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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:…

Pentecost 18 Proper 21B September 26, 2021

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22
Psalm 124
James 5:13-20
Mark 9:38-50

Our opening reading from the Book of Esther explains the Jewish feast of Purim, which is a joyous celebration of the freeing of God’s people from a holocaust. The next celebration of this festive holiday will be on March 16 and 17, 2022. It is set in the time of King Xerxes of Persia, who reigned from 485 to 404 BCE. In our passage, he is called King Ahasuerus.

Esther is the heroine of this story. Her ancestors were captured by the Babylonian Empire and taken to Babylon, which has now been conquered by the Persian Empire. She lives with her cousin Mordecai, who has adopted her because her parents have died.  Esther and Mordecai are Jewish. Esther has always kept silent about that fact.

Haman, the king’s right hand man, is extremely anti-Semitic. He has cooked up a plot to have all the Jews killed in all parts of the Persian Empire. By an improbable series of events, Esther has become queen. She has invited the king and Haman to a feast at which she will make a request to the king. Mordecai has kept her updated on Haman’s hateful plans, and Esther has quietly steeled herself to be the person of the hour. Although God is never mentioned in the story, it is clear that God has called her, as God called Moses centuries before, to free her people. 

In our passage for today, Esther tells the truth about Haman’s plans and asks the king to save her people. Her request is granted. Esther goes from a quiet young woman hiding her identity to a courageous leader fighting for the lives of her people.

In our gospel for today, John reports that the disciples saw someone healing in Jesus name, and they tried to stop him because he was not one of their group. Herbert O’Driscoll notes that John does not get credit for “diligently protecting the teacher’s territory.” (O’Driscoll, The Word among Us, p. 117.) What Jesus is saying here is so important. He says, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” If people are doing things to help people and care for people, they are doing God’s work.

O’Driscoll notes that Jesus does not thank John for trying to protect his turf. He writes, ”Instead, there is a gracious but firm correction, suggesting a different way to look at this moment. There is a generosity in these words, an openness to cooperation, a readiness to trust before all the evidence is in. It is a statement about opening doors rather than building walls.” (O’Driscoll, p 117.)

When Jesus talks about “little ones,” sometimes he is talking about children, whom he calls us to love and care for, and sometimes he is speaking about his followers who are not powerful or famous or influential but just ordinary people such as we are. He is calling us to help each other and support each other as we move ahead in building his kingdom.

And then, in pointed language, he calls on us to deal with any obstacles in ourselves which get in the way of following him and helping him build his shalom. And then he calls us to be salt that has not lost its saltiness.  He calls unto be people who are full of life and love, willing to serve others and build his kingdom of peace and harmony.

Our reading from the Letter of James calls us to be a loving and supportive community, to pray for healing for those who are sick, to share our challenges, to support each other on our journeys, to care for each other, and to love each other.

One of the main themes in this passage is the power of prayer. It means so much that we pray for each other. James reminds us of the great prophet Elijah, and how powerful his prayers were. And, finally, James reminds us that we can all help to keep each other on the path, so that we are all walking the Way of Love.

Scholars tell us that our psalm today is a song of pilgrimage. People would sing this song on their way to festivals and observances in Jerusalem. Walter Brueggemann writes, “In this psalm, Israel voices its astonishment and gratitude for God’s wondrous deliverance.” (Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching year B, p, 525.)

“Blessed be the Lord! He has not given us over to be a prey for their teeth. We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowler; the snare is broken, and we have escaped. Our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”

“Blessed be the Lord! He has not given us over to be a prey for their teeth. We have escape

Esther and Moses and Elijah save their people. Our lord calls us to be open and inclusive rather than clinging to our turf. James calls us to build a community of love and healing.

Perhaps the greatest message for today is how thankful we can be to our loving God, who has saved us all and has brought us together. May we accept with joy the fullness of God’s grace. May we run the race. Loving God, thank you for all your many blessings. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Pentecost 17 Proper 20B September 19, 2021

Proverbs 31:10-31
Psalm 1
James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
Mark 9:30-37

Our opening reading is the ending of the book of Proverbs. Scholars tell us that this passage was written in the period following the Babylonian Exile, some twenty-six hundred years ago. Some scholars tell us that it is best to ignore this passage because it was written so long ago, in a time when women and children were thought of as chattel, property, objects to be owned.

As we look at this passage, it is quite contemporary. Neil Elliott notes that this woman, “runs a household (v. 15), conducts her own real estate transactions( v.16), works out  (v.17), makes charitable contributions (v. 20), holds her own in public discourse, (v. 26), maintains a healthy relationship with integrity (vv. 11, 29), and even gets the credit for her husband’s rising status (v. 26)! (Elliott, New Proclamation Year B, 2000, p. 72.)

Gene M. Tucker writes, “Above all, she is by no means limited to traditional roles within the family, for she has significant public and economic roles. She is a capable merchant (v. 14) and businesswoman (vv. 18-29, 24), both producing and selling goods. She invests in real estate and improves it (v. 16). In short, virtually the only significant role she does not fulfill in her society is to sit with the elders in the gate (v. 23). (Tucker, Preaching through the Christian Year B, p. 414.)

The revised Common Lectionary was created in order to include in our readings passages about women and other marginalized people. Often these passages show us that progress toward seeing and respecting the dignity of every human being was being made, even in those long ago centuries.

Our reading from James is full of gems. We are called to act with “gentleness born of wisdom.” We are called to stay away from “bitter envy and selfish ambition,” James says these qualities are “earthly, unspiritual, and devilish.” We know that envy and ambition can lead to ruthless competition and conflict. James says they can even lead to murder.

But James tells us that the “wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, then gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits,” What a different world we live in when we have these qualities of peace, gentleness, willingness to talk and work with each other for the common good. James advises, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” The qualities James is calling us to live by are the values of God’s shalom, God’s peaceable kingdom.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is teaching his disciples about what is going to happen to him. He is going to be betrayed and killed, and he is going to rise from the dead. They had no idea what he was taking about, and the text says that they were “afraid to ask him.” This may remind us of times when we’ve been in a class and were totally confused but were even more afraid of letting the teacher know how confused we actually were, so we just stayed silent.

They arrive in Capernaum and go into the house, and he asks them what they were arguing about while they were walking along. We discover that they were arguing about who was going to be the greatest. This gives us a clue that perhaps they were thinking of the messiah in one of the ways that was common in those days: as an earthly king who would gather an army and defeat the Roman Empire and bring in a new kingdom. It would make sense to wonder who would be sitting next to this earthly king when he was on his throne.

But there was another concept of who the messiah is, and that is the messiah as a servant.  Some call him the suffering servant as portrayed in Isaiah.

Jesus tells the apostles and us that if we want to follow him, we have to be the servants of all and last of all. We can’t be trying to figure out who is the greatest. We can’t be competing for power. We are called to be servants. We are called to walk the Way of Love.

And then he gently, lovingly picks up a little child and holds the little one in his arms. As we look in on this scene, we need to remember that in our Lord’s time, children, like women, were seen as chattel, possessions, something you owned. They were not highly valued.

And Jesus is saying that we need to welcome these little ones; we need to welcome the vulnerable ones who have no power, no wealth, no influence, no voice, those whom folks see as less than fully human. And he is saying that, if we welcome these people, we welcome Jesus and we also are welcoming God.

Thank you for all the ministries you are all doing which involve helping other people in so many ways, whether it is at the food shelf or in other ministries of servanthood. When we are helping others, showing love and care to others, we are  showing that love to our Lord. That is what he is telling us today. May our loving God bless you in all your ministries. Amen.

Pentecost 16 Proper 19B  September 12, 2021

Proverbs 1:20-33
Psalm 19
James 3:1-12
Mark 8:27-38

In our opening reading today, Wisdom is calling to us. Wisdom is depicted as a female person, usually a beautiful young woman. The prophets are seen as people who have acquired wisdom. Jesus is seen as Wisdom.

Herbert O’Driscoll writes, “Wisdom is understood as the companion of God, a part of God, an aspect of God. The figure of Wisdom expresses the mind of God. This is why the Wisdom passages are so important….   We are being asked to consider a relationship with God as the deepest and richest knowledge of all. To possess it is to enrich all other knowledge. Moreover, knowledge of God brings a sense of being at home in ourselves and in the world, because we know to whom we and the world most truly belong.” (O’Driscoll. The Word among Us, p. 102.)

In our passage from Proverbs, wisdom is calling to the people, but very few people seem to be answering.

James Newsome writes, “A gracious God has placed at the disposal of men and women the ability to understand what God wants them both to be and to do. That is to say God has created a world of order and coherence, and by studying that world (in terms both of what we might term “nature” and of “human nature) it is possible to understand God.” (Newsome, Texts for Preaching, p. 506.)

As we listen to Wisdom calling to the people and hearing very little response, we can be grateful that we are on the journey of following Jesus, growing close to God, and living the Way of Love.

The fact that we are on this journey is itself a gift from God. Our loving God has brought us together, and, as we study the scriptures and learn together and pray together, and spend time with our risen Lord, we learn more and more the depth and breadth of God’s love for us.

In our gospel for today, Jesus asks the disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter says “You are the Messiah.” And then Jesus tells them what is going to happen. He is going to die on the cross. And Peter says, Lord, that horror cannot happen to you. And Jesus tells Pater that, by saying that, Peter is tempting Jesus to be unfaithful to his call. And then our Lord calls us to take up our cross. And then he says that those who lose their life for his sake and for the gospel will save their lives.

One way of thinking about Wisdom is to think that those who are on the path of Wisdom are seeking the mind of Christ. We are seeking, as our diocesan mission statement says, “To pray the prayer of Christ, learn the mind of Christ, and do the deeds of Christ.” This is a trinitarian concept that goes back to St. Augustine of Hippo, a very ancient and wise way of thinking about our lives as Christians.

Reading Bishop Curry’s book, The Way of Love, has made me think that when we take up our cross, we are really taking up the mantle of the Way of Love. We are really trying, with God’s grace to see each brother or sister as a beloved child of God and we are working with our loving God to help God create the Beloved Community of all people on earth living together in mutual respect and peace. God’s shalom, where, to paraphrase retired Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori, everyone has enough to eat. a place to live, adequate clothing and other essentials, healthcare, and good work to do.

Another book I have been reading recently is Sara Miles’ “Take this Bread,” the story of how she goes into St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, receives Communion, and answers a call from God to start food pantries. In this process, serving the folks at the food pantry becomes a kind of Holy Communion, in which everyone is loved and fed, clients become volunteers, and God’s love is magnified and passed on and on in a kind of eternal and ever-growing circle. Our food shelf is very much like that.

This makes me realize that when we take up our cross, it is a cross of love. It does involve a death to self; it involves listening very carefully for the distinctive call of our Good Shepherd. It involves following him, but he is always guiding us and taking care of us. Always there is the love, so deep we cannot fathom it, so wide we can’t see across it even with a telescope. Love, surrounding us and carrying us. Love that picks us up when we are too tired to walk. Love that leads us to green pastures and still waters. Love that brings light out of darkness, hope out of despair, wholeness out of brokenness, life out of death.

In this relationship with our extraordinary Good Shepherd, we are moving toward Wisdom. He is Wisdom. And we are moving toward the heart of God. And the heart of God is love.

I’m hoping that we may have a group study of both these books so that we can read them and reflect on them carefully, maybe a chapter at a time, savor them, share our responses, and grow together in the love of God, the mind of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Loving God, thank you for calling us to your Wisdom. Lead us and guide us, O Lord. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Pentecost 15 Proper 18B  September 5, 2021

Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23
Psalm 125
James 2:1-10, 14-17
Mark 7:24-37

Our first reading is from the Book of Proverbs, which is one of the books of wisdom literature in the Bible. Our passage today reminds us that a reputation for integrity is far more important than wealth, and the passage points out that the rich and the poor are not as different as we might think. We are all created by God. Things will not turn out well for those who are unjust. Operating on the basis of anger will fail. Those who are generous are happy, blessed, and why?  Because they “share their bread with the poor.” We are advised that we should not rob the poor. The reference to crushing the poor at the gate calls us to remember that the gate of the town or city was where justice was dispensed. Those who have wealth and power should not use their money or power to influence the courts.

In biblical times as today, wealth is often seen as a sign of God’s favor. Our opening reading reminds us that we are all created by God, and our faith reinforces this idea by telling us that God loves all people.

Our reading from the Letter of James begins by presenting us with a picture of a congregation where someone who is well dressed and wears gold rings is welcomed and honored while someone who arrives in dirty clothes is not treated with respect. How would we treat someone who came to our service in dirty clothes? The passage goes on to point out that it is the rich who oppress people and drag people into court. The passage challenges us to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” 

We can’t meet someone who is naked and hungry and tell them to have a great day without doing something to help them. As James says, “Faith without works is dead.” Our food shelf ministries are part of our answer to that reminder. And I know that all of you are out in the world helping folks every day. If we love our Lord, that’s what we are called to do.

In last week’s gospel, the Pharisees and Scribes were scolding Jesus because he and his disciples didn’t wash their hands. The Pharisees and Scribes were accusing Jesus and his followers of not showing proper respect for the law. Jesus responded that what really matters is having compassion and caring in our hearts and treating folks with love and respect.

In our gospel reading for today, Jesus is traveling in a Gentile land, what we would now call Syria. He goes into a house to have some peace. But he has become so well known that people find out he is there.

A woman whose daughter is very sick comes to Jesus and bows down at his feet. She is a Gentile. She asks Jesus to heal her daughter. Jesus is a Jew, and in those days Jews did not talk to Gentiles. Jesus is a rabbi, and rabbis did not talk with women. Talking to Gentiles and talking to women made a rabbi impure according to the law. Here we are dealing with the issue of impurity once again. Jesus has said that it isn’t what goes into our mouth that makes us impure. It’s what comes out of our mouths if our hearts are not full of love.

The woman has asked him to heal her daughter, and what does he say? “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” This is hardly a loving response. Why is our Lord saying these shocking, hateful words? Well, he is probably very tired.  He has been working hard, healing people and feeding people night and day. But to call the woman and her daughter “dogs,” a racial and religious slur? Scholars think that Jesus really thought that his mission was to the Jewish people, but they also encourage us not to gloss over his own use of a slur that people hurled at others in his time. In any case, what he says is a slap in the face, but the woman is not deterred. 

Even though she is an outsider, a Gentile,  she is an excellent theologian. She knows that God loves all people, and that God is a God of healing. She continues to be deeply rooted and grounded in God’s love. Calmly, respectfully, and firmly, she responds, “Sir. even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

Jesus recognizes her deep faith. Her daughter is healed.  In his next encounter with a Gentile, a man who is deaf and has a speech impediment, Jesus has undergone a realization that his mission is to everyone. He puts his fingers into the man’s ears, and then he spits and touches the man’s tongue and says, “Be opened.” His encounter with the women seeking help for her daughter has opened our Lord to the breadth of his ministry. He has no reservations in helping this man to be whole.  Our Lord frees us from things that imprison us. He makes us whole and free. 

Herbert O’Driscoll says that this passage makes him wonder whether our Lord was sorry for what he said to this woman. I think he was. Our faith tells us that Jesus was fully divine and fully human. Here the human aspect showed very clearly. He said words that reflected the prejudices of his own time. Women and Gentiles were thought of as less than human. But when he meets the Gentile man who is deaf and has a speech impediment, Jesus heals him with no reservations.

These readings call us to live into our baptismal promise to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and to “respect the dignity of every human being.”

As we accept God’s love for us, and as we ground ourselves in that love, I think it becomes easier for us to see that every person, no matter what his or her situation, is one of God’s beloved children and that every person is to be welcomed and treated with compassion and respect. Every person is to be welcomed as we would welcome Jesus. 

Keep up the good work! Amen.