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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion April 2, 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:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion April 9, 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:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion April 16, 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:…

Pentecost 4 Proper 8A June 28, 2020

Genesis 22:1-14
Psalm 13
Romans 5:12-23
Matthew 10:40-42

Our first reading is shocking. Why would something like this even appear in the Bible? Here Abraham is, one hundred years old. He finally has a son, and now God asks him to do something unthinkable, horrible—to sacrifice his beloved son. Why would God ask such a thing? This is a passage that causes more questions than answers.

As we have so often observed, when studying the Bible, context is crucial. This passage concerning Abraham and Isaac was written by the Elohist writer, who was working around 750 years before the birth of Christ. The story of Abraham goes back to 1,600 B.C.E., almost 900 years earlier. When Abraham settled in Canaan, and even later, the Canaanites and other peoples were practicing rituals of sacrificing their children to their gods.

Walter Russell Bowie of Virginia Theological Seminary writes of Abraham: “Here was a great soul living in a crude age. He saw people around him offering up their children to show their faith and their obedience to false gods. In spite of the torment to his human love he could not help hearing an inward voice asking him why he should not do as much; and because that thought seemed to press upon his  conscience he thought it was the voice of God.”

Abraham thinks God is calling him to sacrifice his son. He packs everything needed for the sacrifice. When he and Isaac have to leave the two young men waiting, Abraham tells them to wait, saying, “We will go and worship and then we will come back to you.” “We will come back.” On the way, Isaac asks where the lamb is for a burnt offering and his father says, “God will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.” Abraham instructs his two young man  and answers Isaac’s question with tender love love and deep faith. On some deep level, Abraham trusts that God will provide. God will take care of this. And at the moment when the knife is raised and we are holding our breath, the angel speaks and Abraham sees the ram caught in the thicket. Seeing is important here. We need to be alert and able to see God’s generous grace in operation. Abraham has shown the faith needed to offer everything, his whole future, to God. God has generously responded to Abraham’s faith.  God has also shown that God does not want people to sacrifice their children. 

Bowie writes, “The Old Testament is continually lifting the conception of God out of the irrationality and arbitrariness of pagan superstitions.” Bowie quotes the prophet Hosea, speaking for God, who tells us, “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.”  (Bowie, The Interpreter’s Bible, pp. 642-644.) 

God loves us, and our loving God calls us to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourself. We are called to a journey of spiritual transformation.

In our epistle, Paul is talking about that process of transformation. We have been baptized into new life in Christ. There are many definitions of sin, but one of my favorites is that sin is separation from God, other people and our true selves. As followers of Jesus, we are growing closer to God. We are growing closer to each other, and we are growing into the true selves God calls us to be. We are following Jesus.

We are following our Good Shepherd, who knows our needs before we ask and who gives us all the gifts we need to carry out our ministry. We are following the Way of Love. We are following the way of life.

Our gospel for today is the end of Jesus’ teaching as he sends the disciples out into the world. Last week he talked about bringing not peace but a sword. In this passage, he is describing the strong bond between those who spread the message of God’s love and those who receive that message with open hearts and minds.

Biblical scholar Beverly Gaventa writes, “A new family is created of those who faithfully carry out the mission and those who openly receive the mission, and a fellowship is established that includes the divine presence.” (Gaventa, Texts for Preaching year A, p. 287.)

Jesus sends the disciples out to share the good news of his love. When people respond, that love grows by leaps and bounds. New communities are formed and the good news spreads over the entire world.

This is good news of love, healing, and wholeness not hate, division, and brokenness. This is good news that is shared when someone gives another person a drink of cold water on a hot day in the desert,  in a city where the concrete reflects the heat, or in a  small village in Vermont when the temperature has been above ninety degrees for six days in a row. This is good news given in the sharing of boxes of food that will last a family several days and then they can come back for more. This is good news of someone listening with love and care as a person shares a problem that is tying them in knots.

At the core of it all is the love of God, who does not want us to sacrifice lambs or even pigeons, and certainly not human beings and certainly not children. God loves children and calls us to love and care for children. Jesus said, “Let the children come to me.” In his day, children were considered as chattel, property, but he made it clear that children are precious, beloved human beings.

Isaac asked his father where the lamb for the burnt offering was. His father listened carefully and lovingly to the question and offered his own best answer, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” Isaac has complete trust in his father Abraham. Abraham has complete trust in God. May we have complete trust in God as we make our way through this stage of our journey in this pandemic. Like Abraham, may we look for signs of God’s grace and presence. And may we grow even stronger together as God’s beloved community as we respond in loving and creative ways. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Pentecost 3A RCL June 21, 2020

Genesis 21:8-21
Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17
Romans 6:1b-11
Matthew 10:24-39

Last Sunday, our first reading ended with the birth of Isaac. At last, Abraham and Sarah have a son. This Sunday, we celebrate the weaning of Isaac. Scholars tell us that in those times, about sixteen hundred years before the birth of Christ, babies were weaned when they were three years old. There is a great feast going on to celebrate this occasion, and Sarah sees the son of Hagar, her slave, playing with Isaac. Hagar’s son is older than Isaac. 

Years ago, when Sarah had been unable to have a child, she told Abraham to have sex with her maid, Hagar, so that he would have an heir. Such things were done in those times. Having an heir meant having a future. 

Now, Sarah is seeing Hagar’s son as a threat to her son Isaac. He is older and he might try to present himself as Abraham’s heir in place of Isaac. So Sarah tells Abraham that he must order Hagar to take her son and leave. They are in a desert environment, and this is going to place Hagar and her son in great peril. Abraham is very upset over this. God tells Abraham to do what Sarah is asking and God also tells Abraham that It is through Isaac that Abraham’s descendants will be named, but that God will make a nation of the son of Hagar.

Abraham gets up early in the morning, gives Hagar a skin full of water and some bread, and sends her on her way with her son. Hagar goes into the wilderness of Beer-Sheba. She puts her son in the shade under a bush to try to protect him from the sun. Then she goes as far away as she can and still see him. She does not want to see him die.

Having done all she can, Hagar begins to weep.  The text says that “God heard the voice of the boy.” Apparently, he was crying, too. Thus we learn the boy’s name, “God hears” is the translation of the name Ishmael.  The angel of God calls to Hagar from heaven and tells her that God will make a nation of Ishmael. God calls her to take her son’s hand.  Then she sees a well. She goes and fills the skin with water and gives Ishmael a drink.

The text says, “God was with the boy and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness and became an expert with the bow. His mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.” Ishmael is a Bedouin, the ancestor of the Arab people. Christians and Jews trace their ancestry to Abraham through Isaac. Muslims trace that lineage through Ishmael.

On the human level, this is a story of jealousy and fear on the part of Sarah, emotions that drive her to treat Hagar and Ishmael very badly. On the divine level, this is an eloquent statement that God can love and protect more than one person or group at the same time.   

Biblical scholar Thomas Troeger writes, “The failure of people whom we have most honored and admired, people like Abraham and Sarah, cannot defeat the compassion of God who intervenes to rescue and uphold us.” (Troeger, New Proclamation A Series 1999, p. 121.)

Our epistle today reminds us that we have been crucified with Christ. Our old self has died. As Paul writes, “Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again.” We have been crucified with Christ, and now we are in newness of life with him. We are being transformed into his likeness.

In our gospel for today, Jesus talks about many things. He talks about confusing evil with good. He says that everything will come out into the light. He tells us that God cares even about a sparrow, that God knows each of us intimately, even to the number of hairs on our heads, and God loves us very much. He tells us not to be afraid. And then he, our Lord, the Prince of Peace, says something that shocks us. “I have come not to bring peace, but a sword.” And he says that even family members will be set against each other.

Our baptismal vows call us to honor the dignity of every human being. This is a very difficult thing for us humans to do. In our own country, people held slaves until the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Indeed, people continued to keep slaves until the first Juneteenth, June 19, 1865, two and a half years after the Emancipation. We have come to realize that one human being cannot own another. It is wrong. 

And yet, we have had such difficulty thinking of our Black and Brown brothers and sisters as fully human, just as we had a problem thinking women were fully human. We thought that getting a college education would be too difficult for them, that their minds were not up to that challenge, We thought that women should not vote, that they were not quite up to that task. 

When we were hiring workers, we hung out signs saying “No Irish need apply.” The tendency to put down other people, deny them their human rights, the tendency to be blind to the fact that God loves each of us and all of us, is, in my opinion, what our Lord is talking about when he says that he brings a sword of division. He is calling us to work our way through this issue so that we can help him bring in his peace, his shalom.

When he said, “I give you a new commandment: Love one another as I have loved you,” he knew he was challenging us. But I think he also thought and hoped that, with his guidance and grace, we would be up to the challenge. 

Our lesson from the Hebrew scriptures, written by the Elohist writer almost two thousand eight hundred years ago, addresses this issue. God loves Hagar with the same infinite love with which God loves Sarah. God loves Ishmael with the same infinite love with which God loves Isaac. As Bishop Tutu says, “God has a big family.” Within that big family, may we all be one as Jesus and God are one.  Amen.

Pentecost 2 Proper 6A   June 14, 2020

Genesis 18:1-15, 21:1-7
Psalm 116:1, 10-17
Romans 5:1-8
Matthew 9:35-10:8

In our opening reading, Abraham is taking a siesta in his tent under the oaks of Mamre, near Hebron. It is a very hot day. As he rests and perhaps dozes a little, three men appear. This is not unusual. Travelers often came by.

In the Middle East, a desert culture, the rules of hospitality dictate that you should welcome strangers, feed them, give them water, and offer lodging if they need it. So Abraham jumps up, has his servants wash the visitors’ feet, gives them a snack of bread, and prepares a feast.

But these visitors are no ordinary people, They are God and two assistants. When they are eating the meal that has been prepared, they do a very unusual thing. They ask Abraham how his wife Sarah is doing. There is no way that a traveler would know the name of Abraham’s wife.

Now, we need to stop and remind ourselves of a few things about Abraham and Sarah. Abraham is now one hundred years old. When he was a mere seventy-five, God called him and Sarah to go from their comfortable home and life in Ur of the Chaldees, pack up everything they had, and begin a journey to a land they did not know. Ur was a town in what we would call southern Iraq. By this point in the story,  Abraham and Sarah have traveled hundreds and hundreds of miles.

Abraham is one hundred years old and Sarah is not far behind.

When God called them to make this journey, God told them that they would have descendants as numerous as the stars or as the number of grains on the beach. So far, there are no descendants.

Sarah is listening in on Abraham’s conversation with God and the two assistants. And God says to Abraham, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.”

At last? After twenty-five years of wandering and enduring one challenge after another and and no word of good news, no hope? After all this, God is going to give us a son? Sarah, listening behind the tent flap, bursts into laughter. She howls with mirth. Oh, how she laughs.  She rolls on the ground. 

Later on she tries to deny it. But she did laugh. And once the divine visitors leave, Abraham has a good long laugh, too. And, in due course, Isaac is born. We can imagine the joy of Abraham and Sarah. After all their journeying, all their suffering along the way, they have a son. The name Isaac, means “laughter.”

Abraham and Sarah are the great icons of faith. Along the way they would sometimes remind God, “Lord, you know that promise about all those descendants? It hasn’t happened yet.” And God replies, “Be patient, It will happen.”

When we have a hope or a dream that means a great deal to us, sometimes when it happens, we laugh. The joy just spills over. We have wondered whether it would ever happen, and, when it finally does, we burst out in good deep, joyful laughter. Maybe quite a bit of it is relief, too, that we did not hope in vain and that God’s grace finally prevailed.

So, this week, I hope we will all think of Sarah, listening inside the tent and bursting out in laughter. I hope we will think of how she and Abraham kept the faith, never stopped hoping. And I hope that we may actually have a few moments of laughter over something this week. This laughter scene is like a precious gem in the Scriptures, something we can carry with us forever,

Another gem is from Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Like Abraham and Sarah, we have faith. And because of the love of God and the reconciling work of our Lord and the power of the Holy Spirit, we have peace, through everything. These are challenging times. But Paul tells us that we can “Boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” 

When we suffer through difficult times, and keep the faith, that builds our endurance, so that we can remain strong through other challenging times. And that endurance produces character. It strengthens our ability to follow Christ, to be the kind of person he calls us to be. And character produces hope. As we grow stronger and stronger in Christ and become more like him. we are more and more open to the hope that he gives us every day, every moment, together with his gifts of faith and love. Individually and together, we are a people of hope. 

And a third gem in our gospel for today: Our Lord is sending his apostles out to spread the good news. He is sending us, too. And he says, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Because he is with them, his kingdom has come near. Other scholars say that the translation is also, “The kingdom of God is within you.” We have been created with the divine spark of God within each of us, We are children of God and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven. We are co- builders, with Christ, of his kingdom, His shalom.

Three gems from Scripture. Abraham and Sarah burst out into joyful laughter! God does keep God’s promises! 

Paul’s wise teaching: suffering builds endurance builds character. builds hope.

And our Lord’s assurance: the kingdom of God is near you; the kingdom of God is within you. Our loving God gives us the faith and the strength and the grace we need to get through challenging times. Our Good Shepherd is leading us. God is as close as our breath. God is within us. Amen.

Trinity Sunday Year A June 7, 2020

Genesis 1:1-2:4a
Psalm 8
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Matthew 28:16-20

Today is Trinity Sunday. Over centuries of time, the Christian community has experienced “God in three persons, blessed Trinity,” as the beloved hymn states. We experience God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, or, in gender-neutral language, as Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.

Our opening reading today is a wonderful description of the creation. It dates back 2500 years. As we read or listen to this passage, we can visualize how God called the creation into being. At every stage, there is that wonderful refrain, “And God saw that it was good.” God the Creator.

The second person of the trinity is Christ, our Redeemer. As time went on, and it did not take a great deal of time, we humans began to go astray. Cain kills Abel very early in the story. And God loves us so much that God’s heart breaks to see what we are doing to each other.

So God, who is powerful enough to call the universe into being, God, who loves us beyond our ability to grasp the depth of that love, comes among us. He is born to Mary and Joseph, people of deep faith, and great courage, and he grows up in a little out of the way place called Nazareth and learns the carpenter’s trade.

When he becomes an adult, he begins his ministry, choosing twelve close followers we call the apostles. His message is clear “love one another as I have loved you.” Then, as now, some people in high places are threatened by the power of God’s love, and our Lord is assassinated on a cross, a form of punishment reserved for the lowest of the low.

He dies a terrible death, and two members of the ruling Council ask Pontius Pilate for permission to take his body and give it a reverent, loving burial. They risk death to do that. We do not know what happens to them after that point.

The Apostles’ Creed says that Jesus descended to the dead. He loves us so much that he wants to touch every heart and life with that love, even those who have died and gone to the underworld. On that first Easter morning, when the women go to anoint his body, the tomb is empty.  He is risen. Mary Magdalene sees him, then he appears to the others. And then, fifty days later, on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descends on all of them with the wind of the Spirit the ruach, and sets their hearts on fire so that they can speak of God’s love heart to heart with people from all over the known world. 

In today’s gospel, our Lord sends the disciples and us out to baptize others and welcome them into the community of love that he is building. In our reading from Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, after reminding them of all the ways we live together as a loving community, he calls us once again to “live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.” And Paul ends with one of the earliest threefold blessings, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion, the koinonia of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”

Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three Persons who are different, yet are One. Three expressions of the one God: Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. Every time there is a positive act of creation, whether it is writing a novel, baking a pie, planting a garden, creating a vaccine that prevents people from getting s disease, or developing a treatment for a dreadful disease, God is present in that process. God the Creator.

Whenever people come together and listen to each other and make peace with each other and work to make life better for everyone, God the Redeemer and Reconciler, is there.

God the Holy Spirit is God working in us and in the world to bring about God’s shalom of peace, love, and justice.. Whenever and wherever people work together to bring peace, love, and justice, God is there. 

Jesus tells us that he has come among us as one who serves. He calls us to be servants in his name. Our Commissioner of Public Safety, Michael Schirling, who served for many years as Chief of Police in Burlington, said recently that police officers are called to serve their communities. To paraphrase, he said that, if a police officer is not in it to serve, he or she should consider another vocation.

There are two key words in connection with this thought of service, and here I am indebted to the teaching of one of my beloved mentors, the Rev. David W. Brown, who served as Rector of Christ Church, Montpelier. We speak of people who have authority. The word “authority” is derived from the Latin root auctoritas, meaning authorship, creativity, calling new things into being as God does at the Creation, bringing freedom, as God did at the Exodus.

Too often, when we think of authority, we make the error of confusing it with imperium, the Latin root for tyranny. Tyranny does not seek to create. It seeks to control, intimidate, and imprison. It does not bring freedom. As David used to say, tyranny is the boot of the dictator coming down on the people and crushing them.

This distinction between auctoritas  and imperium is crucial to the nature of God and to the ideal of leadership in God’s kingdom, God’s shalom.The nature of God is auctoritas, not imperium. The nature of God is to be creative, to free people from bondage of any kind, to bring love, harmony, justice, freedom, and life rather than hate, fear, division, bondage, and death. The boot of the tyrant coming down on the ordinary people is not true authority, not consistent with God’s shalom. The use of power in any way that is not creative, freeing, serving, unifying, and healing is not true authority and is not consistent with God’s shalom.

As the beloved hymn says, “God in three persons, blessed Trinity.” Our God is a God of creativity, freedom, love, reconciliation, healing, servanthood, unity, and wholeness. As we continue to work to heal ourselves of the Corona Virus and of our tragic and destructive heritage of racism, may we seek the values of God and may we dedicate ourselves to continuing the work of building God’s shalom of love, harmony, and  justice. Amen.


A Prayer for the Power of the Spirit Among the People of God

God of all power and love. 

we give thanks for your unfailing presence

and the hope you provide in times of uncertainty and loss.

Send your Holy Spirit to enkindle in us your holy fire.

Revive us to live as Christ’s body in the world:

a people who pray, worship, learn,

break bread, share life, heal neighbors, 

bear good news, seek justice, rest and grow in the Spirit.

Wherever and however we gather,

unite us in common prayer and send us in common mission,

that we and the whole creation might be restored and renewed,

through Jesus Christ our Lord.

—This prayer will be used at the Pentecost service at our National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. It was written by a team of Lutherans and Episcopalians to commemorate nearly twenty years of full communion between the the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Our Presiding Bishop asks us to use this prayer from Pentecost through the first Sunday in September.