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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion March 26, 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 April 2, 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 April 9, 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:…

Epiphany 2 Year C January 16, 2022

Isaiah 62:1-5
Psalm 36:5-10
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
John 2:1-11

Our first reading today is from the prophet we call the Third Isaiah. The people have returned from their exile in Babylon. They have begun rebuilding the temple and the city of Jerusalem.

It has been difficult to go through the exile, but they have kept the faith and maintained their community and now King Cyrus of Persia has conquered the Babylonian Empire and allowed them to return home.

When they arrive back in Jerusalem and begin the rebuilding, they find that it is a challenging task. The Jerusalem temple is one of the largest and most elaborate buildings of its time. The people begin to argue about how to proceed. Tempers flare. Factions develop. We can imagine that they might have thought God had forsaken them.

God reassures them that they are not forsaken. The whole world is going to see their glory. They will be a “crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord.” God has not forsaken them, God has been with them through it all and will now help them and guide them as they rebuild, not only the temple and the city, but the fabric of their life together as God’s beloved community. 

Our psalm for today continues the themes of light and love. “Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, and your faithfulness to the clouds….How priceless is your love, O God! Your people take refuge under the shadow of your wings….For with you is the well of life, and in your light we see light.”

Our reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians is one of the most important and inspiring passages in the Bible. “There are varieties of gifts but the same spirit. and there are varieties of services but the same Lord, and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates them in everyone.” Paul envisions the Church as the living, caring, ministering Body of Christ. We all have different gifts, but we are all one in Christ, who gives us these gifts.

We are all ministers by virtue of our baptism. We are here to serve others and share the light and love of Christ. The  Corinthians tended to compare too much. Some of them thought certain gifts were better than others, so Paul is telling them and us that all these gifts and ministries are equally valuable and essential. Gifts of preaching, paying the bills, vacuuming the floors, teaching, plowing the snow in winter and mowing the lawn in summer, working at the food shelf, rescuing dogs, reading lessons, playing the organ, pulling weeds. all of these gifts and ministries are equally valuable and important to the life of the body of Christ, the Church. All of these gifts are gifts of the Spirit, and we need them all. We work together and share our gifts, Paul writes that we do this“for the common good.” God gives us these gifts, not for ourselves, but for the strengthening of the entire community, the body of Christ, and for service outside the community of faith.

In our gospel for today, Jesus performs his first miracle. He and  his mother are at a wedding. Mary notices that they have run out of wine and points this out to Jesus, thinking he can probably solve this problem. Jesus isn’t that enthusiastic about this role, but he tells them to fill the six very large jars with water, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. This water is there for the rites of purification, in other words to wash the dishes, a humble task. Without fanfare, somewhere between 120 and 130 gallons of wine reach the chief steward, who praises the bridegroom for saving the best for last.

Obviously, Jesus knows that his mission is not to go around to weddings and provide amazingly good wine, but, at his mother’s gentle urging, quietly, anonymously, he contributes to the joy and abundance of a feast. 

At the strong recommendation of the Covid Response Team, we are  returning to online services. As the Team points out, this is valid worship.

Our situation may be similar to the exiles returning home. We had some weeks of worshipping together. That felt wonderful, but now we’re facing a challenge just as God’s people did when they faced the monumental task of rebuilding. God gave them powerful reassurance of God’s love. 

The Corinthians were dividing into factions and Paul reminded them that everybody matters. We need the gifts and ministries of everyone. And in our gospel, we see Jesus and his mother at a wedding.  The wine runs out. Spirits begin to sag. What a disappointment! Suddenly, no one knows how, the best wine of all is being served.

That’s how Jesus is. When the going gets tough; when we encounter times of challenge, there he is, giving us the gifts we need. As we navigate through this time, may we realize that he has saved the best for this time— gifts of deep faith, hope, love, and joy. May he give us the grace to grow even stronger as a community of faith, love, and light, for he is the light of the world. Amen.

Epiphany 1 The Baptism of Christ January 9, 2022

Isaiah 43:1-7
Psalm 29
Acts 8:14-17
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

This past Thursday, on January 6, the Church celebrated the feast of the Epiphany. Wise men come from far away to bring gifts to this new king. The feast of the Epiphany proclaims that this new faith is for all people from all over the world. It is a feast of God’s love, light, and inclusiveness.

Today, we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our first reading is from the prophet we call the Second Isaiah. God is telling God’s people in exile in Babylon and is also telling us not to fear, for God has redeemed us. God has called us by name. We belong to God. When we passed through the waters of the Red sea to freedom, God was there. God will be with us through all our challenges and trials. We are precious in God’s sight. God will gather all the exiles from all over the world and bring them home.

Our second reading is from the Book of Acts. So much is happening. Just a little before this passage, the new faith has been growing so fast that the apostles find they cannot do the work of preaching, teaching, praying, and at the same time make sure that the widows and orphans and others in need are taken care of. The apostles call together this new and growing community of Jesus’ followers and ask them to choose “seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit, and  of wisdom,” to minister to the needs of the people at the margins.  These seven men, the first deacons, were Stephen, Phillip, Prochorus, Nicanor,  Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus of Antioch. The apostles pray and lay their hands on them. This is how the first deacons were chosen and ordained.

Soon after this, Stephen becomes the first Christian martyr. An angry crowd stones him to death. Saul, who will later become the apostle Paul, looks on and approves this murder. A severe persecution begins against the church in Jerusalem.

In the midst of all of this, God calls Philip to go to the city of Samaria, home of the Samaritans, who were despised by the Israelites because the Israelites felt the Samaritans had departed from the true faith. Philip shares the good news with the Samaritans and they want to become followers of Jesus. So Philip baptizes them. Word reaches the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem that many people in Samaria are flocking to the new faith. They have been baptized but they have not yet received the Holy Spirit.

The persecution that is going on does not stop the church in Jerusalem from sending Peter and John to Samaria to reach out to these new converts and support them. Peter and John lay their hands on these people and they receive the Holy Spirit. The church in Samaria could have been seen as different from and inferior to the church in Jerusalem. But this did not happen. God guided the Jerusalem church to reach out and welcome these new followers of Jesus in Samaria into full membership in this new community of faith and love.

We remember how Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan, who, after two respected religious leaders walk by on the other side of the road, goes to help the man who has been robbed and beaten and left at the side of the road, bleeding and half dead. In those days, Samaritans were looked upon as the worst of the worst, and Jesus tells us this is the one who is the good neighbor.

When Peter and John go to Samaria, they do not treat the new Samaritan followers of Jesus as the worst of the worst. They put all of that sad history behind them. We can imagine them recalling Jesus’ parable and reminding themselves that all people are beloved children of God. When Peter and John arrive in Samaria, they treat these new followers of Christ with love and respect and welcome them into the fold. As followers of Christ, we are called to heal divisions, to be “restorers of the breach,” as Isaiah said. We are called to turn brokenness into wholeness, division into unity.

In our gospel, Jesus is baptized. He is praying.  The heavens are opened and the Holy Spirit descends upon our Lord in the form of a dove, the sign of peace. And a voice from heaven says, “You are my Son, the beloved: with you I am well pleased.”

In this scene, Jesus, the Son of God; Jesus, God walking the face of the earth, is beginning his formal ministry among us. As we read the gospels, we will be absorbing everything he says and does so that we can follow him more and more faithfully.

Our readings today have some powerful themes. Isaiah reminds us that God brings us out of exile, all kinds of exile. The exile of illness. The exile of addiction. The exile of depression. The exile of pandemic. God brings us together to form Beloved Community. God loves us. God is with us in everything.

Our reading from the Book of Acts inspires us with the reality that, even in the face of persecution, the church in Jerusalem sees God at work in the midst of a formerly hated group of people in Samaria and sends Peter and John to lay hands upon them so that they, too can receive the Holy Spirit and be full members of the new community of faith. Division and brokenness are transformed into unity and strength.

In our gospel, Jesus begins his formal ministry here on earth.

Nothing, not even persecution, can stop God’s love. God loves us so much that God has come among us to be one of us. The season of Epiphany is a season of light and mission. We spread the light and love of Christ as we reach out to help those who need God’s love and care.

May we follow Jesus. May we walk the way of love and light, May we share his love and light with everyone we meet. Amen.

Christmas 2 Year C  January 2, 2022

Jeremiah 31:7-14
Psalm 84:1-8
Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19a
Luke 2:41-52

Our first reading today is extraordinary. The people of God have been conquered by the Babylonian Empire. Their leaders and thousands of the people have been deported to Babylon. Some people are left in Jerusalem, including the prophet Jeremiah, but he is in an awkward position, to say the least. Herbert O’Driscoll observes, “His warnings about foolish political decisions by the rulers of his nation [have] made it possible for them to label Jeremiah as an enemy of  his own people,” (O’Driscoll, The Word among Us, p. 53.)

Of this passage, Walter Brueggemann writes,
“The exile of Israel smells of defeat, despair, and abandonment. Moreover, it is a place of deadly silence. All the voices of possibility have been crushed and nullified. …The deadliness of exile is the context into which Jesus is born and in which Christmas is celebrated. Christmas is an act against exile.” (Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching,  p, 76.)

Into this situation of hopelessness and despair, God calls Jeremiah to  powerful words of hope. God is going to bring the people home, those who are strong and those who are weak, even those who are in labor, bringing new life into the world as they journey toward home. God is going to free the people and they will come home and they will “sing aloud” and “be radiant over the goodness of the Lord.” The people and the land will be full of new life and abundance.

In our world, twenty-six hundred years later, the Covid numbers are rising again. Flights are being cancelled because pilots and crew members are sick. Hospitals are being overwhelmed. And at the same time, God is calling us to be a people of hope. God is going to continue to guide us on this journey, and God is going to take care of us.

In our reading from the letter of the Ephesians, God reminds us that God is our divine parent. God holds us close in God’s loving arms.

The lectionary offers us three choices for gospel readings. One is the story of the wise men coming to pay homage to Jesus. The second is the flight into Egypt, and the third is the account of the twelve year old Jesus in the temple.

Mary and Joseph were faithful Jews. Every year they would go to the temple in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, the feast that marks God’s freeing of the people from slavery in Egypt. They traveled to Jerusalem with their extended family caravan. We do not know the exact number of people making the journey, but it was a sizable group.

They went and worshipped, and then they headed home. At the end of the first day of the journey homeward, Mary and Joseph realized that Jesus was not with the family group. We may think this was unusual, but young people would often walk with one relative or another, an uncle they liked to talk to, or an aunt who made good snacks, and the family took care of each other’s children. But when they stopped for the night and took attendance, so to speak, they discovered Jesus was missing.

Mary and Joseph rushed back to Jerusalem to find him. It took them three days, searching high and low, probably going back to the inn where they had stayed and trying to trace his whereabouts and asking people whether they had seen Jesus. As time went by, Mary and Joseph became more and more worried. We can all understand that.

Finally, they went back to the temple, and there he was, talking with the teachers, listening, asking questions, gaining knowledge, and demonstrating exceptional wisdom. Mary was angry. “Why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been worried sick about you.”

Jesus responds,”Why have you been worried about me? Don’t you know that I have to be in my Father’s house?” On some quite profound levels, Mary knew that she was Jesus’ biological mother and Joseph knew that he was the foster father of the son of God. But to hear him say this must have struck their hearts very deeply. The text says that they did not understand what he was saying.

What if we were Mary or Joseph? Would we understand such a thing? The text tells us that “Mary treasured these things in her heart.” It took her a lifetime to absorb the meaning of this. Jesus went home and was obedient to them, and he grew in his understanding of what his heavenly Father was calling him to do.

Once again, I am struck by the humanness of Jesus’ coming among us. Things are not going well in our world. The pandemic is rearing its head. And God sends hope. God, fully human and fully divine, comes quietly into the world and lives in a family in Nazareth with a faithful mother and father and goes to the temple for Passover and stays and learns from the teachers. He doesn’t understand that his earthly parents would be worried because he is doing what he is called to do. Kids can be like that sometimes.

But he goes home with them and works in his foster father’s shop and studies with the local rabbi and listens for the guidance of his heavenly Father. In eighteen years he will begin his public ministry.

In our collect we ask God to give us the grace to “share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity.” He has come to be with us to show us the way of hope in the midst of the exile of pandemic life, to show us the way of love in a world that needs so much love. And in our gospel for today, we see him at a session of what in our tradition might be confirmation class! 

May we continue to learn from him. May we continue to grow closer to him. May we share his hope and love in our community of faith and in the world. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.