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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:…

Ash Wednesday  February 26, 2020

“You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” These are the words we hear as the ashes are placed on our foreheads today. According to the Book of Genesis, Adam was the first person God made. Scholars tell us that the root word for the name “Adam” is the Hebrew Adamah, meaning “ground” or “dust.” Genesis 2:7 says, “then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a  living being.” We are formed from the earth and we will return to the earth.

And yet, there is another truth in these ashes. They are formed when we take the palms with which we welcomed our Lord into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and burn those palms. So, we could say that these ashes certainly remind us that we are frail and fallible and human, that we came from the earth and will return to the earth. Yet there is something else. These are the palms we threw on the ground; these are the remains of the palms on which our Lord walked when we welcomed him as our King on Palm Sunday.

These ashes, placed on our foreheads in the sign of the cross, remind us that we are sinners. These ashes also remind us that Jesus is our King. We are following him. We are walking the same path he walked, the path to the cross. We are frail and fallible sinners, and we are in a process of transformation through our life in and with Jesus.

Humility is also a word that comes from the ground. The root of Humility is humus, the good, rich earth tilled and prepared for planting. Humility does not mean that we have to go around beating our breasts and saying how awful we are. Nor do we make a spectacle of carrying out our spiritual disciplines. But we are like the tilled field—open to God’s planting of light and grace and healing and discernment.

We are not perfect. We don’t do everything right. We are not in control of everything. What a relief it is to admit that truth! We need help from God. We need God’s grace. 

We know where we are going this Lent. We have the Ten Commandments and the words of Isaiah and the call of Paul to reconciliation. We have the call to love God with our heart and soul and mind and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Our Lord calls us to store up treasures in heaven, treasures such as faith, hope, and love rather than earthly treasures such as power, acquisition, and control.

We have seen the vision of God’s reign, God’s shalom. lived out right in front of us in the life of Jesus.

And that is why we are following him. And we know that we need his help. And so, this Lent, we will be letting go of things that get in the way between Jesus and us. And we’ll be taking on disciplines that help us to grow closer to Jesus and God and the Spirit. 

These are different for each of us. For some, it might be more time in prayer. For some, it may be a form of fasting, staying away from a favorite food or skipping a meal, a small form of sacrifice compared to what he did for us. but at least something. For quite a few us, it might be Lent Madness, a light-hearted way to learn about the heroes and heroines of our faith, the saints of God.

We are trying to align our hearts and minds with the heart and mind of Christ. We are trying to grow closer to him in praying the prayer of Christ, learning the mind of Christ and doing the deeds of Christ.

It may mean that we are taking special care to find ways to accept his love for us on a deeper level. Doing something that nurtures us and makes us feel close to God, like playing a musical instrument, singing, drawing, skiing or snowshoeing out in God’s beautiful creation—whatever it is that lets us feel close to the love of God.

Since Lent comes from the Old English word for spring, I wish you a Lent full of growth and joy and light and love. Our Good Shepherd is out in front of us leading us. Yes, we are walking the way of the cross, and it is a way that leads to newness of life. May God bless us on this holy journey. Amen.

The Last Sunday after the Epiphany Year A   February 23, 2020

Exodus 24:12-18
Psalm 2
2 Peter 1:16-21
Matthew 17:1-9

Today is the Last Sunday after the Epiphany. This coming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. We move from the Epiphany season, a time when we celebrate the showing forth of the light of Christ to all people, a time when we focus on light and mission. And we enter the season of Lent. 

Lent comes from the Old English word “lencten”, meaning “spring.” Lent is a time when we take on disciplines that will bring us closer to God and a time when we let go of any things in our lives which draw us away from God. Lent is a time when we engage in self-examination and preparation for the great feast of Easter. In the early Church, Lent was a time in which people were prepared for the sacrament of Baptism. It is a penitential time in which we examine our lives and repent. 

Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary says that to repent is to be sorry for our sins and to dedicate ourselves to the amendment of our lives. Another way to say it is that during Lent and other times of penitence, we experience metanoia, a process of transformation which leads us closer to God and allows us to let God into our lives so that we grow more and more into the likeness of Christ.

Lent is a time when we walk the Way of the Cross. We walk in the shoes of our Lord and we gain a more profound understanding of who he was, what it means to follow him, and how we can live the Way of Love.

Our opening reading today is from the Book of Exodus. Moses goes up the  mountain to receive the Ten Commandments. Back in those days, the thinking was that you could not look into the face of God and live. So the fact that Moses could go up there and come back down was quite amazing to people. Herbert O’Driscoll says that back in those days Mount Sinai was an active volcano, and that certainly adds to the terror of Moses’ journey.

In our gospel, Peter has said that Jesus is the Messiah. Our Lord takes his closest followers, Peter, James and John, and leads them up a high mountain. This is not Mt. Sinai. Scholars say it could be Mount Tabor or Mount Hermon. Others suggest other possibilities. Some say we should not search for an exact location but consider this a symbolic Mount of Transfiguration.

In any event, Jesus and his three companions go up the mountain. His face shines like the sun, his clothes are dazzling white. He is transfigured. The great prophets Moses and Elijah are there, talking with him, showing that he is in the fulfillment of the law and the prophets.

We could say that this is an awe-inspiring scene, and perhaps a bit scary. It is definitely what we would call  a “mountaintop experience.” Peter is is extremely flustered and is not quite in possession of his logical faculties. He wants to build three booths to preserve this moment of intersection with the eternal. When we have those mountaintop moments, we all want to do this. We want to save the moment forever.

As in the baptism of our Lord, God says, “This is my Son, the beloved; with him I am well pleased;” and then God adds some very good advice: “listen to him!” The disciples fall on the ground, overcome by fear. You know how it is. In a terrifying moment, we became paralyzed. And then Jesus comes and touches them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And they look up and see no one but Jesus. The text says, “himself, alone.” He is the Son of God, and yet directly after that moment, he comes and touches them, calms their fears, and brings them back to reality. Then they go down the mountain.

As we get ready for Lent, there are so many things we can remember from this transfiguration experience.  One is that we can now look into the face of God and live. We can look into the face of Jesus and from the power of his love and light we can gain the courage to take the next steps of our journey.

 As we move into Lent, we can remember the glorious illumination of his transfigured presence. We can keep in mind that he is calling us to grow into his likeness, to become more and more like him.

We can feel him touching us in our moments of fear or grief or despair, and saying, “Get up, and do not be afraid.”

The author of the First Letter of Peter, probably a disciple of Peter, is so close to his teacher that he can recall this moment as though he actually lived it. This faithful disciple writes, “You would do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”

The morning star is often thought of as a symbol of Jesus. In hymns such as number 497: “How bright appears the morning star; with mercy beaming from afar; the host of heaven rejoices; O righteous Branch, O Jesse’s Rod! Thou Son of man and Son of God! We, too, will left our voices: Jesus, Jesus! Holy, holy, yet most lowly, draw thou near us….”

For the next two days, we can hold in our hearts this vision of our transfigured Lord and his call to us to open ourselves to his transforming power and love. Then, on Ash Wednesday, we will resume our journey with him, the journey to the cross.

As we make that journey, may we hold this vision of who he truly is, May we be strengthened to bear our cross. May we be changed into his likeness. In his holy Name. Amen.

Epiphany 6A   February 16, 2020

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Psalm 119:1-8
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Matthew 5:21-37

Our readings today cover so much important spiritual territory that we could literally spend a week-long retreat praying and reflecting on them.

In our lesson from Deuteronomy, Moses has brought the people to the boundary of the promised land, but he is not going to be able to lead them into that land. He is trying to teach them everything they need to know in order to be faithful to God and to each other on the next part of their journey.

Moses tells the people, “I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.” Then he calls them to “Choose life.” Scholars tell us that when Moses, speaking for God, tells us that, if we follow God’s law to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves we will have life and prosperity, he does not mean material wealth, but rather a quality of life in a community based on love, respect for the dignity of every human being, compassion, and justice. When we choose life, we are choosing a way of life that makes it possible for everyone in the community to flourish.

In our epistle, Paul is once again trying to teach the congregation in Corinth to be a community like the one Moses is describing, a community where everyone loves God and each other, where every person’s gifts are celebrated and appreciated, a community that is one as Jesus and God and the Spirit are one.

Our gospel for today is a continuation of the Beatitudes. Jesus is elaborating on the meaning of the commandment to love God and each other. He is trying to help us understand not only the literal meaning but also the spiritual meaning of the commandments.

We all know we are not supposed to murder any one. But what about the kind of murder we can do with sharp and hurtful words, or gossip? We are called to love each other. If we are angry with someone, we are called to reconcile with them.

Then Jesus addresses the issue of adultery. Back then, a woman could be stoned for committing adultery. A man could divorce his wife for a trivial reason, such as, he didn’t like her cooking. She would be thrown out on the street, and, if she didn’t have a male relative to take care of her, she would be homeless. Jesus calls us not to look upon each other as objects, but to realize that every one of us is a child of God.

Then our Lord addresses the issue of swearing to tell the truth in formal circumstances such as taking an oath in court. He makes it clear that he is calling us to tell the truth all the time.

All of this reminds me of a wonderful book by one of my heroes, Archbishop Desmond Tutu. I think he is probing one of your heroes as well. The book is called God Has a Dream. It was published in 2004, but it speaks to us just as eloquently sixteen years later as it did back then.

He writes, “When, according to the Christian faith, we had fallen into the clutches of the devil and were enslaved by sin, God chose Mary, a teenager in a small village, to be the mother of His Son. He sent an archangel to visit her. I envision it happening like this.

Knock knock.

‘Come in.’

‘Er, Mary?’

‘Yes.’

‘Mary, God would like you to be the mother of His Son’

“What? Me? In this village you can’t even scratch yourself without everybody knowing it. You want me to be an unmarried mother? I’m a decent girl, you know. Try next door.”

If she had said that, we would have been up a creek. Mercifully, marvelously, Mary said, ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word,’ and the universe breathed a cosmic sigh of relief, because she made it possible for our Savior to be born.

“Mary was a poor teenage girl in Galilee and reminds us that transfiguration of our world comes from even the most unlikely places and people. You are the indispensable agent of change. You should not be daunted by the magnitude of the task before you. Your contribution can inspire others, embolden others who are timid, to stand up for the truth in the midst of a welter of distortion, propaganda, and deceit.”

Archbishop Tutu continues, “God calls us to be his partners to work for a new kind of society where people count, where people matter more than things, more than possessions; where human life is not just respected, but positively revered; where people will be secure and not suffer from the fear of hunger, from ignorance, from disease; where there will be more gentleness, more caring, more sharing, more compassion, more laughter; where there is peace and not war.

And he continues, “Our partnership with God comes from the fact that we are made in God’s image. Each and every human being is created in this same divine image. That is an incredible, a staggering assertion about human beings.” He goes on to say, “You don’t have to say, ‘Where is God?’ Every one around you—that is God.” (Tutu, God Has a Dream, pp. 61-63.)

Every one of us is made in the image of God. Every one of us is a beloved child of God. Every one of us is an alter Christus an “other Christ.”  Every one of us, every human being, is a spark of the divine fire of love and light. This awareness is at the heart of our call to follow Jesus and to create the kind of community and the kind of world he calls us to create.

We are made in God’s image, and we are human. We are frail and fallible. We need God’s help. That is why we gather to pray and to be with God and Jesus and the Spirit in a special way. Because we need to rely on God’s grace and guidance.

May we choose life, life rooted and grounded in the love of God. May we follow Jesus and live the Way of Love. May we be enlivened by the Holy Spirit, who energizes us to love others as God loves us. Amen.

Epiphany 5A February 9, 2020

Isaiah 58:1-9a, (9b-12)
Psalm 112:1-9
1 Corinthians 2:1-12, (13-16)
Matthew 5:13-20

Our first reading, from the prophet known as Third Isaiah, dates back to the time when God’s people were finally able to return home to Jerusalem after the Babylonian Exile. At this stage, the temple has not  yet been rebuilt. 

Services are taking place, however, and God has called the prophet Isaiah to point out some major problems in the way the people are conducting their worship and leading their lives. The people are worshiping and fasting, but their lives do not reflect the attitudes that God expects us to have when we worship, pray, and fast.

 God calls Isaiah to tell the people that they fast, but then they pursue their own interests and oppress their workers. They go through the outward motions of worship, but their worship is not reflected in their lives. 

Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann writes of this passage, “There is no doubt that the ‘bonds of injustice’ alludes to the systemic practice of dehumanization.” The appropriate answer to this dehumanization is, in Brueggemann’s words, “the concrete response of caring people.” Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching year A, p. 129.

God then describes the fast that God expects of God’s people: “To loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free…to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them…” Scholars tell us that, when Isaiah speaks of the yoke, this refers to the burdens that poverty places on people.

Then Isaiah describes what happens when our worship and our lives are congruent and in harmony with God’s vision of shalom. “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn and your healing shall spring up quickly. The glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.”

The people have been complaining that they fast but God does not seem to hear them. This passage tells us that, if our worship is truly centered on God and if we are trying to do God’s will, “[we] shall call and God shall answer. [We] shall cry for help, and God will say, ‘Here I am.’” Closeness to God has to do with the sincerity of our worship. Prayer and worship are not empty rituals. They transform us.

Our gospel for today immediately follows the beatitudes. We missed reading those last Sunday because we were celebrating the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the temple.

Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Blessed are those who know they need God’s help and ask for God’s help and guidance. Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for a right relationship with God. Blessed are the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers.” One scholar says that in the Beatitudes, Jesus is blessing all the things we don’t want to be. God’s reign is very different from human kingdoms.

Our Lord is saying the same thing Isaiah is teaching us today. When our worship and our lives are congruent with God’s vision of shalom, then our light shines. Then the light of Christ shines forth from us. Then, he tells us, we are the salt of the earth. We are the light of the world.

Salt is tangy. It preserves things, It adds flavor. Light helps us to see. When we are following Jesus, when we are loving God and loving others, the light of Christ shines in everything we do.

In our passage from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul is dealing with the same kind of situation that Isaiah is facing in our first reading. There are some folks in the congregation who think they have a secret wisdom. They are called Gnostics, from the Greek word  gnosis, which means knowing. 

There is nothing wrong with knowing things and learning things. Learning is essential. But these people, tragically, are using their so-called secret knowledge to lord it over others in the congregation. They are also criticizing Paul, who, although he is an expert in rhetoric, the art of public speaking, does not use his knowledge of rhetoric in preaching and teaching. He preaches and teaches from his heart. We could say that Paul’s teaching, preaching, and worship are the opposite of what is going on in Jerusalem in our first reading. The worship and fasting in the temple is all an elaborate show. It is not coming from the heart.

Paul says,”My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom but on the power of God. Yet among the mature, we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age.”

Paul is saying that when we pray the prayer of Christ, learn the mind of Christ, and do the deeds of Christ, we grow into maturity in Christ. We grow into the wisdom given by God. And that wisdom helps us to, in Paul’s words,“understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.” To put it another way, true wisdom comes from God and leads us to an appreciation of all the gifts given us by God. It does not lead us to lord it over our brothers and sisters.

May we show forth the light and love of our Lord in our lives. May we follow Jesus with all our heart and soul and mind and strength and  may we love our neighbors as ourselves. Amen.

The Presentation  February 2, 2020

Malachi 3:1-4
Psalm 84
Hebrews 2:14-18
Luke 2:22-40

Today we celebrate the feast of the presentation of Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem. Forty days after the birth of a first born son, the parents would take him to the temple to dedicate him to God. We don’t have the opportunity to celebrate this unless it falls on a Sunday, and this is one of those years.

Our first reading is from the prophet Malachi, We know almost nothing about this man. The name “Malachi” means “messenger, but scholars tell us it is not his real name. He is a messenger, so his book has been named “Messenger.” Scholars tell us that his ministry took place between 520 B.C.E. and 400 B.C.E.

God is calling this messenger to prepare the way for the time when the Lord will come to the temple. We hear the words which Handel has so beautifully set to music in the Messiah. “But who can endure the day of his coming and who can stand when he appears?”

The Lord will purify the people so that they can present offerings to the Lord as a people of compassion and justice, a people who love the Lord with all their heart and soul and mind and strength and who love their neighbors as they love themselves.

Psalm 84, our psalm for today, was a song that pilgrims sang as they entered the temple in Jerusalem. How dear are God’s holy places to us. How dear is Grace Church to us. We love to spend time with God and each other, and our strength is in God.

Our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that Jesus came to be one of us so that he could destroy the power of death. As John Donne wrote, “Death  has no more dominion” over us. Jesus has become like us so that he can become “like his brothers and sisters (namely, us) in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God.” And then those words which are so reassuring and inspiring to us in times of great trial. “Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.” Our Lord has walked through the valley of the shadow of death, and he helps us when we have to walk   that valley. We know that he has gone before us, and his grace holds us up and even carries us.

Our gospel is a tender scene of celebration. It is forty days after the first Christmas, and Mary and Joseph bring the little Jesus to the temple to worship and to celebrate and to offer him to the Lord and ask God’s blessing.

In the temple is a faithful elderly man named Simeon. His song of praise, the Nunc Dimittis is in our prayer book on page 93.  Simeon realizes that he has seen the Savior, and he sings a song of thanks and praise, “Lord, you now have set your servant free/ to go in peace as you have promised;/ For these eyes of mine  have seen the Savior,/ whom you have prepared for all the world to see:/A Light to enlighten the nations,/ and the glory of your people Israel.”

Just think what it must have felt like to see this beautiful baby, only a little over a month old, and realize that this is your Savior. Simon blesses Mary and Joseph and tells then that because of what Jesus will have to suffer, a sword will pierce their own hearts too.

Another devout person, Anna, is there, She never leaves the temple. She “worships there with prayer and fasting night and day,” She, too, recognizes who Jesus is. She praises God and tells the people that Jesus is the Savior.

And then those final sentences, so filled with meaning: “When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord,  they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom, and the favor of God was upon him.

The next time we will see Jesus is when he is twelve years old and the family goes to the temple for the Passover. In those days, families traveled in large extended family groups. Mary and Joseph started on their way home in that large family group, thinking Jesus was with Uncle Amos and his family or perhaps Aunt Elizabeth and her family, and they finally realized he wasn’t with them. We recall that they rushed back to Jerusalem and found him teaching in the temple, astounding people with his learning.

 They had been so worried and they tried to tell him how upset they were that they had left him in the temple without even realizing it. We will never forget his answer. “Don’t you know that I must be about my Father’s business?” Even at age twelve, Jesus knew who he was.

He is our Savior, someone who understands all of what it means to be human, and, because he understands, we can go to him and tell him about the times when we fail to love God and our brothers and sisters or the times when we really put our foot in it and say something we regret or the times when we get angry because we are very tired, and why are we tired? Because we tried to do it ourselves instead of asking him for help. We can tell him the truth because we know that he understands. And because he love us. And forgives us. And gives us strength to go on.

These two very elderly people, Simeon and Anna, understand whom they are seeing, a Savior who loves and understands and forgives and strengthens us. May we know him, too, more and more deeply. May we see him more clearly, love him more dearly, and follow him more nearly. Amen.