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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:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion February 12, 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:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion February 19, 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:…

Christmas Eve—The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ

Isaiah 9:2-7
Hymn 92—Angels from the realms of glory
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-20

No matter how many times we hear the Christmas story, it has something new to tell us every year. Isaiah proclaims, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” And indeed we have seen and are seeing that light.

This year, I have been thinking about the sheer humanness of this Christmas journey. Here we have Mary, a very young woman who is very pregnant, and Joseph,  the man to whom she is not yet married. So this pregnancy has a shadow of illegitimacy even though the Holy Spirit has created this child. Joseph is a man of deep faith who has a close relationship with God, a man who seeks the guidance of God and follows that guidance. And so, under this shadow but enlightened by God, Joseph does not divorce Mary, but rather follows God’s guidance. Mary, after asking some very reasonable questions, has said Yes to this amazing, creative, wonderful enterprise of God.

Things have been peaceful under the rule of Caesar Augustus, but Mary and Joseph live in a land that is occupied and carefully and sometimes ruthlessly, controlled by the vast and powerful Roman Empire. It has been a time of peace, which is good, but you know how governments can be. They like to keep track of things, so there is a census. Mary and Joseph have to go from Nazareth to Bethlehem, which is about 70 miles as the crow flies. It’s between 70 and 90 miles if you don’t fly, depending on the route you take.

Our son Michael was born on December 27, so that particular year I had no problem identifying with Mary. In fact, I thought about her a lot. Joseph was walking, leading the donkey on which she rode. Scholars tell us that back then folks usually walked about 3 miles an hour, and that the journey of, say, 80 miles would have taken at least four days, perhaps more. If it was four days, Joseph was walking almost seven hours each day. And Mary was keeping her seat on a lurching, bouncing, not very smoothly moving donkey that had no springs, shock absorbers or struts. Thinking about this has given me great respect and love for Mary. She is the one who said Yes to all of this, and we can all be thankful to her, because that took a level of courage that I can barely even imagine. We can also thank Joseph, who, because he loved Mary very much, respected her for her common sense and sound judgment, and had deep faith in God, believed what she told him about the angel Gabriel and his preposterous message and her saying Yes and then listened carefully to another angel who came to Joseph in a dream and confirmed Mary’s account.

And then when they finally got there, all the hotels were full, but a kindly innkeeper let them stay in the stable. So they were essentially homeless and then we know that, later, Joseph had to take his new family into Egypt to protect Jesus from King Herod, who, hearing of the birth of a new baby king, felt the best way to deal with this threat to his power was to kill all the baby boys. We’re getting ahead of ourselves, but this is by way of saying that our king was not born into privilege or security but into homelessness and refugee status.

But here he is, lying in a manger with bands of cloth around him—-a baby, not a king, not a president, not an emperor, but a baby. He came into the world just as we did.

And to whom did the angels proclaim this good news? Not kings and queens, not the privileged, but shepherds out tending their sheep by night. The fact that the angels told them first is astounding because shepherds were at the bottom of the social scale, They were considered ritually unclean, which was not a good thing to be, but  they couldn’t help it. Day in and day out, they were dealing with smelly sheep, the sheep manure, blood from cuts, flies circling around, all kinds of unclean things. And those are the people who were the first to receive these glad tidings. We need to keep in mind that the great King David, the ancestor of Jesus, was a shepherd, and that we know Jesus as our Good Shepherd, who will lead us to the green pastures and the good water. We know his voice and he knows us, warts and all, and loves us more than we can imagine but again we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Those shepherds had a quick consultation, and they knew they had to go and welcome this new king. The shepherds were the first preachers of the good news, They told everyone what the angels had told them. Mary treasured these things and pondered them in her heart and the shepherds went back to their flocks, singing God’s praises, their hearts warm with the love of God. On the social scale, they were low, but they were very close to the heart of God.

So God comes to us just as we came into the world, as a baby, and God lives a human life so that we can see God’s love shining forth from a fellow human being and we can live the way of love as Jesus calls us to do and as Bishop Curry teaches us to do.

We call Jesus Emmanuel, God with us. This day we remember and gather and sing with joy because God has come to be one of us and to show us the way. Our king has come to us in the most amazing way— as a little tiny baby in a little out of the way place rather like Sheldon or Montgomery or Fairfield or Fletcher or Franklin or Bakersfield or Enosburg Falls or Richford or Swanton or St. Albans. And God has come as an ordinary person to ordinary people like you and me.

And why has all of this happened? Because, in spite of our flaws, our past mistakes and stupid decisions and errors of judgment and things we wish we could do over again and get it right and things we wish we had not done at all, God loves us with a love that nothing can stop, a love that is immense beyond out ability to imagine, a love that is stronger than hate, a love that transforms division into unity, brokenness into wholeness, a love that brings life out of death. A love that is the most creative and powerful force on earth or anywhere else in God’s beloved universe. As Bishop Curry says, “Love is the Way.” Let us live in that Iove and walk that way of love.  Amen.

Advent 3C December 12, 2021

Zephaniah 3:14-20
Canticle 9, p. 86
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:7-18

Our opening reading today is from the prophet Zephaniah, whose ministry took place during the reign of King Josiah (640-609 BCE.) Josiah was a great king who called the people to renew their commitment to following the law.

The people have returned from their captivity in Babylon. Zephaniah tells them that God has turned away all their enemies.  Herbert O’Driscoll points out that God is addressing the people as God’s children, “Rejoice, O daughter Zion.” God is speaking to us as our divine parent who loves us. God is calling us to rejoice. Our loving God is calling us not to fear and not to grow weak, because God is in the midst of us. God will “renew [us] in his love.” God will deal with all of our oppressors. God will save the lame and  the outcast. God will bring us home. God will bring in God’s shalom of peace, justice, and mercy.

Canticle 9 adds momentum to this theme of joy. “Surely, it is God who saves me: I will trust in him and not be afraid.” When we realize that God is in our midst and that God will lead us in the right direction, we can let go of fear, hold on to faith, and be a people of joy. This is a wonderful song about the power of faith.

Our reading from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians is full of joy and hope. Paul is writing from prison. He founded this congregation and he has kept in close touch with them. Unlike the Corinthians who have power struggles and divide into factions at the drop of a hat, the Philippians are steeped in the love of Christ. They are one as Jesus and the Father are one. They have a spirit of gentleness. Paul begins by calling them and us to “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” Paul writes, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” If we ask God for guidance and try to follow that guidance with God’s grace, peace flows into us, faith grows, and fear diminishes. As Paul says, the peace of God will guard our hearts and minds.

In our gospel, John the Baptist is calling the people and us to repentance. We can’t say that we are part of the right church or race or groups so we don’t have to change. All of us  have to look within and, as someone once said, we have to make room for Jesus in the inns of our hearts.

John calls us to share our clothing with those who have none. Tax collectors would often add a hefty charge into people’s taxes to they could make more money. John tells them they have to stop cheating people. Soldiers would sometimes use their power to abuse people. John tells them they have to treat people with respect.

The people begin to wonder whether John is the Messiah. And here John shows one of his most admirable qualities, He knows who is is. He has no desire to gain power. He tells them that one is coming who is much greater that he is. And he says that the Messiah will be sharing the news of his kingdom, his shalom. That kingdom, that shalom, will involve a major reordering of priorities based on God’s call to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

John the Baptist is a wonderful holy example for us. He knows that he is here to prepare the way of the Lord. John is the cousin of Jesus. I think they knew each other very well.  At the time when Jesus came to John to baptized in the River Jordan, John had hundreds, perhaps thousands of followers. He was like a rock star, He could have done anything he wanted to do. He could have misused his power. And yet he adhered to his vocation to be the forerunner, the one who paved the way for the messiah. It takes great strength of character and deep faith not to yield to the human wish for power and attention. It takes strength not to become a cult leader. John has that strength.

This third Sunday in Advent is a time for great joy. “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I will say. Rejoice.” It is also a time for thanksgiving. God is in our midst.

At this point in Advent, our minds turn to Christmas, to the coming of our Lord as a little baby in a little out of the way place like Sheldon, like Vermont.

John calls us to prepare the way for Jesus, to prepare room for him in our hearts and in our lives. To make just a little more room for him, just a little more room for that peace which surpasses all understanding, just a little more room for that joy which comes from the peace of faith.

Lord Jesus, help us to make room for you in the inns of our hearts. In your holy Name. Amen.

Advent 2C December 5, 2021

Baruch 5:1-9
Canticle 16, p. 92
Philippians 1:3-11
Luke 3:1-6

Our first reading today is from a book of the Bible attributed to Jeremiah’s secretary, Baruch. Scholars tell us that Baruch was not the author, and we really do not know who wrote this beautiful passage. Scholars tell us that it was written well after the lifetime of Baruch by someone who was very familiar with the work of Isaiah.  

“Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God.” The book is addressed to people who have been in exile, and God is telling them that they will return home. Jerusalem is pictured as standing on a high spot, looking out on all her children returning from the four corners of the earth.

In an echo of Isaiah, the mountains and hills are made low, and the valleys are filled up so that the path toward the holy city is level. The journey home is easy. There are no climbs or descents.The text tells us, “God will lead Israel with joy, in the light of his glory, with the mercy and righteousness that come from him.”

For this second Sunday in Advent, we have a choice between two readings from the Hebrew scriptures, and I chose this one because it gives us such a vivid and moving picture of our own return home to God in this holy time of Advent. It is a return full of joy, and God makes it much easier by leveling the ground! 

This image of the mountains being made low and the valleys filled is also symbolic of the shalom of God. In God’s shalom, there will be a level playing field. Justice will prevail.

Our Canticle for today, the Benedictus, is the song of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, celebrating the birth of this very special child who was called to be the forerunner of the Messiah. “In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.” We are walking the way of God’s shalom.

Our epistle is from the letter of Paul to his beloved community in Philippi. Paul begins with gratitude: “I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of your because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” Paul is reminding us that we are living in that in-between time. The kingdom of God has begun but is not yet complete, That will happen when Jesus comes. Paul reminds the Philippians and us that God has begun this good work and God will complete the work of creation.

Paul says that the community in Philippi “holds [him] in [their] heart” because they all share in God’s grace.  This means that we, here in Sheldon two thousand years later, hold each other in our hearts because of God’s grace, and God holds all of us in God’s heart. Paul prays that their and our “love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help [us] determine what is best,” so that when our Lord comes to complete the creation, we will have borne good fruit in helping to build his shalom. There is work to do, and there are moral and ethical decisions we will need to make, and Paul is telling us that God will be with us every step of the way to help us stay on the path of shalom.

In our gospel, we meet that great Advent figure, John the Baptist. Notice that Luke carefully places John’s ministry in its historical context. It’s the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius; Pontius Pilate is the governor of Judea, and Herod is ruler of Galilee. All the rulers are named. The word of God comes to John, the son of Zechariah, the priest in the Jerusalem temple. In the words of Isaiah, John is “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord.” Everything is made level. Everything is being straightened out. Everything is being set right. All is being made clear. We are going to see the salvation of God. We are going to meet the Messiah face to face. God’s loving and merciful and just reign is going to prevail.

John is preaching a repentance, a changing of our life and priorities, a metanoia, a transformation, a forgiveness of sins, a course correction, a possibility of freedom and release. No wonder people flocked to see and hear him. After all those years of doing things that were destructive and not doing things that were creative and life-giving, at long last there is help. There is hope.

In this year 2021, our readings today are filled with hope. The hope of returning home after an exile. The hope of living lives based on love for each other and for all people. The hope of love overflowing more and more. The hope of creating a world in which the shalom of God is more fully realized. That is a hope we can have because of the abundance of God’s grace, and the fact that God is with us. God has given us a vision, and God is helping us to fulfill that vision of shalom.

At this time of the year, when the days are so short, the light is overcoming the shadows. God is calling to us in love and joy. Our King is coming. May our hearts be filled with light and joy. May we keep each other in our hearts. May we remember that we are being held in the loving heart of God. Amen.