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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion October 2, 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 October 9, 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 October 16, 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:…

The Second Sunday after Christmas January 3, 2021

Jeremiah 31:7-14
Psalm 84
Ephesians1:3-6, 15-19a
Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

This is our first Sunday in the year 2021, and I know most of us are happy to see 2020 go. This is also the Second Sunday of Christmas, a day we do not always have in our calendar. I actually counted back to 2012. Out of those eight years, we have celebrated the Second Sunday after Christmas only four times.

Our Collect for this day begins, “O God, who wonderfully created and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

In our opening reading from the prophet Jeremiah, God’s people are going to come home from exile. We have spoken of how our experience with Covid-19 has been like an exile.  We can’t travel; we can’t even get together with neighbors. We have to wear masks when we go out. It feels as though we are living in a foreign land.

This passage from Jeremiah is God speaking to God’s people, including us. God will become as a shepherd to us. God will be our father, guiding us home. God will answer our weeping with consolation. God will “Turn [our] mourning into joy, God will comfort [us], God will give [us] gladness for sorrow.” Things will be getting back to normal. It will take time, but it will happen. We can help this process by continuing to follow the guidance of our medical experts.

In our gospel for today, the Wise Men have been warned in a dream not to go back to King Herod. They have gone home by another road. And now the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream and tells him to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt because Herod is searching for Jesus in order to kill him. Guided by an angel of God, Joseph takes Mary and the baby to Egypt. Herod never finds Jesus, but, in order to preserve his power, he kills all the baby boys under two years old. Tyrants will stop at nothing to hold on to their control. When Herod finally dies, an angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream and tells him that it is safe to go home. Joseph is in constant contact with God and follows the divine guidance immediately. Finding that Herod’s son is now ruling Judea, Joseph does not want to risk going there. Guided by God in a dream, he travels to Galilee, a place far from the centers of power, and settles in Nazareth.

When God chose a man and woman to raise God’s Son, God chose two ordinary working people, Mary and Joseph. They were people of profound faith who had strong prayer lives, close communication with God, wisdom, accurate intuition, extraordinary courage, determination, and self-discipline. But they did not have worldly power.

Mary became pregnant before they were married, so Jesus was born under the shadow of illegitimacy. Jesus was born when they were homeless. A kind inn keeper gave them lodging in a stable. Then they became refugees. They had to escape into Egypt. They were seeking asylum, some degree of safety.

In his sermon on the First Sunday after Christmas on December 29, 2013, Pope Francis said, “And today, the gospel presents to us the Holy Family on the sorrowful road of exile, seeking refuge in Egypt. Joseph, Mary and Jesus experienced the tragic fate of refugees, which is marked by fear, uncertainty and unease.” In his address for the 106th World Day of Migrants and Refugees on September 27, 2020,  Pope Francis called us to respond to the suffering of the many people who are becoming displaced persons and refugees as a result of the Covid pandemic.

In our Collect, we call on our loving God, who has “wonderfully created and yet more wonderfully restored the dignity of human nature.” We ask God to “Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity.” 

In our reading from Ephesians, Paul writes, “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may come to know the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu says, “God has a big family,” and our own Presiding Bishop Michael Curry calls us to walk the Way of Love.

In his sermon on December 29, 2013, Pope Francis said, “Jesus wanted to belong to a family  who experienced these hardships, so that no one would feel excluded from the loving closeness of God.”

As we walk with the Holy Family today, experiencing with them the terror of having to escape from a despot who is trying to kill their child, may we commit ourselves to helping displaced people and refugees know the loving presence of God. May we work for a world in which no one has to be a migrant or a homeless person or a refugee.

When God came among us as a baby, Jesus and his mother and foster father suffered homelessness, and were forced to flee as migrants and refugees. Yet, at every crisis and point of decision, Mary and Joseph asked for God’s guidance and followed God’s will. As we look out on our country and our world, can we see our homeless people and migrant people as the Holy Family? Can we see these people through God’s eyes? Can we have the faith and hope to tackle issues of race, class, and income inequality so that we can help God restore the dignity of every human being?

Borrowing from Paul, with “the eyes of our hearts enlightened,” may we know the hope to which you have called us, O Lord, the hope of your shalom, and may we use the power of your grace to see others with your eyes and help you restore the dignity of every human being. Amen.

Christ the King Year A November 22, 2020

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Psalm 100
Ephesians 1:15-23
Matthew 25:31-46

Our opening reading today takes us back to the time of the Babylonian Exile. Twenty-six hundred years ago (597 B.C.E.) the powerful Babylonian Empire conquered Jerusalem and sent God’s people into exile in Babylon. Eleven years later, (586 B.C.E), the Babylonians returned, destroyed the temple, and leveled many of the surrounding buildings.

Ezekiel, a priest, had been in Babylon with the people for about eleven years. The destruction of the temple was one of the most tragic points in the history of God’s people. It was heartbreaking.

We have often reflected on how the history of God’s people as revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures reflects on and parallels our own history. As we read about this low point in their life together, we here in Vermont are losing our battle with Covid-19. Once again I thank God for Governor Scott and Dr. Levine, who had to stand before us this week and let us know that the positivity rate is up to two percent, hospitalizations are rising, and we need to reverse this trend. The reason these numbers are rising is that folks are getting together socially, eating, drinking, and enjoying each others’ company without wearing masks or social distancing. Our governor said that he hasn’t seen his mother in a year. As a good leader, he understands how we all feel. As he encouraged us to wear masks and do all the other things that we know stop the virus from spreading, Governor Scott acknowledged that he cannot make people follow the guidance from our medical experts.

He spoke with courage and sincerity to those who refuse to follow the guidance, and I quote him. Don’t call it patriotic. Don’t pretend it’s about freedom. Because real patriots serve and sacrifice for all, whether they agree with them or not. Patriots also stand up and fight when our nation’s health and security is threatened. And right now, our country and way of life is being attacked by this virus, not by the  protections we put in place.” (Gov. Phil Scott, Press Briefing, Tuesday, November 17, 2020.)

This Corona Virus is killing as many people as an invading army. We heard this week that we have exceeded the number of deaths we suffered in World War II. In may ways, we can identify with our spiritual ancestors in Babylon. The Babylonian Exile is an excellent metaphor for this pandemic. In this dark moment, in this time of utter discouragement, God puts God’s words in the mouth of Ezekiel. God is going to be a good shepherd to God’s people. God is going to feed them and take care of them. God is going to  bring God’s people back together and bring them home. And God has a special word for leaders who have been abusive to the people. God will stop them from misusing their power. God directly addresses those who “pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted all the weak animals with [their] horns.” God will feed them with justice. God will set things right. God will bring the people a wise and compassionate leader like King David. As Christians, we immediately think of our King, Jesus. In these dark days of increasing positivity rates, we have  compassionate leaders in Governor Scott and his team. May we all follow their directions.

In our gospel for today, we have the blueprint for why we all gathered together and built a new building for the food shelf and why our wonderful volunteers gather six days a week to minister to our neighbors who are suffering from this pandemic. People have lost their jobs. Unemployment benefits have run out.  Extensions have expired, and there is no help forthcoming. People who have never been to the food shelf find that they have to come for help.

Our Lord tells us that when we give food to those who are hungry, we are feeding him. When we give water to the thirsty, or welcome to the stranger, or clothing to those who need it, we give those things to Jesus. When we take care of those who are sick or visit those who are in prison, we are doing that to him. We are the hands of Christ reaching out in love to help others. And every person we meet is an alter Christus, an other Christ. There is a spark of the divine in every person. Our Lord is telling us to see every person we meet as Himself, as Christ.

Christ is our King, but a very different kind of king. He eats with the lowest of the low. He loves the people nobody loves. In his kingdom, everybody is infinitely precious. Everybody is loved. This is God’s shalom.

Our retired Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori writes: 

That word “shalom” is usually translated as “peace,’ but it’s a far richer and deeper understanding of peace than we usually recognize. …It isn’t just telling two arguers to get over their differences.

Shalom is a vision of the city of God on earth, a community where people are at peace with each other because each one has enough to eat, adequate shelter, medical care, and meaningful work. Shalom is a city where justice is the rule of the day, where prejudice has vanished, where the diverse gifts  with which we have been so abundantly blessed are equally valued.  (Jefferts Schori, A Wing and A Prayer, p. 33.)

Today we celebrate Christ the King and we also celebrate Thanksgiving. Paul writes to the Ephesians, “I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.” He prays for them and us that  “eyes of our hearts may be enlightened.” What a great metaphor, Paul is praying that the light of Christ’s love may come into our hearts and lives and lift our hearts and spirits so that our hearts and lives may become full of light and love, and that we may be filled with hope. I think that lifting of our hearts is like the hope that came to God’s people 2,500 years ago as they faced the destruction of their beloved temple, the center of their worship. They believed that God dwelled in the temple, and they came to realize that God was in their midst. God gave them the hope and determination to return and rebuild.

We have so much to be thankful for, The attitude of gratitude is a very powerful thing. It is a power for good. In these dark days of Covid, our own exile from Holy Eucharist, our Exile from our beloved church building, our Good Shepherd is here in our midst. We thank you for your presence, O Lord, and we thank you for leading us and guiding us. We will celebrate Thanksgiving, with your help. We will help and feed our neighbors. We will, with your grace, help you build your shalom.

Here, in these darkest days of the pandemic, give us the grace to get back on track. Our own governor has had to remind us that not wearing a mask is not patriotic. Send your love among us, O Lord, that we may love you and love each other, that we may take care of each other, as you our Good Shepherd, take care of your flock. Amen.

Christmas 2   January 5, 2020

Jeremiah 31:7-14
Psalm 84:1-8
Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19a
Matthew 2:1-12

Our opening reading from the prophet Jeremiah describes the exiles coming home from the north.  Everyone is returning home—not only those who are healthy and strong, but also the blind, the lame, those who are pregnant, even those who are giving birth. God is calling the people home, and there is great rejoicing. The text tells us that the life of the people will become “Like a watered garden,” a life of safety and peace and growth and plenty.

Psalm 84 was sung by pilgrims going into the temple in Jerusalem. It is a song about our desire for union with God. 

Our reading from the Letter to the Ephesians tells us that God loved us before the world was formed. Before time, God loved us and called us to be God’s children. We will spend our entire lives trying to grasp the depth of God’s love for us.

Our gospel for today is the story of the wise men coming to “pay homage” to Jesus. The text does not say that there were three wise men. Tradition has developed that part of the story. There are many theories about the star that guided these men on their journey. Some say that it was a conjunction of planets; others say it was Halley’s comet. Scholars think these men were astrologers and priests from Persia, people who observed the stars very carefully. Translating them into more modern terms, I see them as deeply spiritual scientists, astronomers or astrophysicists. They were people who were respected and taken very seriously. And they saw something in the sky that they knew had great meaning. They saw that star and they had to follow that star no matter what. Their sole purpose was to “pay homage” to this new king.

When they finally reached Judea, they followed protocol and went to King Herod and asked where the child was, and we know that this news of a new king terrified Herod, who so insincerely asked the wise men to let him know where the child was so that he, too, could go and “pay him homage.” What he really wanted to do was to kill the infant who was a threat to his power.

Biblical scholar Thomas Troeger tells us that the Greek word translated “pay homage” is proskyneo.  Troeger writes, “Because ‘journey’ is a primal metaphor for the life of faith, [we] might explore how the [journey of the wise men] begins with their need to give themselves utterly and completely to the only one who is worthy of worship. This implication is clear in the Greek, since proskyneo was commonly used  to describe the custom of prostrating oneself at the feet of a king. The physical posture dramatically expresses the idea of giving not just gifts, but our entire selves to Christ.”

Troeger points out that, when Herod says that he, too would like to pay homage to the new king, the irony of his statement is striking. Troeger writes, “The irony is that Herod unknowingly states what in truth he needs to do. The despot who rules by violence and fear needs to prostrate himself before the power of compassion and justice, needs to give himself entirely to the grace that is incarnate in the child whom the magi are seeking.”

Troeger reminds us that, when they finally reach the house, not a stable or a cave because their journey has taken at least a year, the wise men go into the house, see Mary and Jesus, and “pay homage.”

He concludes, “Only after this act of worship, only after giving themselves completely to Christ, do they present their material gifts.”

May we also give ourselves completely to Christ.  Amen.

All Saints Sunday Year C November 3, 2019

Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
Psalm 149
Ephesians 1:11-23
Luke 6:20-31

Our opening reading today is from the Book of Daniel. This book was written to inspire God’s people during a time when they were being persecuted by an extremely cruel tyrant called Antiochus IV. The book purports to be taking place at the time of the Exile from 586 to 538 B.C.E., but it was actually written during the time of Antiochus. Using information in the book, scholars can actually date it to 167-164 B.C.E. (Gene M. Tucker, Preaching through the Christian Year C, p. 482.)

We remember Daniel as the great hero who won the battle against the lions in that famous den. Our passage today describes a vision. The four winds of heaven stir up the great sea, and four great beasts come up out of the sea. The actual descriptions of the four beasts are omitted, but they represent four empires—the Babylonians, the Medes, the Persians, and the Greeks.

Earthly empires rise and fall, but the holy ones of God will receive and possess God’s kingdom forever. This was a beacon of hope and inspiration to God’s people struggling under the cruelty of a tyrant who was persecuting them.

In our reading from the Letter to the Ephesians, we read of the precious inheritance we have received. Like all the saints who came before us, we have set our hope on Christ. We read these stirring words. “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know the hope to which he has called you.” There is that word again—hope. We are a people of hope.

We have received such a great gift. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, all the saints who have gone before us, those who are here now, and those who will follow, and they are all cheering us on as we run the race, following our Lord Jesus. As Sister Rachel Hosmer of the Order of Saint Helena used to say, “Christ has won the victory. We are part of the mopping up operation.”

As we celebrate All Saints Sunday and think of all those who have gone before us—Laura, Hoddie, Charlotte, Harriet, Gertrude, Geraldine, A. J., Theresa, Gwen, Ruth, Frederika, Kate, Arthur, Eva, Albert, Sue, Alvin, Nat and so many more, we contemplate our gospel for today, Luke’s account of the Sermon on the Plain.

Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount is easier. It has all blessings and no woes. It is placed more on a spiritual level—“Blessed are the poor in spirit” rather than simply “Blessed are the poor.” In Luke’s gospel, our Lord says, blessed are the poor, the hungry, those who weep, those who are hated, excluded, reviled, and defamed on account of our Lord. Woe to those who are rich, full, laughing. Woe to you when people speak well of you. As many have observed, it is a huge reversal. 

Fred Craddock reminds us of the time when our Lord read the prophecy of Isaiah in the synagogue. When he finished, he said, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled.’ (Luke 4:21.) Craddock writes, “The today that Jesus declared in Nazareth still prevails. The messiah who will come has come, and the prophecy of Isaiah  (Isaiah 61:1-2) concerning the poor, the diseased, the imprisoned, and the oppressed is no longer a hope but is an agenda for the followers of Jesus.” (Craddock, Interpretation: Luke, p.88.)

In this sermon on the plain, on the level, Jesus is calling us to take the poor and hungry as seriously as we do the rich and those who have plenty of food. This is just another way of saying that this gospel is calling us to honor our baptismal covenant to “respect the dignity of every human being.”

The last portion of this reading is even more challenging to us. Our Lord calls us to love our enemies and to pray for those who abuse us. Craddock writes, “This unit… lays down the general principle that Jesus’ followers do not reciprocate, do not retaliate, and do not draw their behavior patterns from those who would victimize them.” (Craddock, p. 89.) At the same time we need to say that, if someone is being abused, they have every right to seek help. healing, and justice. 

And then he sums it up with what we know as the Golden Rule. “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Every major religion in the world has this rule or something like it. As we all know, if all of us followed the rule, God’s kingdom would come to the earth.

As we meditate on these readings, I thank God that you and I are not in this moment living in fear of being killed by someone like Antiochus IV, but there are many people who are facing such persecution in one way or another, and I hope we will pray for them and pray and work for the day when there will be peace on earth, when everyone will have enough to eat, water to drink, clothing  and safe shelter and medical care and good work to do.

As I think of these beatitudes, I think of our interfaith food shelf. People are welcomed with hospitality and respect. No one is turned away.  Our two main upstairs greeters who welcome folks and keep our records for the United Way and other agencies know almost all of our clients by name. I have seen them deal with folks who feel ashamed to have to ask for food. I have seen our volunteers extend God’s love to these people. I think that is what our Lord is talking about in this gospel.

As we celebrate with joy this great feast of All Saints, I hope we will feel the energy and love of that great cloud of witnesses cheering us on. May we continue to build God’s kingdom of peace, harmony, and wholeness  Amen.

 

Pentecost 8 Proper 10 B RCL     July 15, 2018

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
Psalm 24
Ephesians 1:3-14
Mark 6:14-29

Our first reading is full of joy at the gifts of God. David has defeated the Philistines, something that King Saul was never able to do. God’s people are now united under one king. David is going to move the ark to Jerusalem, which he has just conquered. Jerusalem will now be the civil and religious capital of the new kingdom. David and an army of thirty thousand men are going to get the ark of God, which had led the people out of slavery in Egypt, had resided at the temple in Shiloh, and then had been placed at the home of Abinadab, a short distance from Jerusalem.

Scholars tell us that we have no way of knowing what the ark had looked like or exactly what was inside the ark. But for God’s people, it symbolized the presence and power of God. Clearly, it was large and heavy enough to require a cart. David and all the people dance with joy at this celebration of the presence of God.

David wears the ephod, a priestly garment. He makes a sacrifice to the Lord. The people place the ark inside the tent which David has made. All of this is a solemn liturgical action. David then blesses the people and distributes the food of the offering to all the people. All of this reminds us of the Eucharist and the feeding of the huge crowds by our Lord.

The rule of David, the shepherd-king, will be rooted and grounded in God, and this is something to be celebrated by all the people.

Our first reading reminds us that there is great joy in our faith in God, and our epistle builds upon that thought. The Letter to the Ephesians was probably written by a disciple of Paul, and it was a kind of newsletter addressed to the many Gentile congregations in Asia Minor.

This inspiring letter tells us that, before time began, God chose us to be God’s children. God has poured out grace upon us and has given us the gift of forgiveness and newness of life in Christ. We have been made part of the living body of Christ on the earth, and we are working with our Lord, in the power of the Spirit, to build his kingdom. These are gifts we have received from our loving and generous God, and we could spend the rest of our lives dancing with joy in gratitude for God’s many gifts to us.

Our first two readings are filled with joy, but our gospel for today seems full of darkness. Jesus and his disciples have been going around the countryside healing people and teaching about the love of God.  Jesus has just sent the disciples out to teach and preach and heal people. King Herod Antipas thinks that Jesus is John the Baptist resurrected.

It is a grisly story, and we actually have a flashback here.  Herod married his brother Philip’s wife, which was against the law. He was able to do such an awful thing because he was the ruler and no one would dare to try to stop him or even confront him.

Herod Antipas, like his father before him and descendants after him, had no respect for the law and used his power to do whatever he felt was necessary to preserve his position. Very few people would have the courage to challenge such a ruthless leader. But John the Baptist told him that what he had done was wrong. Herod had John thrown in prison, but there was something about John that drew Herod to him. Herod would talk with John from time to time. He respected John. Deep down, he knew John the Baptist was right.

We all know the story. Contrary to what Hollywood has told us, there is no Salome in this story. There is a Salome in some accounts of the resurrection, but that’s a different person.

Herodias comes in and dances. Herod is probably quite drunk, so his judgment is impaired, but he promises her anything she wants. She consults her mother, who hates John the Baptist for telling the truth, and the next scene in this horrific tragedy is the gruesome appearance of John the Baptist’s head on a platter.  Herod does not feel good about this but he gave his word, and, probably more importantly, what would all these guests think if he goes back on his ill-advised promise? John’s disciples come and give him a decent burial.

If we look at the actual text, there is a pause of several lines. We come back to the present after that flashback to the death of John the Baptist.  We remember that Jesus has sent his disciples out to share God’s love forgiveness, and healing. The disciples return from their mission trip and tell Jesus about all the healings they have done and all the wonderful gifts God has given people. Then they are surrounded by a huge crowd of people hungry to hear Jesus’ message. Night is coming, and you know this story, too. More than five thousand people are fed, and there are plenty of leftovers.

Then and now, it is a dangerous thing to speak truth to power. John the Baptist and Jesus paid the ultimate price. Many others, following in their footsteps, have also paid that price. But make no mistake: God’s love, as shown forth on the Cross, is the most powerful force in the world. Love is stronger than hate. Love is stronger than fear. God’s kingdom is growing, and God is calling us to help to build it. Now, as always, the followers of Jesus have, as our baptismal covenant says, “the gift of joy and wonder in all [God’s] works,” just as David and the people of God had great joy in God’s presence so many years ago, just as Paul and his followers had deep joy in God’s grace as the followers of Jesus were building new communities of faith.

I close with a prayer which was given to me by my sister in Christ, Sara. It is by William Sloane Coffin. “May God give us grace never to sell ourselves short, grace to risk something big for something good, and grace to remember that the world is now too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love.  Amen.”

Christ the King — November 26, 2017

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-14
Psalm 100
Ephesians 1:15-23
Matthew 25:31-46

Our first reading today is from the book of the prophet Ezekiel. Ezekiel was a priest who served among the people of God exiled in Babylon from about 593 to 563 B.C. The powerful Babylonian Empire conquered Jerusalem in 597 B.C. and sent many of the leaders and others into exile. Then, in 586 B.C., the Babylonian armies came back and totally destroyed the temple and many of the surrounding buildings. Scholars tell us that this is the point when Ezekiel wrote this passage. Not only are the people in exile, but now the temple, the center of their worship, has been turned to rubble.

At this darkest hour, God calls Ezekiel to speak God’s word to the people. And God is telling the people that God will gather them up. God will gather all of God’s people from wherever they have had to flee, and God will bring them home. God will feed the people with good pasture, and God will be their shepherd.

God will bring back the ones who have strayed. God will bind up the wounds of those who are injured, and will strengthen the weak. But the fat and strong, that is, the leaders who have hurt the people and have prospered at the expense of the people, will face a time of reckoning. God speaks directly to these leaders, who in essence have bullied the people. God says, “Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scatted them far and wide, I will save my flock….”

God says that God will set over them one shepherd, God’s servant David. We know that David had ruled several hundred years before this time in history, so, as Christians, we take this as a reference to the kingship of Christ, who was from the family of David.

In this prophetic writing, from twenty-five hundred years ago, God is calling all leaders to care for their people, not to hurt them.

In our gospel for today, as we celebrate Christ the King, Jesus speaks about the  values and actions of those who are following him and bringing in his kingdom. He tells us that, if we feed the hungry or give water to the thirsty or welcome the stranger or clothe folks who have nothing to wear, or take care of those who are sick or visit those who are in prison, we are doing those things to him.

Our king identifies, not with the rich and powerful, but with those who need help, those who are weak, those who have no power, those who are at the margins of society. When he tells his followers that they have done all these things to him, they are astonished. They had no idea. They were just trying to help a fellow human being.

Jesus is so different from our usual ideas of a king. He is not powerful in the world’s meaning of the word. He has no army. He has no palace. He was born in a stable to a carpenter and his wife. Shortly after his birth, his father had to take the family to Egypt to save Jesus’ life, so they became refugees, aliens in a strange land because King Herod was killing baby boys. Our king has suffered, and he has a special place in his heart for those who suffer.

Our king grew up in a carpenter’s home, worked in the shop with his earthly father, studied at the synagogue with the other kids, and eventually he went to the river Jordan and was baptized by his cousin John.

Wherever he went, he lived the values of his kingdom. When he went into the synagogue and reads the scroll of Isaiah, it said that he was coming to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, to comfort all who mourn, and to bring God’s peace and harmony. That is what he did during his entire ministry, and that is what he calls us to do.

Today we make our United Thank Offering and we also begin to pray about our pledges. Today and every day, God calls us to help those who need God’s love and caring. The season of Pentecost is coming to a close, and this coming Sunday we move into Advent.

May we take time to reflect on the depth of God’s love for us and for all people. May we help and serve others in Christ’s Name. Amen.

All Saints Sunday November 6, 2016

Daniel 7:1-3. 15-18
Psalm 149
Ephesians 1:11-23
Luke 6: 20-31

Today, we celebrate All Saints Sunday. This sermon will be short so that we can hear from our Convention delegates.

All Saints is a wonderful feast. Our  Collect reminds us that we are all members of the Body of Christ. We are knit together in one fellowship which spans all time. We are part of the Communion of Saints going back into the time of Peter and Paul and Martha and Mary Magdalene and going forward into eternity.

We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, saints, people just like you and me who loved our Lord and followed him. And, as part of this faithful multitude, we gain strength from their presence so that we can run the race that is set before us.

We are not alone. We do not have to run the race alone. We have help, very strong and good help. We are never alone. Together with the capital S saints such as the folks I mentioned earlier, we have our wonderful small s saints. And here at Grace, as we celebrate the bicentennial of this amazing parish, we can feel them cheering us on—Albert Hopson Bailey, Kate Whittemore, Hoddie, Charlotte, Laura, Harriet, Geraldine, Ruth, Gertrude, Arthur, Gwen, A. J. and Theresa, and all the people who have made Grace Church the faithful, loving, hopeful, and resilient community that it is.

We are not alone. They are all with us, helping us to be faithful to our Lord’s call to love and serve others, here and around the world.

Thanks be to God for this cloud of witnesses! Amen.

Pentecost 7 Proper 10B RCL July 12, 2015

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
Psalm 24
Ephesians 1: 3-14
Mark 6:14-29

Our first reading describes a memorable and joyful moment in the history of God’s people. King David has defeated the Philistines, which sets the people free for a new beginning. The ark of God, which is the center of God’s presence, the ark which led them through the wilderness into the promised land, is being carried into Jerusalem, which is going to be the religious and political center of the new united kingdom of Judah and Israel under David.

We do not know exactly what the ark looked like, but, clearly, it was large enough to have to be carried on a cart, a new cart to signify the new beginning. This cart was pulled by oxen. The entire journey from the home of Abinadab to Jerusalem, becomes a joyful procession. David and all the people of Israel dance together and sing praises to the glory of God. This celebration is for everyone, not just for the king’s court.

David wears the priestly garment, the ephod, and makes sacrificial offerings to God. When the ark has been reverently placed inside the tent constructed for it, David blesses the people and gives food from the ceremony to all the people to take home.

This event, at the beginning of David’s reign, makes it clear that David is the good shepherd who places his faith in God and takes care of all the people. The king is a spiritual leader as well as a political figure. This whole ceremony reminds us of the Eucharist and the feeding of the five thousand. David is a good shepherd of the people, and this ceremony foreshadows the coming of our own Good Shepherd Jesus.

Everyone present at this celebration will remember it for the rest of his or her life. What a beautiful and joyful beginning to a new reign!

In our reading from the letter to the Ephesians, we read of all the gifts and blessings God has given us. God has adopted us as God’s own children, God has chosen us to be members of the Body of Christ. Most of all, God has come among us and lived among us. Our Lord Jesus has freed us from the mire of our sins and given us the grace to live life in a new way. All these many gifts are not just for a few people, but for everyone. Just as the celebration of David’s kingship was open to all, so the gift of new life in Christ is for everyone.

Our gospel for today is extremely difficult. Let’s place it in context. Last Sunday, Jesus went to his own home town and the people did not accept him. But at the end of that gospel reading, Jesus sent his disciples out into the world to preach the good news and to teach and heal people. So at the beginning of this gospel, the disciples are out in the world carrying on Jesus’ ministry.

Herod Antipas was a very different kind of king from David. He had divorced his wife to marry the wife of his brother Philip. John the Baptist has told him that was wrong. Herod used to go and talk with John the Baptist because he knew John was right, that John had courage and morality, and that he, Herod needed both those things. But at the same time, he rankled that John had named his immoral acts.

When Herod hears about Jesus’ ministry and how word is spreading about this wonderful teacher, he thinks that John the Baptist has come back to life.

Herod’s wife had never forgiven John for pointing out the immorality of her marriage to Herod Antipas. We all know the gruesome story of the murder of John the Baptist. Depending on which gospel we are reading, the details differ slightly. Contrary to what we see in the world of film, the gospels do not mention anyone named Salome in this story. There is someone of that name mentioned in connection with the resurrection.

So Mark is doing one of his sandwich things here. He starts out one story and then inserts another one. Jesus sends the disciples out to do ministry, Herod hears about it and then we have this awful flashback to the killing of John the Baptist. John’s disciples come to get his body and give it a decent burial.

Why is this story here? One reason is to draw a parallel between Jesus and John. They both speak truth to power, threaten power, and are killed. Ultimately, Jesus is going to be crucified.

But let’s look again at the context. What happens after this section of Mark? What happens is that the disciples come back to report to Jesus on their work. And they are full of joy. They have brought healing and good news to people, and the response has been wonderful, They have had success.

What are these readings telling us? What is God telling us this morning? David was not perfect by any means. Later, he would make many mistakes. But he began by rooting and grounding his kingship in faith in God and care for his people. And he felt deep joy in his relationship with God. He danced and sang with joy in God’s many blessings.

Our epistle echoes that theme. How many blessings God has showered upon us, and how much joy we can have in knowing how much God loves us and how much we love God.

And what about this most difficult gospel? Jesus sends the disciples out. Travel light. Trust in God. Stay where you are welcomed. If people do not want to hear you, shake the dust off your feet and go on to the next town.

Yes, Herod killed John the Baptist. People in power use that power to protect themselves. Many of John’s disciples joined Jesus’ followers. And they went out and spread his love and forgiveness. And here we are, inheritors of all those gifts.Yes, there are obstacles and challenges, and persecution. These things are happening right now in our world. But above and beyond all those things is the joy in following Christ, and the gratitude for all his gifts.  Amen.

 

Christmas II Year B RCL January 4, 2015

Jeremiah 31:7-14
Psalm 84
Ephesians 1: 3-6, 15-19a
Luke 2:41-52

Our opening reading from the prophet Jeremiah is from the so-called “Consolation” portion of Jeremiah’s book. Much of Jeremiah’s ministry took place during troubled times. There were all kinds of international intrigues and alliances, wars, corrupted leadership, and all kinds of problems.

In this passage, Jeremiah is telling the people that God is going to bring them home from exile. God is going to make the journey easy for them. Jeremiah says that the life of the people is going to become “like a watered garden,” lush and full of growth. And when they get home, there is going to be a party. The young women will dance; the men will be merry. Mourning will turn into joy.

Jeremiah begins the passage with the command to “Sing aloud with gladness.” He calls the people to celebrate their return with praise to God.  In an age when so many people are in exile or are refugees, we are blessed to be already at home. But this reading makes an important point. There is much value and grace in praising God. Maybe this is why we all love to sing.

In our epistle, Paul touches upon a theme which we heard in our epistle last Sunday—that, because of Christ, we have become children of God. Paul prays that God may give the Ephesians and us “a spirit of wisdom and revelation as we come to know him, so that, with the eyes of our hearts enlightened, [we] may know what is the hope to which he has called [us], what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.” As “the eyes of our hearts are enlightened,” we grow in faith and hope; we gain a deeper sense of God’s many gifts to us; and we grow into a more profound sense of God’s power to help us in every event and part of our lives. No matter how challenging or distressing a situation may be, God has the power to guide us through it.

On this Second Sunday after Christmas, our lectionary gives us three choices for our gospel. One is the story of the Wise Men coming to worship Jesus. Another is the story of the Flight into Egypt, when the angel warns Joseph to take Mary and Jesus and flee to Egypt to keep the baby Jesus safe from King Herod. At various times over the past several years, we have looked at both those gospels.

The third choice is from Luke, which we have just heard. All of us who are parents, and most of us who are not literal biological parents, are well aware that, with any child, you have to do your best, try to be a good example, work hard to train them up in the way they should go and grow, and then, at one point or another, they are going to make their own choices. Sometimes they are good and healthy choices and sometimes they are not. When our children make not so great choices, and when they have to go through pain as a result of those choices, we as parents go through agony.

This gospel is not about Jesus making a bad choice. It is about Jesus being who he truly is. Mary and Joseph were faithful in the observance of their religion. They have gone to Jerusalem for the Passover. In those days, when you went to Jerusalem for a festival, you went with your extended family. Whenever you traveled, you went with a large group because it was dangerous to travel alone. There were robbers and other dangers along the way.

So it takes  time before Mary and Joseph realize that Jesus is not in the large family traveling party. He’s twelve years old. He probably likes to walk with Uncle Zechariah, who can tell one great story after another, or Aunt Rachel, who carries  the best snacks to munch as you walk along. So, they gave gone a day’s journey before Mary and Joseph realize that Jesus is not there. This is not bad parenting. It’s just that there was a big crowd of relatives among other big crowds of relatives traveling home from the Passover.

Now Mary and Joseph both know that Jesus is the Son of God. But it’s one thing to know on a theoretical level and another thing to know on this experiential level. They look for him among the crowd of relatives and friends. Then they rush back to Jerusalem, worried sick.

They search for three days. Can you imagine your twelve year old child being lost for three days? This is a parent’s nightmare. Finally, they find him in the temple learning from the teachers there. And he asks them, “Don’t you know that I must be in my father’s house?”  What a shock for them!” He does go home with them and is obedient to them. But now they know that, at any moment, he may go off to serve his heavenly Father. The text says, “His mother treasured these things in her heart.” Did she have any idea where this would lead? Did she have any idea how much strength she would have to have in order to go through life with her extraordinary son?

Jesus was fully human and fully divine. We know this. But sometimes it is good to contemplate what this meant to Mary and Joseph. What faith and grace it took for them to be such good parents to Jesus. Joseph was such a fine role model for all fathers. When God chose Mary for her amazing and challenging ministry as God-bearer, this put  Mary and Joseph in an awkward position. Joseph rose to the occasion, marrying Mary and protecting Mary and Jesus. We need a lot more fathers like Joseph on this planet. As I have said before, we have several in this congregation.

As Jesus grew, I think  both Mary and Joseph began to have some idea of how difficult things were going to get. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Jesus was a different kind of King, a king  who wasn’t going to use his divine power to hurt others in order to save or defend himself. I think the shadow of the Cross fell upon their lives quite early on. Yet they persevered.

I think that we can safely say that the eyes of their hearts were enlightened. They were able to face every situation with faith and hope. May we follow their example.  Amen.

Proper 29 A RCL—Christ the King—November 23, 2014

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Psalm 95:1-7a
Ephesians 1:15-23
Matthew 25:31-46

Today is Christ the King Sunday. The season after Pentecost comes to a close. Next Sunday we will begin Advent. This is also the Sunday before Thanksgiving, a time when we think of all the many gifts God has given us. We gather with family and friends to give thanks. After our service, we will go to Frank and Priscillas to share our harvest dinner.

Our opening reading this morning comes from the time of the Exile in Babylon. At the point of our reading for today, the Babylonian Empire has conquered Jerusalem, the people have been deported to Babylon, and they have been living in exile for about ten years. Ezekiel has just learned that the Babylonians have destroyed the temple in Jerusalem, and more refugees will be coming to Babylon.

 The people are devastated. They have been praying and keeping the faith and studying the scriptures, but now, they feel that they have lost everything. In todays lesson, God is speaking to the people. through the prophet and priest Ezekiel. God is going to search for the sheep and rescue them, and gather them, and bring them into their own land and feed them with good pasture. God is going to search for the lost and strayed and is going to bind up the injured and strengthen the weak. God is going to gather the people and lead them home to Jerusalem.

God is going to destroy the fat and the strong,that is, the rich and powerful leaders who had gained even more power and wealth at the expense of the ordinary people. Those who abused the weak are now going to face the consequences of their actions. God is going to protect the flock. This passage from Ezekiel reminds us that God has always had special concern for the weak and those at the margins.

The people have always thought that God dwelled in the temple in Jerusalem. Now that the temple has been destroyed, they wonder where God is. We are not living in literal exile, but we are living in a time when darkness and chaos and violence are all too apparent. We may ask ourselves, Where is God in all of this?This reading from 2,500 years ago reminds us that God is right in the midst of us, leading us through the darkness to the light. This is a message of profound hope.

In our epistle, Paul tells us that our Lord has risen from the dead and is with us now; he has conquered the forces of darkness and he is the head of his living Body, the Church. Christs kingdom is growing even now, growing inexorably in the face of the darkness and brokenness that we see in the world around us. And his kingdom, his shalom of peace and harmony, will be realized when he comes again.

In our gospel, Jesus describes kingdom people. They feed the hungry; they give water to the thirsty; they welcome the stranger; they clothe the naked; they care for the sick; and they visit those who are in prison. They take care of other people, especially those who are vulnerable. And Jesus tells them, Truly, I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these, who are members of my family, you did it to me.

In a profound sense, whether we are kingdom people or not comes down to how we treat folks who are weak, folks who have no power, no money, no say in how things get done. We know this, not only from this gospel story, but also from the life and ministry of our Lord. He was constantly criticized because he associated with the wrong peopletax collectors, prostitutes, people who were considered beyond the pale. He valued women and children, who had no status in his society. He touched lepers and healed them. His love for every one of his children is our example.

As we think about this gospel, we look forward to Advent, when we prepare for Jesuscoming again and we also look back to his first coming. When he came among us, he was not born in a castle. He was born to a carpenter and his wife in a little out of the way place. They were not rich or powerful. They were what Jesus in todays gospel calls, the least of these, my family.Very early in his life, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph had to become refugees and flee to Egypt to get away from King Herod, who was killing baby boys.

This is how the king of creation came to be among us. Jesus knows what it is like to live on the margins of society, to be beyond the pale, to be despised. He is asking us to think about how that feels to folks and to treat our brothers and sisters with respect.

We have been given so much. He is simply calling us to share his many gifts with others. For the next two Sundays, we will be doing our U T O ingathering, and next month, we will be making our offering to Episcopal Relief and Development. We will also be making our pledges to Grace Church in thanksgiving to God.

Christ is our King, but he is a very different kind of King. He is the King of Compassion. He has a special place in his heart for those who are most vulnerable.

Next Sunday, we will begin the season of Advent, and we will once again plumb the mystery of our God, who created the galaxies and the planets in their courses,yet came among us just the way we came into the world, as a tiny baby.

This week, we celebrate Thanksgiving, and we have so much to be thankful for: loving families, our faith community here at Grace, the abundance of our lives, both spiritual and material, and the presence of our loving God among us, leading us and guiding us and showering us with gifts to be shared. Amen.