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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion April 2, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
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Advent 1 Year C November 28, 2021

Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25:1-9
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Luke 21:25-36

Today is the First Sunday in Advent. This is the New Year’s season of the Church. We change from lectionary year B to year C. Our vestments go from green to the purple which symbolizes both a season of penitence and a time to prepare for the coming of our King.

Our first reading is from the prophet Jeremiah. Scholars tell us that Jeremiah is in prison. The Babylonians have conquered Jerusalem. Jeremiah has actually seen bodies of his fellow citizens piled up in the streets. This is a terrible situation. Jeremiah has been imprisoned because he has told the king the truth. The king does not want to hear the truth.

In the midst of a national and personal tragedy, Jeremiah shares the most profound good news. God is going to raise up a king from the family of David, and this king is going to rule with justice based on a right relationship with God. Judah will be saved. Safety will prevail. Peace will come. In the midst of this disaster, God is sending a message of hope and healing.

In our epistle for today, Paul is writing to his beloved Thessalonians. This is one of the earliest letters in the New Testament. He had started this congregation just a few months ago and he has moved on to Corinth. He writes, “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel for you before our God because of you?” Paul loves these people deeply. He is hoping to visit them and to help them strengthen their faith. They are suffering persecution. Paul prays that God and Jesus will lead him back to these beloved people. He prays,”May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you.” These strong bonds of love enabled the followers of Jesus to stay close to each other when all they had were letters carried by messengers such as Timothy. We can be sure that when the people of the Church in Thessalonica heard this letter read. their “hearts were strengthened in holiness.”

In our gospel for today Our Lord tells us that there will be all kinds of tensions among nations and severe weather events, and we have certainly seen many of these kinds of upsets and turmoil. But Jesus tells us not to spend a great deal of time trying to figure out when he will come to us. Rather he tells us to be ready, to be alert.

All of our readings today tell us about how God comes to us in challenging times and gives us the good news about God’s kingdom of peace and harmony. 

Advent is a time when we look backward to the birth of our king in a cave used as a stable in Bethlehem. He came among us, just as we came into the world, as a baby. He is a king who knows what it is to be human. He grew up in a carpenter shop, helping his earthly father, Joseph, and learning his trade. Our King is fully human and fully divine. He knows us and understands us. We can look at his life and see how a human life is to be lived. A kingdom life. A life of shalom.

In Advent, we also look toward his coming again to complete his work of creation. It is going to require a great deal of effort to take this world. which is full of strife, just as Jeremiah’s world was, and filled with persecution just as the world of the Thessalonians was, and transform it into a world of peace and harmony. But that is what our King is trying to do. When he comes again, he will complete that work.

Meanwhile, he is asking us to help him with that work now. He is calling us to be people of hope as Jeremiah was in the midst of war and suffering, He is calling us to be people of love as the Thessalonians were in the midst of persecution. He is calling us to be people of faith.

Think about the power of the love that connected Paul with the community of faith in Thessalonica. As we read the passage, we can feel how much they cared about each other. And Paul prays that they will have that love for each other and for all people.

In this Advent time, this time that is between Jesus’ birth and his coming again, we have a great gift that can guide us as we try to walk the Way of Love. We can look at the life of our Lord here on earth as we read the gospels and we can see a living, breathing example of how to live as shalom people, kingdom people. We can follow his example. We have the model of a human life to follow; we have the living example of Jesus’ life. 

If we’re going to prepare the way of the Lord, we need to follow his example, and the wonderful thing is that we have his gift of grace. We have his help. Some of us are reading Bishop Curry’s book, Love Is the Way,  and it is full of people who “cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

One of the most important ways that we can be ready when he comes again is to move closer and closer to him by asking his grace to walk the Way of Love. In every choice, every decision we make, we can choose the path that will lead us closer to love. Love for each other, love for all.

Loving God, help us to be alert to opportunities to walk the Way of Love. Strengthen our hearts in holiness and faith and hope. Give us grace to be partners with you in building your shalom of peace and harmony and wholeness. Amen.

Pentecost 12 Proper 15B August 15, 2021

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14
Psalm 111
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-58

In our opening reading today, David dies. Solomon, the son of David and Bathsheba, becomes king. We all remember his prayer to God, in which he admits he does not have a great deal of knowledge. At this time in his life, Solomon is only about twenty years old. But Solomon asks God for the gift of wisdom. Directly after this passage, two women come to the new king, both insisting that they are the mother of the same baby. Through wisdom, Solomon determines which woman is the real mother of the baby. 

Scholars tell us that during the reign of Solomon, there was a great blossoming of wisdom literature which has lasted into our own time and has inspired many of us. Solomon also built the temple in Jerusalem, constructed a magnificent palace, and built temples to the gods of his many wives and concubines. He was able to do these things because he imposed forced labor and brutal taxation on his people. Upon Solomon’s death, the Northern Kingdom seceded and the monarchy was divided.  Unfortunately, there was a gap between his stated ideals and his actual behavior.

Our epistle for today also emphasizes wisdom. We are called to be wise and to use each moment to the fullest by seeking and doing the will of God. We shouldn’t get drunk, but should be filled with the Spirit, singing and worshipping together. We should give thanks to God at all times and for all things.

In order to follow this guidance, we will need to spend much time in prayer, asking for God’s will and then asking for the grace to do God’s will. This is what the great moral theologian  Kenneth Kirk calls “the habit of referring all questions to God.” We are in a constant dialogue with God, seeking the divine will and then doing what God is calling us to do.

If we are filled the with Spirit, we are gathering together, singing psalms and spiritual songs, praying together as we are doing right now. And we are thanking God at all times and for all things. The attitude of gratitude does not always come easily. What if something is not going the way we want it to go? What if something terrible is happening? What if a friend or loved one has just been diagnosed with cancer? When good things happen, thanking God is a wonderful spiritual practice. It makes the good thing reverberate and expand in our hearts. When something awful is happening, we can thank God for God’s grace and healing and we can pray for our loved one and  ask God to help us be there for our friend or loved one. Even in the worst of times, we can thank God for being with us, for giving us the gift of faith and the energy to ask God for help.

After our long Covid fast, I am thanking God today for the opportunity to be with this loving community and to read the scriptures and sing hymns and spiritual songs with you, to pray for ourselves and others, and to be in the presence of our Lord as a community of faith. What a  gift! Thank you, Lord.

In our gospel, Jesus is saying that the bread that he gives for the world is his flesh. This reminds us that in the early church, followers of Jesus were accused of being cannibals. We are not literally eating the flesh and drinking the blood of our Lord. We are doing these things sacramentally. Then our Lord says that unless we eat his flesh and drink his blood, we will have no life in us. Those who do share in Holy Eucharist will abide in him, will rest in him will live in him, will be alive in him, will be part of him.

Abiding means a very close relationship. We become one with him and he becomes one with us. We are alive in each other. We are so closely connected that we are one. 

And, because we are so close to our Lord, because we are one with him and alive in him, we are now leading a new life, life in a different dimension. This is what we call eternal life. But it does not mean that we have to die in order to enter eternal life. This newness of life, this life in a new and deeper dimension is here right now. We are living that new life now,. We are in eternal life, fullness of life, right now.

In this new life. this life in a different dimension, Jesus is very close to us. He is in our midst. We can reach out and touch him. We can sense his presence. We can ask his help. We can see and follow him.

We are one with Jesus, with God, with the Spirit, and with each other.

We can ask God’s guidance and receive that guidance, together with the grace to carry it out. We can grow in God’s wisdom and do the things God would have us do. This is what it means to be filled with the Spirit. The energy and love of God are within us. Our relationship with God is so close that we can grow in compassion and do God’s will almost instinctively, because we are constantly asking for and receiving God’s guidance.

The Holy Eucharist is the way our Lord gave us to call him into our midst. “Do this in remembrance of me” literally means “Do this for the anamnesis, the “not forgetting” of me. In a very short time, our Lord will be feeding us with the essence of himself with his energy, his love, his grace, so that we can go out into the world and be his hands and feet, his body, ministering to a world that needs his love and healing.

St.Teresa of Avila was a very practical mystic who lived from 1515- 1582. She wrote these wonderful words describing how we are parts of the living Body of Christ.

“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body here on earth but yours.  

Keep up the good work! Amen.

Pentecost 11 Proper 14B August 8, 2021

2 Samuel 18:5-9. 15, 31-33
Psalm 130
Ephesians 4:25-5:2
John 6:35, 41-51

In our opening reading today, King David is going through one of the most tragic experiences any of us can imagine. David’s son Absalom has been part of a civil war against his father. David asks Joab, his commander, to deal gently with Absalom, but that is a very difficult thing to do in war, and we look on as the young man hangs between heaven and earth and finally loses his life.

This passage is one of the most moving scenes in the Bible. It reminds us that all of us, even kings and queens, go though such tragic times, that our loving God sustains us in these experiences, and that God, who gave God’s only Son for us,  knows how we feel as we move through such heart-rending losses.

Our epistle offers us much wisdom. We are called to “speak the truth to our neighbors.” Honesty is the bedrock of a healthy community. We are called to reconcile with others before the sun sets. Not to hold grudges. We are called to work hard and share with those in need. We are called to be careful about what we say, to say things that build each other up rather than tear each other down, to speak words that “give grace to those who hear.” We are called “to be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, as Christ has forgiven [us.] We are called to “be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ  loved us.” This is a blueprint for living together in community.

How are we going to be able to live that kind of life, as individuals and as a community of faith?

In our gospel, our Lord gives us the answer to that question.”I am the bread of life,” he tells us. We are gathered to celebrate Holy Eucharist.  The word “eucharist” comes from the Greek word for Thanksgiving. We are about to celebrate a Thanksgiving feast, and Jesus is our host.

We are still experiencing the joy of being able to do this after a year and a half of Covid fasting. The Eucharist is the way Jesus gave us to call him into our midst, to remember that he is alive and with us right now. We are continuing to receive only the bread, and we tell our children that this bread is special food that Jesus gives us because he loves us very much. This food is full of the energy and love which Jesus gives us so that we can live our lives as loving and caring people.

With the energy of the grace of Jesus, we can be the kind of  community which Paul’s disciple describes in our reading from the Letter to the Ephesians. We can  be people who speak the truth in love, people who share words of grace that build up those with whom we speak. We can be people of compassion and generosity who share with those who need help. 

When we are going through times of great change or pain, as King David was in today’s reading, we can reach out and grasp Jesus’ hand and he can keep us from drowning as the waves grow higher and higher. Because he feeds us with the bread of life, we can live the compassionate lives described in our epistle for today.

We are members of the Body of Christ. We are his hands reaching out to welcome and help people. We are his eyes looking at others with compassion. He has given us new life, and he is with us now, to lead us and guide us and to feed us with the energy of his love and life.

Risen Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the bread. Amen.

Pentecost 8 Proper 11B July 18, 2021

2 Samuel 7:1-14a
Psalm 89: 20-37
Ephesians 2:11-22
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Biblical scholars Walter Brueggemann, James Newsome, and colleagues write, “Something new begins when God’s powerful love and loving power are acted out.” They are especially referring to what they call “the radical newness that is worked in Israel with the appearance of David.” (Brueggemann, Newsome, et al Texts for Preaching, p. 428.)

As we know, David was able to draw all the tribes together and create a united Israel. God had called David to be the king. In our first reading for today, David has built a house, and he wants to build a house for the ark of the covenant. He shares this idea with Nathan the prophet, who appears for the first time in the passage. Nathan encourages David to go ahead with the project, but that night, the Lord tells Nathan that God will build a house for David. God has a special relationship with the family of David. One of David’s descendants, Solomon, will build the temple to the Lord in Jerusalem. The Messiah will come from the house of David.

In our epistle for today, part of the Letter to the Ephesians, a kind of circular letter written to the churches in Asia Minor, now called Turkey, by a faithful disciple of Paul, the theme of God’s love creating a new thing is continued.

All kinds of people were coming into the community of faith. Some of them were Jewish, and some were Gentiles, non-Jews, people who might be worshipping one of the Greek or Roman gods, or who might not have any religious connections. Many of the new converts were Gentiles, and the writer realizes that these people might have felt like second-class citizens in the community. They were not familiar with the Hebrew scriptures or the law or the tradition. And he tells these people, “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups [Jews and Gentiles] into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law…that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.”

Brueggemann, Newsome and colleagues write, “Clearly Jesus, according to this text, runs well beyond David in envisioning and enacting a new, single community of humanity, which overrides our deepest divisions.”  (Brueggemann, Newsome, et al, Texts for Preaching, p. 428.)

Our Lord is creating a new community in which “God’s powerful love”and “God’s loving power” are being acted out.

In today’s gospel reading, we remember that Jesus has just heard of the death of his cousin, John the Baptist. I think Jesus and John were quite close. They were members of a large extended family, and they were kindred spirits and faithful servants of God. So, when he heard of the death of John, I think Jesus was very sad. But he did not let that stop his work of creating loving community, teaching, and healing people. As our reading opens, he has sent the apostles out to teach and heal. Now they are coming back and reporting all they have done. 

We can imagine that they have much to share with him and with each other. They have gone out two by two, and they have shared the good news and taught, and healed people. After this debriefing, Jesus calls them to go away to a quiet place to rest and, undoubtedly, to pray. We can imagine that both he and they are exhausted from all their work. They get into a boat and go to the other side of the lake. 

But a crowd of people arrives there ahead of them. And the text says, “he had compassion on them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he began to teach them many things.” Jesus cares about people.  No matter how tired he is, his compassion seems to be almost endless. This is an example for us. We are human, and our compassion is not endless. But our Lord is calling us to try, with his grace, to be compassionate to everyone we meet. 

Then Jesus and his disciples cross back to the other side of the lake. People recognize him and bring sick people from far and wide to be healed. Wherever he goes, people bring sick friends and relatives to be made whole again. Even touching the hem of his garment heals people. The healing power of our Lord goes beyond our understanding. We, too, are called to extend the healing power of his love.

“Something new begins when God’s powerful love and loving power are acted out.” Each and every one of you is sharing the power of God’s love with others, some in ministry with elders, some with animal rescue, some at the food shelf, some with Meals on Wheels, some with young people, the list goes on and on. You are all doing ministry, caring for people, animals, and God’s creation. This week, thanks to jan, our friends at the food shelf, and our brothers and sisters at First Congregational Church in St. Albans, we are beginning to serve families in our new Welcome Home Initiative for people transitioning from temporary to permanent housing. These kinds of ministries break down barriers and bring people together. They help God to create God’s big family.

“Something new begins when God’s powerful love and loving power are acted out.” Gracious and loving God, thank you for your powerful love and your loving power. Thank you for calling us to be together to share life in you. Thank you for all the ministries you give us to do. May we minister to each other and to our brothers and sisters out in the world with your powerful love and your loving power. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Pentecost 6 Proper 9B, July 4, 2021

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

In our opening reading, all the tribes of Israel come together to make David their king. It is 1,000 years before the birth of Christ. He will be king for forty years.The text tells us that, for some time, even though Saul was king, David has been leading the troops into war. For years he has been doing the work of a king. Now the people want to anoint him as their leader.

God has called David to be king, and David is a unique kind of king. His rule is based on a covenant among David, the people, and God. God has called David to this position of leadership. David is a shepherd-king. Like a good shepherd, he will protect his flock. He will put the needs of his people first. After seven years, David moves the capitol from Hebron to Jerusalem, which is about halfway between the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. Under his leadership, the kingdoms and tribes are united. As we have said before, David is not perfect. But he has been called by God, and he is a person of deep faith.

In our epistle for today, we remember that Paul founded the church in Corinth, but he has not been there for a while. He has been staying in touch by writing letters, but that is not the same as being there. During his time away, other teachers have come through Corinth. They have accused Paul of being insincere because he told the people he would visit them and he has not been able to do so. These teachers have other criticisms of Paul, including that he isn’t a very good public speaker, and the latest one is that he does not have enough mystical experiences.

So Paul tells a story in the third person. Scholars say that this is really a story about Paul, but he is too humble to say that. Paul has been “caught up in the third heaven.” Scholars tell us that the third heaven is the highest heaven.

Perhaps we have not been to the third heaven, but I think many of us have had times when we have felt God’s presence in a way that goes beyond words. Perhaps we were looking up at the stars one clear night and sensed the paradox of the vastness of God, who could make such a universe, and yet the infinite love of God for a little creature like us. Perhaps we were listening to some favorite music and felt the glory and joy of God. Or maybe we have been struck with wonder at a sunrise. We have all had these moments of realizing the power and glory of God. 

The other teachers who have come through Corinth have bragged about their gifts and their mystical experiences, and some of the Corinthians have followed the example of these teachers and bragged about their gifts, especially the gift of speaking in tongues.

 But Paul does not brag. Instead he shares something deeply personal with these people, who can be quite arrogant, persnickety, and competitive. He shares that he has what he calls a “thorn…in the flesh.” He has prayed to God three times to remove this, and God has not removed it. Instead, God has told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

Scholars have no evidence of how Paul’s sharing about this weakness was received in Corinth, but you and I know that this takes us straight to the heart of the cross. We know that, when, we are at the end of our rope, and when we have tied a knot on the end of that rope and we are now hanging on for dear life, that’s when God can finally help us. Until that point, all our plans and solutions and delusions of our power can get in the way. The Revised Standard Version says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So, Paul is telling us,“[God’s] power is made perfect in weakness.”

That is one reason why our Lord died on that horrible instrument of torture, the cross—to show us that, when we let go and let God, new life happens. Paul says that is when “the power of Christ may dwell in [us].” When we admit our weakness. And when we share our weaknesses with trusted others, God’s power can act in amazing ways.

In our gospel for today, our Lord goes to his hometown synagogue in Nazareth. As a rabbi, a teacher, this is what he would be expected to do—go to the local synagogue and teach. But the people see him only as the local boy who went out into the world and came home to put on airs. The text tells us that he “could do no deeds of power there.” He did heal a few sick people. Our Lord sums it up: “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown….” Does this lack of hospitality and openness stop him? No. He heals a few people. And he calls the apostles and sends them out two by two. And he tells them to do their work with simplicity—take only what you absolutely need. As it turns out, they heal many people.

What are these readings telling us? God calls a young shepherd to be king and has Samuel anoint him as such. This young shepherd leads the people in battle. They get to know and trust him. He unites the two kingdoms into one. When God calls us to be together in community and we build that community on the covenant of love for God and neighbor. that is a foundation of great strength. God’s love calls us together and creates unity among us.

Our weakness can be our greatest strength. Sharing our weakness, asking for help, is a powerful thing. Admitting our weakness allows  us to let God help us. When that happens, miracles happen. The cross, which can be seen as a symbol of weakness, is, paradoxically, a symbol of great power, the greatest power in the world—the power of God’s love.

Gracious God, help us to love you with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Thank you for helping us in our weakness. Thank you for the power of your love.

In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Pentecost 3 Proper 6B June 13, 2021

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13
Psalm 20
2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17
Mark 4:26-34

Last week we looked on as Samuel anointed Saul the first King of Israel. Things have not gone well. Saul has not been a good king. Our reading tells us that God is sorry that God has made Saul the King. Samuel is devastated over the turn of events.

Now God calls Samuel to go to Bethlehem and anoint the one God has chosen to be the next king. Samuel is terrified at the prospect. Saul is very protective of his power, and Samuel reminds God that, if Saul finds out Samuel has gone to anoint a new king, Saul will kill Samuel. God instructs Samuel to take a heifer with him and say that he has come to offer a sacrifice to God. Samuel will invite Jesse to the sacrifice and God will take care of the rest.

When Samuel arrives in Bethlehem, the elders are trembling with terror. They, too, are afraid of Saul, who does not hesitate to destroy anyone who challenges his power. Samuel assures them that he comes in peace, which is certainly true. He is trying to carry out the will of God.

I don’t know about you, but I love the next scene. Jesse makes seven of his sons pass before Samuel, Each is a fine young man. But none of them is the one God has chosen. Finally, we discover that the last son is out in the field taking care of the sheep. The youngest of all, the one who is doing the humble work of a shepherd, is the one God has chosen. The spirit of the Lord comes mightily upon David.

One of the great lessons of this passage is what God tells Samuel: “Do not look on his appearance, or on the height of his stature…for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

What good news this is for us. God does not look on the exterior things, what clothes we are wearing, how much money or power we have. No, God looks into our hearts. If we are trying to love God and love our neighbor, God sees that.

And there is another important point in this story. Biblical scholar John Hayes writes, “The lord makes the least expected choice. Expectations are reversed. The last is made the first, and God’s power is to be manifested in weakness. (Hayes, Preaching through the Christian Year B, p. 306.)

In our epistle for today, Paul writes, “We regard no one from a human point of view.” That carries on the idea that God looks upon our hearts. Because we are following Jesus, and because we know that  our Lord is looking into our hearts, and filling us with us love and grace, we look on other people and on the world differently. 

Paul writes, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new.” Because of the love of God, because we have come to know Jesus and to follow him as our Good Shepherd, we see things differently than we did before. We see people and situations through the loving eyes of God.

Every person is our brother or sister, no matter whether they are rich or poor, no matter what race they are or what kind of work they do, no matter how they dress, none of those things matter. Every person is a beloved child of God.

There is a new creation. Everything has become new. Everything is seen in a new light. God’s light. As we are transformed, we look at our brothers and sisters, not through human eyes, but through the loving eyes of God, and we reach out to them with the welcoming arms of Christ. We are the body of Christ sharing his love with all we meet.

Our gospel gives us some parables of the kingdom of God.  It’s like planting seeds and the seeds grow and grow and there is an abundant harvest.

The kingdom, the shalom of God is like a mustard seed. It is the smallest of the seeds, yet when you plant it, it grows into a shrub, so that birds can build nests in its branches.

This is one of the greatest gifts our Lord has ever shared with us, the idea that small is beautiful. We live in a beautiful place, a small place, and it is a gift from God. May we cherish that gift.

As the next king, God chose the youngest son, the one too young to come to the sacrifice. God looks into our hearts. God gives us hope. God transforms us through the power of God’s love. We are a new creation. God calls us to see things differently because of our faith. God calls us to look beyond and through the exterior things. 

May we look at others with your loving eyes, O God, and may we love others as you love us. Amen.

Advent 4B December 20, 2020

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Psalm 89:1-4. 19-26
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38

This morning, the Fourth Sunday of Advent, we begin with Canticle 15, the Magnificat, Mary’s song about God’s kingdom of justice and mercy. 

Then we read in the Second Book of Samuel about how David has built a house and is settling down after years of going from place to place. David thinks to himself that it would be a good idea to build a house for God. He discusses this with the prophet Nathan who also thinks it is a good idea. But then God speaks to Nathan and tells this faithful prophet that God will build a house for David. God will establish David as a King over God’s people. It is from this royal line that the Messiah will come.

And then we have Psalm 89, a song about God’s love. “Your love, O Lord forever will I sing; from age to age my mouth will proclaim your faithfulness.”

And then we go back over two thousand years. Here is Mary, a young woman. She is engaged to Joseph, a faithful man, a man who is very gentle, yet very strong and protective. We know that Mary, too, has a strength that is almost beyond belief, and her faith is deep and abiding.

She lives in a little town that is far from the centers of power. She is just an ordinary person going about her daily routine, like so many people before her—Moses, tending his father-in-law’s flock, David, tending the sheep, Amos, the dresser of sycamore trees. As she is going about her household chores, the angel Gabriel suddenly appears. 

Here I fall back on Madeleine L’Engle’s descriptions of angels as tall, towering beings pulsating with light and power. “Greetings, favored one!” he says, “The Lord is with you.” Here is this luminous messenger of God talking to a young woman in a little out of the way town like Sheldon or Montgomery or Fletcher or Franklin and calling her “favored one,” telling her she is beloved of God. And he is telling us, too, that we are beloved of God. And then the angel Gabriel tells Mary and you and me that the Lord is with us. And then, seeing the look of shock on Mary’s face, Gabriel says, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” And God is saying that to us as well. “Do not be afraid. God loves you. God is holding you in the palm of God’s hand.”  

And then the Angel Gabriel tells Mary that she will be the mother of God’s Son. And Mary asks, “How can this be?” And Gabriel tells her that her cousin, Elizabeth, who is far beyond childbearing age, will be giving birth to a son. We know that this is Jesus’ cousin, John, who will grow up and baptize people in the Jordan River and call them to “prepare the way of the Lord.” It all seems beyond belief. Gabriel seems quite aware of this for he tells Mary and us,  “Nothing will be impossible with God.”

And then Mary responds. Throughout this mind-bending conversation with Gabriel, she has remained calm and grounded. We see in her the steely courage that she will show at the foot of the Cross. She joins many of her ancestors, people like Abraham and Moses, who said to God, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word.” Trusting completely in God’s faithfulness and love, Mary says “Yes” to this ministry.

Soon after, she goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth. The child John leaps in Elizabeth’s womb when he senses the presence of the baby Jesus. We often say that Christians go two by two, as our Lord sent out the disciples to spread the good news. Mary had the good common sense to seek out her cousin Elizabeth so that they could guide and support each other as they went on their journey together. Their sons would change the world forever. They gave birth to the transformation of the world.

In addition to the Magnificat, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,” we can also sing Psalm 89. “Your love, O Lord, forever will I sing; from age to age my mouth will proclaim your faithfulness.”

The light is coming into the world. This past week, we watched the news and saw people being inoculated with the new vaccine from Pfizer. Other vaccines are on the way. The Moderna vaccine has already been approved. Many scientists, researchers, physicians, lab technicians, and other dedicated people have worked evenings, weekends, nights, and holidays to create these life-saving vaccines. People gathered to clap as they were shipped out of the plant in Michigan because this is something to celebrate.

As Christians, we believe that God gives us the gift to reason and learn and carry out research. Our faith is based on what we call the three-legged stool of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. God gave us minds so that we can use them to discover things that will help people to have better lives. We believe that these discoveries are a manifestation of God’s love. “Your love, O God, forever will we sing.”

Because God gave us minds and calls us to use them, we know that we must continue to practice the basics of public health in a pandemic—wear masks, keep social distance, wash our hands often, don’t gather in large numbers. We know that it will take several months to get all of us vaccinated. But, if we follow safe practices, eventually enough people will be vaccinated that we will all be safe from this virus. Our faith also teaches us to be patient. It will take time. We are very happy that Keith and Sara are in Pinellas County, Florida, the first county in that state to receive the vaccine. To me, that feels like a special gift from God.

We have been through some very difficult times, and it is not over yet.

But the end is in sight. The light, the love, is coming into the world. Let us make room for the light and love in our lives. Let us make room for Jesus in the inns of our hearts. Even though there are challenges ahead, let us take time to celebrate the light and love of God in our lives and in our world. “Your  love, O Lord, forever will we sing; from age to age our mouths will proclaim your faithfulness.” 

Let us continue to walk the Way of Love, with joy and hope in our hearts.  Amen.

Pentecost 29B November 25, 2018 Christ the King

2 Samuel 23:1-7
Psalm 132:1-13, (14-19)
Revelation 1:4b-8
John 18:33-37

Today, the last Sunday in the season of Pentecost, we celebrate Christ the King. Christ is the One we are following. Christ is the King of our lives.

In our opening reading from the Second Book of Samuel, we reflect on the great earthly king of God’s people, David. He was the youngest of the sons of Jesse, and, when Samuel was called to anoint a new king, David was the last of Jesse’s sons to appear before Samuel. The family had to call him in from taking care of the sheep.

David was deeply loved by the people. With great courage, skill with the sling, and most especially, profound faith, he felled the giant Goliath and saved his people from slavery to the Philistines.

But he was not perfect. Far from it. When he ordered that Uriah the Hittite be sent to the front lines to die in battle so that he could take Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba as his wife, David hit the moral nadir of his life. Yet, when he was confronted by the prophet Nathan, he was able to admit that, yes, he had done this horrible thing, and he was truly sorry.

In our reading today, the king is described in these words,”One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.” A good ruler is a person of light and brings the light of God to bear on every situation. A good ruler is one whose words and actions are inspired by the Spirit of God. Each of us can think of kings or presidents or other leaders who fit this description, and we can be thankful for such people.

Our reading from the Book of Revelation is a song of praise to our king, and it is a vision of heaven, where the saints and angels gather in peace and joy to sing praises to our Lord. He is the Alpha and the Omega. He is the beginning and the end. He is eternal, and his love is eternal and unchanging. This is a great comfort in times like ours, when we see so much that is the opposite of our Lord’s kingdom of compassion and peace.

It is helpful, I think to remember that Revelation was written to Christians who were living under oppression from the Roman Empire. For followers of Jesus who could be killed at any time at the whim of an emperor, this book, written in code, was a beacon of hope. The imagery which some people interpret as describing Satan or the Devil, is actually describing the Roman Empire. Our Lord triumphs over all forms of oppression and misuse of power, and that knowledge inspires us as we work to create justice in our own world.

In our gospel, we are with our King as he faces the tyranny of the Roman Empire and of the religious leaders of his time. The passage is full of paradox and many layers of meaning. Pilate asks whether Jesus is King of the Jews. but he is asking the question from a worldly point of view.

Our Lord replies that his kingdom is not of this world. How true that is. In his kingdom the last are first and the first are last. Singer and songwriter Holly Near has a song called “The Meek Are Getting Ready.” She sings about those at the margins “coasting up on empty” and we can envision our King welcoming and embracing the folks he called “the least of these, my brothers and sisters.”

At the end of this reading, Jesus says, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” As we meditate on this powerful statement, we ask ourselves, what does he mean by saying “Everyone who belongs to the truth”? Is he talking about a set of facts? Is he talking about a belief system? Is he talking about truth as a set of logical propositions? What does it mean to “belong to the truth”?

Earlier in John’s gospel, Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” Even earlier than that, back in chapter ten, he tells us that he is the good shepherd. He says, “i know my sheep, and my sheep know me.” And he tells us that, when the sheep hear the voice of the good shepherd, they follow that shepherd.

So, Jesus is the truth. His attitude, his way of doing things, his teaching, is our truth. That’s what he means by the concept of belonging to the truth. We belong to him in the sense that he is our good shepherd and we are following him.

Jesus tells Pilate and us, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” We could paraphrase that by saying that every one who belongs to our Lord listens to his voice and follows where he leads. His life, his ministry here on earth, and his love for us, all of that is the truth that we follow.

This is the end of the Thanksgiving weekend, a time to give thanks and share good food and lots of love with family and friends.

And on this Christ the King Sunday, we can be very thankful for our King, our Good Shepherd. He is our living, guiding truth, and we belong to him.

May we always listen for his voice.   Amen.


Pentecost 4 Proper 6B RCL     June 17, 2018

1 Samuel  15:34-16:13
Psalm 20
2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17
Mark 4:26-34

Last week the people wanted Samuel to appoint a king for them. Our reading ended with Saul becoming King of Israel. As our reading opens today, Saul’s reign is spiraling downward. He is a disaster as a leader, and he has little regard for the guidance of God.

While Saul is still alive, God calls Samuel to anoint the next King. The tyranny of Saul is apparent in Samuel’s asking God how he can go to the home of Jesse to carry out this mission, for Saul will kill him. God tells Samuel to say that he has come to sacrifice to the Lord.

You know the story. All of Jesse’s excellent sons pass before Samuel. As wonderful as they are, none is the one called to be King. It is the youngest, David, the shepherd, who will become the beloved leader of his people. In this passage, we read something on which we could meditate for the rest of our lives: “For the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” God does not look at our outward appearance. God looks into our hearts. That is to say, God looks at our intentions, our will, our intuitions, our thoughts. Bishop Tom mirrors this statement about God when he says that we should always evaluate situations, especially vocations, in terms of two things—intentions and integrity. What are our intentions? Are we carrying out those intentions with integrity?

In our epistle for today, Paul is still in difficult circumstances. He actually admits that it is difficult for him to be here on earth alive. He would rather be at home with the Lord. But since he is here, he is going to try to please God. We can all follow his example. Paul says that Christ died so that we would no longer live for ourselves, but for our Lord. I think we are all trying, with his grace, to do that.

Then Paul echoes our first lesson when he says that, because of Christ, we should no longer regard others from a human point of view, that, because we are now following Jesus, we are called to look at others through the eyes of Christ and love them with the heart of Christ.

And then he says this most mysterious thing—mysterious because we can think about it and pray about it and meditate on it, but we probably will never plumb its depths.  Paul writes, “So, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new.” That is what is happening to us. We are being made new. We are being transformed in Christ.

In today’s gospel, we have two parables. In the first, the kingdom of God is as if someone plants the seed, time goes by, the seed grows, we know not how. The grain grows, as if mysteriously, but the growth is energetic and robust. Finally, the grain is ready to be harvested.

In the other parable, the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. very, very small. Yet is grows into a large shrub, so large that birds can nest in it.

What are these parables telling us? Here are some thoughts. The kingdom of God is growing all the time. We do not understand how it grows, but it is progressing constantly without our awareness of how it grows. And, the other amazing thing is that the kingdom of God starts small, just like a seed, like the tiniest of seeds. Yet it can grow into something we would not believe possible.

Here in Vermont, the parable of the mustard seed is very important. Here in Vermont, a very small state which assumes national leadership on all kinds of topics far out of proportion with its size, we really do think that small is beautiful. Bigger is not always better.

In the Church, we are grappling with the fact that we will never return to the glories of the nineteen-fifties, with burgeoning buildings, bulging church schools, and no end in sight. We are now in the post-Christendom era. Membership is shrinking, formation is taking place in different ways, and we are looking around our neighborhoods seeing where God is doing good things and finding ways that we can pitch in and help. Once again, Vermont is leading in this effort, and I give thanks for Bishop Tom’s leadership on these issues.         

One of the things we will want to continue is the practice of placing just as much value on small churches as on large ones. St. Martin’s Church in Houston, where Barbara Bush’s service was held, is the largest parish in the Episcopal Church, with an average Sunday attendance of 1700 people. Vermont has no parish that even comes close to that size in numbers. But in depth of faith, commitment to the life of local parishes,  interest in learning, willingness to help neighbors near and far, the Episcopal Church in Vermont has no equal. In numbers of what we may call “mustard seed churches,” Vermont may be our national leader. This is a great gift, and I hope we will cherish that gift. When people visit with you here at Grace, or even hold concerts here, they sense a deep quality of faith and life in community. This is a pearl of great price.

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation. Let the whole world see and know that things that have been cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.