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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion April 2, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
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Lent 4B March 14, 2021

Numbers 21:4-9
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
Ephesians 2:1-10
John 3:14-21

Today is the Fourth Sunday of Lent, sometimes called Laetare Sunday, from the Latin laetare, rejoice, the first word in the entrance hymn of the ancient Mass for this day, “Rejoice O Jerusalem.” This Sunday is also called “Mothering Sunday.” In the British Isles, it is a time when folks visit their mothers. It goes back to the times when servants were allowed to visit their mothers on this day. In the midst of Lent, we observe a time of rejoicing. Herbert O’Driscoll wisely notes that all of our readings today speak of God’s healing. (O’Driscoll, The Word Today Year B, p. 27.)

In our opening lesson from the Book of Numbers, God’s people have to go around the land of Edom because the people of Edom will not let them cross their territory. As always, the journey of the people of God is full of challenges.

The people begin to complain—again. They complain to their leader. Moses. They ask him why he has brought them here to die. They totally forget that they were slaves in Egypt, making bricks for the Pharaoh, who kept increasing their quotas just to see exactly how much work he could get out of them. And they also complain to God.

The journey out of slavery is not easy. Whether it’s an addiction or a pattern of thinking, or the slavery of an abusive relationship that we have finally left, we humans tend to forget how difficult that slavery was. The first elation of freedom wears off, challenges come up, and we wrap our former slavery in a rose-colored haze of amnesia. Like the people of God in the wilderness, we remember the leeks and melons and forget the back-breaking work of bondage.

The people encounter some poisonous snakes, deadly snakes. God tells Moses to make a bronze serpent, put it on a pole, and hold it up. When the people look at the snake, they will be healed. In ancient times, snakes were believed to be objects of healing. Even today, the caduceus, with two snakes entwined on a pole and wings at the top, is a sign for physicians and medical workers. The text tells us that the people would “look on the serpent of bronze and live.”

In our gospel, Jesus refers to this passage from Numbers. He knows that he is going to be crucified, and he links that ancient healing for God’s people in the wilderness with his body hanging on the cross. We know that crucifixion was a horrible torture, and yet, paradoxically, we look on the cross as a sign of healing and life. St. John Vianney told a story of an elderly man, a farmer, who would take time to go into the church and gaze at the crucifix above the altar, just look and contemplate that crucifix. When asked what he was doing, he said, “I look at him, and he looks at me.”

In our own ways, we do that. We look at our Lord and he looks back at us with the deepest love we will ever encounter. We look at him and open our hearts to him and he fills our hearts with his love and our lives with his healing. This is what Jesus was doing on the cross. He was giving his life not only for us but to us. He was giving us his energy and his healing so that we can serve others as he did.

In our reading from Ephesians, Paul, or perhaps a devoted disciple whom I will call Paul, is tracing the spiritual journey of the human race. Once we humans followed “the ruler of the power of the air,” that is, we were self-centered. We did what we wanted to do. We were selfish; we had no idea that there was a difference between what we wanted and what we needed. This turned out to be a dead end. Paul says, “We were by nature children of wrath.” What a profound statement.  There is so much wrath, so much anger in our world. People post all kinds of angry thoughts and others respond with angry posts and it goes on and on. Yes, there are positive posts, but it can seem as though they are hard to find.

Paul writes, “God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, made us alive together with Christ.” And then he writes, “By grace you have been saved.” Merriam-Webster defines grace as a, “Unmerited divine assistance given to humans for their regeneration or sanctification, b, a virtue coming from God, and c, a state of sanctification enjoyed through divine assistance.” Sanctification is defined as “the state of growing in divine grace.”

Grace is a gift from God. It’s nothing that we can earn. God pours grace out on us every day. The more we open our hearts and lives to God, the more grace, the more freely-given divine help, we receive.

And then Paul writes, “for by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” The motto of Grace Church is “By grace through faith.” The first case of Covid 19 was diagnosed a little over a year ago. We are still here. Grace Church was founded in 1816, 205 years ago. We’re still here. This pandemic has been very difficult. We have noted that. We have talked about how hard this time has been. I believe this is a healthy thing to do.

While we can see some parallels between us and God’s people in the wilderness, I think we can also thank God for the grace which has enabled us to remain faithful. We haven’t rebelled against our leaders.  We haven’t rebelled against God. We have a long history of using our in-person coffee hour as a time for close mutual support in the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, and we have continued to do that even in virtual space. Over this past year we have shared some major challenges and asked each other’s prayers. Grace is a gift of God, as are faith, hope, and love. We have accepted these precious gifts of God and we have used those gifts to grow in divine grace.

There is reason for rejoicing today, in the midst of this wilderness, this exile. We can rejoice in God’s gifts of faith, hope, love, and grace. I believe that, by giving us these gifts, our loving God has helped us to grow stronger.  God has helped us to grow in grace. As our psalm says, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, and his mercy endures for ever. And to paraphrase the end of the psalm, “Let us offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving and tell of his acts with shouts of joy.” Amen.

Pentecost 9 Proper 11B RCL July 22, 2019

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

In our opening reading, King David is now settled in his house, and the land is at peace. David wants to build a house for the Lord, a place for the ark of the covenant. He consults the prophet Nathan, and Nathan thinks this is a good idea. After all, isn’t it a wonderful thing to design and construct a beautiful building to be a special place where God is present, a place where we can pray and give praise to God?

But God speaks to Nathan and says that it is not the time for David to do this. Indeed, King Solomon, David’s wise son, will build the great temple in Jerusalem.

Sometimes we want to do a good and wonderful thing, but it is not God’s will for us to do this. We consult trusted advisors, as David did. But then God lets us know that this simply is not the time, or this particular thing is not something God has called us to do.

As we think about our epistle for today, we remember that Paul, or his disciple, is writing to Gentile Christians in Asia Minor, what we now call Turkey. In the early Church, perhaps the greatest controversy was the debate concerning the issue of Gentiles coming into the new faith.

In the beginning, Peter felt that Gentiles must be circumcised and follow the Jewish law, including the dietary laws. Then he had his vision of all the foods coming down from heaven, including food forbidden by the law, and God telling him to eat these foods. He then realized that all people, including Gentiles, were called to full membership in the Church. This issue was finally resolved at the Council of Jerusalem.

Paul became the apostle to the Gentiles. Although he was a devout Pharisee, he quickly realized that Christ had fulfilled and transcended the law. Gentiles joining the new faith did not need to be circumcised or follow the law to the letter, but we are all called to follow the spirit of the law.

Paul realized that, while this controversy was going on, Gentiles coming into the Church felt like second-class citizens. Now he is making it abundantly clear that Christ has made all of us one in him. Paul says, “Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near….” Paul tells us that Christ has dissolved all barriers between us.

We are still working out the implications of this. Although our Lord has broken through all barriers, it is taking us much time and struggle to realize that all human beings are full members of the Body of Christ.

In our gospel for today, the apostles return from their missionary journey and tell Jesus about all the wonderful things that have happened. They go off to a quiet place to be with God and each other in prayer and peace. Then they get back into the boat, cross the Sea of Galilee, and go ashore only to find a huge crowd waiting for them. The designers of the lectionary want to emphasize the huge need the people had for healing and hope.

Verses 35 through 52 are omitted from this reading. They tell us about the feeding of the five thousand.

Then Jesus and his disciples cross the Lake again and go ashore only to find that people are rushing to bring their loved ones on mats so that Jesus can heal them. This gospel reading eloquently describes the hunger people had for Jesus and the deep need they felt for his healing. Today, people still need Jesus’ healing.

As Jesus goes ashore for the first time in our gospel for today, the text says “   He had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.”

We do not have Jesus present with us in person to teach us many things. In fact, we are his risen body called to teach and heal on his behalf. Sometimes we may wish he were here so that we could turn to him and ask him questions. Indeed, he is here among us now.

People in our world and in our neighborhood may well feel like sheep without a shepherd, and our Lord is calling us to minister to these people. Even we may feel like sheep without a shepherd. On an ecclesiastical, earthly level, we do have a shepherd, and that is our Bishop. Our ultimate shepherd is Jesus.

This past Tuesday, Bishop Tom and I visited Nat and Nini. We were discussing what we can do to make the world a better place. Bishop Tom remarked that we live in a world where many people do not have enough to eat, and that, until everyone does have enough food, feeding people is a very high priority. He commended the ministry of the Sheldon Food Shelf. Thank you all for your support of the food shelf, and many other ministries, and for all the ways in which you share Christ’s love and care with others every day of your lives.

As we discussed the challenges that face the Church, Bishop Tom said that here in Vermont, and this is a paraphrase, there are two things that stand out to him. Vermont is a place where the Church has great vitality, and he pointed to Grace as an example of that. At the same time, here in the Church in Vermont, there is a certain fragility, and  he said that we need to be careful not to let the sense of fragility divert us from the vitality.

One of my spiritual guides, Sister Claire Boissy of the Sisters of Mercy, would often say, “Go where the life is.” A young leader in our Church recently said, “We don’t have to invent the wheel; we have the wheel.” The scriptures, sacraments, and teaching of the Church are the wheel. Christ is alive among us and in us. Grace is a place of life.

Let us focus on the vitality and where that leads us with the help of the Spirit. Let us also keep a careful eye on the fragility. We can be grateful that Grace has been a good steward of its building and financial gifts. And then again, let us focus on the vitality. That is where the life is, and Christ is in our midst.  Amen.

 

Lent 4B RCL March 11, 2018

Numbers 21:4-9
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
Ephesians 2:1-10
John 3:14-21

In our opening reading today, we are journeying with God’s people. God has given them a great leader, Moses, and Moses has led them out of slavery . Now they are traveling in the wilderness toward the promised land.

They are also complaining. The longer they are away from their slavery in Egypt, the more they complain. They think longingly about the great food they had there, but they forget that they were doing the backbreaking labor of making bricks for the Pharaoh, and the quotas kept going higher and higher. This is so like us humans. God is trying to lead us out of slavery into new life and all we can do is complain.

Of course, the situation gets worse. They hit a point on the journey where there are poisonous snakes. When people are bitten, they die.

The people ask for God’s help, and God instructs Moses to make a little statue of a poisonous snake, put it on a pole, and lift it so that, by looking at the snake, the people can be healed.

In our gospel for today, the lifting of our Lord on the cross is compared with the lifting of that bronze snake which saved the lives of God’s people. Our Lord was also lifted high when he rose from the dead and when he ascended to be God. I love looking at our window which depicts the ascension. God so loved the world that God gave us Jesus. God so loved the world that God came among us. Jesus gave us a new commandment—that we love one another as he has loved us.

This gospel comes after the meeting between Jesus and Nicodemus in which Jesus talks with Nicodemus about being born again, not literally, but through the power of the Spirit. We are now in that new life.

Today is Mothering Sunday, a time when the penitential tone of Lent is lightened somewhat. It is also called Laetere Sunday, from the Mass text, “Rejoice, O Jerusalem.” There is a note of joy on this day. In the ancient Church, a rose was sometimes used in the liturgy as a symbol of the coming of spring. Some churches use rose vestments on this day.

In our readings that note of joy is struck mostly in our reading from Ephesians. Paul brilliantly traces our spiritual journey. Once we humans lived  following the “desires of the flesh.” When he speaks of the flesh, Paul means that we lived totally self centered lives. We thought about our own needs, our own wishes, our own plans. There was no place for God in all of this.

But God, in God’s infinite love, as Paul says, “made us alive together with Christ.” Paul tells us that God raised us up with Jesus and in God’s amazing generosity, God shows us “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Then comes that passage which we love so much: “For by grace you have been saved by faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God….”

Paul was the first Christian theologian, and he outdoes himself in this passage. He has given us the history of the human race and our own history. We humans were living lives centered on ourselves, and those lives led nowhere. God, in God’s great love, came among us and became our Good Shepherd, leading us to the good pastures and the still waters where we can find peace, and leading us into life that is rooted and grounded in him. He calls us to love and serve others in his name. As we focus on God’s love and the wonderful gift God has given us, we can certainly rejoice.

Gracious God, thank you for your healing, your unfailing love, your grace, and the gift of new life in you.  Amen.

Lent 4B RCL March 15, 2015

Numbers 21:4-9
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
Ephesians 2:1-10
John 3:14-21

In our first reading, we join God’s people on their journey to the promised land. The people are impatient. They are complaining again.  They encounter a particularly terrifying challenge. They come upon poisonous snakes. When the snakes bite the people, the people die.

God tells Moses to make an image of a poisonous snake and put it on a pole. When the people are bitten and they look at the image of the serpent, they will live.  In a sense, the bronze serpent on the pole is an icon to allow the people to connect with the healing power of God.

Once again, in spite of the people’s complaining, God saves them.

God is constantly leading us to freedom, and we humans struggle with the journey, but God always takes care os us. When we are hungry, God gives us manna; when we are thirsty, God gives us water; when we crave meat, God gives us quail. Yet we forget God’s care and we grumble about how difficult the journey is.

Every one of those people who followed Moses out of Egypt knew that they were leaving a life of slavery and going to the promised land. Every one of those people knew that God was leading them. Yet how quickly we forget. Have you ever made a decision after deeply sincere prayer and  careful thought and then second guessed yourself and God’s leading? I think most of us have done that.

That is why these readings from the wilderness journey of God’s people are so important—because they remind us that we humans can so easily forget that God is with us, leading and guiding us. And we can let ourselves  become confused to the point where we think that the comforts of life in slavery are better than the journey to freedom.

In our reading from Ephesians, we are reminded that, when we humans were living according to the flesh, that is, when we were living self-centered lives, when we were wandering around in that wilderness of self-absorption, God, in God’s love, “made us alive together in Christ…and raised us up with him…” Before we humans even thought to ask God, God had already reached out to save us from ourselves.

The kindness and care and mercy of God are truly amazing. Before we humans even realized how much we needed God’s help, God came into the world to save us, to make us whole, to make us well, to heal us. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”

In our gospel for today, Jesus refers to our opening reading. Like the bronze image of a serpent lifted by Moses to save and heal the people, Jesus will be lifted up to turn death into life. Herbert O’Driscoll writes, “Jesus sees himself as the healing serpent. raised by the obscene act of crucifixion yet giving healing to those who look.” (The Word Today, Year B Vol. 2, p. 31.)

We are walking the Way of the Cross, and it is not easy. We know that Jesus is our Good Shepherd, out in front of the flock, leading us, but it is easy to forget this when the going gets tough. We may be facing a particular challenge in our lives.  We have been told that God never gives us something that we can’t bear with God’s help, but we may be wondering about that. We may even be grumbling a bit. And it is okay to grumble to God. It is okay to say, “Lord, this is really tough. I need some help with this.” In fact, that is the greatest prayer there is—“Help!”  Lord, help.

When the people were struggling in the wilderness, God was right there. Before we even knew we needed God, God was right here with us. God, Jesus, and the Spirit are here with us now. God loves us so much that God walked into and through death itself so that we don’t have to be consumed by fear. Instead, we can be rooted and grounded in faith and we can have new life.

Are we struggling? Do we have fears? Let us look up and look into the face of our Lord and Savior. Let us see the love in his eyes. Let us feel the grace that he is pouring out upon us. Whatever may be troubling us, let us see and know that he is in our midst, that he is giving each of us the strength we need to walk with him and to walk in his light and life.

Are we full of joy? Are our lives full of peace? Let us look into the eyes of our Lord and see the peace and joy that He is bestowing upon us.

Whatever may be going on on our lives, let us look to our Lord. Let us ask him for what we need, and let us have faith that he is as close as our breath. He came to save us before we even thought to ask him.

Here is a canticle by St. Anselm of Canterbury:

Jesus, as a mother you gather your people to you;
you are gentle with us as a mother with her children.

Often you weep over our sins and our pride,
tenderly you draw us from hatred and judgment.

You comfort us in sorrow and bind up your wounds,
in sickness you nurse us and with pure milk you feed us.

Jesus, by your dying, we are born to new life;
by your anguish and labor we come forth in joy.

Despair turns to hope through your sweet goodness;
through your gentleness, we find comfort in fear.

Your warmth gives life to the dead,
your touch makes sinners righteous.

Lord Jesus, in your mercy, heal us;
in your love and tenderness, remake us.

In your compassion, bring grace and forgiveness,
for the beauty of heaven, may your love prepare us.

May His blessing be with us always.   Amen.