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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:…

First Sunday after Christmas December 27, 2020

Isaiah 61:10-62:3
Psalm 147
Galatians 3:23-25, 4:4-7
John 1:1-18

“Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your  incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus  Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.” This is our powerful collect for today, the First Sunday after Christmas.

And then, our reading from John’s gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” We can picture in our minds the creation of the world. Christ ,the eternal Word, was there with God, and as God brought forth God’s vision of the creation, Christ, the Word, called the creation into being. Christ, the Word, the Logos, the plan for creation, the model for human life.

And then, in the next phrases of this amazing and inspiring gospel, the light is coming into the world. John the Baptist is testifying to the light. And then the true light, which enlightens everyone, is coming into the world. Jesus, the light of the world, brings light and hope to everyone in the world. We can envision a world of darkness lighting up with the light and love of Christ, We can understand that the light of Christ, the love and hope of Christ, can turn our lives from darkness and despair to light and hope. We can almost picture the whole dark world illuminated by the light of Christ, the dawn of a new day a new year, a new life for everyone.

But then,  our gospel says, “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him,” That led ultimately to the Cross. And yet, even out of that, he brought new life.  But to all who were open to him and welcomed him into their lives, “he gave power to become children of God.” When we open our lives to his love, he brings us as close to God as children are to their own loving parents.

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us…full of grace and truth.” God loves us so much that God came among us as one of us, born as a little baby, just as we were born.

He did not come as a conquering warrior, though he could have. He did not come among us as an earthly king, though he could have done that too. He came into human life just as we do,  He was born in a little place called Bethlehem, in a cave used as a stable. He was born before Mary and Joseph were married, so some tongues wagged, and some folks considered him to be an illegitimate child. And then, King Herod, who  had heard from the wise men about the new king, killed all the baby boys to stamp out that  threat. Joseph, a very protective and courageous foster father, and Mary, as protective and courageous as her husband, had to take Jesus into Egypt. This meant that they were refugees, migrants. seeking asylum. Jesus knows what it is to be human and he also knows what it is to be persecuted, marginalized, and demeaned. 

When things became safer, the holy family moved back to Nazareth, where Joseph was a carpenter. Jesus grew up learning the carpenter’s trade and studied the scriptures and eventually began his earthly ministry by being baptized by his cousin John in the Jordan River.

After that, he spent somewhere between one and three years, depending on whose account we read, going from place to place telling people how much God loves us and how much God wants us to love each other. In a patriarchal culture, he had high respect for women; in a culture that saw children and women as chattel, possessions, he instructed his disciples to let the children come to him so that he could hold them in his arms. He made it crystal clear that God’s love knows no barriers. This was a threat to people who wanted to preserve their power, and he ended up dying on that horrible instrument of torture called the cross. 

And then, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and found that it was empty. He was not there. She saw a man and thought he was the gardener, but he called her name, and she knew that it was Jesus. He had risen. She ran to tell the others. And then people began seeing him. He appeared to two of them on the road to Emmaus, but they didn’t even recognize him until they invited him in for supper and he interpreted the scriptures in a way that set their hearts on fire. Peter and the disciples were out fishing and, when they came ashore there he was, cooking fish and bread over a fire. He appeared to the disciples in the locked upper room and said, “Peace be with you.” And he called us to build his peace, his shalom, over the whole earth. And that’s what we are trying to do, with his grace. 

He is alive, He is in our midst, and he is calling us to walk the Way of Love. Let us follow him, our Emmanuel, God with us. Amen.

Advent 4B December 20, 2020

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Psalm 89:1-4. 19-26
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38

This morning, the Fourth Sunday of Advent, we begin with Canticle 15, the Magnificat, Mary’s song about God’s kingdom of justice and mercy. 

Then we read in the Second Book of Samuel about how David has built a house and is settling down after years of going from place to place. David thinks to himself that it would be a good idea to build a house for God. He discusses this with the prophet Nathan who also thinks it is a good idea. But then God speaks to Nathan and tells this faithful prophet that God will build a house for David. God will establish David as a King over God’s people. It is from this royal line that the Messiah will come.

And then we have Psalm 89, a song about God’s love. “Your love, O Lord forever will I sing; from age to age my mouth will proclaim your faithfulness.”

And then we go back over two thousand years. Here is Mary, a young woman. She is engaged to Joseph, a faithful man, a man who is very gentle, yet very strong and protective. We know that Mary, too, has a strength that is almost beyond belief, and her faith is deep and abiding.

She lives in a little town that is far from the centers of power. She is just an ordinary person going about her daily routine, like so many people before her—Moses, tending his father-in-law’s flock, David, tending the sheep, Amos, the dresser of sycamore trees. As she is going about her household chores, the angel Gabriel suddenly appears. 

Here I fall back on Madeleine L’Engle’s descriptions of angels as tall, towering beings pulsating with light and power. “Greetings, favored one!” he says, “The Lord is with you.” Here is this luminous messenger of God talking to a young woman in a little out of the way town like Sheldon or Montgomery or Fletcher or Franklin and calling her “favored one,” telling her she is beloved of God. And he is telling us, too, that we are beloved of God. And then the angel Gabriel tells Mary and you and me that the Lord is with us. And then, seeing the look of shock on Mary’s face, Gabriel says, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” And God is saying that to us as well. “Do not be afraid. God loves you. God is holding you in the palm of God’s hand.”  

And then the Angel Gabriel tells Mary that she will be the mother of God’s Son. And Mary asks, “How can this be?” And Gabriel tells her that her cousin, Elizabeth, who is far beyond childbearing age, will be giving birth to a son. We know that this is Jesus’ cousin, John, who will grow up and baptize people in the Jordan River and call them to “prepare the way of the Lord.” It all seems beyond belief. Gabriel seems quite aware of this for he tells Mary and us,  “Nothing will be impossible with God.”

And then Mary responds. Throughout this mind-bending conversation with Gabriel, she has remained calm and grounded. We see in her the steely courage that she will show at the foot of the Cross. She joins many of her ancestors, people like Abraham and Moses, who said to God, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word.” Trusting completely in God’s faithfulness and love, Mary says “Yes” to this ministry.

Soon after, she goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth. The child John leaps in Elizabeth’s womb when he senses the presence of the baby Jesus. We often say that Christians go two by two, as our Lord sent out the disciples to spread the good news. Mary had the good common sense to seek out her cousin Elizabeth so that they could guide and support each other as they went on their journey together. Their sons would change the world forever. They gave birth to the transformation of the world.

In addition to the Magnificat, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,” we can also sing Psalm 89. “Your love, O Lord, forever will I sing; from age to age my mouth will proclaim your faithfulness.”

The light is coming into the world. This past week, we watched the news and saw people being inoculated with the new vaccine from Pfizer. Other vaccines are on the way. The Moderna vaccine has already been approved. Many scientists, researchers, physicians, lab technicians, and other dedicated people have worked evenings, weekends, nights, and holidays to create these life-saving vaccines. People gathered to clap as they were shipped out of the plant in Michigan because this is something to celebrate.

As Christians, we believe that God gives us the gift to reason and learn and carry out research. Our faith is based on what we call the three-legged stool of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. God gave us minds so that we can use them to discover things that will help people to have better lives. We believe that these discoveries are a manifestation of God’s love. “Your love, O God, forever will we sing.”

Because God gave us minds and calls us to use them, we know that we must continue to practice the basics of public health in a pandemic—wear masks, keep social distance, wash our hands often, don’t gather in large numbers. We know that it will take several months to get all of us vaccinated. But, if we follow safe practices, eventually enough people will be vaccinated that we will all be safe from this virus. Our faith also teaches us to be patient. It will take time. We are very happy that Keith and Sara are in Pinellas County, Florida, the first county in that state to receive the vaccine. To me, that feels like a special gift from God.

We have been through some very difficult times, and it is not over yet.

But the end is in sight. The light, the love, is coming into the world. Let us make room for the light and love in our lives. Let us make room for Jesus in the inns of our hearts. Even though there are challenges ahead, let us take time to celebrate the light and love of God in our lives and in our world. “Your  love, O Lord, forever will we sing; from age to age our mouths will proclaim your faithfulness.” 

Let us continue to walk the Way of Love, with joy and hope in our hearts.  Amen.

Advent 3B December 13, 2020

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Psalm 126
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8,19-28

In our opening reading this morning, God’s people have returned home from exile in Babylon. As Herbert O’Driscoll points out, this is the passage that our Lord reads in the synagogue in Nazareth as he begins his ministry.

What a powerful message this is for us as we deal with this pandemic. God is calling us “to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.”

God will be leading the people as they rebuild the temple and the city, but God is also calling for a reordering of the society. Walter Brueggemann says that the workers who will be rebuilding the ruins “are the oppressed, the broken-hearted, the captives, the prisoners, those who mourn.” Brueggemann says that these people “have been defeated, marginalized, and rendered powerless, either by the economic pressures within the community or by the economic policies of foreign powers.” He says that these workers “are the ones who have ended up in bondage… because they have debts they cannot pay. The pressures of economic paralysis have led to hopelessness, powerlessness, and finally despair.” Brueggemann continues, “For all time to come these will be the blessed of God.” (Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching, pp. 22-23.)

We cannot help but notice the striking parallels between these workers 25 centuries ago and our  workers, who are unemployed through no fault of their own. Their unemployment benefits are running out. Protections against foreclosure and eviction are also expiring, and millions of people could become homeless. In the midst of this suffering, God is calling us to take care of each other and to build a just society.

This passage has deep meaning for all of us, We are all feeling brokenhearted. We are all feeling like prisoners. God will give us “the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.” It is no accident that Jesus read this passage when he went to the synagogue in Nazareth.This text is calling us to help our Lord build his shalom.

Our reading today from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is full of gems for our spiritual lives. “Rejoice always,” Paul advises us. How can he say that when we’re in the middle of a pandemic? Here we must keep in mind that Paul’s life was not easy. He was in prison several times. He endured shipwrecks, beatings, personal attacks, and all kinds of opposition and adversity. Yet in the midst of everything, Paul was able to rejoice, and he encourages us to do the same. Underneath everything, upholding everything, is the joy of knowing Jesus our Savior.

“Pray without ceasing.”Over the centuries, people have tried to do this. We have the Jesus prayer that is sometimes said as we breathe. Breathe in—“Lord Jesus, Son of God.” Breathe out, “Have mercy on me, a sinner.” Or, breathe in, “Jesus,” breathe out, “Mercy.” We breathe in the healing and forgiving presence of our Lord and we exhale our sins while remembering his mercy. So that eventually with every breath we are thinking of our Lord and his love.

“Give thanks in all circumstances.” We could say, “Saint Paul, you are really asking a lot of us right now. Thousands of people are sick and dying; there are long lines at food shelves all over the country. Things are very bad. This is terrible.” And that is true. And—we can always find things to be thankful for. We can thank God for helping our doctors and nurses and truck drivers and grocery store workers and teachers and school staff and all the essential and medical workers who are valiantly doing their jobs. We can thank the researchers and others who are working on discovering vaccines, and we can give special thanks that the process of distributing a vaccine has begun and that, in Great Britain and other places, people have already received a vaccine. We can thank everyone who practices the safety guidelines our medical experts are giving us. I thank each and every one of you for your faith and your service to others during  this time. And for your strength of spirit and your sense of humor and your spiritual balance. Yes, we can “rejoice always,” “pray without ceasing,” and “give thanks in all circumstances.”

In today’s gospel, once again, we meet John the Baptist. He quotes Isaiah, saying he is “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘make straight the way of the Lord.’” John the Baptist “was not the light but that he came to testify to the light.” Although huge crowds came out to see him and followed him, he knew that he was not the Savior.

John the Evangelist says that John the Baptist “came to testify to the light.” If we think about Isaiah’s time, a time of great economic injustice and suffering when God was calling the people to rebuild the temple and their lives and their society; or if we think about the time of John the Baptist when the people of God were oppressed by the Roman Empire, those were very difficult times. And this time of Covid is also a time filled with suffering. People are dying alone without their families. Doctors and nurses are becoming more and more exhausted.

And yet. The light is coming into the world. The darkness has not overcome that light. At the Easter Vigil, we carry the paschal candle into the dark church and we process down the aisle to the altar, chanting “The light of Christ,” and the people answer, “Thanks be to God.” New life is coming into the world. The shalom of God is growing, like the shoot that sprouts from the stump of Jesse. Thanks be to God for that light. That hope. That love which sustains all of us. Let us kindle that hope and cherish it. Let us continue to walk the Way of Love. Amen.

Advent 2 Year B December 6, 2020

Isaiah 40:1-11
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
2 Peter 3:6-15a
Mark 1:1-8

“Comfort, O Comfort my people,” says your God.” In our opening reading, the prophet Isaiah speaks God’s word to God’s people who are still in exile in Babylon. It is important to remember that the word “comfort” comes from the Latin “con” meaning “with” and “fortis” meaning “strength.” Comfort—with strength.

The revered Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann writes of this passage, “In Chapter 40, at long last, when all seemed lost, now speaks the Holy One of Israel. This oracle is the voice of Yahweh, who breaks the silence of exile and by utterance transforms the fortunes of Judah. This speech breaks both the despair of Judah and the power of Babylon; it penetrates the emptiness of exile and fills the world of Judaism with possibilities….”  Brueggemann continues, “We may understand ‘comfort’ as transformative solidarity; that is, not simply an offer of solace, but a powerful intervention that creates new possibilities.” (Brueggemann, Isaiah 40-66, Westminster Bible Companion, p.16.)

As we hear these words read, we naturally bring to mind and heart the powerful and beautiful music of Handel’s Messiah, and this reaches into our minds and hearts and gives us hope in our own Covid-19 exile. God is telling us that, in the midst of exile there is hope. Not only that, there are new possibilities.

Brueggemann speaks of “transformative solidarity.” In the midst of this pandemic, we are being called to transform our world and our societies. We are realizing that this pandemic is hitting people of color and poor people harder than it is impacting people of means and white people. This reminds us of our Lord’s call to feed the hungry and give clothes, shelter, and other necessities to our brothers and sisters. But these differences in levels of suffering are also calling us to build into our planning for the future equal access to health care, more justice in wages and benefits, and other ways of insuring fairness in our nation and our world so that we all bear equally the burdens of challenges like this pandemic. In the midst of all this suffering, God is speaking a message of profound light and hope. “Every valley shall be lifted up and every mountain and hill laid low.” Things are evened out in God’s kingdom. People share.

And then we hear that a voice is crying out in the wilderness, and this takes us to our gospel. John the Baptizer is that figure, that forerunner named by the prophets, among them Isaiah. John calls out, “Prepare the way of the Lord. and make his paths straight.” John calls the people to a baptism of repentance. They confess their sins, and they ask God’s help in transforming their lives, and so do we.

The gospel tells us that John was “clothed with camels hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.” Perhaps, if John the Baptizer were to appear on our Zoom screens, we might be quite shocked at his wardrobe. Very few people, even then, wore clothes of camel’s hair. John was not concerned about clothing or fashion. He had one mission: to prepare people for the appearance of the Messiah.

People thronged to him. He was the Biblical equivalent of a pop star. He didn’t center his ministry in Jerusalem where the people were. He was out in the wilderness and the people came to him. John had a huge number of followers.

John said, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Today, on the Second Sunday of Advent 2020, John the Baptizer is calling us to examine our selves and our lives, confess our sins to God or to a priest by phone or Zoom if we wish, and ask God’s help to get our lives fully on course. In that way, Advent is a kind of briefer Lent. It is a time for self-examination and metanoia, transformation.

John is a wonderful example for us. He is totally focussed, not on himself, but on the One who is to come. He is a shining example of single-mindedness, humility, awareness of who he is, and who God is. Even when he was a baby, John leapt in the womb of his mother Elizabeth when her cousin, Mary, who was pregnant with Jesus, came to visit. Even then, the baby John recognized his Lord, who was also his cousin. Even then John was that aware and that faithful.

And this takes us back to our first lesson from Isaiah. The herald is lifting up his voice to shout good tidings. “See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him…He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.” Here is the might of our Savior, and here also is his tender gentleness.

Here, in the tenth month of our exile, our loving God is giving us a powerful message of hope and transformation. He is calling us to walk the Way of Love in this time. He is calling us to take care of ourselves and each other so that we can walk together through this exile and follow him.

We can do this, with his help. Peter writes, “The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting you to perish…But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.”

Even now, he is building his kingdom, his shalom, and we are helping him by loving him and our neighbors. Now, as the days are getting shorter and the darkness is increasing, we can remember how John the Evangelist in his gospel reminds us that “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” We can let our good shepherd lead us and carry us as we continue to walk the Way of Love. Amen.