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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion March 26, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
    • 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:…

Pentecost 8 Proper 12A July 26, 2020

Genesis 29:15-28
Psalm 105:1-11, 45b
Romans 8:26-39
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

In our first reading today, we continue the story of Jacob. He has gone to the home of his uncle, Laban, Rebekah’s brother. Jacob generously offers to work seven years in order to marry Rachel, whom he loves. The seven years pass, and, when Jacob asks for the hand of Rachel in marriage, Laban substitutes Leah for her sister.

When morning comes, it is clear that Laban, like Jacob, is a trickster and he has outsmarted Jacob. When Jacob questions this deception, Laban tells him that the local custom is to marry off the older daughter first. Jacob agrees to work another seven years in order to marry Rachel.

Why is Jacob, the trickster who usually wins, so agreeable about this arrangement? For one thing, he probably is not that eager to go home. After all, Esau has threatened to kill him. For another thing, he loves Rachel very much. If we look at this situation in its ancient context, he has been very fortunate. He has married within his mother’s family, as she had wished. As biblical scholar James Newsome puts it, “Not just any bedouin showing up at the oasis could hope to labor for the sheik’s daughter.” (Newsome Texts for Preaching Year A, p. 418.) 

Because of the family connections, Jacob will be able to marry the woman he loves. In his earlier years, we can imagine him trying to outsmart Laban in some way as he always did at home, but now, he quietly accepts and carries out the additional seven years of work. He is changing. He has been called by God, and he is beginning a process of transformation. One of the signs of this is that he will be persistent. He will complete those seven years.

In our gospel for today, we have several descriptions of the kingdom of heaven, It is like a mustard seed, the very smallest of seeds, You would think it would produce a tiny plant, but it grows into a large shrub where birds can nest. God’s kingdom can start small and grow into great power and beauty, Small is beautiful. This is a wonderful message for us here in Vermont. 

The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman mixed in with her flour and made delicious bread. The kingdom of heaven is often invisible, but it produces amazing results, like warm bread coming from the oven. The yeast transforms the flour and other ingredients.

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. You find it and it is so precious that you give everything you have in order to gain it.  Life in the shalom of God is so precious that we are willing to devote ourselves fully to being a part of it.

The shalom of God is a pearl of great price, something of great value, something to be cherished. It is like a net full of fish. It is a kingdom of abundance.

These are all glimpses into life in the shalom of God. It is a way of life that starts small and grows and grows. It is a life of transformation as we grow more and more into the likeness of our Lord. The shalom of God is something to which we can devote all our energies, helping our Lord to bring in his kingdom of peace and harmony, sharing his love and life with everyone. It is a life of abundance. God gives us all the gifts we need to  carry out our ministries and help to build God’s shalom if peace and love.

In our epistle for today, Paul tells us some wonderful things that can strengthen our faith. He reminds us that the Spirit prays for us when we cannot find the words to pray or cannot even formulate the thoughts to pray. God knows us so well and loves us so much that God prays on our behalf. As Paul writes, “The Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” What a comforting thought. God prays for us when we cannot, And they are deep prayers, “sighs too deep for words.” God is praying for us. 

Then, in the final portion of this reading, we have a passage of Scripture that rings down through the ages. “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life,  nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor heights nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

As we look out on our world, we see many people suffering and dying in this pandemic. We see people waiting in line for food. Waiting in line to be tested. We see a great deal of suffering.

And we may wonder, Where is God in all of this? Wherever love is being shown in this world, God is there. God is present in the skilled and loving service of doctors, nurses, EMTs, and other medical professionals who are risking their lives to help others. God is with the transport workers, grocery clerks, sanitation workers, child care workers, and so many others who are on the front lines every day helping all of us. God is present in the many acts of love and caring that we see every day. 

Nothing can stop the love of God. In the midst of everything that is going on, God is at work. Usually God works very quietly. No fanfare, no fuss. Just love at work. God is rooting for us, God is praying for us. And, if we listen for God’s still small voice in all the turmoil, God is leading us. If we listen carefully for the voice of Jesus, our Good Shepherd, he is guiding us. Amen.

May we always move in the direction of love. May we love God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, and may we love our neighbors as ourselves. Amen.

Pentecost 7 Proper 11A July 19, 2020

Genesis 28:10-19a
Psalm 139:1-11, 22-23
Romans 8:12-25
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

In our first reading, from the Book of Genesis, Jacob is on the run. Last week, we read about how he manipulated his older brother Esau into selling his birthright for a bowl of stew. This means that Esau will no longer be the head of the family when their father, Isaac, dies, Nor will Esau receive a double portion of the inheritance, which usually goes to the older son. Jacob has robbed his older brother of his birthright.

Meanwhile their father, Isaac, who is now blind, has realized that he will die soon. He wants to give Esau his blessing. He tells Esau to go out and kill some game, bring it in, prepare it, serve it to his father and then Isaac will give Esau his blessing.

Rebekah has listened in on Isaac’s conversation with Esau. Because she loves Jacob more than Esau, she hatches a plan for Jacob to get Isaac’s blessing instead of Esau. She kills two kids and makes them into a savory stew. Then she dresses Jacob in Esau’s clothes and covers his hands and neck with the skins of the kids so that, he, who has smooth skin, will seem as hairy as his older brother. Jacob pretends that he is Esau, serves his father the savory stew, and gets Isaac’s blessing, which cannot be revoked.

When Esau comes to see his father, offer Isaac his savory stew, and get his father’s blessing, he finds out what Jacob has done and vows to kill Jacob. Rebekah advises Jacob to go to their family in Haran, some 600 miles away in what is now Turkey.

Our reading takes place on the first night of Jacob’s journey. Jacob stops to rest. In Hebrew, Jacob’s name means “He supplants.” He has always thought of himself first, last, and always. He always wins. Now his older brother has vowed to find him and kill him.

Jacob takes a stone and uses it for a pillow, and he has the most amazing dream. There is a ladder between earth and heaven, and angels are going up and down the ladder which links heaven and earth. Herbert O’Driscoll says. “In some strange way, it is a dream of shalom, of unity, of connectedness.” (O’Driscoll, The Word Today Year A Volume 3, p.56.) This amazing vision is granted to Jacob, the cheat, the scoundrel.

And then God speaks to Jacob and renews the promise that God first made to Abraham. Jacob will have descendants as numerous as the dust of the earth. God says, “All the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring.” And God tells Jacob that God will be with him always and will keep him wherever he goes and will bring him back home.

To his credit, Jacob, the cheat, who would rob his own brother of the birthright and the blessing, seems to realize what is happening. He knows that God has spoken to him. “Surely the Lord is in this place,” he says,”and I did not know it!” 

He actually is afraid. He senses at last that there is someone more powerful than he is. He sets up a monument to God and names the place Bethel—Beth—house, El, the first part of the word “Elohim,” which means Lord or God.  Bethel—house of God.

This story, which oscillates between the sublime and the soap opera, tells us some very important things. God does not always choose perfect people to do God’s work. God often chooses frail, fallible, flawed humans to receive huge blessings and carry out important missions. Most of us are only too profoundly aware of our weaknesses and imperfections. The story of Jacob’s encounter with God assures us that we can help God build God’s shalom, too. Last Sunday we noted that great bumper sticker—“Be patient, God isn’t finished with me yet.” God is definitely not finished with Jacob. Thanks be to God, who has finally gotten through to Jacob, at least to some extent.

Our gospel for today is the famous story of the wheat and the weeds, in earlier translations called the tares. The point of this parable is that there are good and bad things happening in our world. In Matthew’s congregation, scholars tell us, there were some people who took their faith very seriously and lived their faith, and there were others who were quite lukewarm followers of Jesus. There may have been some folks who wanted to throw those nominal followers out. But the message is, let God be the judge.

If we see good things happening, such as our food shelf, let’s pitch in and help those good things in every way that we can. Let’s focus on the good things and help them all we can. If there are bad things, certainly we will not support them, but we will not focus on them and get discouraged. We will do all we can to help good things grow, and we will let God do the sorting. 

There are times when we do have to take action against evil. The rise of Hitler was such a time, and thank God for all those in the Greatest Generation who gathered together with profound courage and stopped him. But we have to be very careful about labeling things good and evil. Our own Civil War was a time when people on both sides quoted the Bible in defense of their positions. We are still working through the issue of racism.

If something shows the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, it is of the Spirit. If it does not show these qualities, God will guide us as to how to respond. Most of all, let us work on the side of the things of the Spirit.

In our epistle for today, we read that we are God’s own beloved children. We can call God “Abba.” “Abba” is an intimate familiar term for a father. We can call God Daddy or Dad, or Mom or Mama. St. Paul says that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains to bring forth God’s shalom of peace and harmony. He also says, “For in hope we were saved.”

We are a people of hope. We are a people of love. We are a people of faith. Amidst all the struggle and ambivalence and confusion in our world, we are a people of faith, hope, and love who are constantly working for the good things we see God doing in this world. And our loving God is saying the same thing God said to Jacob all those centuries ago: “I am with you and will keep you wherever you go.”  Amen.

Pentecost 6 Proper 10A July 12, 2020

Genesis 25:19-34
Psalm 119:105-112
Romans 8:1-11
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

In our opening reading, we have the continuation of the story of Abraham and Sarah. We discover that their only son, Isaac, was forty years old when he married Rebekah. Like her mother-in-law, Sarah, Rebekah was barren. Isaac prayed to God, and, at last, Rebekah became pregnant.

But there were two children within her and they struggled, so much that Rebekah wondered, if this was going to be such a struggle, why was she alive at all. When she asked God about this, she was told that there were two nations inside her, and that the older would serve the younger. Usually. the oldest son became the head of the family, so the idea of the older serving the younger was highly unusual.

When the two boys are born, Esau emerges first, but his brother Jacob is born holding onto his brother’s heel. As it turns out, Jacob definitely behaves like a heel. Esau grows up to be a hunter and a “man of the field,” while Jacob is quiet and lives in tents. These are the traits of the nations they represent. The Edomites were hunters and the Israelites were a people who live in tents. There is a further twist in the family dynamics: Isaac loves Esau because he likes game. And Rebekah loves Jacob best.

The boys are now grown up, and Esau comes in from hunting to find Jacob cooking a lentil stew. Esau is famished. He asks Jacob for a helping of stew. Most brothers would gladly share the meal, but not Jacob. Here’s where the heel aspect comes in. He demands that Esau sell him his birthright in exchange for the stew. 

This is no small matter. The son with the birthright becomes the leader of the family, and he also gets a double portion of the inheritance. We could say that Esau is a master of living in the moment, a skilled practitioner of mindfulness. Or we could say that he wasn’t exactly great at taking the long view or planning ahead. He answers Jacob, “I’m so hungry that I’m about to die, so who cares about a silly old birthright?” But Jacob the heel won’t give Esau the bowl of stew until Esau swears to him that he will keep this agreement. That’s the story of how two brothers struggled from the beginning and Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage.

But let us remind ourselves of that bumper sticker from some time ago: “Be patient with me—God isn’t finished with me yet.” These words could well apply to Jacob. He started out as a cheater and a scoundrel, but God kept working with him.

In our epistle for today, Paul offers us a contrast between life in the spirit and life on the human, worldly level. The world calls us to get to the top of the ladder as fast as we can, achieve power and prestige, accumulate money and possessions, compete with others and win, no matter how ruthless we have to be.

Life with God, life in the Spirit, calls us to love God and love others as we love ourselves. In Galatians 5:22, Paul lists the fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Paul tells us that, “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” Here the flesh means worldly, self-centered values. Paul tells us, “The Spirit of God dwells in you.” We are following Jesus, and following Jesus leads to life in a new dimension, life in the Spirit, fullness of life now.

In today’s gospel, Jesus tells the parable of the sower. Back in his time, you did not plow and harrow first; you scattered the seed over the field in an arcing motion. Some would fall on rocks, or thorns, some on the path, and others on good soil. In spite of these poor odds, Jesus says, there is a bountiful crop, a hundredfold, sixtyfold, thirtyfold. He is talking about his kingdom. No matter what challenges there are, the kingdom of God is growing. 

Scholars tell us that Jesus did not interpret his parables. The explanation was added by later writers. Matthew’s gospel was written about 70 years after the birth of Christ, in a time of persecution. The path, the rocky ground, and the thorns all describe things that could make people leave the community of faith. But the ultimate point is that, despite the obstacles, the harvest is huge. Scholars tell us that back in those days a sevenfold to tenfold harvest was average and here we have thirty to sixty to a hundredfold. (Cousar, Texts for Preaching, p. 404._ Our final hymn, “God is working his purpose out,” reminds us that the shalom of God is growing all the time.

In our Collect for today, we pray that we may “know and understand what things we ought to do,” and also “may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them.”

We look out upon a country where many states have opened up too quickly and now are having to go back several steps. We see infection and death rates skyrocketing in those areas. Meanwhile, Vermont is moving ahead, a quarter-turn at a time, and Governor Scott has consistently said that he is following medical advice and going slowly precisely to avoid having to go backward. We are learning new things about mini aerosols, tiny droplets that can stay in the air for days, far longer than the virus survives on paper goods. We are learning that masks definitely help to control the spread of the virus. Though our governor chose never to mandate masks, most Vermonters are wearing them as a matter of choice. Our food shelf volunteers continue to distribute food to those who need it.

We are called to follow the way of the Spirit. We are following Jesus, and, as we ask him for direction, he will lead us to do the things he calls us to do. I thank God that here in Vermont, we are remembering that we need to take care of and protect each other. May we continue to love God and love each other. We are nearing the two hundred and fourth birthday of Grace Church, and I thank God for the faithful, loving people who went before us. May we continue to follow Jesus and may we continue to help him to build his kingdom of peace. love, and harmony. Amen.

Pentecost 5 Proper 9A July 5, 2020

Genesis 24: 34-38, 42-49, 58-67
Psalm 45:11-18
Romans 7:15-25a
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

In our first lesson, time has passed. Sarah has died, and Isaac has become a young man. Abraham has asked his servant to go to his home area and find a wife for Isaac among Abraham’s own people.

Scholars tell us that the servant is probably Abraham’s senior servant, Eliezer. 

Abraham has heard that a his brother, Nahor, has married Milcah, and that they have had a family. One of their sons, Bethuel, has become the father of a young woman named Rebekah. Abraham thinks that Rebekah would be the perfect wife for Isaac. The whole purpose of this venture is to be sure that God’s promise of descendants as numerous as the stars comes true.

Abraham makes this loyal and wise servant take an oath that he will find a wife for Isaac and bring her back to Isaac. There are two additional provisions. Eliezer is not to take Isaac back to their homeland. And, if the young woman whom Eliezer asks to marry Isaac does not want to come back with him, Abraham says the oath is broken. Eliezer is not to force the young woman to return with him.

Eliezer takes ten camels and many choice gifts and sets out for Abraham’s homeland.  His entire journey is rooted and grounded in prayer. He is carrying out his master’s command, and he knows that this is part of God’s promise. He prays to God that if he sees a young woman come to the well and asks, “Please give me a little water from your jar to drink,” she will give him a drink and water his camels as well. 

That is exactly what happens.The young woman extends the highest level of hospitality. This shows that she is a woman of great virtue. Our reading begins with Eliezer’s report of his meeting with Rebekah as he speaks with her family, asking for their permission for Rebekah to go back with him and marry Isaac. 

Back in those days her father could have told her to go and marry Isaac. Women were chattel, property, and their fathers could give them to anyone. In this family, Rebekah has a choice. This story first appeared in the lectionary in 2008, and one of the reasons is that it shows us an evolving understanding of women as persons, not property. Rebekah does want to marry Isaac, and, as she leaves with her maids and a retinue of camels and possessions, it is clear that she is a woman of substance. When she and Isaac finally meet, the text tells us that “he loved her.”  This will be a marriage based on mutual love and respect.

Our reading from the book of Romans is one of the most compelling passages in the Bible,  “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing that I hate.” When Paul talks about  “our mortal bodies,” or our “members,” scholars tell us  that he is referring to human faculties or abilities. On the human level, we may want power, wealth, possessions, fame, and fortune, but those wishes and values do not necessarily bring us closer to God. In fact, they often move us away from God. On our own, it is difficult if not impossible, to win the struggle with those seven root sins—pride, anger, envy, greed, gluttony, lust and sloth. But, with God’s grace, our focus shifts to what really matters, faith, hope, and love—loving God, and loving other people and the creation.

In our gospel, Jesus first comments on the fickle wishes of the crowd. John the Baptist lives an ascetic life and the people criticize him. Jesus eats with sinners and tax collectors and they call him a glutton and a drunkard. Then our Lord thanks God for revealing wisdom to the infants, meaning those who know how to keep things simple and look at things with open hearts and minds.

Then he says those words which have echoed down through the ages, especially when we humans are facing challenges which are making our hearts heavy: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble of heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” 

And here we want to remember that Jesus was a carpenter, and when a carpenter in those days made a yoke for a pair of oxen, he carefully shaped that yoke to fit the contours of the ox’s neck and shoulders so that the animal could bear the burden with a minimal amount of pain and discomfort.

As we make our way through this pandemic and watch the increasing number of cases and deaths tragically rise in many states, we can feel afraid, discouraged, even hopeless. This is a very powerful virus, and the experts tell us that it will be around for a long time. This is exactly what we do not want to hear.

And then comes the voice of our Lord, “Come to me all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens.” That is definitely us. And then our Lord says, “And I will give you rest.” That sounds good. Somehow, although we try to get a good night’s sleep, the pandemic sounds a dissonant chord under everything we do.  The nervous rasping of this pandemic is the discordant bass line for all our days. True rest, genuine peace would be a blessing.

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” What is really important? The love of God. Several of you are devoting time and energy to sharing the love of God by volunteering at the food shelf and giving food to those who so sorely need it. All of us can find ways to let God’s love seep into the depths of our spirits and then share that love with those around us.  Let us learn more and more every day how much God loves us and all people and let us share that love.

“For I am gentle and humble of heart and you will find rest for your souls.” Our Lord is “gentle and humble of heart.” That is what we are called to be—“gentle and humble of heart.” That is what his yoke is—for us to be “gentle and humble of heart” If we become that, many of the things we think are so important will be put in their proper perspective. What is important? God loves each of us with an unconditional love that nothing can destroy or stop or interfere with or erase. God calls us to love God back and to love others as ourselves. The important thing is to accept God’s love, thank God for this wonderful love and amazing grace and then share it in whatever ways we can. His yoke is easy—The Way of Love. Amen.