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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion June 4, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.comTime:  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 9 Proper 12B July 25, 2021

2 Samuel 11:1-15
Psalm 14
Ephesians 3:14-21
John 6:1-21

David was a great king who brought together all the tribes of Israel and united the northern and southern kingdoms. He was a valiant warrior. His people knew him and and loved him. And David was a person of deep faith. Even as a young boy, he attributed his victory over Goliath as the work of God on behalf of God’s people. And God loved him, called him to be king, called him to be the shepherd of God’s people.  The Messiah would later come from the house of David.

In our opening reading for today, we have the account of David’s fall into the depths of depravity. He is not leading the troops into battle. He looks out from the roof of the king’s house in Jerusalem, sees a beautiful woman, inquires about her, and finds out that she is the wife of Uriah the Hittite, one of his most trusted officers. This should make David stop and think, but it does not. 

David commits the sin of adultery, finds out that Bathsheba is pregnant, calls Uriah in from the  battle, asks about the progress of the war, and tries to get Uriah to go home and spend the night with his wife so that it will appear that the baby is Uriah’s child. 

Uriah must have wondered about the behavior of his beloved commander. It was unusual to call officers home from the front. As a loyal officer, Uriah is not going to go home and see his wife while the army is at war. He sleeps with the servants at the entrance of the king’s house. Even when David gets Uriah drunk, the faithful officer shows his loyalty to his king, does his duty as an officer, and stays at the king’s house. Now David sinks even lower. Knowing that the faithful officer Uriah would never open an official communication, David gives him a letter to deliver to his general, Joab. The letter orders Joab to put Uriah in the front lines and then fall back and leave him to be killed by the enemy. Uriah is carrying his death sentence.

As David said in his lament at the death of Saul and Jonathan, “How the mighty have fallen.” Uriah’s loyalty and integrity are such a contrast to David’s shocking behavior.

In our gospel for today, we have John’s account of the feeding of the five thousand. It is near the time of the Passover. Jesus asks Philip where they will buy food for the crowd, knowing what he is going to do. But Andrew, who has apparently been getting acquainted with the people, has already found a boy who has five barley loaves and two fish.

Jesus tells the discipes to make the people sit down. When we are in a big crowd and we sit down on the grass and we are in the presence of Jesus, suddenly there is a sense of order, a sense of quiet, a sense of purpose. As Julian said centuries later, “All will be well.” Jesus takes the loaves, blesses them, breaks them and distributes them. It is a eucharistic action. They gather up the leftovers and there are twelve baskets. The people begin to realize who Jesus is.

Evening comes, and the disciples get into a boat to cross the sea of Galilee. Now it is dark, the wind comes up, the waves grow higher, and there Jesus is, coming to them on the water. They are terrified. And he says those crucial words. “It is I; do not be afraid.”

What are these readings saying to us? First, David was a great leader in many ways. Yet he went far astray. We are all sinners. We all misuse God’s gift of free will at various times in our lives. The Bible does not mince words concerning this truth. Thanks be to God that we can reach out and grasp the hand of our risen Lord. Thanks be to God that we can follow our Good Shepherd.

And then the feeding of five thousand people. Andrew has found a boy with five barley loaves and two fish. We are called to look around us, find out what gifts God is giving us, and use those gifts. Jesus takes, gives thanks, breaks and shares those loaves and fishes. Five thousand people are fed. We have the gifts we need to be Christ’s risen body and share his love with others. Thanks be to God  and our faithful volunteers for our food shelf, which is feeding so many people.

Once David misuses his power and begins his downward slide, many of his decisions are governed by fear. Our Lord says, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Again, we can reach out and touch our risen Lord and be calm and regain our faith and get back on track.

Our epistle gives us some wonderful food for meditation. Paul’s disciple prays that we “may be strengthened in [our] inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in [our] hearts through faith, as [we] are being rooted and grounded in love,” And then this faithful disciple prays “that [we] may know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that [we] may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Perhaps that is what happened to that crowd of five thousand people, sitting on the grass by the shores of the Sea of Galilee, which is really a fresh water lake, so we can imagine being near Fairfield Pond or maybe Lake Champlain, being seated near the water and eating this meal which Jesus has prepared for us. Or we can think of ourselves, here at Grace Church. We will soon share this Eucharist, this thanksgiving feast at which Jesus is the host.  We will soon share this meal which fills us with the fullness of God. May we always remember that Jesus told us his kingdom is within us. He is with us always, around us and within us. 

Verse six of hymn 370, St. Patrick’s breastplate says, “Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me. Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me. Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.”

And our epistle ends with this benediction: “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish far more than we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.” 

Pentecost 8 Proper 11B July 18, 2021

2 Samuel 7:1-14a
Psalm 89: 20-37
Ephesians 2:11-22
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Biblical scholars Walter Brueggemann, James Newsome, and colleagues write, “Something new begins when God’s powerful love and loving power are acted out.” They are especially referring to what they call “the radical newness that is worked in Israel with the appearance of David.” (Brueggemann, Newsome, et al Texts for Preaching, p. 428.)

As we know, David was able to draw all the tribes together and create a united Israel. God had called David to be the king. In our first reading for today, David has built a house, and he wants to build a house for the ark of the covenant. He shares this idea with Nathan the prophet, who appears for the first time in the passage. Nathan encourages David to go ahead with the project, but that night, the Lord tells Nathan that God will build a house for David. God has a special relationship with the family of David. One of David’s descendants, Solomon, will build the temple to the Lord in Jerusalem. The Messiah will come from the house of David.

In our epistle for today, part of the Letter to the Ephesians, a kind of circular letter written to the churches in Asia Minor, now called Turkey, by a faithful disciple of Paul, the theme of God’s love creating a new thing is continued.

All kinds of people were coming into the community of faith. Some of them were Jewish, and some were Gentiles, non-Jews, people who might be worshipping one of the Greek or Roman gods, or who might not have any religious connections. Many of the new converts were Gentiles, and the writer realizes that these people might have felt like second-class citizens in the community. They were not familiar with the Hebrew scriptures or the law or the tradition. And he tells these people, “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups [Jews and Gentiles] into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law…that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.”

Brueggemann, Newsome and colleagues write, “Clearly Jesus, according to this text, runs well beyond David in envisioning and enacting a new, single community of humanity, which overrides our deepest divisions.”  (Brueggemann, Newsome, et al, Texts for Preaching, p. 428.)

Our Lord is creating a new community in which “God’s powerful love”and “God’s loving power” are being acted out.

In today’s gospel reading, we remember that Jesus has just heard of the death of his cousin, John the Baptist. I think Jesus and John were quite close. They were members of a large extended family, and they were kindred spirits and faithful servants of God. So, when he heard of the death of John, I think Jesus was very sad. But he did not let that stop his work of creating loving community, teaching, and healing people. As our reading opens, he has sent the apostles out to teach and heal. Now they are coming back and reporting all they have done. 

We can imagine that they have much to share with him and with each other. They have gone out two by two, and they have shared the good news and taught, and healed people. After this debriefing, Jesus calls them to go away to a quiet place to rest and, undoubtedly, to pray. We can imagine that both he and they are exhausted from all their work. They get into a boat and go to the other side of the lake. 

But a crowd of people arrives there ahead of them. And the text says, “he had compassion on them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he began to teach them many things.” Jesus cares about people.  No matter how tired he is, his compassion seems to be almost endless. This is an example for us. We are human, and our compassion is not endless. But our Lord is calling us to try, with his grace, to be compassionate to everyone we meet. 

Then Jesus and his disciples cross back to the other side of the lake. People recognize him and bring sick people from far and wide to be healed. Wherever he goes, people bring sick friends and relatives to be made whole again. Even touching the hem of his garment heals people. The healing power of our Lord goes beyond our understanding. We, too, are called to extend the healing power of his love.

“Something new begins when God’s powerful love and loving power are acted out.” Each and every one of you is sharing the power of God’s love with others, some in ministry with elders, some with animal rescue, some at the food shelf, some with Meals on Wheels, some with young people, the list goes on and on. You are all doing ministry, caring for people, animals, and God’s creation. This week, thanks to jan, our friends at the food shelf, and our brothers and sisters at First Congregational Church in St. Albans, we are beginning to serve families in our new Welcome Home Initiative for people transitioning from temporary to permanent housing. These kinds of ministries break down barriers and bring people together. They help God to create God’s big family.

“Something new begins when God’s powerful love and loving power are acted out.” Gracious and loving God, thank you for your powerful love and your loving power. Thank you for calling us to be together to share life in you. Thank you for all the ministries you give us to do. May we minister to each other and to our brothers and sisters out in the world with your powerful love and your loving power. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Pentecost 7 Proper 10B July 11, 2021

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
Psalm 24
Ephesians 1:3-14
Mark 6:14-29

Reflecting on our first reading today, Old Testament scholar James Newsome writes, “The presence of God in human life results in a joy that far exceeds that generated by other relationships and by the usual day-to-day experiences of life.” Newsome, Texts for Preaching Year B, p. 422.)

David has defeated the Philistines, a triumph King Saul could not achieve. The northern and southern kingdoms have been united. The ark of God, which had led the people of God out of their slavery in Egypt, has been at the home of Abinadab. Now David and thirty thousand men take a new cart and bring the ark of God to Jerusalem, where it will rest in a tent constructed by David. Later on, in that very spot, David’s son, Solomon, will build a temple to God. 

David wears the priestly garment, the ephod. He blesses the people. He feeds the people with the food offered at the feast in a kind of eucharistic action. In many ways, his actions are liturgical in nature. He is a religious leader as well as a king. He has been chosen by God to lead the people, and it is from his house that the Messiah will come.

As he leads the people in procession, David dances with great joy. 

We have been back in our beloved building for a few Sundays. It is such a blessing to be here where generations of faithful people have worshipped our loving and healing and merciful God. As wonderful as it is to be here, it is such a profound gift just to be together, to look into each other’s faces, to feel each other’s physical and spiritual presence in such a powerful way. For me this is such a wonderful expression of God’s love.

And that is what the writer of the Book of Ephesians, probably not Paul, but a faithful disciple of his, is expressing. This writer is telling us that God, the creator of heaven and earth, God who spoke to the people from Mt. Sinai, which was at that time an active volcano, God, who created all the plants and animals and everything else on earth, has adopted us as God’s very own beloved children.

Can you believe it? We can call God Dad, or Mom, or Papa or Mama. The creator of the universe bestows that level of love on us. We are that close to God. God is holding us in the palm of God’s hand. God is holding us in God’s loving arms.

To paraphrase James Newsome, the presence of God in our lives results in great joy. That is so true,

Then we come to our gospel for today, which is not about joy. When King Herod hears about all the healings and other wonderful things Jesus is doing, he thinks John the Baptist has come back to life. And then he remembers that he beheaded John, and our reading goes to a flashback.

Herod had arrested John the Baptist. Herod had married his brother’s wife, Herodias. John the Baptist told Herod that he had broken the law, You are not supposed to marry your brother’s wife. Herodias hated John the Baptist because he had told the truth about the law and morality.

Herod had a very complicated relationship with John. On the one hand, he did not like that John had criticized him. On the other hand, Herod liked to listen to John’s teachings about the scriptures. Down deep, I think, Herod realized that John the Baptist was a prophet speaking God’s truth.

One day, Herod had a birthday party and all his courtiers were invited. There was a great feast and the guests ate and drank their fill. His daughter came in and danced. Herod was so pleased that he offered her anything she wanted. She went out and asked her mother what her request should be. And her mother, who had a huge grudge against John the Baptist, told her to ask for John’s head. 

Scholars tell us that it is safe to assume that Herod had had far too much to drink. As drunk as he was, he did not want to kill John. He had genuine respect for John. But he had given his word, and what would all these powerful guests think if he went back on it? So he sent a soldier to do the nasty deed. This is one of the most grisly stories in the Bible or anywhere else—a tale of power and hatred gone mad.

John’s disciples come and take his body and give it a decent burial. And when Herod hears about Jesus he thinks it is John the Baptist risen from the dead, a kind of foreshadowing of the resurrection of our Lord. New Testament scholar Charles Cousar writes, “Truth-telling becomes a perilous venture in a world of Herods and Pilates.” (Cousar, Texts for Preaching Year B, P. 427.)

Even in the face of Herods and Pilates, the presence of God in our lives gives us joy. John the Baptist was the forerunner announcing the coming of the Messiah. Jesus is the light of the world and that light is shining in our lives right now. Nothing can change the power of that light and love. Nothing can dim that light. David danced with joy as he brought the ark of the covenant to a more permanent home. We dance for joy to be here now in our spiritual home. That light and love and joy is stronger than hate or fear.  Let us walk in the Way of Love. Let us dance in the Way of Love and Joy. Amen.

Pentecost 6 Proper 9B, July 4, 2021

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10
Psalm 48
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Mark 6:1-13

In our opening reading, all the tribes of Israel come together to make David their king. It is 1,000 years before the birth of Christ. He will be king for forty years.The text tells us that, for some time, even though Saul was king, David has been leading the troops into war. For years he has been doing the work of a king. Now the people want to anoint him as their leader.

God has called David to be king, and David is a unique kind of king. His rule is based on a covenant among David, the people, and God. God has called David to this position of leadership. David is a shepherd-king. Like a good shepherd, he will protect his flock. He will put the needs of his people first. After seven years, David moves the capitol from Hebron to Jerusalem, which is about halfway between the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. Under his leadership, the kingdoms and tribes are united. As we have said before, David is not perfect. But he has been called by God, and he is a person of deep faith.

In our epistle for today, we remember that Paul founded the church in Corinth, but he has not been there for a while. He has been staying in touch by writing letters, but that is not the same as being there. During his time away, other teachers have come through Corinth. They have accused Paul of being insincere because he told the people he would visit them and he has not been able to do so. These teachers have other criticisms of Paul, including that he isn’t a very good public speaker, and the latest one is that he does not have enough mystical experiences.

So Paul tells a story in the third person. Scholars say that this is really a story about Paul, but he is too humble to say that. Paul has been “caught up in the third heaven.” Scholars tell us that the third heaven is the highest heaven.

Perhaps we have not been to the third heaven, but I think many of us have had times when we have felt God’s presence in a way that goes beyond words. Perhaps we were looking up at the stars one clear night and sensed the paradox of the vastness of God, who could make such a universe, and yet the infinite love of God for a little creature like us. Perhaps we were listening to some favorite music and felt the glory and joy of God. Or maybe we have been struck with wonder at a sunrise. We have all had these moments of realizing the power and glory of God. 

The other teachers who have come through Corinth have bragged about their gifts and their mystical experiences, and some of the Corinthians have followed the example of these teachers and bragged about their gifts, especially the gift of speaking in tongues.

 But Paul does not brag. Instead he shares something deeply personal with these people, who can be quite arrogant, persnickety, and competitive. He shares that he has what he calls a “thorn…in the flesh.” He has prayed to God three times to remove this, and God has not removed it. Instead, God has told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

Scholars have no evidence of how Paul’s sharing about this weakness was received in Corinth, but you and I know that this takes us straight to the heart of the cross. We know that, when, we are at the end of our rope, and when we have tied a knot on the end of that rope and we are now hanging on for dear life, that’s when God can finally help us. Until that point, all our plans and solutions and delusions of our power can get in the way. The Revised Standard Version says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So, Paul is telling us,“[God’s] power is made perfect in weakness.”

That is one reason why our Lord died on that horrible instrument of torture, the cross—to show us that, when we let go and let God, new life happens. Paul says that is when “the power of Christ may dwell in [us].” When we admit our weakness. And when we share our weaknesses with trusted others, God’s power can act in amazing ways.

In our gospel for today, our Lord goes to his hometown synagogue in Nazareth. As a rabbi, a teacher, this is what he would be expected to do—go to the local synagogue and teach. But the people see him only as the local boy who went out into the world and came home to put on airs. The text tells us that he “could do no deeds of power there.” He did heal a few sick people. Our Lord sums it up: “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown….” Does this lack of hospitality and openness stop him? No. He heals a few people. And he calls the apostles and sends them out two by two. And he tells them to do their work with simplicity—take only what you absolutely need. As it turns out, they heal many people.

What are these readings telling us? God calls a young shepherd to be king and has Samuel anoint him as such. This young shepherd leads the people in battle. They get to know and trust him. He unites the two kingdoms into one. When God calls us to be together in community and we build that community on the covenant of love for God and neighbor. that is a foundation of great strength. God’s love calls us together and creates unity among us.

Our weakness can be our greatest strength. Sharing our weakness, asking for help, is a powerful thing. Admitting our weakness allows  us to let God help us. When that happens, miracles happen. The cross, which can be seen as a symbol of weakness, is, paradoxically, a symbol of great power, the greatest power in the world—the power of God’s love.

Gracious God, help us to love you with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Thank you for helping us in our weakness. Thank you for the power of your love.

In Jesus’ Name. Amen.