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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:…
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Pentecost 14 Proper 17B   August 29, 2021

Song of Solomon 2:8-13
Psalm 45:1-2, 7-10
James 1:17-27
Mark 7:1-8. 14-15, 21-23

Our opening reading today is from the Song of Solomon. It is a celebration of human romantic love, and, over the centuries, people have also seen it as a poem about God’s love for us. The images of spring and growth at the end of the passage speak eloquently to the fact that love, both human and divine, is a powerful source of new life.

This morning, we begin to study a series of passages from the Letter of James. Traditionally, Christians have thought that the author of this letter is James, the brother of Jesus. Over the years, there has been much scholarly debate. Luke T. Johnson, Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at the Candler School of Theology, Emory University, in Atlanta, Georgia, makes a convincing argument in favor of the traditional view that this letter was written by James, the brother of our Lord. James became the first Bishop of Jerusalem and led the early followers of Jesus through some very challenging times. 

If James is the author, this is one of the earliest Christian texts. As we read it, we can remember that the person who wrote it was very close to Jesus and knew the mind and heart of our Lord.

James begins, “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, from whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” All love and all generosity comes from our gracious and loving God who showers us with gifts of grace. God’s love is infinite and endless. Nothing can change that love or separate us from that love.

Because of God’s gift of love, we have the grace to follow the guidance James is giving us. “Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger, for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” The word “righteousness” can be defined as “right relationship with God.” We humans are called to listen to each other very carefully. We are called to be very slow to speak.  And we are called to “be slow to anger,” because anger impairs our relationship with God and with each other. In other words, we are called to listen to each other heart to heart, seek the mind of Christ, and do the will of Christ.

James writes, “Be doers of the word and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.” Our faith is shown in our actions, and the center of our faith is loving God and our neighbors. James continues, “ Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” In the time of James and Jesus, if orphans and widows did not have a male relative to protect them and give them a place in society, they had no power, no voice, and no way to gain respect. Caring for those who are vulnerable is a crucial way for us to express our acceptance of God’s love and our sharing of that love with those who have little or no power in our society. We are called to express God’s compassion, caring, and justice.

In today’s gospel, Jesus is in Galilee, where observance of the law is a bit more relaxed. He and his disciples have not washed their hands before they began their meal. The Pharisees are scolding them because they are not following the rules of ritual purity. Washing the hands is seen by the Pharisees as a way to show that one is following the law.

In Jesus’ time, germ theory, bacteriology, and virology were unknown, so the first thing we need to do is to say that washing our hands before we eat is a very good idea. The gospel is not dealing with biology. It’s a very good idea to wash our hands and eat from clean dishes with clean forks and knives and spoons.

Jesus tells the Pharisees, “There is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come.” On a biological level, there are many things that we can eat or drink that can make us very ill. but that is not what Jesus and the Pharisees are talking about. 

Our Lord is saying that what comes out of us, from our hearts, which are the seat of our will, our intentions, our intuitions as well as our feelings, that is what matters. Are we living lives of love and compassion and generosity? Are we loving God and our neighbor?

Mark’s gospel was written at a time when some of the followers of Jesus were Jewish and some were Gentiles. One of the biggest controversies was whether the followers of Jesus should be required to follow the Jewish law, including the dietary laws. Peter had a vision in which God told him that all foods are lawful, and all people are loved by God. This led the leaders of the community including James, the brother of Jesus, to conclude that following the Jewish law was not essential. The new faith was open to everyone. 

Both our epistle and gospel today make it very clear that outward observances are not the source of faith or a deep relationship with God. Our inward and outward selves must be congruent. We are called to be hearers and doers of the word. Outward observances can be beautiful and inspiring, but they need to be sincere. They need to come from the heart.

Yesterday, our Church calendar commemorated Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, one of the great theologians of the Church. Here is the collect for his day.

Lord God, the light of the minds that know you, the life of the souls that love you, and the strength of the hearts that serve you: Help us, following the example of your servant Augustine of Hippo, so to know you that we may truly love you, and so to love you that we may fully serve you, whom to serve is perfect freedom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Pentecost 13 Proper 16B August 22, 2021

1 Kings 8:1,6,10-11, 22-30, 41-43
Psalm 84
Ephesians 6:10-20
John 6:56-59

In our opening reading this morning, the great temple in Jerusalem has been completed. King Solomon and the leaders of the people gather, and the priests bring the ark of the covenant into the temple. A cloud fills the temple, indicating the holiness of the presence of God. This is a deeply profound moment in the history of God’s people. They have been nomads. The ark has led them ourtof slavery in Egypt and into the promised land. Now they will be settling down.

Solomon offers a powerful and beautiful prayer. He emphasizes that, although the ark is now in the temple, symbolizing God’s presence, God cannot be contained or limited. God fills the heavens and the earth. And Solomon also emphasizes the inclusiveness of God, saying, “Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name…when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling place and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name….” Solomon is praying that, if someone from far away comes to the temple and offers prayers, that God may hear and answer those prayers so that people all over the world may know God. This is one of the early passages that teach us that God has a big family, and it includes everyone on earth.

Our psalm today is one of the most beloved of all the psalms. Although it is a song about the temple, for us it is a song abut Grace Church and every church building we have ever loved. As Herbert O’Driscoll notes, it is also a song about the pilgrimage of our lives and how much we love being in sacred spaces where we can feel the presence of God and generations of past pilgrims. “One day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room.” God’s protection is such a cherished gift for us: “For the Lord is both sun and shield; he will give grace and glory.”

Our epistle today gives strength and tools for following our Lord in a challenging world. We are called to “be strong in the Lord,” and to put on the “whole armor of God.” Following Jesus isn’t easy in a world that often values the material over the spiritual, and just as people dress to fight chemical fires or dive into the ocean depths, so we are called to wear “the belt of truth,” the “breastplate” of of a right relationship with God, the “shield of faith”, the “helmet of salvation,” and the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Most of all, we are called to pray, to stay in touch with God. The fruits of the Spirit, as noted in Galatians 5:22—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, are so different from the values of this world that it is helpful to have these tools at hand.

In our gospel, Jesus is teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. He is talking about what we need to do in order to stay close to him. His disciples find this teaching difficult. He knows that Judas is going to betray him. He is going to be crucified. When John’s gospel was being written, followers of Jesus were being persecuted, and this has happened over the centuries. It is not easy to follow the way of our Lord. People leave. People fall away.

So he asks his disciples, “Do you also wish to go away?” And Simon Peter answers, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Here we are, at Grace Church, in the year 2021, centuries after Peter said those words. and yet he is speaking for us. We have been abiding with Jesus for quite a while now. Not perfectly, to be certain. As the Prayer Book says”We have erred and strayed” from his ways from time to time to be sure, but here we are, and, with Peter, we know there is no other one we can follow. We are like the sparrow in the psalm. We have found a home with him. We abide in him and he in us.

For me, abiding in Jesus always brings to mind Psalm 23. Jesus is our Good Shepherd. Barbara Brown Taylor tells us that she has a friend who grew up on a sheep farm in the midwest. Taylor says that, contrary to common belief, sheep are not dumb. She writes, “According to my friend, cows are herded from the rear by hooting cowboys with cracking whips, but that will not work with sheep at all.  Stand behind them making loud noises and all they will do is run around behind you, because they prefer to be led. You push cows, my friend said but you lead sheep, and they will not go anywhere that someone else does not go first—namely their shepherd—who goes ahead of them to show them that everything is all right.

“Sheep tend to grow fond of their shepherds, my friend went on to say. It never ceased to amaze him, growing up, that he could walk right through a sleeping flock without disturbing a single one of them. Sheep seem to consider their shepherds part of the family, and the relationship that grows up between the two is quite exclusive. They develop a language of their own that outsiders are not privy to. A good shepherd learns to distinguish a bleat of pain from one of pleasure, while the sheep learn that a cluck of the tongue means food, or a two-note song means it is time to go home.” (Taylor, The Preaching Life, pp. 140-41.)

This is a wonderful description of what it means for us to abide in Jesus and Jesus to abide in us. He knows us, flaws and all. We know him. We can hear his call. We know he loves us, and we love him. He calls us to love each other, and we do, to the best of our ability, with the help of his grace.

But perhaps the most important thing is that he is always going before us. There is nothing that we will have to endure that he has not gone through already. As Taylor writes, our shepherd goes before us to “show us that everything is all right.” He has gone before us, and he will make it possible for us to follow. He will be out in front leading us. As the “Footprints” poem says, he may even be carrying us. Amen.

Pentecost 12 Proper 15B August 15, 2021

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14
Psalm 111
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-58

In our opening reading today, David dies. Solomon, the son of David and Bathsheba, becomes king. We all remember his prayer to God, in which he admits he does not have a great deal of knowledge. At this time in his life, Solomon is only about twenty years old. But Solomon asks God for the gift of wisdom. Directly after this passage, two women come to the new king, both insisting that they are the mother of the same baby. Through wisdom, Solomon determines which woman is the real mother of the baby. 

Scholars tell us that during the reign of Solomon, there was a great blossoming of wisdom literature which has lasted into our own time and has inspired many of us. Solomon also built the temple in Jerusalem, constructed a magnificent palace, and built temples to the gods of his many wives and concubines. He was able to do these things because he imposed forced labor and brutal taxation on his people. Upon Solomon’s death, the Northern Kingdom seceded and the monarchy was divided.  Unfortunately, there was a gap between his stated ideals and his actual behavior.

Our epistle for today also emphasizes wisdom. We are called to be wise and to use each moment to the fullest by seeking and doing the will of God. We shouldn’t get drunk, but should be filled with the Spirit, singing and worshipping together. We should give thanks to God at all times and for all things.

In order to follow this guidance, we will need to spend much time in prayer, asking for God’s will and then asking for the grace to do God’s will. This is what the great moral theologian  Kenneth Kirk calls “the habit of referring all questions to God.” We are in a constant dialogue with God, seeking the divine will and then doing what God is calling us to do.

If we are filled the with Spirit, we are gathering together, singing psalms and spiritual songs, praying together as we are doing right now. And we are thanking God at all times and for all things. The attitude of gratitude does not always come easily. What if something is not going the way we want it to go? What if something terrible is happening? What if a friend or loved one has just been diagnosed with cancer? When good things happen, thanking God is a wonderful spiritual practice. It makes the good thing reverberate and expand in our hearts. When something awful is happening, we can thank God for God’s grace and healing and we can pray for our loved one and  ask God to help us be there for our friend or loved one. Even in the worst of times, we can thank God for being with us, for giving us the gift of faith and the energy to ask God for help.

After our long Covid fast, I am thanking God today for the opportunity to be with this loving community and to read the scriptures and sing hymns and spiritual songs with you, to pray for ourselves and others, and to be in the presence of our Lord as a community of faith. What a  gift! Thank you, Lord.

In our gospel, Jesus is saying that the bread that he gives for the world is his flesh. This reminds us that in the early church, followers of Jesus were accused of being cannibals. We are not literally eating the flesh and drinking the blood of our Lord. We are doing these things sacramentally. Then our Lord says that unless we eat his flesh and drink his blood, we will have no life in us. Those who do share in Holy Eucharist will abide in him, will rest in him will live in him, will be alive in him, will be part of him.

Abiding means a very close relationship. We become one with him and he becomes one with us. We are alive in each other. We are so closely connected that we are one. 

And, because we are so close to our Lord, because we are one with him and alive in him, we are now leading a new life, life in a different dimension. This is what we call eternal life. But it does not mean that we have to die in order to enter eternal life. This newness of life, this life in a new and deeper dimension is here right now. We are living that new life now,. We are in eternal life, fullness of life, right now.

In this new life. this life in a different dimension, Jesus is very close to us. He is in our midst. We can reach out and touch him. We can sense his presence. We can ask his help. We can see and follow him.

We are one with Jesus, with God, with the Spirit, and with each other.

We can ask God’s guidance and receive that guidance, together with the grace to carry it out. We can grow in God’s wisdom and do the things God would have us do. This is what it means to be filled with the Spirit. The energy and love of God are within us. Our relationship with God is so close that we can grow in compassion and do God’s will almost instinctively, because we are constantly asking for and receiving God’s guidance.

The Holy Eucharist is the way our Lord gave us to call him into our midst. “Do this in remembrance of me” literally means “Do this for the anamnesis, the “not forgetting” of me. In a very short time, our Lord will be feeding us with the essence of himself with his energy, his love, his grace, so that we can go out into the world and be his hands and feet, his body, ministering to a world that needs his love and healing.

St.Teresa of Avila was a very practical mystic who lived from 1515- 1582. She wrote these wonderful words describing how we are parts of the living Body of Christ.

“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body here on earth but yours.  

Keep up the good work! Amen.

Pentecost 11 Proper 14B August 8, 2021

2 Samuel 18:5-9. 15, 31-33
Psalm 130
Ephesians 4:25-5:2
John 6:35, 41-51

In our opening reading today, King David is going through one of the most tragic experiences any of us can imagine. David’s son Absalom has been part of a civil war against his father. David asks Joab, his commander, to deal gently with Absalom, but that is a very difficult thing to do in war, and we look on as the young man hangs between heaven and earth and finally loses his life.

This passage is one of the most moving scenes in the Bible. It reminds us that all of us, even kings and queens, go though such tragic times, that our loving God sustains us in these experiences, and that God, who gave God’s only Son for us,  knows how we feel as we move through such heart-rending losses.

Our epistle offers us much wisdom. We are called to “speak the truth to our neighbors.” Honesty is the bedrock of a healthy community. We are called to reconcile with others before the sun sets. Not to hold grudges. We are called to work hard and share with those in need. We are called to be careful about what we say, to say things that build each other up rather than tear each other down, to speak words that “give grace to those who hear.” We are called “to be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, as Christ has forgiven [us.] We are called to “be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ  loved us.” This is a blueprint for living together in community.

How are we going to be able to live that kind of life, as individuals and as a community of faith?

In our gospel, our Lord gives us the answer to that question.”I am the bread of life,” he tells us. We are gathered to celebrate Holy Eucharist.  The word “eucharist” comes from the Greek word for Thanksgiving. We are about to celebrate a Thanksgiving feast, and Jesus is our host.

We are still experiencing the joy of being able to do this after a year and a half of Covid fasting. The Eucharist is the way Jesus gave us to call him into our midst, to remember that he is alive and with us right now. We are continuing to receive only the bread, and we tell our children that this bread is special food that Jesus gives us because he loves us very much. This food is full of the energy and love which Jesus gives us so that we can live our lives as loving and caring people.

With the energy of the grace of Jesus, we can be the kind of  community which Paul’s disciple describes in our reading from the Letter to the Ephesians. We can  be people who speak the truth in love, people who share words of grace that build up those with whom we speak. We can be people of compassion and generosity who share with those who need help. 

When we are going through times of great change or pain, as King David was in today’s reading, we can reach out and grasp Jesus’ hand and he can keep us from drowning as the waves grow higher and higher. Because he feeds us with the bread of life, we can live the compassionate lives described in our epistle for today.

We are members of the Body of Christ. We are his hands reaching out to welcome and help people. We are his eyes looking at others with compassion. He has given us new life, and he is with us now, to lead us and guide us and to feed us with the energy of his love and life.

Risen Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the bread. Amen.

Pentecost 10, Proper 13, August 1, 2021

Bread of Life

Grace Church, Sheldon

May the words of my mouth, and the thoughts of our hearts, be pleasing to you Lord.  Amen.

This week, we join Jesus again, still followed by a great crowd.  The day before, Jesus filled their bellies with bread and fish, and the crowd wanted to make Jesus king — so he could feed them like this all the time.  While they recognize that there is something tremendous and long anticipated in Jesus, this recognition remains partial, and it is not Jesus’ chosen way.  So, Jesus withdraws, away to a mountain to pray, and his disciples depart across the lake.  Later that night, Jesus rejoins them, walking across rough water.  

When the crowds awaken the next morning, they are hungry again and they wonder, where did he go?  They count the boats: only one boat is gone.  Something strange has happened, and they scratch their heads, recalling how they saw the disciples shove off without Jesus.  And yet they receive word that he is on the other side of the lake, and so they pile into boats and head after him.  They are eager for more food.  

When they find Jesus, they ask him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”  But rather than talking about his arrival time, Jesus instead talks about the bread they had eaten the day before.  He speaks of their motivations for seeking him: it is not because something miraculous had occurred, but because they want more food.  

The problem with this kind of food, however, is that it lasts just for a day.  The next day you’re hungry again.  Yet Jesus tells them, there is another food that lasts: a food which imparts strength and health and courage without end.  In fact, when Jesus fed them bread the day before, that bread was a sign pointing toward this lasting bread, given by God.  

The crowd is confused about all this talk about different kinds of bread.  So they change tactics: “what must we do to perform the works of God?” they ask him.

Jesus’ answer is again unexpected.  He does not cite the Ten Commandments or Israel’s long scriptural traditions.  Rather, the work of God, he tells them, is believing in the person whom God sends.  They must recognize a special messenger from God and trust that person.  

The crowd seems to understand that Jesus is talking about himself.  So, they ask him for a sign, so they might believe.  Moses fed the people in the wilderness, they say.  What is Jesus going to do? 

Jesus returns again to the question of bread.  It was God (not Moses) that gave Israel bread, he replies.  But that bread in the desert was not the true bread from heaven that God is giving now.  This bread is a living loaf, bringing life to the world.  

Jesus here is speaking of himself, but the crowd still misunderstands.  So, like the woman at the well, they ask for a permanent supply of this bread.  And now Jesus cuts to the chase: “I am the bread of life,” he says.   

We see other statements like this in the Gospel of John: Jesus says, I am the light of the world (8;12), I am the door for the sheep (10:7, 9), I am the good shepherd (10:11, 14), I am the true vine (15:1, 5).  In each case, Jesus uses a formula, inviting his hearers to recognize him for who he is, as God’s chosen messenger.  Against other people and other things who make similar claims, he is the true bread, the true light, the true door, the true shepherd, the true vine.

Following this statement about his identity, Jesus adds a promise: those who come to him, who recognize and trust him, will find their fill.  Jesus is speaking of another kind of hunger, one that cannot be met with food.  We are creatures made up of bodies and spirits, and we have both material and spiritual needs.  And Jesus ministers to both.  

When Jesus insists on being heavenly bread, he is not discounting the value of daily, material needs.  As we heard last week, Jesus is all the time healing the sick and feeding the hungry, and elsewhere in the Gospels, he tells his followers to pray each day for bread.  God cares about the daily necessities of our lives.  Grace Church affirms this through feeding people at the food pantry.  

So, when Jesus heals the sick and feeds the hungry, he does it because our bodily wellbeing matters for its own sake.  But he also insists that these are signs, pointing towards who he is and the deeper healing and everlasting food that he brings.

How then do we eat this living food, to satisfy our spiritual hunger?  How do find our fill of this heavenly bread that is Jesus? 

In this passage, Jesus emphasizes belief — that we see, agree, and trust him and who he claims to be as sent by God, bringing God’s restoration to all creation.  He tells the crowd: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom God has sent.”  So there is something for us to do.  

But there is also a double meaning here.  This is also the work of God.  There is something that we cannot do: that we need God to do for us.  Our trust in Jesus is also a work that God does, God’s gift to us.  So, not only does God send Jesus, the living Bread, as a gift, but God also gives us faith as a gift.  God begins and sustains our ability to believe.

Yet for those of us who have believed for many years, we still often find ourselves spiritually hungry.  We are longing for things we cannot even name.  And this is right: the present age is a mixture of joy and sorrow.  We only taste moments of consolation now, of that satisfaction and rest that Jesus promises.  We discover this in the Eucharist, in the love between friends, in the stillness of interior peace, in the beauty of creation, and in many other moments of grace, of God drawing near to us.  

However, our persistent spiritual hunger pulls us towards God and towards God’s mission of healing the world.  The fourth century African bishop Augustine said that the Christian life is a holy longing.  And in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminds us that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed, for they will be satisfied (Mt 5:6).  Complete satisfaction is coming, but not yet, and in the meanwhile, we long for the fullness of God’s kingdom and for feasting on heavenly bread.

So, like the crowd, we too say to Jesus, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Amen.

(Author/Homilist: Emily Dubie