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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion February 5, 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 February 12, 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 February 19, 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 17 Proper 21A September 27, 2020

Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

In our opening reading, we join the people of God on their long journey in the wilderness. Like us in our journey with Covid-19, they are filled with uncertainty. They seem to confront one problem after another. Last week they had no food. This week, they are thirsty.

They ask Moses for water. He asks them why they are quarreling with him and why they are testing God. They complain more loudly. “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”

Moses cries out to God. “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me?” God is right there to help. He tells Moses to take the staff which he used to part the waters of the Red Sea. And God does something very wise. God instructs Moses to take some of the elders with him. Moses is carrying a heavy burden of responsibility, and God wants Moses to share that burden and responsibility of leadership with others. God goes before them and is waiting when they arrive. So often, on our journeys, God is there to help before we even realize we need help. God tells Moses to strike the rock of Horeb with the staff and water pours out. Moses calls the place Massah and Meribah, meaning “test,” the place where the people tested God, and “quarrel.” the place where the people quarreled with God and Moses.

God is always present with us. God gives the people and livestock the water they need to survive. The journey from slavery into freedom is not easy. Without God’s  help, the people might have turned back.

In our second reading, Paul is writing from prison to his beloved Philippians. This is not a new congregation. Paul has had a caring mutual relationship with them over several years. Scholars tell us that some conflicts have arisen within the congregation, and they are also facing challenges from outside. Just as with God’s people in the wilderness, there are challenges.

Paul calls the people to”be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.”

He calls us to focus not on our own interests but on the interests of others. This is so contrary to the values we see in our world, where so many people think only of themselves and their needs. But we as Christians as called to love others as we love ourselves, and to treat others as we want to be treated.

Paul calls us to have the same mind as Jesus had. This reminds us of our diocesan mission statement which says that we are called to “Pray the prayer of Christ, learn the mind of Christ, and do the deeds of Christ.” We are called to be one with Christ. We are called to be as much like our Lord as we possibly can, with God’s help.

In our gospel for today, Jesus has come into Jerusalem and he has cleansed the temple. The religious authorities are asking him by whose authority he is teaching and preaching and healing people. The inability of these leaders to realize that our Lord was doing God’s work is tragic. They simply cannot recognize spiritual authority when they see it.  Jesus asks them a question, “Did the baptism of John come from heaven or was it of human origin?” The leaders are caught in a political bind. So they say they do not know.

Then Jesus tells the parable about the two sons. The father asks the first one to go and work in the vineyard. The son says he won’t do it  but then he changes his mind and goes to work.  The other son says “Yes, Sir, I’ll go,” but then he doesn’t go and work in the vineyard.

Jesus asks the leaders which one did the will of his father. They answer, the first. And Jesus says that the tax collectors and prostitutes will go into the kingdom of heaven before these leaders.

The tax collectors and prostitutes can see who Jesus really is. They are not the powerful or highly respected members of society, but they are following him. They are trying to lead lives of compassion.

Jesus has such a powerful message to share. He talks about the last being first and the first being last. The religious leaders do not recognize who he is. They have no understanding of what he is about. But the folks whom people despise and look down on have no problem seeing that Jesus is God walking the face of the earth. And his message makes so much sense to them that they follow wherever he leads and they try to model their lives on his teaching.

What are these readings telling us? The journey to freedom and wholeness is not easy. Sometimes it is all we can do to put one foot in front of the other. This is definitely true during this Covid journey. God is with us, God hears us, and God takes care of us.

Our reading from Paul is calling us to be one in Christ, to be on the journey of growing more and more into the likeness of Christ, both individually and corporately, so that his love and forgiveness and healing are with us always, leading us to be a community of hope and reconciliation. 

Our gospel reading echoes that old saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” We can hear people say flowery things which sound good, but, if the actions don’t match the words, we need to look at the actions, and they tell us the truth of the situation. And we are called to be congruent people. Our actions need to reflect our beliefs. As we know, this is possible only with the gift of God’s grace. 

All of our readings today call us to remember that God loves us and is with us. No matter how challenging our journey is, we can trust in God to lead us and help us, and we can have genuine hope that with God’s help, we can and will be God’s loving, faithful, hopeful people, sharing God’s caring and compassion with each other and with our neighbors.

O God, you declare your mighty power chiefly by showing mercy and pity. Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever,  Amen.

Pentecost 16 Proper 20A September 20, 2020

Exodus 16:2-15
Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16

Last Sunday, we read the inspiring account of how God led the people out of slavery into freedom. This Sunday, we are on the journey with God’s people. Sometimes journeys are exciting. Going to new places can be interesting, educational, and a lot of fun. Sometimes journeys are more challenging, like hiking the Long Trail or the Appalachian Trail or even climbing Camel’s Hump on a late autumn day when the higher you got the icier it gets. Sometimes journeys are inward exploration, like therapy or recovery from addiction. In the beginning there can be a sense of excitement, and there are also times when you just want that drink or drug or when it’s so hard to move away from old habits of thinking or doing that you just want to quit.

Today, God’s people just want to give up, turn around  and go back to Egypt because they are really hungry and the food was very good there. In other parts of the scripture, the text actually mentions their favorite foods, the melons and the leeks. So they complain to Moses and Aaron. And God hears their complaint and feeds them with quails in the evening and manna in the morning. God hears them. God feeds them. God’s mercy and care are always with us.

The Scriptures tell us that God’s people wandered in the wilderness for forty years. We have  been wandering in the wilderness of this Covid desert for six months, and we are getting very tired of the whole thing. We have not shared Holy Eucharist for all these months; we cannot gather in our beautiful church building which symbolizes God’s love to us and which reminds us of the great cloud of witnesses, the faithful people who have worshipped and absorbed God’s word and tried to do God’s will over two centuries. This building is a holy place for us. It wraps us in God’s love. And we cannot go in.

And we are feeling sad and frustrated. And maybe a bit angry as well.

I think we can identify with the people of God on their journey through the wilderness. We may not be physically hungry but we have had it  with this pandemic, and we have a lot to complain about.

This past Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci joined Governor Scott’s press briefing for the first half hour. He gave Vermont high marks for our work so far. He even said that Vermont can be an example for the nation. He noted that we have not achieved this because we have a small population. He said that we have achieved our low numbers because of wearing masks, social distancing at least six feet, washing our hands as often as possible, avoiding crowds, and being outdoors as much as possible. If more populated areas followed the same guidelines, he said, they would have the low positivity rates and other great statistics that we have.

In other interviews, Dr. Fauci has warned that the fall and winter will be a challenge and that we need to be careful to continue to follow the guidelines. On Tuesday he advised us to “Be prudent,” and to be careful regarding our interactions in the community. He said he does not think a second wave is  inevitable if we continue to follow the health measures we have been doing.

We want to get back to normal. We want to go back into our church building, share Holy Eucharist, not wear masks, sing, and have coffee hour. Unfortunately, that is not going to be happening for a while. 

On May 18, delegates from all our parishes gathered in the Cathedral Church of Saint Paul. Our delegates were Beth, Lori, Jean, and me. We had three outstanding priests who felt called to be our Bishop. We had had opportunities to meet and talk with these people at the walkabouts. In an atmosphere of love and with a framework of meditation and prayer, and, with a profound sense of our oneness in Christ, we elected our Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Dr. Shannon MacVean-Brown, on the first ballot. An election on the first ballot is very rare.

The Episcopal Church goes back to the earliest roots of the Church in claiming the apostolic succession. We can trace our bishops back to the apostles.  The word “Episcopal” means “having bishops.” In the service of ordination of a bishop, we read that a bishop is called “to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church.” St. Paul addresses this when he writes to his beloved Philippians, “Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that…I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel.”

In her meeting with the clergy this past Wednesday, Bishop Shannon told us that the House of Bishops had recently met with Dr. Fauci.  In that meeting, Dr. Fauci encouraged everyone “Not to let [our] guard down.” He said that “cold and dry air helps the virus to thrive.” He told the bishops that fifty percent of transmissions of the disease come from people who have no symptoms. The  bottom line is that in-person worship indoors will not be happening soon. This is not just in Vermont but in Episcopal churches around the nation. These decisions are based on science.

This is extremely difficult news to hear. I think it’s easy for us to identify with God’s people in the wilderness. Why do we have to be going through this?

Our gospel for today can be shocking. Biblical scholar Thomas Troeger writes, “The story is about something greater than employment practices.” Referring to Matthew’s community, Troeger writes,  “People have made enormous sacrifices to follow Jesus, and now there are newcomers, including Gentiles. …This is what the kingdom of heaven is like. God, without breaking agreements with the friends who came early to the cause, will be generous to all, including the latecomers.” (Troeger, New Proclamation Series A 1999, p. 224.

God’s love and grace go far beyond our expectations. We are all beloved workers in God’s vineyard, whether we have been working faithfully for years or months or weeks or days. God’s love and grace are given to all of us in equal and generous amounts. 

We have called Bishop Shannon to be our leader. Her guidance to us is coming, not from a place of fear, but from a place of wisdom and love. God has called us together. Some of us have been here at Grace for a long time. Others have joined us more recently. I know we all love each other, and those of us who have been here awhile are very happy to welcome our new bothers and sisters. 

This time in the life of the Church and in our life together is extremely challenging. And it is one of those times when we really need to focus on being one with God and each other just as Jesus and the Father and the Spirit are one.

To paraphrase our reading from Paul and our gospel, let us all stand firm in the unity of the Spirit, thanking God for God’s outpouring of love and grace. And let us work together in God’s vineyard to share God’s love and grace with everyone we meet. With God’s unfailing help, we will get through this time, and we will be stronger for it. Amen.

Pentecost 15 Proper 19 September 13, 2020

Exodus 14:19-31
Psalm 114
Romans 14:1-12
Matthew 18:21-35

In our opening reading for today, God’s people pass through the Red Sea. Scholars tell us that their route led though a part of the sea called the Sea of Reeds, a shallow portion. When it was very windy, the wind would push the water to one side, and you could pass through, if you were traveling light. The people of God were on foot. The Egyptians had chariots and horses, and they sank. 

The thing that strikes me about this passage this year is that the pillar of cloud, which symbolizes the presence of God, and the angel, who have been leading the people, now move to the rear and place themselves between the escaping slaves and the pursuing Egyptian army. God leads God’s people into freedom. God protects God’s people as they flee from slavery. God literally puts Godself as a barrier between God’s beloved people and those who would enslave them. And God protects us from that which would enslave us. God leads us into freedom.

Paul is addressing his letter to a congregation which has people from all kinds of different religious backgrounds. They have all flocked to this new faith in Jesus. Some are Jews, and they continue to observe the Jewish holy days and the dietary laws. Some have worshipped at the shrines of the Greek and Roman deities. There is a wide array of dietary and religious practices, and Paul is saying, please respect each other, continue to follow your dietary practices and religious observances, and do all of this to honor God and to give thanks to God. God is the one binding us together.

Over the centuries, we Christians have had many differences. Some of us remember the controversy over the new prayer book, published in 1979, and then the new hymnal published in 1982. We still have differences of opinion today, but the main thing is that we are gathered because our Lord has called us together, and, no matter what our differences, he calls us to be one in him.

In our gospel for today, Peter asks Jesus, “How many times should I forgive—as many as seven times? Scholars tell us that the rabbis told us to forgive three times, so Peter is being very generous in saying seven times. But Jesus says seventy-seven times. And then he tells a shocking parable. 

A king is settling accounts with his slaves. One slave owes him ten thousand talents. Scholars tell us this is a huge amount, a sum that is almost beyond imagining. One scholar says it is 3 billion dollars. Another says forty-six million dollars in today’s terms. The point is that it is an amount that no one could pay back. This slave cannot pay the debt. The king says that he will sell the slave and his family and possessions to get what money he can.

The slave is devastated. He falls on his knees and begs the king to have patience and he will pay everything. It would be impossible for him to pay this debt. The king has pity. Scholars tell us that the word translated as “pity” is the same word used of the compassion of our Lord for the crowds who follow him, and the compassion of the Good Samaritan for the man who had fallen among thieves. The king forgives the debt.

The slave goes out, and meets a fellow slave who owes hm a hundred denarii. Biblical scholar Thomas Troegher says the modern equivalent would be $12,000. The recently-forgiven slave grabs the man by the throat and demands payment. When his colleague cannot  meet the demand and pleads for mercy, the recently-forgiven man has him put in prison.

We have been forgiven so much. We have received so many gifts and blessings from God. And our loving God is calling us to extend to others the compassion we have received. Our Lord is calling us to forgive each other countless times, to throw out the calculator and not even bother to try to keep track. This parable is addressed to the community of faith. We have been called together by our loving and forgiving God. Beyond and through all differences or controversies, we are one as Jesus and the Father are one. I think our Presiding Bishop, who is teaching us the Way of Love, is calling us to extend this practice to all we meet. Whatever our differences may be, God is calling us to genuinely care abut each other and to work together to find a loving way forward. 

This may seem impossible, but escaping slavery in Egypt seemed impossible, too. God is calling us to explore the many kinds of slavery which hold us in bondage. Africans were brought here beginning in 1619 and held in slavery, but we white people have also been enslaved by our implicit racism and our assumption of white privilege. When we fail to extend to others the gifts of freedom which have been given to us, we are like the forgiven slave who refused to give that gift of freedom and forgiveness to his brother.

Here we are, on September 13, 2020. We have just passed the nineteenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks which we will never forget. We are still in the midst of the Covid 19 pandemic. We also have an economic crisis which is hurting great numbers of people. In the richest country in the world, people are going hungry. We are facing many challenges. They may seem like a Red Sea that we may not be able to cross.

This year, I find the image of the angel and the pillar of cloud inspiring and helpful.  God is leading and protecting us. And we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, all the saints who have followed God’s leading over the centuries and who serve as inspiring examples to us. And always we think of our Good Shepherd, out in front leading us. 

God is with us. The risen Christ is with us. The Holy Spirit is with us. The creativity of God is in our midst. The redemptive healing and forgiveness of Christ is with us. The Holy Spirit, God at work in us and in the world, is with us. God is surrounding us with love, filling us with grace, and energizing us for the work ahead. We have received God’s love and forgiveness. Let us share it. Amen.

Let us now pray the Prayer for the Power of the Spirit.

Pentecost 14 Proper 18A September 6, 2020

Exodus 12:1-14
Psalm 149
Romans 13:8-14
Matthew 18:15-20

In our opening reading, in the first month of the new year, under the leadership of the two men God has called to be leaders, God frees God’s people from their slavery in Egypt. God calls the people to eat a special meal of roast lamb, unleavened bread,  and bitter herbs to remind them of their time of suffering under slavery. This is the Passover meal, which will be celebrated for centuries to come.

As they eat this first Passover, the people are ready for the journey, They are going to travel light. Like every great story of our ancestors in the Bible, this is our story.

As we know, Jesus ate the Passover meal with his apostles before he was crucified. He blessed the bread and wine and told them that the bread was his body and the wine was his blood shed for all of us. Although we have not been able to celebrate the Holy Eucharist together for five months, we gather as the risen Body of Christ every Sunday. Though we share Morning Prayer and not Eucharist, we know that our Lord is present with us and that he feeds us with his presence and with his love.

When we celebrate Holy Eucharist, the celebrant elevates the host, and breaks the bread, and we sing “Alleluia! Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast. Alleluia! “ The broken bread symbolizes the brokenness of our Lord’s Body and also the brokenness in us and in our world. As Christians, we believe that in his suffering on the cross Jesus took into himself all that brokenness and made it whole, and, as Barbara Brown Taylor says, “Gave it back to us as life.” As God freed God’s people from slavery in Egypt, Jesus, through the power of his love, frees us from slavery to sin. Our Lord can take our brokenness and make it whole.

In today’s gospel, our Lord gives us a pathway toward reconciliation in the community of faith. Scholars remind us that context is crucial. Preceding this gospel passage, the disciples ask Jesus who is the greatest, and our lord calls a child to come into their midst to remind them and us of the importance of innocence, humility, and openness. Then he speaks of the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine sheep and goes off to find the one lost sheep and bring it to safety.  For Jesus, no one is beyond the pale. He will search for us and rescue us when we are lost. Following this passage, Peter asks Jesus how many times we should forgive someone who hurts us, and Jesus says to forgive ninety-nine times. Jesus calls us to be humble, open, hopeful, loving, inclusive, and forgiving.

Our passage reads, “If another member of the church sins against you,…” but the original Greek reads more like, “If a brother or sister sins against  you…” This lets us know that Jesus is thinking of us as brothers and sisters, people who care deeply about each other and who treat each other with respect and love. This means that this approach of conflict resolution is not designed for situations of abuse or domestic violence. In those situations, the first thing is to get the victim to a safe place.

In our gospel scenario, the person who has been hurt goes and talks with the person who has hurt him or her. The hope is that the other person will listen carefully, acknowledge and apologize for the wrong, and change his or her behavior. If that does not work, the injured person gets one or two other members of the congregation to go with him or her and try again to get accountability and amendment of behavior from the person who has caused harm to another. If that does not work, the matter is brought to the whole congregation.

In the early Church, if there was any conflict in the congregation, the people involved had to reconcile that issue before the Peace was exchanged. In those days, the Bishop always presided, so the people stood before the bishop, worked out the matter, and then everyone passed the Peace.

Scholars tell us that the portion that talks about ejecting the person who does not listen and looking upon that person  as “a Gentile or a tax collector” is not something Jesus would say. This is the work of a later editor. We know that Jesus chose a tax collector, Matthew, as one of his apostles, and that he associated with Gentiles. Jesus did not look down on anyone. He did not exclude anyone.

Then he says, “Where two or three gather in my name, I am there among them.” And, indeed, he is with us now whether we are gathering on Zoom or in person. 

In our epistle for today, Paul, the Pharisee, the expert on the law, gives us the summary of the law, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And then he says, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” Jesus has said that he came to fulfill the law. Our readings today are telling us that God’s love can lead us into freedom. In this time of profound polarization, I ask us all to focus on the love God has for us and for all people and the power of God’s love to bring our country together in a spirit of reconciliation so that we can center our attention on the important work God is calling us to do together.

Grace Church has a long history of love and a wise history and spiritual practice of holding opposites in loving tension, and finding the path to reconciliation. This is a wonderful God-given gift in these times of division. The ability to look at each other and at others beyond our community as beloved children of God is what is going to carry us through these times of polarization into a time of reconciliation. 

As patience frays and tempers flare in this pandemic, I once again thank God for Governor Scott, Dr. Levine, and Dr. Kelso, who are exemplifying God’s love by calling us to follow the science and take care of each other. I ask your prayers for them, for all leaders, and for our children, educational leaders, and school personnel as they begin a new term. 

May our our wise and loving God lead our nation out of slavery to divisiveness and destruction into the freedom of reconciliation, respect for the dignity of every human being, and sincere work on common goals which will help all of us. May God give us the grace to see each other as brothers and sisters, neighbors we have in God, that we all may love and serve and help each other. Amen.

May we pray together the Prayer for the Power of the Spirit.