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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:…

Palm Sunday Year B March 28, 2021

Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 31:9-16
Philippians 2:5-11
Mark 14:32—15:39

Our reading from Isaiah dates back to the end of the Babylonian Exile, 539 B.C.E. The people of God had been in exile for fifty to sixty years. Scholars tell us that they really don’t know the exact identity of this prophet. We call him the Second Isaiah. He writes,“The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may  know how to sustain the weary with a word.” Whatever message God gave this person to share with God’s people, things did not go well. He suffered. Biblical scholar Gene M. Tucker of Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta writes that this courageous prophet offered “a new understanding that seems to have arisen out of the painful experience of the Exile. Through the darkness of the Exile, Second Isaiah could see a light. He and other faithful ones also realized that the suffering of some, or even of one, could benefit others, perhaps even the whole world.” (Tucker, Preaching through the Christian Year B, pp.169-170.)

Paul wrote the Letter to the Philippians while he was in prison. Both he and the followers of Jesus in Philippi were suffering persecution. Paul writes, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus….” He tells us that our Lord, “emptied himself taking the form of a slave.” 

We are nearing the end of our Exile. In Christ, we have a teacher and a leader who can “sustain the weary with a word.” If we are called to “be of one mind with our Lord,” of what do we need to empty ourselves? What do we need to let go of? How can we serve others more fully, more lovingly? If we empty ourselves, with what are we going to fill ourselves? I would suggest that we fill ourselves with the presence and love of God. That we let God sustain us with God’s word, God’s presence, God’s Holy Spirit.

I think that we, like our brothers and sisters who went through the Exile, have learned some things about suffering. Over five hundred forty-eight thousand people have died of Covid-19 in our country alone; 2.77 million fellow human beings in our world; 224 of our fellow Vermonters have died of this disease. Through our exile and especially our fast, we have learned what a gift it is to gather together and share Holy Eucharist, exchange the Peace, hug each other, sing together, pray together, and receive together the Body and Blood of Christ, the heavenly food which sustains us. We have also learned that we can adapt, call on those among us who have the gifts to work with virtual media, and stay connected during a time of pandemic.

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” In St. Paul’s time, the mind meant not only logical thought, but the will, intentions, intuition, and imagination. Our Lord emptied himself of all pride and earthly power and became a loving servant to others. Charles Cousar writes, “[Our] entire identity—our intuitions, sensitivities, imaginations—[are] to be shaped by the self-giving activity of Christ.” (Cousar, Texts for Preaching Year B, p, 246.) During this Exile, I have seen all of you caring about and serving others in many ways. I have also felt the deep love you have for God and for each other.

Let us continue to walk the Way of Love this Holy Week. Like the Second Isaiah toward the end of the Exile, we are looking beyond the suffering and we are seeing light.  As we see this marvelous light, I also ask that we continue to follow the guidance of our medical experts. 

Blessed Lord Jesus, our Savior and our Good Shepherd, thank you for leading and guiding us though this especially tragic and challenging time. Give us the grace to keep following you, to walk the Way of the Cross, to be faithful to you, to stay awake with you, to stand at the foot of the cross to be with you, and to be there on Easter morning as you burst forth from that tomb to defeat even death itself. Amen. 

Lent 5B March 21, 2021

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 51:1-13
Hebrews 5:5-10
John 12:20-33

Our opening reading today comes from the Book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah was one of the great prophets of God. Here is what God said to him, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Scholars tell us that Jeremiah was very young, around eighteen years old, when God called him to be a prophet. Jeremiah told God that he was too young to answer this call.  Here is how Jeremiah tells the story. Then I said, “Ah, Lord God, truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy.’ for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord. Then the Lord put out his hand, and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth.” God calls all of us to our ministries, and God gives each of us the gifts we need to carry out our ministry.

Jeremiah was called at a time when the leaders were corrupt. Jeremiah pronounced God’s judgment on their immoral and unjust behavior, and they responded by persecuting him. Some religious leaders tried to kill him. He was beaten, put into the stocks, and thrown into a cistern. Eventually, the Babylonian Empire conquered Judah and deported the leaders and others to Babylon.

As we know, this was one of the lowest points in the history of God’s people. In the midst of this terrible time, God says about the people, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts….They shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” The law will no longer be words written on tablets long ago. The law will be written on their hearts. God will be close to the people, and the people will be close to God. Each person and all the people will have a close relationship with God. And God will forgive the people.

Think of what these words from God meant to these people over twenty-five hundred years ago as they tried to hang on to faith and hope during the exile. Thanks to the love of God and the encouragement of their spiritual  leaders, they kept the faith, they gathered to pray and study the scriptures, and they strengthened their community during this time of exile and desolation.

In our gospel for today, the people are gathering for the Passover, and Jesus is preparing for the cross. He says something that has so much truth in it that we can meditate on it for our whole lives and still only scratch the surface of its meaning. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain, but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” We can think of ourselves as a little seed, a grain of wheat, self-contained, individual, able to make our own choices, do things our own way. We are sitting on a large rock in a field. Will we jump into the rich loam of God’s love and grace and grow? Or will we remain in our own little world? If we jump into the richness of God’s love and grace, we grow. We love and follow Jesus.

But then our Lord, right in front of us, goes through a dialogue with himself and God. “What shall I say—Father, save me from this hour? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.”

In meditating on this gospel, i found my mind and heart turning to thoughts of Brian Sicknick. Brian was 42 years old.  In a statement posted on the Capitol Police website on January 7, Brian’s family wrote, “There really aren’t enough kind words in any language to describe how sweet Brian was. He was truly a lovely, humble soul. Everyone who met him adored him. We are missing him terribly. He loved his job with the U. S. Capitol Police….He also had an incredible work ethic. He was very serious about showing up to work on time and refused to call out sick unless absolutely necessary.” 

Brian went to work on January 6, faithfully carried out his duties amidst the physical brutality and chaos of the attack, on our Capitol, was sprayed with a powerful chemical substance, became very ill, returned to his division office, collapsed, was taken to the hospital, and died the next evening at 7:30. He was protecting our Capitol. He was doing his job. As you know, a friend of mine has a connection with Brian. She knows someone who is a good friend of the family. From all accounts, Brian walked the Way of love.

There is something about walking the Way of Love. There is something about jumping into the good earth of God’s grace and helping to build God’s shalom of peace and harmony. There is something about surrendering our ego, giving ourselves to something bigger than ourselves, throwing ourselves into the loving arms of God. When we try to save our lives, we lose them. When we lose our lives for Jesus’ sake, we find new meaning in our lives. We enter into eternal life, life in a new dimension.

We are following Jesus. Today and again in the garden we will hear his own struggle about the cross.  He knows everything about what it is to be human. And that is everything to us when we have to face our own cross, whether it is a decision we don’t want to have to make, a child or a grandchild going through something horrible, a sacrifice of something that has been very important but, when we finally let it go, we find ourselves on a path to new life. In all of these things, we can follow him because we know that he understands exactly what is being demanded of us because he has gone through it himself. Every time we face our own cross, he is there with us. And that makes it possible for us to take the right course, to follow him, even though we are sure it will lead to some kind of death. And every time it leads to new and light-filled life. 

We are at a delicate time in our exile, our desert wandering, our fast. There is great hope for freedom, but we have to continue to follow the science and be careful, or we may cause another spike. This may be our most profound challenge yet. Fortunately, blessedly, we are not alone. We are never alone. We have help, the best possible help. Blessed Lord Jesus, thank you for leading and guiding us. Help us to walk the Way of Love with you. In your holy Name,  Amen.

Lent 4B March 14, 2021

Numbers 21:4-9
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
Ephesians 2:1-10
John 3:14-21

Today is the Fourth Sunday of Lent, sometimes called Laetare Sunday, from the Latin laetare, rejoice, the first word in the entrance hymn of the ancient Mass for this day, “Rejoice O Jerusalem.” This Sunday is also called “Mothering Sunday.” In the British Isles, it is a time when folks visit their mothers. It goes back to the times when servants were allowed to visit their mothers on this day. In the midst of Lent, we observe a time of rejoicing. Herbert O’Driscoll wisely notes that all of our readings today speak of God’s healing. (O’Driscoll, The Word Today Year B, p. 27.)

In our opening lesson from the Book of Numbers, God’s people have to go around the land of Edom because the people of Edom will not let them cross their territory. As always, the journey of the people of God is full of challenges.

The people begin to complain—again. They complain to their leader. Moses. They ask him why he has brought them here to die. They totally forget that they were slaves in Egypt, making bricks for the Pharaoh, who kept increasing their quotas just to see exactly how much work he could get out of them. And they also complain to God.

The journey out of slavery is not easy. Whether it’s an addiction or a pattern of thinking, or the slavery of an abusive relationship that we have finally left, we humans tend to forget how difficult that slavery was. The first elation of freedom wears off, challenges come up, and we wrap our former slavery in a rose-colored haze of amnesia. Like the people of God in the wilderness, we remember the leeks and melons and forget the back-breaking work of bondage.

The people encounter some poisonous snakes, deadly snakes. God tells Moses to make a bronze serpent, put it on a pole, and hold it up. When the people look at the snake, they will be healed. In ancient times, snakes were believed to be objects of healing. Even today, the caduceus, with two snakes entwined on a pole and wings at the top, is a sign for physicians and medical workers. The text tells us that the people would “look on the serpent of bronze and live.”

In our gospel, Jesus refers to this passage from Numbers. He knows that he is going to be crucified, and he links that ancient healing for God’s people in the wilderness with his body hanging on the cross. We know that crucifixion was a horrible torture, and yet, paradoxically, we look on the cross as a sign of healing and life. St. John Vianney told a story of an elderly man, a farmer, who would take time to go into the church and gaze at the crucifix above the altar, just look and contemplate that crucifix. When asked what he was doing, he said, “I look at him, and he looks at me.”

In our own ways, we do that. We look at our Lord and he looks back at us with the deepest love we will ever encounter. We look at him and open our hearts to him and he fills our hearts with his love and our lives with his healing. This is what Jesus was doing on the cross. He was giving his life not only for us but to us. He was giving us his energy and his healing so that we can serve others as he did.

In our reading from Ephesians, Paul, or perhaps a devoted disciple whom I will call Paul, is tracing the spiritual journey of the human race. Once we humans followed “the ruler of the power of the air,” that is, we were self-centered. We did what we wanted to do. We were selfish; we had no idea that there was a difference between what we wanted and what we needed. This turned out to be a dead end. Paul says, “We were by nature children of wrath.” What a profound statement.  There is so much wrath, so much anger in our world. People post all kinds of angry thoughts and others respond with angry posts and it goes on and on. Yes, there are positive posts, but it can seem as though they are hard to find.

Paul writes, “God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, made us alive together with Christ.” And then he writes, “By grace you have been saved.” Merriam-Webster defines grace as a, “Unmerited divine assistance given to humans for their regeneration or sanctification, b, a virtue coming from God, and c, a state of sanctification enjoyed through divine assistance.” Sanctification is defined as “the state of growing in divine grace.”

Grace is a gift from God. It’s nothing that we can earn. God pours grace out on us every day. The more we open our hearts and lives to God, the more grace, the more freely-given divine help, we receive.

And then Paul writes, “for by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” The motto of Grace Church is “By grace through faith.” The first case of Covid 19 was diagnosed a little over a year ago. We are still here. Grace Church was founded in 1816, 205 years ago. We’re still here. This pandemic has been very difficult. We have noted that. We have talked about how hard this time has been. I believe this is a healthy thing to do.

While we can see some parallels between us and God’s people in the wilderness, I think we can also thank God for the grace which has enabled us to remain faithful. We haven’t rebelled against our leaders.  We haven’t rebelled against God. We have a long history of using our in-person coffee hour as a time for close mutual support in the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, and we have continued to do that even in virtual space. Over this past year we have shared some major challenges and asked each other’s prayers. Grace is a gift of God, as are faith, hope, and love. We have accepted these precious gifts of God and we have used those gifts to grow in divine grace.

There is reason for rejoicing today, in the midst of this wilderness, this exile. We can rejoice in God’s gifts of faith, hope, love, and grace. I believe that, by giving us these gifts, our loving God has helped us to grow stronger.  God has helped us to grow in grace. As our psalm says, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, and his mercy endures for ever. And to paraphrase the end of the psalm, “Let us offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving and tell of his acts with shouts of joy.” Amen.

Lent 3B March 7, 2021

Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
John 2:13-22

Here is a slightly edited version of our opening reading from The Message by Eugene Peterson, a retired seminary professor and pastor.

I am God. your God, who  brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of a life of slavery. No other Gods, only me. No carved gods of any size, shape, or form of anything whatever, whether of things that fly or walk or swim. Don’t bow down to them and don’t serve them because I am God, your God, and I’m a most jealous God….

No using the name of God, your God, in curses or silly banter; God won’t put up with the irreverent use of his name. 

Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Work six days and do everything you need to do. But the seventh day is a sabbath to God, your God. Don’t do any work—not you, not your son, nor your daughter nor your servant, nor your maid, nor your animals, not even the foreign guest residing in your town.

Honor your father and your mother so that you’ll live a long time in the land that God, your God, is giving you. 

No murder. No adultery. No stealing. No lies about your neighbor. No lusting after your neighbor’s house—or wife or servant or maid or ox or donkey. Don’t set your heart on anything that is your neighbor’s. 

Sometimes reading something familiar in a new translation helps us to see the power and meaning even more clearly. God loves us and has brought us out of all kinds of slavery, whether it be addiction or any number of other things that can imprison us. God loves us and wants us to love God and each other. Our loving God knows us intimately because our God created us, and God knows our tendency to make idols. Nowadays, it probably wouldn’t be a golden calf. Today’s idols are things like money, power, and the acquisition of things to the point where we have trouble trying to figure out the difference between what we want and what we really need. 

Sometimes all of this makes it difficult for us to take sabbath time. There is so much we have to do. And, for many people, sabbath time is not an option, since they have to work two or three jobs to make ends meet. Lying, cheating, and stealing have become more and more common these days, even among our leaders. Coveting is really easy to fall into when our society promotes the drive to acquire more and more things and more and more power.

Some of us are doing the Social Justice Bible Challenge. We are going through the Bible and reading passages that relate to social justice. This week we have ben reading from Isaiah, who wrote, “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the  brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor….” (Isaiah 61:1-2.)

The prophets took the essence of the law given to God’s people and, with prayer and discernment, both deepened and expanded our understanding of the law.

Prophets such as Isaiah and Micah and Amos help us to understand that, if we truly follow God’s will, everyone will be able to live together and we will share the things we need so that everyone will have enough. Sister Mary Scullion and Will O’Brien write that this passage from Isaiah represents “a restoration of community, in which every one of us has what we need in a shared abundance, and therefore every person can more readily affirm each other’s dignity as a member of a community.” (The Social Justice Bible Challenge, p. 64.)

This passage from Isaiah is the one Jesus read when he went into the synagogue in Nazareth at the beginning of his ministry. In many ways, this passage about freedom, dignity, and justice describes his ministry. When he enters the temple at the time of the Passover, at the feast celebrating the freeing of God’s people from slavery, he might reasonably expect to see a proper atmosphere of reverence and worship.

But, in those days, you had to sacrifice an animal at the Passover. If you were wealthy, it would be a lamb, if you were poor, a pigeon. But to buy that pigeon,  you had to get the official temple coinage. And the moneychangers would charge a fee for their service. The rules of the temple worship put barriers between the people and God. And this made Jesus hopping mad. So he turned over their tables and spilled the coins on the floor. This is his message to us: do not put barriers between me and my beloved children. Let them come and worship. Extend hospitality to them. And then he talked about the temple of his body, which would rise in three days.

The Ten Commandments, the writings of the prophets, and the ministry of Jesus all offer us guidance on how to live our lives. Our mission is to help to build God’s shalom of peace and harmony. The building blocks are loving God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

In our reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul says, “We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” Jewish people thought that having a leader who was crucified was impossible because crucifixion was a punishment reserved for criminals, so that meant your leader was a criminal. Greek thinkers were concerned with gaining wisdom, and they felt that the cross was not relevant to that pursuit.

But we who are following Jesus know that his example of emptying himself and becoming a servant to all, his example of surrendering to God and letting God bring the life that only God can bring, is why our Lord said that he is the way and the truth and the life. In following Jesus, and in walking the Way of Love, we are set free from all that holds us in bondage. We grow more and more into his image, and we help him to build his shalom of peace, harmony, and justice. Amen.