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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:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion April 9, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion April 16, 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:…

Pentecost 3 Proper 5B RCL June 10, 2018

1 Samuel 8:4-11, (12-15), 16-20, (11:14-15)
Psalm 138
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Mark 3:20-35

Last Sunday, we were present as God called Samuel to be the last of the judges, the leaders who mediated between the Israelites when they had a conflict, but were also spiritual leaders and prophets. Ironically, Samuel is now in the position that Eli was in last week. Samuel has grown old; his sons are not able to carry out the work of a judge, and the people want a  king just as all their neighbors have.

Samuel may be old, but he has not lost his wisdom or his integrity. He knows that, in the words of Lord Acton , “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.” Samuel warns the people that their king is going to place their sons in military service; and he will he will take their daughters to serve his court in the palace; and he will take over fields and orchards and give them to his courtiers and will demand tithes of all the produce of the land.

As usual. Samuel consults God about this issue, and God instructs Samuel to listen to the will of the people. In the end, Samuel anoints Saul as king. This is the beginning of a tragic time in the history of God’s people.

As Christians, we are called to understand the right use of power. Here again, we can remember David Brown’s distinction between auctoritas and imperium. Auctoritas, authority, the right use of power, is authorship, creativity, helping the people to be creative and to flourish. Imperium is tyranny, control, the opposite of true authority.

In our epistle, Paul is writing to his beloved congregation in Corinth. People have been accusing Paul of being insincere, and he is struggling to help the Corinthians realize that charge is simply not true. Yet, as Herbert O’Driscoll points out, Paul is becoming discouraged. Paul writes powerfully and eloquently, “Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” We’re all getting older, but God is constantly renewing us. Our “earthly tent,” our mortal body, will perish, but our spirits will dwell forever with God. How anybody could accuse Paul of being insincere about the faith when he could give us such poetic insights about God’s love and the nature of life in Christ is beyond me, but there were folks in Corinth who wanted to take control of the congregation and teach some ideas that were very far from our faith. There again, we have an example of people who were trying to seize power and then misuse that power.

In our gospel for today, we have a complicated and heart wrenching scene. Jesus is surrounded by huge crowds. His truth and his love and healing are magnetic. Word is going around that he has lost his mind. Some people are saying that he is doing all these healings by the power of the devil. It is a very serious and terrible thing when we give credit to the devil for the works that God is doing. It is a serious distortion of reality when we call what is good evil and what is evil good. The scribes, supposedly religious leaders and scholars are doing this. That is a horrendous misuse of power. Jesus vehemently denounces this. Biblical scholar Bruce Metzger writes, “The unforgivable sin is the utter rebellion against God that denies him as the doer of his own acts.” (Note, Matthew 12:31-32, NRSV NT p. 18.) It is difficult to fathom how anyone could watch what Jesus was doing for God’s people and accuse him of being possessed by the ultimate evil forces.

Meanwhile, there is another encounter happening in this gospel. Jesus’ family has come. Even his mother, Mary, has made the long journey. Perhaps they have heard the rumors that Jesus has lost his mind. I think it is more likely that they know the authorities are watching Jesus and trying to entrap him and they are hoping to persuade Jesus to go with them and lie low for awhile. The crowd is so big that they can’t get anywhere near Jesus, but they do get a message to him. “Your mother and your brothers and your sisters are outside asking for you.” And Jesus responds, “Who are my mother and my brothers? He looks around at those near him and says, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Herbert O’Driscoll invites us to think about how Mary must have felt when she heard that. It always reminds me of that time the family headed home and found out Jesus wasn’t with them and went back to the temple in Jerusalem. When they told him how worried they were, he said, “Didn’t you know I have to be about my father’s business?” That must have been a shock to Mary and Joseph.

This time, I think he is trying to say that he is creating a new family. It does not erase the former family, but it includes everyone who does God’s will. It may have hurt Mary and Jesus’ siblings to hear that comment about family.

We do not know the rest of the story, but we do know that Jesus would steal away to the mountains to pray, or take some time and go to the home of Mary and Martha and Lazarus. We can imagine that he found some time to get away and talk with Mary about what God was calling him to do and to reassure her of his love for her and his brothers and sisters. We know that one of his brothers, James, became Bishop of Jerusalem and died for his faith. Obviously, the family of Jesus cared deeply about him. They all showed up to try to help in whatever way they could. Jesus, the personification of love, cared about them as well.

And, of course, we recall that, in John’s gospel, when Jesus was dying on the cross, Mary stood there at the foot of that horrible instrument of torture and John stood beside her, and Jesus made them a family, He said, “Son, here is your mother; Mother, here is your son.” He was asking his beloved disciple John to take care of his mother. That was part of forming that new family. He wasn’t abolishing existing family ties; he was expanding the concept of family to include all of us.

There is so much to think about in these lessons. May we choose leaders who have true authority. May we, with your help, O Lord, accurately discern between good and evil. May we know the power of your love and healing. In your holy Name. Amen

Epiphany 4B RCL January 28, 2018

Deuteronomy 18:15-20
Psalm 111
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Mark 1:21-28

In our first reading, from the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses is giving his farewell address to the people of God. He will not be going with them into the Promised Land. But he is assuring the people that God is going to raise up leaders who will be as faithful as Moses has been.

This is a comforting word at this time in our diocesan life. Bishop Tom will be retiring by September of 2019. Most of us have had an opportunity to know and work with him over the years, and we have grown to love and trust him. He has been a great support for Grace Church, and we will miss him deeply. This reassurance that God will provide a good and faithful leader is a great help as we face this time of transition.

Our psalm today reinforces the theme of God’s faithfulness and presence with us.

In our epistle today, St. Paul is addressing a thorny issue of that time. Corinth was a bustling port city with temples devoted to all kinds of Greek and Roman gods and goddesses. If you went to the market to buy meat, chances were that it had been dedicated to one or another of these gods or goddesses.

The issue of whether to eat meat devoted to an idol is not a burning issue for us today. But Paul’s guidance in how to deal with controversial issues is relevant in all times and places.

Paul says that,  as Christians we know that these Greek and Roman deities are not equal to God. If we eat meat sacrificed to an idol, it means nothing. It is just meat. But, for someone who is new to the faith, it may not be that simple. We can think with our head, “Oh, that meat was sacrificed to an idol, and it does not matter if we eat it.” But, if someone eats that meat and then their conscience bothers them because some part of them believes that eating that meat is somehow wrong, we should not encourage them to eat that meat. Paul is telling the Corinthians and us to be very careful about pushing folks into positions that are not comfortable for them, positions that disturb their conscience. It does not matter if our position is intellectually correct. What matters is our effect on other members of the congregation. So, if we are at a meal and we know that someone in our community would be troubled it we eat that meat sacrificed to an idol, we need to consider that person’s feelings and choose not to eat the meat.

Paul says,”Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” He calls us to avoid doing anything that might make one of our brothers or sisters stumble on their journey with Christ.

In today’s gospel, it is the sabbath, and Jesus teaches in the synagogue in Capernaum. He is magnetic. His person and his words convey the truth of God’s love and faithfulness. He has genuine authority—auctoritas, authority that works on behalf of people, authority that sets people free from things that imprison them.

Now the focus changes to a man in the synagogue who is possessed by a demon. In our terms, the man is seriously ill, possibly with a mental illness or a seizure disorder such as epilepsy. In those days, folks with such illnesses were thought to be possessed by something evil. They were considered unclean and people did not associate with them.

Jesus has no patience with anything that harms people or separates them from others. In a commanding voice, he calls the forces of darkness to leave this man. The revered Biblical scholar Fred Craddock writes of this passage: “Jesus is the strong Son of God who has entered a world in which the forces of evil…are crippling, alienating, distorting and destroying life….But with Jesus comes the word of power to heal, to help, to give life, and to restore. In Mark, a battle is joined between good and evil, truth and falsehood, life and death, God and Satan.” (Craddock, Preaching through the Christian Year, p. 92.

There are many things which cripple, alienate, and distort life today. We have only to think of the epidemic of addiction, particularly of opiate addiction, that is taking lives every day all over our country. The sin of greed, which some have called affluenza, infects people to the point where no amount of money and wealth is enough. The pursuit of power is another destructive force of darkness. People will lie, cheat, and steal to achieve their goals. Violence stalks our streets. All of these are distortions of what human life is meant to be. They destroy individuals and they destroy community. In the face of all these, as Craddock says, “Jesus has the word of power to heal, to help, to give life, and to restore.”

We can see from this gospel passage that Jesus has no patience with anything that is destructive to any of his children. This man was not anyone famous, but Jesus confronted and defeated the evil that threatened him.

God is faithful. God calls us to be faithful. God calls us to use our gift of free will with extreme care and profound love and consideration for our brothers and sisters. God calls us to put the needs of others before our own needs. Our Lord stands clearly and unequivocally against the forces of darkness. He is the light that has come into the world.

Herbert O’Driscoll says that we, who know our Lord as the Compassionate One, may be shocked to see the power with which our Lord vanquishes this demon. He writes, “For me, the value of this passage is the glimpse it gives us of the immense natural authority that was clearly present in Jesus’ words and actions.” (O’Driscoll, The Word Today, Year B, Volume 1, p. 86.)

In our readings today, Moses, St. Paul, and Jesus give us sterling examples of leaders with moral authority. May God give us such leaders in our own time. Amen.

Pentecost 17 Proper 21 A RCL October 1, 2017

Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

In our opening reading for today, the people have no water to drink. They complain to Moses, who brings the problem to God. Immediately, God provides water for the people. This reading reminds us that God provides for our needs. I know that we are all praying that food and water and essential supplies will reach our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico as soon as possible.

Our passage from Paul’s letter to his beloved congregation in Philippi gives us a powerful description of the way to be a Christ-centered community of faith. Paul calls us to “be of the same mind.” In our diocesan Mission Statement, we say that we are called to “pray the prayer of Christ, seek the mind of Christ, and do the deeds of Christ.” We are called to be of one mind, and that mind is the mind of Christ.

This means that we are daily seeking in prayer to know the will of our Lord and to do his will. We are of one mind, his mind, because we are one Body, his body.

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.” What a striking difference from the arrogance and narcissism rampant in our culture. If we defer to each other, if we are not competing with each other, what a difference that makes in a community.

“Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” This would mean that we are not focused on ourselves but on others. We are not trying to climb the ladder of success or make all the money we can. We are thinking of the needs of others.

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in human likeness.” Our Lord came among us as a servant of all. He called us to be servants. Because our Lord poured himself out in love for us, we worship him and we follow him. We try to be like him.

Paul then calls us to “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in [us], enabling [us] both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Paul is calling us to continue our journey with Christ, knowing that we will never be perfect as he is, but nonetheless knowing that the Holy Spirit is at work in us, energizing us to be people of love and compassion, people who reach out to those in need, servant people who care about others.

In today’s gospel, Jesus is in the temple in Jerusalem.  The chief priests and elders, the very people who should be seeing the truth of who Jesus is, come to challenge him, asking him by whose authority he is teaching and ministering. It is such a shame to see tyranny pretending to be true authority, and this reminds us of David Brown’s distinction between authority, auctoritas, authorship, creativity, and imperium, tyranny, control beating down the creativity of the people.

Jesus stumps them with his answer, and they are caught between a rock and a hard place. They try to come up with an answer and they realize they should simply say they do not know.

Then Jesus tells the parable about the two sons. The father asks the first son to go out and work in the vineyard. The son says he won’t do it, but later he changes his mind and goes to work. The second says “Yes, Sir,” but he never goes out into the vineyard.

One thing this parable tells us is that it is our actions that count. We can say all kinds of wonderful and flowery things, but, if our actions are not in harmony with what we say, it’s all just flowery words. If we want to find out where someone truly stands, we have to watch that person’s actions. Do they do what they say they are going to do?

The first son said No, but then that No turned to Yes. He went out into the vineyard and worked. The second son politely said, Yes, Sir,” but his actions were the opposite of his words.

Are we congruent? Do we have integrity? Do our actions match with our words? Do our lives reflect our beliefs? Jesus tells these religious leaders that the tax collectors and prostitutes will be first in his kingdom. They are the ones who are living in harmony with his gospel of compassion and service. As Lisa Ransom says, Jesus is turning the world right side up. The last shall be first and the first last.

Jesus is our model for authority—auctoritas. He has true, authentic authority. He is among us as one who serves. He empowers people. He frees up their creativity. He helps people fly like eagles. He does not hold them down and imprison them.

Last Sunday, Kim Erno talked about Paulo Freire and his Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Paulo Freire says that teaching and learning do not go just one way—from the teacher to the learner. He says that we learn from each other.  That is what Jesus did. He let the oppressed teach him. He learned from a Canaanite woman that his ministry was to all people. He called a tax collector to be one of his apostles.

When our Lord calls us to go out into his vineyard, that is the world, and do his work, I think we are going to say Yes and then we are going to match our actions with that Yes. We are going to go out into his vineyard and work for his kingdom, his shalom. May we follow him wherever he leads. Amen.