteous man, Joseph makes the painful decision to divorce Mary quietly and save her reputation.

Unlike King Ahaz, Joseph is open to God’s leading even in his sleep. In his dream, an angel of the Lord tells him the truth about Mary’s pregnancy. God is bringing a new life into the world. God is coming into the world to bring new life to everyone just as Isaiah had said.

When Joseph wakes from his dream, he does something entirely different from what he had planned and dreaded to do. He marries Mary. And when the baby is born, Joseph follows the angel’s directions and names him Jesus.

Joseph is one of the shining examples in the scriptures. He is a person of deep prayer who listens for the voice of God in everything he does. He takes Mary to Bethlehem, the City of David, and protects her all along the way. Later, when King Herod starts killing little boys so no one can seize his throne, Joseph takes Mary and Jesus to Egypt.

Scholars remind us that Jesus was born under the cloud of illegitimacy. His parents were married after he was conceived. And then the holy family became refugees fleeing from a tyrant who was full of hate and fear. All along the way Joseph listens for the guidance of God and follows that guidance. Joseph is a wonderful example of a foster father. Like him, may we listen for the voice of God. May we have the depth of faith that Joseph had.

The light is shining in the darkness. The days have been getting shorter and shorter, and the light shines ever more brightly. The light is shining in the darkness ad the darkness has not overcome that light.

May we make room for Jesus in the inn of our hearts. As Master Eckhardt centuries ago called us to do, may we give birth to Jesus in our lives. As our collect says, “May he find in us a mansion prepared for himself.” Amen.

Advent 3A December 15, 2019

Isaiah 35:1-10
Canticle 3, p. 50 BCP
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11

Our opening reading from the great prophet Isaiah describes a profound transformation of people, animals, and the whole creation. The disabled are healed. Those who are afraid receive strength. Waters break forth in the wilderness and deserts bloom. All the people and the animals form a joyful procession to Jerusalem.  

Walter Brueggemann writes, “The Bible is relentless in its conviction that nothing that is skewed and distorted and deathly need remain as it is. God’s power and God’s passion converge to make total newness possible….Jesus is remembered and celebrated as the one who permits human life to begin again….The Church in Advent remembers this newness happening in Jesus and prepares itself for the affirmation that God is at work even now to bring the world to God’s powerful well-being.”  (Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching, p. 19.)

Our reading from the Letter of James begins with a loving word of advice, “Be patient, beloved, until the coming of the Lord.” We are called to “strengthen [our] hearts.” We are called not to grumble against each other. We are being asked to calm ourselves, put our roots down deep into the grace and love of God, and wait expectantly for the coming of our Lord.

Last week, we met John the Baptist out in the wilderness preaching repentance. Now he is in jail. John the Baptist has been put in prison by King Herod because he confronted Herod with his immoral behavior. Even though he is locked away, John is hearing news about what the Messiah is doing.

Although John is in prison, his supporters are able to visit and talk with him, and he is able to send some of them to Jesus to ask a very pressing question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we wait for another?”

Of course, we remember that John confidently proclaimed Jesus as the Savior and asked our Lord to baptize him. Why is he now wondering whether Jesus is the Messiah?

Biblical scholar Beverly Gaventa writes,” One reason for his uncertainty could be his situation in prison. This is the explanation often picked up in sermons on the passage and developed psychologically, that is to say, John is depressed and forgotten in his jail cell, and as his incarceration continues he becomes haunted with doubts. Out of his dejection and discouragement, he sends to question Jesus.”

Gaventa continues, “The text, however, offers a more likely, explanation. In prison John hears about ‘what the Messiah was doing.’ presumably those acts of healing and mercy depicted [in our passage.] To a fierce denouncer of the sins of the people, the Messiah’s primary task must be to carry out the final judgment, to see that the ax is laid to the root of the trees and to burn every tree that does not bear fruit. What sort of Messiah could Jesus be who teaches in the synagogue, preaches the gospel of the kingdom, and heals every disease and infirmity? John seems uncertain, not because of his own plight but because of what Jesus is reputed to be doing. He is not turning out to be the kind of Messiah John expected.

Here is is important to remember that, in the history and writings of the people of God, there were two strands of thought about the Messiah. One was that the Messiah would be a military hero, coming in with great force and conquering the Roman Empire and freeing the people. The other strand was the thinking of prophets such as Isaiah. 

Gaventa continues, “What John needs is a new understanding of who the Messiah in reality is, what sort of work the Messiah does,  and with what sort of people he does it….Seeing and hearing that Jesus is preoccupied with people who have been marginalized by their situations, who can do little or nothing for themselves may represent a threat to some and prevent their accepting Jesus as Messiah. Like John, they expect that the Messiah should be doing more about stopping crime and punishing criminals. They would prefer to wait for another in hopes of finding a leader more to their liking. Jesus alone, however, defined his messiahship.” Gaventa, Texts for Preaching, pp. 26-27.

The scriptures do not tell us how John worked though this issue, but Gaventa’s comments remind us that it is very difficult for some of us to accept the messiah who is so clearly described in Isaiah’s prophecy, a loving savior who brings all of humanity and all of the creation to wholeness, health, and joy.

The text does give us Jesus’ comments on John. Our Lord says that there is no human being who is greater than John. And then our Lord gives us one of his paradoxes. “The least in the kingdom is greater than he.” John is a great man. He is a prophet and he prepares the way of the Savior. Yet, as Gaventa writes, “…the one who is least in the kingdom is greater than John. The age of fulfillment toward which John points is so decisive that even Jesus’ disciples…who understand and share his fulfilling activity, are greater than John. The comment is not made as a rebuke of John, but as an acknowledgment of the surpassing character of the new age dawning in the person of Jesus. It is an age in which disciples are still vulnerable to arrest and imprisonment, but are also changed and empowered to participate in the messianic activity of Jesus.” (Gaventa, Texts for Preaching, p. 27.

We are already following our Lord. We are already disciples. Yes, we are flawed and fallible humans, yet we are already in our process of transformation, and we are working to help our Lord build his Kingdom. Once again, I share an ancient prayer by an anonymous mystic who lived in the fifteenth century.

“Thou shalt know Him when He comes
Not by any din of drums—
Nor the vantage of His airs—
Nor by anything He wears—
Neither by His crown—
Nor His gown—
For His presence known shall be
By the Holy Harmony
That His coming makes in thee. Amen.”

Advent 2A December 8, 2019

Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Romans 15:4-13
Matthew 3:1-12

Our opening reading from the prophet Isaiah begins with the image of a stump. This symbolizes a low point in the story of God’s people. Scholars tell us that this terrible time could have been after the victory of the Assyrians over God’s people or the conquest of God’s people by the Babylonians. The stump is the last vestige of the line of King David. It looks dead.

We all have seen stumps which develop green shoots, and that is what is happening here. Out of the stump of Jesse, King David’s father, comes a new shoot, a branch. And the text tells us, “The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him.” Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann writes of the Spirit as “God’s life-giving, future-creating, world-forming, despair-ending power…, which can create an utter newness.” Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching Year A, p. 11.)

Brueggemann writes that, “In the place of  …sword, spear, and javelin this king will be dressed in the saving regalia of loyal concern and love.” (Texts, p. 12.)

The spirit of God is coming to bring in the kingdom of God. Natural enemies will live together in harmony, and “a little child will lead them.” Brueggemann writes,  “The new king, powered by the spirit, will not be open to bribes (‘what his eyes see’) or convinced by propaganda (‘what his ears hear.’) He will, rather, be the kind of judge who will attend to the needs of the ‘meek’ and the ‘poor.’”  (Texts, p. 11 and 12.)

Brueggemann continues, “‘The little child’ bespeaks the birth of a new innocence in which trust, gentleness, and friendship are possible and appropriate. The world will be ordered so that the fragile and vulnerable can have their say and live their lives.” (Texts, p. 12.)

To paraphrase, Brueggemann says that “Advent is our decision to trust the [power of the Spirit] against the hopeless stump of what has failed.” (Texts, p. 12.)

Our psalm for today, Psalm 72, adds to the description of the good and just king who rules wisely and is like fresh rain nurturing the growth of the earth. Good and faithful leaders always nurture the growth of everyone in society, especially those who are at the margins. These two readings offer the basic view of the kingdom, the reign, the shalom of God.

In our epistle, Paul begins with a prayer that we might have hope. He adds, “ May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” God is the God of steadfastness and encouragement. God encourages us to hang in there and continue to hope, and God makes it possible for us to glorify God with one voice.

God brings us together in love so that we may love each other and love God.

Paul calls us to welcome others as Jesus has welcomed us. And he refers to the shoot of Jesse, the branch of David’s family, our Lord Jesus Christ, and Paul prays, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

As the days become shorter and shorter, we are called to be people of light and love and hope because our King is coming to us.

Our gospel for today brings us into the presence of one of the two great Advent figures, John the Baptist. To say the least, he is a striking figure. He certainly doesn’t wear a Brooks brothers suit, and he eats locusts and honey. Scholars tell us that locusts were among the few insects that were considered ritually clean. John is living off the land. His ministry takes place out in the wilderness, and hundreds of people flock to see him.

John preaches a baptism of repentance, He is calling us to give up our sins, examine our lives, and get ready to follow the One who is to come, the Savior. In the midst of the corruption of the Roman Empire, it’s no wonder that people are traveling to see him, They know they need to do something different with their lives. They need direction, and they sense the promise of hope and light in what John is telling them. John calls the religious leaders a “brood of vipers.” A nest of snakes. They are depending on the fact that they have Abraham for their ancestor, but John is telling them, just as Isaiah had done centuries ago, that God is about to do a new thing.

“God’s life-giving, future-creating, world-forming, despair-ending power, which can create an utter newness.” That is what Advent is about. We do self-examination. We make course corrections. We ask our Lord to give us the grace and guidance to grow closer to him. It is serious work, and it is also joyful work. “Life-giving, future-creating, world-forming, despair-ending” work.

We are on the journey of making room in our hearts and lives for Jesus to come and live with us. Live within us. We do this in a spirit of hope and love and light and joy.

Loving Lord, help us to make room for you in our lives and hearts. Amen.

Advent 1A    December 1, 2019

Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 122
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:36-44

Advent is the New Year’s season of the Church. Our vestments turn from the green of the post-Pentecost season to purple, which symbolizes royalty. Our King is coming. Purple also symbolizes penitence, sorrow for our sins. Advent is a time of self-examination, a season in which we take stock of ourselves and ask God to help us to get on track. 

We change from Lectionary Year C to year A. During the three years of the lectionary cycle, which is shared by all the major Christian denominations, we cover all the key passages in the scriptures.

We are preparing for the second coming of Christ our King. Our Lord will come to complete his work of creation and establish his kingdom. Since the ways of this world are very different from the values of his kingdom, we take this time to realign ourselves with our Lord’s vision of how the world should be.

Our opening reading from Isaiah reminds us of these values. We are called to beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks. We are called to turn from war and violence to peace and the nurturing of people and the creation. If we make our swords into plowshares, we are investing in raising food, and feeding people instead of killing people. We are putting our energy into taking care of people and all creatures instead of hurting them. We are moving toward life rather than death. Isaiah calls us to “Walk in the light of the Lord.”

Our psalm shows us a beautiful and powerful picture of people flocking to the Holy City of Jerusalem. Indeed, many people make pilgrimages to this city, which is the center of three great faiths, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. God is calling us to prepare for the day when people of all faiths will work to bring peace, not only in Jerusalem and in the Holy Land, but across the whole wide earth.

In our epistle for today, Paul wakes us up. “You know what time it is,” he writes. He tells us that “Now is the moment for [us] to wake from sleep. Advent is a time for us to pay attention, to be alert, to be present to every moment. This is a good season for cleaning out things that we no longer need, a time for lightening our load, focusing on what is essential. It is a time for making or revising wills, filling out advanced directives, telling our families about what we want done when the end of our lives comes near. In other words it is a time for getting things in order. 

We pray the  powerful words of Paul in our collect for today: “Let us lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” And Paul calls us to “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” We are called to put on Christ as we would a garment. We are called to grow up into  Christ, to become more and more like him. That is the process of metanoia, transformation.

And in our gospel, our Lord tells us something he wants to make very clear. When he comes, it will be sudden. There will be no time to prepare. That is why we need to prepare for that moment all of our lives. When we look into his eyes, we will see the One Who loves us beyond all telling, and he will say, “Servant, well done.”

The shalom of God has begun, but it is not yet complete. Isaiah makes the vision very clear—a kingdom of peace, compassion, harmony, and wholeness where everyone has food and clothing and shelter and medical care, and good work to do. Even amidst all the brokenness we see on earth, there are signs of light, signs of wholeness. Each of us is doing our little bit to build that kingdom, that shalom. One little sign of that is our food shelf, and there are many others.

We have just celebrated Thanksgiving, that wonderful holiday when we get together with family and friends to give thanks for the many blessings God showers on us and to eat all our favorite holiday foods. We are also continuing to collect our United Thank Offering, which helps people all over the world. Another light, another ministry of love.

Advent is a paradoxical in-between time. We are looking back to the time when he came among us as a little baby, and ahead to the time when he will come aa our King. Now, at the darkest time of year, the light is shining, the light that nothing can or will extinguish. And we are walking in that light and love.

Here is a meditation by an anonymous writer: “I pray that I may lose my limitations in the immensity of God’s love. I pray that my spirit may be in harmony with God’s spirit.  Amen. (Twenty-Four Hours a Day, November 30.)