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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:…

Pentecost 5 Proper 9A July 5, 2020

Genesis 24: 34-38, 42-49, 58-67
Psalm 45:11-18
Romans 7:15-25a
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

In our first lesson, time has passed. Sarah has died, and Isaac has become a young man. Abraham has asked his servant to go to his home area and find a wife for Isaac among Abraham’s own people.

Scholars tell us that the servant is probably Abraham’s senior servant, Eliezer. 

Abraham has heard that a his brother, Nahor, has married Milcah, and that they have had a family. One of their sons, Bethuel, has become the father of a young woman named Rebekah. Abraham thinks that Rebekah would be the perfect wife for Isaac. The whole purpose of this venture is to be sure that God’s promise of descendants as numerous as the stars comes true.

Abraham makes this loyal and wise servant take an oath that he will find a wife for Isaac and bring her back to Isaac. There are two additional provisions. Eliezer is not to take Isaac back to their homeland. And, if the young woman whom Eliezer asks to marry Isaac does not want to come back with him, Abraham says the oath is broken. Eliezer is not to force the young woman to return with him.

Eliezer takes ten camels and many choice gifts and sets out for Abraham’s homeland.  His entire journey is rooted and grounded in prayer. He is carrying out his master’s command, and he knows that this is part of God’s promise. He prays to God that if he sees a young woman come to the well and asks, “Please give me a little water from your jar to drink,” she will give him a drink and water his camels as well. 

That is exactly what happens.The young woman extends the highest level of hospitality. This shows that she is a woman of great virtue. Our reading begins with Eliezer’s report of his meeting with Rebekah as he speaks with her family, asking for their permission for Rebekah to go back with him and marry Isaac. 

Back in those days her father could have told her to go and marry Isaac. Women were chattel, property, and their fathers could give them to anyone. In this family, Rebekah has a choice. This story first appeared in the lectionary in 2008, and one of the reasons is that it shows us an evolving understanding of women as persons, not property. Rebekah does want to marry Isaac, and, as she leaves with her maids and a retinue of camels and possessions, it is clear that she is a woman of substance. When she and Isaac finally meet, the text tells us that “he loved her.”  This will be a marriage based on mutual love and respect.

Our reading from the book of Romans is one of the most compelling passages in the Bible,  “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing that I hate.” When Paul talks about  “our mortal bodies,” or our “members,” scholars tell us  that he is referring to human faculties or abilities. On the human level, we may want power, wealth, possessions, fame, and fortune, but those wishes and values do not necessarily bring us closer to God. In fact, they often move us away from God. On our own, it is difficult if not impossible, to win the struggle with those seven root sins—pride, anger, envy, greed, gluttony, lust and sloth. But, with God’s grace, our focus shifts to what really matters, faith, hope, and love—loving God, and loving other people and the creation.

In our gospel, Jesus first comments on the fickle wishes of the crowd. John the Baptist lives an ascetic life and the people criticize him. Jesus eats with sinners and tax collectors and they call him a glutton and a drunkard. Then our Lord thanks God for revealing wisdom to the infants, meaning those who know how to keep things simple and look at things with open hearts and minds.

Then he says those words which have echoed down through the ages, especially when we humans are facing challenges which are making our hearts heavy: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble of heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” 

And here we want to remember that Jesus was a carpenter, and when a carpenter in those days made a yoke for a pair of oxen, he carefully shaped that yoke to fit the contours of the ox’s neck and shoulders so that the animal could bear the burden with a minimal amount of pain and discomfort.

As we make our way through this pandemic and watch the increasing number of cases and deaths tragically rise in many states, we can feel afraid, discouraged, even hopeless. This is a very powerful virus, and the experts tell us that it will be around for a long time. This is exactly what we do not want to hear.

And then comes the voice of our Lord, “Come to me all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens.” That is definitely us. And then our Lord says, “And I will give you rest.” That sounds good. Somehow, although we try to get a good night’s sleep, the pandemic sounds a dissonant chord under everything we do.  The nervous rasping of this pandemic is the discordant bass line for all our days. True rest, genuine peace would be a blessing.

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” What is really important? The love of God. Several of you are devoting time and energy to sharing the love of God by volunteering at the food shelf and giving food to those who so sorely need it. All of us can find ways to let God’s love seep into the depths of our spirits and then share that love with those around us.  Let us learn more and more every day how much God loves us and all people and let us share that love.

“For I am gentle and humble of heart and you will find rest for your souls.” Our Lord is “gentle and humble of heart.” That is what we are called to be—“gentle and humble of heart.” That is what his yoke is—for us to be “gentle and humble of heart” If we become that, many of the things we think are so important will be put in their proper perspective. What is important? God loves each of us with an unconditional love that nothing can destroy or stop or interfere with or erase. God calls us to love God back and to love others as ourselves. The important thing is to accept God’s love, thank God for this wonderful love and amazing grace and then share it in whatever ways we can. His yoke is easy—The Way of Love. Amen.

Pentecost 5 Proper 9A RCL July 9, 2017

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
Psalm 45:11-18
Romans 7:15-25a
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Our opening reading from the Book of Genesis is relatively new to the lectionary. The first time we encountered this lesson was back in 2011. Sarah has died, Abraham is growing older, and he sends his faithful servant to find a proper wife for Isaac, his beloved son.

The servant remains unnamed but many scholars think it is his beloved and trusted servant, Eliezer. Abraham has heard that his brother, Nahor, has married Milcah, and that have had a family. One of their sons, Bethuel, has become the father of a young woman named Rebekah. Abraham thinks Rebekah would be just the right wife for Isaac.

Eliezer goes back to the homeland of Abraham. Every step of his journey is steeped in prayer. He goes to the well, which is always the meeting place of the village, and Rebekah not only offers him a drink of water but also offers to water his camels. This is the height of hospitality, which is a great virtue.

In those days, women and children were considered as chattel, possessions like a chair or a good cow. A father could give his daughter to a man without even consulting her. But in Rebekah’s family, they actually ask the young woman’s opinion, and Rebekah says that she would like to marry Isaac. She has a choice in this important matter.  There is a celebration, and then Rebekah and her nurse and all her maids get on their camels, and the journey continues. Clearly, Rebekah is a woman of substance. They finally arrive in the Negeb. Isaac is out walking in the cool of the evening, looks up and sees the camels. Rebekah is very pleased to see Isaac, and they enter into a marriage based on mutual love and respect.

This story has at least two major themes. The first is that Eliezar’s journey on behalf of his master is rooted and grounded in God’s will and direction. The second is that, even in those days, Rebekah’s family asks Rebekah’s opinion, and they listen to her. Even though she is a mere woman, she has a voice. She is a capable and gracious woman of means and status, and that will be reflected in her marriage.

Our reading from Paul describes our own experience. We can want to do something, and will to do something, but sometimes, we do just the opposite. Or, we can make up our mind not to do something, but then we go ahead and do it anyway. At times, we humans can feel as though there is a war going on inside us.

When Paul talks about our “mortal bodies,” or our “members,” Biblical scholar Bruce Metzger tells us those terms can be translated as “all the faculties and functions of the person.” Left to our own human faculties and abilities, sometimes we do the opposite of what our best intentions call us to do.

If this continues, and we do things we know are destructive over and over again, that is one sign of addiction. We become powerless over alcohol, or drugs, or gambling, or spending, or eating, or electronic devices, or accumulating wealth and power, and on and on the list can go. Recently, I heard a report by an electronics expert on how our phones and iPads and computers are set up to make us addicts. We  become programmed so that we will need to check our phones or ipads more and more often to see if there is something new on Facebook or Twitter. We are constantly checking our devices. People looking intently at their phones have actually walked out into traffic.

Step Two of many recovery programs says, “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” Sanity comes from the root word sanus in Latin, meaning healthy. We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could return us to health (sanitas.)

Paul writes, “Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Our Lord can rescue us from this merry-go-round of brokenness.

Our gospel for today describes crowds who are never pleased. John the Baptist fasts and drinks only water, and the people don’t like him. Jesus eats and drinks wine, and they say he is a glutton and a drunkard. Jesus says that wisdom is given to infants, meaning that wisdom does not necessarily reside with those who have college degrees or important titles or great wealth and power but can be given to anyone, regardless of status, and is often given to those who have very little material wealth.

Then Jesus says those words which are among the gems of the Bible: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me: for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

The Pharisees burden people, especially, the poor, with over six hundred laws which they cannot possibly follow. The “infants”, the everyday people, do not have the leisure time to follow these rules. They have to spend most of their time working to support their families. The Pharisees and other teachers of the time ask people to follow a set of rules.

Jesus is asking us to follow him. He understands what it is to be human. He truly loves ordinary people like you and me. He is meek and gentle. He is also trained as a carpenter, and a good carpenter in those days would fashion a yoke to fit every lump and bump on the neck  and shoulders of an ox. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who knows us intimately and who can lead us into green pasture and beside still water. He can lead us into newness of life.

His yoke is easy and his burden is light. He frees us from the struggle that Paul so aptly describes.

May we follow him.  Amen.

Pentecost 4A RCL July 6, 2014

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
Psalm 45”11-18
Romans 7:15-25a
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Our first reading today is one we have seen only once before, in 2011. It is a new addition in the Revised Common Lectionary. Sarah has died. Isaac is now grown up. Abraham is getting old. Abraham wants Isaac to have a proper wife from their own extended family. So he sends his trusted servant on a special mission. Scholars think this is his beloved servant Eliezer, who has been with him for years.  God is going to guide every step of this journey, and, if Eliezer does not find a suitable wife for Isaac, he is to come home.

As it turns out, Eliezer goes to the well, the social center of the village, and he finds a wonderful young woman, Rebekah, who extends consummate hospitality. Not only does she give Eliezar a drink; she waters all of his camels. This is an outstanding virtue.

In those days, women and children were treated as chattel—objects, possessions. The father could hand over his daughter to be married. But this does not happen in our passage. Rebekah’s family asks her whether she wants to go and marry Isaac. She has a voice. Her opinion is respected. Her new husband, Isaac, does not treat her as an object. He truly loves her.

This story is a touching and human expression of at least two important themes: asking God for guidance and following that guidance, and showing respect for all human beings.

Our epistle shows Paul at his most human and compelling level. All of us can identify with this passage.  Paul writes, “I do not do what I want, but I do the thing I hate.” We are called to practice the life of prayer, to seek God’s will and, with God’s grace, do God’s will. But it is not always easy. We all fall short. No one is perfect. When we do something we know we shouldn’t do, or do not do something we know we should do, we can acknowledge these sins of commission and omission in our review of our life at the end of the day and ask God’s forgiveness. Usually, slowly but surely, we make progress.

But sometimes there are patterns that defeat us. No matter how hard we try and how devoutly we pray, we just keep doing the same thing over and over again. Addiction is indeed a disease. But it is my best example of sin as well. We know that we are drinking too much these days. We shouldn’t take that drink or that drug, but we do it over and over again. We have no power over it. We are powerless. It could be the sin of ira, wrath. We lose our temper. We pray for help, but we don’t have any control over it. It could be any one of those seven root sins—pride, wrath, greed, envy, lust, gluttony, and sloth.  We feel we don’t have enough money or things. We envy someone his or her success.  We fail to be grateful for the blessings God has bestowed on us. Whatever the sin is, when we realize that we have no control over it, we also realize that we are powerless. We need God’s help. We must ask for that help and depend totally upon God to get us out of this mire of sin. And, if we trust God, and Jesus, and the Spirit, we can be freed from that endless bondage of sin.

In our gospel, Jesus is commenting on the fickleness of human nature. Sometimes we are impossible to please. John the Baptist leads the life of an ascetic prophet, fasting and drinking only water, and people find fault with him. Jesus associates with all kinds of people, and eats and drinks and people think he is a drunkard and a glutton. Jesus seems a but frustrated with all of this, and this simply reminds us that he was fully human, and sometimes he had to learn things about us that were not easy to deal with, and sometimes he got frustrated.

Jesus says a little prayer thanking God for giving wisdom to those who try not to complicate things. And then he says that thing which has been such a comfort to us humans over the centuries: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Whenever I think about this passage, I remember that, back in Jesus’ time, a skilled woodworker would make the yoke for each ox. The woodworker would measure the ox’s neck and shoulders and chest and would note every lump and bump on those contours and would exactly mold that yoke to fit that animal. When we decide to follow Jesus—and we make that decision new every day, we ask him to lead us and guide us in every action we take and in everything we say. He knows us and he loves us. He knows all the lumps and bumps and contours of our spirits. And when the going gets tough, he gives us the grace we need to carry the load and to make the journey. As time goes by, and as we more and more naturally, through prayer and grace, follow his will and walk in his way, a task that used to seem impossible is actually pretty doable. Our spiritual muscles are strengthened. And, as unlikely as it may seem, when we are called upon to do something we would have thought impossible, with his help, it becomes as easy and natural as breathing, because he is now living in us. His grace is carrying us through.

“My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Dear Lord, thank you for your amazing grace.  Amen.