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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:…
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Advent 1 Year B November 29. 2020

Isaiah 64:1-9
Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:24-37

In our opening reading from Isaiah, we are with Isaiah and God’s people at a crucial moment in their history. They are returning from exile in Babylon. They have been in exile for some fifty years, studying the scriptures, praying, keeping the community together and hoping for the day when they would be able to return. They have thought it would be a time of great joy.

When they arrive, they find that the temple has been destroyed. The city walls have been torn down. Foreign people are living as squatters in the ruins of the temple. For decades, they had hoped and prayed that they would be able to return. That was the hope that kept them together. But now that they are in Jerusalem and, seeing that their beloved temple and city are little more than a huge pile of rubble, they are realizing the enormity of the task that lies before them.

In the face of the enormity of the task, Isaiah and the people are overwhelmed. They are at the point of despair. How will they begin the mammoth task of rebuilding? Where will they begin? Isaiah calls out to God, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence…” 

Isaiah is recalling the time centuries before when God came down from heaven at Mount Sinai to give the people the law and lead them out of slavery.  God was with them every step of the way. It seems to Isaiah that God has withdrawn from the people, and so they have sinned. Isaiah confesses on behalf of all the people and then he tells God, “You are our Father and we are your people.” 

All these centuries later, we are not being called to rebuild Jerusalem, but we are facing a very difficult task. We are facing a time that is usually full of joy—Thanksgiving and Christmas—a time when we love to be with our families. This year, we cannot do that. Our own governor’s staff has predicted that if we aren’t careful, we could have 3,800 people come down with Covid and 40 to 50 people in the hospital, These figures are staggering, far higher than we have experienced at any time during this wilderness journey, this exile from our church building, this long fast from the Eucharist.

In his press briefing this past Tuesday, Governor Scott said that he knows he can’t make us do the things that will defeat the virus—have Thanksgiving dinner only with the people who live under our roof, don’t travel, and continue to do the things we have been doing—six foot spaces, masks on faces, avoid crowded places—but he is asking us to do these things. Our Presiding Bishop is calling us to walk the Way of Love—doing all of these things out of love for each other so everyone can be safe. And our governor says often that he knows this is hard. We all have Pandemic Fatigue. We’re tired of this and we just want to go back to normal. Experts tell us that we’re experiencing quite a bit of depression and anxiety these days.

We might pray, “O, loving God, please come down here and help us. This virus is getting ahead of us.” Rather similar to Isaiah’s prayer.

But then we stop and think. God has come to be with us. That was the first Advent. A little baby was born in Bethlehem, a little, out of the way place like Sheldon or Montgomery or Fletcher or Fairfield or Franklin. Why did God come among us? Because God loves us more than we could possibly understand or imagine.

Jesus lived a human life, grew up helping his foster father in his carpenter shop, and then he called twelve people together and went all around healing, forgiving, and teaching people about God’s kingdom of love and peace, God’s shalom. And he invited everyone to be a part of his family—a very big family—and to help him build his shalom.

We have all answered his call to follow him and help him build his kingdom, his shalom. Right now, people are really hurting with this pandemic, and we are feeding them at our food shelf. And we are trying to do all we can to help our brothers and sisters because he has told us that if we help them, we are helping him. The more peace and love and compassion we can share, the closer his kingdom comes. So he doesn’t have to tear down the heavens and come down. He is already here in our midst. What our governor and all good leaders are calling us to do, our risen and present Lord is leading and guiding us to do.

He has told us he will come again to complete his kingdom, to bring in fully his shalom of peace, compassion, and justice. We do not know exactly when that is going to happen. And in many parts of the gospel he tells us not to try to figure that out. Only God knows when that will happen.

In today’s gospel, He says, “Keep awake.” This does not mean that we have to stay up all night. He wants us to be healthy, especially in these stressful times, so we need to get at least seven hours of sleep a night. But he wants us to be ready to receive his kingdom. He wants us to be prepared for his kingdom. When he comes, he wants us to be ready to meet him, welcome him with great joy, and help him complete his work of creation.

And he wants us to live like kingdom people, to feed the hungry and give clothing to those who need it and love people and help people as if they were Christ himself. We are in that in-between time between his first coming as a baby and his second coming as our King, and he wants us to be about the work of building his shalom now.

Like God’s people coming home from the exile, we are facing a major challenge. We are called to do what is necessary to beat this virus, and we are called to build, not a temple, but the shalom of God.

Lord Jesus, thank you for being in our midst. Thank you for calling us to help you build your kingdom. Give us the grace to follow you, to walk the Way of Love, and to be ready to follow where you lead us. In your holy Name. Amen.

Epiphany 3A January 26, 2020

Isaiah 9:1-4
Psalm 27:1, 5-13
1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Matthew 4:12-23

Our first reading, this powerful and moving passage from Isaiah, is also our first reading on Christmas Day. Scholars tell us that this text dates back to around 725 B.C.E. The Assyrian Empire has defeated the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and the Southern Kingdom, Judah, has been living in deep fear and anguish. They have been terrified that the Assyrians will defeat them, too.

A new king has been born, and God is telling the people that they are moving from the darkness of that fear into the light. God has freed them from the oppressor. There will be a new kingdom of justice and compassion. As Christians, we immediately think of the reign of our King, Jesus, who comes among us to break every yoke/

Our psalm describes what life is like in the light, the presence of God. Yes, life has many challenges, but we do not live in fear. We sense the presence and protection of God. Both our reading from Isaiah and our psalm for today are filled with the  joy of being in the presence of God.

Last week, our reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians focused on the gifts which God has given them—and us— so that they and we, can follow Christ and be a loving community. In today’s passage, Paul is beginning to address some of the major problems that are affecting the community in Corinth.

There are some people in the Corinthian community who feel that their gifts are superior to the gifts of other people. For example, some of the people feel that the gift of speaking in tongues is the highest gift of all, and, if you don’t have that gift, you are inferior. In Chapter 13 of this letter, Paul tells us in no uncertain terms that the greatest gift is love.

 In today’s text, Paul is pointing out that the members of the community have divided up into factions. Some are following a man named Apollos, a charismatic teacher who had come through town and attracted followers in the congregation. Others are following Paul, others Peter, and so on. The question is, who are we supposed to be following? The answer is, not Paul, nor Peter, not Apollos, but Jesus. 

Herbert O’Driscoll talks about “the indignant claim to being right or superior or more genuine than others….a putting down of someone else, an excluding of them from some real or imagined charmed circle of orthodoxy or shared spiritual experience. The message—rarely put into words—is, ‘I am of Christ, and you are not!’” (O’Driscoll, The Word Today Year A Vol. 1, p. 81.)

We can tell from reading this passage that Paul is deeply troubled by these divisions. Christ was crucified for us, not Paul. We were baptized in the name of Christ, and he is the head of the Church. One of the great strengths of Grace Church is that you keep these truths constantly in mind. You remember that you are following Christ, and that he calls you to be a community of love.

In our gospel for today, Jesus learns that John the Baptist has been put in prison. This is ominous news. Jesus had gone South to be baptized by John the Baptist. This brought him closer to Jerusalem, where Herod Antipas ruled. Now he moves north to Galilee, where there is more distance from the center of Herod’s ruthless and unjust tyranny.

And what does our Lord do? He can see that Herod is asserting his deadly control, ready to extinguish any flickering flame of justice or compassion. He could have allowed fear to deflect him from his mission. He could have run away. He could have tried to hide. 

But he does not run away or hide. He knows that it is time for him to form a community. He knows that he is not going to spread the good news of the light and love of God alone. He knows what Isaiah has written. He knows that it is time for the light to shine. Walking by the Sea of Galilee, he sees Peter and Andrew, two fishermen, casting their nets, and he says those words we will never forget: “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately, they leave their nets and follow him. A little further along, he sees James and John, the sons of Zebedee, on the boat with their father, and he calls them. They leave the boat and their father, and follow him.

And then, very simply, Matthew tells us that Jesus went all around Galilee, teaching in the synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. We can imagine that, as he and Peter and Andrew and James and John went from place to place, others joined them.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” We have seen that light. Our darkness has been enlightened by the light and love of our Lord. We are following him. With his grace, we are sharing his love.

In our Collect for today, we pray that God will give us the grace to answer “the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the good news of his salvation…”

This past Tuesday, the clients of the food shelf gathered in the new building. There, Nancy and Debbie welcomed the people and signed them up to receive food. Some folks shared their needs and illnesses and challenges. We prayed with them. And then we prayed together for all the folks who come for help. Meanwhile, our volunteers were at work in the church undercroft packing and distributing the food. It was a very cold day, but they  cheerfully helped the clients carry their food to their vehicles.

Our volunteers did a lot of hard work in that extremely cold weather, but there was no complaining. Our clients had to wait for a long period of time but there was no complaining. There was a lot of laughter, and love, and light. In this and many other ways, we are receiving the grace to answer the call of our Lord and to share the good news of his salvation. Thanks be to God for all of God’s many gifts. Amen. 

Epiphany 2A January 19, 2020

Isaiah 49:1-7
Psalm 40:1-12
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
John 1:29-42

This sermon will be shorter in order to allow time for our annual meeting.

In our first reading, the prophet known as the Second Isaiah is proclaiming God’s good news to God’s people. God is going to bring the exiles home. God’s servant is not only Isaiah but the entire nation of God’s people. All of God’s people are going to become a light to the whole world, and the message of God’s love is going to be extended to all people. Passages such as this are the basis for Archbishop Tutu’s statement that “God has a big family.” God’s family includes everyone.

In our gospel, John the Baptist is telling everyone that Jesus is the Savior. Two of John’s disciples follow Jesus, and he asks them what they are looking for. They answer “Rabbi,” addressing him as a teacher, and he responds, “Come and see.” One of them is Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. These two men stay with Jesus and learn from him that day. By the end of the day, Andrew goes to his brother, Simon Peter, and says, “We have found the Messiah.” Andrew takes Simon Peter to Jesus, who takes one look at this man, sees deeply into his spirit, and says, “You are Simon, son of John. You are to be called Cephas,” meaning Peter.  Like Paul who came after him, Simon’s transformation is so profound that he receives a new name. He will be the leader of the apostles.

In our epistle, Paul is writing to the followers of Jesus in Corinth. He begins his letter by emphasizing the many gifts God has given the people in that community. This is true of every community of people following Jesus.

Peter and Paul both realized what Isaiah had said several centuries before them—that God loves all people and that the good news of Jesus is for all people all around the world.

Our collect for today tells us that Jesus is the light of the world. And then our collect carries forward the concept presented by Isaiah, that  we, God’s people, illumined by God’s word and sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory. In other words, we are praying that we, you and I, lighted up and inspired by the scriptures we are reading today and the sacrament of Christ’s presence which we will be sharing, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s risen presence, and that we may spread his light and love everywhere we go.

This is a wonderful prayer. As we share the light and love of Christ, we often do that more by attitudes and actions than by words. As we follow our Lord, we find that he is transforming us just as he transformed Peter and Paul and Mary Magdalene and Teresa of Avila and so many others.

In his address to the 79th General Convention on July 4, 2018, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry described what happened when people got to know Jesus. Bishop Curry says, “They found themselves loving the way Jesus loved, giving the way Jesus gives, forgiving the way Jesus forgives, doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly just like Jesus.” As Bishop Curry says, “If it’s about love, it’s about God. If it isn’t about love, it isn’t about God.”

Lord Jesus, give us your grace that we may continue to share your light and love.  Amen.

Lent 3B RCL March 4, 2018

Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
John 2:13-22

This is the Third Sunday in Lent, and our readings give us so much food for thought that we could go on for hours thinking about these words and how they apply to our lives. I’m happy to tell you that I am not going to preach for hours.

In our opening reading from the Book of Exodus, Moses brings the Ten Commandments to God’s people, who have escaped slavery and are on their journey to the promised land. Scholars tell us that this was really a worship service, a solemn ceremony in which the people accepted God’s covenant.

These commandments provided an ethical structure for God’s people, and they still do that for us. If we were to summarize these rules for living, we could say, 1). There is one God. 2).Don’t worship idols, These days, our idols are not Baal or Astarte. They are things like status, possessions, and power, but they can lure us far from what really matters. 3). Use the Name of God only in sincere prayer. Use the Name of God for good purposes. 4). Take time to rest and be with God on the Sabbath Day. These first four commandments are about our relationship with God.

The next six commandments are about our relationship with our family and others. 5) Honor your father and mother. Family is important, and those relationships are very special. Let us put God’s love in the spaces between us and our family members. 6). Don’t commit murder. That includes the kind of murder we can commit with our tongue, with a nasty comment or with malicious gossip, or posts, or tweets. 7). Don’t commit adultery. We are called to be faithful to our marriages and committed relationships and to honor the marriages and committed relationships of others. 8). Don’t steal. That includes other people’s ideas. We give credit for the thoughts of others which we quote. We pay royalties when they apply. We honor copyrights. 9). Don’t lie. As we look at the world around us, it would be so refreshing if we would all simply be honest in all our statements and in all our dealings with each other. 10). Don’t covet. In our society today, there is such a pressure to keep up with the Joneses, to have the right clothes, the right car, and on and on. That is not what is important to God. These commandments are as helpful and relevant today as they were over three thousand years ago when God first gave them to our ancestors.

As we think about our gospel for today, we need to keep in mind that Jesus knew these commandments very well, and it is because of his knowledge of what God is truly calling us to be and to do that he is as angry as we will ever see him when he looks over the travesty of the moneychangers in the temple.

I can still remember the tone of my beloved mentor, David Brown, when he was Rector of Christ Church, Montpelier. He talked about the cult of “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild” syrupy terms that were almost funny, except that this is such a serious issue. Jesus was not always meek and mild. He had a steely determination; he had fortitude and courage like no other. And in today’s gospel, he is enraged. He is angry beyond belief.

Why is he angry? It is the time of the Passover. At the Passover, everyone was supposed to offer a sacrifice at the temple. If you were rich, you would offer a lamb. If you were poor, you would offer something cheaper such as a dove. So, first of all, this offering was a burden on the poor. They had no money to spare for buying a dove to sacrifice. They were trying to feed their children.

But it gets worse. In order to buy these animals for sacrifice, you had to convert your Roman coins to the temple coinage. To do this, you had to go to the moneychangers. Scholars tell us that the moneychangers could charge any kind of fee they wanted to for this service. This placed a double burden on the poor.

So, when Jesus walked in to this place that was supposed to be a holy place, this place where people were supposed to be able to have an encounter with God and “worship God in the beauty of holiness,” he saw these moneychangers robbing the people, and he got so angry that he threw over their tables. If we had been there, we would have been deeply impressed by his attitude. Possibly, we would have been scared.

The temple officials challenged Jesus on his behavior, and he made a rather mysterious statement, “Destroy this temple, and in three days, I will raise it up.” He was talking about his body, because he knew that they were going to have him killed.

Jesus was angry because the religious leaders were putting barriers in the way of people who were trying to worship God, people who were trying to be faithful. These barriers were a great hardship especially for the poor. We need to remember that Jesus was the champion of the ordinary people. Like so many of our brothers and sisters today, they had to work night and day just to provide the necessities for their children. The religious leaders should have made it easier for them to worship, not harder. But they refused to hear what our Lord was saying. It is a tragic day when religious leaders cannot hear God’s truth being spoken to them.

Our Lord is calling us to honor the dignity of every person and to make worship accessible to everyone. By the time of Jesus, legal and religious scholars had expanded the ten commandments to over six hundred and thirty rules that one was supposed to follow. This was so difficult that only the leisured class had the time to follow these rules.

This kind of thing made Jesus angry.

Here at Grace, this is why we stop and make sure that everyone has the books and handouts we need for the service, and why we help each other find our places. Accessibility is so important.

Gracious and loving God, give us grace to hear what you have to say to us. Jesus, our Savior and brother, lead us and guide us so that we may follow you faithfully. In Your holy Name we pray. Amen.

Epiphany 4A RCL January 29, 2016

Micah 6:1-8
Psalm 15
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Matthew 5:1-12

In one way or another, all of our readings today deal with the questions, “What does it mean to follow God’s will?

Our first reading today is from the prophet Micah, who was a younger contemporary of the great prophet Isaiah. Micah’s ministry took place between 750 and 687 B.C. Unlike Isaiah, who was a part of the temple priesthood, Micah was not of noble birth. He was a commoner from the little village of Moresheth in the foothills southwest of Jerusalem. He was someone who could give an outsider’s view of what was happening in the great city.

As Biblical scholar Bruce Metzger writes, “Micah looked on the corruption and pretensions of the capital with a different eye.” This was a time when the temple was offering more and more animals at the altar. People had even fallen into the practice of offering their firstborn child in hopes of gaining God’s favor. They were offering all these things, but they were not offering their lives to be guided by God.

At the same time, people were not caring for each other or treating each other with respect. Corruption was widespread, especially among the privileged. The rich were growing richer and the poor were having a difficult time surviving.

Micah tells the people that this is not the kind of behavior God wants. What God wants is for us to “do justice and love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.” Commentator Andrew Foster Connors writes, “God desires justice that is measured by how well the most vulnerable fare in the community, a loyal love (hesed) that is commensurate with the kind of loyal love that God has shown toward Israel, and a careful walking (halaka) in one’s ethical life.”(Connors, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol 1, p.292.)

Walter Brueggemann writes that to walk humbly with God means, “to abandon all self-sufficiency, to acknowledge in daily attitude and act that life is indeed derived from the reality of God.” (Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching Year A, p. 120.)

In our epistle, Paul is telling the Corinthians and us that our faith does not rely on worldly wisdom or power. Our faith flies in the face of earthly power. We proclaim Christ crucified. The idea of a leader who died a criminal’s death is a disgrace in terms of Greek thought, which proclaimed the power of wisdom to overcome every obstacle, and to Jewish thought, which looked forward to the coming of a messiah who would defeat the Roman Empire.

We follow someone who suffered a death reserved for the lowest of the low, the poorest of the poor. No one of noble birth would ever undergo such a horrible death. Paul says, “God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”

There is something amazing about our loving God. He did not assemble an army. He did not attack the religious and secular leaders arrayed against him, powers that were trying to protect their turf, powers that were working against the justice and love of God. He accepted all their hate, all their venom and violence. He took it into himself and transformed it into healing, forgiveness, and newness of life.

That is why we follow him. That is why we worship him. Because he shows us a different kind of wisdom, a different kind of life-giving power, a different way to live.

In our gospel for today, we have Jesus’ Beatitudes, some of the most profound and wise words ever spoken. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Jesus begins. This takes us back to Walter Brueggemann’s wise observation that to walk humbly with God means “to abandon all self-sufficiency.” To be poor in spirit means that we know we cannot do it alone, that we need to be constantly asking for God’s help and guidance. Blessed are those who mourn because of the brokenness of this world. Like the people of Micah’s time, we as a society are not living God’s vision of justice and love. Blessed are the meek. Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines meek as “enduring injury with patience and without resentment.”  The Riverside dictionary defines meek as, “exhibiting humility and patience; gentle.” Blessed are the gentle, the humble, the patient? Yes, for they will inherit the earth. In the world’s terms, the meek get run over or pushed aside. But, as we know, Jesus’ shalom is a whole different realm from this world.

We are here because, in the words of the song, “We have decided to follow Jesus.” We know that it’s wise to ask for help from God and others on the journey with us. It’s not a sign of weakness. All the qualities that Jesus is talking about are part of the life we are trying to live, with his help and grace.

There is great joy in knowing that we have God’s help every moment of every day, and that we have wise guidance from our brothers and sisters in Christ whenever we want to ask for it. We know that compassion is not weakness. We know that all of these qualities which Jesus is describing today are the blueprint for life in a richer, fuller dimension. That is what we mean by God’s kingdom, God’s shalom.

We do not have to compete. We do not have to fight. We do not have to claw our way up the ladder of success no matter whom we hurt on the way up. There is a better way, and that is the way to life in and with Christ.

May we do justice and love kindness and walk humbly with our God. May we live these Beatitudes, with God’s grace.  Amen.