• Content

  • Pages

  • Upcoming Events

    • 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 3A RCL June 21, 2020

Genesis 21:8-21
Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17
Romans 6:1b-11
Matthew 10:24-39

Last Sunday, our first reading ended with the birth of Isaac. At last, Abraham and Sarah have a son. This Sunday, we celebrate the weaning of Isaac. Scholars tell us that in those times, about sixteen hundred years before the birth of Christ, babies were weaned when they were three years old. There is a great feast going on to celebrate this occasion, and Sarah sees the son of Hagar, her slave, playing with Isaac. Hagar’s son is older than Isaac. 

Years ago, when Sarah had been unable to have a child, she told Abraham to have sex with her maid, Hagar, so that he would have an heir. Such things were done in those times. Having an heir meant having a future. 

Now, Sarah is seeing Hagar’s son as a threat to her son Isaac. He is older and he might try to present himself as Abraham’s heir in place of Isaac. So Sarah tells Abraham that he must order Hagar to take her son and leave. They are in a desert environment, and this is going to place Hagar and her son in great peril. Abraham is very upset over this. God tells Abraham to do what Sarah is asking and God also tells Abraham that It is through Isaac that Abraham’s descendants will be named, but that God will make a nation of the son of Hagar.

Abraham gets up early in the morning, gives Hagar a skin full of water and some bread, and sends her on her way with her son. Hagar goes into the wilderness of Beer-Sheba. She puts her son in the shade under a bush to try to protect him from the sun. Then she goes as far away as she can and still see him. She does not want to see him die.

Having done all she can, Hagar begins to weep.  The text says that “God heard the voice of the boy.” Apparently, he was crying, too. Thus we learn the boy’s name, “God hears” is the translation of the name Ishmael.  The angel of God calls to Hagar from heaven and tells her that God will make a nation of Ishmael. God calls her to take her son’s hand.  Then she sees a well. She goes and fills the skin with water and gives Ishmael a drink.

The text says, “God was with the boy and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness and became an expert with the bow. His mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.” Ishmael is a Bedouin, the ancestor of the Arab people. Christians and Jews trace their ancestry to Abraham through Isaac. Muslims trace that lineage through Ishmael.

On the human level, this is a story of jealousy and fear on the part of Sarah, emotions that drive her to treat Hagar and Ishmael very badly. On the divine level, this is an eloquent statement that God can love and protect more than one person or group at the same time.   

Biblical scholar Thomas Troeger writes, “The failure of people whom we have most honored and admired, people like Abraham and Sarah, cannot defeat the compassion of God who intervenes to rescue and uphold us.” (Troeger, New Proclamation A Series 1999, p. 121.)

Our epistle today reminds us that we have been crucified with Christ. Our old self has died. As Paul writes, “Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again.” We have been crucified with Christ, and now we are in newness of life with him. We are being transformed into his likeness.

In our gospel for today, Jesus talks about many things. He talks about confusing evil with good. He says that everything will come out into the light. He tells us that God cares even about a sparrow, that God knows each of us intimately, even to the number of hairs on our heads, and God loves us very much. He tells us not to be afraid. And then he, our Lord, the Prince of Peace, says something that shocks us. “I have come not to bring peace, but a sword.” And he says that even family members will be set against each other.

Our baptismal vows call us to honor the dignity of every human being. This is a very difficult thing for us humans to do. In our own country, people held slaves until the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Indeed, people continued to keep slaves until the first Juneteenth, June 19, 1865, two and a half years after the Emancipation. We have come to realize that one human being cannot own another. It is wrong. 

And yet, we have had such difficulty thinking of our Black and Brown brothers and sisters as fully human, just as we had a problem thinking women were fully human. We thought that getting a college education would be too difficult for them, that their minds were not up to that challenge, We thought that women should not vote, that they were not quite up to that task. 

When we were hiring workers, we hung out signs saying “No Irish need apply.” The tendency to put down other people, deny them their human rights, the tendency to be blind to the fact that God loves each of us and all of us, is, in my opinion, what our Lord is talking about when he says that he brings a sword of division. He is calling us to work our way through this issue so that we can help him bring in his peace, his shalom.

When he said, “I give you a new commandment: Love one another as I have loved you,” he knew he was challenging us. But I think he also thought and hoped that, with his guidance and grace, we would be up to the challenge. 

Our lesson from the Hebrew scriptures, written by the Elohist writer almost two thousand eight hundred years ago, addresses this issue. God loves Hagar with the same infinite love with which God loves Sarah. God loves Ishmael with the same infinite love with which God loves Isaac. As Bishop Tutu says, “God has a big family.” Within that big family, may we all be one as Jesus and God are one.  Amen.

Pentecost 3 Proper 7 RCL June 25, 2017

Genesis 21:8-21
Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17
Romans 6:1b-11
Matthew 10:24-39

As Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann observes, our first reading can sound harsh to modern people, but to people of that time, the story is about God’s mercy. Scholars tell us that this passage is from the person we call the Elohist writer, because he refers to God as Elohim, Lord. This author was working around 750 B.C.E. The events he is describing go back hundreds of years before that.

Sarah has given birth to Isaac, a happy event, and Isaac is growing. Back in those times, polygamy was the custom, and Hagar, Abraham’s other wife, has a son called Ishmael. Sarah does not want Ishmael to have the same rights of inheritance as Isaac, so she asks Abraham to send Hagar away. In a nomadic desert environment, this is an especially cruel thing to do.

God tells Abraham to grant Sarah’s wish and assures Abraham that God will take care of Hagar and Ishmael. In a heart-wrenching scene, Abraham tenderly gives Hagar some bread and water, puts little Ishmael on her shoulder, and sends her away. She wanders in the wilderness of Beer-sheba. When the bread and water are gone, Hagar puts Ishmael under a bush so that he can at least have some shade, and she prays to God that she will not have to watch her child die.

God answers her prayer. She looks and sees a well nearby and gives Ishmael some water. God promises to make a great nation of Ishmael.

Thus Abraham becomes the father of both Jews and Arabs.

It is important to note that, at this very moment,  children are dying of hunger and thirst in many places around the world because of war and famine. This reading calls us to join with God in offering mercy and help to these people. Episcopal Relief and Development and other groups are doing just that every day.

Our gospel for today is filled with many profound thoughts. Our Lord is letting us know that his light will reveal everything. He is also preparing his followers to face persecution. He says, “Do not fear those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” He assures us of God’s love. God cares about one sparrow. God knows us and loves us. Jesus tells us God knows the number of hairs on our heads. As one wag put it, “God counts the hairs on our heads—and on our wigs, too!”

But then our Lord says something that shakes us to our foundations: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace  to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” And then he describes all the divisions that will happen because of him. Son against father; daughter against mother; daughter-in-law against her mother- in-law.

It is important for us to realize that Jesus is not saying that he likes this division. In his wisdom, he says that, when we are sincerely trying to discern what he is calling us to do, when we are trying with his grace, to figure out what we are called to do in order to build his kingdom, there are going to be divisions.

One of the most tragic examples of this division, in my opinion, is our own Civil War. People on both sides could find justifications for their opinions in the Bible. Clergy preached on behalf of both sides of this issue. Good people took both sides of this issue. We can picture a family on a plantation torn apart by this question.

Other relatively recent examples come to mind. Families were divided by the Vietnam War. A young man, after much prayer and guidance, becomes a conscientious objector. His father, a career military man, cannot understand this.

We continue to be divided by issues of race.

In Ireland, the home country of half my family, Protestants and Roman Catholics have been mortal enemies. Hopefully, things are changing.

In the Church itself, we have had all kinds of divisions. Scholars discovered very early liturgies, and we had the Green Book, the Zebra Book, and finally the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. Some people loved the peace; some did not.  Then we revised the hymnal. That was a bit easier. Some people left the Church over the ordination of women. Some left over the ordination of LGBT people. God’s mercy and love have carried us through many times of trial and tribulation, and, thanks be to God, we are still here.

The unfailing love and inclusiveness of God challenge our longstanding notions and traditions of tribe and class and race and religion and privilege. It is so difficult for us to realize that God loves everyone. It is so easy for us to exclude one group or another, one person or another.

Our opening reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, which dates back over 2,700 years, is telling us that God loves both Jews and Arabs. Abraham is the father of Jews, Arabs, and Christians. And our Lord is calling us to take up the cross, and, as our Unitarian-Universalist brothers and sisters would say, “stand on the side of love.” God has a big family. It includes everyone.   Amen.

Second Sunday after Pentecost Proper 7A RCL June 22, 2014

Genesis 21:8-21

Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17

Romans 6:1b-11

Matthew 10:24-39

In our first reading this morning, Abraham and Sarah have received a great gift—the birth of their son, Isaac. On the day that Isaac is weaned, there is a feast of celebration.

But then jealousy creeps into the picture. Sarah sees the son of Hagar, her maid, playing with Isaac. Years ago, when she thought she would never have a child, Sarah told Abraham to have sex with Hagar so that Hagar might give birth to an heir. Now Sarah sees Hagar’s son Ishmael as a threat, so she tells Abraham that he must send Hagar and Ishmael away.

Abraham is upset. This seems extremely harsh. God tells Abraham to follow Sarah’s orders and God will not only save Hagar and Ishmael, God will make a nation of them. Abraham gives them bread and a skin of water and sends them away. Hagar is devastated. She wanders around until the water is gone, then puts Ishmael under a bush so that he might have some shade, walks off the distance of a bowshot, meaning that she can still keep an eye on Ishmael, and sits down to wait for her child to die. She is so desolate that she cries. Ishmael cries, too, and God hears his voice. God opens Hagar’s eyes so that she can see a well of water right in front of her. Their lives are saved. Ishmael grows up and marries a woman from Egypt.

To us, this story may seem cruel. But back in those days, your heir was your future. Sarah is trying to protect the rights of her son and the future of Abraham and her family. Hagar is a slave. She has no power in the culture. She must obey the orders of her mistress and master.

The key theme in this story is God’s mercy to Hagar and Ishmael. God protects them and gives them a future. God saves their lives.

Biblical scholar James Newsome writes, “The saving of Ishmael’s life and his subsequent marriage to an Egyptian woman fulfill God’s promise [that God would make a nation of Ishmael]. And so, Abraham is on the way to being the father of not one, but two nations, an understanding reflected in the modern Arab view that Abraham is the father of both Jews and Arabs.” (Newsome, Texts for Preaching, Year A, pp. 372-73.) This story, written by the Elohist writer about 750 B. C. reminds us that, in the family of God, there are no outcasts. Also, God’s blessing can be given to more than one person or group.

In our reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans, Paul is dealing with people who think that, since Christ has set us free from sin, this gives us a license to keep on sinning over and over again. Paul is reminding them and us that baptism is a death to sin, death to the old life and rebirth into a new life. In the early Church, baptism was done by immersion. The imagery of drowning, dying to sin, was very clear. Paul closes with that wonderful sentence, “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Through our baptisms, we have been changed. We have been made new. We are new people. The course of our lives has been changed forever.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is preparing to send the disciples out to do their ministry. He is giving them the most powerful guidance that he can offer. He is letting them know that their ministry is not going to be easy. He has already been facing pressures and threats from various authorities. He knows that his followers will face challenges.

One of his most profound messages is not to be afraid. How fear can paralyze us! Someone said that ninety-nine percent of the things we worry about never happen.

Nothing that Jesus teaches is secret. Scholars tell us that the Essenes had secret teachings. We know that other groups do that as well. With Jesus, everything is right out in the open. “What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light,” Jesus says. Don’t be afraid of what people can do to you or say about you. Don’t be afraid. God is holding you in the palm of God’s hand. God knows you and God loves you.

And then he says that thing that is so difficult for us to understand, that he has come to bring not peace but a sword. Sometimes when we answer the call to follow him, it cuts to the core of the most important things in our lives, even our families. A young man feels deeply called to be a medical missionary in Africa, and this means he will not carry on the family business. This hurts his father. The mother tries to see both sides.

A young woman is brought up in a family that does not practice any faith tradition. They do not go to church, synagogue, or mosque.  In fact, they identify themselves as atheists. They feel that all religion, all faith, any kind of belief in God or in a Higher Power, is illogical foolishness. The young woman goes off to college and enters a time of spiritual exploration. She discovers the beauty and depth of the Episcopal Church. She wants to be baptized. Her parents are shocked. They think she has lost her mind.

In the early Church, as folks answered the call to follow Jesus, they were moving into uncharted territory. Their families had no idea what they were getting into. Often, entire families adopted the new faith. But if only one or two family members decided to follow Jesus, there was often great tension over this decision. All of this took place against the backdrop of Roman persecution and hostility from those who looked askance at the new faith. All of these factors put pressures on families.

Is Jesus saying that families are not important? Absolutely not.  Scholars tell us that, when Jesus talks about members of families being set against each other, his premise is that families are one of the highest values in life.  (Fred Craddock, Preaching through the Christian Year A, p. 338.) The family is precious, and following Christ is even more so.

To entrust our lives to our Lord, to give our lives to him, to allow him to live in us and to live in him, that is the goal.  Our Lord ends with this paradox: ”Those who find their life will lose it and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

Sometimes we humans think we know what life is all about. Sometimes we tend to think only in human terms. There is something much bigger than the human level. God loves us beyond our power to fathom. God cannot protect us from every adversity because we live in a fallen creation, but God can help us find wells of new life where we did not see them before, and God can lead us to paths of compassion and service we are not able to discover or travel on our own. Amen.