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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion October 2, 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 October 9, 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 October 16, 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:…

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.

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.

Advent 1 Year C November 28, 2021

Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25:1-9
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Luke 21:25-36

Today is the First Sunday in Advent. This is the New Year’s season of the Church. We change from lectionary year B to year C. Our vestments go from green to the purple which symbolizes both a season of penitence and a time to prepare for the coming of our King.

Our first reading is from the prophet Jeremiah. Scholars tell us that Jeremiah is in prison. The Babylonians have conquered Jerusalem. Jeremiah has actually seen bodies of his fellow citizens piled up in the streets. This is a terrible situation. Jeremiah has been imprisoned because he has told the king the truth. The king does not want to hear the truth.

In the midst of a national and personal tragedy, Jeremiah shares the most profound good news. God is going to raise up a king from the family of David, and this king is going to rule with justice based on a right relationship with God. Judah will be saved. Safety will prevail. Peace will come. In the midst of this disaster, God is sending a message of hope and healing.

In our epistle for today, Paul is writing to his beloved Thessalonians. This is one of the earliest letters in the New Testament. He had started this congregation just a few months ago and he has moved on to Corinth. He writes, “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel for you before our God because of you?” Paul loves these people deeply. He is hoping to visit them and to help them strengthen their faith. They are suffering persecution. Paul prays that God and Jesus will lead him back to these beloved people. He prays,”May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you.” These strong bonds of love enabled the followers of Jesus to stay close to each other when all they had were letters carried by messengers such as Timothy. We can be sure that when the people of the Church in Thessalonica heard this letter read. their “hearts were strengthened in holiness.”

In our gospel for today Our Lord tells us that there will be all kinds of tensions among nations and severe weather events, and we have certainly seen many of these kinds of upsets and turmoil. But Jesus tells us not to spend a great deal of time trying to figure out when he will come to us. Rather he tells us to be ready, to be alert.

All of our readings today tell us about how God comes to us in challenging times and gives us the good news about God’s kingdom of peace and harmony. 

Advent is a time when we look backward to the birth of our king in a cave used as a stable in Bethlehem. He came among us, just as we came into the world, as a baby. He is a king who knows what it is to be human. He grew up in a carpenter shop, helping his earthly father, Joseph, and learning his trade. Our King is fully human and fully divine. He knows us and understands us. We can look at his life and see how a human life is to be lived. A kingdom life. A life of shalom.

In Advent, we also look toward his coming again to complete his work of creation. It is going to require a great deal of effort to take this world. which is full of strife, just as Jeremiah’s world was, and filled with persecution just as the world of the Thessalonians was, and transform it into a world of peace and harmony. But that is what our King is trying to do. When he comes again, he will complete that work.

Meanwhile, he is asking us to help him with that work now. He is calling us to be people of hope as Jeremiah was in the midst of war and suffering, He is calling us to be people of love as the Thessalonians were in the midst of persecution. He is calling us to be people of faith.

Think about the power of the love that connected Paul with the community of faith in Thessalonica. As we read the passage, we can feel how much they cared about each other. And Paul prays that they will have that love for each other and for all people.

In this Advent time, this time that is between Jesus’ birth and his coming again, we have a great gift that can guide us as we try to walk the Way of Love. We can look at the life of our Lord here on earth as we read the gospels and we can see a living, breathing example of how to live as shalom people, kingdom people. We can follow his example. We have the model of a human life to follow; we have the living example of Jesus’ life. 

If we’re going to prepare the way of the Lord, we need to follow his example, and the wonderful thing is that we have his gift of grace. We have his help. Some of us are reading Bishop Curry’s book, Love Is the Way,  and it is full of people who “cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

One of the most important ways that we can be ready when he comes again is to move closer and closer to him by asking his grace to walk the Way of Love. In every choice, every decision we make, we can choose the path that will lead us closer to love. Love for each other, love for all.

Loving God, help us to be alert to opportunities to walk the Way of Love. Strengthen our hearts in holiness and faith and hope. Give us grace to be partners with you in building your shalom of peace and harmony and wholeness. Amen.

Christ the King  November 21, 2021

2 Samuel 23:1-7
Psalm 132:1-13
Revelation 1:4b-8
John 18:33-37

This Sunday is Christ the King Sunday. We rejoice in the fact that Christ is our King. Our Lord comes from the lineage of David. In our reading from the Second Book of Samuel, we find a description of the good earthly king: “One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.”

Good earthly leaders are people of justice, integrity, and morality.

In our gospel, Jesus tells us that his kingdom is not of this world. His kingdom, his shalom, is the kind of world God wants us to live in, to paraphrase retired Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, the shalom of God is a world in which every person is loved and respected, everyone has food, shelter, clothing, health care, and good work to do. Our Lord says, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” He is our Good Shepherd, and we are listening to his voice calling us to help him build his shalom of peace, love, and harmony for everyone.

This is also the week of Thanksgiving. We take time to gather with our families as much as we can in this age of Covid.  We have a wonderful meal with all the dishes our family loves best and we take the time to thank God for all of God’s gifts to us.

Everything we have is a gift from God. From time to time, it’s a good idea to make a Gratitude List—just take a few moments and write down all the gifts God has given us. I can walk, I can talk, I can see, I can hear. I have a roof over my head and clothes to wear. Some of us are retired. All of us have had good work to do. Most of us are doing ministries of service to others. God gives us the energy to do all these things.

In and through all these gifts from God is the greatest gift of all—God’s  unquenchable, unstoppable, eternal, unconditional love for us. God knows us, our weaknesses and our strengths—everything about us— and God loves us with a love that is so big and so deep and so wide that we will never be able to grasp how huge it is.

In gratitude for God’s many gifts to us and for God’s unfailing love and blessings flowing out to us all the time, we return a worthy portion of all of this to God. For those who wish to make a pledge, please do that before the end of the year. Our pledge is our thank you to God for all of God’s blessings. Some of us prefer to give back to God without pledging. That is fine, too.

Our pledge includes the gifts of time, talent, and treasure, which God gives us constantly.  God gives us every moment of our lives. The gift of time. God gives us different talents. And God gives us the ability to earn money, treasure. All of you give generous gifts of time and talent in all kinds of church and community activities. Gifts to charitable organizations such as Episcopal Relief and Development, the Red Cross, and Habitat for Humanity are also a part of returning a worthy portion of God’s gifts back to God. In harmony with the theme of Thanksgiving, we are making gifts to UTO, the United Thank Offering, doing the month of November.

One year ago, when we were celebrating Christ the King Sunday, we were not able to be in our church building. We had no vaccine. Governor Scott was announcing that our positivity rate was up to two per cent. As I write this, Vermont’s overall positivity rate is 4.3 per cent. Essex County’s positivity rate is 13.9%; Franklin. 6.99%; Orleans, 6.93%; Chittenden, 2.9%. Our positivity rates are higher. We are in a surge. Governor Scott said this week that 70% of the new cases involve unvaccinated people.

This leads us to a clear reason for gratitude. We have vaccines that work. We have boosters. We are now vaccinating children ages 5 to 11. So, if we are vaccinated, if we  wear our masks, keep social distancing, and pay attention to ventilation, we can be here together, in our building with our friends on Zoom. This year, unlike last year, we are celebrating Holy Eucharist on Christ the King Sunday, and some of us are here in our beloved building. What a blessing!

I am so happy to be here with you all. We have so much to be thankful for.

Hymn 645 is a beautiful hymn which begins, “The King of love my shepherd is.” It is a poem based on the 23rd Psalm. Christ is our King, and he is the King of Love. He is in our midst this very moment, and this includes our brothers and sisters online. He is leading us through this pandemic, through everything, to the green pastures and the still waters. Thanks be to God for God’s unending, amazing gifts.

Amen.

Pentecost 25 Proper 28B November 14, 2021

1 Samuel 1:4-20
1 Samuel 2:1-10 (Song of Hannah)
Hebrews 10:11-14, (15-18), 19-25
Mark 13:1-8

Our first reading for today is from the First Book of Samuel. We meet Elkanah. He has two wives. Back in those days, a man would often have more than one wife. He is very generous to his wives, to Peninnah and all her sons and daughters, and especially to his wife Hannah. He loves her very much.

But Hannah has a very deep grief in her life. She has not been able to have any children. Back in those times, about three thousand years ago, women were most valued and respected if they had many children. Women who were not able to have children were usually not as highly loved and respected. It is to Elkanah’s credit that he loves Hannah and treats her with great respect.

Peninnah has many children, both sons and daughters, and she constantly reminds Hannah of this fact. She makes Hannah’s life miserable. She has done this for years.

Have you ever had a problem that made you feel like a failure, that made you cry with grief and frustration? Have you ever gone from year to year with a great sadness as Hannah did? Most of us have had experiences such as this, times of great sadness about things that were beyond our control.

Hannah and Elkanah go to the temple at Shiloh to worship God, and Hannah does a very wise thing. She goes to the altar and kneels down and pours her heart out to God. She weeps and she prays the words that express her feelings, but she does this silently. She asks God to give her a son.

The priest Eli is sitting by the doorpost. He sees this woman who is so upset and thinks she is drunk. Eli scolds her, but she tells him the truth. “I am a woman who is deeply troubled,” she says, and, as she speaks to Eli, he realizes that this is a good and honest and upright woman of deep faith who is asking for God’s help. Seeing the depth of  Hannah’s faith, Eli assures her that her prayers will be answered. She has a son and names him Samuel, and Samuel becomes a great prophet and servant of God.

Hannah’s song celebrating her son’s birth strongly resembles Mary’s song, the Magnificat. In her song, Hannah rejoices in God’s compassion for the poor, the hungry, and the weak. And we can rejoice in God’s compassion for her.

In our reading from Hebrews, we are called to “hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering.” Because of the life and ministry of Jesus, we have genuine hope. We are called to inspire each other to love and good deeds, and to encourage each other.

In our gospel, one of the disciples comments on how huge the temple in Jerusalem is. This is true. Scholars tell us that the temple was very large,  even in comparison with buildings in the great city of Rome. But then Jesus says that all these huge stones will be thrown down. He talks about wars and earthquakes and all kinds of upheaval. Herbert O’Driscoll says that Jesus is talking about the kinds of conflicts and tensions that go on in our world at various times, including ours.

In our time, we are being called to take care of our beautiful planet, to work on racial healing so that we will sincerely love all our brothers and sisters as ourselves, and we are called to deal with many other issues so that we can help to bring in the shalom of God.

In the Church, we are also facing challenging issues. A financial expert has told us that in the Episcopal Church in Vermont, we face a financial crisis.

Last year, Bishop Shannon reminded us of a story about Jesus and his disciples. They have just fed five thousand people. Jesus tells the disciples to get into the boat and go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. He dismisses the crowd of people they have just fed and goes up to the mountain to pray. Very often, Jesus would go apart and spend time with God in prayer. Meanwhile the disciples are crossing the sea, and a storm comes up. The wind is howling, the waves are getting higher and higher and the disciples are really scared. Jesus comes walking toward them on the water. At first they think he is a ghost, and they are even more scared. But Jesus said to them, “Take heart. It’s me. Don’t be afraid.”

Peter says, “If it is you, tell me to come to you on the water.” And Jesus says “Come.” Peter jumps out of the boat and starts to walk toward Jesus on the water. But when he notices the strong wind, he gets very scared and begins to sink. He cries out, “Lord! Save me!. Jesus stretches out his hand, catches Peter, and they both reach the boat and get in. Once they are in the boat, the wind stops blowing. That’s when they realize Jesus is the Son of God.

Bishop Shannon told us that trying to deal with the pandemic and all these issues is like trying to walk on water the way Peter did. We are facing the unknown. We don’t have clear answers. When we feel ourselves start to sink, we need to remember at least two things: one, we are walking toward Jesus; two, Jesus has his hand stretched out to save us.

We are going to be working together to find out where God is leading us and then to follow in faith. The financial expert described the situation as though we are going to reach the edge of a cliff. That’s scary. But, instead of letting the fear overcome us, we can remember our faith. A wise person once said, “Faith is fear that has said its prayers.” We have faith in Jesus, and he is reaching out to us to help us and guide us and save us.

God answered Hannah’s prayer and Samuel was born. We are going to be making a journey into uncertainty. We could be overcome by terror. It will feel like a storm on the water with winds howling and waves growing higher. But Jesus is here, We are walking toward Jesus. His hand is stretched out to us. And he is saying, ”Take heart, It’s me. Don’t be afraid.” Amen.

All Saints’ Sunday November 7, 2021

Isaiah 25:6-9
Psalm 24
Revelation 21:1-6a
John 11:32-44

This sermon will be short so that we can hear reports from our delegates to Diocesan Convention. 

Today is All Saints’ Sunday. Our reading from Isaiah rejoices in the great banquet that calls all the people of the world together to celebrate God’s reign. God swallows up death and wipes the tears from our faces.

In our reading from Revelation, there is a “new heaven and a new earth.” God us with us. There is no more mourning and crying, God is “making all things new.”

And in today’s gospel, our Lord raises his dear friend Lazarus from death, foreshadowing his own resurrection. And ours.

This wonderful feast celebrates the fact that we are members of the body of Christ. We are part of the great cloud of witnesses, followers of Jesus who have gone before us, those who are here now, and those who will follow him in the future. We are not alone. We are part of a dynamic, eternal, and very big family.

Our readings today make it very clear that, because of God’s love, and because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we are a people of hope. We are called to help to bring in the reign of God, the shalom of peace, wholeness, and harmony that is described in the passage from Isaiah.

After the tomb of Lazarus is opened, the risen Lazarus emerges with the strips of cloth which had been used to prepare him for burial still wrapped around his hands and feet and his face still wrapped in a cloth. Jesus says, “Unbind him and let him go.” Jesus frees us from everything that would imprison us— even death. He empowers us to join the great cloud of witnesses working to build his shalom. He calls us to new life, life in him. Today, we thank God for the life of General Colin Powell, a shining example of integrity and leadership among that great cloud of witnesses.

May we follow Jesus. May we walk the Way of Love. May we help our Lord build his shalom. Amen. 

Pentecost 23 Proper 26B October 31, 2021

Ruth 1:1-18
Psalm 146
Hebrews 9:11-14
Mark 12:28-34

Our first reading today is from the book of Ruth. In the time of the judges, a famine comes to the land. Elimelech, who is from Bethlehem in Judah, his wife Naomi, and their sons Mahlon and Chilion leave Judah and go to the land of Moab to find food. 

They remain in Moab for a time and then Elimelech dies. Naomi’s sons marry two Moab women. One  is named Ruth and the other is named Orpah. After about ten years, Naomi’s sons, Mahlon and Chilion, die. Naomi has lost her husband and both of her sons. Orpah and Ruth have lost their husbands.

This leaves Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah in a terrible situation, Without a male relative, they have no identity in that society. They are not someone’s wife or mother or daughter. And they have no one to protect them and no way to earn a living. 

Ruth has heard that there is now food in Judah. The famine is over. She decides to head home. Ruth and Orpah go with her.

Naomi sees how vulnerable Ruth and Orpah are, and she encourages them to go home to their families so that they can have a roof over their heads and a male relative to protect them. Although she has lost her husband and both her sons, she has a love and a depth of spirit that enable her to go beyond her own grief and try to do what is best for her daughters-in-law. The three women, all in the most vulnerable of circumstances, argue and weep together as they try to discern the best course of action for each of them.

Finally, Orpah decides to go back to her family.

Naomi has no future in Moab. She has no family there. She feels she must return to Judah. She tries to say goodbye to Ruth and send her home to her family. But Ruth is adamant. “Where you go I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people; and your God my God. Where you die, I will die—there will I be buried.”

The power of Ruth’s love and loyalty has inspired countless people over the ages. Scholars tell us that Moab and Judah weren’t exactly enemies, but relations could be a bit testy at times. Because she loves her mother-in-law, Ruth is going into a land that is foreign to her, a land where she will know no one except Naomi.

In these times when famine and violence and oppression and weather events are causing so many people to become refugees, this story speaks so deeply of the power of God’s love for us and our love for each other.

In our gospel for today, the Sadducees are arguing and asking Jesus questions. A scribe, a religious official, comes along and asks Jesus, “Which commandment is the first of all?” And Jesus answers word for word that the first commandment is “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” And he adds, “The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Our Lord is giving the standard answer. He is not arguing any points or elaborating in any way.

And the scribe does a very strange thing. He says, “You are right, Teacher.” He does not attack. He does not quibble or taunt or try to trap Jesus. Scholars tell us that the scribe was a a minor official but he was still part of the  official religious structure. He could still have given Jesus a hard time. Here we have a religious official who has an open heart and an open mind. He and Jesus are on the same page. This is a rare moment in the gospels. 

The scribe says something further. He says that to love God with all our hearts and to love our neighbor as ourselves…”This is much more important than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”  

And Jesus says, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

The book of Hebrews says that the sacrifice of our Lord has transcended all of the temple sacrifices. This scribe is saying the same thing. The life and ministry of Jesus have changed everything. God’s love changes everything.

Herbert O’Driscoll writes, “The common thread in these readings is the insight that the greatest gift we can give is the gift of ourselves. In the first reading, Ruth gives herself to her mother-in-law, In the psalm, God gives fully. In the second reading, our Lord gives himself fully and freely. In the gospel passage, Jesus is overjoyed to meet someone who realizes that self-giving is greater than any exterior sacrifice.” (O’Driscoll, The Word among us, p. 136.

Our loving God calls us to give of ourselves, and all of you do that every day. You care about people; you listen to people; you help others; you work at the food shelf, or at the Historical Society. You deliver Meals on Wheels. You rescue animals. You are always doing something to spread God’s love and to make the world a better place. Thank you for giving the gift of yourselves. This is what walking the Way of Love is all about. May our loving God continue to give us the grace to offer ourselves in service to others. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Pentecost 22 Proper 25B October 24, 2021

Job 42: 1-6, 10-17
Psalm 34:1-8
Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 10:46-52

In our opening reading today, we meet Job once again. He wanted to meet with God, to argue his case before God. He wanted God to know that he was a good man, a righteous man. He wanted God to understand him and his situation.

As we saw last Sunday, Job did meet God. Once he was in the presence of the almighty God, the creator of the universe, he realized there was no way that he would be able to fathom the mystery of God. In today’s reading, Job says that he despises himself, but Biblical scholar James D. Newsome says that translation is a bit off the mark. He suggests that, instead of Job saying. I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes,” we should understand Job as saying, “I admit my mistake and I yield.” (Newsome, Texts for Preaching, p. 558.)

Newsome rephrases Job’s apology to God this way, “When I asked you to meet me in court, O Jahweh, I simply didn’t know what I was talking about. But things are clearer to me now. I no longer wish to challenge you;  I only wish to learn from your wisdom.” (Newsome, p. 558.)

Have you ever been angry with God? Have you ever argued with God? Shaken your fist at God and hurled questions at God? I think most of us have been angry with God at one time or another. And one important point of these readings from Job is that it is all right to be mad at God, to yell and scream and cry at God about the awful things that happen to us in life. I remember one time at a retreat, a dear friend and I knelt before the altar as he expressed his anger with God about his son’s fatal illness.

But after all of this struggle, God gives Job twice what he had before; his friends return to him. Life is even better than it was before.  And what does this mean? Newsome gives us a powerful answer: “Yahweh loves Job as Yahweh loves all people. Yahweh blesses Job as Yahweh intends to bless all people…. God’s ways are mysterious and past our understanding, but one thing is not in dispute: the God of Israel, the Father of Jesus Christ, is a God of compassion whose ultimate will for all persons is peace and joy.” (Newsome, p. 55.)

In our reading from Hebrews, the writer describes the ancient high priests who would go into the temple once a year and offer sacrifices for the sins of the people. Each priest would eventually die and would be replaced. The life, ministry, death, and resurrection of our Lord have given us a close relationship with our God. We have become God’s children. As our Lord says, we can call God “Abba,” “Dad,” or “Mom.” Because of the ministry of Jesus, we are not far away from God as Job was. Our God is in the midst of us. Our God is as close as our breath.

In today’s gospel, Jesus and his disciples are in Jericho. Herbert O’Driscoll tells us that, after you walked through the busy streets of Jericho, heading south, the beggars would be gathered on the outskirts of the city. If you had stayed overnight, you were well fed and you would be rested and might be in a better mood to be generous.

Here is Bartimaeus, a blind beggar. He hears that Jesus is coming. We can surmise that he has heard about Jesus already because he begins shouting loudly to get our Lord’s attention. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” People tell him to be quiet, but he shouts even more loudly. He is determined to get Jesus’ attention. It is a long walk to Jerusalem, and Jesus could well have ignored Bartimaeus. But he did not do that. He stopped and said, “Call him here.” Now the people who  have been telling Bartimaeus to be quiet get into the spirit of things. They tell Bartimaeus, “Take heart; get up; he is calling you.”

Bartimaeus throws off his cloak. Perhaps he is shedding his old life for a new one. Perhaps he is lightening his burden. Bartimaeus springs up and goes to Jesus. He is blind but he has heard that voice and he goes right to Jesus. Then our Lord asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And Bartimaeus says, “My teacher, let me see again.” This tells us that Bartimaeus was once able to see. He has not always been blind. To have once been able to see and now be blind lets us know that he has undergone a great loss. He was once able to see, and now he has a severe disability and has to beg for a living.

Jesus does not make a poultice and put it on the eyes of Bartimaeus, He does not even touch Bartimaeus. He says, “Go; your faith has made you well.” But Bartimaeus does not go anywhere. He regains his sight and follows Jesus.

This is our high priest, This is our God among us. He could ignore us. He could resume his journey without listening or paying attention. But he never does that. He listens. He treats everyone of us as his beloved brother or sister. He hears the anguish, the longing, the depth of our need. And he responds. Bartimaeus can now see, and what does he do? He becomes a disciple of Jesus.

Most of us have probably argued with God or railed at God and that is fine. God can take it. But we can also ask God for help. We can also ask God to heal us, strengthen us, guide us, give us the grace to do something we know we have to do, but we have no idea how we’re going to be able to do it without God’s help.

This is why God has come among us. So that we can reach out the way Bartimaeus and thousands of others have reached out to our loving God, We have all asked God for help at one time or another, and that may be why we are all following Jesus. Because there is real help with him. He asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” And we tell him, and he listens. He hears us. And in one way or another, he helps us. It may not be in the way we imagined, but it may be a way that turns out to be better. As James Newsome says, “God is a God of compassion whose ultimate will for all persons is peace and joy.” Amen.