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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion June 4, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.comTime:  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 3B December 13, 2020

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Psalm 126
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8,19-28

In our opening reading this morning, God’s people have returned home from exile in Babylon. As Herbert O’Driscoll points out, this is the passage that our Lord reads in the synagogue in Nazareth as he begins his ministry.

What a powerful message this is for us as we deal with this pandemic. God is calling us “to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.”

God will be leading the people as they rebuild the temple and the city, but God is also calling for a reordering of the society. Walter Brueggemann says that the workers who will be rebuilding the ruins “are the oppressed, the broken-hearted, the captives, the prisoners, those who mourn.” Brueggemann says that these people “have been defeated, marginalized, and rendered powerless, either by the economic pressures within the community or by the economic policies of foreign powers.” He says that these workers “are the ones who have ended up in bondage… because they have debts they cannot pay. The pressures of economic paralysis have led to hopelessness, powerlessness, and finally despair.” Brueggemann continues, “For all time to come these will be the blessed of God.” (Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching, pp. 22-23.)

We cannot help but notice the striking parallels between these workers 25 centuries ago and our  workers, who are unemployed through no fault of their own. Their unemployment benefits are running out. Protections against foreclosure and eviction are also expiring, and millions of people could become homeless. In the midst of this suffering, God is calling us to take care of each other and to build a just society.

This passage has deep meaning for all of us, We are all feeling brokenhearted. We are all feeling like prisoners. God will give us “the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.” It is no accident that Jesus read this passage when he went to the synagogue in Nazareth.This text is calling us to help our Lord build his shalom.

Our reading today from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is full of gems for our spiritual lives. “Rejoice always,” Paul advises us. How can he say that when we’re in the middle of a pandemic? Here we must keep in mind that Paul’s life was not easy. He was in prison several times. He endured shipwrecks, beatings, personal attacks, and all kinds of opposition and adversity. Yet in the midst of everything, Paul was able to rejoice, and he encourages us to do the same. Underneath everything, upholding everything, is the joy of knowing Jesus our Savior.

“Pray without ceasing.”Over the centuries, people have tried to do this. We have the Jesus prayer that is sometimes said as we breathe. Breathe in—“Lord Jesus, Son of God.” Breathe out, “Have mercy on me, a sinner.” Or, breathe in, “Jesus,” breathe out, “Mercy.” We breathe in the healing and forgiving presence of our Lord and we exhale our sins while remembering his mercy. So that eventually with every breath we are thinking of our Lord and his love.

“Give thanks in all circumstances.” We could say, “Saint Paul, you are really asking a lot of us right now. Thousands of people are sick and dying; there are long lines at food shelves all over the country. Things are very bad. This is terrible.” And that is true. And—we can always find things to be thankful for. We can thank God for helping our doctors and nurses and truck drivers and grocery store workers and teachers and school staff and all the essential and medical workers who are valiantly doing their jobs. We can thank the researchers and others who are working on discovering vaccines, and we can give special thanks that the process of distributing a vaccine has begun and that, in Great Britain and other places, people have already received a vaccine. We can thank everyone who practices the safety guidelines our medical experts are giving us. I thank each and every one of you for your faith and your service to others during  this time. And for your strength of spirit and your sense of humor and your spiritual balance. Yes, we can “rejoice always,” “pray without ceasing,” and “give thanks in all circumstances.”

In today’s gospel, once again, we meet John the Baptist. He quotes Isaiah, saying he is “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘make straight the way of the Lord.’” John the Baptist “was not the light but that he came to testify to the light.” Although huge crowds came out to see him and followed him, he knew that he was not the Savior.

John the Evangelist says that John the Baptist “came to testify to the light.” If we think about Isaiah’s time, a time of great economic injustice and suffering when God was calling the people to rebuild the temple and their lives and their society; or if we think about the time of John the Baptist when the people of God were oppressed by the Roman Empire, those were very difficult times. And this time of Covid is also a time filled with suffering. People are dying alone without their families. Doctors and nurses are becoming more and more exhausted.

And yet. The light is coming into the world. The darkness has not overcome that light. At the Easter Vigil, we carry the paschal candle into the dark church and we process down the aisle to the altar, chanting “The light of Christ,” and the people answer, “Thanks be to God.” New life is coming into the world. The shalom of God is growing, like the shoot that sprouts from the stump of Jesse. Thanks be to God for that light. That hope. That love which sustains all of us. Let us kindle that hope and cherish it. Let us continue to walk the Way of Love. Amen.

Pentecost 24 Proper 28A November 15, 2020

Judges 4:1-7
Psalm 123
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Matthew 25:14-30

On our opening reading today, from the book of Judges, God’s people have been oppressed for twenty years by King Jabin. The strength of his oppression is emphasized by the fact that he has nine hundred  iron chariots.

The judges described in this book were not only people who helped citizens resolve conflicts, but also military leaders and charismatic spiritual leaders and sometimes prophets. In our passage this morning, we meet Deborah, the only woman judge in the history of God’s people. Deborah is a highly respected and wise person, People come from long distances to consult her because of her wisdom.

In our passage this morning. God tells Deborah to let Barak know that God wants Barak to fight the dreaded Jabin.  Actually, Barak will be waging war against Sisera, Jabin’s military leader. In the part that is omitted from our lectionary, Barak says he will not lead the troops into battle unless Deborah goes with him. Barak is an excellent general and Deborah is known as an expert military tactician. With the help of another courageous woman, Jael, they defeat Sisera.

Scholars tell us that the Book of Judges describes events dating back to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries before the birth of our Lord. It is encouraging to think that God’s people had a woman such as Deborah as a spiritual, legal, and military leader thirty-four hundred years ago. All these centuries later, we have elected our first woman Vice-President.

In our reading from Thessalonians, we are reminded that we are “children of the light” and we are called to “put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation”

In our gospel, a man goes on a journey and gives five talents fo one servant, two talents to another, and one talent to another. As we know, back in those days, the gold coin known as a talent was worth a huge amount of money. After a long time, the man comes back. The servants who were given the five talents and the two talents have each doubled the money given. If we use our talents well, we receive two things—more responsibility and the joy of our master. But the servant who was afraid buried his talent. His fear paralyzed him.

God is a loving God who gives each of us and all of us gifts to be used. Gifts of music, gifts of listening to others and offering God’s healing, strength and hope; gifts of nurturing and rescuing animals; keeping the books, doing audits, gifts of serving our communities by counting ballots; gifts of working with the historical society, gifts of faith and love shared with many people. So many gifts that you all are exercising every day of your lives.

Because God loves us, we can depend on God. We can step out beyond our bounds of caution. I think of our food shelf. Because people were willing to find money for a building, offer their labor, and work for a vision, others were willing to give money and help in any way they could, and now our food shelf is feeding people who are suffering from the economic shock waves of this pandemic.

We are moving toward Thanksgiving. What a wonderful thing to have a national holiday devoted to thanking God for all our many blessings even in the midst of Covid 19. During this time in November, we make our United Thank Offering. Some of us have these little blue boxes and when we are thankful for something we put a coin in the box and then we offer all those coins. I would suggest that we dump out our coins or do an estimate of the many times we have thanked God in the past year and then write out a check and send it to Lori.  Make it out to Grace Church and put UTO on the memo line. 

Lori will put all the offerings together and send a check to our UTO representative here in Vermont. Our UTO rep will send our UTO offering to the national UTO ingathering. The United Thank Offering offers all kinds of help, from grants for building composting toilets at churches such as  St. Luke’s, Alburgh to assistance  to centers for helping refugee children with homework, senior centers, health centers, a ministry of cutting wood for families in need and a wide array of other ministries.

This is also the time of year when we think about our pledges. God gives us so many gifts and blessings, not because we have earned them or deserve them but because God loves us so much. Out of all those blessings, we return a worthy  portion to God. The Bible says that amount should be a tithe, a tenth of what God gives us. Because many centuries have passed and most of us give to charities, some folks talk about a modern tithe of five percent, meaning five percent to the church and five percent to charities. But the important thing is to give a worthy proportion to God in thanksgiving for all that God gives us.

Our giving includes time, talent, and treasure. If you are giving some of your God-given time and talent at the food shelf, or helping others in other ways, whether they are elderly folks or perhaps young people, either by physically helping or offering financial help, that is part of your offering in gratitude to God. Offering a portion of our time, talent, and treasure out of gratitude to God is an important part of our spiritual lives, and I know that each of you is sharing generously your time, talent, and treasure.

We haven’t been together in church for a very long time, so we can’t put our money in the plate, but please send your UTO, United Thank Offering, to Lori. I will put her address in my email when I send out this sermon. For those who have pledged in the past, please send Lori a note listing the amount you wish to pledge for 2021. This will help us to plan our budget. 

In November on behalf of everyone at Grace, we send out our outreach checks to Rock Point School, Brookhaven Center, The Abenaki Circle of Courage, Martha’s Kitchen, Sheldon Interfaith Food Shelf, Oglala Lakota College, Samaritan House, and Kairos prison ministry. This is a total of $1400 to these ministries on behalf of Grace Church.

God is constantly showering us with all kinds of gifts and filling us with grace. Let us continue to share these gifts with others and to thank our loving God for all these blessings and, most of all for God’s unfailing love. Amen.

Advent 3 Year B December 17, 2017

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Canticle 3
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me….” These are the stirring words of our first reading this morning. Herbert O’Driscoll writes, “Every time I read or hear these words, I have a strange sense of being in the immediate presence of Jesus.” O’Driscoll reminds us that these are the words Jesus read when he was handed the scroll in his home synagogue in Nazareth early in his ministry. As Christians, we feel that these words describe Jesus and his ministry.

Isaiah had returned from exile In Babylon, and God was speaking these inspiring words to the people as they prepared to begin the daunting task of rebuilding everything. God’s people then and God’s people now are called to “bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners.” God assures the people that they will rebuild.

And God tells them and us what God’s values are. “For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing,” And God tells us, “For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.”

In other words, Advent is a time to think about God’s kingdom of peace, harmony, justice, and compassion. And Advent is a time to renew our commitment to help God to bring in hat kingdom, that shalom.

In our reading from Paul’s First letter to the Thessalonians, we receive good counsel: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.”  We have so much to rejoice about, because we are following Jesus into his kingdom.

To pray without ceasing, to pray constantly, is a life’s journey. Not an easy thing to do.  The nineteenth century writer of The Way of a Pilgrim devoted an entire book to this. He had heard this passage and was trying to live this command from Paul.  This is the book that tells us about the Jesus Prayer. As we breathe in, we say or think, “Lord Jesus Christ,” and as we breathe out, we think, or say, “Have mercy upon me, a sinner.” This is a prayer much used in the Eastern Orthodox Church. It can be condensed, On the in breath say or think, “Jesus;” on the out breath, think “Mercy.”

“Give thanks in all circumstances.” This advice is coming from someone who was able to give thanks even when he was in prison, which happened several times in his life. But there is always something to give thanks for. Paul encourages us to “Hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.” And Paul prays that our spirit and soul may be kept blameless until Jesus comes to complete the creation. A powerful reading from a person who had walked the journey of prayer and faithfulness.

In our gospel for today, we hear John’s account of John the Baptist. Last Sunday we heard the account from Mark. But John the Evangelist begins, “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.”

The days are so short and the nights so long, we yearn for the light, And our Light, Jesus Christ, is coming into the world. We will celebrate his presence on Christmas.

As in Mark’s gospel, John makes it very clear that he is not the Messiah. He says, “Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” John knows exactly who he is, He is the forerunner, the one who calls us to “Prepare the way of the Lord.”

Although he has a very large following and people are flowing out of Jerusalem to come out into the wilderness and hear him, none of this goes to his head. He is here to prepare the way, and that is his ministry.

The light is coming into the world. We are moving ever closer to Christmas. Yet we know that he has already come into the world and that his kingdom is growing even now. We are all doing as much we we can to help his shalom grow.

Yes, we are aware of the darkness; we are aware of our sin, and we are asking his help in growing more and more like him as we prepare to celebrate his first coming among us, his loving and healing presence among us, and his second coming to complete the work of creation.

Dear Lord, thank you for your light and love and healing. Give us grace to prepare room for you in our hearts and lives. In Your holy Name, Amen.

Pentecost 24 Proper 28A RCL November 19, 2017

Judges 4:1-7
Psalm 123
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Matthew 25:14-30

In our opening reading, the people of God have fallen into the hands of King Jabin of Canaan. The commander of Jabin’s army is Sisera. The people of God have been living under the harsh rule of King Jabin for twenty years, and Sisera has amassed a huge army. He has nine hundred chariots of iron.

In this reading, we meet one of the great women leaders of God’s people, Deborah, who is a judge and a prophetess. She is highly respected, and people come from miles away to consult her. The other hero of this story is Barak, a great military leader.

In this time of crisis, God calls Deborah to lead the people. Deborah is known to have a gift for military strategy. She has the wisdom to ask Barak to make the first move in this military campaign. With the combination of Deborah’s gift of strategy and Barak’s gift of courage and military leadership, God’s people take the important step to conquer King Jabin.

In our epistle, Paul reminds us that we are children of the light. He calls us to “put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation,” Most of all, he calls us to keep awake. Advent is coming.

In today’s gospel, we hear the beloved parable of the talents. As we know, a talent was a coin that was worth a great deal of money. Thomas Troegher computes that five talents would be worth $156,000.
The person who received those five talents goes out and makes five more. The two talent fellow makes two more. But the poor fellow who got one talent has gone and buried it. And the master is not at all pleased. Caution and prudence are great virtues, but our one talent man carries them a bit too far. He could have at least put the talent in the bank and gained interest.

Matthew’s congregation was being encouraged not to hide their light under a bushel. They were being called to go out and spread the good news even in the face of persecution. We, too, are called to go out and spread the good news every day of our lives, and all of us take that very seriously. Every one of you is out in the world doing God’s work, and I thank God for that and for each of you.

This week we will celebrate Thanksgiving. We are moving toward the time when we make our UTO offering, and I suggest that we bring in that offering next Sunday. This is also the time when we think about our pledges for the coming year.

In that context, I submit that each of us has been given the maximum of five talents. We have been given the gift of God’s love. God loves each of us as the apple of God’s eye. God loves us with a love that cannot be stopped. As Paul says in another epistle, “Nothing can separate us from God’s love.”

We have been given gifts of God’s healing and forgiveness. We have been given gifts of energy and compassion and caring so that we can go out into the world and do good work and care about people and care for our families and make the world a better place. All these gifts are like the talents in the parable, God gives these gifts to us because God loves us.

What is our response? Our response is to return a worthy portion of or time, talent, and treasure to God. All of you devote time to Grace Church. Many of you devote time to the work of the diocese. All of you devote great amounts of time to helping other people, both in your work and in your spare time. In terms of treasure, we make pledges of money that we are returning to God from the treasure God has given us. This includes not only our pledges to the Church but also contributions we make to charities like the United Way, The Red Cross, and so many others.

Someone once said that we Christians know Whom to thank. We know that God gives us everything. We may go out and help people, but it is God who gives us the ability to do that. And so we thank God with all our hearts. That is what stewardship is all about—thanks.

The attitude of gratitude is a powerful thing. We know that all good things come from God, and we thank God by returning a worthy portion. We have so much to be thankful for. It would take us hours to name all of these things. Thank you, dear Lord, for your love, for our families, for our life together, for our country and our freedoms, for those who have fought for these precious rights, for warm homes, food, clothing, health, the ability to help others, and on and on our lists could go.

The United Thank Offering, UTO, is based on the fact that every day we can put a coin into our UTO box to thank God for some gift that God is giving us or has given us. Incidentally, the UTO is the outgrowth and continuation of the Women’s Auxiliary which was such a key part of Grace’s history for so many years. We continue that tradition in our gifts to UTO.

Please think about all these wonderful gifts from God prayerfully and with full gratitude to our loving God. We will do our UTO ingathering this coming Sunday, and we will also have our pledge sheets available so that we can take them and fill them out.

Thanks be to God for all of God’s many gifts to all of us. Amen.