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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:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion December 18, 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:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion December 25, 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:…

Epiphany 4B January 31, 2021

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

In our opening reading from Deuteronomy, Moses is saying farewell to God’s people. He will not go with them into the promised land. But Moses is also saying that God will call forth from the people a prophet like Moses. This reminds us of all the great prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, and Hosea. 

These prophets were called by God to tell the truth, often to leaders who were going astray. They had the courage to speak truth to power. My beloved mentor, David Brown, described a prophet as someone who holds the plumb line of God, the standard of God, the values of God, up to the society, and asks, is this society living by the values God has given us to govern our life together?

In our reading for today, God says, “Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I shall hold accountable.” Prophets are called to speak the truth. They are called to speak the word of God. They are called to lead lives that are in harmony with the word of God. This is our model for good leaders.

Our second reading today allows us to look in on the people of the Church in Corinth, a bustling city with many temples dedicated to various Greek and Roman deities. The people in the congregation in Corinth are wondering whether it is acceptable to eat meat that has been “sacrificed to idols.” This was a difficult issue because, after meat was dedicated to these various deities, it was sent to the markets to be sold. Often, business dealings took place over a meal, so decisions on this topic could affect one’s livelihood.

Some people in the Corinth community say it’s fine to eat such meat because there is only one God. Others are not sure; some are deeply troubled about this. Paul reminds us that “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up,” 

Whether or not to eat meat sacrificed to idols is not a burning issue for us, but Paul’s advice about our attitudes in the midst of controversies is highly relevant.  

The core of the law and of our faith is that we love God and love our neighbor. As we grapple with issues in the Church, we are bound to have different opinions. In Corinth, the people who felt comfortable eating meat sacrificed to idols were being a bit pushy in trying to convince others to agree with them. Paul is reminding us to focus on God’s love for us and our love for each other. He is also calling us to be aware of the difference between freedom and license. Christ has set us free, but that does not mean that we have a right to do things that hurt others in the community. If we think it’s okay to eat meat sacrificed to idols, we can refrain from doing that if it would hurt others in the community of faith.

In our gospel, it is the Sabbath day. Jesus goes to teach in the synagogue in Capernaum. Jesus can be seen as the greatest of all the prophets. He speaks the word of God. The people are amazed because he has true authority. What he speaks is from God.

In the synagogue is a man who has an unclean spirit. Since he is seen as ritually unclean, he is supposed to stay away from others. He is marginalized. The unclean spirit immediately recognizes Jesus and names him. Jesus speaks the word of God, telling the spirit to be silent and come out of the man. The spirit convulses the man and comes out. The man is now healed.

The prophet speaks the word of God, and that word is a word of wholeness, not brokenness; life, not death; unity, not division; love not hate.

Fred Craddock writes, “Jesus is the strong Son of God who has entered a world in which the forces of evil… are crippling, distorting, and destroying life….But with Jesus comes the word of power to heal, to help, to give life, and to restore. In Mark a battle is joined between good and evil, truth and falsehood, life and death, God and Satan. And sometimes, says Mark, the contest is waged in the synagogue.”  Craddock, Preaching through the Christian Year B, p. 92.

What forces are creating brokenness, division, and hate in our world? What forces operate against God’s shalom of peace, love, and harmony? Racism is one. We all have implicit racism from living in a country where white people are treated differently than people of color. Other such forces are greed, seeking power in order to use and control others, dishonesty, classism, misogyny, violence. Many forces are working against the shalom of God.

Where do we find God’s truth in our world? What forces are working on behalf of truth? What forces are working against truth? Our readings today are encouraging us to be sure that we find sources of information that deal with facts, sources that give us information which is based on scientific research and truth, sources that base their work on information and research from trained, ethical experts who convey reliable, factual information.

Writing of Jesus’ healing of the man in the synagogue, Fred Craddock reflects on the power of words. He writes, “It is the quality of the speaker’s life that makes the words word of God. Another criterion is the character of God: Ours is a God who loves and cares for people, who seeks their wholeness and  health, who speaks healing rather than harming words. “ (Craddock, Proclamation 2 Epiphany Series B, p. 33.

May we all speak the words of God, words of love and caring, words of wholeness and health.  Amen.

Pentecost 20 Proper 24A October 18, 2020

Exodus 33:12-23
Psalm 99
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Matthew 22:15-22

Last Sunday, in the words of my beloved mentor David Brown, God was about to “gunch” God’s people because they built the golden calf. This placed Moses in an extremely awkward situation.  God is about to rain fire down on the people Moses has led many miles into the wilderness. We can imagine that Moses found this a terrifying prospect. Remember that old saying, “Faith is fear that has said its prayers?” Moses has clearly devoted himself to mammoth amounts of prayer, thus replacing any fear with wholehearted faith. He convinces God that God should not consume God’s people with fire.

As we approach our reading for today, we remember that ancient people firmly believed that you could not see God and live. God was so powerful that being close to God or seeing the face of God would kill you.

At this point, God and Moses have had quite a long relationship and a rich dialogue. In our reading for today, Moses asks God to “show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight.” And God answers, “My presence will go with you and I will give you rest.” Then Moses tells God that if God will not go with the people, there is no sense in their going ahead on their journey. And God says that God will go with them.

And then Moses asks something that probably no human had ever asked. “Show me your glory, I pray,” Moses asks. And God says that God will go past a place in the rock and will put Moses in a cleft of the rock and will cover Moses with God’s hand while God passes by. This way, Moses will not see God’s face and will not die from seeing the sheer power of God.

In leading the people of God from slavery into freedom, Moses has had some powerful conversations with God. This faithful leader has actually convinced God to change God’s mind. In the process, Moses has gotten to know God better and better. And I’m going to say that Moses has come to love God. God listens to him and actually follows his advice! Because he loves God and wants to know God as fully as he can, Moses asks something that no one has ever asked before, He wants to see God’s glory. He knows very well that no one can see the face of God and live.

God listens to Moses, as God has listened even when Moses disagreed with God. It has been a long journey since Moses turned aside from watching and guarding the flock of Reuel his father-in-law and saw a bush which was burning but was not consumed. And heard the voice of God coming from that fire. Heard the voice of God calling him, Moses, just an ordinary human, to go back to Egypt and lead the people of God out of slavery.

In one of the most tender and touching passages in Scripture, God answers Yes to Moses’ request. Moses will be able to see God’s glory, but Moses will be protected by being in the cleft of the rock and being covered by God’s almighty and loving hand so that Moses will not die.

In contrast to being a force of destructive power, God is now developing a very close and loving relationship with God’s chosen leader of the people, Moses. In the Hebrew Scriptures, God often appears as a God who regularly gunches people when they go astray. Sodom and Gomorrah come to mind. But this tender moment between God and Moses is a little glimpse into our evolving human understanding of God as not only transcendent, a God mighty enough to create the universe and stand above and beyond the creation, far away and mighty in power, but also immanent, a God who is close to us, as close as our breath, as close as the beating of our hearts.

As Christians, we believe that God loves us beyond our ability to understand or imagine. Yes, loves us frail and fallible creatures who are anything but perfect—loves us so much that, as our loving God watched us make one disastrous choice after another and grow closer and closer to some cosmic brink, our loving God realized the only way to reach us was to become one of us.

And so, in a little place called Bethlehem, Jesus was born. And he was raised in another little town called Nazareth. A town much like Sheldon or Fletcher or Montgomery or Franklin or Fairfield or any other little town in Vermont. Nazareth was out of the way and it was a place where folks could think for themselves and not be so much under the sway of the occupying Roman Empire. Jesus is our gracious God choosing out of love to walk the face of the earth and live among us to show us the way to new life.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is being grilled by the Pharisees and the Herodians. Their question is, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?” Jesus is caught between the Devil and the deep  blue sea on this one. The Herodians are pro-Caesar and the Pharisees are anti-Caesar. Jesus asks for a coin, and he says, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s.”

As Christians, we know that everything we have is a gift from God. Even our very lives. Every breath. The energy to be able to help other people. The vision of a kingdom, a shalom of peace, love, and wholeness for the creation.

The Roman Empire occupied Palestine at that time. They were great engineers. The roads and aqueducts were great, but the government was ruthless. One whiff of  insurrection and they squashed it. Once again, we have David Brown’s very helpful distinction: what is the meaning of authority? The distinction is between auctoritas—authorship, creativity, flexibilility, freeing people to realize their God-given potential and imperium—tyranny, control, imprisoning people for the slightest infraction, squashing opposition, removing freedom, — a heavy boot coming down on the people and killing them.

For survival’s sake, we might pay our taxes to Rome so that we won’t be arrested or killed. Or we might try to rebel. But to God, we owe everything—God’s gifts of time, talent, and treasure, the gifts of faith, hope, and love and all that goes with those gifts. We offer our lives to God so that God can lead us and guide us into what God is calling us to do. God is a God of freedom, love, and creativity. Tyranny tries to annihilate all those gifts. 

And so, Moses and God deepen their partnership in leading the people to freedom. And our Lord calls us to offer our lives in gratitude to our loving God, our Holy One, who leads us into the freedom and grace of new life. Amen.

Trinity Sunday Year B RCL May 27, 2018

Isaiah 6:1-8
Psalm 29
Romans 8:12-17
John 3:1-17

Today we celebrate Trinity Sunday. The doctrine of the Trinity expresses our human experience of God in three persons—God the  Creator, God the Redeemer, and God the Sanctifier.

God the Creator. God created the world, from the tiniest subatomic particles to the galaxies; from the most delicate, tiny flower to the planet Jupiter. As theologian Mary Daly has noted, when we create anything—whether it be a safe haven for a child or a refugee or a rescue pet; whether it be a symphony, or a book, or a cathedral or a painting, or peace between two countries or two members of a family—when we create, we become co-creators with God.

God the Redeemer. Jesus who has come among us to save us from our brokenness and make us whole. Jesus is God incarnate, God embodied, God enfleshed. God walking the face of the earth, teaching us and healing us and making us whole, helping us to be born again into a new life based on love of God and love of others.

God the Holy Spirit. As David Brown has said, the Holy Spirit is God at work in us and in the world. Wherever conflict becomes peace, the Spirit is at work. Wherever creative work is done, it is done with the energy of the Spirit. So we see that God the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier are constantly working together to make us whole and to heal a broken world.

Theologian John Macquarrie talked about Being and about God calling things into being. He wrote that in any big project, such as the writing of a book or the creation of a building, there is the vision, the plan, and the realization of the plan. We have the vision of the building; we draw the plans in very careful detail; and then we carry out that plan.

God has a vision for the world— a world full of peace and harmony. Jesus is the plan. The Greek word logos means plan, model, pattern, blueprint. Jesus is the pattern for human life. The Spirit is the energy who carries out the plan. The Spirit is at work in us and in the world to realize God’s plan of peace and harmony.

Theologian Robert Farrar Capon, a favorite of David Walters, David Brown, and many of us, writes about creation in his wonderful book, The Third Peacock. Capon makes it clear that each created thing is an object of God’s infinite love, and that God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit rejoice in the work of creation. Thus, in the creation of, say, chicken number thirty-four thousand eight hundred forty-two, all three persons of the Trinity are cheering each other on, laughing and joyfully celebrating the wonder of creation. God’s love in bringing this wonderful, unique, beloved creature, chicken number 34,842, into being.

In our first reading for today, Isaiah has a vision of God, whose power and glory are almost terrifying. Stricken by his sinfulness, Isaiah confesses, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.” Then, doing for Isaiah what Christ would later do for all of us, God cleanses Isaiah from his sin. When God calls, Isaiah is able to respond to that call.

In our reading from the Letter to the Romans, Paul is reminding us that, because of the love of God, Jesus, and the Spirit, we have become as close to God as a child is to his or her mother or father. In fact, we are so close to God that we can call God Abba, “Dad” or “Daddy,” “Mom”, or “Mama”. We have received a spirit of adoption, and we are God’s children in the closest way possible. If we think back to the reading from Isaiah, with the angels flying about in the temple, the glory of God shining forth, the smoke and the sheer power of the transcendent God, our becoming God’s beloved children in this intimate way is almost mind-boggling.

In our reading from John’s gospel, Nicodemus, who is a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling council, goes to Jesus by night. He is risking his position in visiting our Lord, and he may well be risking his life. But he wants to know more. Jesus tells Nicodemus that “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus takes this literally and wonders how someone can enter his mother’s womb, so Jesus tries again, telling him that “No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.”

God the Creator has the vision for God’s shalom. Jesus is standing there in front of Nicodemus proclaiming the Kingdom and telling him that we enter that Kingdom through the water of baptism and the power of the Spirit because of the love of God expressed in all three persons. God has created the vision of God’s shalom of peace and harmony. Jesus, the living example of that vision, is inviting Nicodemus to join God’s shalom.

Nicodemus may seem quite flustered and overwhelmed at this point, but we know that the Holy Spirit is leading him into all truth. John’s gospel tells us two important things.  First, when the Council, the Sanhedrin, becomes more and more suspicious of Jesus and begins building its case against our Lord, Nicodemus reminds them that the law says that Jesus or any person being accused of an offense is entitled to a hearing.  Secondly, after Jesus is crucified, Nicodemus helps Joseph of Arimathea take down the Body of our Lord from the cross and give that beloved body a respectful burial. Both Nicodemus and Jospeh of Arimathea have developed such a devotion to our Lord that they risk their honored positions and their lives in taking care of Jesus’ body.

God in three persons, blessed Trinity.

God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit—Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier. God who loves each of us as the apple of God’s eye. God who loves the whole creation and is working to bring the creation into harmony. God who is calling us to help in that work and who is cheering us on and energizing us with God’s Spirit as we do that work.  Thanks be to God. Amen.

Pentecost 10 Proper 14A RCL August 13, 2017

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

Last Sunday, we had an interesting and unusual event in our lectionary. When a feast of our Lord, such as the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple, or, the Transfiguration of our Lord, comes on a Sunday, that feast supersedes the normal lectionary. This past Sunday, in reading the lessons for the Transfiguration, we skipped the lessons for the ninth Sunday of Pentecost.

So I am going to fill in just a little of the story of Jacob and his family. Last Sunday’s readings described Jacob sending his two wives, their two maids, his eleven children and all his possessions to go ahead of him so that, when they got to his brother Esau and Esau asked them whom they belonged to, they would say, “Jacob,” and Esau would know that his brother was returning home. It was Jacob’s sincere prayer that seeing his possessions and wives and children might inspire mercy on the part of Esau and prevent him from killing Jacob.

Meanwhile, Jacob stayed back and had his wrestling match with God. This left him with a dislocated hip and a new name, Israel. Esau did indeed have mercy on Jacob, and now we see how large the family of Jacob, now Israel, has  become.

But that old sin of envy and jealousy is running rampant. Envy is defined by my mentor David Brown as, “The inability to rejoice in the blessings and good fortune of others.” Joseph is loved by his father. He has a special cloak, that coat of many colors, that “amazing technicolor dreamboat.” He has a special place in his father’s heart, and his brothers want to kill him. Fortunately, Reuben persuades them to throw Joseph into a pit and at least leave him alive. Then, when the Midianite traders come by, Judah comes up with the bright idea of selling their brother to them for twenty pieces of silver. Thus Joseph is taken into Egypt.

In our epistle, Paul is quoting Scripture, specifically Deuteronomy 30:11-14. We do not have to go to great lengths to find Christ. We do not have to bring him down from heaven, and we do not have to bring him up from hell, where he descended to share his love with everyone and every part of the creation so that no one will be separated from him. The writer of Deuteronomy was referring to the law when he said, “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart.” But Paul is extending that wisdom to our understanding of our Lord. He is near us. We do not have to go far to find him. He has come to earth to find us and to heal us and forgive us and give us grace to continue on our journey to him, and he is walking with us every step of the way.

Jesus is God walking the face of the earth. God has come to be with us. God loves us so much that God would come to be one of us.

In today’s gospel, Jesus has just fed the five thousand. He tells the disciples to get into a boat and go to the other side of the lake while he dismisses the crowds. And then, what does he do? He goes up to the mountain to pray. He goes to be with God, his heavenly Father. Jesus did this whenever he could. He went to God for guidance, sustenance. He went to his divine Father for feeding, refreshment, true peace, true direction. This is something we need to do each and every day, several times a day. The great moral theologian Kenneth Kirk said that this habit, recollection, going into the presence of God and reordering our hearts and lives, is the practice of the presence of God, and he said that recollection is “the habit of referring all questions to God.” That is what Jesus did so often, and that is what he is doing at the beginning of this gospel. He is so deep in prayer that by the time he comes back to what we are pleased to call reality, the boat is way out in the lake, the waves are high, and the boat is being battered by wind and waves.

Early in the morning, Jesus comes walking across the water, and they think he is a ghost. You know how the mist can sit on the water early in the morning. Everything can seem quite other-worldly, ghostly. They cry out in fear.

And he says those words that we can carry like treasure in our hearts: “Take heart; it is I; do not be afraid.”

Dear impetuous Peter imposes a bit of a test,”Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus says, “Come.” So Peter jumps out of the boat into the water and he is doing just great until he notices how very strong that wind really is, and, just like that, he sinks like a rock. But he calls out to Jesus and Jesus reaches out his hand and grips him in that strong loving handclasp, asking him why he doubts. And they all know who Jesus really is.

This gospel has at least two very powerful messages for us. The first is that we need to spend time with God. We need to make time in our busy days to “be still and know that God is God.” We need to bask in God’s presence and let God’s love and healing seep into the depths of our being.

The other message is about fear. It is important to remember that fear is not always a bad thing. If we start to climb up a sheer mountainside with sharp drops on all sides and we feel afraid, that could be a helpful message that perhaps we are not quite up to that level of mountain climbing. So, on the positive side, sometimes the feeling of fear can be a helpful warning on behalf of our self-care.  

Then there is the other aspect of fear, and that is that fear can get in the way of our faith. Wise people have said that faith is the other side of the coin of fear and that faith is fear that has said its prayers. For me this means that sometimes we forget the message of our epistle and gospel today. We forget how close God is. All we have to do is reach out and the loving and steadying hand of Jesus will be there.

There are many scary things in this life and in this world, but we can’t let them stop us in our tracks. We are here to help God build God’s shalom, and we have to be about that work. Sometimes it can feel like a storm with ten foot waves and winds of fifty miles an hour out on the lake. But God is always with us. Amen.

Pentecost 17 Proper 19C RCL September 11, 2016

Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28
Psalm 14
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-10

In our first reading, the prophet Jeremiah is telling the people that, because the people are drifting away from God, there will be an invasion from the north and the land will be laid waste.

Back in those days, people believed that everything that happened was directly caused by God. Herbert O’Driscoll offers a modern example. He writes, “Some time ago in Australia, rescuers had to drag bodies from  a number of shattered ski hostels that were demolished by a landslide. Nobody today would say that this was a judgment of God. Yet people did acknowledge that, because of the scarcity of good ski hills in Australia, this area had been heavily over-developed by business interests wishing to make high profits. It was well known that this development was stressing the mountain side severely. In other words—to use the language of morality—greed and stupidity prevailed over intelligence and a healthy respect for the created order.”

O’Driscoll is offering us an excellent example. In biblical times, people would have said that the landslide was sent by God. Now, we have a much more scientific understanding of events, and we also say that moral and ethical laxity have consequences. This is what was happening in Jeremiah’s time. Leaders were forgetting God and relying on human power. They were also failing to care for those who were most vulnerable in the society. Jeremiah is saying that there will be consequences, and he is also saying something else that is very important. God’s love and mercy will prevail.

Our epistle is from the First Letter to Timothy. Most scholars think the this letter was written by a student of Paul, but for simplicity’s sake, I am going to call the writer Paul. From his years of experience, Paul is advising and guiding his beloved assistant, Timothy. Paul can be so refreshingly blunt and honest. He begins by thanking God for judging him as faithful and appointing him to serve God, even though Paul has many flaws.

God chose a persecutor of the Church to be the apostle to the world. Through God’s love and mercy, Paul was given the gifts and strength to speak God’s love and forgiveness to hundreds and hundreds of people around the Mediterranean basin. But Paul does not focus on his life and ministry. He ends by giving glory to God in the words we use in one of our most beautiful hymns. He writes, “To the king of the ages, immortal, invisible. the only God, be honor and glory, forever and ever.”

In today’s gospel, the Pharisees and Scribes are saying that Jesus “welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Yes, our Lord opens his arms to us sinners and does that most intimate and nourishing thing. He breaks bread with us.

Then he tells us how he feels about us. If we are that lost sheep, he is going to look and look until he finds us and brings us back home on his shoulder. He is going to hunt for us the way the woman looked for that lost coin.

As my beloved mentor. David Brown, has said, “The Church is the Communion of Saints, but it is also a hospital for sick sinners.” We have all done things which we ought not to have done and we have all not done things which we ought to have done. We have sinned. We have committed sins of commission and omission. Our Lord has reached out and welcomed all of us. Because of his love and forgiveness and healing, we have been made new in him.

This very day, September 11, 2016, is the fifteenth anniversary of one of the most tragic and horrific events in our history. It is a day that we will never forget. It was such a terrible day that we actually call it by its date—Nine-Eleven.

I am not going to attempt to comment on the meaning of that day, except to say that it has marked each of us and all of us forever. I am not going to try to analyze how we might have avoided that day or how we might prevent another day such as that from ever happening on this earth. I know that we all pray for peace. We pray for all those who lost their lives, and those who were wounded on that day, and we pray for their loved ones. We also pray for the first responders, police, fire fighters, and the many others who went to help and who were injured or lost their lives, and for their families and all who love them.

We pray for the members of our armed forces who put their lives on the line in the fight against terrorism.

When I hear the fighter jets of the Vermont Air Guard flying overhead, as I often do, I always remember that they were the ones sent to protect New York, and we all know that they fly missions all over the world.

As we remember the events of fifteen years ago, our collect offers us some very profound and wise guidance. “O God, because without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts. through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

As we move forward in this day and beyond, may we seek the guidance of God in all things; may we work with God to bring in God’s shalom. Amen.

All Saints’ Day Year B RCL November 1, 2015

Wisdom 3:1-9
Psalm 24
Revelation 21:1-6a
John 11:32-44

This morning, we celebrate the feast of All Saints. We remember all of the faithful people who have gone before us, all who are here now, and all who will come after us. We are part of a great cloud of witnesses, all the members of the Body of Christ who are knit together in our common faith. The saints give us deep  inspiration. They have run the race before us, and we can be spiritual athletes as they were.

Our first two readings give us an idea of what heaven is like. Our reading from the Book of Revelation says that, in heaven, God will be with us and will wipe every tear from our eyes. Heaven is a place where God’s joy and peace are completely present. Heaven is a place of safety. God’s reign of peace and protection is complete.

My beloved  mentor, David Brown, used to say, “Heaven is the best time we have ever had with the best friends we have ever had.” He used to talk about “the great fish-fry in heaven.” In other words, when we are in the presence of God and the angels, and all the saints, there is no mourning, only peace and joy. I think there is a great deal of laughter in heaven.

When we think of the Communion of Saints, that wonderful gathering of all the members of the Body of Christ, we remember our favorite saints, those who have inspired us, those whose example we have tried to follow. For example, my birthday is August 1 and the saint for that day in Holy Women, Holy Men, is Joseph of Arimathea, who had the courage to go to the authorities and ask permission to take Jesus’ body down off the cross and bury it in his own tomb. I am inspired by Joseph’s faith and courage, and I ask God to increase my faith and courage. My other birthday saint is Ethelwold, a tenth century monk who became Bishop of Winchester. He founded monasteries, translated books into English, and was a reformer, trying to bring the monasteries and his diocese into the highest levels of prayer and community life. The Penguin Dictionary of Saints notes, “St. Ethelwold…was merciless to the slack, full of sympathy for the good-willed and the unfortunate….”

Hilda of Whitby, Hildegarde of Bingen, Patrick, Francis of Assisi, and my name saint, John the Evangelist, are also favorites.

I share this by way of encouraging all of us to think about our favorite saints. Please let me know yours.

As another of my mentors, Al Smith, long time rector of St. James, Essex Junction, used to say, “There are capital S saints and small s saints.” The much-loved hymn, “I sing a song of the saints of God,” beautifully reflects that fact. In the early Church, letters were addressed to the saints in Corinth, Rome, Ephesus, and other places, We are all small s saints because we are members of the Body of Christ, each offering our God-given gifts to build the kingdom, the shalom of God.

The tune we use for this hymn was written by John Henry Hopkins, the grandson of our first bishop, who was also named John Henry Hopkins. As we look in our hymnals on page 293, we note that the tune is called Grand Isle, where the Hopkins family home is located. Services are still held there each summer.

In today’s gospel, we read the powerful story of the raising of Lazarus. Jesus waits several days before he goes to Bethany. Lazarus is clearly and definitely dead. Mary tells Jesus she wishes he had come sooner so that he could have saved Lazarus. Martha points out that there is going to be a stench. Jesus cries at the death of his friend. Then Jesus calls Lazarus to life, and his beloved friend walks out of that dark tomb.

Perhaps that is the greatest gift we are offered as members of the Body of Christ and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven. We don’t have to be afraid of anything, even death. Jesus has the power to call us into new life. Death has no more dominion over us.

This week, we have our Grace Church timeline hanging on the wall. This is a work in progress. It is designed to give us a sense of the long life of the community of faith lasting almost two hundred years. Up until the nineteen-forties, we have the guidance of a history written by Frederika Northrop Sargent. We also have a history by Laura Crane. Dates from those two histories have been put on the timeline.

Frederika notes that sometime in the nineteen-forties, Grace was yoked with Holy Trinity, Swanton. Services continued. Grace Church never closed. One of our great saints, A J. “Jack” Soule, was Senior Warden for many years, and he made sure that Grace remained open. But things did quiet down considerably between the forties and the eighties.

In the 1980s, what Andy has called the “Grace Renaissance” began. Extensive and careful work was done on the building. The number of services increased, and there were other activities. A group of faithful small s saints , inspired by God’s grace and Vermont grit, shepherded this rebirth: Hoddie and Charlotte, Laura, Harriet, Geraldine, Gertrude, Ruth, and Gwen were our elder generation at that time. Sue, who has gone before us, and Andy used to alternate holding the office of Senior Warden and Treasurer and everything else.

Grace has a strong history of service to those near and far,  inclusiveness, accessibility, care for God’s creation, hospitality, concern for those at the margins and those who are most vulnerable, love of music, faithful worship, and compassionate community are some of the hallmarks of Grace Church.

The timeline is designed so that anyone can add a date or something you feel is important. Please feel free to make additions.

May we always sing a song of the saints of God, and may we thank God for all the saints who have gone before us and will come after us.

Amen.

 

Pentecost 13 Proper 16B RCL August 23m 2015

1 Kings 8:(1,6,10-11), 22-30, 41-43
Psalm 84
Ephesians 6:10-20
John 6:56-69

In our opening reading, the Ark of the Covenant has been brought to the beautiful new temple. King Solomon offers an eloquent prayer. God’s presence is signified by the cloud, which is so thick the priests cannot perform their duties. Yet King Solomon acknowledges that God is far bigger than this temple, impressive as it is.

As we have followed the story of King David and his son, Solomon, the scriptures have revealed that both these leaders, though they were respected and loved by the people, were, like us, flawed human beings. One of the endearing things about the Bible is that it does not gloss over the weaknesses of our heroes. Both David and Solomon  loved God deeply yet they  sometimes made mistakes and failed to do as God would have them do. This can be reassuring to us. We don’t have to be perfect in order to love and follow our Lord.

This is made clear in our gospel for today. Even among Jesus’ followers, there were degrees of faithfulness. Judas betrayed our Lord for thirty pieces of silver. Peter denied him three times. And yet, Jesus calls us to abide in him and he says that he will abide in us. In today’s gospel, Jesus can see that some of the disciples are having problems believing in him. Some actually leave. But, when Jesus asks Peter if he wants to go elsewhere, Peter says in his forthright way that there is no one else to go to. Peter speaks volumes when he says, “We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Believing is not something that happens just with the head or with the intellect.  Believing is not simply intellectual assent. Believing and knowing involve every aspect of ourselves and of our lives. Believing involves the heart. We remember that the heart in the Biblical sense, is not just the seat of the emotions. It is also the center of the will and the spirit and the motivations. When we say that we believe in Christ, we are saying that we believe with all of our selves.

Our reading from Ephesians addresses this and gives us tools. The letter was written at a time when the Roman Empire ruled the known world. Following Jesus is seen as a cosmic battle, because the community of faith is surrounded by a culture that is violent, materialistic, and tyrannical. Christian values are very different from the values of the surrounding culture, then as now.

In this passage, Paul calls us to clothe ourselves in the virtues we are going to need, as individuals and as a Christian community. The first thing we put on is the belt of truth. Earlier in the letter, Paul said that we need to speak the truth in love in order to make the Body of Christ healthy and strong. Then we put on the breastplate of righteousness. Righteousness does not mean being holier-than-thou. Righteousness is being in a right relationship with God, being in a healthy relationship with God, depending on God for help and opening ourselves to God’s power. The Roman Empire and all empires rest on human power. The Christian community depends on God’s power.

Let us just remind ourselves of the distinction between tyranny, imperium, and authority, auctoritas, as described by the Rev. David Brown. Imperium is the boot coming down and crushing the little guys. Auctoritas is authorship, creativity, calling things into being as our Lord did at the creation, letting be, freeing. Very different kinds of power.

Our reading says, “As shoes for your feet, put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.” Shalom, the creation in harmony, with all creatures living in safety and wholeness and health. Then we take the shield of faith. The journey can be challenging. Faith is the only thing that will get us through. We are called to put on the helmet of salvation. Scholars tell us that the Hebrew word for salvation means literally “to make wide.” Kathleen Norris writes that, when Jesus said that a person’s faith has saved him or her, the Greek word would be translated “has made you well.” Salvation is being made whole. It is not something that happens in an instant; it is usually a process. Theodore Wedel says that, when we are saved, we know that we are sinners, but we also know that we are forgiven. In this passage from Ephesians, we put on the helmet of salvation and we know that we are frail humans and sinners, and we also know that we are forgiven, we are on the way to wholeness in Christ, and this gives us a sense of the protection of our Lord. We may walk through the valley of the shadow of death, but we need fear no evil, because he is with us. We take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Our Lord is with us, the Spirit is with us, and we are called to speak the word of God. And we are called to pray in the Spirit at all times. That is how we stay in touch with God. We keep alert and we pray for all the saints, that is, all members of the Christian community. We are clothed in these gifts, these qualities, as we try to spread the gospel of peace, love, and healing in the world.

What are we hearing in these lessons? Our greatest heroes and heroines of the faith loved God with all their heart and soul and mind and strength, and they were not perfect. Even Jesus’ disciples were not perfect. Salvation is a sense of wholeness in Christ,  and an awareness of God’s forgiveness even as we are also aware that we are flawed.

We are on a journey. We are called to be spiritual athletes. We are called to stay in training. The Greek word for this is askesis. It is translated as ascetic.  But it does not mean that we have to go off into the desert and eat locusts and wild honey. It is what Paul is talking about in today’s reading. To stay strong in order to serve our Lord, there are tools we can use, and Paul is talking about some of those tools. Prayer is a very important one. You dear people are well acquainted with these tools. You use then every day.

We began today with the blessing of the new temple in Jerusalem.

One hundred and ninety-nine years ago, on August 12, 1816, some faithful folks gathered in Sheldon and formed what they called an Episcopal Society. Next year, Grace Church will celebrate its two-hundredth birthday. Please begin to think and pray about how to celebrate this wonderful occasion. Keep up the good work.  Amen.

Lent 4A RCL March 30, 2014

1 Samuel 16:1-13
Psalm 23
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41

Our opening lesson today is the reading from the First Book of Samuel about the calling of David, a young shepherd, to be the King of Judah. David is the son of Jesse of Bethlehem. David is the shepherd-king, who takes care of the people as a shepherd tends the flock. The theme of the shepherd-king is very powerful, both in the history of God’s people and in literature in general.

Our psalm for today builds on this theme. This is one of the most comforting, strengthening psalms in the Bible. The Lord is our shepherd. He leads us beside the still waters; he leads us to good pasture. He takes care of us. He is with us in everything we face.

Our epistle brings up the theme of light and darkness. We are called to walk as children of the light.

In today’s gospel, Jesus us walking along and he sees a man who has been blind from birth.

Note what the disciples do. They try to find a reason why the man was born blind. As my beloved mentor, David Brown, former Rector of Christ Church, Montpelier, and now retired, says, “We live in a fallen creation.” This means that the world does not operate as God would want it to. Bad things happen to good people. Things happen which are not God’s will. Children are born blind or with other terrible things wrong with them. Fortunately, medical science has reached the point where skilled physicians and surgeons can correct many of these conditions. This medical knowledge and skill is, of course, part of God’s gift of healing. God gives us brains to figure out ways to help and heal people.

But back to our gospel. It is very human to try to find explanations for things. Unfortunately, the disciples immediately go to the blame game. Aha! Someone must have sinned. That’s why this man was blind from birth, It must have been either the man or his parents. This is what I call Bad Theology. Something goes wrong, so someone must have sinned. First, remember, we live in a fallen creation. Second, there is no way a baby can sin. Thirdly, sin is not the issue here.

Jesus tells us that this situation is an opportunity for God to work to bring health and wholeness. He speaks in terms of light and darkness. Every situation of darkness is an opportunity for God to bring light and healing.

Jesus then does a totally earthy thing. He makes a poultice of saliva and mud and puts it on the man’s eyes. The he tells the man to go and wash in the pool of Siloam, meaning “sent.” and the man is healed.

Then we have the doubters. Well, this couldn’t be the same man we have seen all these years. This must be a hoax. Then we have the Pharisees, who can’t simply accept the healing with the great joy it deserves, They gave to get into all the intricacies of the law and begin a full investigation. Throughout it all, we have this man who has been healed, And he keeps saying, over and over, “I was blind. Now I can see. Jesus did this for me.”

Finally, the Pharisees drive the man out. They see him as a sinner who is not qualified to teach them. Jesus hears about this, and he takes the time to go and find the man. He lets the man know who he is, but the man has already become a follower of Jesus.

Sometimes the people who think they have a corner on truth and wisdom don’t really have much grasp on truth and wisdom. Sometimes the most humble people among us are the most wise. Good Lord, give us the gift of humility.

Saul of Tarsus thought he had a hold on truth, and he was killing followers of Jesus, He was filled with hate. On the road to Damascus, Jesus spoke to him. He was blinded by the light, and his whole life was turned around. He shared the good new about Jesus and planted churches around the Mediterranean. John Newton was a slave trader, but, when he met Jesus, he stopped all that. He wrote those immortal words which stir our hearts. “I once was lost but now am found, was blind, but now I see.”

Our first reading reminds us that God does not see as we see. The Lord is our shepherd, even today. God can heal us of all kinds of things. God can lead us from darkness to light, from brokenness to wholeness. God walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death and gives us courage and strength to face anything we have to face.

When Jesus sees this blind man, he does not get hung up on details or technicalities, He sees this as an opportunity to help this man and heal him. That’s how Jesus looks at us. If we have something that is hurting us or weighing us down, f we are sick, or if we need help, Jesus is there for us just as he was for this man.

So, if something is bothering you, or if something is weighing you down, please ask Jesus to help you with it. As the old song says, “Take it to the Lord in prayer.” Ask Jesus for help. He will and does help us. These gospel stories are not just for days of old. Let’s take another look at Psalm 23, page 612 in the Prayer Book.

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 

You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me. In the presence of those who trouble me. The older translation read “in the presence of my enemies.” God is making a safe place for you and putting on a feast for you in the face of those who are giving you grief.

You have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over. God is showering us with abundance. Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. God is surrounding you with God’s goodness and mercy and healing and love at this very moment and every moment.

God is walking with each of us and all of us every moment, guiding us, protecting us, healing us. I would suggest that we say this psalm every day this week and that we pray for a deeper awareness of God’s constant presence and healing. Amen.