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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion March 26, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
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Christmas 2 Year C  January 2, 2022

Jeremiah 31:7-14
Psalm 84:1-8
Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19a
Luke 2:41-52

Our first reading today is extraordinary. The people of God have been conquered by the Babylonian Empire. Their leaders and thousands of the people have been deported to Babylon. Some people are left in Jerusalem, including the prophet Jeremiah, but he is in an awkward position, to say the least. Herbert O’Driscoll observes, “His warnings about foolish political decisions by the rulers of his nation [have] made it possible for them to label Jeremiah as an enemy of  his own people,” (O’Driscoll, The Word among Us, p. 53.)

Of this passage, Walter Brueggemann writes,
“The exile of Israel smells of defeat, despair, and abandonment. Moreover, it is a place of deadly silence. All the voices of possibility have been crushed and nullified. …The deadliness of exile is the context into which Jesus is born and in which Christmas is celebrated. Christmas is an act against exile.” (Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching,  p, 76.)

Into this situation of hopelessness and despair, God calls Jeremiah to  powerful words of hope. God is going to bring the people home, those who are strong and those who are weak, even those who are in labor, bringing new life into the world as they journey toward home. God is going to free the people and they will come home and they will “sing aloud” and “be radiant over the goodness of the Lord.” The people and the land will be full of new life and abundance.

In our world, twenty-six hundred years later, the Covid numbers are rising again. Flights are being cancelled because pilots and crew members are sick. Hospitals are being overwhelmed. And at the same time, God is calling us to be a people of hope. God is going to continue to guide us on this journey, and God is going to take care of us.

In our reading from the letter of the Ephesians, God reminds us that God is our divine parent. God holds us close in God’s loving arms.

The lectionary offers us three choices for gospel readings. One is the story of the wise men coming to pay homage to Jesus. The second is the flight into Egypt, and the third is the account of the twelve year old Jesus in the temple.

Mary and Joseph were faithful Jews. Every year they would go to the temple in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, the feast that marks God’s freeing of the people from slavery in Egypt. They traveled to Jerusalem with their extended family caravan. We do not know the exact number of people making the journey, but it was a sizable group.

They went and worshipped, and then they headed home. At the end of the first day of the journey homeward, Mary and Joseph realized that Jesus was not with the family group. We may think this was unusual, but young people would often walk with one relative or another, an uncle they liked to talk to, or an aunt who made good snacks, and the family took care of each other’s children. But when they stopped for the night and took attendance, so to speak, they discovered Jesus was missing.

Mary and Joseph rushed back to Jerusalem to find him. It took them three days, searching high and low, probably going back to the inn where they had stayed and trying to trace his whereabouts and asking people whether they had seen Jesus. As time went by, Mary and Joseph became more and more worried. We can all understand that.

Finally, they went back to the temple, and there he was, talking with the teachers, listening, asking questions, gaining knowledge, and demonstrating exceptional wisdom. Mary was angry. “Why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been worried sick about you.”

Jesus responds,”Why have you been worried about me? Don’t you know that I have to be in my Father’s house?” On some quite profound levels, Mary knew that she was Jesus’ biological mother and Joseph knew that he was the foster father of the son of God. But to hear him say this must have struck their hearts very deeply. The text says that they did not understand what he was saying.

What if we were Mary or Joseph? Would we understand such a thing? The text tells us that “Mary treasured these things in her heart.” It took her a lifetime to absorb the meaning of this. Jesus went home and was obedient to them, and he grew in his understanding of what his heavenly Father was calling him to do.

Once again, I am struck by the humanness of Jesus’ coming among us. Things are not going well in our world. The pandemic is rearing its head. And God sends hope. God, fully human and fully divine, comes quietly into the world and lives in a family in Nazareth with a faithful mother and father and goes to the temple for Passover and stays and learns from the teachers. He doesn’t understand that his earthly parents would be worried because he is doing what he is called to do. Kids can be like that sometimes.

But he goes home with them and works in his foster father’s shop and studies with the local rabbi and listens for the guidance of his heavenly Father. In eighteen years he will begin his public ministry.

In our collect we ask God to give us the grace to “share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity.” He has come to be with us to show us the way of hope in the midst of the exile of pandemic life, to show us the way of love in a world that needs so much love. And in our gospel for today, we see him at a session of what in our tradition might be confirmation class! 

May we continue to learn from him. May we continue to grow closer to him. May we share his hope and love in our community of faith and in the world. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Christ the King Year A November 22, 2020

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Psalm 100
Ephesians 1:15-23
Matthew 25:31-46

Our opening reading today takes us back to the time of the Babylonian Exile. Twenty-six hundred years ago (597 B.C.E.) the powerful Babylonian Empire conquered Jerusalem and sent God’s people into exile in Babylon. Eleven years later, (586 B.C.E), the Babylonians returned, destroyed the temple, and leveled many of the surrounding buildings.

Ezekiel, a priest, had been in Babylon with the people for about eleven years. The destruction of the temple was one of the most tragic points in the history of God’s people. It was heartbreaking.

We have often reflected on how the history of God’s people as revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures reflects on and parallels our own history. As we read about this low point in their life together, we here in Vermont are losing our battle with Covid-19. Once again I thank God for Governor Scott and Dr. Levine, who had to stand before us this week and let us know that the positivity rate is up to two percent, hospitalizations are rising, and we need to reverse this trend. The reason these numbers are rising is that folks are getting together socially, eating, drinking, and enjoying each others’ company without wearing masks or social distancing. Our governor said that he hasn’t seen his mother in a year. As a good leader, he understands how we all feel. As he encouraged us to wear masks and do all the other things that we know stop the virus from spreading, Governor Scott acknowledged that he cannot make people follow the guidance from our medical experts.

He spoke with courage and sincerity to those who refuse to follow the guidance, and I quote him. Don’t call it patriotic. Don’t pretend it’s about freedom. Because real patriots serve and sacrifice for all, whether they agree with them or not. Patriots also stand up and fight when our nation’s health and security is threatened. And right now, our country and way of life is being attacked by this virus, not by the  protections we put in place.” (Gov. Phil Scott, Press Briefing, Tuesday, November 17, 2020.)

This Corona Virus is killing as many people as an invading army. We heard this week that we have exceeded the number of deaths we suffered in World War II. In may ways, we can identify with our spiritual ancestors in Babylon. The Babylonian Exile is an excellent metaphor for this pandemic. In this dark moment, in this time of utter discouragement, God puts God’s words in the mouth of Ezekiel. God is going to be a good shepherd to God’s people. God is going to feed them and take care of them. God is going to  bring God’s people back together and bring them home. And God has a special word for leaders who have been abusive to the people. God will stop them from misusing their power. God directly addresses those who “pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted all the weak animals with [their] horns.” God will feed them with justice. God will set things right. God will bring the people a wise and compassionate leader like King David. As Christians, we immediately think of our King, Jesus. In these dark days of increasing positivity rates, we have  compassionate leaders in Governor Scott and his team. May we all follow their directions.

In our gospel for today, we have the blueprint for why we all gathered together and built a new building for the food shelf and why our wonderful volunteers gather six days a week to minister to our neighbors who are suffering from this pandemic. People have lost their jobs. Unemployment benefits have run out.  Extensions have expired, and there is no help forthcoming. People who have never been to the food shelf find that they have to come for help.

Our Lord tells us that when we give food to those who are hungry, we are feeding him. When we give water to the thirsty, or welcome to the stranger, or clothing to those who need it, we give those things to Jesus. When we take care of those who are sick or visit those who are in prison, we are doing that to him. We are the hands of Christ reaching out in love to help others. And every person we meet is an alter Christus, an other Christ. There is a spark of the divine in every person. Our Lord is telling us to see every person we meet as Himself, as Christ.

Christ is our King, but a very different kind of king. He eats with the lowest of the low. He loves the people nobody loves. In his kingdom, everybody is infinitely precious. Everybody is loved. This is God’s shalom.

Our retired Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori writes: 

That word “shalom” is usually translated as “peace,’ but it’s a far richer and deeper understanding of peace than we usually recognize. …It isn’t just telling two arguers to get over their differences.

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

Today we celebrate Christ the King and we also celebrate Thanksgiving. Paul writes to the Ephesians, “I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.” He prays for them and us that  “eyes of our hearts may be enlightened.” What a great metaphor, Paul is praying that the light of Christ’s love may come into our hearts and lives and lift our hearts and spirits so that our hearts and lives may become full of light and love, and that we may be filled with hope. I think that lifting of our hearts is like the hope that came to God’s people 2,500 years ago as they faced the destruction of their beloved temple, the center of their worship. They believed that God dwelled in the temple, and they came to realize that God was in their midst. God gave them the hope and determination to return and rebuild.

We have so much to be thankful for, The attitude of gratitude is a very powerful thing. It is a power for good. In these dark days of Covid, our own exile from Holy Eucharist, our Exile from our beloved church building, our Good Shepherd is here in our midst. We thank you for your presence, O Lord, and we thank you for leading us and guiding us. We will celebrate Thanksgiving, with your help. We will help and feed our neighbors. We will, with your grace, help you build your shalom.

Here, in these darkest days of the pandemic, give us the grace to get back on track. Our own governor has had to remind us that not wearing a mask is not patriotic. Send your love among us, O Lord, that we may love you and love each other, that we may take care of each other, as you our Good Shepherd, take care of your flock. Amen.

Christ the King — November 26, 2017

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-14
Psalm 100
Ephesians 1:15-23
Matthew 25:31-46

Our first reading today is from the book of the prophet Ezekiel. Ezekiel was a priest who served among the people of God exiled in Babylon from about 593 to 563 B.C. The powerful Babylonian Empire conquered Jerusalem in 597 B.C. and sent many of the leaders and others into exile. Then, in 586 B.C., the Babylonian armies came back and totally destroyed the temple and many of the surrounding buildings. Scholars tell us that this is the point when Ezekiel wrote this passage. Not only are the people in exile, but now the temple, the center of their worship, has been turned to rubble.

At this darkest hour, God calls Ezekiel to speak God’s word to the people. And God is telling the people that God will gather them up. God will gather all of God’s people from wherever they have had to flee, and God will bring them home. God will feed the people with good pasture, and God will be their shepherd.

God will bring back the ones who have strayed. God will bind up the wounds of those who are injured, and will strengthen the weak. But the fat and strong, that is, the leaders who have hurt the people and have prospered at the expense of the people, will face a time of reckoning. God speaks directly to these leaders, who in essence have bullied the people. God says, “Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scatted them far and wide, I will save my flock….”

God says that God will set over them one shepherd, God’s servant David. We know that David had ruled several hundred years before this time in history, so, as Christians, we take this as a reference to the kingship of Christ, who was from the family of David.

In this prophetic writing, from twenty-five hundred years ago, God is calling all leaders to care for their people, not to hurt them.

In our gospel for today, as we celebrate Christ the King, Jesus speaks about the  values and actions of those who are following him and bringing in his kingdom. He tells us that, if we feed the hungry or give water to the thirsty or welcome the stranger or clothe folks who have nothing to wear, or take care of those who are sick or visit those who are in prison, we are doing those things to him.

Our king identifies, not with the rich and powerful, but with those who need help, those who are weak, those who have no power, those who are at the margins of society. When he tells his followers that they have done all these things to him, they are astonished. They had no idea. They were just trying to help a fellow human being.

Jesus is so different from our usual ideas of a king. He is not powerful in the world’s meaning of the word. He has no army. He has no palace. He was born in a stable to a carpenter and his wife. Shortly after his birth, his father had to take the family to Egypt to save Jesus’ life, so they became refugees, aliens in a strange land because King Herod was killing baby boys. Our king has suffered, and he has a special place in his heart for those who suffer.

Our king grew up in a carpenter’s home, worked in the shop with his earthly father, studied at the synagogue with the other kids, and eventually he went to the river Jordan and was baptized by his cousin John.

Wherever he went, he lived the values of his kingdom. When he went into the synagogue and reads the scroll of Isaiah, it said that he was coming to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, to comfort all who mourn, and to bring God’s peace and harmony. That is what he did during his entire ministry, and that is what he calls us to do.

Today we make our United Thank Offering and we also begin to pray about our pledges. Today and every day, God calls us to help those who need God’s love and caring. The season of Pentecost is coming to a close, and this coming Sunday we move into Advent.

May we take time to reflect on the depth of God’s love for us and for all people. May we help and serve others in Christ’s Name. Amen.

Pentecost 20 Proper 22C RCL October 2, 2016

Lamentations 1:1-6
Psalm 137
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Luke 17:5-10

In our first reading today, from the Book of Lamentations, the worst has happened. The Babylonian Empire has conquered Jerusalem. The temple and the city lie in ruins and most of the people have been deported to Babylon.

There were some people who actually remained in Jerusalem and in Judah. Every day they had to look at the rubble and wonder whether the temple would ever be rebuilt.

Others were living among alien people and alien gods who were nothing like their God. Psalm 137, our Psalm for today, captures their immense sadness. “By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept.” Their captives are asking them to sing songs from their native land. But they cannot sing. Their grief is so great. Then their grief turns to anger and revenge, which is natural and understandable, but something God calls us to avoid.

In the middle of the psalm is a prayer for the community to remember Jerusalem and remember their faith. And that is the prayer that prevailed. They used this tragic and terrible period of time to study the scriptures, to increase their commitment to prayer and worship, and to seek God’s guidance.  Jerusalem was leveled in 587 B.C.E. In 539 they returned home to rebuild. Fifty years of exile and spiritual journeying toward deeper faith.

We all have times of exile on our own lives, times when we are in grief, when we feel as though all is lost. We may even feel angry. At such times we need to turn to God for guidance, and we need to remember that God is a God of hope.

In our second reading, Timothy has apparently faced some kind of a major challenge in his ministry. We do not know what that challenge was. Paul reminds him of his mother, Eunice, and his grandmother, Lois, who nurtured him in the faith. Now, as we celebrate the bicentennial of Grace Church, we are blessed to be gifted with our own parents and grandparents in the faith. The Rev. Albert Hopson Bailey, who served here for 26 years and served our diocese, Kate Whittemore, who led the Women’s Auxiliary and started a junior auxiliary to teach young people about our faith and to support them in doing mission, and then the elder generation whom some of us have known—Hoddie, Charlotte, Laura, Arthur, Gertrude, Harriet, Geraldine, Gwen, and Ruth, to name a few.  We are building on their faith, and that legacy of faith and service supports us in our ministries.

Also in this letter, Paul writes, “…for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but of power and of love and of self-discipline.” The King James version says, “For God hath not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a a sound mind.”

Timothy had been through some difficult things. When we encounter obstacles and challenges, one thing we can do is to become fearful. Many in our nation are becoming very fearful right now. As a very wise person has said, “Faith is fear that has said its prayers.” As Christians, we are called to have faith. And we are called to remember that we have been given a spirit of power and of love and of a sound mind. We are not called to surrender to fear. We are called  to stay centered in God’s power and love. We are called to have self-discipline and to keep in the center of our hearts and minds that God is the God of faith, love, and hope. Like the exiles returning, we can build and we can rebuild God’s shalom in our world and in our communities.

In today’s gospel, the disciples are making a request: “Increase our faith!”

They are on the way to Jerusalem, and they are probably getting the idea that this journey with Jesus is not going to be easy. I think Jesus is trying to tell them that they have enough faith to do what they are called to do.

Basically he is saying that if we have faith the size of a mustard seed, we can do things we think would be impossible, with his help and with his grace and guidance. And then that mustard seed of faith is going to grow and grow.

After all, the exiles returned and rebuilt the temple, the city, and their community life. Timothy had some moments of apprehension but remained a faithful minister of Christ. The disciples had some less than noble moments—Peter denied Jesus three times, Judas betrayed him, many of them ran to the hills after the crucifixion— but they they came back and there was Pentecost, and they spread the faith all over the world, and our Grace Church saints passed down the faith to us and here we are with our mustard seeds of faith carrying on our ministries here and around the world, part of a faith community which is trying to bring the love and healing of Christ to everyone who needs his presence.

Our readings today are calling us to be people of faith, hope, and love. In our world today, some people are spreading messages of fear, hopelessness, and hate.  As Christian people, we cannot accept such a worldview.

In many of our cities, there is violence. We have not yet fully healed our corporate sin of racism.  We have made progress in healing racism, and, yes,  we have more work to do, but we cannot stop now. We have all kinds of violence, not just shootings and angry mobs of people looting but also the quiet, largely unnoticed epidemic of domestic violence and sexual abuse. And we have an epidemic of addiction.

All of these issues have been going on for a very long time. We just didn’t pay attention to them. We are making progress, and now we have to really get down to work and make more progress. As our dear sister Priscilla would say, “We need to see the glass half full.”

In the eighteen-sixties we began to realize that slavery was wrong. A century later, in the nineteen-sixties, we began to pass things like the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act to welcome our African American brothers and sisters to full citizenship. We are well on the way. We are not yet fully there. This is not the time to give up.

Domestic violence has been around since the birth of time, but no one dared to talk about it. Now we are doing something about it. Other forms of violence have also been around for centuries. We have been working on these crucial issues. Our diocesan convention will be a hopeful, faithful, look at that work.

All of these issues are related to the building of God’s shalom of peace and harmony, where everyone has a safe home to live in, food, clothing, medical care, and good work to do. God’s shalom is about peace in our hearts, peace in our communities, and peace in the world.

Let us be a people of faith, hope, and love. We have come a long way. Let us not falter. I believe that our Lord is telling us that what we see as mustard seeds of faith can help him to bring in his shalom. Lord, help us to be a people of faith, hope, and love. Help us to work for your shalom. In your holy Name. Amen.

Pentecost 18 Proper 20C RCL September 18, 2016

Jeremiah 8:18-9:1
Psalm 79:1-9
1 Timothy 2:1-7
Luke 16:1-13

As we think about our first reading today, we recall that Jeremiah was one of the major prophets of the Old Testament. His ministry began in 627 B.C.E. during the reign of one of the greatest kings of Judah, King Josiah. Judah had long been trying to defend itself against the Assyrian Empire. In 627 B.C.E., the year Jeremiah was called to his prophetic ministry, the king of Assyria died, and Assyria became much less of a threat to Judah.

Somewhere between 622 and 620 B.C.E., as their sense of freedom returned with the lessening power of the Assyrians, the people of Judah were rebuilding the temple which had been destroyed by the Assyrians, and they found in the ruins a scroll of the law in the Book of Deuteronomy. King Josiah began a time of reform, a time of renewal of faith, of renewed commitment to God’’s law—“love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” Led by Josiah, the people rededicated themselves to life in community grounded on faith and love for God and each other.

In 609 B.C.E., King Josiah was killed in battle with the Egyptians.

It did not take long before his reforms were undone. Love of God and each other was a thing of the past. The rich got richer and the poor became poorer and poorer. The temple worship was not properly conducted. One scholar notes that the temple was the place you were supposed to be able to go and hear the truth. But the temple clergy no longer had the courage to tell the truth.

Meanwhile, the Babylonian Empire was gaining power. At the time of our reading, it was about to conquer Jerusalem. Jeremiah is in deep grief over this situation. The leaders are so corrupt and so faithless that they cannot remind the people that there is indeed a balm in Gilead that cures the sin-sick soul and that God is as close as their breath. The people think that God has abandoned them, when in fact they have drifted away from God.

Today’s gospel is one of many portions of Luke that deal with money and material goods and how to handle them in the kingdom of God. This parable is puzzling, to say the least, and scholars have many questions and disagreements about it.

Jesus has been talking to the Pharisees, but now he turns to the disciples. He tells them a parable. There is a rich man who has a manager.  Most scholars agree that the rich man is an absentee landlord who has hired a manager to collect payment from the farmers who are working the land.

Charges are brought that the manager is squandering the property of the rich man, and the rich man is going to fire the manager. We do not know exactly what the manager has been doing. We really do not know whether he has even done anything wrong. We simply do not have the details.

The manager thinks to himself. He is going to lose his job. He is too proud to beg, and he is not strong enough to do manual work, such as digging.

So he calls in the tenants. He asks the first one how much he owes. One hundred jugs of olive oil. He reduces it to fifty. Our translation reads “jugs,” but the actual measurement, one hundred baths, is an enormous amount of olive oil. R. Alan Culpepper, Dean of the School of Theology, Mercer University, Atlanta, Georgia, tells us that a bath is nine gallons, so this man owes nine hundred gallons of olive oil. He tells us that the second debtor owes one hundred kors of grain. Culpepper says that estimates of a kor range from six and a half to twelve bushels, but that the total is clearly substantial. He concludes that this landowner is dealing in “large commercial interests…and not in household quantities.” (Culpepper, New Interpreter’s Bible, p.308.)

To put it bluntly, the rich man is very, very rich.

Some scholars think that the manager is simply reducing the total amount owed by giving up his commission, but Culpepper’s view is that the manager is actually reducing the amount owed to the rich man.

Sharon Ringe, Professor of New Testament at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., agrees. She tells us that the original Greek translation of the manager’s title is “manager of injustice.” She points out that the economy of those times was an “economy of scarcity, where the quantity of wealth available is fixed. Some have more only if others have less.”  Ringe writes, “Any excessive accumulation in the hands of one (such as the “rich man”) is by definition evidence of injustice that must be redressed by that redistribution of wealth called “giving alms.” By reducing the amount owed by the (obviously poorer) debtors to the rich man, the manager is doing justice—a way of doing his job as “manager of injustice” that no longer aims at perpetuating and even adding to old inequities, but instead reflects the new ‘economy’ of which Jesus is the herald.”

Ringe continues, “For the disciples, this provides a ‘management model’ for their own role as leaders…. Instead of urging upon them a lifestyle or even an ideal of poverty, or advice to keep themselves pure from contamination by wealth, it challenges them to manage wealth in the direction of justice. In the process, they will be creating new communities and relationships that will allow their mission to go forward and that will support the enjoyment of abundant life by all people.”   (Ringe, Westminster Bible CompanionLuke, p. 214.)

Our Lord is calling us to help him create his shalom, which retired Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori describes as “a community where people are at peace with each other because each one has enough to eat, adequate shelter, medical care, and meaningful work. Shalom is a city where justice is the rule of the day.” (A Wing and a Prayer, p. 35.) Part of the work of bringing in God’s shalom is reducing the gap between the wealthy and the poor. That is what this “manager of injustice” is doing.  May we be faithful in all things, both large and small. May we love God and our neighbor.  Amen.