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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion February 5, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion February 12, 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:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion February 19, 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:…

Last Sunday after Epiphany Year B February 14, 2021

2 Kings 2:1-12
Psalm 50:1-6
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Mark 9:2-9

In our opening reading today, we meet the great prophet Elijah and his disciple, Elisha. Elijah is about to be carried up to heaven in a chariot of fire drawn by horses of fire. His student and successor, Elisha, cannot bear to think of Elijah leaving. He is also a faithful disciple, so he keeps following Elijah. He does not want to leave his teacher. He will follow Elijah to the end.

To make the parting a bit more gentle, Elijah asks Elisha what he can do for him before he goes to be with God. Elisha’s response is full of wisdom and honesty. He asks for a double share of Elijah’s spirit.  And then, Elijah is borne up to heaven.

Scholars tell us that, by the time his Second Letter to the Corinthians was written, there were some tensions between Paul and the community in Corinth. Paul had planned to visit them and that had not happened, and other issues had arisen. In this passage, Paul is calling us to concentrate on why we are here and what our mission is.

He calls us to focus on “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” He reminds us that “…it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone is our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

In our gospel for today, Jesus has been telling his disciples about the cross, and he has been calling them to take up their own cross. He takes his closest followers, Peter, James, and John, and they go up on the mountain. This morning, we have the privilege of walking with Jesus, Peter, James, and John.

Here we are, climbing higher and higher with our Lord and his three most trusted companions. Just a few days ago, he fed five thousand people. Now, we are following him upward, upward,  into more and more silence. As we move upward, the noise and stress of the world slip away.

As we follow Jesus and Peter and James and John, we think of how Moses received the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai. We think of how many times Jesus goes to the mountains to pray, and we know that we are going to a special place, a hallowed place.

Shortly after we reach the summit, something happens that we will never forget. Jesus is transfigured. His skin and clothes become a dazzling white, so bright that we have to shade our eyes. And then two great prophets appear, Moses on one side of Jesus and Elijah on the other side, and they are talking with Jesus as if they are old friends, communicating with the greatest love and respect.

Peter is so overcome that he says a few things about booths and trying to preserve this moment forever. We cannot speak. We are in awe and silent in the face of what we are witnessing.

Then a cloud overshadows Jesus and Moses and Elijah. There is a voice, unlike any voice we have ever heard. It is a voice resonating with the power of love and grace. “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him.” That is the same voice we heard at his Baptism in the Jordan River, the voice of God, telling us who Jesus truly is, the Beloved Son of God.

We are blinded by the dazzling light, and our hearts almost stop when we hear that voice telling us that Jesus is not only our teacher and our friend and our leader, but the Son of God. And then that voice commands: “listen to him.” And we answer with a silent promise to listen to him always. To seek and do his will.

And then we remember that our Lord has been saying he is going to have to die on a cross, He is our king and yet he is going to suffer. But right now, as we stand in the remaining glow of that shimmering, powerful light and listen to the receding echoes of that unforgettable voice, we are realizing that our beloved leader is the Son of God. We are in the presence of the Son of God.

And then, Moses and Elijah are gone. Only Jesus remains.

On the way down, we don’t talk very much. We are thinking about what has just happened, absorbing the meaning of it. He is going to suffer on the worst instrument of torture ever invented. But he tells us not to tell anyone about all of this until after he has risen from the dead.  He is telling us that he is going to rise from the dead!     

Coming back to Vermont, Virginia, and Florida in 2021, this is the end of the Epiphany season of light and mission. This Wednesday will be Ash Wednesday and we will begin our Lenten journey. In our gospel today, we are given the vision of our Lord transfigured so that we can remember that he is the Son of God; he is God walking the face of the earth. He suffered on the cross to show us the Way of Love and he calls us to live the Way of Love.

In some small way, we will be following him this Lent by fasting, praying, and giving alms. Some of us will be following Lent Madness. Some may be attending the Social Justice Bible Challenge with Bishop Shannon on Wednesday evenings from 7-8 PM.

We will be walking the Way of the Cross during this season of penitence and that way will lead to the cross on Good Friday. As we walk that path of self-examination, self-discipline, and transformation, we will have this vision from the Last Sunday of Epiphany to lead us and guide us. We will recall that dazzling image of our Lord atop that mountain standing with two great prophets and we will hear the voice of God reminding us about whom we are following and calling us to listen to him.

May we listen to him, carefully and with open hearts. May we follow him faithfully. And, as we pray in our collect, “May we be changed into his likeness from glory to glory.” Amen.

Pentecost 3 Proper 8C RCL June 30, 2019

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

In our opening reading today, we have the account of the great prophet Elijah passing the mantle of leadership on to his student, Elisha. This is a poignant story because Elijah is such a wise and faithful prophet, and Elisha loves him dearly. Elisha also values his mentor as someone who has taught him almost everything he knows.

Elijah tells his young student several times that he is going to walk to this or that place, and then he will leave. Elisha always insists on walking with his mentor. He is a faithful disciple who has always gone where Elijah has gone; he does not want to let go; and he wisely and humbly thinks that he will not be able to be half the prophet that Elijah is.

Finally, Elijah asks Elisha a question that rings through the centuries, “Tell me what I may do for you before I am taken from you.” This great mentor wants to do everything he can to strengthen the ministry of his successor. Elisha asks for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. My interpretation of this is that Elisha is not greedy, but that he rightly feels that he has such big shoes to fill, he might have half a chance to do it if he receives a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. As we all know, It is virtually impossible for a great teacher or prophet to pass on his or her wisdom and gifts to a student or successor, and Elijah says exactly that.

But he tells Elisha to pay close attention to everything that happens, If Elisha actually sees Elijah when he is being taken away, he will receive the gifts he needs. In other words, the great  and beloved prophet Elijah is advising his student Elisha to pay close attention. What excellent advice for all of us, guidance that all the great religions of the world give to us. Live in the moment; cherish this moment. Because if we live in mindfulness, God is able to speak to us. God is able to give us the insight and wisdom and gifts we need to carry out our ministries.

Elisha pays very close attention. He looks on in awe and cries out in grief and worship as his beloved mentor is taken to heaven. Then he tears his clothing in grief. And then, he takes the mantle of Elijah and splits the waters of the Jordan and goes over to the other side. His ministry has begun. 

In our gospel for today, Our Lord is telling us that following him is not easy. He is not telling us that we have to abandon or hate our families. He calls us to love our families. He calls us to love everyone. But he is reminding us that following him means that we need to set our priorities in a way that will enable us to listen to his voice

In our reading from Galatians, Paul writes these ringing words, “For freedom Christ has set us free.” Does this mean that we can do anything we want to? No. As we have said on other occasions, freedom is not license. Paul is walking a careful balance between freedom and license. Freedom is less an individual matter and more a community matter. Freedom does not mean unlimited autonomy for me or for you. Christ has set us free so that we can live in community, so that we can love and support each other in the life in Christ.

And then St. Paul writes about the fruits of the Spirit, qualities that mark all Christians and all truly Christian communities. Let us take a moment to meditate on these wonderful gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Love. David Brown, former rector of Christ Church, Montpelier, says, “Love is taking God and other people seriously.” Love is more about what we do than what we feel. Treating others with compassion and respect is not a touchy-feely thing. It takes prayer and discipline to be people of compassion.

Joy is something that goes beyond mere happiness or contentment. It is rooted in God’s love. There is true joy in knowing and realizing God’s love and responding to that love and sharing that love as we do in Christian community.

Peace, God’s shalom of health and wholeness, lives deeply and strongly within every person who is living in the Spirit. Within such a person is a deep serenity, an unruffled deep well of peace.

Another fruit of the Spirit is patience. We take life one day at a time, one moment at a time. We are here in this moment. We do not have to rush about frantically. We can wait upon God. Yes, we have to do our part, but we have the patience born of peace.

Kindness. We follow the Golden Rule. We treat others as we would like to be treated. We treat everyone as a child of God. We respect the dignity of every human being.

Generosity is also a fruit of the Spirit. When we are following God to the best of our ability, we feel deeply blessed and loved by God. We grow more and more grateful for God’s blessings and love. Out of that gratitude flows generosity in sharing the gifts which God has given to us.

Faithfulness. We know that God is present in every moment. We know that God wants the best for us. We are living a new life in Christ. We are following Jesus with complete faith in his leading.

Gentleness. We who have died with Christ, we who have shared in the suffering of Christ, we who have experienced the compassion of Christ, are gentle with others.

And, finally, self-control, the ninth fruit of the Spirit which St. Paul mentions in this letter. We are rooted and grounded in God. We remain in balance. With God’s grace, we try to do and say only that which God calls us to do and say.

The fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness gentleness, and self-control. These are the fruits that grow in a Christian community. They are not something we can grow or develop on our own. They are gifts of the Spirit which come to us as we center our lives more and more in God.

Thanks be to God for giving us these gifts, and thanks to you for nurturing these gifts of the Spirit. They are part of what makes Grace Church a wonderful community of faith. Amen.

The Last Sunday after Epiphany 3/3/2019

Exodus 34:29-35
Psalm 99
2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2
Luke 9:28-36, (37-43)

Today is the Last Sunday after Epiphany. We move from the Epiphany season, the season of light and mission, into Lent, a time of penitence, self-examination, and prayer, a time for askesis, spiritual fitness, a time to confess our sins, ask God’s forgiveness, and grow closer to God. Today is also called Transfiguration Sunday because of our gospel reading.

Our first reading is from the Book of Exodus. The people of God have been enslaved in Egypt, and they are now on their journey to freedom. Moses, their leader, goes up Mount Sinai to receive the tablets of the law. The skin of Moses’ face is shining with the light of the presence of God. When Aaron and the people see Moses’ face, they are afraid to come near him. They are afraid of God, They believe the old saying that, if you see the face of God, you will die. So Moses covers his face with a veil when he returns from talking with God.

In our gospel, it is about eight days after the feeding of the five thousand and after the conversation in which Jesus asks his disciples who they think he is. Peter answers, “The Messiah of God.” Jesus takes his closest followers, Peter and James and John up to the mountain to pray.

And while he is praying, his entire person shows forth the the light of the presence of God. The two great prophets, Moses and Elijah, are there talking with Jesus, showing that he is in the line of the greatest prophets in history. Peter, dear Peter, says, “Master, it is good that we are here with you. Let’s make three shrines, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. He wants to make sure this moment will be forever preserved in history. He wants to build a monument.

Then a cloud comes over them, the same cloud that covered Moses on Mount Sinai, the cloud that shows God is present, and God speaks, “This is my Son, my chosen. Listen to him!”

If this had taken place in the time of Moses, Peter and James and John would never have been on the mountain. They would never have been in the presence of Jesus and God. If by some strange error they had been, they would have run down the mountain screaming in horror because they were afraid of the presence of God.

But none of that happened. Yes, they had been drowsy but they had stayed awake and they had seen the whole thing—Jesus with Moses and Elijah, and then God descending to the top of the mountain and telling them to listen to His Son. Yet they did not run away howling in terror.

Paul talks about this in his letter today. He writes, “All of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord, …are being transformed into the same image from one glory to another.” In other words, we are being transformed into Christ.

Peter and James and John had decided to follow Jesus. They had prayed with him, eaten meals with him, watched him heal people, listened to his teachings, helped him to feed five thousand people. They had observed how he treated each person with great care and respect. Peter had figured out that Jesus was the Savior whom they had all been expecting, they had all been hoping for.

And yet, when they were on that mountain, and the two great prophets were there and then God was also there, Peter and James and John were in awe for certain, but they were not afraid as God’ s people had been afraid in Moses’ time, a little over a thousand years before.

Why was that? What had happened? Why were these three close followers awe-struck but not running away in terror? Because God had come to live with them, to walk with them, to talk with them, to teach them, pray with them, heal them, lead them as their good shepherd, and be with them every day of their lives.

God had come to be close to them, to be with them, and what they felt most of all, was God’s love for them, a transforming love, and that is what St. Paul is trying to express in this portion of his Second Letter to the Corinthians.

Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. Jesus has come to be with us, to lead us and guide us. Here on Transfiguration Sunday, we see our Lord as he truly is—powerful, but not in a way that paralyzes us with terror. His is the power of love.

As we prepare for Ash Wednesday and for the season of Lent, and as we do honest self-examination and confession of our sins, our Lord calls us to remember that this is part of our ongoing process of transformation. We are becoming more like him. We are placing ourselves and our lives in the hands of our loving God.

He is in our midst, calling us to follow him, not out of fear but out of love.   Amen.

Pentecost 6 Proper 8C RCL June 26, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pentecost 5 Proper 7 RCL June 19, 2016

1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15A
Psalm 42 and 43
Galatians 3:23-29
Luke 8:26-39

in our opening reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, We go back to the point in Elijah’s story when he has just asked God to come down and light the sacrifice on fire, and God has answered. Elijah has also killed all 450 prophets of Baal. In answer to these actions, Queen Jezebel has sent a message that she will kill Elijah.

Elijah runs as far as he can and still remain in the land of Jahweh. He goes to Beersheeba, the southernmost place in the Southern Kingdom of Judah. He leaves his servant and goes into the wilderness. And he asks God to let him die. He is exhausted, He has been battling the enemies of God for a long, long time. He lies down and sleeps.

When Elijah wakes up, God has sent an angel to give him food. He eats and rests again. Then the angel wakes him up and tells him to eat more. He will be going on a long journey. He gets up, eats and drinks, and heads out on a journey of forty days and forty nights to Mount Horeb, also called Mount Sinai, the place where Moses met God, the place where he, Elijah, will also meet God.

Elijah goes into a cave, but God finds him there and asks him, “hat are you doing here?” And Elijah tries to present his case. He has been working hard for God, in spite of the fact that everyone else has abandoned God, and now Jezebel is going to kill him.

God tells Elijah to go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, because the Lord is about to pass by.  A great wind comes, then an earthquake, and then fire. But God is not in any of these powerful and dramatic things.

God speaks to Elijah in what the King James translation describes as
“a still, small voice.” James D. Newsome says this translation is close, but the literal translation is “a thin whisper.” After all the noise and drama of wind, earthquake, and fire comes the quiet voice of God.

The tired and dejected Elijah has an encounter with God, and that meeting with God  energizes Elijah to go back to the battle. Elijah is now carrying on the ministry begun with Moses. Elijah’s mission is to free God’s people from the tyranny of Ahab and Jezebel.

So often we expect our encounters with God to be dramatic. Most of the time, God speaks to us in a still small voice, or a thin whisper, quietly, so quietly that we may not hear God if we are not listening. Elijah was certainly listening.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is traveling to the country of the Gerasenes. Jesus is in Gentile territory.  He has gone beyond the usual bounds of his mission. He meets a man who for a long time has worn no clothes, a man who lives in the tombs. Jesus does not turn away from this man. Jesus heals him. The demons go into a herd of pigs. The herd runs down the bank into the lake and is drowned. The swineherds go into the town and tell what Jesus has done. Then everyone comes out and they see this man sitting at the feet of Jesus in the posture of a disciple. He is fully clothed and of sound mind. All the people of that area ask Jesus to leave them. They are afraid. One reason for their fear is that they have just lost a herd of pigs, an economic hardship. Jesus has set a man free from illness, but this action has an effect on the local economy. The presence of Jesus in our lives often calls us to reorganize our priorities.

The man who has been healed has become a disciple. He asks if he can come with Jesus, but Jesus tells him to go and proclaim in his own area the good news of what God has done.

Our reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians is one of the most powerful portions of Holy Scripture. Because of the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord, we have all been clothed in Christ. We are all children of God. “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Jesus breaks down all barriers—race, religion, class, socioeconomic status, gender, all barriers. We are all one in Christ Jesus.

The story of Elijah is also our story. Sometimes it is difficult to try to do God’s will. We can get discouraged. We can feel like giving up. But God is always there to nourish us and renew our spirits. Strengthened by his encounter with God, Elijah goes on to become as great a leader as Moses.

This week, we have been dealing with a tragedy. A young man, who was a perpetrator of unreported domestic violence, who had outbursts of anger which alarmed co-workers, who was described by his ex-wife as mentally ill, murdered forty-nine people.

Imam Hassan Islam, the leader of the Islamic Society of Vermont, was the first religious leader to reach out to the Vermont Pride Center. The Senior Imam of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, Imam Muhammad Musri, spoke on Sunday morning, asking people of all faiths to pray for the victims and families and to help in any way that they could.

I ask that we continue to pray for those who have been injured and those who have died, for their families, and for those who are ministering to the many folks whose lives have been touched by this event.

I also ask that we pray for God’s guidance in this matter, knowing that God will probably come to us as a still, small voice, a thin whisper. May we listen very carefully for that voice.

May we, as individuals and as a nation, seek and do God’s will.  Amen.

Pentecost 5 Proper 7 RCL June 19, 2016

1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15A
Psalm 42 and 43
Galatians 3:23-29
Luke 8:26-39

In our opening reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, we go back to the point in Elijah’s story when he has just asked God to come down and light the sacrifice on fire, and God has answered. Elijah has also killed all 450 prophets of Baal. In answer to these actions, Queen Jezebel has sent a message that she will kill Elijah.

Elijah runs as far as he can and still remain in the land of Jahweh. He goes to Beersheeba, the southernmost place in the Southern Kingdom of Judah. He leaves his servant and goes into the wilderness. And he asks God to let him die. He is exhausted, He has been battling the enemies of God for a long, long time. He lies down and sleeps.

When Elijah wakes up, God has sent an angel to give him food. He eats and rests again. Then the angel wakes him up and tells him to eat more. He will be going on a long journey. He gets up, eats and drinks, and heads out on a journey of forty days and forty nights to Mount Horeb, also called Mount Sinai, the place where Moses met God, the place where he, Elijah, will also meet God.

Elijah goes into a cave, but God finds him there and asks him, “What are you doing here?” And Elijah tries to present his case. He has been working hard for God, in spite of the fact that everyone else has abandoned God, and now Jezebel is going to kill him.

God tells Elijah to go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, because the Lord is about to pass by.  A great wind comes, then an earthquake, and then fire. But God is not in any of these powerful and dramatic things.

God speaks to Elijah in what the King James translation describes as “a still, small voice.” James D. Newsome says this translation is close, but the literal translation is “a thin whisper.” After all the noise and drama of wind, earthquake, and fire comes the quiet voice of God.

The tired and dejected Elijah has an encounter with God, and that meeting with God  energizes Elijah to go back to the battle. Elijah is now carrying on the ministry begun with Moses. Elijah’s mission is to free God’s people from the tyranny of Ahab and Jezebel.

So often we expect our encounters with God to be dramatic. Most of the time, God speaks to us in a still small voice, or a thin whisper, quietly, so quietly that we may not hear God if we are not listening. Elijah was certainly listening.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is traveling to the country of the Gerasenes. Jesus is in Gentile territory.  He has gone beyond the usual bounds of his mission. He meets a man who for a long time has worn no clothes, a man who lives in the tombs. Jesus does not turn away from this man. Jesus heals him. The demons go into a herd of pigs. The herd runs down the bank into the lake and is drowned. The swineherds go into the town and tell what Jesus has done. Then everyone comes out and they see this man sitting at the feet of Jesus in the posture of a disciple. He is fully clothed and of sound mind. All the people of that area ask Jesus to leave them. They are afraid. One reason for their fear is that they have just lost a herd of pigs, an economic hardship. Jesus has set a man free from illness, but this action has an effect on the local economy. The presence of Jesus in our lives often calls us to reorganize our priorities.

The man who has been healed has become a disciple. He asks if he can come with Jesus, but Jesus tells him to go and proclaim in his own area the good news of what God has done.

Our reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians is one of the most powerful portions of Holy Scripture. Because of the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord, we have all been clothed in Christ. We are all children of God. “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Jesus breaks down all barriers—race, religion, class, socioeconomic status, gender, all barriers. We are all one in Christ Jesus.

The story of Elijah is also our story. Sometimes it is difficult to try to do God’s will. We can get discouraged. We can feel like giving up. But God is always there to nourish us and renew our spirits. Strengthened by his encounter with God, Elijah goes on to become as great a leader as Moses.

This week, we have been dealing with a tragedy. A young man, who was a perpetrator of unreported domestic violence, who had outbursts of anger which alarmed co-workers, who was described by his ex-wife as mentally ill, murdered forty-nine people.

Imam Hassan Islam, the leader of the Islamic Society of Vermont, was the first religious leader to reach out to the Vermont Pride Center. The Senior Imam of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, Imam Muhammad Musri, spoke on Sunday morning, asking people of all faiths to pray for the victims and families and to help in any way that they could.

I ask that we continue to pray for those who have been injured and those who have died, for their families, and for those who are ministering to the many folks whose lives have been touched by this event.

I also ask that we pray for God’s guidance in this matter, knowing that God will probably come to us as a still, small voice, a thin whisper. May we listen very carefully for that voice.

May we, as individuals and as a nation, seek and do God’s will.  Amen.

Pentecost 3 Proper 5C RCL June 5, 2016

i Kings 17:8-16, (17-24)
Psalm 146
Galatians 1:11-24
Luke 7:11-17

In all of our readings this morning, we hear a theme of hope and  promise: God gives life. Christ brings new life.

In our first reading, Elijah is called to go into Gentile territory, to the region of Sidon, the home country of Queen Jezebel, who worships Baal, the fertility god. Elijah is called to go to the home of a widow, and we remember that, in that time, widows and children were the most vulnerable people. A widow would normally go to her extended family after her husband had died. She would then have the protection of the men of her family.

But this widow is alone with her son, and, when Elijah arrives, they are about to have their last meal. Elijah gives her God’s promise that they will not run out of food until the rains come and end the famine. The woman is skeptical, but the promise is fulfilled.

Then the woman’s son is stricken with a deadly illness. The text says,
“There was no breath in him.” This is a worse calamity than the famine. The woman is going to lose her beloved son, her only living relative. The woman thinks Elijah has brought this tragedy on her. But Elijah asks her to give him her son, and she trusts him enough to do so. Elijah carries the boy upstairs and puts him on his own bed. He prays with all his heart and the boy is revived. The woman now has faith in Elijah and in God.

God brings life in two ways. The woman and her son are about to starve to death in a time of famine, and their last remnants of food just keep lasting and lasting. Then the son has no breath in him, and he is brought back to life. In this text, God reaches out beyond the usual boundaries, into the land of the Phoenicians, the land of Baal.  God reaches out to an obscure widow, someone who has no power in the culture, and her son, who has even less power. God feeds them and then God transforms death and hopelessness into life and hope.

This is good news for all those on the margins of society.

In our reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. Paul is telling his story, and what an inspiring and honest story it is. Paul did not receive the gospel from a teacher or a preacher. He received it directly from Jesus. He had just witnessed the martyrdom of St. Stephen, and he was going to Damascus to continue his work of persecuting followers of Jesus. On the way, our Lord spoke to him and changed his life.

Sometimes we humans can be so sure that we are doing the right thing. We can rise to the top of the power structure in doing something we think is good, and then we find out that we were going down a destructive and wrong path. That was Paul. He was killing people in the name of God.

Once he saw the light of Christ, there was no stopping Paul. He traveled around the Mediterranean Sea, planting churches. Paul had been living a life of persecution. God gave him a new life and called him to proclaim the gospel of love and forgiveness.

In our gospel, Jesus has just healed the centurion’s slave. As he enters the town of Nain, a tragedy is unfolding. People are carrying the body of a man who has died. Jesus finds out that this young man is his mother’s only son. She doesn’t even have to ask Jesus for help. He sees her overwhelming grief, and his compassion flows out to her.

Jesus comes forward and touches the bier, and then he calls on the young man to rise. Instantly, the young man sits up and begins to speak. It would be interesting to hear what he said, but that will always be a mystery.

The text says, “Jesus gave him to his mother.” Jesus does not rush off. He gives this young man to his mother as the greatest gift anyone could give. As parents, we all know that having a child die is the worst tragedy that can happen. Now, Jesus gives this young man back to his mother, and her son is alive. Once again, he is giving the son the gift of life itself, and he is giving the mother a new life with her beloved son.

The crowd thinks Jesus is a great prophet in the tradition of Elijah. They know the story of the widow of Zarephath and her son. As time goes on, they will find out who Jesus really is.

The theme for today is: God brings life. When we are at the end of our rope; when we have tied a knot at the end of that rope and we are hanging on for dear life; when the world looks dark and all hope has gone; when we have tried plan A, Plan B, and every other plan, God brings life and hope. God brings life. Christ brings newness of life.

The other theme of these readings is that God cares about the least of us. God cares about those who have very little. God cares for those who have no power, no influence, no wealth, no status. God cares about everyone, and God cares especially for those who are living at the margins.

Our readings today are telling us that God cares deeply about how we treat those who, like the widows and children in these readings, have very little buffer between them and total disaster.

Like the Ladies’ Auxiliary of Grace Church, who for decades ministered to folks here and abroad, may we continue to reach out to those who need hope and help. Amen.

Pentecost 2 Proper 4C RCL May 29, 2016

1 Kings 18:20-21. (22-29), 30-39
Psalm 96
Galatians 1:1-12
Luke 7:1-10

We are now in what the liturgical calendar calls “ordinary time.” Our vestments turn to green, the color of spring and summer growth, and we settle in for that long season until the coming of Advent.

Our first reading is a dramatic turning point in the history of God’s people.  King Ahab of the northern kingdom of Israel is married to the famous Queen Jezebel, who is a princess of Sidon, a coastal city on the Mediterranean Sea. James D. Newsome of Columbia Theological Seminary, tells us that a rich merchant class who had close ties with people in the cities of Tyre and Sidon formed a kind of oligarchy over the northern kingdom of Israel and “enriched itself off the produce of the land. often at the expense of the northern Israel peasantry.”  (Texts for Preaching, Year C, p. 362.)

Newsome points out that these people modeled themselves after their coastal friends in Phoenicia and worshipped Baal, a fertility god of Canaan and Phoenicia.The royal court and the upper classes were greedy and corrupt, and as usual, those at the bottom suffered most.

Scholars tell us that it is around 970 B.C. E. Morality and religious life have declined so much that there is only one prophet of God remaining, the great prophet Elijah, and there are four hundred fifty prophets of Baal.  Elijah is trying to call people back to the worship of God.

He proposes that he and the prophets of Baal will each be given a bull. He allows the prophets of Baal to choose which bull they will have, and they set up their sacrifice very carefully and call upon Baal, but nothing happens. Then Elijah sets up his sacrifice with great reverence and care. After he has prepared the sacrifice, he orders that  it be drenched in water to the point of overflowing. This insures that it will be difficult for God to set this sacrifice on fire. But, when Elijah calls on God, the fire consumes the entire sacrifice even to the point of tongues of fire licking at the water in the trench.

This makes a good story, but it is far more than that. As Newsome points out, the prophets Elijah and Elisha are concerned about two important issues—faithfulness and justice. Elijah is the only prophet of God left in the world. What courage it took for Elijah to engage in this showdown with the prophets of Baal. But Elijah has such deep faith in God that he takes this step. As Newsome writes, “Elijah risks everything, and God responds to that risk.”

Newsome writes that the essence of this text “is to be found in the prophets’ commitment to the God of Israel as the true Lord of life, in their dedication to justice, and in their compassion and intention to help people who did not have the means to help themselves.” (Texts for Preaching, Year C, p. 363.) Immediately after this event, Elijah has to flee for his life.

In today’s reading from his Letter to the Galatians, Paul is responding to a crisis in the life of the Galatian congregations. Some new Christians or perhaps new teachers have come into the communities of faith in Asia Minor, what we would call Turkey, and they are insisting that, as Christians, people must follow the Law of Moses, or at least, must adhere to the practice of circumcision.

Paul states that his authority comes from God, not from human authorities. He reminds them and us that our Lord gave his life to set us free. And then he tells the people how  surprised and shocked he is that they are deserting the gospel. They are allowing humans to draw them away from the good news in Christ to obedience to the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law.

He calls them to return to the true gospel. He reminds them that Christ did not call them to follow the letter of the law, but to follow the spirit of the law of love.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is coming into Capernaum. There is a centurion, a Roman military officer, who has a slave who is ill and close to death. Now this centurion is a powerful and wealthy officer in the Roman occupation army. But he is also someone who cares about his neighbors and supports the local synagogue. He asks some of the Jewish elders to appeal to Jesus to heal his beloved slave.

Jesus goes with them, but then the centurion sends a message to Jesus not to come. “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. But speak the word only, and my servant will be healed.” He has heard about Jesus, and he has sensed Jesus’ authority. Herbert O’Driscoll points out another aspect of the centurion’s reasoning, and that is that, for Jesus as a Jew to enter the centurion’s Gentile home would make Jesus ritually unclean. But the centurion does not mention this awkward issue. He simply and humbly states his own unworthiness to have Jesus as a visitor.

The centurion knows about worldly power. He is at the top of the corporate military structure. He knows about command and obedience. And he realizes that Jesus has a spiritual power beyond anything he has ever experienced. In essence, this centurion has become a follower of Jesus even as he is asking Jesus not to visit his home.

Jesus recognizes the faith of this man, and, when the messengers reach the centurion’s home, the servant has already been healed.

Our readings today remind us that ours is a God of justice and love who cares about all people. Because of the life and ministry of Jesus, we are called to go beyond the letter to the spirit of the law. Most of all, we have three powerful examples of people of faith: Elijah, who as the last living prophet calls on God with total faith and receives God’s powerful response; Paul, who roots himself deeply in faith in Christ and calls us to follow the law of love; and this centurion, with his combination of privilege, compassion, humility, spiritual intuition, and deep faith, who calls upon Jesus to heal his servant. May we follow their example of faith. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Epiphany 4C RCL January 31, 2016

Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-6
I Corinthians 13: 1-13
Luke 4:21-30

Our first reading today is from the Book of Jeremiah. God called Jeremiah to be a prophet when Jeremiah was only about eighteen years old. Jeremiah did not want to be a prophet. He was probably well aware that the life and ministry of a prophet is not easy or happy and it can sometimes be downright dangerous.

Have you ever been called to do something you just didn’t want to do? Have you ever felt that God was asking you to do something that was just beyond you? I think most of us have. I know I have felt that way at times.

But then, as we are telling God about all the reasons why we just can’t do whatever it is, God tells us that God has known us and loved us since before we were born and God is going to give us the gifts we need to do this challenging thing. And, though we may be reluctant, or even scared, we say Yes to God. The Bible and the lives of the saints are full of the stories of people who felt they were not good enough or strong enough or eloquent enough or wise enough, but who said yes because God promised to go with them and help them every step of the way.

Our epistle for today is First Corinthians, Chapter 13, verses one through thirteen. Paul is speaking to those people in the congregation in Corinth who thought they knew everything and thought they had gifts that were greater than the gifts of others, especially the gift of speaking in tongues, and he is saying that, if we do not have love, we have nothing. I wonder how some of those arrogant people felt when they heard this letter. I wonder if Paul got through to them. He certainly expressed it clearly. “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful. It bears all things, believes all things. hopes all things, endures all things.”

What Paul is describing is the form of love called in Greek agape. This is the kind of unconditional love which God gives to us. It is the kind of love we aim for and will never reach. But it is a wonderful goal for our lives. It is an excellent model, and I know that all of us try to follow that model.

There are some situations in which this model is not to be followed. These are cases of extreme danger and we have to follow different models. One of those is war and the other is situations of abuse or domestic violence. In situations of abuse, for example, we are not called to endure all things. We are called to protect ourselves, to escape, and to save our lives.

Our gospel continues from last Sunday when Jesus read the words of Isaiah which describe his and our ministry to free people from anything that imprisons them. After he finishes reading, Jesus says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” The people speak well of him.

Herbert O’Driscoll speculates that Jesus may have heard some adverse comments in the streets of Nazareth. O Driscoll writes, “Have people already said things to him on this visit home that we have not overheard? It sounds as if he has been hurt to some extent and feels resentful.” (O’Driscoll, The Word Among Us Year C Volume 1, p. 93.)

Jesus points out,” No prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town.” And then he gives examples of two times when God called prophets to minister to people outside the faith community. Elijah was sent to help the widow of Zarephath, who was a Gentile, and Elisha was called to heal Naaman, who was also a Gentile.

Jesus is making it clear that God’s love is for all people, and this makes the people listening to him so angry that they try to throw him over a cliff.

God loves everyone, and some of the people in Jesus’ hometown did not take kindly to that idea. Some time ago, theologian J. B. Phillips wrote a book called Your God Is Too Small. Some folks got quite upset at that title, but it helps us to realize that we humans tend to try to limit God.

O’Driscoll comments, “Today, this passage warns against our having a limited vision of God. Our Lord pledges his utter commitment to the work of liberating human lives.”

Perhaps the most powerful example of someone who started out with a limited idea of God and had his life transformed by our Lord is Saint Paul. This past Monday, we celebrated the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. Saul, a Pharisee and a Roman citizen, thought he was serving God by persecuting followers of Jesus. On once occasion, Saul watched an angry crowd stone a man to death. This man was a faithful deacon  named Stephen, and he became the first Christian martyr.

Paul was on his way to Damascus to continue his mission of persecution when a blinding light shone all-around him and Jesus asked him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

Saul did a complete one-eighty and followed Jesus with faith and courage until he died as a martyr in Rome in 64 A.D. We can understand how close he was to our Lord by reading and meditating on the passage in our epistle for today. He was beaten, thrown in prison numerous times, suffered shipwrecks. You name it; he went through it. Yet Paul is the one who wrote, “It is not I who lives but Christ who lives in me.”

What are these readings telling us? It is not always easy to answer God’s call. It is not always easy to follow Jesus. But our Lord is always right here with us, leading and guiding us. St. Paul gives us a description of agape. Jesus brings that description to life. God’s love is limitless. It includes everyone. May we accept God’s love for us. Amen.

Last Sunday after Epiphany Year B RCL 2/15/15

2 Kings 2:1-12
Psalm 50:1-6
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Mark 9:2-9

Today is the last Sunday after Epiphany. This coming Wednesday, we will gather for our Ash Wednesday service and will begin the season of Lent.

Epiphany is the season of light. The wise men followed the star which led them through the dark nights to the place where the new king was. They worshipped because they knew that a new order, a new creation, had come into being. They went home by another way. They were wise enough to avoid Herod, who was willing to resort to murder to destroy this new kingdom.

Epiphany is also a time when we focus on the glory of God. God has sent God’s son. God has come to be with us. And today, we go up the mountain with Peter and James and John and we see his glory as we have never seen it before. And we will never forget it.

We see some foreshadowings in our opening reading. The great prophet Elijah is getting old, He is going to leave. He does not actually die, He is carried up into heaven in a most dramatic way. He and his faithful assistant, Elisha, journey to the Jordan. Elijah keeps telling Elisha to stay behind, but Elisha is not going to leave his mentor. The waters part, recalling the crossing of the Red Sea, the journey from slavery into freedom. Finally, Elijah, knowing that he is about to leave, asks Elisha what he can do for him. Elisha asks for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. If Elisha sees his mentor as he is carried up to heaven, the double portion will be his. Then the chariot of fire and horses of fire separate them and Elijah is carried up in a whirlwind. Elisha sees this glory. He cries out in grief and also describes the glory he is seeing. Then he tears his clothes in mourning.

Elijah is one of the great prophets of Israel, but Elisha follows faithfully and is a courageous prophet of God. This is one of the great stories about the passing of the torch from one leader to the next.

This story is a wonderful preparation for the Transfiguration of our Lord. He takes Peter and James and John and goes up the mountain. Mountains are where we meet God. Moses encounters God on Mount Sinai. Jesus becomes blazingly white and surrounded by light. Moses and Elijah are with him.

Peter tries to capture the moment, but, of course, we cannot hold on to those moments. But we have seen our Lord for who he truly is, and that vision will never leave us. That vision will carry us through Lent, to the foot of the cross. It carries us through the dark and lonely places of our lives. It gives us hope when there seems to be no reason to hope.

At the beginning of Epiphany, when Jesus was baptized, God spoke only to Jesus, saying, “You are my son, the beloved. With you I am well pleased.” Now God speaks to Peter, James, and John—and us— and says, “This is my son, the beloved. Listen to him!”

We have this very short time with Jesus on the mountain, a time when we see him for who he truly is. And this is a moment we will carry with us forever. We cannot endure the intensity of those mountaintop moments for long. They are fleeting. But they change our lives. They alter our perspective. They transfigure us.

We see Jesus . We see the reality of who he is—and it does something to us. He is walking with us. He is talking with us and teaching us a new way to live. It is not an easy way to live. It is extraordinarily demanding. And it is quite different from the values of the world surrounding us.

There is a new creation breaking in on the old one. The transfiguration of our Lord lets us know that, as we follow him, we, too, are going to be transformed.

This is where our epistle comes into the picture. Some of the folks in Corinth are apparently having trouble understanding Paul’s message. Paul goes way back to the Book of Genesis, to the point when God was creating the world. God creates the light and lets the light shine out of the darkness. That light shines in our hearts “to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Those of you who have attended the Easter Vigil will remember that, in the darkness, the new fire is kindled and the deacon comes down the aisle in the darkness with the lighted paschal candle, saying or singing, “The light of Christ,” and the people respond. “Thanks be to God.” As St. John tells us, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”

But before we reach Easter Even, we will walk the way of the cross in Lent. And as we walk that way, we will carry the memory of the Transfiguration. We will remember seeing our Lord radiating the glory of God. We will recall the warmth of that light entering into us and giving us power for the journey ahead.

We can’t stay on the mountaintop for long. The emotional high would give us all heart attacks. Life can be boring, and dull at times. It can be like the valley of the shadow of death. It can have times of great joy.

Through the times of boredom, dullness, trial and tribulation, and joy, we will carry those glimpses of the mountain. We will be with him. We will feel him with us, guiding us, leading us, shepherding us. And we will know who he truly is. And we will thank God for his presence and power among us. Amen.