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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion February 5, 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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Pentecost 19 Proper 22B October 3, 2021

Job 1:1; 2:1-10
Psalm 26
Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
Mark 10:2-16

Our opening reading today is from the Book of Job. Job is a good person of deep faith. He has a loving family and is well off financially. He is respected as a person who is just and compassionate. People seek his counsel. Satan, who in those times was seen as a kind of prosecuting attorney, feels that, if Job had a few challenges thrown his way, his faith would quickly evaporate, and he would curse God.

In the portion of the first chapter which has been omitted, several disasters have already occurred. The Sabeans captured Job’s oxen and donkeys and killed the servants who took care of them; a fire burned up the sheep and the shepherds, and the Chaldeans captured the camels and killed the camel drivers. Worst of all, a huge wind came across the desert, collapsed the house, and killed Job’s seven sons and three daughters.

In our passage for today, Job is stricken with sores that cover his entire body. In those days, such a skin condition was considered to be leprosy, so he is now ritually unclean and an outcast. As we look in on the scene, he is scratching his sores with a piece of broken pottery. His wife encourages him to abandon his integrity, curse God, and die. But Job will not abandon his faith. He says that we have to receive the bad that comes from the hand of God as well as the good.

We will be reading the Book of Job for three more Sundays. Does God send bad things for us to suffer? Just a few weeks ago, we read from the Letter of James, “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift is from above, from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”In commenting on this passage, Beverly Gaventa says, “The writer insists that good gifts (and not temptations) come from God.” (Gaventa, Texts for Preaching, p.490.

We live in a fallen creation that is not operating in the way God would want it to operate. God’s shalom is not yet here. We are all working to build God’s kingdom of peace, harmony, and love. In Biblical times, people believed that good things happened to good people and bad things happened to bad people. As Christians, we know that that is not true. All we have to do is to look at the cross.

As we read the Book of Job, we will be asking questions such as, why do some people maintain their integrity even in the midst of hardship and suffering? Why do some people have faith that seems unshakeable?  Why do bad things happen to good people? Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote a wonderful book responding to that question. Thus far, Job has lost his children and all of his possessions. He now has leprosy and is an outcast. But he still will not curse God.

In our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, the unknown writer, a person of deep faith, tells us that God has “spoken to us by a Son.”  Of the Son, the writer says,”He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.” Jesus, the eternal Word, is God walking among us. The writer wonders why God would even care about us, but we know that God cares so much that God comes among us. The risen Christ is in the midst of us now, leading and guiding us. When we have times of suffering, we can look to him. He went through the worst experience possible, and through that experience he gave us new life. He made us his brothers and sisters.

In our gospel for today, our lord is facing the Pharisees, and they are asking him a question, not because they want to learn, but because they want to trip him up. Back in those times, a man could divorce his wife for something very trivial. She burned the supper or he didn’t like the way she kept house. A woman could not divorce a man even if he beat her. Women and children were chattel, objects, less than human.

Jesus presents an idea of marriage as a relationship between two people, two human beings, who become so close that they are like one flesh. That is the ideal we are all aiming for. However, there are cases in which a person is not able to keep his or her marriage vows. Domestic violence is one instance of this. There are valid reasons for the dissolution of a marriage. In this gospel passage, Jesus is raising marriage to its proper level as a partnership between two precious and beloved human beings. That is revolutionary thinking for his time.

But the next portion of the gospel is also revolutionary. Little children are trying to come to see Jesus. People want Jesus to touch these little ones. In those times, children were chattel, possessions, objects, expendable. Men did not pay attention to children in those times. That was women’s work. Children were considered a nuisance. They were at the bottom of the social scale. The disciples are trying to keep the children away. They are scolding the children.

And Jesus says something that turns the world upside down: “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.”

Little children are open, receptive, trusting. That’s how we need to be with God. Open and receptive. Open to God’s love and joy and peace and healing. Listening carefully for the voice of Jesus, our Good Shepherd, calling us, leading and guiding us. Trusting in the power of the Spirit and the grace of God. 

Jesus, our Good Shepherd, lead us to those still waters and those green pastures where we may be still and know that you are God. Give us grace to build your kingdom of love and peace, in the power of the Spirit. In your holy Name we pray. Amen. 

Pentecost 4 Proper 8A June 28, 2020

Genesis 22:1-14
Psalm 13
Romans 5:12-23
Matthew 10:40-42

Our first reading is shocking. Why would something like this even appear in the Bible? Here Abraham is, one hundred years old. He finally has a son, and now God asks him to do something unthinkable, horrible—to sacrifice his beloved son. Why would God ask such a thing? This is a passage that causes more questions than answers.

As we have so often observed, when studying the Bible, context is crucial. This passage concerning Abraham and Isaac was written by the Elohist writer, who was working around 750 years before the birth of Christ. The story of Abraham goes back to 1,600 B.C.E., almost 900 years earlier. When Abraham settled in Canaan, and even later, the Canaanites and other peoples were practicing rituals of sacrificing their children to their gods.

Walter Russell Bowie of Virginia Theological Seminary writes of Abraham: “Here was a great soul living in a crude age. He saw people around him offering up their children to show their faith and their obedience to false gods. In spite of the torment to his human love he could not help hearing an inward voice asking him why he should not do as much; and because that thought seemed to press upon his  conscience he thought it was the voice of God.”

Abraham thinks God is calling him to sacrifice his son. He packs everything needed for the sacrifice. When he and Isaac have to leave the two young men waiting, Abraham tells them to wait, saying, “We will go and worship and then we will come back to you.” “We will come back.” On the way, Isaac asks where the lamb is for a burnt offering and his father says, “God will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.” Abraham instructs his two young man  and answers Isaac’s question with tender love love and deep faith. On some deep level, Abraham trusts that God will provide. God will take care of this. And at the moment when the knife is raised and we are holding our breath, the angel speaks and Abraham sees the ram caught in the thicket. Seeing is important here. We need to be alert and able to see God’s generous grace in operation. Abraham has shown the faith needed to offer everything, his whole future, to God. God has generously responded to Abraham’s faith.  God has also shown that God does not want people to sacrifice their children. 

Bowie writes, “The Old Testament is continually lifting the conception of God out of the irrationality and arbitrariness of pagan superstitions.” Bowie quotes the prophet Hosea, speaking for God, who tells us, “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.”  (Bowie, The Interpreter’s Bible, pp. 642-644.) 

God loves us, and our loving God calls us to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourself. We are called to a journey of spiritual transformation.

In our epistle, Paul is talking about that process of transformation. We have been baptized into new life in Christ. There are many definitions of sin, but one of my favorites is that sin is separation from God, other people and our true selves. As followers of Jesus, we are growing closer to God. We are growing closer to each other, and we are growing into the true selves God calls us to be. We are following Jesus.

We are following our Good Shepherd, who knows our needs before we ask and who gives us all the gifts we need to carry out our ministry. We are following the Way of Love. We are following the way of life.

Our gospel for today is the end of Jesus’ teaching as he sends the disciples out into the world. Last week he talked about bringing not peace but a sword. In this passage, he is describing the strong bond between those who spread the message of God’s love and those who receive that message with open hearts and minds.

Biblical scholar Beverly Gaventa writes, “A new family is created of those who faithfully carry out the mission and those who openly receive the mission, and a fellowship is established that includes the divine presence.” (Gaventa, Texts for Preaching year A, p. 287.)

Jesus sends the disciples out to share the good news of his love. When people respond, that love grows by leaps and bounds. New communities are formed and the good news spreads over the entire world.

This is good news of love, healing, and wholeness not hate, division, and brokenness. This is good news that is shared when someone gives another person a drink of cold water on a hot day in the desert,  in a city where the concrete reflects the heat, or in a  small village in Vermont when the temperature has been above ninety degrees for six days in a row. This is good news given in the sharing of boxes of food that will last a family several days and then they can come back for more. This is good news of someone listening with love and care as a person shares a problem that is tying them in knots.

At the core of it all is the love of God, who does not want us to sacrifice lambs or even pigeons, and certainly not human beings and certainly not children. God loves children and calls us to love and care for children. Jesus said, “Let the children come to me.” In his day, children were considered as chattel, property, but he made it clear that children are precious, beloved human beings.

Isaac asked his father where the lamb for the burnt offering was. His father listened carefully and lovingly to the question and offered his own best answer, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” Isaac has complete trust in his father Abraham. Abraham has complete trust in God. May we have complete trust in God as we make our way through this stage of our journey in this pandemic. Like Abraham, may we look for signs of God’s grace and presence. And may we grow even stronger together as God’s beloved community as we respond in loving and creative ways. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Easter 3A April 26, 2020

Acts 2:14a, 36-41
Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17
1 Peter 1:17-23
Luke 24:13-35

Our opening reading today is a continuation of Peter’s sermon on Pentecost. Peter shares the good news abut Jesus in such a powerful way that three thousand people are baptized.

Our second reading is from the First Letter of Peter. This letter was written to followers of Jesus who were being persecuted. Peter calls them to “live in reverent fear during the time of your exile.” The word “fear” in this passage can be described as awe at God’s ability to carry us though difficult experiences, indeed God’s ability to bring life out of death. (Beverly Gaventa, Texts for Preaching Year B, p. 278.) 

As we have noted previously, and as Bishop Shannon has said, we who are living in this era of Covid 19, can feel as though we are in exile. We can identify with God’s people who were exiled in Babylon and we can also identify with the followers of Jesus who had to hide from the Roman authorities during times of persecution. Peter tells them and us, “Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew…..”

Our gospel for today is one of the most beloved inspiring, and moving passages in the Bible, the account of the journey of two followers of Jesus on the road to Emmaus. It is later in the day on the first Easter. Two followers of our Lord are walking on the road, talking about everything that has happened. They are sad and confused.

Suddenly, there is someone walking with them. They do not recognize him. They go on talking intensely, trying to figure out what has happened. They know that Jesus has died. There are rumors of something else, but they are not sure what to make of them. The stranger walks with them. Finally he asks them what they are talking about. They stop walking, and the profound sadness and grief shows on their faces. They can’t believe that this man is asking them what they are discussing.

Finally, Cleopas says, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He is a follower of Jesus and he is calling Jesus a stranger. We see this in all the accounts of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. Jesus somehow looks different. People do not recognize him.

Jesus asks, “What things?” Cleopas answers and gives Jesus a summary of the whole story. Then he goes to the root of the issue. “Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive.” And Cleopas reports that some of the others went to the tomb, but they did not see Jesus.

Then Jesus, still not revealing his identity, recounts the whole teaching of the prophets abut the messiah. They still do not realize who he is.

They come near to their home and he begins to walk ahead as if to continue his journey, but they urge him to come in. They still do not recognize him, but they are extending hospitality to this stranger.

When they are finally sitting at the table and he takes the bread and blesses it, they finally realize who he is. Then they become aware that, as he taught them, their hearts burned within them. For those who had seen the horror of the cross, it was so difficult to recognize the risen Jesus when he appeared to them. 

Right away, these two followers of Jesus rush back to Jerusalem as fast as their legs can carry them. They go to the house where the apostles are staying. When they go into the room, they hear the others saying that Jesus is alive and he has appeared to Peter. They tell the others about their encounter with the risen Lord. He is appearing to folks here and there. The word is spreading. Jesus is alive! He has been through the worst that anyone could have to endure, and he has come out the other side. He has defeated death in all its forms. 

This powerful encounter of two faithful and devastated followers of Jesus with their risen Lord gives us hope. Have you ever been walking along your journey, perhaps in a time of great defeat, disappointment, and sadness, and felt Jesus silently falling into step with you and helping you along the way? Have you ever felt the presence of Jesus when you were struggling with a problem that seemed too complicated to solve? I think many of us have felt his presence in many different kinds of moments. His loving presence, leading and guiding us.

There is a bittersweet side to this beautiful gospel story for us in this time of social distancing. The way he gave us to call him into our midst, the way we have to celebrate his presence with us most clearly and powerfully is the Eucharist, meaning Thanksgiving. And we cannot gather and celebrate Holy Eucharist at this time.

Here, in the midst of the Great Fifty Days of Easter, this is a sad fact that we have to deal with. When we get back to Grace Church and share our first Eucharist, that will be a happy day indeed. 

Meanwhile, we need to remember that, although the Holy Eucharist is a wonderful and special way to celebrate the presence of Jesus among us, it is by no means the only way. We must remember that he said, “When two or three are gathered in my name, I am in the midst of them.” He is with us now. He is with each of us in every moment of our lives.

Like the faithful people whom Peter was addressing in his letter, we are called to “love one another deeply from the heart.” We are also called to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Let us continue to follow the science. Let us work and pray for accurate and widely distributed testing for both they disease and the antibodies. Let us also pray for continuing development of contact tracing, effective treatments and vaccines. In the words of our collect, let us pray “that we may behold [our Lord] in all his redeeming work,” especially in the work of our medical folks, scientists, essential workers, first responders, food shelf volunteers, and all who are showing forth his love in this time when his love is so profoundly needed. Amen.

Advent 3A December 15, 2019

Isaiah 35:1-10
Canticle 3, p. 50 BCP
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11

Our opening reading from the great prophet Isaiah describes a profound transformation of people, animals, and the whole creation. The disabled are healed. Those who are afraid receive strength. Waters break forth in the wilderness and deserts bloom. All the people and the animals form a joyful procession to Jerusalem.  

Walter Brueggemann writes, “The Bible is relentless in its conviction that nothing that is skewed and distorted and deathly need remain as it is. God’s power and God’s passion converge to make total newness possible….Jesus is remembered and celebrated as the one who permits human life to begin again….The Church in Advent remembers this newness happening in Jesus and prepares itself for the affirmation that God is at work even now to bring the world to God’s powerful well-being.”  (Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching, p. 19.)

Our reading from the Letter of James begins with a loving word of advice, “Be patient, beloved, until the coming of the Lord.” We are called to “strengthen [our] hearts.” We are called not to grumble against each other. We are being asked to calm ourselves, put our roots down deep into the grace and love of God, and wait expectantly for the coming of our Lord.

Last week, we met John the Baptist out in the wilderness preaching repentance. Now he is in jail. John the Baptist has been put in prison by King Herod because he confronted Herod with his immoral behavior. Even though he is locked away, John is hearing news about what the Messiah is doing.

Although John is in prison, his supporters are able to visit and talk with him, and he is able to send some of them to Jesus to ask a very pressing question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we wait for another?”

Of course, we remember that John confidently proclaimed Jesus as the Savior and asked our Lord to baptize him. Why is he now wondering whether Jesus is the Messiah?

Biblical scholar Beverly Gaventa writes,” One reason for his uncertainty could be his situation in prison. This is the explanation often picked up in sermons on the passage and developed psychologically, that is to say, John is depressed and forgotten in his jail cell, and as his incarceration continues he becomes haunted with doubts. Out of his dejection and discouragement, he sends to question Jesus.”

Gaventa continues, “The text, however, offers a more likely, explanation. In prison John hears about ‘what the Messiah was doing.’ presumably those acts of healing and mercy depicted [in our passage.] To a fierce denouncer of the sins of the people, the Messiah’s primary task must be to carry out the final judgment, to see that the ax is laid to the root of the trees and to burn every tree that does not bear fruit. What sort of Messiah could Jesus be who teaches in the synagogue, preaches the gospel of the kingdom, and heals every disease and infirmity? John seems uncertain, not because of his own plight but because of what Jesus is reputed to be doing. He is not turning out to be the kind of Messiah John expected.

Here is is important to remember that, in the history and writings of the people of God, there were two strands of thought about the Messiah. One was that the Messiah would be a military hero, coming in with great force and conquering the Roman Empire and freeing the people. The other strand was the thinking of prophets such as Isaiah. 

Gaventa continues, “What John needs is a new understanding of who the Messiah in reality is, what sort of work the Messiah does,  and with what sort of people he does it….Seeing and hearing that Jesus is preoccupied with people who have been marginalized by their situations, who can do little or nothing for themselves may represent a threat to some and prevent their accepting Jesus as Messiah. Like John, they expect that the Messiah should be doing more about stopping crime and punishing criminals. They would prefer to wait for another in hopes of finding a leader more to their liking. Jesus alone, however, defined his messiahship.” Gaventa, Texts for Preaching, pp. 26-27.

The scriptures do not tell us how John worked though this issue, but Gaventa’s comments remind us that it is very difficult for some of us to accept the messiah who is so clearly described in Isaiah’s prophecy, a loving savior who brings all of humanity and all of the creation to wholeness, health, and joy.

The text does give us Jesus’ comments on John. Our Lord says that there is no human being who is greater than John. And then our Lord gives us one of his paradoxes. “The least in the kingdom is greater than he.” John is a great man. He is a prophet and he prepares the way of the Savior. Yet, as Gaventa writes, “…the one who is least in the kingdom is greater than John. The age of fulfillment toward which John points is so decisive that even Jesus’ disciples…who understand and share his fulfilling activity, are greater than John. The comment is not made as a rebuke of John, but as an acknowledgment of the surpassing character of the new age dawning in the person of Jesus. It is an age in which disciples are still vulnerable to arrest and imprisonment, but are also changed and empowered to participate in the messianic activity of Jesus.” (Gaventa, Texts for Preaching, p. 27.

We are already following our Lord. We are already disciples. Yes, we are flawed and fallible humans, yet we are already in our process of transformation, and we are working to help our Lord build his Kingdom. Once again, I share an ancient prayer by an anonymous mystic who lived in the fifteenth century.

“Thou shalt know Him when He comes
Not by any din of drums—
Nor the vantage of His airs—
Nor by anything He wears—
Neither by His crown—
Nor His gown—
For His presence known shall be
By the Holy Harmony
That His coming makes in thee. Amen.”

Pentecost 17 Proper 19 B RCL September 16, 2018

Proverbs 1:20-33
Psalm 19
James 3:1-12
Mark 8:27-38

In our first reading today, Wisdom calls the people to return to God, to respond to God’s call. Wisdom is always a female figure. Wisdom is considered to be a part of God, an aspect of God, who was present at the creation. Jesus is often thought of as being one with Wisdom. Herbert O’ Driscoll says, “ Wisdom expresses the mind of God.” (The Word Among Us, Year B, Vol 3, p. 102.) Wisdom practice is designed to help us attune our minds to the mind of God and to follow the will of God.

Our passage from the Letter of James is also considered to be wisdom literature. It gives guidance on how to live our lives in harmony with God’s will.  Much of today’s reading focuses on that very small but very powerful part of our body, the tongue. James tells us that it is easier to control the rudder of a ship that it is to control our tongues.

Biblical scholar Beverly Gaventa quotes that old adage that we all recited when we were children: “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” Gaventa writes, “The lines carry within themselves their own contradiction, for if words did not in fact have the power to do harm, the lines would not be necessary.”  (Gaventa, Texts for Preaching Year B, p. 509.)

With social media, we can send messages to hundreds and thousands of people. We are not saying something to just one or two people. The misuse of social media to send negative messages is particularly harmful to our children and youth. We have all read or heard accounts of young people actually committing suicide because of bullying that has occurred over social media. James points out that with our tongues we can either bless or curse, and we pray that, in everything we say, we will be extending blessings.

In our gospel, Jesus has been doing healings and touching many lives. He has realized that his ministry is to all people. He has also endured verbal attacks by the religious authorities who scold him for putting the needs of people before the traditions.

In today’s reading, Jesus asks his followers who he is. They report on the opinions others have been offering. Jesus asks them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter says, “You are the Messiah.” Then Jesus tells them what is going to happen. He is going to suffer, he is going to be rejected by the authorities, he is going to be killed, and then he is going to rise again.

Peter cannot bear this, He takes Jesus aside and begins to scold him, “Lord, this simply cannot happen.” In one way or another, all of our readings today are about how we respond to God’s call. Jesus knows what he is called to do. His revolution of the spirit is so frightening to the authorities that they are going to kill him. He is going to suffer.

I think Peter is responding to this on at least two levels. First, he loves Jesus. He has left everything and followed this man, and now Jesus has become like a big brother to him. He cannot bear the idea of Jesus suffering and dying.

Secondly, there are two strains of thought regarding the messiah. One is that the messiah will come as a conquering hero, defeat the oppressor—in this case, the Roman Empire—and establish a new kingdom, the reign of God. It’s one thing to be following a military hero who achieves a military victory. It is another thing to be following a leader who suffers and dies. Prophets such as Isaiah clearly present the concept of the suffering servant, and Peter knows this, but it is still very difficult to hear.

But let us consider how Jesus is feeling. He knows what he is called to do. But now his dear friend Peter, the one who will lead the apostles, is saying that this simply cannot happen. He loves Peter. He knows Peter is emotional and impulsive at times, but Peter is the one who has recognized Jesus as the Savior. When Peter tells Jesus that our Lord’s description of his death and resurrection can’t be true, it tempts Jesus to waver in his resolve. And that is why our Lord says, “Get behind me, Satan.” Peter is tempting Jesus to veer from the path he is called to walk. Peter is setting his mind on earthly things instead of heavenly things.

And then Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him. He calls us to lose our lives for his sake. That does not necessarily mean dying for his sake, but it does mean putting heavenly things above earthly things.

If we go back to the theme of Wisdom as expressing the mind of God, or the mind of Christ, following Jesus means that we are called to make our minds and hearts one with his mind and heart. This means that we are called to be people of love and compassion, to care about others as our Lord did.

As we pray our collect for today, we are asking that we nay follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit in all things. That is what it means to take up our cross and follow Jesus— to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit in all things. When we do that, we are following our Good Shepherd, who is leading us into new life,  Amen.

Pentecost 16 Proper 18C RCL September 4, 2016

Jeremiah 18:1-11
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17
Philemon 1-21
Luke 14:25-33

Our readings for today are thought-provoking, to say the least. Our opening lesson is from the prophet Jeremiah. God is the potter. We are the clay.  In our reading, God is calling the people of Judah to follow God’s will. More than fifteen hundred years later, God is calling us to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves, to be people of justice and compassion.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is attracting huge crowds. He is continuing to point out how difficult it is to be a disciple of his. He is not telling us to hate our families. He calling us to have discipleship as a high priority. Choosing to follow Jesus in the early days of the new faith could mean being disowned by one’s family. Persecution of Christians has occurred over the centuries and is occurring even now. Following Christ is a decision not to be made lightly.

Our epistle is from the Letter of Paul to Philemon. This is an extraordinary letter. First, it is the shortest epistle in the Bible. We have read the entire letter today. Secondly, it is not addressed to a congregation but to a person. Third, there are many mysteries about this letter.

We really do not know where it was written. Paul was in prison, but scholars are still trying to figure out where Paul was when he wrote this letter. Some scholars think Paul was in Caesarea. Others think he was in Ephesus, which was a major city near Colossae, where Philemon’s congregation was located. Other scholars, including Herbert O’Driscoll,  think the letter was written when Paul was in prison in Rome.

Here is Paul in prison, not for the first time. Let’s just suppose that he is under house arrest in Rome. There is a Roman guard keeping watch, but Paul is allowed to write letters and even to have visitors. Somehow, Onesimus, an escaped slave, shows up at Paul’s door.

Paul welcomes this young man into his quarters. According to Roman law, Paul could be killed for harboring an escaped slave. As a follower of Christ, Paul obeys a higher law, the law of love and hospitality.

Onesimus has escaped from the household of Philemon, a wealthy man from Colossae. Philemon is the man who has made his house available so that the followers of Jesus can meet and worship. This is how the early Church began, in the houses of generous people who had the space to offer a place for worship and learning. Church buildings did not happen until centuries later.

We do not know why Onesimus has run away. We do not know why he goes to Paul. Perhaps he has heard Paul’s name mentioned in his home community and has sought him out. If Onesimus has had a problem in the house of Philemon, he might he coming to Paul in order to ask Paul to help him resolve this problem with Philemon.  The law provided for such mediation. If he is seeking this kind of help, Onesimus will not legally be considered a runaway.

As time goes on, Paul begins teaching Onesimus about the new faith. Eventually, Onesimus is baptized. Paul grows to love Onesimus very deeply. He writes that he has become the spiritual father of this young man, and he calls Onesimus “my own heart.”

But now, Paul is sending Onesimus back to Philemon. And here, we have another very important piece of the puzzle. Paul is Philemon’s father in the faith. Years ago, he instructed Philemon. They were very close, and we can tell from the letter that Paul is grateful to Philemon for nourishing the faith of so many other people. There is a great deal of love between Paul and Philemon.

Now we need to keep in mind that Paul has written, “In Christ, there is no slave or free, no Jew or Greek, no male or female, but we are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:22.)

Paul is saying that in Christ new relationships are formed between and among people. Once we come to believe in Christ, we do become brothers and sisters. Onesimus has become his son, his heart. Philemon is also his son in the faith, although Paul is careful not to ask any privileges because of that fact.

Paul is saying that the love of Christ which binds us together makes us equals, and he is asking  Philemon to grant Onesimus freedom to come back to Paul and help him. Onesimus actually means “useful,” and it is apparent that Onesimus had become extremely useful to Paul as a secretary and an assistant in carrying out his ministry, for that is what Paul is doing, even from prison. He is exercising a vibrant ministry of correspondence and receiving visitors.

As members of the Body of Christ, we are equals. We do not lord it over each other. We certainly do not own each other. Paul does not ask for the freedom of Onesimus in so many words, but he trusts that Philemon will read between the lines.

The risen Christ is in the space between us and among us. A new kind of relationship has been forged between and among us. We are equals. We are the infinitely precious children of God, and some of us are mothers and fathers to our younger folks in the faith, but we are also equals.

Beverly Gaventa writes, “By virtue of his conversion, Onesimus has become a brother in Christ, which necessitates that he be treated as brother. …One who is a brother in the Lord can scarcely be a slave in the flesh.” (Texts for Preaching Year C, pp. 503-504.) Paul writes, “If you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.”

“In Christ, there is no slave or free no Jew or Greek, no male or female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.” Amen.

Pentecost 6 Proper 8C RCL June 26, 2016

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Luke 9:51-62

In our opening reading today, the faithful and courageous prophet Elijah is coming to the end of his life. He has trained Elisha to take over and continue his prophetic  ministry. We look on as Elijah tries to  leave and Elisha, deep in grief, tries to hold on to his beloved mentor.

Finally, Elijah asks his young student what he can do for him. Elijah asks for a double share of Elijah’s spirit. Elijah points out that this is a difficult thing to ask, but if Elisha sees Elijah as he is being taken away, the gift will be granted. Herbert O’Driscoll says that Elijah is asking Elisha to face what is happening and to grow into maturity so that he can take over the mantle of Elijah.

That is exactly what the young Elisha does. He watches carefully, his heart breaking as his mentor is carried into heaven. And then he gets down to business and carries on this important ministry. In a sense, he grows up in a few short, intense moments.

In our epistle, Paul is trying to help the Galatians realize that freedom in Christ does not mean license. In other words, this freedom does not mean that we can do anything we please. Paul reminds them and us that we are called to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Everything we do must involve loving God and loving others.

We are on a journey from the level of human will and selfishness to the level of spirit, where we grow closer and closer to God and follow Jesus more and more faithfully. On the level of spirit, we become more and more open to God’s grace, and our lives are guided by God.

Paul then draws a contrast. He lists what he calls “the works of the flesh.” Biblical scholar Beverly Gaventa says,”In this lection,…flesh refers to a way of thinking or behaving that is confined to the human sphere, that operates without the guidance of the Spirit of God.” (Texts for Preaching Year C , p. 407.)

Then he lists the fruit of the spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If our lives and our life together in community are governed by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, things are going to go much better than if we are operating solely on the human level.

In our gospel, Jesus is setting his face toward Jerusalem. He knows the price he is going to pay. He does not want to go, but he knows he must walk this journey. He does something he has not done before. He sends messengers ahead. We do not know why he does this. But it is a good thing that he does, because there is one Samaritan village that does not want to receive him because he is going to Jerusalem.

Jesus is going to Jerusalem to challenge the status quo on behalf of people like the Samaritans, who are viewed as somehow inferior because of their different religious beliefs and practices, but that fact is lost on the people of this village. James and John want to punish the village, but Jesus says No.  His is the way of compassion. On the cross, he will ask God to forgive deeds worse than that one.

As they travel along, a man offers to follow Jesus wherever he goes. Jesus talks about his own homelessness. Following Jesus is not easy. It demands sacrifices.

Jesus calls a man to follow him, but the man wants to bury his father who has just died. Jesus tells him to let the dead bury the dead. Another man wants to follow Jesus, but he has to go and say good bye to his family. Jesus says that once we put the hand to the plow, we shouldn’t turn back. In these encounters, our Lord is letting us know that following him is not easy. Jesus puts a high value on family, but he is also saying that disciples have to order their priorities.

As I thought about these readings, Elijah passing on the mantle of leadership to Elisha; the Galatians growing up into maturity in Christ and showing the fruits of the Spirit; and our Lord’s comments on the challenges of discipleship, I began to reflect on all the people who have gone before us here at Grace Church.

The Rev. Dr. Albert Hopson Bailey is the longest-serving rector of Grace Church. He was here from May 1865 until February 14, 1891, twenty-six years. His last service here was on February 8, 1891.  Two days later, he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, and, as Bishop Bissell sadly reported to Convention, he was unconscious most of the time until his death six days later on February 14, 1891.

Frederica Northrop Sargent writes, that he served “in simplicity and Godly sincerity.” She notes that he “compiled the church records and brought them up to date. His foresight in that work is of great, great historical value to the parish.” Dr. Bailey was also the first historiographer of the Diocese of Vermont.

From all the accounts I have read concerning the life and work of Albert Hopson Bailey, he exemplified the fruits of the Spirit.  He was a faithful pastor, and he was especially gifted in explaining the more difficult passages of the Scriptures. Bishop Bissell described him as “one of our most devoted fellow laborers, a most trusted advisor and most loving friend.” For me, Albert Hopson Bailey is one of the heroes of Grace Church.

When we think of Elijah’s mantle being passed on to Elisha, we can think of all the generations of faithful people who, like Albert Hopson Bailey, lived their lives in Christ and passed down to us the legacy of loving and faithful life in community.

May we honor and celebrate this wonderful legacy. May we show forth the fruits of the Spirit. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Pentecost 6 Proper 8C RCL June 26, 2016

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Luke 9:51-62

In our opening reading today, the faithful and courageous prophet Elijah is coming to the end of his life. He has trained Elisha to take over and continue his prophetic  ministry. We look on as Elijah tries to  leave and Elisha, deep in grief, tries to hold on to his beloved mentor.

Finally, Elijah asks his young student what he can do for him. Elijah asks for a double share of Elijah’s spirit. Elijah points out that this is a difficult thing to ask, but if Elisha sees Elijah as he is being taken away, the gift will be granted. Herbert O’Driscoll says that Elijah is asking Elisha to face what is happening and to grow into maturity so that he can take over the mantle of Elijah.

That is exactly what the young Elisha does. He watches carefully, his heart breaking as his mentor is carried into heaven. And then he gets down to business and carries on this important ministry. In a sense, he grows up in a few short, intense moments.

In our epistle, Paul is trying to help the Galatians realize that freedom in Christ does not mean license. In other words, this freedom does not mean that we can do anything we please. Paul reminds them and us that we are called to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Everything we do must involve loving God and loving others.

We are on a journey from the level of human will and selfishness to the level of spirit, where we grow closer and closer to God and follow Jesus more and more faithfully. On the level of spirit, we become more and more open to God’s grace, and our lives are guided by God.

Paul then draws a contrast. He lists what he calls “the works of the flesh.” Biblical scholar Beverly Gaventa says,”In this lection,…flesh refers to a way of thinking or behaving that is confined to the human sphere, that operates without the guidance of the Spirit of God.” (Texts for Preaching Year C , p. 407.)

Then he lists the fruit of the spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If our lives and our life together in community are governed by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, things are going to go much better than if we are operating solely on the human level.

In our gospel, Jesus is setting his face toward Jerusalem. He knows the price he is going to pay. He does not want to go, but he knows he must walk this journey. He does something he has not done before. He sends messengers ahead. We do not know why he does this. But it is a good thing that he does, because there is one Samaritan village that does not want to receive him because he is going to Jerusalem.

Jesus is going to Jerusalem to challenge the status quo on behalf of people like the Samaritans, who are viewed as somehow inferior because of their different religious beliefs and practices, but that fact is lost on the people of this village. James and John want to punish the village, but Jesus says No.  His is the way of compassion. On the cross, he will ask God to forgive deeds worse than that one.

As they travel along, a man offers to follow Jesus wherever he goes. Jesus talks about his own homelessness. Following Jesus is not easy. It demands sacrifices.

Jesus calls a man to follow him, but the man wants to bury his father who has just died. Jesus tells him to let the dead bury the dead. Another man wants to follow Jesus, but he has to go and say good bye to his family. Jesus says that once we put the hand to the plow, we shouldn’t turn back. In these encounters, our Lord is letting us know that following him is not easy. Jesus puts a high value on family, but he is also saying that disciples have to order their priorities.

As I thought about these readings, Elijah passing on the mantle of leadership to Elisha; the Galatians growing up into maturity in Christ and showing the fruits of the Spirit; and our Lord’s comments on the challenges of discipleship, I began to reflect on all the people who have gone before us here at Grace Church.

The Rev. Dr. Albert Hopson Bailey is the longest-serving rector of Grace Church. He was here from May 1865 until February 14, 1891, twenty-six years. His last service here was on February 8, 1891.  Two days later, he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, and, as Bishop Bissell sadly reported to Convention, he was unconscious most of the time until his death six days later on February 14, 1891.

Frederica Northrop Sargent writes, that he served “in simplicity and Godly sincerity.” She notes that he “compiled the church records and brought them up to date. His foresight in that work is of great, great historical value to the parish.” Dr. Bailey was also the first historiographer of the Diocese of Vermont.

From all the accounts I have read concerning the life and work of Albert Hopson Bailey, he exemplified the fruits of the Spirit.  He was a faithful pastor, and he was especially gifted in explaining the more difficult passages of the Scriptures. Bishop Bissell described him as “one of our most devoted fellow laborers, a most trusted advisor and most loving friend.” For me, Albert Hopson Bailey is one of the heroes of Grace Church.

When we think of Elijah’s mantle being passed on to Elisha, we can think of all the generations of faithful people who, like Albert Hopson Bailey, lived their lives in Christ and passed down to us the legacy of loving and faithful life in community.

May we honor and celebrate this wonderful legacy. May we show forth the fruits of the Spirit. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.