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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:…
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Pentecost 5 Proper 8B  June 27, 2021

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27
Psalm 130
2 Corinthians 8:7-15
Mark 5:21-43

In our opening reading this Sunday, King Saul and his son Jonathan have died in battle. David offers a poetic and powerful lament for these two men. As we know, King Saul had had an illness that tormented him. The only thing that comforted the king was David playing on his lyre, sometimes called a harp. 

As his illness progressed, King Saul became convinced that David was his enemy. The king got to the point where he wanted to kill David, so David left the palace and went into hiding. Jonathan continued to be a loyal friend to David. He stayed in touch with David and warned him when Saul was looking for him to kill him. 

In this lament, David is grieving over his best friend and his greatest enemy. Yet he pays tribute to both Jonathan and Saul. “How the mighty have fallen,” he says. He celebrates the courage of Saul and Jonathan and says that they were “Beloved and lovely…swifter than eagles and stronger than lions.”

David was far from perfect, but, at a time of great sadness, he was able to pay tribute to both Saul and Jonathan, people with whom he had extremely complicated relationships. Perhaps the most important theme of this passage is the tragedy of war.

In our second reading for today, Paul is encouraging the congregation in Corinth to follow through on their promise to raise funds to help the poor people in the Church in Jerusalem. The Corinthians have many gifts and much wealth, and Paul encourages them to share their material gifts with the people of Jerusalem. The members of the church in Corinth were Gentiles, and those in Jerusalem were Jewish. Paul is calling them and us to reach out beyond barriers of race and class to help our brothers and sisters.

In our gospel for today, Mark does one of his sandwich stories. He starts out by  telling us about Jairus and his daughter and then interrupts the story right in the middle to tell another story.

Jesus and his closest followers get into a  boat and cross to the Jewish side of the Sea of Galilee. A huge crowd gathers. One of the leaders of the synagogue, Jairus, comes up to Jesus. We can be sure that Jairus knows that the authorities in Jerusalem are keeping a close eye on Jesus and trying to find a reason to put him in prison or worse.

When your child is ill, you do anything you need to do to save that child. Jairus puts his own life in danger. He falls to his knees and begs Jesus to come and heal his daughter. He has heard about Jesus, and he has complete faith that our Lord can heal his child. Jesus goes with him.

We remember that there is a huge crowd pressing in on Jesus. They want to get close to him. There is a woman in this crowd. On the social status scale, she is as far from Jairus as anyone can get. She is a woman, and in that society, women are considered as chattel, property. A complimentary way to think of a woman in that culture is that she is the equivalent of a prize cow. She is an object, a possession. In addition to that, she has had a hemorrhage for twelve years. This makes her ritually unclean according to the law. She is supposed to stay away from people. Rabbis, and Jesus is a rabbi. are not supposed to be anywhere near a woman, especially a woman who is unclean. Like Jairus, this woman, who is not named, is desperate. She has spent all the money she had going to doctors and they have done nothing to help her.  She is feeing even worse. She has heard about Jesus, and she believes in him with all her heart. She comes up behind him in the press of the crowd and touches his cloak, She completely believes that touch will heal her. The hemorrhage stops in that instant. Relief flows into her.

But Jesus has felt power going out of him. He asks, “Who touched my clothes?” The woman is filled with fear.  She could try to run away. She could attempt to disappear into the crowd. But she does not. She feels the love flowing from Jesus, a love that changes her life then and there. She is still afraid, but she kneels before him, as Jairus did, and tells him the whole truth. And what does Jesus do? Punish her? Yell at her? No. He says, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease.”

Now, some people come and tell Jairus that his daughter has died. Jairus’ heart sinks. But Jesus tells him, “Do not fear, only believe.” Jesus takes Peter, James, and John, his closest disciples, and they go with Jairus to his house. Jesus goes into the house and finds a group of people weeping and wailing. He puts them outside. He creates a place of quiet and healing. Then he takes the child’s parents and they go into her room. He takes the girl by the hand and says, “Little girl, get up!” And she gets up and walks around. And then he tells them to give her something to eat. Jesus is always practical, always down to earth. This girl is alive! She needs nourishment.

Jairus and the unnamed woman are on opposite ends of the social scale. Our Lord treats them with the same infinite level of love and respect for their dignity. He knows how they feel. They are both at the end of their tethers. They are willing to risk anything. He gives them his complete focus and energy. He is there for them. He knows their anguish and desperation. He senses the depth of their faith. A woman is healed from something that made her unclean, unacceptable. A twelve year old girl has another chance at life. Our Lord can take us by the hand and give us a new lease on life. God can heal us of things that separate us from others. God can lead us from death to life.

The ministry of healing is a powerful thing, In many and different ways, all of you are involved in ministries of healing, whether it be caring for animals, feeding others, listening to others and sharing God’s love, making prayer shawls, so many ways of sharing God’s healing with others. May our loving and healing God continue to bless you in these ministries.

“Do not fear, only believe,” our Lord tells us. Loving and gracious and healing God, strengthen our faith. In Jesus Name, Amen.

Pentecost 4 Proper 7B June 20, 2021

1 Samuel 17: (1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49
Psalm 9:9-20
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Mark 4:35-41

Last Sunday, we read the story of how God sent Samuel to the home of Jesse to anoint David as King of Israel. We remember that Saul, who is still king, has been a great disappointment to both God and Samuel. He was not a good leader.

Very few people know that David has been anointed as King. The young man has been dividing his time between tending the sheep and going to the palace to play his lyre for King Saul, who has developed a very upsetting illness which can be relieved only by the presence of David playing his lyre.

David’s older brothers have been serving in the army, and David has been sent to the front lines to bring supplies to them. As he arrives, David hears Goliath, a giant of a man, hurling insults at the God of Israel and challenging God’s people to send a man to fight him. Just to give us an idea of his size, scholars tell us that six cubits and a span means that Goliath is ten feet tall. Goliath is a bully on steroids. He has no use for God and he relies only on his brute strength and his capacity for endless bragging and threatening.

David delivers the supplies for his brothers and hears the words of Goliath. He offers to go and fight Goliath. Saul is concerned for David’s safety, David assures Saul that he has killed lions and bears in order to defend his flock. Scholars tell us that there indeed were lions and bears in Palestine at that time. Saul is a bit dubious, but David says, “The Lord who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will save me from this Philistine.”  Goliath trusts in his own brute strength. David trusts completely in God. Saul tries to help David by giving the young man his armor, but the weight of the physical armor paralyzes David. He takes his shepherd’s staff, five smooth stones, and his sling. 

Goliath curses and ridicules David. David responds, “You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts…” David runs to the battle line, takes one of those smooth stones, hurls it at Goliath, and kills him.

This story is the classic tale of the victory of the underdog, but it is also a profound statement about the power of faith. Biblical scholar James Newsome writes, “The God of justice is committed to the preservation of faithful people and to the defense of those who cannot defend themselves….The point of the whole narrative is that Goliath is a predator, and as God’s agent of justice David will deal with him as such….The death of Goliath signals that Israel’s new king, this shepherd like no other, will defend his people against their oppressors. But more than that, it reaffirms that the God of Israel will never permit injustice to prevail.” (Newsome, Texts for Preaching Year B, pp. 393-394.)

As he addresses Goliath and prepares for battle, David has a depth of calmness and faith. This theme is carried into our gospel for today. Jesus suggests that he and his team take the boat to the other side of the lake. They have been surrounded by people and they need some time apart. As they head for the other side, a squall comes up. The wind and waves are threatening to swamp the boat. His companions are terrified. Jesus is asleep. In ancient times, the sea was equated with chaos. God’s work of creation brought order and beauty to the chaos. In this gospel passage, the sea becomes chaotic to the point of being deadly, and Jesus sleeps through it. Chaos does not terrify  him because of his deep faith.

All of this made me think of something our presiding Bishop has spoken about recently. He says we have a choice between community and chaos, and, of course, Bishop Curry offers the Way of Love as the basis for community.

To me, Goliath is a symbol of chaos—threatening people, throwing insults, even at God, pushing people around, even killing people. David is a symbol of the kind of deep faith that builds community instead of chaos. Because of his faith, David was able to protect his people that day. He became one of the great kings of Israel. He created community. He even brought the two kingdoms of Israel together.

Jesus is able to still the storms that terrify us. He wakes up and calms the storm. He is able to sleep because of his complete faith in God.

David steps up and offers to fight Goliath because of his deep faith in God and his determination to prevent his people from being enslaved. The life and ministry of our Lord free us from every bondage and set us free to help others.

New Testament scholar Ira Brent Driggers writes, “The world scoffs with Goliath at the prospect of defeating the seemingly unbeatable giant with a single smooth stone, just as it scoffs at the proposition of defeating sin and death through a singular, incarnate love. The Christian story here is not one of violence and bloodshed but trusting that God works within the creation (and in unexpected ways through a shepherd boy and a carpenter’s son) to realize the divine will for creation.” Driggers, New Proclamation Year B 2012, p. 92.)

Bishop Curry writes, “I am a follower of Jesus of Nazareth because I believe that his way of love and his way of life is the way of life for us all. I believe that unselfish, sacrificial love, love that seeks the good and the welfare and the well-being of others, as well as the self, that this is the way that can lead us and guide us to do what is just, to do what is right, to do what is merciful. It is the way that can lead us beyond the chaos to community.”

The faith of a young shepherd enables him to calm the chaos caused by a predatory bully. The faith of our Lord allows him to sleep through a tempest and then awaken to calm the storm. Our faith enables us to walk the Way of Love and to help God build God’s shalom of peace and love. Amen.

Pentecost 3 Proper 6B June 13, 2021

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13
Psalm 20
2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17
Mark 4:26-34

Last week we looked on as Samuel anointed Saul the first King of Israel. Things have not gone well. Saul has not been a good king. Our reading tells us that God is sorry that God has made Saul the King. Samuel is devastated over the turn of events.

Now God calls Samuel to go to Bethlehem and anoint the one God has chosen to be the next king. Samuel is terrified at the prospect. Saul is very protective of his power, and Samuel reminds God that, if Saul finds out Samuel has gone to anoint a new king, Saul will kill Samuel. God instructs Samuel to take a heifer with him and say that he has come to offer a sacrifice to God. Samuel will invite Jesse to the sacrifice and God will take care of the rest.

When Samuel arrives in Bethlehem, the elders are trembling with terror. They, too, are afraid of Saul, who does not hesitate to destroy anyone who challenges his power. Samuel assures them that he comes in peace, which is certainly true. He is trying to carry out the will of God.

I don’t know about you, but I love the next scene. Jesse makes seven of his sons pass before Samuel, Each is a fine young man. But none of them is the one God has chosen. Finally, we discover that the last son is out in the field taking care of the sheep. The youngest of all, the one who is doing the humble work of a shepherd, is the one God has chosen. The spirit of the Lord comes mightily upon David.

One of the great lessons of this passage is what God tells Samuel: “Do not look on his appearance, or on the height of his stature…for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

What good news this is for us. God does not look on the exterior things, what clothes we are wearing, how much money or power we have. No, God looks into our hearts. If we are trying to love God and love our neighbor, God sees that.

And there is another important point in this story. Biblical scholar John Hayes writes, “The lord makes the least expected choice. Expectations are reversed. The last is made the first, and God’s power is to be manifested in weakness. (Hayes, Preaching through the Christian Year B, p. 306.)

In our epistle for today, Paul writes, “We regard no one from a human point of view.” That carries on the idea that God looks upon our hearts. Because we are following Jesus, and because we know that  our Lord is looking into our hearts, and filling us with us love and grace, we look on other people and on the world differently. 

Paul writes, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new.” Because of the love of God, because we have come to know Jesus and to follow him as our Good Shepherd, we see things differently than we did before. We see people and situations through the loving eyes of God.

Every person is our brother or sister, no matter whether they are rich or poor, no matter what race they are or what kind of work they do, no matter how they dress, none of those things matter. Every person is a beloved child of God.

There is a new creation. Everything has become new. Everything is seen in a new light. God’s light. As we are transformed, we look at our brothers and sisters, not through human eyes, but through the loving eyes of God, and we reach out to them with the welcoming arms of Christ. We are the body of Christ sharing his love with all we meet.

Our gospel gives us some parables of the kingdom of God.  It’s like planting seeds and the seeds grow and grow and there is an abundant harvest.

The kingdom, the shalom of God is like a mustard seed. It is the smallest of the seeds, yet when you plant it, it grows into a shrub, so that birds can build nests in its branches.

This is one of the greatest gifts our Lord has ever shared with us, the idea that small is beautiful. We live in a beautiful place, a small place, and it is a gift from God. May we cherish that gift.

As the next king, God chose the youngest son, the one too young to come to the sacrifice. God looks into our hearts. God gives us hope. God transforms us through the power of God’s love. We are a new creation. God calls us to see things differently because of our faith. God calls us to look beyond and through the exterior things. 

May we look at others with your loving eyes, O God, and may we love others as you love us. Amen.

Pentecost 2 Proper 5B June 6, 2021

1 Samuel 8: 4-11, (12-15), 16-20, (11:14-15)
Psalm 138
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Mark 3:20-35

Our first reading from the first Book of Samuel invites us to look in on a crucial turning point in the history of God’s people. The elders of Israel come together and tell Samuel that he is old and his sons are not faithful followers of God as Samuel is. They want Samuel to appoint a king, as they say, “to govern us, like other nations.”

Samuel prays to the Lord. I think he is feeling rejected by the people. God tells Samuel to “listen to the voice of the people, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.” God is making it clear that the people are rejecting God, not Samuel. 

Ever since the people left Egypt and escaped from slavery, the people have been led by judges. They are like the judges we know in that people can come to them and have them mediate or arbitrate in difficult situations, But they are much more. They are priestly and prophetic figures who can help the people to discern the will of God and then faithfully follow God’s leading. They are also skilled and courageous military leaders.

In a poignant moment, God actually tells Samuel that the people are rejecting God’s leadership. Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann writes, “In their craving for a monarchy, patterned not on Yahweh’s will but on the countless kingdoms around them, they are simply giving in to the ancient temptation to counter the sword with the sword.” He continues, “For simply to repose in the expectation that God will take care of all the hard issues of life is a thinly veiled form of escapism. We shall work for the kingdom because we must. Yet, even as we do so. we are forced to admit that it is not we, but God, who will eventually bring the kingdom into perfect realization. Our efforts, while useful, are inevitably distorted and sinful. But, as God did not abandon sinful Israel, so the true king will not abandon any who long and work for the in-breaking of the kingdom. Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching, p. 375-76.)

Samuel tells the people that the king will take their sons to serve in the military and make weapons and to plow and harvest the king’s crops. And the king will also take their daughters to serve as perfumers, cooks, and bakers. The list goes on, There will be a high price. And then he and the people anoint Saul as king. And a tragic period begins in the history of God’s people. Samuel lives long enough to anoint David the next king of Israel. Centuries later, Lord Acton summed it all up when he said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.”

In our epistle for today, Paul is writing to his beloved congregation in Corinth. There are some tensions going on. Scholars tell us that Paul had hoped to visit them and had not been able to. Also, false teachers are telling the people that Paul is insincere. Paul shares the depth of his faith by reminding us that we know that the one who raised Jesus from the dead can also raise us and can help us through every affliction. And he says, “So we do not lose heart.” We live in earthly bodies, which he compares to tents because they are temporary homes, but we are living in the realm of eternal life— life in a new dimension filled with light and love.

In our gospel, Jesus is in a house with his disciples. There are so many people there that they cannot eat. People want to hear what he has to say. They want to be with him. Some people are saying that Jesus is insane. The scribes have come down from Jerusalem and they say that he is healing people through the power of the head demon, Beelzebul. And Jesus tells them that you can’t cast out evil with evil.

For religious authorities to attribute the work of God to evil forces is the ultimate corruption. To confuse good with evil is a very dangerous and sinful thing. Jesus reminds us that “A house that is divided against itself cannot stand.” He is calling his people to be united and work for what is good.

Then someone tells him that his mother and brothers and sisters are outside asking to see him. And he looks around him and says, “Here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and  mother.” We remember when he was on the cross, how he told John the apostle and his mother that they were now mother and son. He is creating a new family. a big family, as Archbishop Tutu says. All of us who are following him are part of that family. This does not take away from his love for his own genetic mother and brothers and sisters. His own  brother James became Bishop of Jerusalem and at the Council of Jerusalem insisted that all people are part of Jesus’ big family. 

These readings are so filled with important messages. Leaders are called to use their power for the good of the people. We as Christians are called to focus on the values of the shalom of God as we evaluate our leaders. There is a profound difference between good and evil. Confusing the two is highly dangerous and damaging. We know that our loving God is calling us to help build God’s kingdom of peace, harmony, and wholeness. May we continue to do that, with God’s grace.

Our Collect for today is a wonderful help. O God, from whom all good proceeds: Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.