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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:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion April 9, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion April 16, 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:…

Pentecost 17 Proper 20B September 19, 2021

Proverbs 31:10-31
Psalm 1
James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
Mark 9:30-37

Our opening reading is the ending of the book of Proverbs. Scholars tell us that this passage was written in the period following the Babylonian Exile, some twenty-six hundred years ago. Some scholars tell us that it is best to ignore this passage because it was written so long ago, in a time when women and children were thought of as chattel, property, objects to be owned.

As we look at this passage, it is quite contemporary. Neil Elliott notes that this woman, “runs a household (v. 15), conducts her own real estate transactions( v.16), works out  (v.17), makes charitable contributions (v. 20), holds her own in public discourse, (v. 26), maintains a healthy relationship with integrity (vv. 11, 29), and even gets the credit for her husband’s rising status (v. 26)! (Elliott, New Proclamation Year B, 2000, p. 72.)

Gene M. Tucker writes, “Above all, she is by no means limited to traditional roles within the family, for she has significant public and economic roles. She is a capable merchant (v. 14) and businesswoman (vv. 18-29, 24), both producing and selling goods. She invests in real estate and improves it (v. 16). In short, virtually the only significant role she does not fulfill in her society is to sit with the elders in the gate (v. 23). (Tucker, Preaching through the Christian Year B, p. 414.)

The revised Common Lectionary was created in order to include in our readings passages about women and other marginalized people. Often these passages show us that progress toward seeing and respecting the dignity of every human being was being made, even in those long ago centuries.

Our reading from James is full of gems. We are called to act with “gentleness born of wisdom.” We are called to stay away from “bitter envy and selfish ambition,” James says these qualities are “earthly, unspiritual, and devilish.” We know that envy and ambition can lead to ruthless competition and conflict. James says they can even lead to murder.

But James tells us that the “wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, then gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits,” What a different world we live in when we have these qualities of peace, gentleness, willingness to talk and work with each other for the common good. James advises, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” The qualities James is calling us to live by are the values of God’s shalom, God’s peaceable kingdom.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is teaching his disciples about what is going to happen to him. He is going to be betrayed and killed, and he is going to rise from the dead. They had no idea what he was taking about, and the text says that they were “afraid to ask him.” This may remind us of times when we’ve been in a class and were totally confused but were even more afraid of letting the teacher know how confused we actually were, so we just stayed silent.

They arrive in Capernaum and go into the house, and he asks them what they were arguing about while they were walking along. We discover that they were arguing about who was going to be the greatest. This gives us a clue that perhaps they were thinking of the messiah in one of the ways that was common in those days: as an earthly king who would gather an army and defeat the Roman Empire and bring in a new kingdom. It would make sense to wonder who would be sitting next to this earthly king when he was on his throne.

But there was another concept of who the messiah is, and that is the messiah as a servant.  Some call him the suffering servant as portrayed in Isaiah.

Jesus tells the apostles and us that if we want to follow him, we have to be the servants of all and last of all. We can’t be trying to figure out who is the greatest. We can’t be competing for power. We are called to be servants. We are called to walk the Way of Love.

And then he gently, lovingly picks up a little child and holds the little one in his arms. As we look in on this scene, we need to remember that in our Lord’s time, children, like women, were seen as chattel, possessions, something you owned. They were not highly valued.

And Jesus is saying that we need to welcome these little ones; we need to welcome the vulnerable ones who have no power, no wealth, no influence, no voice, those whom folks see as less than fully human. And he is saying that, if we welcome these people, we welcome Jesus and we also are welcoming God.

Thank you for all the ministries you are all doing which involve helping other people in so many ways, whether it is at the food shelf or in other ministries of servanthood. When we are helping others, showing love and care to others, we are  showing that love to our Lord. That is what he is telling us today. May our loving God bless you in all your ministries. Amen.

Palm Sunday Year B March 28, 2021

Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 31:9-16
Philippians 2:5-11
Mark 14:32—15:39

Our reading from Isaiah dates back to the end of the Babylonian Exile, 539 B.C.E. The people of God had been in exile for fifty to sixty years. Scholars tell us that they really don’t know the exact identity of this prophet. We call him the Second Isaiah. He writes,“The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may  know how to sustain the weary with a word.” Whatever message God gave this person to share with God’s people, things did not go well. He suffered. Biblical scholar Gene M. Tucker of Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta writes that this courageous prophet offered “a new understanding that seems to have arisen out of the painful experience of the Exile. Through the darkness of the Exile, Second Isaiah could see a light. He and other faithful ones also realized that the suffering of some, or even of one, could benefit others, perhaps even the whole world.” (Tucker, Preaching through the Christian Year B, pp.169-170.)

Paul wrote the Letter to the Philippians while he was in prison. Both he and the followers of Jesus in Philippi were suffering persecution. Paul writes, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus….” He tells us that our Lord, “emptied himself taking the form of a slave.” 

We are nearing the end of our Exile. In Christ, we have a teacher and a leader who can “sustain the weary with a word.” If we are called to “be of one mind with our Lord,” of what do we need to empty ourselves? What do we need to let go of? How can we serve others more fully, more lovingly? If we empty ourselves, with what are we going to fill ourselves? I would suggest that we fill ourselves with the presence and love of God. That we let God sustain us with God’s word, God’s presence, God’s Holy Spirit.

I think that we, like our brothers and sisters who went through the Exile, have learned some things about suffering. Over five hundred forty-eight thousand people have died of Covid-19 in our country alone; 2.77 million fellow human beings in our world; 224 of our fellow Vermonters have died of this disease. Through our exile and especially our fast, we have learned what a gift it is to gather together and share Holy Eucharist, exchange the Peace, hug each other, sing together, pray together, and receive together the Body and Blood of Christ, the heavenly food which sustains us. We have also learned that we can adapt, call on those among us who have the gifts to work with virtual media, and stay connected during a time of pandemic.

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” In St. Paul’s time, the mind meant not only logical thought, but the will, intentions, intuition, and imagination. Our Lord emptied himself of all pride and earthly power and became a loving servant to others. Charles Cousar writes, “[Our] entire identity—our intuitions, sensitivities, imaginations—[are] to be shaped by the self-giving activity of Christ.” (Cousar, Texts for Preaching Year B, p, 246.) During this Exile, I have seen all of you caring about and serving others in many ways. I have also felt the deep love you have for God and for each other.

Let us continue to walk the Way of Love this Holy Week. Like the Second Isaiah toward the end of the Exile, we are looking beyond the suffering and we are seeing light.  As we see this marvelous light, I also ask that we continue to follow the guidance of our medical experts. 

Blessed Lord Jesus, our Savior and our Good Shepherd, thank you for leading and guiding us though this especially tragic and challenging time. Give us the grace to keep following you, to walk the Way of the Cross, to be faithful to you, to stay awake with you, to stand at the foot of the cross to be with you, and to be there on Easter morning as you burst forth from that tomb to defeat even death itself. Amen. 

Holy Name  January 1, 2017

Numbers 6:22-27
Psalm 8
Galatians 4:4-7
Luke 2:15-21

Today is Holy Name Day, January 1. We do not often get to celebrate this feast day because it falls on a Sunday only occasionally. On this day, when he was eight days old, Jesus officially received his name, the name that was given to him by the angel who told Joseph that this child  was the child of God.

Our first reading is the beautiful and powerful blessing from the Book of Numbers. “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.” God tells Aaron that this is the way in which God is going to put God’s name on God’s people. This is a blessing full of God’s love for us. It is a blessing full of God’s light and love and peace.

Our psalm today is a song of praise and thanks to God, who has given us stewardship over the world God has made.

In our reading from his Letter to the Galatians, Paul gives a brief but powerful summary of our faith. God sent his Son to free us from the bonds of the law and give us grace. God has adopted us as God’s own children so that we can call God “Daddy” or  “Mom.” Because of God’s love and grace, we are on the most intimate terms with God.

In our reading from Luke’s gospel, the angels have come to tell the shepherds the good news of the Birth of Jesus. Shepherds were not high on the social scale. Their work was dangerous and often dirty and difficult. But it is to these ordinary, lowly, common people that God sent the angels to share this joyous news.

So it is the shepherds who bring the good tidings to Mary and Joseph. They go to Bethlehem and find Mary and Joseph, and the baby Jesus lying in the manger, and they tell Mary and Joseph what they have heard from the angels. The gospel tells us that “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” The angel Gabriel had already told her who this child was. Now she was hearing about this from the shepherds, who had heard the message from a multitude of angels.

There was so much to absorb. She and Joseph would be responsible for bringing up the child of God. What a profound responsibility that was! Very soon, they would have to take Jesus to Egypt to protect him from Herod. There was much to think about. As we meditate on Mary thinking about the meaning of all this, We can imagine that she asked for God’s help and grace to do the best she possibly could do in the joyful but also challenging ministry.

And we can also imagine that she. who was courageous and wise, knew that, with a king like Herod, there could be danger. And we can imagine that she asked God for courage. We know that she showed almost superhuman courage and faithfulness when the worst of the worst happened to her Son. Mary became a faithful disciple of her Son. She stood at the foot of the cross and she waited with the others for the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

The shepherds return to their work, exhilarated with the joy of having actually seen this extraordinary little baby and his earthly parents. Eight days later, Jesus received his name. Gene M. Tucker of Candler School of Theology at Emory University tells us, The name Jesus is a form of the name Joshua, which means ‘salvation from Jehovah.” Tucker notes that Jesus has already been called the savior of his people when the angel Gabriel was speaking with Mary.  

At our baptisms, we receive our names, and we receive our formal welcome as children of God and members of the Body of Christ. We receive the anointing with the oil of Chrism as the sign of the cross is made on our foreheads, marking us as Christ’s own forever.

In baptism we are made inheritors of the kingdom of God. We receive the blessings of God which were conferred so long ago in our first reading and we are made children of God in a very loving and intimate way, as described in our epistle.

Our readings today are full of blessings and gifts. The blessing of God’s love is so deep and so broad that, try as we will, we will never be able to fathom it or understand it. God’s love for us is so immense. It is beyond our comprehension. God has given us the whole world full of all its wonders and graces and gifts.

God has come to be with us—God with us, Emmanuel. Our loving God, full of grace and truth, has come to be with us and to show us the way. He marks us as his own beloved children. He takes us onto his lap and cherishes us. He leads us through the brambles and briars of life as our Good Shepherd.

Today, as we celebrate his receiving his name, we also remember that he knows each of us by name, and loves us, and leads us. These are Christmas gifts beyond measure. May God be praised, and may we be forever grateful. Amen.

Easter 4A RCL May 11, 2014

Acts 2:42-47

Psalm 23

1 Peter 2:19-25

John 10:1-10

In our opening lesson this morning, we have an opportunity to look into the life of the early Church. Gene M. Tucker of Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta lists the qualities of the early Christian communities. He writes, “First, they are absorbed in religious teachings to which they are committed.” Tucker notes that they were building on the teachings of the apostles themselves.

“Second,” he writes,  “they have regular fellowship in both social and religious settings. The word for fellowship is koinonia and is best rendered in a dynamic… form—sharing.” Tucker notes that this can also involve the sharing of material possessions and financial resources. He notes that the people engage in what he calls “active care for one another” and that they have a “spirit of oneness.” When we care deeply about one another and listen to teach other and help each other, we do develop a spirit of oneness. The Holy Spirit is with us in that caring.

Tucker continues, “Third, they continue steadfast in prayer.” When a community spends time in prayer, the members of that community grow closer to each other and to God.

Tucker adds, “Fourth, they exhibited a proper sense of awe before God.” What a wonderful way to say it—“a proper sense of awe before God.” Do we feel that sense of awe? I hope so. God is very close to us and very loving, and God is also awesome in the best sense of the word, God is immanent, near us, and God is transcendent—powerful and all-encompassing.

Tucker writes, “Fifth, they grew and flourished.” Because of their love of God and each other, their “spirit of oneness,” their caring and sharing in every way, these communities attracted new believers every day. These qualities are good examples for us to follow all these centuries later.

Our epistle is addressed to slaves who are suffering at the hands of their masters. Although we do not condone slavery, and we are not slaves, this lesson can still be helpful to us. We can gain strength from our Lord in our own sufferings. We are indeed in the care of our Lord, the “shepherd and guardian of our souls.”

In our gospel, Jesus has just healed the blind man and he is being attacked by the authorities. He is commenting on the qualities of  a good shepherd, a good leader.

In Jesus’ time, and still now in parts of the Middle East, shepherds and their flocks will come into the village and the sheep will be put into one sheepfold, one protected area for protection during the night.  In the morning, the shepherds will come. Each shepherd has a different call for his sheep, and, as each shepherd calls, his sheep will separate from the larger flock and follow him.

There is a level of trust and intimacy between sheep and shepherd which is amazing.  The sheep know who their shepherd is. They will not follow anyone else. If we think of our psalm for today, and we imagine being with our shepherd day in and day out, we can begin to get a sense of that intimacy.  Our shepherd leads us beside the still waters where we can drink, He leads us to the green pastures where we can eat. Even when we have to go through dark and scary places, he guides us with his rod and pulls us back from danger with his staff.

After we have gone mile after mile with him and he has protected us from lions and wolves and has rescued us from bramble bushes and thickets, we really get to trusting him. We know his call. We would not go with anyone else. He is our shepherd.

And, of course, we need always to remember that the biblical shepherd goes out ahead of the sheep. There are no border collies here, much as we might admire and love border collies. There is only our Good Shepherd and a host of dangers from wild animals, bad water or no water in a desert environment, lack of good pasture, cliffs to careen over, mountain paths to trip and fall on, and on and on the dangers go.

Our Good Shepherd leads us to all the good things, even to a feast in the face of our enemies. No matter how bad things get, he is there to guide us, and we get through those bad times.

I think the early Christians had a sense of all this. I think they had lived through their own challenges. Their Good Shepherd and ours had gone through the worst of the worst, death itself, and had come out on the other side, looking different enough so that they didn’t always recognize him at first, but gradually, in the breaking of the bread or in prayer or in the study of the scriptures or in a breakfast of fish on the beach, they realized who he was, somehow different but even more himself than he had been before, and they knew that his goodness and mercy would follow them for the rest of their lives and they would dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  Amen.

Lent 5A RCL April 6, 2014

Ezekiel 37:1-14
Psalm 130
Romans 8:6-11
John 11: 1-45

Have you ever faced a time when you felt the worst had happened, that things just could not go downhill any further? That is the situation we see in our opening lesson today. The mighty Babylonian Empire has come in and conquered the people of God. The temple has been leveled, the people have been deported to Babylon. Biblical scholar Gene M. Tucker tells us that Ezekiel was one of the first to be deported, Ezekiel was a priest who is known as the prophet to the exiles.

There they were, in an alien land. They had some freedom, enough to worship in their own way, but they had lost the land God had given them, and the center of their worship, the temple, was a pile of rubble. In short, they had lost everything. But they gathered together, and they prayed, and they studied the scriptures, and God gave Ezekiel this shatteringly powerful and life-giving vision. God would breathe life into God’s people. Indeed, they did return home. They rebuilt the temple; they rebuilt their lives, and they flourished. Whenever we feel discouraged about the future of the Church or the ability of communities of faithful people to rise up out of the ashes, we need to remember this vision which came true and which comes true over and over again.

As we turn to our gospel for today, we recall that last week Jesus healed the man who had been born blind. The religious authorities were not pleased with this. Then Jesus began to teach that he is the good shepherd. There was a confrontation with the authorities, and a crowd actually gathered to stone Jesus, so he went back across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing. In other words, he withdrew from Jerusalem for safety.

Now Jesus hears that Lazarus is ill. Mary and Martha send a message. We need to pause and meditate on this. Jesus has withdrawn to a safe place, or a safer place. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus live in Bethany, only two miles from Jerusalem. Jesus has spent many wonderful hours with these dear friends. Mary has sat at his feet in the formal position of a disciple. Martha has served many delicious meals. These are Jesus’ dearest friends. Their home has been a haven for him. But that is no longer true. Any place that near Jerusalem is going to be dangerous for Jesus.

At first, Jesus hears that Lazarus is ill. He delays the trip to Bethany. He knows it will be dangerous. But then he says to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples remind Jesus that people had tried to stone him. Jesus says that their friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but this is a way of saying that he realizes that Lazarus has died. He knows that he must go to Bethany. Then Thomas says, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Thomas knows how dangerous this is going to be. We are facing the death of Lazarus, and we are also facing the death of our Lord.

When they are still two miles away, Martha comes out to meet them. She is hopping mad. “Lord, if you had been here, he wouldn’t have died!” With Martha, you always know what she is thinking. And then she expresses her faith in Jesus. And he says those words which have rung down through the ages, “I am the resurrection and the life Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live….” Mary comes out to see him and says the same thing, “Lord, if only you had been here, this would not have happened.” Mary is more sad than angry. She is in tears.

The depth of what has happened grips Jesus, One of his best friends has died. He cries over this loss. He cries in front of all the mourners who have followed Mary out to meet him. They go to the tomb. Martha points out the facts: there will be a stench. Lazarus has been dead for four days

It is a cave, They take away the stone. Jesus prays. Then he calls to his dear friend, “Lazarus! Come out!” And Lazarus stumbles out of the cave, wrapped in his grave cloths. Then Jesus issues the command, “Unbind him, and let him go!” Jesus calls to each of us, this last Sunday before the beginning of Holy Week. He calls us by name, because he is the good shepherd, and he knows us and we know him. He calls us to move from death to life, He calls us to allow him to free us from anything that might bind us or imprison us or enslave us.

In our epistle for today, St. Paul talks about the difference between lifein the flesh and life in the spirit. When Paul refers to “the flesh,” he does not mean our human body. As Christians, we do not see the body as bad or evil. Herbert O’Driscoll has an excellent way of explaining what Paul means by “the flesh.: O’Driscoll writes, “To be in the flesh means for Paul that one is living out our flawed human nature without reaching for the grace that lies beyond ourselves. The spirit that lives in such a life is a solitary spirit. Paul points to another way of living. This is the way of reaching out beyond ourselves for a Spirit that comes from Christ.” (The Word Today, Year A, Volume 2, p. 42.) Our goal is to allow Christ to live in us and through us.

All of our lessons today remind us that God can and does bring life out of death. This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday, and we will be with our Lord as he is welcomed as a hero, and we will also be with him as he makes a decision to live out the power of love and self-offering rather than operate on the basis of human and earthly power.

What are these lessons telling us? No situation is hopeless. God can and does bring new life to communities of faith and to communities in general. Seeking our Lord’s will and asking his grace to do his will brings us to life in the spirit, life on a new level.

May we continue to walk the Way of the Cross with our Lord. May our faith grow and deepen with every step. Amen.