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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:…
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Pentecost 12 Proper 14B RCL August 12, 2018

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

In our first reading this morning, King David is at a deeply tragic point in his life. As we recall from last Sunday, the prophet Nathan had told David that, because of his adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband, Uriah the Hittite, David will face conflict from within his own family.

Here is a brief summary of the tragic events. The time is three thousand years ago, and King David has several wives. David’s eldest son, Amnon, rapes Absalom’s sister, Tamar. After appealing to David who does nothing, Absalom murders Amnon. David is devastated and outraged at Absalom’s murder of his half-brother. Absalom asks Joab, King David’s faithful military leader and friend, to help patch things up, but Joab refuses. Absalom then burns Joab’s field. Absalom finally has to flee to another kingdom.

Now Absalom has returned, and he is leading a revolution against his father. Absalom is handsome and vain and proud. He is especially proud of his hair, which he grows long. Absalom is also quite charismatic, and many people are attracted to him. These people have joined his army. Absalom’s revolt has been so successful that David and his court have had to leave Jerusalem.

On the eve of the battle, David is so distressed that he actually asks his military leaders to “deal gently” with Absalom. David’s troops win the battle. The text says that the forest claims more victims than the sword, and of course, one of those is Absalom, who becomes stuck in the thick branches of an oak tree. His mule runs away, leaving him hanging by his hair. The text omits verses 10 through 14, in which some of David’s soldiers see Absalom hanging from the tree. One of them reports this to Joab, who asks him why he did not kill Absalom. The soldier says he wanted to honor David’s request for gentleness. The text tells us that Joab “thrusts three spears into the heart of Absalom.”

The Bible offers us many accounts of human nature. Some of them remind us of how noble we humans can be, and others reveal the complicated and dark depths of human depravity and the conflicts and tragedies that can arise from that darkness. The story of King David and his family has both. Few biblical accounts are as heart-wrenching as this one. When he hears of Absalom’s death, David cries out, “ O my son Absalom, my son, my son. Would I have died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

Vermont theologian Frederick Buechner writes, “He meant it, of course. If he could have done the boy’s dying for him, he would have done it. If he could have paid the price for the boy’s betrayal of him, he would have paid it. If he could have given his own life to make the boy alive again, he would have given it. But even a king can’t do things like that. As later history was to prove, it takes a God.” (Buechner, Peculiar Treasures, p. 6.)

“As later history was to prove, it takes a God.”

Our gospel for today calls to mind this passage written by Frederick Buechner. The five thousand have been fed, Jesus is telling us that he is the bread of life. These words in today’s gospel are echoed in our offertory chant from the Taizé community: “Eat this bread, Drink this cup. Come to me and never be hungry. Eat this bread, Drink this cup. Trust in me and you will not thirst.”

Jesus is with us, and following him gives us a deeper dimension of life. This is what he calls eternal life, and that life has already begun in us because of his presence. We are not alone. We do not have to trust only in ourselves. He is our Good Shepherd and he is leading us. He gives us his grace and love and healing and guidance. He feeds our deepest hunger. He leads us beside the still waters and fills us with the gifts of faith and trust in him, He gives us new life, life on a new level.

And he gives us the gift of community, of life together in him as members of his Body. Our epistle describes the qualities of that life together. We are called to be honest. We are called to deal with anger in a responsible way, not to nurse it and let it fester. We are called to work so that we will have something to share with those in need. We are called to be kind to one another, tenderhearted, and forgiving. Whatever we do or say should build up the body of Christ. We are called to “live in love,” because we are following the One who “Loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and sacrifice to God.”

As we read the tragic story of David and his family and then read our epistle and gospel for today; and as we think about the words of Frederick Buechner,  we realize again and perhaps on an even more profound level that it takes a God to bring life out of death and wholeness out of brokenness.

Blessed Lord, thank you for being with us in every moment of our lives and for feeding us with the food of your presence, your love, your forgiveness, and the gift of new life in you. Thank you for calling us to follow you and to help you build your shalom. Thank you for the gift of community rooted and grounded in your love. Give us your grace, we pray, that we may seek and do your will. Amen.

Pentecost 11 Proper 13B RCL August 5, 2018

2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a
Psalm 51:1-13
Ephesians 4:1-16
John 6:24-35

Last Sunday, we looked on as King David lost his moral compass and spiraled downward, beginning with adultery and going on to murder. These events seem almost unbelievable when we think of David, the beloved hero of his people, the faithful and courageous shepherd-king. But all of these things did happen, and they remind us that we humans are frail and fallible.

Back in Old Testament times, if a king became corrupt or broke the law, a prophet would be the one to confront the king and hold him accountable. In our reading today, Nathan is called to that difficult and dangerous vocation.

When we humans go off the skids and begin to believe that somehow the law does not apply to us, the usual kinds of confrontation from other humans often do not work very well. But Nathan is a prophet called by God, and a wise and courageous man.

He tells a story of a poor and loving and faithful man who has a beloved ewe lamb whom he treats as a member of his family and a ruthless wealthy man who takes the ewe lamb and feeds it to a traveler. King David is outraged at this inhumanity and injustice. And then Nathan tells him that he, King David, is that man.

Nathan also tells David that there will be serious and tragic consequences for his immoral behavior. At this point in the spiritual journey, some people continue to insist that they have done nothing wrong. To David’s credit, he confesses, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nonetheless, strife and tragedy will mark his family life from now on.

Our psalm for today, Psalm 51, is the psalm we recite on Ash Wednesday as we begin our Lenten discipline. This penitential psalm is an appropriate response to the story of David’s actions and to our own awareness and acknowledgment of our sins.

In our gospel today, Jesus and the disciples have fed the large crowd of  over five thousand people and have crossed the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum. The people get into boats and follow Jesus to the other side.

Our Lord tells them that they are following him because of the physical food he gives them. He calls them and us to seek the food that leads to eternal life. As his followers, we know that he means the food of his presence. We know that he is talking about the nourishment and energy that comes from spending time with him, time thinking about the scriptures and sharing in the Holy Eucharist, the feast of thanksgiving in which he feeds us with his life and energy so that we can carry out his ministry here on earth as his living and vibrant Body.

And he says something that will always live in our hearts and minds, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Our epistle for today, from the Letter to the Ephesians, is, in my opinion, one of the most important passages in the Bible. Paul is encouraging us to lead lives worthy of our calling as followers of Christ. Our lives are to be marked by humility, gentleness. and patience, and we are to live together as a community of faith in the unity of the Holy Spirit. We may have different ideas about things, different opinions, but we know that we are one in Christ Jesus in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

Then Paul reminds us that we have all received different gifts from the Spirit. Some are apostles, some prophets, some pastors and teachers and rescuers of dogs and some who help children and young people and some who minister to elders, some who help folks who have the disease of addiction, some who make places more accessible, or pay the bills, or sew, or knit, or clean, or help feed people, and the list goes on and on. All are doing the work of ministry and building up the Body of Christ. And, Paul says so wisely, we are all growing to maturity in Christ.

We are all growing together; we are all knit together as the parts of a body are knit together. We are all called to use our gifts, and we are called to “Grow up in every way into…Christ.” We are called to become as much like our Lord as possible, with his grace, and to work together in harmony. As Paul says, all of this “promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.”

The whole purpose of our life together in and with Jesus is to share his love, to be his eyes, looking on people with his compassion, his hands reaching out to welcome and heal.

This passage, Ephesians 4:1-16, and 1 Corinthians 12, are St. Paul’s clear and powerful descriptions of what it means to be the Body of Christ doing his ministry here on earth. Grace Church is doing this, with God’s grace and the help of the Holy Spirit.

There is so much to meditate about in today’s readings. David’s tragic story reminds us that we are all sinners. We all get off track at times.  With God’s grace, we acknowledge our sins and get back on the path toward God. Jesus is the true bread from heaven. Every time we gather for Eucharist, he feeds us. When two or three are together in his name, he is with us, He is with all of us at every moment in our lives. This is a gift beyond measure. We can always turn to him and ask him for help.

Paul, a persecutor of the followers of Jesus, met the risen Christ on the Road to Damascus. He was blinded by the light of Christ.  When his sight returned, he became the apostle to the Gentiles. As he founded churches around the Mediterranean, Jesus gave him the vision of what a Christian community is called to be, and he shared that vision with us. We thank our Lord Jesus Christ for his life and ministry and for the gift of life together in and with him. May we continue to minister faithfully in his Name. Amen.

Pentecost 11 Proper 14B RCL August 9, 2015

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

We remember that last Sunday, the prophet Nathan had the difficult job of confronting David with his sinfulness, and God told David that David would be subjected to serious troubles from within his own family. This morning, we witness a tragic example of these troubles.

Absalom was an exceedingly handsome young man with a magnificent head of hair which he allowed to grow long. Although King David loved Absalom, he did not discipline his son, and Absalom did whatever he felt like doing. By the time we reach today’s reading, Absalom had murdered his brother Amnon and had burned a field owned by King David’s loyal commander, Joab, because Joab would not do what Absalom wanted him to do.

At this point in the tragic story, Absalom is leading a revolution against his father. Many of the Israelites are following this charismatic young man. A battle is about to take place. If David loses this battle, he will lose his kingdom. But this is not his greatest concern. David does not want anything bad to happen to his beloved son. He tells his commanders that if they come upon Absalom, they should be gentle with him. Absalom is riding on his mule, passes under a huge oak tree, and gets caught in the branches. He is hanging helplessly when Joab’s ten armor bearers come by. They kill Absalom. When David hears this news, he is heartbroken.

This whole chain of events began when David lost his own way and committed adultery and then murdered Uriah to cover up that sin. We might say that David was so busy fighting battles and building up his kingdom that he did not have the time and energy to be a good father to Absalom. Joab, his faithful commander, does what is necessary to  protect David and the kingdom.  What a sad story of human sin and frailty.

Our reading from Ephesians describes the qualities of a healthy Christian community. We must tell the truth to each other because we are members of each other. We are joined together as hands and feet and eyes and ears and heart and lungs and brain are joined in a body.  We must work so that we can help those who have less than we do. We must always be building up, not tearing down. We must put away bitterness and anger and truly love each other as Christ loved us.

This is such a contrast to the story of David and his family, which is so full of struggle and selfishness and major sins, including murder. King David would undoubtedly have given his life if he could have saved his son. But it took a greater King, our Lord Jesus, who was also of the house of David, to lead us out of the mire of our sins and give us new life.

When we live as the Letter to the Ephesians calls us to live, we all grow more and more into Christ, Our gifts are nourished for the good of the body and of the entire human community, We become stronger and stronger because our Lord is leading us. Sometimes quite suddenly, sometimes gradually, our sins fall by the wayside. We are growing into maturity in Christ. We see the Christ in each other and we truly love each other. We love to be together. We support each other on our journeys. Sometimes we are called to speak the truth in love and disagree on some things. We can speak the truth and still love and respect each other. Always, we know that we are being led by the risen Christ, who is in our midst.

I thank God often for the gift of being at Grace, where these qualities of a loving community are lived on a daily basis.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is telling us that he is the bread of life. The religious authorities can’t understand this. They keep focusing on the idea that Jesus is the son of Mary and Joseph, and there is no way that he could have come down from heaven. The idea that God loves us so much that God would actually come and live here as one of us just boggles their minds. When we  humans are closed to the amazing depth of the love of God, that’s what happens. We just cannot get our minds around the fact that God loves us so much that God would come among us as a baby, just the way we came into the world. And that God would have a profound understanding of what it means to be human because God has lived on this earth as a fully human being. Jesus is the living bread. Jesus gives us this heavenly food, the food of his very self, his energy, his love, his healing.

Maybe that is why Paul could write so eloquently and powerfully about what it means to be a Christian and how a healthy Christian community looks and functions. Because, on the road to Damascus, as Paul, then named Saul, was fuming with rage on his way to kill more followers of Christ, our Lord  broke through Saul’s hate and unbelief when he asked that question which changed everything: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Paul went blind for awhile but he saw the light. And he became the apostle called to share this news with everyone. His mind and heart were opened to this new truth, this new life.

Jesus loves us so much that he does things like that. He breaks into our mental and spiritual prisons and sets us free. All of us are human. We have all made mistakes, and we will make more. But our Lord is with us. He is the light of the world. He is the Good Shepherd, leading us. He is the Bread of Life. We also have a community of loving people who will listen to us, support us, pray for us, and help us along the way. That is what it means to be members of the Body of Christ. Grace, love, and healing are flowing through us every moment. And we are here to share all these gifts with others.

Lord Jesus, thank you for all these blessings. Lead us and guide us always. In your Name we pray.  Amen.

Pentecost 10 Proper 13B RCL August 2, 2015

2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a
Psalm 51:1-13
Ephesians 4:1-16
John 6:24-35

In our opening lesson, David has committed adultery with Bathsheba and then has murdered her husband, Uriah the Hittite, who was one of David’s most loyal and valiant soldiers. After the time of mourning, David and Bathsheba are married, and they have a son.

God is not pleased with David’s behavior, so God sends Nathan to confront the king. The job of a prophet is to hold God’s measuring rod up to individuals and society. This is not an easy ministry. And it can be dangerous, Kings do not always like to hear God’s opinion of their less than sterling behavior, and prophets have been beaten, thrown in prison, and even killed.

Let’s pause for a moment. If we were in Nathan’s position, how would we confront David and call him to repent? And an accompanying question: how would we do this and survive?

Nathan is a wise and courageous prophet. He tells a story about a rich man and a poor man. The rich man has everything anyone could want. The poor man has very little, and his most prized possession is his ewe lamb. He treats her like one of his own family. A traveler arrives at the rich man’s house, and the rich man is so stingy that he does not want to kill one of his animals to throw a dinner for the guest. So he takes the poor man’s lamb, kills it, cooks it, and serves it to the guest.

Never does it dawn on David that he is the rich man, Uriah the Hittite is the poor man, and Bathsheba is the ewe lamb. At the end of the story, David is enraged. “That rich man deserves to die,” he yells at the top of his lungs. Then poor Nathan has the courage to say those words we will never forget: “You are the man.” And Nathan tells David that God has given David many gifts and David has done terrible things, and now David is going to have great trouble from within his own family.

David does not kill Nathan. He comes to his senses. He admits his sin. He begins to see and accept the truth of what he has done. We have all had times like this, times when we have done things we ought not to have done or not done things we ought to have done, and there is no health in us.  Our psalm, which is also used on Ash Wednesday, is the proper response in these moments. We need to be washed and cleansed of our sin, and we must trust in God’s forgiveness and God’s ability to help us make a new beginning.

In our gospel, Jesus and the disciples have gone across to Capernaum, and the crowd follows them. Jesus calls them to grow into a higher level of spiritual maturity. He tells them that they are following him because of the bread that he gives them, but they need to see him as the bread that feeds them for eternal life.

A young mathematician named Blaise Pascal once wrote that we all have a God-shaped vacuum in us, and we try to fill that vacuum with all kinds of things, but it can only be filled with God. How true that is. We may fill that empty place with power or money or possessions or food or alcohol or drugs. We try to fill that God-shaped empty place with so many things. But our need is for God.

Herbert O’Driscoll notes that all our readings today are about growing into maturity. Our epistle certainly emphasizes that. What are the qualities of Christians and Christian communities? Humility, gentleness, patience, “bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

We are all members of the Body of Christ. We are all part of our Lord, our living, risen Lord. There will be tough times. There will be misunderstandings. We won’t always agree. And we are one in him.

We have been given many different gifts, and all those gifts have been given for the building up of the Body of Christ. One of the things that distressed Paul so much was that the Corinthians were using their God-given gifts to compete. “Oh, I speak in tongues, That’s better than what you do.” That is not true, as Paul tries to teach them. Each gift is as precious as the next. Everyone is essential to the Body, and every gift is necessary.

All the gifts are given “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro by every passing fad and fashion, But, speaking the truth in love, we  must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”

Paul gives us a dynamic picture of each of us growing into maturity and all of us growing together into Christ, and this is how the Body of Christ, the Church, stays healthy. And the whole purpose is to extend his love to the world.

“Speaking the truth in love” is a central and powerful concept for us as Christians. Nathan spoke the truth to David from the loving heart of God. Jesus speaks the truth to the people following him and to us. He could have operated the biggest soup kitchen in the world, but he wants to give us himself, so that we can get beyond our human selfishness and be transformed and live in a new way.

I think Herbert O’Driscoll has a wonderful insight into these lessons when he says that they are about growing into maturity. It’s not easy to face the fact that we have sinned. It may be even harder to do the work, always with God’s help, of getting back on track.

Here we gather, frail and fallible humans who are called to be the Body of Christ in this place, part of his risen Body which fills the whole wide earth. We make mistakes; we stumble and fall; we confess our sins; we receive forgiveness, and we keep growing, growing more like our Lord, growing into maturity in him.

Blessed Lord Jesus, help us to keep growing into maturity in you. Amen.