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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 18 Proper 21B September 26, 2021

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22
Psalm 124
James 5:13-20
Mark 9:38-50

Our opening reading from the Book of Esther explains the Jewish feast of Purim, which is a joyous celebration of the freeing of God’s people from a holocaust. The next celebration of this festive holiday will be on March 16 and 17, 2022. It is set in the time of King Xerxes of Persia, who reigned from 485 to 404 BCE. In our passage, he is called King Ahasuerus.

Esther is the heroine of this story. Her ancestors were captured by the Babylonian Empire and taken to Babylon, which has now been conquered by the Persian Empire. She lives with her cousin Mordecai, who has adopted her because her parents have died.  Esther and Mordecai are Jewish. Esther has always kept silent about that fact.

Haman, the king’s right hand man, is extremely anti-Semitic. He has cooked up a plot to have all the Jews killed in all parts of the Persian Empire. By an improbable series of events, Esther has become queen. She has invited the king and Haman to a feast at which she will make a request to the king. Mordecai has kept her updated on Haman’s hateful plans, and Esther has quietly steeled herself to be the person of the hour. Although God is never mentioned in the story, it is clear that God has called her, as God called Moses centuries before, to free her people. 

In our passage for today, Esther tells the truth about Haman’s plans and asks the king to save her people. Her request is granted. Esther goes from a quiet young woman hiding her identity to a courageous leader fighting for the lives of her people.

In our gospel for today, John reports that the disciples saw someone healing in Jesus name, and they tried to stop him because he was not one of their group. Herbert O’Driscoll notes that John does not get credit for “diligently protecting the teacher’s territory.” (O’Driscoll, The Word among Us, p. 117.) What Jesus is saying here is so important. He says, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” If people are doing things to help people and care for people, they are doing God’s work.

O’Driscoll notes that Jesus does not thank John for trying to protect his turf. He writes, ”Instead, there is a gracious but firm correction, suggesting a different way to look at this moment. There is a generosity in these words, an openness to cooperation, a readiness to trust before all the evidence is in. It is a statement about opening doors rather than building walls.” (O’Driscoll, p 117.)

When Jesus talks about “little ones,” sometimes he is talking about children, whom he calls us to love and care for, and sometimes he is speaking about his followers who are not powerful or famous or influential but just ordinary people such as we are. He is calling us to help each other and support each other as we move ahead in building his kingdom.

And then, in pointed language, he calls on us to deal with any obstacles in ourselves which get in the way of following him and helping him build his shalom. And then he calls us to be salt that has not lost its saltiness.  He calls unto be people who are full of life and love, willing to serve others and build his kingdom of peace and harmony.

Our reading from the Letter of James calls us to be a loving and supportive community, to pray for healing for those who are sick, to share our challenges, to support each other on our journeys, to care for each other, and to love each other.

One of the main themes in this passage is the power of prayer. It means so much that we pray for each other. James reminds us of the great prophet Elijah, and how powerful his prayers were. And, finally, James reminds us that we can all help to keep each other on the path, so that we are all walking the Way of Love.

Scholars tell us that our psalm today is a song of pilgrimage. People would sing this song on their way to festivals and observances in Jerusalem. Walter Brueggemann writes, “In this psalm, Israel voices its astonishment and gratitude for God’s wondrous deliverance.” (Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching year B, p, 525.)

“Blessed be the Lord! He has not given us over to be a prey for their teeth. We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowler; the snare is broken, and we have escaped. Our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”

“Blessed be the Lord! He has not given us over to be a prey for their teeth. We have escape

Esther and Moses and Elijah save their people. Our lord calls us to be open and inclusive rather than clinging to our turf. James calls us to build a community of love and healing.

Perhaps the greatest message for today is how thankful we can be to our loving God, who has saved us all and has brought us together. May we accept with joy the fullness of God’s grace. May we run the race. Loving God, thank you for all your many blessings. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Lent 5B March 21, 2021

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 51:1-13
Hebrews 5:5-10
John 12:20-33

Our opening reading today comes from the Book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah was one of the great prophets of God. Here is what God said to him, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Scholars tell us that Jeremiah was very young, around eighteen years old, when God called him to be a prophet. Jeremiah told God that he was too young to answer this call.  Here is how Jeremiah tells the story. Then I said, “Ah, Lord God, truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy.’ for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord. Then the Lord put out his hand, and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth.” God calls all of us to our ministries, and God gives each of us the gifts we need to carry out our ministry.

Jeremiah was called at a time when the leaders were corrupt. Jeremiah pronounced God’s judgment on their immoral and unjust behavior, and they responded by persecuting him. Some religious leaders tried to kill him. He was beaten, put into the stocks, and thrown into a cistern. Eventually, the Babylonian Empire conquered Judah and deported the leaders and others to Babylon.

As we know, this was one of the lowest points in the history of God’s people. In the midst of this terrible time, God says about the people, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts….They shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” The law will no longer be words written on tablets long ago. The law will be written on their hearts. God will be close to the people, and the people will be close to God. Each person and all the people will have a close relationship with God. And God will forgive the people.

Think of what these words from God meant to these people over twenty-five hundred years ago as they tried to hang on to faith and hope during the exile. Thanks to the love of God and the encouragement of their spiritual  leaders, they kept the faith, they gathered to pray and study the scriptures, and they strengthened their community during this time of exile and desolation.

In our gospel for today, the people are gathering for the Passover, and Jesus is preparing for the cross. He says something that has so much truth in it that we can meditate on it for our whole lives and still only scratch the surface of its meaning. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain, but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” We can think of ourselves as a little seed, a grain of wheat, self-contained, individual, able to make our own choices, do things our own way. We are sitting on a large rock in a field. Will we jump into the rich loam of God’s love and grace and grow? Or will we remain in our own little world? If we jump into the richness of God’s love and grace, we grow. We love and follow Jesus.

But then our Lord, right in front of us, goes through a dialogue with himself and God. “What shall I say—Father, save me from this hour? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.”

In meditating on this gospel, i found my mind and heart turning to thoughts of Brian Sicknick. Brian was 42 years old.  In a statement posted on the Capitol Police website on January 7, Brian’s family wrote, “There really aren’t enough kind words in any language to describe how sweet Brian was. He was truly a lovely, humble soul. Everyone who met him adored him. We are missing him terribly. He loved his job with the U. S. Capitol Police….He also had an incredible work ethic. He was very serious about showing up to work on time and refused to call out sick unless absolutely necessary.” 

Brian went to work on January 6, faithfully carried out his duties amidst the physical brutality and chaos of the attack, on our Capitol, was sprayed with a powerful chemical substance, became very ill, returned to his division office, collapsed, was taken to the hospital, and died the next evening at 7:30. He was protecting our Capitol. He was doing his job. As you know, a friend of mine has a connection with Brian. She knows someone who is a good friend of the family. From all accounts, Brian walked the Way of love.

There is something about walking the Way of Love. There is something about jumping into the good earth of God’s grace and helping to build God’s shalom of peace and harmony. There is something about surrendering our ego, giving ourselves to something bigger than ourselves, throwing ourselves into the loving arms of God. When we try to save our lives, we lose them. When we lose our lives for Jesus’ sake, we find new meaning in our lives. We enter into eternal life, life in a new dimension.

We are following Jesus. Today and again in the garden we will hear his own struggle about the cross.  He knows everything about what it is to be human. And that is everything to us when we have to face our own cross, whether it is a decision we don’t want to have to make, a child or a grandchild going through something horrible, a sacrifice of something that has been very important but, when we finally let it go, we find ourselves on a path to new life. In all of these things, we can follow him because we know that he understands exactly what is being demanded of us because he has gone through it himself. Every time we face our own cross, he is there with us. And that makes it possible for us to take the right course, to follow him, even though we are sure it will lead to some kind of death. And every time it leads to new and light-filled life. 

We are at a delicate time in our exile, our desert wandering, our fast. There is great hope for freedom, but we have to continue to follow the science and be careful, or we may cause another spike. This may be our most profound challenge yet. Fortunately, blessedly, we are not alone. We are never alone. We have help, the best possible help. Blessed Lord Jesus, thank you for leading and guiding us. Help us to walk the Way of Love with you. In your holy Name,  Amen.

Ash Wednesday February 17, 2021

Isaiah 58:1-12
Psalm 103:8-14
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Ashes are a symbol of mortality. We are dust, and to dust we shall return. It is good to be reminded of our mortality and our weakness. Yet within these ashes is a paradox, because these ashes are made from the palms we waved on Palm Sunday, palms we would have placed on the road in front of our Lord to welcome him as our King. We are on a journey to grow into the likeness of Christ our King. We are on a journey to grow from brokenness to wholeness. This Ash Wednesday we will be putting the ashes on our own foreheads. We will be fasting from the sensation of having the ashes placed on our foreheads by a fellow-journeyer in Christ. Some us do not have ashes to place on our foreheads, but we can still be aware of our mortality by tracing the sign of the cross on our foreheads. All of us are here because we want to observe a holy and life-giving Lent. The word Lent, after all, comes from the Middle English word lente, meaning “spring.”

We are beginning a time of prayer, fasting, self-examination, and spiritual growth. Some of us are also participating in the Social Justice Bible Challenge and Lent Madness.

Our opening reading comes from the person we call the Third Isaiah. God’s people have come home from their exile in Babylon and have begun to rebuild the temple and the city wall. They have become discouraged at the huge task before them. They fast and pray, but they argue and treat each other badly. They oppress their workers. The summary of the law calls us to love God and to treat others as we would have then treat us. Their behavior does not match their profession of faith.

God calls them to an authentic fast that includes social justice. And God calls them and us to “Loose the bonds of injustice,…to let the oppressed go free”…to share our bread with the hungry, to give shelter to the homeless, to clothe the naked—in other words, to extend the love of God to our brothers and sisters of all colors and creeds.

In our epistle, Paul calls us to “be reconciled to God,” In order to do that, we need to take the words of God spoken through Isaiah very seriously. As Christians, we are called to love God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

In our gospel, our Lord reminds us that our spiritual growth is between us and God. We are not focusing on earthly treasure, but on the precious heavenly treasure of God’s love and grace. We are fasting, praying, and giving to deepen our love for God and others.

This year, we have been through so much with Covid and everything else. Bishop Shannon is inviting us to focus on social justice issues, and I think that is a wonderful idea. We need to heal our nation, just as Isaiah’s community needed to heal their nation twenty-five hundred years ago. God is calling us to treat each other as beloved children of our loving God.

During this liturgy for Ash Wednesday, we would normally celebrate Holy Eucharist. We will not be doing that. We have been fasting from Holy Communion for eleven months, except for one Distanced Communion. We have not been together in person inside our church building for a very long time. We have much in common with God’s people who spent several decades in exile in Babylon.

My point is that we have already been engaged in a very long fast from singing together in person, celebrating Holy Communion, talking to each other face to face, hugging each other, gathering for coffee hour and conversation in person. So, as we follow our Lenten discipline, I ask that we try to be especially aware of God’s love for us, God’s love that cannot be stopped or diminished. And then let us be aware our love for God and each other, our love for all our brothers and sisters, and let us work, fast, and pray to increase and deepen that love. Let us work and pray that we may become “repairers of the breach” and “restorers of streets to live in.” Amen.

Meditation and A Prayer of Self-Offering

We have just exchanged the Peace and sung the Offertory Hymn. As we all know, we will not be celebrating Holy Eucharist. This is a huge loss. It has been an extended exile, a wandering in the wilderness. Nothing can replace sharing Holy Eucharist. Nothing can replace greeting and hugging each other at the Peace. But rather than simply reverting to the ending for Morning Prayer to conclude the service, I wanted to acknowledge the fast we have been in and the exile we have been experiencing.

We are not able literally to stand before the altar at Grace and place bread, wine, and money on the altar, to represent our offering of our God-given time, talent and treasure to God, but, at this time of offering when we would normally move into the Eucharistic Prayer, we offer to you, our loving God, our feelings of sadness, frustration, anger, hopelessness, powerlessness, all the feelings that are welling up during this time of exile and pandemic.

Loving and forgiving and healing God, we thank you for keeping us together, for giving us strength to keep gathering virtually. Thank you for your gift of faith, for those glimmers of hope, for the gift of perseverance. Thank you for binding us together with your love.

Lord Jesus, we are not celebrating Communion, but we know that you are here with us, You told us that where two or three are gathered, you would be with us and you would hear our prayers. We cannot literally receive your Body and Blood today, but we know that you are giving us spiritual food and energy. 

We know that you are walking the Way of Love, the Way of the Cross, with us. Thank you for your presence and for your love. Thank you for the gift of your Holy Spirit leading and guiding us. Because of you, we are here. You have called us together.

With all our heart, we thank you, and we offer our selves and our lives to your service. Lead us and guide us, that we may observe a Holy Lent, that we may love and serve you with singleness of heart, and that we may share your love with others. In your Holy Name, the Name of Jesus.  Amen.

Epiphany 5B February 7, 2021

Isaiah 40:21-31
Psalm 147:1-12, 21c
1 Corinthians 9:16-23 
Mark 1:29-39

Scholars tell us that our first reading today dates back to 540 years before the birth of Christ. King Cyrus of Persia has just conquered Babylon, where God’s people have been in exile for several decades. It hasn’t been easy for them. They miss their homeland. They are devastated at the loss of their temple, the center of their worship. But they have persevered. They have continued to pray and study the Scriptures. They have kept their community together.

Thus sounds a bit like us, doesn’t it? We miss our beloved church building. We yearn to be back together. We are tired of fasting from the Holy Eucharist. Yet we are staying together, as much as we can on Zoom. We study the Scriptures together and reflect on how they apply to our lives even though they were written so long ago.

In this particular passage, God’s people are feeling as though God has abandoned them. Why would God let an enemy like the Babylonians conquer them, drag them to a foreign land with alien gods and leave them to fend for themselves?

This passage is God’s answer to these people who are suffering. First, God puts things in perspective. God portrays Godself as the Holy One who sits enthroned on high, looks down at the earth, and sees us humans as the size of  grasshoppers. But even though we look like insects from God’s holy vantage point, God cares deeply about us. God asks the people, “Have you not seen? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not grow faint or weary….He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” 

Have we perhaps wondered whether God is abandoning us? Have we thought that God is just leaving us alone to cope with this pandemic?

Even though it deals with events that occurred twenty-five hundred years ago, this passage is saying to us, “No, God does not abandon God’s people.” As Christians, we know that Jesus is right in the midst of us, leading and guiding us as we cope with this situation.

In our epistle, Paul is giving us a wonderful example. He is saying that, when he ministers to people, he becomes one of them, just as Jesus became one of us. Paul is reminding us that when we minister to folks, we need to walk in their shoes; we need to understand where they are coming from, how they think, what problems they are facing, and how we can help them. That is exactly what our Lord did when he was here with us during his earthly life.

In our gospel, Jesus leaves the synagogue in Capernaum, where he has just healed a man, and goes to the home of Peter and Andrew. Peter’s mother-in-law is in bed with a fever. and of course, they tell Jesus about this. Immediately Jesus goes to help her.

He takes her by the hand. Imagine how it would feel to have Jesus take you by the hand. His healing power is flowing into you. You are filled with love and hope. You feel all of his healing energy focused on you. All that is broken within you is being made whole.

The fever leaves her. And she immediately gets back to her ministry among them. She serves the meal.

And then the word gets out, People from all over bring sick folks to be healed. The text says, “The whole city was gathered around the door.” We can imagine that Jesus continued healing people into the night and then finally lay down to get some rest.

But while it is still dark, he gets up and goes to a deserted place to pray. This is something Jesus always did. He took time away to pray. This is how he stayed close to God, just as we need to do. If we are going to be able to light our lamps, we have to put in the oil. Prayer is the source of our closeness with our Lord. Prayer is how we allow God to nurture our gifts, renew us, and give us guidance.

When they finally find him out in the deserted place, he tells them that they have to go to the neighboring towns so that he can share the good news and heal people. He has spent time with God, and his energy is renewed. He will journey with them throughout Galilee.

What are these readings saying to us today? Many centuries ago, when God’s people were in exile and feeling abandoned, God spoke to God’s people through the prophet Isaiah.  God let them know that God was with them. God had not abandoned them. God was helping them to keep the faith, stay together as a community, and prepare for their life together after the exile. Indeed, they did return to Jerusalem.

As Christians, we have an even stronger message from God about how much God loves us and how close God is to us right now. In Jesus, God came among us to show us how to live. We see Jesus in our gospel today, pouring out his energy to heal people and to show us how to live the Way of Love.

The risen Christ is with us now. He is in our midst, helping us to cope with Zoom and perhaps even be grateful for it; giving us the resilience to hang in there and take care of ourselves and others; giving us the patience to wait for our chance to be immunized; keeping us together; leading and guiding us as our Good Shepherd. May we always remember that. He is with us. Always. He will never abandon us.

Loving God, thank you for being with us. Thank you for leading and guiding us. Give us your grace that we may follow where you lead. In your Holy Name. Amen.

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.

Advent 2 Year B December 6, 2020

Isaiah 40:1-11
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
2 Peter 3:6-15a
Mark 1:1-8

“Comfort, O Comfort my people,” says your God.” In our opening reading, the prophet Isaiah speaks God’s word to God’s people who are still in exile in Babylon. It is important to remember that the word “comfort” comes from the Latin “con” meaning “with” and “fortis” meaning “strength.” Comfort—with strength.

The revered Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann writes of this passage, “In Chapter 40, at long last, when all seemed lost, now speaks the Holy One of Israel. This oracle is the voice of Yahweh, who breaks the silence of exile and by utterance transforms the fortunes of Judah. This speech breaks both the despair of Judah and the power of Babylon; it penetrates the emptiness of exile and fills the world of Judaism with possibilities….”  Brueggemann continues, “We may understand ‘comfort’ as transformative solidarity; that is, not simply an offer of solace, but a powerful intervention that creates new possibilities.” (Brueggemann, Isaiah 40-66, Westminster Bible Companion, p.16.)

As we hear these words read, we naturally bring to mind and heart the powerful and beautiful music of Handel’s Messiah, and this reaches into our minds and hearts and gives us hope in our own Covid-19 exile. God is telling us that, in the midst of exile there is hope. Not only that, there are new possibilities.

Brueggemann speaks of “transformative solidarity.” In the midst of this pandemic, we are being called to transform our world and our societies. We are realizing that this pandemic is hitting people of color and poor people harder than it is impacting people of means and white people. This reminds us of our Lord’s call to feed the hungry and give clothes, shelter, and other necessities to our brothers and sisters. But these differences in levels of suffering are also calling us to build into our planning for the future equal access to health care, more justice in wages and benefits, and other ways of insuring fairness in our nation and our world so that we all bear equally the burdens of challenges like this pandemic. In the midst of all this suffering, God is speaking a message of profound light and hope. “Every valley shall be lifted up and every mountain and hill laid low.” Things are evened out in God’s kingdom. People share.

And then we hear that a voice is crying out in the wilderness, and this takes us to our gospel. John the Baptizer is that figure, that forerunner named by the prophets, among them Isaiah. John calls out, “Prepare the way of the Lord. and make his paths straight.” John calls the people to a baptism of repentance. They confess their sins, and they ask God’s help in transforming their lives, and so do we.

The gospel tells us that John was “clothed with camels hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.” Perhaps, if John the Baptizer were to appear on our Zoom screens, we might be quite shocked at his wardrobe. Very few people, even then, wore clothes of camel’s hair. John was not concerned about clothing or fashion. He had one mission: to prepare people for the appearance of the Messiah.

People thronged to him. He was the Biblical equivalent of a pop star. He didn’t center his ministry in Jerusalem where the people were. He was out in the wilderness and the people came to him. John had a huge number of followers.

John said, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Today, on the Second Sunday of Advent 2020, John the Baptizer is calling us to examine our selves and our lives, confess our sins to God or to a priest by phone or Zoom if we wish, and ask God’s help to get our lives fully on course. In that way, Advent is a kind of briefer Lent. It is a time for self-examination and metanoia, transformation.

John is a wonderful example for us. He is totally focussed, not on himself, but on the One who is to come. He is a shining example of single-mindedness, humility, awareness of who he is, and who God is. Even when he was a baby, John leapt in the womb of his mother Elizabeth when her cousin, Mary, who was pregnant with Jesus, came to visit. Even then, the baby John recognized his Lord, who was also his cousin. Even then John was that aware and that faithful.

And this takes us back to our first lesson from Isaiah. The herald is lifting up his voice to shout good tidings. “See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him…He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.” Here is the might of our Savior, and here also is his tender gentleness.

Here, in the tenth month of our exile, our loving God is giving us a powerful message of hope and transformation. He is calling us to walk the Way of Love in this time. He is calling us to take care of ourselves and each other so that we can walk together through this exile and follow him.

We can do this, with his help. Peter writes, “The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting you to perish…But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.”

Even now, he is building his kingdom, his shalom, and we are helping him by loving him and our neighbors. Now, as the days are getting shorter and the darkness is increasing, we can remember how John the Evangelist in his gospel reminds us that “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” We can let our good shepherd lead us and carry us as we continue to walk the Way of Love. Amen.

Lent 5A March 29, 2020

Ezekiel 37:1-14
Psalm 130
Romans 8:6-11
John 11:1-45

Our first reading is from Ezekiel, a priest who became a prophet to the people of God who were exiled in Babylon. This was a time when God’s people felt increasingly helpless and hopeless.

In the midst of this near-despair, Ezekiel has a vision of a valley of dry bones, bones which have no life left within them. God asks Ezekiel, “Mortal, can these bones live?” Ezekiel knows that only God can answer that question because only God has the power to bring these bones to life. So Ezekiel answers, “O Lord God, you know.”

Muscles grow on the bones; skin covers the muscles; and, finally, God breathes the breath of life into the bones, and the living people stand on their feet. They are a great multitude, and God is going to bring them home. God tells the people, “You shall live, and I shall place you on your own soil.”

We have never had to leave our homes and go to a foreign land and live in exile for fifty  years, but we can at least begin to absorb how these people must have felt when they heard the word of the Lord. They realized that God was very much with them and that, in the midst of this dire situation, there was actually hope.

Though we have never been in exile in Babylon, we are gong through a kind of exile from our normal lives. We are spending as much time as we can in our homes. In a sense, our world is shutting down. Many businesses are closed. Some are working with partial staffing and working from home. Grocery stores have special times for senior citizens to shop. Truckers continue to drive so that we may have groceries and other necessities. I saw a wonderful tribute to them on the Today show.

Our medical workers, our beloved doctors nurses, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, EMTs and other professionals are working day and night, in many cases without adequate equipment. We hope and pray that they may have that equipment as soon as possible. People who cannot go to work will need their unemployment insurance and other help. Businesses which have had to close will need help to stay afloat. We pray that our leaders will work together to take care of those who are in need. Thank God they passed a relief bill which is much needed by workers who have been told to stay home, businesses which have had to close, and hospitals and medical workers, to name a few. May we all do whatever is necessary to take care of each other.

This vision of Ezekiel, this promise from God to a people in exile, speaks to us almost as much as it spoke to God’s people two thousand five hundred years ago. God can bring life out of death. God can and does bring hope out of despair.

Our gospel for today makes this message even stronger. Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, is ill. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are Jesus’ closest friends. Jesus does not rush to Bethany. He waits two days.

When he finally says to his disciples, “Let’s go to Judea again,” they remind him that the authorities are trying to kill him. Thomas finally says, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” This is a signal to us that the following events are a foreshadowing of his own death and resurrection.

When Martha hears that Jesus is coming, she goes to meet him and scolds him for not coming sooner. Jesus tells her, “Your brother will rise again.” Mary also goes out to meet Jesus and says the same thing Martha said, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.”  When Jesus sees her weeping, he cries, too. He is human. One of his closest friends has died.

They go to the tomb. Jesus tells them to take away the stone. Martha tells Jesus that Lazarus has been dead four days. There is a stench. This death is real. They take away the stone. Jesus cries with a  loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man comes out of the tomb. Like the bones in the valley, he is walking. But he is still trapped in pieces of the cloths they had wrapped him in. And Jesus commands, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

At these words of Jesus, the dead body of Lazarus comes to life, and then he is set free. Resurrection is not only coming from death into life, but it is being set free to live that new life. We have been set free.

Because of the cross and resurrection of our Lord, we are in eternal life now. We are in that new life now. We have come out of the cave of our imprisonment to sin, and we are in that new and deeper dimension of life in Christ. We are set free from the power of sin and death.

As we reflect on our reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans, we can say that, because of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and because we have received the Holy Spirit in baptism, we have set our minds on the Spirit. We are living in the Spirit. Christ is in us, and we are alive in him.

In a sense, we are in exile. In a sense, we are in a cave of isolation. We are doing this because scientists and medical experts tell us that this is what we need to do to flatten the curve of a deadly pandemic.

Our situation may make it easier for us to identify with God’s people in exile in Babylon and with Lazarus, dead in a cave of a tomb.

God is calling us to be a people of hope, a people of faith. God has given us the will to stay together through the medium of Zoom and  email and telephone and FaceBook and the power of God’s love. Please continue to listen to the science. Listen to the experts. Once again, I thank God for Governor Scott and Dr. Levine.

Above all, we need to remember that God is with us. Jesus, our Good Shepherd, is leading and guiding us. The Holy Spirit is giving us the very breath of life. May we be a people of fortitude, hanging in there. May we walk as children of the light. Amen.

Epiphany 1 The Baptism of Christ  January 12, 2020

Isaiah 42:1-9
Psalm 29
Acts 10:34-43
Matthew 3:13-17

Our opening reading is a glorious poem from the prophet we call the Second Isaiah. The people who have been in exile in Babylon are coming home. The new society of peace, compassion, and justice is described.  The passage also described God’s servant. We as Christians think of Jesus as that servant. But scholars tell us that this description of the servant can also apply to God’s people. 

The servant and the servant society are here to bring peace. The servant is gentle. He does not break a bruised reed. The servant brings forth justice. With God’s grace, the servant nation is a light to the world. The servant nation opens the eyes of the blind and frees the prisoners.

Our gospel today is the baptism of our Lord as described by Matthew. This year, I have been thinking of Jesus and John the Baptist in this amazing encounter. We know that their mothers, Mary and Elizabeth, were relatives, and thus Jesus and John were also relatives, Back in the old days we used to think of them as cousins, but the truth is we are not sure of their exact relationship.

Soon after she was told by the angel Gabriel that she would become the mother of Jesus, Mary went to visit her relative Elizabeth, who had become pregnant even though she was way past childbearing age. At that time, the baby John the Baptist, who was in Elizabeth’s womb, jumped with joy at the presence of Jesus.

Now they meet again. John has been with the Essenes studying, and he is now called to offer people a baptism of repentance.  Jesus comes from Galilee to John at the river Jordan. Imagine how they felt. They had both studied the scriptures. They were aware that John the Baptist was the forerunner described by the prophets, and that Jesus was the Messiah. 

Imagine your relative who is the Messiah coming to you for baptism, This is why John tells Jesus that Jesus should be baptizing him.  But they accept what they need to do to fulfill the scriptures. John baptizes his relative. The Spirit of God descends like a dove and alights on Jesus. God speaks, “This is my Son, the Beloved with whom I am well pleased.” This is the beginning of Jesus’ formal ministry. I wonder how John the Baptist felt at this moment. He has just baptized the Savior.

In our reading from the Book of Acts, we see the result of Jesus’ baptism and ministry. A centurion named Cornelius is described as “a devout man who feared God.” He is a faithful Gentile soldier, a commander of 100 men, who is generous and kind to all and who supports his local synagogue even though he is not Jewish. An angel of God has told Cornelius to send to Joppa, find a man named Peter, and ask Peter to come to his home. While the messengers from Cornelius are on their way to find Peter, Peter is having a vision.

Peter has been a faithful Jew all his life, He has kept the dietary laws and has been faithful in observing every part of the law. He goes up to the roof to pray and God gives him a vision of all kinds of food. Then God says, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” Peter replies that he cannot  do that because he has never eaten anything that is unclean according to the law. God tells him that now everything has been made clean. There are no more barriers. Every barrier has been removed. Just then the messengers from Cornelius arrive, and Peter goes with them to Cornelius’ house.

When Peter arrives, Cornelius falls down before him and worships him. Peter tells him to get up, saying, “I am only a mortal.” Peter finds out that all of Cornelius’ family and friends have gathered at his house to listen to what Peter has to say, and he realizes why his vision of the foods is so important. He shares this with Cornelius and the people gathered, and he  tells them that, as a faithful Jew, he was not supposed to associate with Gentiles, but he has learned in the vision sent by God that nothing is profane or unclean. Peter says,” I truly understand that God shows no partiality but in every nation anyone who fears[God] and does what is right is acceptable to [God].” Then Peter describes the ministry and message of Jesus. It is the ministry of the servant described by Isaiah.

While Peter is sharing this message with the people at Cornelius’ home, the Holy Spirit falls on all the people, and Peter and his team realize that they should baptize these people. 

The message is that Jesus is the Savior of all people. This is the first baptism of Gentiles in the Book of Acts. This is the sign that the new faith is for everyone. God loves everyone.

The Epiphany season is the season of light, love and mission. With the baptism of the first Gentiles to join the new faith at the home of Cornelius, the new faith began to spread around the whole world. We are called to help to share this good news. God is a God of love. God has a big family. God is a lover, not a lawyer.

Each of us in our daily life shares the good news of God’s love. Some of us do that in words. Some of us share the good news through our actions. We don’t say a whole lot. We just show God’s love to others. Some of  us do both.

As members of the body of Christ, reaching out to share his love, healing, and  forgiveness with others, we are part of the servant nation spreading the love of God in the world. May we be the eyes of Christ, looking at others with compassion. May we be the hands of Christ, reaching our to others to meet their needs for food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. We are his living body here on earth, sharing his love with all the people we meet. Amen,

Pentecost 16 Proper 21C September 29, 2019

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16
1 Timothy 6:6-19
Luke 16:19-31

In our first reading, the prophet Jeremiah gives us the exact year. It is the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, and the eighteenth year of King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon, also known as Nebuchadnezzar. It is the year 588 B.C.E. In 587 B.C.E., Jerusalem will fall to Babylon. In our time, Babylon is known as Iraq.

Jeremiah is in prison in the court of the palace guard. King Zedekiah has arrested Jeremiah because Jeremiah predicted that, with all the corruption and injustice that was going on under the leadership of Zedekiah, the Babylonian Empire would conquer Judah.

And yet. And yet. Our reading contains details of a real estate transaction. Jeremiah is from Anathoth. He buys a field from his cousin. The text tells us, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both the sealed deed of purchase and the open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.”

No matter how bad things get, with God there is always hope. Jeremiah is investing in that ray of hope, and God has the last word.

Our gospel reading for today is the story of the rich man and Lazarus. This is not the Lazarus who is the brother of Mary and Martha. The rich man’s clothing and food are the finest available. At his gate lies Lazarus, a poor man covered with sores. In those days, there were no napkins, and the wealthy used pieces of bread to wipe their mouths and then threw those pieces of bread on the floor. Lazarus would have loved to eat those bits of bread. The picture of the dogs coming and licking his sores is particularly moving. It also means that he is unclean and therefore an outcast.

When the the rich man and Lazarus die, there is a great reversal. The poor man is carried by angels to be with Abraham. The rich man descends to Hades, where he is tormented. The rich man looks up and sees Abraham with Lazarus by his side. The rich man calls out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in agony in these flames.”

This tells us so much. The rich man knows Lazarus’ name. He went in and out of his gate every day and saw this poor man begging, and he even knew his name, yet he never shared any of his food or clothing or riches with Lazarus. He never really saw Lazarus as a fellow human being.

There is a long tradition that teaches that wealth is a sign of God’s favor and poverty is a sign of God’s disfavor. If someone is poor, they deserve it, says this tradition. In this parable and others, Jesus makes it clear that he does not agree with that tradition. He is calling us to see everyone as a brother or sister in him.

Barbara Brown Taylor reminds us of the version of this parable in the Cotton Patch Gospel. “O Father Abraham, send me my water boy. ‘Water boy! Quick! I’m just about to perish down here. I need a drink of water.’ That old rich guy has always hollered for his water boy. ‘Boy, bring me water! Boy, bring me this! Boy, bring me that! Get away, boy! Come here, boy!’”  (Taylor, Bread of Angels, pp. 111-112.)

Taylor comments, “Even on the far side of the grave, the rich man does not see the poor man as a fellow human being. He still sees him as something less. He thinks Lazarus is Father Abraham’s gofer, someone to fetch water and take messages, but Father Abraham sets him straight. Cradling old bony Lazarus in his bosom, he says No, No, and No.”

We are hearing this parable from our Lord, who has risen from the dead. We are here because we are trying , to the best of our ability and with his grace, to follow him. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. paraphrased Unitarian minister and theologian Theodore Parker when he said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Our epistle gives us clear direction. Paul calls us to “Fight the good fight of the faith.”  “…do good, be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing for [ourselves] the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that we may take hold of the life that really is life.”

This is the first Sunday after the consecration of the Rt. Rev. Shannon McVean-Brown as the eleventh Bishop of Vermont. As you know, the whole process has been conducted in an atmosphere of prayer, and the Holy Spirit has been present at every stage of the journey.

Our new bishop is building on a strong foundation laid by God and her predecessors. She has long and faithful experience in helping the arc of the moral universe to bend toward justice and in helping our Lord to build his shalom. 

May we keep her in our prayers. May we also give thanks for the ministry of Bishop Tom, who helped to build the foundation on which we now stand. And may we give hearty thanks for our Presiding Bishop, Michael. May we continue to keep these faithful and loving servants of God and their families in our prayers.

May we all continue to work together in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ and in the power of the Spirit.

Guide our feet Lord, while we run this race. Amen.

The First Sunday after Christmas   December 31, 2017

Isaiah 61:10–62:3
Psalm 147:13-21
Galatians 3:23-35; 4:4-7
John 1:1-18

Our readings today are filled with joy. In our opening reading from the prophet known as the Third Isaiah, we are with the people of God as they are returning home from their exile in Babylon. The mood is that of a wedding feast, and the images are of growth and faithfulness. Isaiah says, “For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.”

Righteousness means right relationship with God. The people are going to have a new and deeper and truer relationship with God and with each other. The radiance of this renewed relationship will cause God’s people to shine as a light to the world.

In our reading from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, an impressive amount of theology is condensed into just a few words. Paul, a Pharisee, tells us that before faith came, God’s people were imprisoned in the law. The law was the disciplinarian—we could say the law was the warden of the prison. We were all stuck in this prison because, as Paul says elsewhere, the things we didn’t want to do, we did; and the things we wanted to do we did not do—and we felt miserable and asked God to free us from this bondage.

Then, faith came, or, more accurately, Christ came. Jesus was born just as Paul was born, just as all of us are born. He came among us as a baby. He was one of us. And because of him, we are all now God’s children in a new and deeper and more loving way than ever before. And the Spirit of Christ is in our hearts. God has come among us and has lived a human life. The wonder of this is absolutely amazing. Only a loving and caring God would do such a thing. And what a gift! We are not alone. Our Shepherd and Brother, Jesus, has come into the world just as we did and is now living among us. He is with us to lead us and guide us.

The law is no longer a prison. It is a helpful guide. And now we have the gift of grace to follow the law.

John the Evangelist tells the story in yet another way. “In the beginning was the Word.” The Word- the logos in Greek—the Plan, the Pattern for life. The Word, Wisdom, Christ, was with God at the very beginning. The Word was the one who called the creation into being. God imagined the creation, Christ and Wisdom called it into being.

We can imagine total darkness and the vastness of the universe but nothing else—a void. And then we can imagine stars and galaxies coming into being, and then this one solar system, this one star surrounded by these planets orbiting, and then this one beautiful gem of a planet, all blue and green and tan.

Then comes John the Baptist telling us that the ultimate light was coming into the world. And then Jesus, our light, came into the world. The people in his own hometown did not accept him, but to those who did see him as he really was, he gave new life and a deep, loving relationship with God.

As Isaiah has said, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” Jesus is our Light. Here in Vermont during this very cold week, the light is increasing. The days are growing longer, and our Light is among us. As John says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

John says so much in so few words: “From his fullness,” John writes, “we have all received, grace upon grace.” It is like a waterfall of grace. Each of us has received so much from our Lord. Grace upon grace, overflowing love, forgiveness, and healing.

There is a beautiful hymn, number 84, that sums up the meaning of our readings.

Love came down at Christmas, love all lovely, love divine;
love was born at Christmas; star and angels gave the sign.
Worship we the godhead, love incarnate, love divine;
worship we our Jesus, but wherewith for sacred sign?
Love shall be our token; love be yours and love be mine, love to God and neighbor, love for plea and gift and sign.

Christina Rossetti

God has come among us as one of us. God has given us the gift of God’s very self, God’s loving presence. May we be ever thankful for this wondrous and amazing gift. Amen.