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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion December 11, 2022 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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Pentecost 13 Proper 16B August 22, 2021

1 Kings 8:1,6,10-11, 22-30, 41-43
Psalm 84
Ephesians 6:10-20
John 6:56-59

In our opening reading this morning, the great temple in Jerusalem has been completed. King Solomon and the leaders of the people gather, and the priests bring the ark of the covenant into the temple. A cloud fills the temple, indicating the holiness of the presence of God. This is a deeply profound moment in the history of God’s people. They have been nomads. The ark has led them ourtof slavery in Egypt and into the promised land. Now they will be settling down.

Solomon offers a powerful and beautiful prayer. He emphasizes that, although the ark is now in the temple, symbolizing God’s presence, God cannot be contained or limited. God fills the heavens and the earth. And Solomon also emphasizes the inclusiveness of God, saying, “Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name…when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling place and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name….” Solomon is praying that, if someone from far away comes to the temple and offers prayers, that God may hear and answer those prayers so that people all over the world may know God. This is one of the early passages that teach us that God has a big family, and it includes everyone on earth.

Our psalm today is one of the most beloved of all the psalms. Although it is a song about the temple, for us it is a song abut Grace Church and every church building we have ever loved. As Herbert O’Driscoll notes, it is also a song about the pilgrimage of our lives and how much we love being in sacred spaces where we can feel the presence of God and generations of past pilgrims. “One day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room.” God’s protection is such a cherished gift for us: “For the Lord is both sun and shield; he will give grace and glory.”

Our epistle today gives strength and tools for following our Lord in a challenging world. We are called to “be strong in the Lord,” and to put on the “whole armor of God.” Following Jesus isn’t easy in a world that often values the material over the spiritual, and just as people dress to fight chemical fires or dive into the ocean depths, so we are called to wear “the belt of truth,” the “breastplate” of of a right relationship with God, the “shield of faith”, the “helmet of salvation,” and the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Most of all, we are called to pray, to stay in touch with God. The fruits of the Spirit, as noted in Galatians 5:22—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, are so different from the values of this world that it is helpful to have these tools at hand.

In our gospel, Jesus is teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. He is talking about what we need to do in order to stay close to him. His disciples find this teaching difficult. He knows that Judas is going to betray him. He is going to be crucified. When John’s gospel was being written, followers of Jesus were being persecuted, and this has happened over the centuries. It is not easy to follow the way of our Lord. People leave. People fall away.

So he asks his disciples, “Do you also wish to go away?” And Simon Peter answers, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Here we are, at Grace Church, in the year 2021, centuries after Peter said those words. and yet he is speaking for us. We have been abiding with Jesus for quite a while now. Not perfectly, to be certain. As the Prayer Book says”We have erred and strayed” from his ways from time to time to be sure, but here we are, and, with Peter, we know there is no other one we can follow. We are like the sparrow in the psalm. We have found a home with him. We abide in him and he in us.

For me, abiding in Jesus always brings to mind Psalm 23. Jesus is our Good Shepherd. Barbara Brown Taylor tells us that she has a friend who grew up on a sheep farm in the midwest. Taylor says that, contrary to common belief, sheep are not dumb. She writes, “According to my friend, cows are herded from the rear by hooting cowboys with cracking whips, but that will not work with sheep at all.  Stand behind them making loud noises and all they will do is run around behind you, because they prefer to be led. You push cows, my friend said but you lead sheep, and they will not go anywhere that someone else does not go first—namely their shepherd—who goes ahead of them to show them that everything is all right.

“Sheep tend to grow fond of their shepherds, my friend went on to say. It never ceased to amaze him, growing up, that he could walk right through a sleeping flock without disturbing a single one of them. Sheep seem to consider their shepherds part of the family, and the relationship that grows up between the two is quite exclusive. They develop a language of their own that outsiders are not privy to. A good shepherd learns to distinguish a bleat of pain from one of pleasure, while the sheep learn that a cluck of the tongue means food, or a two-note song means it is time to go home.” (Taylor, The Preaching Life, pp. 140-41.)

This is a wonderful description of what it means for us to abide in Jesus and Jesus to abide in us. He knows us, flaws and all. We know him. We can hear his call. We know he loves us, and we love him. He calls us to love each other, and we do, to the best of our ability, with the help of his grace.

But perhaps the most important thing is that he is always going before us. There is nothing that we will have to endure that he has not gone through already. As Taylor writes, our shepherd goes before us to “show us that everything is all right.” He has gone before us, and he will make it possible for us to follow. He will be out in front leading us. As the “Footprints” poem says, he may even be carrying us. Amen.

Pentecost 14 Proper 18A September 6, 2020

Exodus 12:1-14
Psalm 149
Romans 13:8-14
Matthew 18:15-20

In our opening reading, in the first month of the new year, under the leadership of the two men God has called to be leaders, God frees God’s people from their slavery in Egypt. God calls the people to eat a special meal of roast lamb, unleavened bread,  and bitter herbs to remind them of their time of suffering under slavery. This is the Passover meal, which will be celebrated for centuries to come.

As they eat this first Passover, the people are ready for the journey, They are going to travel light. Like every great story of our ancestors in the Bible, this is our story.

As we know, Jesus ate the Passover meal with his apostles before he was crucified. He blessed the bread and wine and told them that the bread was his body and the wine was his blood shed for all of us. Although we have not been able to celebrate the Holy Eucharist together for five months, we gather as the risen Body of Christ every Sunday. Though we share Morning Prayer and not Eucharist, we know that our Lord is present with us and that he feeds us with his presence and with his love.

When we celebrate Holy Eucharist, the celebrant elevates the host, and breaks the bread, and we sing “Alleluia! Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast. Alleluia! “ The broken bread symbolizes the brokenness of our Lord’s Body and also the brokenness in us and in our world. As Christians, we believe that in his suffering on the cross Jesus took into himself all that brokenness and made it whole, and, as Barbara Brown Taylor says, “Gave it back to us as life.” As God freed God’s people from slavery in Egypt, Jesus, through the power of his love, frees us from slavery to sin. Our Lord can take our brokenness and make it whole.

In today’s gospel, our Lord gives us a pathway toward reconciliation in the community of faith. Scholars remind us that context is crucial. Preceding this gospel passage, the disciples ask Jesus who is the greatest, and our lord calls a child to come into their midst to remind them and us of the importance of innocence, humility, and openness. Then he speaks of the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine sheep and goes off to find the one lost sheep and bring it to safety.  For Jesus, no one is beyond the pale. He will search for us and rescue us when we are lost. Following this passage, Peter asks Jesus how many times we should forgive someone who hurts us, and Jesus says to forgive ninety-nine times. Jesus calls us to be humble, open, hopeful, loving, inclusive, and forgiving.

Our passage reads, “If another member of the church sins against you,…” but the original Greek reads more like, “If a brother or sister sins against  you…” This lets us know that Jesus is thinking of us as brothers and sisters, people who care deeply about each other and who treat each other with respect and love. This means that this approach of conflict resolution is not designed for situations of abuse or domestic violence. In those situations, the first thing is to get the victim to a safe place.

In our gospel scenario, the person who has been hurt goes and talks with the person who has hurt him or her. The hope is that the other person will listen carefully, acknowledge and apologize for the wrong, and change his or her behavior. If that does not work, the injured person gets one or two other members of the congregation to go with him or her and try again to get accountability and amendment of behavior from the person who has caused harm to another. If that does not work, the matter is brought to the whole congregation.

In the early Church, if there was any conflict in the congregation, the people involved had to reconcile that issue before the Peace was exchanged. In those days, the Bishop always presided, so the people stood before the bishop, worked out the matter, and then everyone passed the Peace.

Scholars tell us that the portion that talks about ejecting the person who does not listen and looking upon that person  as “a Gentile or a tax collector” is not something Jesus would say. This is the work of a later editor. We know that Jesus chose a tax collector, Matthew, as one of his apostles, and that he associated with Gentiles. Jesus did not look down on anyone. He did not exclude anyone.

Then he says, “Where two or three gather in my name, I am there among them.” And, indeed, he is with us now whether we are gathering on Zoom or in person. 

In our epistle for today, Paul, the Pharisee, the expert on the law, gives us the summary of the law, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And then he says, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” Jesus has said that he came to fulfill the law. Our readings today are telling us that God’s love can lead us into freedom. In this time of profound polarization, I ask us all to focus on the love God has for us and for all people and the power of God’s love to bring our country together in a spirit of reconciliation so that we can center our attention on the important work God is calling us to do together.

Grace Church has a long history of love and a wise history and spiritual practice of holding opposites in loving tension, and finding the path to reconciliation. This is a wonderful God-given gift in these times of division. The ability to look at each other and at others beyond our community as beloved children of God is what is going to carry us through these times of polarization into a time of reconciliation. 

As patience frays and tempers flare in this pandemic, I once again thank God for Governor Scott, Dr. Levine, and Dr. Kelso, who are exemplifying God’s love by calling us to follow the science and take care of each other. I ask your prayers for them, for all leaders, and for our children, educational leaders, and school personnel as they begin a new term. 

May our our wise and loving God lead our nation out of slavery to divisiveness and destruction into the freedom of reconciliation, respect for the dignity of every human being, and sincere work on common goals which will help all of us. May God give us the grace to see each other as brothers and sisters, neighbors we have in God, that we all may love and serve and help each other. Amen.

May we pray together the Prayer for the Power of the Spirit.

Palm Sunday

Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 31:9-16
Philippians 2:5-11
Matthew 27:11-54

In our opening reading from Isaiah, God’s servant says, “The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.” This word was given to the exiles in Babylon as their hope was ebbing. As Christians, we see Jesus as that servant, who “did not hide [his] face from insult and spitting, who “set [his] face like flint,”went to the cross, and, in the words of Barbara Brown Taylor, “took the man-made wreckage of the world inside himself and labored with it—a long labor, almost three days—and he did not let go of it until he could transform it and return it to us as life.” Taylor, God in Pain, p. 118.

We, too, are in exile. We are all weary with the sickness and death of this pandemic, and we are sustained with the hope of this Good News.

Our epistle for today calls us to “Let the same mind be in [us] 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 slave, being born in human likeness.” Jesus emptied himself of all power and privilege and became powerless. He was fully human.

This truth may speak to us on a deeper level than ever before, as we are confined to our homes, powerless to go about our daily routines. What do we need to empty ourselves of? In what ways are we always powerless? I find that I have control over very few things, even when there is no pandemic, no “Stay at home. Stay safe” order from the governor. Jesus allowed himself to sink to that human level.

He set his face like flint and went to Jerusalem, he who was and is fully divine and fully human. He was welcomed as a hero, given a ticker tape parade, and in the blink of an eye, thanks to power-hungry leaders, massive corruption, and a bloodthirsty mob, he was dead.

Our epistle calls us to “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,” in other words, to have the mind of Christ.

So, if we are to empty ourselves, maybe God is calling us to empty ourselves of the worry, the anxiety, the pall of gray doom that is hanging over us. If we are to have the mind of Christ, once we empty ourselves of some of those anxieties that weigh us down, perhaps we can let in the love, the life, the compassion, the flinty courage that we find in the mind and heart of Christ. Perhaps we can allow our Lord to begin to fill us with the hope, the healing, the wholeness that our Lord brings to us every day, every moment. Perhaps, as we follow him on the way of the cross, the new life which he gives us every moment will begin to seep into us.

He may have appeared powerless on that cross, but he wasn’t. This year, this Holy Week, we may well come to an even more profound understanding of what he has done for us. We are relatively powerless over many things, actually, most things,  but he is not. He shows us the power of faith, hope, love, and courage. We are following him, and, like the biblical shepherd, he is out in front leading us. 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.

Good Friday Year C April 19. 2019

Last night, we sat in shock as our Lord, our King, washed our feet. Now, we stand at the foot of the cross and watch him suffer and die a criminal’s death.

Jesus could have called in legions of angels. He could have destroyed that hate-filled mob. But he did not. He suffered, he took in all that hate, and he answered it with one thing, the most powerful force in the world—love.

Barbara brown Taylor writes, “Christianity is the only world religion that confesses a God who suffers. …By entering into the experience of the cross, God took the manmade wreckage of the world inside himself and labored with it—a long labor—almost three days— and he did not let go of it until he could transform it and return it to us as life. That is the power of a suffering God, not to prevent pain, but to redeem it, by going through it with us.” And then Taylor writes, “Some of us like it better the other way. We would rather have a God who makes everything happen, including the cross, than a God who hangs there with us.”(God in Pain, p. 118-119.)

Jesus, God walking the face of the earth, washes our feet, loves us, gives us the choice to love him in return—or not—does not create us as puppets, does not force us, does not try to control us. When we are going through very difficult times of brokenness, confusion, agonizing choices and decisions, times full of fear, loss, and darkness; when we realize more and more that our Lord went through all of that and came out the other side; when we realize more and more that his love has more power to bring wholeness than we will ever be able to imagine; when we realize that he is at our side, walking through the darkness and brokenness, leading us through because he has been there, and he knows the way, something happens within us. On deeper and deeper levels, we know in our heart that he is with us and that his love is more powerful than hate, more powerful than fear, more powerful than any force on earth, and his love will lead us to light and life.  Amen.

 

Pentecost 7 Proper 9B RCL July 8, 2018

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10
Psalm 48
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Mark 6:1-13

In our first reading today. all the tribes of Israel gather and call David to be their king. This coronation not only makes David their king officially. It also renews the covenant between God and the people. David had many flaws, but he also had a very deep faith in God, and this was the source of his greatness as a leader.

In our epistle for today, we have a passage that is full of meaning. Paul founded the congregation in Corinth. Other teachers and leaders have followed him, and they are saying all kinds of negative things about him, including that he does not have enough mystical experiences.

So Paul tells a story. I know this man, he says, who had a profound mystical experience. He was taken up to the seventh heaven, the highest heaven, and he heard things that humans could never even think to express or repeat. The story is about himself, but he is too humble to say that.

And then, he tells this congregation that has been so difficult and so  critical of him that he has a thorn in the flesh. We have no idea what this could be. Many people have written about their theories about this, but responsible scholars make it clear that we have no way of knowing what this weakness is.

Paul makes himself vulnerable to these highly gifted and extraordinarily finicky Corinthians by sharing his greatest weakness! He tells them and us that he prayed three times for God to take this thing away, but that miracle did not happen. Instead, God told Paul something that is at the core of our faith and the center of our life in Christ, and I’m using the Revised Standard translation because  I think it makes the point even more clearly: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

What a paradox and what a mystery! We can have a weakness, a disease or a flaw or whatever it is, and through that flaw, God can show God’s power. We have this thing, whatever it is, and we pray and pray, and we do have sincere faith, and the day comes when we realize that God is showing God’s power through helping us to cope with this thorn in our flesh, and through that coping, with God’s grace, our faith deepens and our love of Christ grows stronger and our compassion for others increases.

We can only imagine how many people have read this passage and had their lives changed by it.

In our gospel for today, Jesus returns to his home town of Nazareth. They marvel at his wisdom. but they cannot see who he truly is because he is the son of Jospeh and Mary. He is someone they know. He is the son of the carpenter and why is he not working in the carpenter shop? This may be a possible source of that observation that “Familiarity breeds contempt.” Their preconceptions prevent them from realizing they are meeting their Savior.

Jesus makes a comment that holds a great deal of truth: “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” Isn’t it interesting how we hire consultants from outside to give us guidance on what to do? Sometimes that is a good idea, but we also need to realize that we who are living in a community and are members of a parish, have much more knowledge than an outsider can possibly have.

The text tells us that Jesus “Could do no deed of power there.” He had just healed the daughter of Jairus and the woman who had a hemorrhage and many other people, but he couldn’t heal anyone in Nazareth. We have to be open to the power and love and healing of our Lord in order for him to help us.

Let us note that the rejection does not stop him from doing his ministry. He goes around the villages teaching, and he sends the disciples out do their ministry of healing and forgiveness. Many people turn their lives around, and many are healed.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” This is at the heart of our faith. Jesus died on a cross. That is a position of complete and utter weakness in the world’s eyes. He did not muster an army. He did kill those who opposed him. He could have. He had all the power in the world. He took all that hatred and contempt and, as Barbara Brown Taylor says, he “took all the man-made wreckage of the world inside himself and labored with it for almost three days—and he did not let go of it until he could transform it and return it to us as life.” (Taylor, Teaching Sermons on Suffering: God in Pain, p. 118.)

And that is what he can do with our weaknesses and our defeats. He can take the things that make us feel ashamed and discouraged and unworthy and transform them into sources of a faith deeper than we could have imagined. He can turn those weaknesses into strengths that help us to carry out our ministries to others and spread his love.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Loving and gracious Lord, thank you for your grace. Thank you for your power, the power to make us and the creation whole. May we use the gift of your grace to help you build your kingdom.  Amen.

Good Friday Year A April 14, 2017

What can we say on this terrible, tragic day? We look upon the horror of the cross and we become wordless. Jesus could have called in legions of angels. He could have destroyed that hate-filled mob. But he did not. He suffered, he took in all that hate, and he answered it with one thing, the most powerful force in the world—love.

Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “Christianity is the only world religion that confesses a God who suffers. It is not that popular an idea, even among Christians. We prefer a God who prevents suffering, only that is not the God we have got. What the cross teaches us is that God’s power is not the power to force human choices and end human pain. It is, instead, the power to pick up the shattered pieces and make something holy out of them—not from a distance but from right close up.”

Taylor continues, “By entering into the experience of the cross, God took the manmade wreckage of the world inside himself and labored with it—a long labor—almost three days— and he did not let go of it until he could transform it and return it to us as life. That is the power of a suffering God, not to prevent pain, but to redeem it, by going through it with us.” (God in Pain, p. 118.)

I have shared this passage before but I wanted us to reflect upon it again. Our loving God suffers with us, takes in all that pain and suffering and makes new life out of it. When we humans suffer, God is there with us in that suffering.

God moves through our darkest times with us, not only as individuals but as the entire human race. God takes our times of greatest weakness and brokenness, and transforms them into life on a new level. May we walk the Way of the Cross, the Way that leads to life. Amen.

Trinity Sunday Year C RCL May 22, 2016

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Psalm 8
Romans 5:1-5
John 16:12-15

Our opening lesson on this Trinity Sunday is about Wisdom. The concept of Wisdom is found in the Hebrew Scriptures and also in the literature of ancient lands near Israel. She is seen as feminine, and she was the first thing created by God. She assisted God in the creation of the world. She was “beside him, as master worker.”

In this ancient text, the idea of the  Christian Trinity had not yet been thought of, but Wisdom is often associated with Jesus because John’s gospel describes Jesus as the logos, the word, who called the creation into being, and that is very similar to Wisdom, who was “beside God as a master worker.” Wisdom, or Sophia, is also associated with the Holy Spirit, who is often seen as feminine. Commentator Douglas M. Donley writes, “Wisdom is the Holy Spirit personified.” Wisdom tells us how delighted she and God were during the process of creation. The creation was and is an action of joy.

Our epistle tells us that we have been justified by faith. Justified means that we have been placed in right relationship with God. Our Lord Jesus Christ has done this for us. He has come to be one of us and he has made it possible for us to be as close to God as a child is to his or her beloved parent. We receive the gift of faith and the gift of grace, and through these gifts our suffering leads to endurance. We are actually strengthened through our sufferings. We are able to persevere through hardships because of God’s love and grace. That endurance produces character. We become stronger, and our faith and our awareness of God’s grace grow. And that character, that strength, that ability to hang in there, that growing awareness of God’s love and God’s gifts of faith and grace, all work together to give us hope, and that hope lasts and lasts and never ends because God’s love is pouring into us through the power of the Holy Spirit.

In our gospel for today, we are with Jesus during his Farewell Discourse, his last teaching time with the apostles. He says something that is so poignant and so bittersweet. He says, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” Oh, these words take our breath away.

He can’t tell them what is going to happen. He is going to be arrested; he will go through a mock trial; he will be beaten; he will be crucified; he will rise again. If he tried to tell them about these things, they would not believe him. They are going to have to live through these events.

And then Jesus says, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth….He will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

Think of what the disciples went through. Jesus was crucified. Some of them ran away. They were devastated. But then he began to appear to them. Here and there. They realized he was alive. But then he ascended to be with God. And there they were, without him.

He had promised to send the Holy Spirit, and, on Pentecost the Spirit arrived like a nighty wind, like the desert ruach, like flames dancing over their heads. And they were able to communicate with people from all over the known world in the languages of those people.

And then, as they went out to spread the Good News, we read in the Book of Acts about how the Spirit guided them to choose Matthias to join them and how the Spirit led them to meet with this person and to go to that town. The Spirit has continued to guide God’s people down to this very day.

“God in three persons, blessed Trinity,” the beloved hymn says. God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, or Sustainer. John Macquarie says that the Trinity involves vision, plan, and realization of the plan. God has the vision of creation. Jesus is the Word, the logos, the plan, the pattern for creation and for human life. Jesus, the Word, calls the creation into being. And the Holy Spirit brings forth and energizes the creation. God at work in us and in the world.

In her sermon, “Three Hands Clapping, “Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “Robert Farrar Capon says that when human beings try to describe God we are like a bunch of oysters trying to describe a ballerina. We simply do not have the equipment to understand something so utterly beyond us, but that has never stopped us from trying.”  (Taylor, Home by Another Way, p. 153.)

God comes to us in so many ways.

Each of us knows God as Creator. We go out at night and look at the sky, or we gaze on a meadow filled with wildflowers, or we watch the first light and then the sunrise, and  we marvel and give thanks.

Each of us knows Jesus, the Christ, our Redeemer. Every year, we sink more deeply into the unfathomable mystery of what he has done for us and how he leads us into new life. So often, some aspect of his life and ministry teaches us something new about sharing his love and healing. Every day. something he said or did gives direction to our lives. Every day, we meet the risen Christ or we see him out in front, leading us.

Each of us senses and knows the power of the Spirit, God at work in us and in our world. A skilled surgeon restores sight to an eye. Compassionate listening heals a broken heart. After much prayer, a direction becomes clear. A wise person sits down with nations that have been at war and helps them to walk the path to a lasting peace.

The concept of mysterium, mystery, something that is far beyond our ability to comprehend, is a wonderful thing. We may never understand the doctrine of the Trinity, and yet we can walk closely with God every minute of our lives.

“God in three persons, blessed Trinity.”  Amen.

Good Friday March 25, 2016

On Palm Sunday, as we prepared to read the Passion Gospel, we were commenting on how much we wish this story could be edited, could turn out another way.

But it cannot be edited. As T. S. Eliot wrote, “In spite of that, we call this Friday Good.” God loves us so much that God comes among us, shares his love and healing with everyone he meets, treats everyone with the kind of profound respect that can come only from unconditional love, and threatens the power and privilege of both the religious and secular authorities—simply from showing genuine love.

Judas betrays him, probably because Judas is a Zealot, part of a group that wants the messiah to gather an army to overthrow the Roman occupiers and free the people. But that is not God’s vision for this world.

So Jesus endures the mock trial, the taunts and spitting, the crown of thorns digging into his flesh, and then he hangs on the Cross, an instrument of torture and slow death reserved for the worst criminals. He takes all the hate and the anger and all the violent machinations to preserve power and privilege. He absorbs all of it. Love takes all this darkness into himself.

And he works with this darkness. As Barbara Brown Taylor says, he labors with the darkness. He descends to hell. He brings his love to every part of the creation. He labors with the darkness.

And we wait. Here at the foot of the Cross.

He has shared his vision with us. We are here because he lives in us and we live in him. His vision lives in us. His shalom. Our hearts are broken, and our hope is hanging in shreds. But there is one thing we can do, and that is to try, with his grace, to live into that vision.  Amen.

Lent 2 Year B RCL March 4, 2012

 Genesis 17: 1-7, 15-16
Psalm 22: 22-30
Mark 8: 31-38 

This morning we start out with the great man of faith, Abram. He is 99 years old. God appears to him and tells him that he is going to be the “ancestor of a multitude of nations.” The only problem with this is that Abram and his wife have not been able to have any children. But God tells Abram that they will have a son. God also says that Abram’s name will become Abraham and Sarai’s name will become Sarah. There will be a change of identity for each of them.

 In our epistle for today, Paul builds on this image of Abraham as the major example of the faithful person. Paul tells us that, “hoping against hope,” Abraham did not doubt God’s word to him. And we all know what happened. God was faithful.

I want to focus on today’s gospel because it has so much in it. Jesus has alluded to it before, but now he is trying to help the disciples to understand the nature of his ministry. He spells it right out for them: he is going to be rejected by all the important authorities and he is going to be killed.

Peter can’t stand this. He takes Jesus aside and begins to scold him for saying such awful things. I think he does this for several reasons. The first is that he loves Jesus and he doesn’t want Jesus to die. The other is that he has the idea of a messiah as a liberating king who comes in and sets up his reign by force. It’s going to take a long time before Peter gets this idea out of his head. The idea of the suffering servant as presented by Isaiah and other prophets was not as popular and easy as the idea of the conquering hero, but that’s the messiah God was sending.

But then we have this painful, dramatic moment. Jesus snarls to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Ouch! How this must have stung Peter. How it must have shocked him to have Jesus call him this name. Satan is the ultimate tempter, and Jesus is calling Peter this terrible name.

I believe that Jesus uses this wording because he is indeed tempted. He doesn’t want to suffer. Later in the garden he asks that, if this cup may pass from his lips, let it happen, but, if not, he will go through with it. I wonder if Jesus was shocked after saying these words. I wonder if he wanted to take them back. But there they were, hanging in the air.

Then Jesus gathers the crowd along with the disciples and he says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

What does this mean? On the most simple level, it means that, if we are focused only on ourselves, on what we need and what we want, we are going to miss the point of life. In Twelve Step programs, there is a saying that EGO means Ease God Out. There is much truth in that. On the other hand, Jesus is not calling us to destroy ourselves by taking on too much or to sacrifice ourselves by taking care of others and never taking care of our own needs. We are called to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. In order to do this, we need to realize that God loves us and we need to love ourselves. So, there is a fine balance here.

I believe that Jesus is calling us to make our major commitment to him   and to his shalom. He is calling us to give ourselves to something larger than ourselves which will give meaning to our lives and will bring us true joy. But life in him is not trouble free. We may have to make difficult sacrifices, hard choices.  Some folks seem to believe that if we follow Jesus, our lives will be all peaches and cream; we will be protected from all pain and problems, and we will live happily ever after. All we have to do is to look at the lives of a few saints to realize that that is not true. When we look at the life of Jesus, we know it isn’t true.

On Ash Wednesday we said that Jesus is calling us to take up our cross and he also said that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. We talked about each yoke for each individual ox was carved specifically to match every bump and lump on that ox’s neck and shoulders. To take up our cross is to walk our Lenten journey knowing that our yoke is  especially fitted to us. There is a certain lightness of being associated with taking the focus off self and throwing ourselves in with the work of God’s shalom.

One of my favorite followers of Jesus, Barbara Brown Taylor, talks about taking up our cross in terms of facing our worst fear. She says that the reason Peter said what he said was that, when Jesus told them he was going to die, that raised the specter of Peter’s worst fear: death. Peter had to face the fact that Jesus was going to die and he, Peter was going to die.

Whatever our worst fear may be, she says, we need to look it in the face. It may be fear of a diagnosis of some dread disease, or it may be fear of not measuring up, or it may be fear of death. But, whatever it is, that fear holds us in bondage. That fear is running our lives.

Taylor writes, “Whatever it is that scares you to death, so that you start offering to do anything, anything at all, if it will just go away, that is your cross, and, if you leave it lying there, it will kill you. If you turn away from it, (God forbid it, Lord!) with the excuse that this should never have happened to you, then you deny God the chance to show you the greatest mystery of all: that there, right there in the dark fist of your worst fear, is the door to abundant life.

Taylor continues. “I cannot say more than that. I don’t dare, or God might test me on it, but Jesus does dare. Stop running from your cross, he says. Reach down and pick it up. It isn’t nearly as scary once you get your hands on it, and no one is asking you to handle it alone. All you have to do is believe in God more than you believe in your fear. Then pick it up, come on with me, and I will show you the way to the door.”

May we walk the way of the cross. May we pick up the cross of our worst fear and let our Lord transform it into new life.  Amen.