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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion December 11, 2022 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion December 18, 2022 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion December 25, 2022 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…

Epiphany 3B RCL January 21, 2018

Jonah 3:1-5
Psalm 62:6-14
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Mark 1:14-20

I am so happy to see you today! We have had to cancel services for three Sundays in a row because of the very cold weather. Welcome back, and Happy Epiphany season!

This sermon will be short because today we have Annual Meeting.

As you know, Epiphany is the season of light and mission. Our first reading today comes from the book of Jonah, one of the so called Minor Prophets whose books are at the end of the Hebrew scriptures.

The story of Jonah actually was designed to tell God’s people that they were supposed to share their faith with everyone. Ninevah, the capital of the Assyrian Empire was seen as a sinful city because of its violence. God called Jonah to go and preach God’s mercy to Ninevah. Jonah didn’t want to do this because he thought Ninevah was just too sinful to save. So, when God called, Jonah ran away on a ship to Tarshish. A storm came up, and Jonah ended up in the belly of a big fish. Jonah called to God for help, and the big fish spat him out on the shore.

Now we meet Jonah again. This time he obeys God, goes to Nineveh, calls the people to repent, and they do. His mission is successful. Later on, Jonah pouts because his mission has been a success. God has to reassure Jonah that no one is beyond God’s forgiveness. God cares about all the people in Ninevah. God even cares about the livestock.

In our reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul is telling the people to prepare for the coming of our Lord. He is basically saying, “Act as if it is going to happen today.” Always be ready.

In our gospel, John the Baptist has just been arrested. John was a cousin of Jesus, and Jesus loved him very much. The arrest of John was very bad news. Yet Jesus did not let this deflect him from his mission. He went on calling disciples—Peter and Andrew, James and John answered the call. Jesus had said to them, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

God calls all people together. God’s kingdom of love, peace, and harmony has begun. We are called to help God to build that kingdom. Fortunately, we have been following the example of Peter and Andrew, James and John, rather than Jonah. We have been following Jesus to the best of our ability, with the help of his grace. Today, we will gather at our Annual Meeting to take a look at where we have been and where we hope to go. Our collect for today is an excellent prayer for this occasion.

Collect for today—p. 215: Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Last Sunday after the Epiphany Year A RCL February 26, 2017

Exodus 24:12-18
Psalm 99
2 Peter 1:16-21
Matthew 17:1-9

The Epiphany season, the season of light and mission, is coming to a close. We are about to begin the journey of Lent. In our opening reading, God’s people have escaped their slavery in Egypt, but they are going to embark on their forty days of journeying in the wilderness.

God calls Moses to go up on Mount Sinai. Moses will receive the tablets of the law. This is a terrifying journey for Moses. Herbert O’Driscoll reminds us that Mt. Sinai at this time was an active volcano. Moses is a very smart man, He does not go into this terror alone. For the first part of the trip, in addition to his assistant Joshua, he takes the seventy elders plus Aaron and Hur. As he moves to the final ascent,  he leaves Aaron and Hur in charge of the assembly. They will help to resolve any conflicts that may arise.

Moses remains on the mountain for forty days. When he comes back down, the people have already grown impatient and have fashioned the golden calf.

In our gospel for today, Jesus has just told the disciples that he is going to have to go to Jerusalem, that the authorities are watching his every move, and that he is going to die. He has also asked them who they think he is, and Peter has made his passionate and forceful statement that Jesus is the Messiah.

Jesus takes his three closest disciples, Peter, James, and John, and leads them up the mountain. Jesus is transfigured. He becomes luminescent, dazzling white. Moses and Elijah appear with him. They even talk with him, reminding us that Jesus is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. It is an impressive, even scary, scene. Peter tries to capture the moment. offering to build three dwellings, one for each of the three revered figures. As we know, we cannot hold on to these moments. They are incredibly powerful and life-changing, but their meaning can be held only in the heart and mind.

Then God speaks and reminds us who Jesus really is. God also adds the wise command, “Listen to him.” With this, the disciples are totally overcome with fear. They fall to the ground. It is one thing to climb up a high mountain with your beloved teacher and Lord and see him utterly transformed.  It is quite another thing to hear the voice of God saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.”

They have lost their footing. They have perhaps even lost consciousness. In any case, they have fallen onto the ground. The text says, “They were overcome by  fear.” They are shaking in terror. They are beside themselves. They have no idea what to do.

They have seen Jesus as he truly is. Peter was already aware of this reality, and I think the others had realized it, too. But now the close relationship between Jesus and God is completely apparent. They may have thought they were climbing the mountain with their friend and teacher, Jesus, whom they loved and admired, but now it is clear that Jesus is the Son of God. Peter and James and John have now been in the presence of the living God. We have to remember that, even in the time of Jesus, people believed that you could not be in the presence of God and survive. And yet they have. They may be on the ground shaking with terror, but they are still alive.

Jesus has told them what is going to happen, and now, they may be wanting to run for their lives. Away from the turmoil and violence. Away from the horror of the cross. But they cannot do it. Their legs are like rubber and they are paralyzed with fear.

And then something amazing happens. Jesus comes and touches them. Maybe he puts a reassuring hand on their shoulder. In times of fear and lostness, a touch can heal as nothing else can. Not only does he touch them, he also says something that they will remember all their lives. He says, “Get up and do not be afraid.” “Get up and do not be afraid.”

How many times have we been paralyzed by fear, or helpless with fear and Jesus comes and calls to us to get up and not be afraid. How many times will Peter and James and John remember this moment and these words from our Lord as they go about their ministries?

They will remember these words and the love of Jesus as they mourn his death. They will remember these words and the love and healing and forgiveness of our Lord as they realize what has happened on the first Easter.

Every year we read the gospel of the Transfiguration on this Last Sunday after the Epiphany. I believe that we do this because we need to know who Jesus really is as we prepare for our Lenten journey. Jesus is the one who touches us, touches our places of fear and doubt, and calls us to get up, have faith, and follow him.

This year, our Bishop has given us the gift of the Lenten Program, “Living Life Marked as Christ’s Own.” As you follow this program though Lent, you can also subscribe to the video series 5marksoflove.org. You will receive a daily email, a video, and a question for reflection. Please see your booklet to find out more.

Lent is a time to grow closer to our Lord, as the old hymn says, “To see him more clearly, love him more dearly, and follow him more nearly. day by day.” May we follow him. Amen.

Epiphany 2A RCL January 15, 2017

Isaiah 49:1-7
Psalm 40:1-12
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
John 1:29-42

Our first reading comes from the prophet known as the Second Isaiah. Like Jeremiah, he had a sense that he was called by God from the time he was in the womb. We also were called by God to be God’s own beloved from the time we were in our mother’s womb.

God tells Isaiah that God is going to bring the people home from their exile in Babylon. This is wonderful news of great hope. But then God adds something that is almost mind-shattering: God is calling not only Isaiah but all of God’s people to be “a light to the nations, so that [God’s] salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” This includes us as people of God. We are called to be a light to the world, sharing the gifts of faith, hope, and love with all the people we meet.

As we turn to our epistle for today, I think of Herbert O’Driscoll, who points out that, if St. Paul has to give both bad news and good news, he always begins with the good news. The church in Corinth has some dire problems. Some people think that they know more than other people and they are trying to force others to think the way they do instead of engaging in respectful dialogue. Some people think the gifts God has given them, particularly the gift of speaking in tongues, are superior gifts and people who have that gift should be able to lord it over others. Some other teachers have come in and told the people that Paul is an inferior teacher who does not know what he is talking about, and people should follow these new teachers. One of these is named Apollos.

Paul is going to have to help the people deal with these issues, which are tearing their community apart, and he will deal with them by writing a letter full of some of the most important theology in the Christian tradition, teachings that are as fresh and essential today as they were back then in the first century. But first, he centers his letter where it should be centered—in Christ and in all the gifts our Lord has given the church in Corinth. Throughout the entire letter, he will emphasize that what is important is our Lord, his presence among us and the gifts he gives us. First Corinthians is a wonderful letter full of wisdom. We will be reading selections from this letter for the next several weeks.

In our gospel, John the Baptist sees Jesus coming toward him and he describes our Lord as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. From this passage comes our solemn chant, Agnus Dei. John is absolutely sure that Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior. The next day, John again calls Jesus the Lamb of God, and two of John’s disciples follow Jesus. If John, their teacher whom they love and trust, is saying that this is the Savior, they want to be close to him. They want to see what he is about. They want to learn from him. I think they had hoped to follow him quietly and stay near him and learn something.

But Jesus turns around and sees them. He is so matter-of-fact. “What are you looking for?” he asks them. They answer with great respect: “Rabbi, where are you staying?” This may sound like a strange question and maybe they are a bit flustered and it’s the first thing they can think of to blurt out, but the fact is that they want to follow him. Their own teacher, John, has pointed out that this is the Savior. Why wouldn’t they want to follow him? Jesus says, “Come and see.”

Come and see. What an invitation. Just come and hang out and see what’s happening. So they go with Jesus and the disciples and stay the whole day. It gets to be about four in the afternoon, and we find out who one of these two men is. It’s Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.

Now, Andrew does something that is tremendously important: he goes to his brother Simon and tells him, “We have found the Messiah.” A simple, down to earth statement. Then Andrew brings Simon to Jesus. Andrew, this quiet brother, brings Simon to Jesus. And Jesus names him Cephas, which means Peter.

We all know that Jesus later chose Peter to be the leader of the apostles. But what if his brother Andrew had not realized that Jesus was the Savior? What if Andrew had not gone to tell Peter about Jesus?

Andrew is a quiet person, but he pays careful attention to everything.

Later, when Jesus is being followed by a huge crowd and it is late and the people are hungry, Jesus asks the disciples if anyone has any food. It is Andrew who has made a connection with a little boy who has five loaves and two fish. Andrew is quiet and aware, and he connects people with each other so that good things can happen.

Peter is more demonstrative—he jumps into the water when he sees Jesus coming across the lake and begins to sink; he denies Jesus three times but then accepts Jesus’ forgiveness and renews his commitment on the shores of the lake after Jesus is risen; Peter is fiery and emotional, but he is also the rock on which Jesus builds his church. Here we have the story of how his quiet brother Andrew helps Peter to connect with our Lord, the Light of the world.

And that is what we are called to do—to listen and be aware, and live our faith, and help people to connect with Jesus because they see a glimpse of his life and love in us. Thank God for the connectors in this world, people like Andrew who bring people together, who find a little boy who is willing to share his lunch so that a crowd can be fed; people like Andrew who bring people to Christ. May we follow his example.  Amen.


Epiphany 7A RCL February 23, 2014

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
Psalm 119:33-40
1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23
Matthew 5: 38-48

Our opening reading today is from the Book of Leviticus, a book of laws which, together with the Book of Deuteronomy, provides guidelines for how to live together in community. We are called to be holy. Holiness has to do with the way we lead our lives. Here in this reading,  we have some very clear values which we can use to shape our behavior.

When we are harvesting, we are to leave some of the crop for the poor and the alien. God’s law always carries a concern for those who are vulnerable. If some of the crop is left, they will have something to eat.

We are not to steal. We are to be honest. We are to treat the disabled with respect.  We are called to deal justly with others. We do not slander people. We are not to hate our neighbor, If we have a problem with someone, we are called to go and try to resolve the issue with our neighbor, not to let hatred fester until it boils up into something much worse.  In sum, we are called to love our neighbor. These are amazing thoughts when we realize that they date back thousands of years.

If we were to summarize these laws, we could say that they call us to have concern for the vulnerable, to be honest and fair, to respect others, to seek reconciliation and understanding, and to love our neighbors as God loves us.  These laws, written thousands of years ago, are good advice for us today.

In our epistle for today, Paul is switching his metaphors. Last week he was describing himself as a gardener or a farmer. Paul planted, Apollos watered, and God gave the growth. Now he is describing himself as a master builder. But the foundation must always be our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul wisely counsels us not to boast about human leaders, whether Peter or Paul or Apollos.  We are all one in Christ, and we all belong to Christ.

We can only imagine what might have happened if the people in Corinth who thought they were so wise had gotten on their knees and asked God for guidance. If they had listened, God would have led them to enter into a process of reconciliation with their brothers and sisters and to treat them with respect.

In today’s gospel, we are continuing with the Beatitudes.

Our reading begins with Jesus saying, “You have heard it said, ‘an eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth,” Jesus is referring to what is called the law of “retaliation in kind” as described in the books of Exodus, Deuteronomy, and Leviticus, which were written hundreds of years before Jesus was born.  Until these laws were written, if someone took out your eye, you would gather a group of people and go and kill the person and perhaps members of his family.  The law of an eye for an eye was designed to reduce the amount of violence.  So, if someone took out your eye, you could not simply go over and kill him. You could go to the judge and he would give a sentence allowing equal retribution.

Jesus’ call to love our enemies goes far beyond the law of retaliation in kind and far beyond out usual concepts of justice.  One note of caution: we need to keep in mind that this passage of scripture is not intended to deal with situations of abuse as we know them today. Jesus would never tell a battered woman to turn the other cheek. This passage does not apply to any situation of abuse. In those situations, our priority is to get the victim to a safe place and to make sure the perpetrator can no longer do harm to anyone.

Jesus calls us to be perfect.  But we need to define the word accurately. The Greek is teleios. Bishop Fred Borsch says, that teleios means “to come to the goal or purpose, that is, to become what one was created for, to reach full growth, potential, maturity. It is incredibly difficult to love our enemies, but this is what God made us to do. Bishop Borsch reminds us that Archbishop Desmond Tutu told white South African leader P. W. Botha that they are brothers and members of the same human family.  To be able to think and act in that way when one has been subjected to something like apartheid—that is what God is calling us to do.

Borsch writes, “Jesus tells of a different will of God and so a different way of life for those who would be children of this God and reflect their parent’s character.” (Proclamation 4, p. 52.)

The values reflected in our readings today are embodied in the promises we make in our baptismal vows. “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” This is what we were made for. This is what Christ’s kingdom is all about.  So these are the values of kingdom communities, of shalom communities. These are ways of living together which open the way to God’s shalom.

With God’s help, we try to live these promises. When we fail, we ask forgiveness and begin again. Why do we do this? Because this blueprint for life, these Beatitudes, are the only thing that makes sense to us. The new life in Christ means that we are becoming one with him and that we are called to become more and more like him. And slowly, slowly, it is happening.  We are being transformed.

We gather, we pray together, we study the word together, we share Eucharist, we are fed by him, our faith is nurtured. and we are becoming one with him and with each other.

That’s the kind of community Paul is talking about. Thanks be to God, we are being given the gift of that community.  We are becoming what we were created for, not through any effort of our own, but by God’s grace.  Amen.

Epiphany 6 February 16, 2014

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Psalm 119:1-8
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Matthew 5:21-37

In our first reading, Moses has led God’s people to the border of the promised land. He is not going to be able to go with them. The year is around 1200 B. C.,  over three thousand years ago. The people have been journeying through the wilderness for forty years, and now they are about to enter this new phase of their life together. This is the end of a long speech by Moses. He is trying to get across to the people everything that they will need to know in order to lead their lives, as individuals and as a community, in the way God wants them to live.

Moses says a dramatic thing. He says, “I have set before you today, life and prosperity, death and adversity, Choose life, that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God….” In the preceding chapters, Moses has outlined the framework within which God’s people are called to live. Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann lists the main  values involved in loving God and our neighbors, values which have been discussed in Moses’ speech to the people: “sharing feasts with the hungry (Deut. 14:27-29; canceling debts that the poor cannot pay (15:1-11); organizing government to guard against excessive wealth ((17:14-20); sharing hospitality with runaway slaves (23:156-16); not charging interest in loans in the covenant community (23:19-20);  paying hired hands promptly what they earn (24:14-15); leaving the residue of harvest for the disadvantaged (24:19-22); and limiting punishment in order to protect human dignity (25:1-3).” I list these because they make clear that Moses and God are clearly spelling out how we are called to behave when we set out to love God and our neighbor.

When God promises life and prosperity to those who love God and neighbor, God is not talking about material prosperity and the accumulation of wealth, power, and possessions. God is talking about the spiritual prosperity of a community life based on compassion and concern for others and rooted in our awareness and experience of God’s love for us.

In our epistle, we continue with a reading of Paul’s letter to the strife-torn congregation in Corinth.  As we recall, some of the members of the community are extremely arrogant, saying that they have special knowledge that no one else has.  Paul speaks to them as a nursing mother, telling them that he fed them with milk because they were not mature enough for solid food. This must have been a shock to them. I think he said this in order to puncture the balloon of their arrogance.

Various factions are saying that they belong to Paul or to Apollos. But Paul weaves all of this divisiveness into a beautiful tapestry of faith and wisdom when he offers a metaphor of growth. Paul planted the seed, Apollos watered it, and God gave the growth. We all have a common purpose, Paul says, but it is God who gives the growth.

In our gospel, Jesus is continuing the Beatitudes. He is calling us to follow the spirit of the law rather than the letter. It’s safe to say that none of us has murdered anyone literally. But have we spoken harshly or sarcastically? Have we gotten to the end of our rope and said things we wish we could take back? Have we looked on others with contempt or called someone a fool? These are not literal murder, but we all know the damage that words can do. That old saw, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” is simply not true.

Jesus calls us to be reconcilers. If we have a problem with someone, we need to go and try to work it out with them.

Then Jesus tackles the issue of adultery. But, once again, he goes to the spirit of the thing. If we look on other people as objects for our gratification, that is as bad as committing adultery. We are called to be completely and utterly faithful to our marriage commitments. We are called to treat each other with profound respect and caring.

We need to take Jesus’ words on divorce within the context of his culture. In Jesus’ time, a man could divorce his wife for a trivial reason, for example,  if he did not like her cooking. He could write up a certificate of divorce and she would be out in the street. Women and children in Jesus’ time were considered as property, possessions,  like a chair. The technical word for this is chattel. Women and children were things. So, if a man divorced a woman, and she was left alone to fend for herself, she had no means of support and no social status. She would have to go back to her family in disgrace and try to live under the protection of a male relative. If she could not do that, she would often have to resort to prostitution, a profession which is totally dependent on the objectification of persons.

Jesus says here that the only justification for divorce is adultery, but he is speaking here to men who commonly would divorce their wives for trivial reasons.  In Jesus’ culture, there was no awareness of such a thing as domestic violence or emotionally abusive behavior.  Abuse tears the fabric of a relationship. It destroys marriages.

Jesus is calling us to a higher level of commitment and behavior. He is calling us to the highest levels of compassion. He says that if our right eye causes us to sin, we should tear it out. This is one of those comments that we need to take in a spiritual sense. Jesus is not advising us to perform self-mutilation. But he is saying that, if there is something that gets in the way of our being compassionate, we need to deal with it. We need to ask God’s help and probably get professional help to work our way over it or through it so that it does not get in the way of our  spiritual growth.  We have to do whatever it takes to live lives of compassion, to love God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

In all of our readings for today, we are being called to high standards of thought and behavior.  The Beatitudes are a blueprint for personal and cultural transformation. It’s hard work!

And it is a journey filled with joy and meaning.  Thank God that we are not alone on this journey. We have our loving God, and we have each other and the entire Communion of Saints.  May God lead us and guide us.  Amen.

Epiphany 3 RCL January 26, 2014

Annual Meeting

Isaiah 9:1-4
Psalm 27:1, 5-13
1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Matthew 4: 12-23

What inspiring reading we have for this Sunday of Annual Meeting.

Our opening lesson from Isaiah is one of the readings appointed for Christmas. Scholars tell us that this passage is announcing the birth of a king from David’s line and that it may refer to King Hezekiah of Judah. For us as Christians, it refers to our Lord Jesus Christ. He brings us out of darkness into light. He frees us from all that oppresses us. What a wonderful reading this is for the week in which we have celebrated Martin Luther King’s legacy.

In our epistle, Paul is addressing the serious problems of division in the congregation in Corinth. This is a community which Paul had founded and shepherded for eighteen months. Now they are dividing into factions and being mean to each other. We can tell how anguished Paul is over these behaviors.  We can hear it in his voice as he asks,  “Has Christ been divided?  Was Paul crucified for you?” Paul calls us to be one in Christ and to be loving and respectful toward each other and to all who come to be with us.

In our gospel, Jesus hears that John the Baptist has been arrested. This is not good. Now John is in the awful prison of Herod Antipas, a ruthless ruler who will stop at nothing. Jesus has been in the south near Jerusalem, dangerous territory. He moves from Nazareth to Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee., the “land of Zebulon, land of Naphtali” mentioned in our first lesson.

Jesus is now going to move forward with his ministry. He is going to form a community. We can imagine him getting to know these strong, sturdy, hardworking fishermen. He calls people to repent, to turn to God and let God transform their lives. And he calls Peter and Andrew, James and John. He tells them and us, “I will make you fish for people.”

Capernaum was much like Sheldon. It was a small town where people worked hard. Jesus chose these people to form the core of his community.

Today, as we gather for our Annual Meeting, we can celebrate many gifts that we have received. Jesus is the light of our lives. We are no longer stumbling around in the darkness. He leads us and guides us. All we have to do is ask for his direction.

We are not divided into factions who follow Apollos or Paul or Cephas. We are all one in Christ. We are a community built on mutual love and respect. These are precious gifts which our Lord has given us.

This morning, Jesus is calling each of us and all of us together to follow him. He is calling us to spread the good news of his love and healing. Just as he called Peter and Andrew, just as he called James and John, so he is calling us to live as a community which shows forth his vision of transformation for the world.

May we answer his call. May we be one in him.  Amen.

Epiphany 2 Year A RCL January 19, 2014

Isaiah 49:1-7
Psalm 40:1-12
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
John 1:29-42

Our first reading this morning is from the Second Servant Song of Isaiah. God has called God’s servant Israel since the time the servant was in his mother’s womb. This is very similar to the prophet Jeremiah’s story. God has called us from the beginning of time and God will love us for all eternity.

The Servant is to call God’s people home from exile. But God gives the Servant a much larger mission—to call all of God’s people, to be a light to all nations.

As the people of God, we are called to welcome all people into what Archbishop Desmond Tutu calls “God’s big family.”

Paul is writing to the congregation he founded in Corinth. This faith community is having some serious problems. There are factions in the church. Some members are claiming to have superior knowledge and special spiritual gifts. There is even sexual immorality.

Paul reminds the congregation of their identity as children of God and followers of Jesus and reminds them that, no matter how many challenges they may face, God will give them the strength to meet those challenges.

In our reading from John’s gospel, John the Baptist is standing with two of his disciples.  Jesus walks toward them. John identifies Jesus as the Messiah. John makes it clear that Jesus is one who is greater than he, the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit

The next day, John is again with standing with two of his disciples. Jesus walks by. Again, John says that Jesus is the Lamb of God. So the two disciples follow Jesus. Jesus asks them, “What are you looking for?”

These are two disciples of John the Baptist. John has a huge following. At this point, he is far better known than Jesus. Thousands of people are flocking to him to be baptized because they see the need for repentance, transformation in their lives, a shift that will bring them closer to God.

But now John is telling these disciples of his that Jesus is the messiah. They are probably overwhelmed and confused. They want to learn more about Jesus. Maybe they think they can quietly tag along and hang out with Jesus and learn what he has to say. But now Jesus is asking them this question, “What are you looking for?” And they are thinking, “Our teacher, John, says this is the messiah. The messiah has just asked us a question.” How could we possibly have conversation with the Savior of the world? They are nervous, probably even scared. They are in awe of Jesus.

They address him as “Rabbi,” meaning “Teacher,” a term of great respect, but this is the messiah. How do you address the messiah, the Savior? They don’t know what to say, so they ask, “Where are you staying?” They are drawn to Jesus. They want to be with him.

And he says, “Come and see.” They spend the day with him. Imagine what that must have been like, sitting at his feet and absorbing his presence, his love, his healing, and his teaching. Now we find out that one of the two is Andrew, Simon’s brother. It is four o’clock. The evening is drawing near. Andrew goes and finds Peter and tells him, “We have found the messiah!” Think what this must have meant to Peter and Andrew.

Andrew brings Peter to Jesus, and Jesus says, “You are Simon, son of John, You are to be called Cephas, Peter.”

God calls all people to come to the light, God calls all people to be a part of God’s big family. Like John the Baptist and Andrew, we are called to bring people to Jesus. We are called to help people to meet and experience Jesus. How do we do this?

We can bring friends to church. We can tell people how we get strength from the presence of Jesus in our faith community. We can share our experiences of how Jesus has led us through the thickets of life and gotten us to the still waters of peace and love. We can sit and listen, just listen, not even say anything. We can share the gifts of faith and love and listening and healing, and by doing those things, we are helping folks to be in the presence of our Lord.

John the Baptist and Andrew had the gift of connecting people with Jesus. These are powerful examples for us.

We are all here because we want to follow Jesus. It’s a wonderful journey.

Our journey is similar to that of the Servant in our first lesson. The Servant, embodying the people of God, is called to lead all people to God and to God’s shalom. We are called to lead all people to Jesus, the light of the world, We are called to welcome all people into God’s kingdom, God’s shalom of peace and harmony.

Blessedly, we do not have any of the problems which were plaguing the congregation in Corinth. Nobody here is claiming to have superior knowledge. No one is on a power trip. No one is trying to lord it over others or bully others. We know we are far from perfect, but our morals and ethics are strong. We have much to be thankful for.

May we follow the example of John the Baptist and Andrew. May we lead others to Jesus. May we share his light and love.  Amen.

The Epiphany January 6, 2013 Year C RCL

Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm 72
Ephesians 3:1-12
Matthew 2: 1-12

Today we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany. The word epiphany comes from Greek roots meaning to manifest or to show.  Jesus is shown to be the light of the world and the savior of all peoples.

All of our lessons today point toward this meaning. Our first reading, from the prophet called the Third Isaiah, is a joyful proclamation to the people held in Exile in Babylon that God’s light is shining on them, that  they will return home under the protection of King Cyrus of Persia to rebuild Jerusalem.

Psalm 72 gives us a powerful description of the justice and mercy of the shalom of God under a good king and shepherd of the people.

Our reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians celebrates God’s call to Paul to spread the Good News to the Gentiles—to all the world.

The themes of Epiphany are light, gifts, and mission.

Biblical scholar Paul Achtemeier says that the wise men were most likely astronomers from Babylon, which was the seat of astronomical studies in the ancient world. If that is true, it would strike a bittersweet note in the story, given that centuries before our Lord’s birth, the Babylinian Empire had conquered Judah and exiled its leaders.

In any case, we have a story of three wise men. Scholars tell us that they probably were not kings. Isaiah’s oracle about kings coming to Jerusalem with gifts probably is the source of the kingly title. They are not kings, but they are learned, wise, men–scientists, astronomers, men of wealth and prestige. They have quite a retinue—a camel for each of them to ride, but also camels to carry supplies and, of course, gifts for a new king, and assistants to manage the camels and run errands and so on. They see this star and they are compelled to follow it. They just have to do it. In addition to being learned men, they are spiritual seekers. They have the feeling that this star means something very important, that it is the sign of the birth of a new king.

Being of high social status, they respect and follow proper protocol. They go to Jerusalem and visit King Herod. When he finds out that they are searching for a new king, as Barbara Brown Taylor writes, his “deadly duplicitous thoughts are revealed.” He asks them in unctuous tones to be sure and come back to let him know what they have found, and secretly he is already planning the extermination of this new king. After all, he killed three of his own sons to remove any threat to his power.

The three wise men leave Herod and follow the star. Since their journey has taken them at least one and perhaps as many as two years, Jesus is no longer an infant when they arrive. They find him with his mother. Scholars note that, as Matthew tells the story, it almost appears that Mary and Joseph have set up housekeeping.

The details do not matter. When they see Jesus, the wise men fall on their knees and worship, They also offer gifts which are the usual things given to a new king—gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Then, warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they go home by another way. I have a feeling the dream was only confirmation of what they already knew, that Herod was up to no good.

The wise men followed the light of that star and they encountered the light that was destined to break through every death and every darkness.  In his poem “The Journey of the Magi,” T. S. Eliot hints that their lives were never the same after that. The light shines in the darkness and it attracts everyone to it. That is one of the themes of this day—light.

Another theme is gifts. The wise men offer gifts. I think they probably also offered themselves. I think that, in their encounter with Jesus, they realized that they were meeting a King unlike any king that had ever been before. And today, as every day, we offer ourselves to our Lord and King, so that he may guide us in building his shalom, his kingdom of peace, love, and harmony. We offer back to God the gifts God has given us—gifts of music, gifts of building, gifts of teaching and guiding young people, gifts of healing, gifts of balancing the books, gifts of listening and supporting, all these gifts to be used by God in the building of God’s kingdom.

As we watch this story unfold, we see so many different expressions of power. We see the self-serving, self-protecting concept of power that controls the life of King Herod. He will kill members of his own family to protect his power.

We see the power of the wise men. They follow the star at great cost. It isn’t easy. They endure hardship, long months and years on the journey. They are highly respected, wealthy, powerful. Yet when they see Jesus, they know they have met a new level of kingship, a revolutionary expression of power, the power of love and compassion, power that gives itself for the life of the world.

Epiphany is the season of mission. We have so much to share.  We have been given so many gifts.

This coming Sunday, we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is one of the Sundays in the Church year when it is especially appropriate to have baptisms. And we are blessed that we will be celebrating the baptism of Krista Alexa Sturgeon, the daughter of Nicholas and Francesca Sturgeon. Nick will be leaving later this month to begin his service in the United States Marines, a vocation to which he has felt called for several years. Please keep them in your special prayers.

May we walk in the light of Christ.