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    • 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:…
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The Day of Pentecost May 31, 2020

Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:25-35, 37b
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
John 20:19-23

Last week, we read that Jesus ascended to heaven and the disciples returned to the upper room in Jerusalem to pray and wait expectantly for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

In Jewish tradition, Pentecost, or the feast of Weeks, came fifty days after the first day of Passover. James D. Newsome tells us that the Jewish feast of  Pentecost marked the end of the celebration of the spring harvest. This is why there were devout Jews gathered in Jerusalem from all over the known world—to celebrate the feast of Pentecost or Weeks.

But this feast was also the beginning of another season, which lasted until the feast of booths or tabernacles. On that feast, the people offered the first fruits of the fields to God. 

Newsome writes, “Pentecost/Weeks is thus a pregnant moment in the life of the people of God and in the relationship between the people and God. Or to put the matter more graphically, but also more accurately, Pentecost is the moment when gestation ceases and birthing occurs. Thus, it is both an end and a beginning, the leaving behind of that which is past, the launching forth into that which is only now beginning to be. Pentecost therefore is not a time of completion. It is moving forward into new dimensions of being, whose basic forms are clear but whose fulfillment has yet to be realized.”  (Newsome, Texts for Preaching Year A, p. 329.

The disciples are gathered. Jesus has told them that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them. A rushing wind sweeps in, the desert wind, the ruach, symbolizing the power of the Spirit. Flames of fire dance over the heads of the disciples, and they speak in all the languages of the known world. They are filled with the gifts of the Spirit.

We say that the feast of Pentecost is the birthday of the Church. The Spirit comes upon the disciples to shower gifts upon them and set their hearts on fire, and from that point, the new faith spreads over the known world.

In our reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, we read his stirring description of the Church as the Body of Christ, with each member given different gifts, all of the gifts empowered by the same Spirit. All the members of the body are one, as Jesus and the  Father and the Spirit are one. We have all been baptized in the Spirit—everyone, no matter what our nationality or previous religion or gender or status in life, or race, or any of the other things we use to divide ourselves. All these distinctions are  gone—we are all one in Christ. Each person is precious in the sight of God. All members are equal as the Body builds itself up in love.

Newsome’s comment that Pentecost is a moment of birthing, a leaving behind of what is past, and a launching forth into something new which is just beginning, rings forth with the truth of the Holy Spirit.

“Peace be with you,” our Lord says in that first evening of the first Easter day. Shalom is the word he uses. He walks through walls of fear to say that word.

Here are some glimpses of shalom. Isaiah 11:6-8a “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, ad the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall feed; their young shall lie down together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.”

Walter Brueggemann: “That persistent vision of joy, well being, and prosperity is not captured in any single word or idea in the Bible, and a cluster of words is required to express its many dimensions and subtle nuances: love, loyalty, truth, grace, salvation, justice, blessing, righteousness…It bears tremendous freight, the freight of a dream of God that resists all our tendencies to division, hostility, fear, … and misery. Shalom is the substance of the biblical vision of one community embracing all creation.  (Brueggemann,  Living Toward a Vision, p. 16.)

Retired Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori: “Shalom is a vision of the city of God on earth, a community where people are at peace with each other because each one has enough to eat, adequate shelter, medical care, and meaningful work. Shalom is a city where justice is the rule of the day, where prejudice has vanished, where the diverse gifts with which we have been so abundantly blessed are equally valued.” (Jefferts Schori, A Wing and a Prayer, p. 33.)

This past Friday, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and other faith leaders called us to a service of lament and mourning for the more than 100,000. Americans who have died of Covid 19. We will also be mourning the death of George Floyd, who was killed this past Monday by a police officer in Minneapolis.  On May 24, Dr. Matthew W. Hughey, a member of the Department of Sociology at the University of Connecticut, had an article in the Hartford Courant entitled “There’s another pandemic besides the corona virus that we must fight: racism.”  Ever since white people brought African people to America in 1619 to sell them as slaves, we have unsuccessfully grappled with what Jim Wallis of the Sojourners community calls “America’s Original Sin.” The full title of his 2017 book is “America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America.” 

There is much to mourn and lament, so many lives lost to both pandemics. Dr. Martin Luther King has said, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.”

If James Newsome is right about Pentecost being a time for birth,—and I think he is right—maybe, just maybe, with God’s grace, we can all come together and begin to listen to each other and learn from each other and find that bridge, or those many bridges, that Wallis is talking about. I pray that we can. I pray that we can live in peace as brothers and sisters. Because that is the vision our loving and healing God is calling us to fulfill. May we lean on the everlasting arms of God. May we trust in the power of God. May we bring all of God’s gifts of love and wisdom to heal both these pandemics.

May we now pray the Prayer for the Power of the Holy Spirit.

Epiphany 6A   February 16, 2020

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Psalm 119:1-8
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Matthew 5:21-37

Our readings today cover so much important spiritual territory that we could literally spend a week-long retreat praying and reflecting on them.

In our lesson from Deuteronomy, Moses has brought the people to the boundary of the promised land, but he is not going to be able to lead them into that land. He is trying to teach them everything they need to know in order to be faithful to God and to each other on the next part of their journey.

Moses tells the people, “I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.” Then he calls them to “Choose life.” Scholars tell us that when Moses, speaking for God, tells us that, if we follow God’s law to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves we will have life and prosperity, he does not mean material wealth, but rather a quality of life in a community based on love, respect for the dignity of every human being, compassion, and justice. When we choose life, we are choosing a way of life that makes it possible for everyone in the community to flourish.

In our epistle, Paul is once again trying to teach the congregation in Corinth to be a community like the one Moses is describing, a community where everyone loves God and each other, where every person’s gifts are celebrated and appreciated, a community that is one as Jesus and God and the Spirit are one.

Our gospel for today is a continuation of the Beatitudes. Jesus is elaborating on the meaning of the commandment to love God and each other. He is trying to help us understand not only the literal meaning but also the spiritual meaning of the commandments.

We all know we are not supposed to murder any one. But what about the kind of murder we can do with sharp and hurtful words, or gossip? We are called to love each other. If we are angry with someone, we are called to reconcile with them.

Then Jesus addresses the issue of adultery. Back then, a woman could be stoned for committing adultery. A man could divorce his wife for a trivial reason, such as, he didn’t like her cooking. She would be thrown out on the street, and, if she didn’t have a male relative to take care of her, she would be homeless. Jesus calls us not to look upon each other as objects, but to realize that every one of us is a child of God.

Then our Lord addresses the issue of swearing to tell the truth in formal circumstances such as taking an oath in court. He makes it clear that he is calling us to tell the truth all the time.

All of this reminds me of a wonderful book by one of my heroes, Archbishop Desmond Tutu. I think he is probing one of your heroes as well. The book is called God Has a Dream. It was published in 2004, but it speaks to us just as eloquently sixteen years later as it did back then.

He writes, “When, according to the Christian faith, we had fallen into the clutches of the devil and were enslaved by sin, God chose Mary, a teenager in a small village, to be the mother of His Son. He sent an archangel to visit her. I envision it happening like this.

Knock knock.

‘Come in.’

‘Er, Mary?’


‘Mary, God would like you to be the mother of His Son’

“What? Me? In this village you can’t even scratch yourself without everybody knowing it. You want me to be an unmarried mother? I’m a decent girl, you know. Try next door.”

If she had said that, we would have been up a creek. Mercifully, marvelously, Mary said, ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word,’ and the universe breathed a cosmic sigh of relief, because she made it possible for our Savior to be born.

“Mary was a poor teenage girl in Galilee and reminds us that transfiguration of our world comes from even the most unlikely places and people. You are the indispensable agent of change. You should not be daunted by the magnitude of the task before you. Your contribution can inspire others, embolden others who are timid, to stand up for the truth in the midst of a welter of distortion, propaganda, and deceit.”

Archbishop Tutu continues, “God calls us to be his partners to work for a new kind of society where people count, where people matter more than things, more than possessions; where human life is not just respected, but positively revered; where people will be secure and not suffer from the fear of hunger, from ignorance, from disease; where there will be more gentleness, more caring, more sharing, more compassion, more laughter; where there is peace and not war.

And he continues, “Our partnership with God comes from the fact that we are made in God’s image. Each and every human being is created in this same divine image. That is an incredible, a staggering assertion about human beings.” He goes on to say, “You don’t have to say, ‘Where is God?’ Every one around you—that is God.” (Tutu, God Has a Dream, pp. 61-63.)

Every one of us is made in the image of God. Every one of us is a beloved child of God. Every one of us is an alter Christus an “other Christ.”  Every one of us, every human being, is a spark of the divine fire of love and light. This awareness is at the heart of our call to follow Jesus and to create the kind of community and the kind of world he calls us to create.

We are made in God’s image, and we are human. We are frail and fallible. We need God’s help. That is why we gather to pray and to be with God and Jesus and the Spirit in a special way. Because we need to rely on God’s grace and guidance.

May we choose life, life rooted and grounded in the love of God. May we follow Jesus and live the Way of Love. May we be enlivened by the Holy Spirit, who energizes us to love others as God loves us. Amen.

Epiphany 7C February 24, 2019

Genesis 45:3-11, 15
Psalm 37:1-12, 41-42
1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50
Luke 6:27-38

Our opening reading today is an extraordinary moment in the scriptures, and I want to take a little time to think about what leads up to this moment. We all remember how we heard the story of Joseph and his brothers in Sunday School. Joseph’s father, Jacob, loved him more than any of his other sons. As we know, this is not the best parenting practice, but there it is.

Jacob made Joseph a cloak with long sleeves, that was quite fancy, and, over centuries of retelling, it became the famous coat of many colors.  Joseph also tended to have dreams, which was a bit much in the eyes of his brothers, especially since the dreams involved their having to bow down to him.

So, when Jacob sends Joseph out to see how his brothers are doing tending the sheep, they  think about killing him and finally decide to sell him to some slave traders. They take his beautiful cloak, dip it into the blood of a goat, and carry the cloak back to their father to signify that Joseph has met with a horrible fate. Jacob is  beside himself with grief.

Meanwhile, the slave traders take Joseph to Egypt and he is sold to Potiphar, the captain of the guard. Joseph is honest and intelligent, and before long, Potiphar has trained him to take over all his responsibilities. Joseph is also handsome, and Potiphar’s wife begins a determined campaign to seduce him.  Joseph resists, and she finally grabs his cloak, whereupon he runs out into the street. When Potiphar comes home, his wife tells him that Joseph has tried to seduce her.  Potiphar becomes extremely angry, and Joseph ends up in prison in the captain’s house.

Soon after, the pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker end up in prison with Joseph. Potiphar, the captain of the guard, assigns Joseph to take care of these members of the king’s court. The baker and the cupbearer ask Joseph to interpret their dreams, and Joseph ends up as the chief assistant to the pharaoh.

The pharaoh takes this extraordinary step because Joseph has interpreted pharaoh’s dream of the seven fat cows and the seven lean cows. There will be seven years of plenty and seven years of famine. During the seven years of plenty, Joseph stores the extra grain so that when the lean times arrive, there will be plenty of food.

When the time of famine comes, Joseph’s father sends his brothers to Egypt to buy grain. They meet with this great man who is their  brother and they do not recognize him, but he knows who they are. He accuses them of being spies, a crime punishable by death, but says he will let them live if they will leave one of their brothers with him and bring their youngest brother there next time they come.

Then he has his staff fill their sacks to overflowing with food, places their money on top of the sacks, and sends them home. Our scene today is the second trip of Joseph’s brothers to Egypt. The famine has continued. They have come for more food. Their brother, Simeon, who has remained with Joseph, is well, and they have kept their agreement with Joseph. They have brought their brother Benjamin. And now Joseph tells them who he is. They have wondered when the time of reckoning would come for what they did to Joseph. And now he tells them not to be distressed because they sold him into slavery. Joseph’s interpretation is that God sent him into Egypt to be able to help his family and many other people when the time of famine came.

Then he tells his brothers that their whole family will settle in the land of Goshen. They will all be together, there will be plenty of food, and all will be well. Then he kisses all  his brothers and they all cry and then they have a good talk. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be a fly on the wall for that conversation! All through his meetings with his brothers, Joseph has had to exit and go to a private room to cry his eyes out.

This story is very old, at least three thousand years old, and that makes it all the more powerful. Here is a man whose brothers sold him into slavery feeding them and the rest of his family in spite of what they did to him, and welcoming them into the land where he is essentially the king and giving them sanctuary and all that they need to survive. Joseph sees the hand of God in all the terrible things that have happened to him. Somehow he has worked through his own anger at what his brothers did to him, and he has allowed God to turn that into love. This is one of those classic stories that tell us that God can bring good out of terrible things.

That is what our Lord is talking about in our gospel for today, the continuation of the sermon on the plain. Our Lord says, “Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you.” And Joseph is doing that. He is in a position of great power; he is in charge of Egypt, one of the great powers of that time. Yet he has compassion on his brothers who were so cruel to him and he saves them and extends to them all the abundance that he enjoys in his own life.

There are so many inspiring stories from the Hebrew Scriptures that can provide much food for meditation. Would we be able to forgive our siblings for doing something like that? Would we be able to extend the kind of hospitality and help that Joseph gives his family?

Do we hold on to resentments? Do we find it difficult to forgive? Do we accept God’s forgiveness for our own failures and sins? Do we learn from difficult situations and move on?

There is a lot to think about in this story. Our collect begins, “O God, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love….” Joseph was able to receive that gift.

Gracious God, thank you for the gift of your love. Amen.

Day of Pentecost Year A June 4, 2017

Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:25-35, 37b
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
John 20:19-23

Today is the Day of Pentecost, a very special day in the Church calendar. This day is sometimes called the Birthday of the Church because, on that day, two two thousand years ago, the gifts of the Holy Spirit energized and transformed the first followers of Jesus into an effective mission team spreading the Good News all over the known world at that time.

Our readings for today are among the most important and inspiring lessons in our entire lectionary. Chronologically, they are in a rather unusual order. The gospel reading comes first in time; the reading from Acts is the second; and the amazing text from the First Letter to the Corinthians is the third reading in chronological order.

Let’s take them in order so that we can re-trace our spiritual history. Our gospel for today is the same gospel which we read every year on the Second Sunday of Easter. It is the evening of the first Easter. The followers of Jesus know that he is risen. Mary Magdalene has gone to the tomb and found it empty. She has called Peter and John, and they, too, have examined the empty tomb. Then the risen Jesus has appeared to Mary and has told her to let the disciples know that he is going to the Father.

Jesus’ closest followers are gathered in the home where they had been staying. They are terrified. They have locked the doors because they are afraid of the authorities, both religious and secular. Jesus walks right through the walls of their fear and says those words we will never forget: “Peace be with you.” God’s shalom be with all of us. God’s vision of peace at every level— total absence of hostility.  God’s harmony filling the whole creation. Everyone has enough to eat, clothes to wear, a place to live, good work to do, medical care, the basic things needed for life. God’s shalom. We are all one. The creation is one. All is moving toward wholeness and fullness of life. The followers of Jesus all know of God’s vision of shalom. They have read about it in Isaiah and  the other prophets.

But now Jesus does something else. He breathes the Holy Spirit into them. He is giving them the ability to forgive sins, to exercise the ministry of reconciliation. After this,  the risen Lord begins appearing to people so that they can see that he is alive.  He appears to Thomas, to the two disciples walking to Emmaus, to Peter and the others on the beach where they share a meal of bread and fish, and to others. And he tells them to stay together and pray.

That is what they have been doing when we meet them again in our first reading today. They have been gathered at the house in Jerusalem praying and preparing for the coming of the Spirit. Devout Jews from all over the known world are also in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost, fifty days after the Passover. This is a harvest festival something like our Thanksgiving.

A violent wind hits the house, the ruach, the wind that molds and shapes the desert sands, the wind of the Spirit. And flames dance over the apostles’ heads. Then they begin to speak in all the languages of the known world, and the writer of Acts takes the time to mention all these many countries. These simple Galileans, who have never taken a course in foreign languages, are somehow able to speak all of these languages so that all of these worldwide visitors can understand them.

Some people think the apostles are drunk, but Peter reassures them that this is not the case. The vision of the prophet Joel is happening. God is pouring out God’s Spirit on everyone. All people, old and young, will dream dreams and have visions of God’s shalom, God’s kingdom of peace and harmony.

Our epistle for today, from chapter 12 of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, is the latest of our readings in chronological time. Scholars tell us that Paul wrote this inspiring passage in 53 or 54 A.D., approximately twenty years after the resurrection of our Lord. Chapter 12 of this letter is one of the most important and essential statements of the theology of the Body of Christ. Paul says, “There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.” We each do different ministries, but God activates all of these ministries. Paul mentions some of the gifts, “the utterance of wisdom”, “the utterance of knowledge,” “faith,” “gifts of healing,” and we could add, playing the organ, paying the bills, keeping the building in shape, mowing the lawn, shoveling snow, helping young people, visiting elders, caring for animals, helping people recover from addiction, working for sustainability and accessibility, mentoring, gardening, and on and on the list goes. All of these are gifts of the Spirit.

No gift is superior to another. No person is superior to another. We are all one in Christ. As St. Paul says, “We are all baptized into one Body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free.” In other words, the Body of Christ is inclusive. People of all races and nations, male and female, gay and straight, tall and short, old and young, “and in-between”, as Al Smith used to say, people of all colors, all classes, all levels of education, all kinds of jobs, from CEOs to janitors, we are all included. We are one, as Jesus and the Father are one.

Like the apostles, so many years ago at that first Pentecost, we are called to spread the Good News of God’s love and healing and forgiveness. To carry out that mission, we receive the gifts of the Spirit just as they did.

Following in the footsteps of those first faithful followers of Jesus so many centuries ago, may we, here in the Vermont branch of the Jesus Movement, go forth in the power of the Spirit, and may we share God’s love, healing, and forgiveness with everyone we meet. Amen.

Epiphany 2A RCL January 15, 2017

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

Our first reading comes from the prophet known as the Second Isaiah. Like Jeremiah, he had a sense that he was called by God from the time he was in the womb. We also were called by God to be God’s own beloved from the time we were in our mother’s womb.

God tells Isaiah that God is going to bring the people home from their exile in Babylon. This is wonderful news of great hope. But then God adds something that is almost mind-shattering: God is calling not only Isaiah but all of God’s people to be “a light to the nations, so that [God’s] salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” This includes us as people of God. We are called to be a light to the world, sharing the gifts of faith, hope, and love with all the people we meet.

As we turn to our epistle for today, I think of Herbert O’Driscoll, who points out that, if St. Paul has to give both bad news and good news, he always begins with the good news. The church in Corinth has some dire problems. Some people think that they know more than other people and they are trying to force others to think the way they do instead of engaging in respectful dialogue. Some people think the gifts God has given them, particularly the gift of speaking in tongues, are superior gifts and people who have that gift should be able to lord it over others. Some other teachers have come in and told the people that Paul is an inferior teacher who does not know what he is talking about, and people should follow these new teachers. One of these is named Apollos.

Paul is going to have to help the people deal with these issues, which are tearing their community apart, and he will deal with them by writing a letter full of some of the most important theology in the Christian tradition, teachings that are as fresh and essential today as they were back then in the first century. But first, he centers his letter where it should be centered—in Christ and in all the gifts our Lord has given the church in Corinth. Throughout the entire letter, he will emphasize that what is important is our Lord, his presence among us and the gifts he gives us. First Corinthians is a wonderful letter full of wisdom. We will be reading selections from this letter for the next several weeks.

In our gospel, John the Baptist sees Jesus coming toward him and he describes our Lord as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. From this passage comes our solemn chant, Agnus Dei. John is absolutely sure that Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior. The next day, John again calls Jesus the Lamb of God, and two of John’s disciples follow Jesus. If John, their teacher whom they love and trust, is saying that this is the Savior, they want to be close to him. They want to see what he is about. They want to learn from him. I think they had hoped to follow him quietly and stay near him and learn something.

But Jesus turns around and sees them. He is so matter-of-fact. “What are you looking for?” he asks them. They answer with great respect: “Rabbi, where are you staying?” This may sound like a strange question and maybe they are a bit flustered and it’s the first thing they can think of to blurt out, but the fact is that they want to follow him. Their own teacher, John, has pointed out that this is the Savior. Why wouldn’t they want to follow him? Jesus says, “Come and see.”

Come and see. What an invitation. Just come and hang out and see what’s happening. So they go with Jesus and the disciples and stay the whole day. It gets to be about four in the afternoon, and we find out who one of these two men is. It’s Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.

Now, Andrew does something that is tremendously important: he goes to his brother Simon and tells him, “We have found the Messiah.” A simple, down to earth statement. Then Andrew brings Simon to Jesus. Andrew, this quiet brother, brings Simon to Jesus. And Jesus names him Cephas, which means Peter.

We all know that Jesus later chose Peter to be the leader of the apostles. But what if his brother Andrew had not realized that Jesus was the Savior? What if Andrew had not gone to tell Peter about Jesus?

Andrew is a quiet person, but he pays careful attention to everything.

Later, when Jesus is being followed by a huge crowd and it is late and the people are hungry, Jesus asks the disciples if anyone has any food. It is Andrew who has made a connection with a little boy who has five loaves and two fish. Andrew is quiet and aware, and he connects people with each other so that good things can happen.

Peter is more demonstrative—he jumps into the water when he sees Jesus coming across the lake and begins to sink; he denies Jesus three times but then accepts Jesus’ forgiveness and renews his commitment on the shores of the lake after Jesus is risen; Peter is fiery and emotional, but he is also the rock on which Jesus builds his church. Here we have the story of how his quiet brother Andrew helps Peter to connect with our Lord, the Light of the world.

And that is what we are called to do—to listen and be aware, and live our faith, and help people to connect with Jesus because they see a glimpse of his life and love in us. Thank God for the connectors in this world, people like Andrew who bring people together, who find a little boy who is willing to share his lunch so that a crowd can be fed; people like Andrew who bring people to Christ. May we follow his example.  Amen.


Epiphany 4C RCL January 31, 2016

Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-6
I Corinthians 13: 1-13
Luke 4:21-30

Our first reading today is from the Book of Jeremiah. God called Jeremiah to be a prophet when Jeremiah was only about eighteen years old. Jeremiah did not want to be a prophet. He was probably well aware that the life and ministry of a prophet is not easy or happy and it can sometimes be downright dangerous.

Have you ever been called to do something you just didn’t want to do? Have you ever felt that God was asking you to do something that was just beyond you? I think most of us have. I know I have felt that way at times.

But then, as we are telling God about all the reasons why we just can’t do whatever it is, God tells us that God has known us and loved us since before we were born and God is going to give us the gifts we need to do this challenging thing. And, though we may be reluctant, or even scared, we say Yes to God. The Bible and the lives of the saints are full of the stories of people who felt they were not good enough or strong enough or eloquent enough or wise enough, but who said yes because God promised to go with them and help them every step of the way.

Our epistle for today is First Corinthians, Chapter 13, verses one through thirteen. Paul is speaking to those people in the congregation in Corinth who thought they knew everything and thought they had gifts that were greater than the gifts of others, especially the gift of speaking in tongues, and he is saying that, if we do not have love, we have nothing. I wonder how some of those arrogant people felt when they heard this letter. I wonder if Paul got through to them. He certainly expressed it clearly. “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful. It bears all things, believes all things. hopes all things, endures all things.”

What Paul is describing is the form of love called in Greek agape. This is the kind of unconditional love which God gives to us. It is the kind of love we aim for and will never reach. But it is a wonderful goal for our lives. It is an excellent model, and I know that all of us try to follow that model.

There are some situations in which this model is not to be followed. These are cases of extreme danger and we have to follow different models. One of those is war and the other is situations of abuse or domestic violence. In situations of abuse, for example, we are not called to endure all things. We are called to protect ourselves, to escape, and to save our lives.

Our gospel continues from last Sunday when Jesus read the words of Isaiah which describe his and our ministry to free people from anything that imprisons them. After he finishes reading, Jesus says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” The people speak well of him.

Herbert O’Driscoll speculates that Jesus may have heard some adverse comments in the streets of Nazareth. O Driscoll writes, “Have people already said things to him on this visit home that we have not overheard? It sounds as if he has been hurt to some extent and feels resentful.” (O’Driscoll, The Word Among Us Year C Volume 1, p. 93.)

Jesus points out,” No prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town.” And then he gives examples of two times when God called prophets to minister to people outside the faith community. Elijah was sent to help the widow of Zarephath, who was a Gentile, and Elisha was called to heal Naaman, who was also a Gentile.

Jesus is making it clear that God’s love is for all people, and this makes the people listening to him so angry that they try to throw him over a cliff.

God loves everyone, and some of the people in Jesus’ hometown did not take kindly to that idea. Some time ago, theologian J. B. Phillips wrote a book called Your God Is Too Small. Some folks got quite upset at that title, but it helps us to realize that we humans tend to try to limit God.

O’Driscoll comments, “Today, this passage warns against our having a limited vision of God. Our Lord pledges his utter commitment to the work of liberating human lives.”

Perhaps the most powerful example of someone who started out with a limited idea of God and had his life transformed by our Lord is Saint Paul. This past Monday, we celebrated the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. Saul, a Pharisee and a Roman citizen, thought he was serving God by persecuting followers of Jesus. On once occasion, Saul watched an angry crowd stone a man to death. This man was a faithful deacon  named Stephen, and he became the first Christian martyr.

Paul was on his way to Damascus to continue his mission of persecution when a blinding light shone all-around him and Jesus asked him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

Saul did a complete one-eighty and followed Jesus with faith and courage until he died as a martyr in Rome in 64 A.D. We can understand how close he was to our Lord by reading and meditating on the passage in our epistle for today. He was beaten, thrown in prison numerous times, suffered shipwrecks. You name it; he went through it. Yet Paul is the one who wrote, “It is not I who lives but Christ who lives in me.”

What are these readings telling us? It is not always easy to answer God’s call. It is not always easy to follow Jesus. But our Lord is always right here with us, leading and guiding us. St. Paul gives us a description of agape. Jesus brings that description to life. God’s love is limitless. It includes everyone. May we accept God’s love for us. Amen.

Advent 1B November 30, 2014

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

 This Sunday, we begin the season of Advent. This is the New Year of the church. We change from lectionary A to lectionary B. We change from the green vestments of the season after Pentecost to purple to denote the coming of our King and also a time of penitential preparation. We begin lighting the candles on the Advent wreath and opening the doors on our Advent calendars to count the days. Advent means coming,and we are looking forward to the coming of our Lord to complete the creation. We are also looking back to his first coming among us as a baby, 

When Jesus was here with us on earth, he began to build his kingdom. But that kingdom is not complete. The world is not a place of peace harmony, and wholeness. As our Presiding Bishop, Katherine Jeffers Schori writes, Shalom is a vision of the city of God on earth, a community where people are at peace with each other because each one has enough to eat, adequate shelter, medical care, and meaningful work. Shalom is a city where justice is the rule of the day, where prejudice has vanished,where the diverse gifts with which we have been so abundantly blessed are equally valued.(A Wing and a Prayer, p. 33.) 

The prophet Isaiah was one of the people who described Gods vision of shalom. Our reading from the Book of Isaiah dates back to the time of the Exile in Babylon, the time after the temple in Jerusalem was reduced to a pile of rubble, the time before the temple was finally rebuilt. Herbert ODriscoll imagines that the prophet has returned from Babylon and is gazing on the rubble that was once the great temple, the center of worship.

Isaiah asks God to tear open the heavens and come downto be with the people. He looks back to the time when God was close to the people and led them out of slavery into freedom. But the people have not called upon God. They have gone about their own ways. Isaiah confesses the sins of the people and asks God to grant mercy. He gives us that powerful image: God is the potter and we are the clay. We need to ask Gods help often so that we can grow into the persons God calls us to be.

For Isaiah and the rest of Gods people, life had been reduced to a pile of rubble. They felt that they had strayed far away from God, and they believed that this had something to do with the fact that they had been conquered by the Babylonian Empire. I think we all understand those points in life when we have tried our best and worked hard and everything falls apart. Everything is in ruins. Thats where Isaiah and the people were. Especially at times like this, we realize that we cant do it alone. We need Gods help.

In our epistle this morning, Paul is writing to the congregation in Corinth. He starts out with his typical greeting. Grace be to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind.

This is a positive thing. But there is an undercurrent. We know that the congregation in Corinth has been blessed with many gifts, but they also have been arguing about which gifts are the greatest. Paul is going to address this in the letter. Also, some of the older members of the community have been telling the newer members that they arent quite as good because they are still new at the faith. I would say that they are bullying the newer members. Paul is building the foundation for telling them us that we need to thank God for all the gifts we receive and we need to value all gifts and all people equally. That is the direction in which we need to be moving in order to prepare for Jesuscoming again.

In our Gospel, Jesus is once again telling us not to spend any time trying to predict when he will come again. He tells us to put our energy into being ready to welcome him with joy when he comes to bring in his kingdom. 

Well, how do we get ready? First, we can take time to be as close to God as possible. Time for prayer. Time for quiet. Time to examine our lives, to take stock. We make wills or update wills. We straighten out our finances and get our lives in shape to be ready when he appears.

As we look ahead to the coming of our Lord, we recall his first advent, when he came among among us as one of us, as a little baby.

In his anguish, Isaiah was asking God to tear the heavens and come and help us, but that was five hundred years before the birth of our Lord. God has already come to be with us, and this sheer, loving fact gives us a way to think about preparing for him this Advent. Through prayer, through taking time to think about how much God must love us, that God would come to be with us, we make room in our hearts and lives for Jesus to be born anew in us. As so many of the mystics have said, we must allow and invite Jesus to be born in our lives over and over again. We must make room in the inns of our hearts so that Jesus can come into our lives and share his love and healing and transform us so that we can transform the world.

God did not tear the heavens to come to be with us. God came to be with us as one of us. If we look back on the life and ministry of Jesus and we model our lives after that life, we will grow more and more like him, and his shalom will be even closer to its completion.

Dear Lord, thank you for your love. Thank you for coming to be one of us. Help us to make room for you in our lives. Help us to become more and more like you, so that, together, we may build you shalom.


Epiphany 7A RCL February 23, 2014

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
Psalm 119:33-40
1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23
Matthew 5: 38-48

Our opening reading today is from the Book of Leviticus, a book of laws which, together with the Book of Deuteronomy, provides guidelines for how to live together in community. We are called to be holy. Holiness has to do with the way we lead our lives. Here in this reading,  we have some very clear values which we can use to shape our behavior.

When we are harvesting, we are to leave some of the crop for the poor and the alien. God’s law always carries a concern for those who are vulnerable. If some of the crop is left, they will have something to eat.

We are not to steal. We are to be honest. We are to treat the disabled with respect.  We are called to deal justly with others. We do not slander people. We are not to hate our neighbor, If we have a problem with someone, we are called to go and try to resolve the issue with our neighbor, not to let hatred fester until it boils up into something much worse.  In sum, we are called to love our neighbor. These are amazing thoughts when we realize that they date back thousands of years.

If we were to summarize these laws, we could say that they call us to have concern for the vulnerable, to be honest and fair, to respect others, to seek reconciliation and understanding, and to love our neighbors as God loves us.  These laws, written thousands of years ago, are good advice for us today.

In our epistle for today, Paul is switching his metaphors. Last week he was describing himself as a gardener or a farmer. Paul planted, Apollos watered, and God gave the growth. Now he is describing himself as a master builder. But the foundation must always be our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul wisely counsels us not to boast about human leaders, whether Peter or Paul or Apollos.  We are all one in Christ, and we all belong to Christ.

We can only imagine what might have happened if the people in Corinth who thought they were so wise had gotten on their knees and asked God for guidance. If they had listened, God would have led them to enter into a process of reconciliation with their brothers and sisters and to treat them with respect.

In today’s gospel, we are continuing with the Beatitudes.

Our reading begins with Jesus saying, “You have heard it said, ‘an eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth,” Jesus is referring to what is called the law of “retaliation in kind” as described in the books of Exodus, Deuteronomy, and Leviticus, which were written hundreds of years before Jesus was born.  Until these laws were written, if someone took out your eye, you would gather a group of people and go and kill the person and perhaps members of his family.  The law of an eye for an eye was designed to reduce the amount of violence.  So, if someone took out your eye, you could not simply go over and kill him. You could go to the judge and he would give a sentence allowing equal retribution.

Jesus’ call to love our enemies goes far beyond the law of retaliation in kind and far beyond out usual concepts of justice.  One note of caution: we need to keep in mind that this passage of scripture is not intended to deal with situations of abuse as we know them today. Jesus would never tell a battered woman to turn the other cheek. This passage does not apply to any situation of abuse. In those situations, our priority is to get the victim to a safe place and to make sure the perpetrator can no longer do harm to anyone.

Jesus calls us to be perfect.  But we need to define the word accurately. The Greek is teleios. Bishop Fred Borsch says, that teleios means “to come to the goal or purpose, that is, to become what one was created for, to reach full growth, potential, maturity. It is incredibly difficult to love our enemies, but this is what God made us to do. Bishop Borsch reminds us that Archbishop Desmond Tutu told white South African leader P. W. Botha that they are brothers and members of the same human family.  To be able to think and act in that way when one has been subjected to something like apartheid—that is what God is calling us to do.

Borsch writes, “Jesus tells of a different will of God and so a different way of life for those who would be children of this God and reflect their parent’s character.” (Proclamation 4, p. 52.)

The values reflected in our readings today are embodied in the promises we make in our baptismal vows. “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” This is what we were made for. This is what Christ’s kingdom is all about.  So these are the values of kingdom communities, of shalom communities. These are ways of living together which open the way to God’s shalom.

With God’s help, we try to live these promises. When we fail, we ask forgiveness and begin again. Why do we do this? Because this blueprint for life, these Beatitudes, are the only thing that makes sense to us. The new life in Christ means that we are becoming one with him and that we are called to become more and more like him. And slowly, slowly, it is happening.  We are being transformed.

We gather, we pray together, we study the word together, we share Eucharist, we are fed by him, our faith is nurtured. and we are becoming one with him and with each other.

That’s the kind of community Paul is talking about. Thanks be to God, we are being given the gift of that community.  We are becoming what we were created for, not through any effort of our own, but by God’s grace.  Amen.

Epiphany 6 February 16, 2014

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Psalm 119:1-8
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Matthew 5:21-37

In our first reading, Moses has led God’s people to the border of the promised land. He is not going to be able to go with them. The year is around 1200 B. C.,  over three thousand years ago. The people have been journeying through the wilderness for forty years, and now they are about to enter this new phase of their life together. This is the end of a long speech by Moses. He is trying to get across to the people everything that they will need to know in order to lead their lives, as individuals and as a community, in the way God wants them to live.

Moses says a dramatic thing. He says, “I have set before you today, life and prosperity, death and adversity, Choose life, that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God….” In the preceding chapters, Moses has outlined the framework within which God’s people are called to live. Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann lists the main  values involved in loving God and our neighbors, values which have been discussed in Moses’ speech to the people: “sharing feasts with the hungry (Deut. 14:27-29; canceling debts that the poor cannot pay (15:1-11); organizing government to guard against excessive wealth ((17:14-20); sharing hospitality with runaway slaves (23:156-16); not charging interest in loans in the covenant community (23:19-20);  paying hired hands promptly what they earn (24:14-15); leaving the residue of harvest for the disadvantaged (24:19-22); and limiting punishment in order to protect human dignity (25:1-3).” I list these because they make clear that Moses and God are clearly spelling out how we are called to behave when we set out to love God and our neighbor.

When God promises life and prosperity to those who love God and neighbor, God is not talking about material prosperity and the accumulation of wealth, power, and possessions. God is talking about the spiritual prosperity of a community life based on compassion and concern for others and rooted in our awareness and experience of God’s love for us.

In our epistle, we continue with a reading of Paul’s letter to the strife-torn congregation in Corinth.  As we recall, some of the members of the community are extremely arrogant, saying that they have special knowledge that no one else has.  Paul speaks to them as a nursing mother, telling them that he fed them with milk because they were not mature enough for solid food. This must have been a shock to them. I think he said this in order to puncture the balloon of their arrogance.

Various factions are saying that they belong to Paul or to Apollos. But Paul weaves all of this divisiveness into a beautiful tapestry of faith and wisdom when he offers a metaphor of growth. Paul planted the seed, Apollos watered it, and God gave the growth. We all have a common purpose, Paul says, but it is God who gives the growth.

In our gospel, Jesus is continuing the Beatitudes. He is calling us to follow the spirit of the law rather than the letter. It’s safe to say that none of us has murdered anyone literally. But have we spoken harshly or sarcastically? Have we gotten to the end of our rope and said things we wish we could take back? Have we looked on others with contempt or called someone a fool? These are not literal murder, but we all know the damage that words can do. That old saw, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” is simply not true.

Jesus calls us to be reconcilers. If we have a problem with someone, we need to go and try to work it out with them.

Then Jesus tackles the issue of adultery. But, once again, he goes to the spirit of the thing. If we look on other people as objects for our gratification, that is as bad as committing adultery. We are called to be completely and utterly faithful to our marriage commitments. We are called to treat each other with profound respect and caring.

We need to take Jesus’ words on divorce within the context of his culture. In Jesus’ time, a man could divorce his wife for a trivial reason, for example,  if he did not like her cooking. He could write up a certificate of divorce and she would be out in the street. Women and children in Jesus’ time were considered as property, possessions,  like a chair. The technical word for this is chattel. Women and children were things. So, if a man divorced a woman, and she was left alone to fend for herself, she had no means of support and no social status. She would have to go back to her family in disgrace and try to live under the protection of a male relative. If she could not do that, she would often have to resort to prostitution, a profession which is totally dependent on the objectification of persons.

Jesus says here that the only justification for divorce is adultery, but he is speaking here to men who commonly would divorce their wives for trivial reasons.  In Jesus’ culture, there was no awareness of such a thing as domestic violence or emotionally abusive behavior.  Abuse tears the fabric of a relationship. It destroys marriages.

Jesus is calling us to a higher level of commitment and behavior. He is calling us to the highest levels of compassion. He says that if our right eye causes us to sin, we should tear it out. This is one of those comments that we need to take in a spiritual sense. Jesus is not advising us to perform self-mutilation. But he is saying that, if there is something that gets in the way of our being compassionate, we need to deal with it. We need to ask God’s help and probably get professional help to work our way over it or through it so that it does not get in the way of our  spiritual growth.  We have to do whatever it takes to live lives of compassion, to love God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

In all of our readings for today, we are being called to high standards of thought and behavior.  The Beatitudes are a blueprint for personal and cultural transformation. It’s hard work!

And it is a journey filled with joy and meaning.  Thank God that we are not alone on this journey. We have our loving God, and we have each other and the entire Communion of Saints.  May God lead us and guide us.  Amen.

Epiphany 3 RCL January 26, 2014

Annual Meeting

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

What inspiring reading we have for this Sunday of Annual Meeting.

Our opening lesson from Isaiah is one of the readings appointed for Christmas. Scholars tell us that this passage is announcing the birth of a king from David’s line and that it may refer to King Hezekiah of Judah. For us as Christians, it refers to our Lord Jesus Christ. He brings us out of darkness into light. He frees us from all that oppresses us. What a wonderful reading this is for the week in which we have celebrated Martin Luther King’s legacy.

In our epistle, Paul is addressing the serious problems of division in the congregation in Corinth. This is a community which Paul had founded and shepherded for eighteen months. Now they are dividing into factions and being mean to each other. We can tell how anguished Paul is over these behaviors.  We can hear it in his voice as he asks,  “Has Christ been divided?  Was Paul crucified for you?” Paul calls us to be one in Christ and to be loving and respectful toward each other and to all who come to be with us.

In our gospel, Jesus hears that John the Baptist has been arrested. This is not good. Now John is in the awful prison of Herod Antipas, a ruthless ruler who will stop at nothing. Jesus has been in the south near Jerusalem, dangerous territory. He moves from Nazareth to Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee., the “land of Zebulon, land of Naphtali” mentioned in our first lesson.

Jesus is now going to move forward with his ministry. He is going to form a community. We can imagine him getting to know these strong, sturdy, hardworking fishermen. He calls people to repent, to turn to God and let God transform their lives. And he calls Peter and Andrew, James and John. He tells them and us, “I will make you fish for people.”

Capernaum was much like Sheldon. It was a small town where people worked hard. Jesus chose these people to form the core of his community.

Today, as we gather for our Annual Meeting, we can celebrate many gifts that we have received. Jesus is the light of our lives. We are no longer stumbling around in the darkness. He leads us and guides us. All we have to do is ask for his direction.

We are not divided into factions who follow Apollos or Paul or Cephas. We are all one in Christ. We are a community built on mutual love and respect. These are precious gifts which our Lord has given us.

This morning, Jesus is calling each of us and all of us together to follow him. He is calling us to spread the good news of his love and healing. Just as he called Peter and Andrew, just as he called James and John, so he is calling us to live as a community which shows forth his vision of transformation for the world.

May we answer his call. May we be one in him.  Amen.