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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion March 26, 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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Advent 3C December 12, 2021

Zephaniah 3:14-20
Canticle 9, p. 86
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:7-18

Our opening reading today is from the prophet Zephaniah, whose ministry took place during the reign of King Josiah (640-609 BCE.) Josiah was a great king who called the people to renew their commitment to following the law.

The people have returned from their captivity in Babylon. Zephaniah tells them that God has turned away all their enemies.  Herbert O’Driscoll points out that God is addressing the people as God’s children, “Rejoice, O daughter Zion.” God is speaking to us as our divine parent who loves us. God is calling us to rejoice. Our loving God is calling us not to fear and not to grow weak, because God is in the midst of us. God will “renew [us] in his love.” God will deal with all of our oppressors. God will save the lame and  the outcast. God will bring us home. God will bring in God’s shalom of peace, justice, and mercy.

Canticle 9 adds momentum to this theme of joy. “Surely, it is God who saves me: I will trust in him and not be afraid.” When we realize that God is in our midst and that God will lead us in the right direction, we can let go of fear, hold on to faith, and be a people of joy. This is a wonderful song about the power of faith.

Our reading from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians is full of joy and hope. Paul is writing from prison. He founded this congregation and he has kept in close touch with them. Unlike the Corinthians who have power struggles and divide into factions at the drop of a hat, the Philippians are steeped in the love of Christ. They are one as Jesus and the Father are one. They have a spirit of gentleness. Paul begins by calling them and us to “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” Paul writes, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” If we ask God for guidance and try to follow that guidance with God’s grace, peace flows into us, faith grows, and fear diminishes. As Paul says, the peace of God will guard our hearts and minds.

In our gospel, John the Baptist is calling the people and us to repentance. We can’t say that we are part of the right church or race or groups so we don’t have to change. All of us  have to look within and, as someone once said, we have to make room for Jesus in the inns of our hearts.

John calls us to share our clothing with those who have none. Tax collectors would often add a hefty charge into people’s taxes to they could make more money. John tells them they have to stop cheating people. Soldiers would sometimes use their power to abuse people. John tells them they have to treat people with respect.

The people begin to wonder whether John is the Messiah. And here John shows one of his most admirable qualities, He knows who is is. He has no desire to gain power. He tells them that one is coming who is much greater that he is. And he says that the Messiah will be sharing the news of his kingdom, his shalom. That kingdom, that shalom, will involve a major reordering of priorities based on God’s call to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

John the Baptist is a wonderful holy example for us. He knows that he is here to prepare the way of the Lord. John is the cousin of Jesus. I think they knew each other very well.  At the time when Jesus came to John to baptized in the River Jordan, John had hundreds, perhaps thousands of followers. He was like a rock star, He could have done anything he wanted to do. He could have misused his power. And yet he adhered to his vocation to be the forerunner, the one who paved the way for the messiah. It takes great strength of character and deep faith not to yield to the human wish for power and attention. It takes strength not to become a cult leader. John has that strength.

This third Sunday in Advent is a time for great joy. “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I will say. Rejoice.” It is also a time for thanksgiving. God is in our midst.

At this point in Advent, our minds turn to Christmas, to the coming of our Lord as a little baby in a little out of the way place like Sheldon, like Vermont.

John calls us to prepare the way for Jesus, to prepare room for him in our hearts and in our lives. To make just a little more room for him, just a little more room for that peace which surpasses all understanding, just a little more room for that joy which comes from the peace of faith.

Lord Jesus, help us to make room for you in the inns of our hearts. In your holy Name. Amen.

Pentecost 25 Proper 28B November 14, 2021

1 Samuel 1:4-20
1 Samuel 2:1-10 (Song of Hannah)
Hebrews 10:11-14, (15-18), 19-25
Mark 13:1-8

Our first reading for today is from the First Book of Samuel. We meet Elkanah. He has two wives. Back in those days, a man would often have more than one wife. He is very generous to his wives, to Peninnah and all her sons and daughters, and especially to his wife Hannah. He loves her very much.

But Hannah has a very deep grief in her life. She has not been able to have any children. Back in those times, about three thousand years ago, women were most valued and respected if they had many children. Women who were not able to have children were usually not as highly loved and respected. It is to Elkanah’s credit that he loves Hannah and treats her with great respect.

Peninnah has many children, both sons and daughters, and she constantly reminds Hannah of this fact. She makes Hannah’s life miserable. She has done this for years.

Have you ever had a problem that made you feel like a failure, that made you cry with grief and frustration? Have you ever gone from year to year with a great sadness as Hannah did? Most of us have had experiences such as this, times of great sadness about things that were beyond our control.

Hannah and Elkanah go to the temple at Shiloh to worship God, and Hannah does a very wise thing. She goes to the altar and kneels down and pours her heart out to God. She weeps and she prays the words that express her feelings, but she does this silently. She asks God to give her a son.

The priest Eli is sitting by the doorpost. He sees this woman who is so upset and thinks she is drunk. Eli scolds her, but she tells him the truth. “I am a woman who is deeply troubled,” she says, and, as she speaks to Eli, he realizes that this is a good and honest and upright woman of deep faith who is asking for God’s help. Seeing the depth of  Hannah’s faith, Eli assures her that her prayers will be answered. She has a son and names him Samuel, and Samuel becomes a great prophet and servant of God.

Hannah’s song celebrating her son’s birth strongly resembles Mary’s song, the Magnificat. In her song, Hannah rejoices in God’s compassion for the poor, the hungry, and the weak. And we can rejoice in God’s compassion for her.

In our reading from Hebrews, we are called to “hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering.” Because of the life and ministry of Jesus, we have genuine hope. We are called to inspire each other to love and good deeds, and to encourage each other.

In our gospel, one of the disciples comments on how huge the temple in Jerusalem is. This is true. Scholars tell us that the temple was very large,  even in comparison with buildings in the great city of Rome. But then Jesus says that all these huge stones will be thrown down. He talks about wars and earthquakes and all kinds of upheaval. Herbert O’Driscoll says that Jesus is talking about the kinds of conflicts and tensions that go on in our world at various times, including ours.

In our time, we are being called to take care of our beautiful planet, to work on racial healing so that we will sincerely love all our brothers and sisters as ourselves, and we are called to deal with many other issues so that we can help to bring in the shalom of God.

In the Church, we are also facing challenging issues. A financial expert has told us that in the Episcopal Church in Vermont, we face a financial crisis.

Last year, Bishop Shannon reminded us of a story about Jesus and his disciples. They have just fed five thousand people. Jesus tells the disciples to get into the boat and go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. He dismisses the crowd of people they have just fed and goes up to the mountain to pray. Very often, Jesus would go apart and spend time with God in prayer. Meanwhile the disciples are crossing the sea, and a storm comes up. The wind is howling, the waves are getting higher and higher and the disciples are really scared. Jesus comes walking toward them on the water. At first they think he is a ghost, and they are even more scared. But Jesus said to them, “Take heart. It’s me. Don’t be afraid.”

Peter says, “If it is you, tell me to come to you on the water.” And Jesus says “Come.” Peter jumps out of the boat and starts to walk toward Jesus on the water. But when he notices the strong wind, he gets very scared and begins to sink. He cries out, “Lord! Save me!. Jesus stretches out his hand, catches Peter, and they both reach the boat and get in. Once they are in the boat, the wind stops blowing. That’s when they realize Jesus is the Son of God.

Bishop Shannon told us that trying to deal with the pandemic and all these issues is like trying to walk on water the way Peter did. We are facing the unknown. We don’t have clear answers. When we feel ourselves start to sink, we need to remember at least two things: one, we are walking toward Jesus; two, Jesus has his hand stretched out to save us.

We are going to be working together to find out where God is leading us and then to follow in faith. The financial expert described the situation as though we are going to reach the edge of a cliff. That’s scary. But, instead of letting the fear overcome us, we can remember our faith. A wise person once said, “Faith is fear that has said its prayers.” We have faith in Jesus, and he is reaching out to us to help us and guide us and save us.

God answered Hannah’s prayer and Samuel was born. We are going to be making a journey into uncertainty. We could be overcome by terror. It will feel like a storm on the water with winds howling and waves growing higher. But Jesus is here, We are walking toward Jesus. His hand is stretched out to us. And he is saying, ”Take heart, It’s me. Don’t be afraid.” Amen.

Pentecost 23 Proper 26B October 31, 2021

Ruth 1:1-18
Psalm 146
Hebrews 9:11-14
Mark 12:28-34

Our first reading today is from the book of Ruth. In the time of the judges, a famine comes to the land. Elimelech, who is from Bethlehem in Judah, his wife Naomi, and their sons Mahlon and Chilion leave Judah and go to the land of Moab to find food. 

They remain in Moab for a time and then Elimelech dies. Naomi’s sons marry two Moab women. One  is named Ruth and the other is named Orpah. After about ten years, Naomi’s sons, Mahlon and Chilion, die. Naomi has lost her husband and both of her sons. Orpah and Ruth have lost their husbands.

This leaves Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah in a terrible situation, Without a male relative, they have no identity in that society. They are not someone’s wife or mother or daughter. And they have no one to protect them and no way to earn a living. 

Ruth has heard that there is now food in Judah. The famine is over. She decides to head home. Ruth and Orpah go with her.

Naomi sees how vulnerable Ruth and Orpah are, and she encourages them to go home to their families so that they can have a roof over their heads and a male relative to protect them. Although she has lost her husband and both her sons, she has a love and a depth of spirit that enable her to go beyond her own grief and try to do what is best for her daughters-in-law. The three women, all in the most vulnerable of circumstances, argue and weep together as they try to discern the best course of action for each of them.

Finally, Orpah decides to go back to her family.

Naomi has no future in Moab. She has no family there. She feels she must return to Judah. She tries to say goodbye to Ruth and send her home to her family. But Ruth is adamant. “Where you go I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people; and your God my God. Where you die, I will die—there will I be buried.”

The power of Ruth’s love and loyalty has inspired countless people over the ages. Scholars tell us that Moab and Judah weren’t exactly enemies, but relations could be a bit testy at times. Because she loves her mother-in-law, Ruth is going into a land that is foreign to her, a land where she will know no one except Naomi.

In these times when famine and violence and oppression and weather events are causing so many people to become refugees, this story speaks so deeply of the power of God’s love for us and our love for each other.

In our gospel for today, the Sadducees are arguing and asking Jesus questions. A scribe, a religious official, comes along and asks Jesus, “Which commandment is the first of all?” And Jesus answers word for word that the first commandment is “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” And he adds, “The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Our Lord is giving the standard answer. He is not arguing any points or elaborating in any way.

And the scribe does a very strange thing. He says, “You are right, Teacher.” He does not attack. He does not quibble or taunt or try to trap Jesus. Scholars tell us that the scribe was a a minor official but he was still part of the  official religious structure. He could still have given Jesus a hard time. Here we have a religious official who has an open heart and an open mind. He and Jesus are on the same page. This is a rare moment in the gospels. 

The scribe says something further. He says that to love God with all our hearts and to love our neighbor as ourselves…”This is much more important than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”  

And Jesus says, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

The book of Hebrews says that the sacrifice of our Lord has transcended all of the temple sacrifices. This scribe is saying the same thing. The life and ministry of Jesus have changed everything. God’s love changes everything.

Herbert O’Driscoll writes, “The common thread in these readings is the insight that the greatest gift we can give is the gift of ourselves. In the first reading, Ruth gives herself to her mother-in-law, In the psalm, God gives fully. In the second reading, our Lord gives himself fully and freely. In the gospel passage, Jesus is overjoyed to meet someone who realizes that self-giving is greater than any exterior sacrifice.” (O’Driscoll, The Word among us, p. 136.

Our loving God calls us to give of ourselves, and all of you do that every day. You care about people; you listen to people; you help others; you work at the food shelf, or at the Historical Society. You deliver Meals on Wheels. You rescue animals. You are always doing something to spread God’s love and to make the world a better place. Thank you for giving the gift of yourselves. This is what walking the Way of Love is all about. May our loving God continue to give us the grace to offer ourselves in service to others. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Pentecost 21 Proper 24B October 17, 2021

Job 38:1-7, 34-41
Psalm 104:1-9, 25, 37c
Hebrews 5:1-10
Mark 10:35-45

In our first reading for today, Job finally has the opportunity to talk with God. God speaks to Job out of a whirlwind, and God has some questions: “Where were you when when I laid the foundations of the earth?…Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that a flood of waters may cover you? Can you send forth lightnings, so that they may go and say to you, ‘Here we are?’ Who has put wisdom in the inward parts, or given understanding to the mind?”

Job is in the presence of the God who has called the creation into being, the God who has made each of us and has given us our minds and our ability to think. Job is encountering the almighty God, whose power makes us humans seem infinitesimally small and extraordinarily weak.

In this dramatic scene from the Bible, Job stands silent while God speaks out of the whirlwind. This is not a meeting of equals. Biblical scholar James D. Newsome writes, “This text offers a straightforward answer, as remarkable for what it omits as for what it contains: You, Job, simply do not possess the wisdom to contest God. Therefore, trust God and you will be at peace.” (Newsome, Texts for Preaching, p. 551.)

Our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that every high priest is able to deal with our human frailties and weaknesses because every high priest is human and has these human flaws just as much we we do. After our encounter with God in our first reading, this is reassuring.

Jesus is our great high priest. He is God walking the face of the earth. We believe that he is fully human and fully divine. In contrast to the almighty God who speaks to Job out of the whirlwind, our Lord knows what it is to be human. He is not above us; he is with us and among us. The life, ministry, death. and resurrection of Jesus show us how much God loves us. God has come to be among us. God has become one of us. This is an amazing gift.

In our gospel for today, James and John tell Jesus that they want him to do whatever they ask of him. This is a demand, not a request. He asks them what they want, and they say they want to sit, one on his right and one on his left, in his glory.

Their arrogance is surprising, even shocking. He is their teacher, their leader. We can imagine that Jesus was taken aback, perhaps even a bit irritated, even angry. What in the world are they thinking, after all this time watching him take care of people, listen to them, teach them, heal them, forgive them, love them? Have they missed the point entirely?

He asks them whether they can drink the cup that he will have to drink  and undergo the baptism that he will endure. We recall his prayer to God that this cup might pass from him, and we know that his love and servanthood were fully expressed in his death on the cross. James and John assure our Lord that they will be able to drink that cup and undergo that baptism. The path to glory leads through the experience of the cross.

The other disciples are angry with James and John. And Jesus says something that expresses so much of what he is calling us to do. He says, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Jesus is telling us so many important things in this encounter. In the world, so many people are trying to climb the so-called ladder of success. People lord it over each other, and this whole process often produces tyrants.  In the shalom of Christ, we are all called to be servants. Instead of a ladder to success, there is more of a circle. Each person is a beloved child of God, an alter Christus, an “other Christ.” As we look at each other, we are not looking at a competitor or an enemy to be pushed off the ladder so that we can succeed, but at a brother or sister, an “other Christ.” When we look at each other, we are looking into the face of God, the face of Christ.

Herbert O’Driscoll writes of the disciples,  “Jesus calls them and very deliberately tells them the great truth about authority in the kingdom of God. In the world around them the basis of authority is power. But in the kingdom, and in the community that claims to be questing for the kingdom, authority comes from servanthood….This has been the pattern of his own ministry among them. Now it must become the pattern of their ministry to each other and among others.” (O’Driscoll, The Word among Us Year B, p.135.

This is the pattern our Lord is calling us to follow, and thanks be to God, that is what happens here at Grace. Folks pray together, work together, love each other, help each other, and go out into the world to help others. Power is not the source of authority. Love and service are  the center of our life together. Thanks be to God.

With this in mind, We will be doing a book study on Zoom beginning in November. Our book will be “Love is the Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubled Times,” by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. Please let me know if you would like to join us, and what days and times would be good for you. This winter, we will be reading together several books about walking the Way of Love. This will be an inspiring journey.

Almighty God, you created the universe, from galaxies and planets to tiny, delicate flowers, and butterflies and tigers and everything in between. You came among us to show us how to love and serve each other. Give us the grace to be aware of your power, which surpasses our understanding, and your love, which you have expressed in coming among us as one of us. Help us to love you with all our hearts and to love and serve others. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Pentecost 18 Proper 21B September 26, 2021

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22
Psalm 124
James 5:13-20
Mark 9:38-50

Our opening reading from the Book of Esther explains the Jewish feast of Purim, which is a joyous celebration of the freeing of God’s people from a holocaust. The next celebration of this festive holiday will be on March 16 and 17, 2022. It is set in the time of King Xerxes of Persia, who reigned from 485 to 404 BCE. In our passage, he is called King Ahasuerus.

Esther is the heroine of this story. Her ancestors were captured by the Babylonian Empire and taken to Babylon, which has now been conquered by the Persian Empire. She lives with her cousin Mordecai, who has adopted her because her parents have died.  Esther and Mordecai are Jewish. Esther has always kept silent about that fact.

Haman, the king’s right hand man, is extremely anti-Semitic. He has cooked up a plot to have all the Jews killed in all parts of the Persian Empire. By an improbable series of events, Esther has become queen. She has invited the king and Haman to a feast at which she will make a request to the king. Mordecai has kept her updated on Haman’s hateful plans, and Esther has quietly steeled herself to be the person of the hour. Although God is never mentioned in the story, it is clear that God has called her, as God called Moses centuries before, to free her people. 

In our passage for today, Esther tells the truth about Haman’s plans and asks the king to save her people. Her request is granted. Esther goes from a quiet young woman hiding her identity to a courageous leader fighting for the lives of her people.

In our gospel for today, John reports that the disciples saw someone healing in Jesus name, and they tried to stop him because he was not one of their group. Herbert O’Driscoll notes that John does not get credit for “diligently protecting the teacher’s territory.” (O’Driscoll, The Word among Us, p. 117.) What Jesus is saying here is so important. He says, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” If people are doing things to help people and care for people, they are doing God’s work.

O’Driscoll notes that Jesus does not thank John for trying to protect his turf. He writes, ”Instead, there is a gracious but firm correction, suggesting a different way to look at this moment. There is a generosity in these words, an openness to cooperation, a readiness to trust before all the evidence is in. It is a statement about opening doors rather than building walls.” (O’Driscoll, p 117.)

When Jesus talks about “little ones,” sometimes he is talking about children, whom he calls us to love and care for, and sometimes he is speaking about his followers who are not powerful or famous or influential but just ordinary people such as we are. He is calling us to help each other and support each other as we move ahead in building his kingdom.

And then, in pointed language, he calls on us to deal with any obstacles in ourselves which get in the way of following him and helping him build his shalom. And then he calls us to be salt that has not lost its saltiness.  He calls unto be people who are full of life and love, willing to serve others and build his kingdom of peace and harmony.

Our reading from the Letter of James calls us to be a loving and supportive community, to pray for healing for those who are sick, to share our challenges, to support each other on our journeys, to care for each other, and to love each other.

One of the main themes in this passage is the power of prayer. It means so much that we pray for each other. James reminds us of the great prophet Elijah, and how powerful his prayers were. And, finally, James reminds us that we can all help to keep each other on the path, so that we are all walking the Way of Love.

Scholars tell us that our psalm today is a song of pilgrimage. People would sing this song on their way to festivals and observances in Jerusalem. Walter Brueggemann writes, “In this psalm, Israel voices its astonishment and gratitude for God’s wondrous deliverance.” (Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching year B, p, 525.)

“Blessed be the Lord! He has not given us over to be a prey for their teeth. We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowler; the snare is broken, and we have escaped. Our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”

“Blessed be the Lord! He has not given us over to be a prey for their teeth. We have escape

Esther and Moses and Elijah save their people. Our lord calls us to be open and inclusive rather than clinging to our turf. James calls us to build a community of love and healing.

Perhaps the greatest message for today is how thankful we can be to our loving God, who has saved us all and has brought us together. May we accept with joy the fullness of God’s grace. May we run the race. Loving God, thank you for all your many blessings. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Pentecost 16 Proper 19B  September 12, 2021

Proverbs 1:20-33
Psalm 19
James 3:1-12
Mark 8:27-38

In our opening reading today, Wisdom is calling to us. Wisdom is depicted as a female person, usually a beautiful young woman. The prophets are seen as people who have acquired wisdom. Jesus is seen as Wisdom.

Herbert O’Driscoll writes, “Wisdom is understood as the companion of God, a part of God, an aspect of God. The figure of Wisdom expresses the mind of God. This is why the Wisdom passages are so important….   We are being asked to consider a relationship with God as the deepest and richest knowledge of all. To possess it is to enrich all other knowledge. Moreover, knowledge of God brings a sense of being at home in ourselves and in the world, because we know to whom we and the world most truly belong.” (O’Driscoll. The Word among Us, p. 102.)

In our passage from Proverbs, wisdom is calling to the people, but very few people seem to be answering.

James Newsome writes, “A gracious God has placed at the disposal of men and women the ability to understand what God wants them both to be and to do. That is to say God has created a world of order and coherence, and by studying that world (in terms both of what we might term “nature” and of “human nature) it is possible to understand God.” (Newsome, Texts for Preaching, p. 506.)

As we listen to Wisdom calling to the people and hearing very little response, we can be grateful that we are on the journey of following Jesus, growing close to God, and living the Way of Love.

The fact that we are on this journey is itself a gift from God. Our loving God has brought us together, and, as we study the scriptures and learn together and pray together, and spend time with our risen Lord, we learn more and more the depth and breadth of God’s love for us.

In our gospel for today, Jesus asks the disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter says “You are the Messiah.” And then Jesus tells them what is going to happen. He is going to die on the cross. And Peter says, Lord, that horror cannot happen to you. And Jesus tells Pater that, by saying that, Peter is tempting Jesus to be unfaithful to his call. And then our Lord calls us to take up our cross. And then he says that those who lose their life for his sake and for the gospel will save their lives.

One way of thinking about Wisdom is to think that those who are on the path of Wisdom are seeking the mind of Christ. We are seeking, as our diocesan mission statement says, “To pray the prayer of Christ, learn the mind of Christ, and do the deeds of Christ.” This is a trinitarian concept that goes back to St. Augustine of Hippo, a very ancient and wise way of thinking about our lives as Christians.

Reading Bishop Curry’s book, The Way of Love, has made me think that when we take up our cross, we are really taking up the mantle of the Way of Love. We are really trying, with God’s grace to see each brother or sister as a beloved child of God and we are working with our loving God to help God create the Beloved Community of all people on earth living together in mutual respect and peace. God’s shalom, where, to paraphrase retired Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori, everyone has enough to eat. a place to live, adequate clothing and other essentials, healthcare, and good work to do.

Another book I have been reading recently is Sara Miles’ “Take this Bread,” the story of how she goes into St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, receives Communion, and answers a call from God to start food pantries. In this process, serving the folks at the food pantry becomes a kind of Holy Communion, in which everyone is loved and fed, clients become volunteers, and God’s love is magnified and passed on and on in a kind of eternal and ever-growing circle. Our food shelf is very much like that.

This makes me realize that when we take up our cross, it is a cross of love. It does involve a death to self; it involves listening very carefully for the distinctive call of our Good Shepherd. It involves following him, but he is always guiding us and taking care of us. Always there is the love, so deep we cannot fathom it, so wide we can’t see across it even with a telescope. Love, surrounding us and carrying us. Love that picks us up when we are too tired to walk. Love that leads us to green pastures and still waters. Love that brings light out of darkness, hope out of despair, wholeness out of brokenness, life out of death.

In this relationship with our extraordinary Good Shepherd, we are moving toward Wisdom. He is Wisdom. And we are moving toward the heart of God. And the heart of God is love.

I’m hoping that we may have a group study of both these books so that we can read them and reflect on them carefully, maybe a chapter at a time, savor them, share our responses, and grow together in the love of God, the mind of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Loving God, thank you for calling us to your Wisdom. Lead us and guide us, O Lord. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Pentecost 15 Proper 18B  September 5, 2021

Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23
Psalm 125
James 2:1-10, 14-17
Mark 7:24-37

Our first reading is from the Book of Proverbs, which is one of the books of wisdom literature in the Bible. Our passage today reminds us that a reputation for integrity is far more important than wealth, and the passage points out that the rich and the poor are not as different as we might think. We are all created by God. Things will not turn out well for those who are unjust. Operating on the basis of anger will fail. Those who are generous are happy, blessed, and why?  Because they “share their bread with the poor.” We are advised that we should not rob the poor. The reference to crushing the poor at the gate calls us to remember that the gate of the town or city was where justice was dispensed. Those who have wealth and power should not use their money or power to influence the courts.

In biblical times as today, wealth is often seen as a sign of God’s favor. Our opening reading reminds us that we are all created by God, and our faith reinforces this idea by telling us that God loves all people.

Our reading from the Letter of James begins by presenting us with a picture of a congregation where someone who is well dressed and wears gold rings is welcomed and honored while someone who arrives in dirty clothes is not treated with respect. How would we treat someone who came to our service in dirty clothes? The passage goes on to point out that it is the rich who oppress people and drag people into court. The passage challenges us to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” 

We can’t meet someone who is naked and hungry and tell them to have a great day without doing something to help them. As James says, “Faith without works is dead.” Our food shelf ministries are part of our answer to that reminder. And I know that all of you are out in the world helping folks every day. If we love our Lord, that’s what we are called to do.

In last week’s gospel, the Pharisees and Scribes were scolding Jesus because he and his disciples didn’t wash their hands. The Pharisees and Scribes were accusing Jesus and his followers of not showing proper respect for the law. Jesus responded that what really matters is having compassion and caring in our hearts and treating folks with love and respect.

In our gospel reading for today, Jesus is traveling in a Gentile land, what we would now call Syria. He goes into a house to have some peace. But he has become so well known that people find out he is there.

A woman whose daughter is very sick comes to Jesus and bows down at his feet. She is a Gentile. She asks Jesus to heal her daughter. Jesus is a Jew, and in those days Jews did not talk to Gentiles. Jesus is a rabbi, and rabbis did not talk with women. Talking to Gentiles and talking to women made a rabbi impure according to the law. Here we are dealing with the issue of impurity once again. Jesus has said that it isn’t what goes into our mouth that makes us impure. It’s what comes out of our mouths if our hearts are not full of love.

The woman has asked him to heal her daughter, and what does he say? “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” This is hardly a loving response. Why is our Lord saying these shocking, hateful words? Well, he is probably very tired.  He has been working hard, healing people and feeding people night and day. But to call the woman and her daughter “dogs,” a racial and religious slur? Scholars think that Jesus really thought that his mission was to the Jewish people, but they also encourage us not to gloss over his own use of a slur that people hurled at others in his time. In any case, what he says is a slap in the face, but the woman is not deterred. 

Even though she is an outsider, a Gentile,  she is an excellent theologian. She knows that God loves all people, and that God is a God of healing. She continues to be deeply rooted and grounded in God’s love. Calmly, respectfully, and firmly, she responds, “Sir. even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

Jesus recognizes her deep faith. Her daughter is healed.  In his next encounter with a Gentile, a man who is deaf and has a speech impediment, Jesus has undergone a realization that his mission is to everyone. He puts his fingers into the man’s ears, and then he spits and touches the man’s tongue and says, “Be opened.” His encounter with the women seeking help for her daughter has opened our Lord to the breadth of his ministry. He has no reservations in helping this man to be whole.  Our Lord frees us from things that imprison us. He makes us whole and free. 

Herbert O’Driscoll says that this passage makes him wonder whether our Lord was sorry for what he said to this woman. I think he was. Our faith tells us that Jesus was fully divine and fully human. Here the human aspect showed very clearly. He said words that reflected the prejudices of his own time. Women and Gentiles were thought of as less than human. But when he meets the Gentile man who is deaf and has a speech impediment, Jesus heals him with no reservations.

These readings call us to live into our baptismal promise to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and to “respect the dignity of every human being.”

As we accept God’s love for us, and as we ground ourselves in that love, I think it becomes easier for us to see that every person, no matter what his or her situation, is one of God’s beloved children and that every person is to be welcomed and treated with compassion and respect. Every person is to be welcomed as we would welcome Jesus. 

Keep up the good work! Amen.

Pentecost 13 Proper 16B August 22, 2021

1 Kings 8:1,6,10-11, 22-30, 41-43
Psalm 84
Ephesians 6:10-20
John 6:56-59

In our opening reading this morning, the great temple in Jerusalem has been completed. King Solomon and the leaders of the people gather, and the priests bring the ark of the covenant into the temple. A cloud fills the temple, indicating the holiness of the presence of God. This is a deeply profound moment in the history of God’s people. They have been nomads. The ark has led them ourtof slavery in Egypt and into the promised land. Now they will be settling down.

Solomon offers a powerful and beautiful prayer. He emphasizes that, although the ark is now in the temple, symbolizing God’s presence, God cannot be contained or limited. God fills the heavens and the earth. And Solomon also emphasizes the inclusiveness of God, saying, “Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name…when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling place and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name….” Solomon is praying that, if someone from far away comes to the temple and offers prayers, that God may hear and answer those prayers so that people all over the world may know God. This is one of the early passages that teach us that God has a big family, and it includes everyone on earth.

Our psalm today is one of the most beloved of all the psalms. Although it is a song about the temple, for us it is a song abut Grace Church and every church building we have ever loved. As Herbert O’Driscoll notes, it is also a song about the pilgrimage of our lives and how much we love being in sacred spaces where we can feel the presence of God and generations of past pilgrims. “One day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room.” God’s protection is such a cherished gift for us: “For the Lord is both sun and shield; he will give grace and glory.”

Our epistle today gives strength and tools for following our Lord in a challenging world. We are called to “be strong in the Lord,” and to put on the “whole armor of God.” Following Jesus isn’t easy in a world that often values the material over the spiritual, and just as people dress to fight chemical fires or dive into the ocean depths, so we are called to wear “the belt of truth,” the “breastplate” of of a right relationship with God, the “shield of faith”, the “helmet of salvation,” and the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Most of all, we are called to pray, to stay in touch with God. The fruits of the Spirit, as noted in Galatians 5:22—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, are so different from the values of this world that it is helpful to have these tools at hand.

In our gospel, Jesus is teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. He is talking about what we need to do in order to stay close to him. His disciples find this teaching difficult. He knows that Judas is going to betray him. He is going to be crucified. When John’s gospel was being written, followers of Jesus were being persecuted, and this has happened over the centuries. It is not easy to follow the way of our Lord. People leave. People fall away.

So he asks his disciples, “Do you also wish to go away?” And Simon Peter answers, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Here we are, at Grace Church, in the year 2021, centuries after Peter said those words. and yet he is speaking for us. We have been abiding with Jesus for quite a while now. Not perfectly, to be certain. As the Prayer Book says”We have erred and strayed” from his ways from time to time to be sure, but here we are, and, with Peter, we know there is no other one we can follow. We are like the sparrow in the psalm. We have found a home with him. We abide in him and he in us.

For me, abiding in Jesus always brings to mind Psalm 23. Jesus is our Good Shepherd. Barbara Brown Taylor tells us that she has a friend who grew up on a sheep farm in the midwest. Taylor says that, contrary to common belief, sheep are not dumb. She writes, “According to my friend, cows are herded from the rear by hooting cowboys with cracking whips, but that will not work with sheep at all.  Stand behind them making loud noises and all they will do is run around behind you, because they prefer to be led. You push cows, my friend said but you lead sheep, and they will not go anywhere that someone else does not go first—namely their shepherd—who goes ahead of them to show them that everything is all right.

“Sheep tend to grow fond of their shepherds, my friend went on to say. It never ceased to amaze him, growing up, that he could walk right through a sleeping flock without disturbing a single one of them. Sheep seem to consider their shepherds part of the family, and the relationship that grows up between the two is quite exclusive. They develop a language of their own that outsiders are not privy to. A good shepherd learns to distinguish a bleat of pain from one of pleasure, while the sheep learn that a cluck of the tongue means food, or a two-note song means it is time to go home.” (Taylor, The Preaching Life, pp. 140-41.)

This is a wonderful description of what it means for us to abide in Jesus and Jesus to abide in us. He knows us, flaws and all. We know him. We can hear his call. We know he loves us, and we love him. He calls us to love each other, and we do, to the best of our ability, with the help of his grace.

But perhaps the most important thing is that he is always going before us. There is nothing that we will have to endure that he has not gone through already. As Taylor writes, our shepherd goes before us to “show us that everything is all right.” He has gone before us, and he will make it possible for us to follow. He will be out in front leading us. As the “Footprints” poem says, he may even be carrying us. Amen.

Epiphany 2B January 17, 2021

1 Samuel 3:1-20
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
John 1:43-51

Our opening reading this morning comes from the First Book of Samuel. Samuel is a faithful young man who has been serving God and learning from the priest Eli. The text gives us a very important sense of what was going on in those times. “The word of the Lord was rare in those days, and visions were not widespread.”

Eli is getting older. His eyesight has failed, and he cannot see. Eli is resting in his room, and Samuel is lying down in the temple of the Lord. Walter Brueggemann writes, “Eli is portrayed as a feeble old man, emblem of a failed priestly order that has exhausted its its authority and its credibility. Samuel is situated in this narrative as an apprentice to Eli. But he learns quickly and is shown to be more discerning and more responsive to God than is the family of Eli. Samuel is indeed the wave of God’s future.” (Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching Year B, p. 106.)

God calls to Samuel three times. Each time, Samuel runs to Eli for instruction and guidance. On the third occasion, Eli realizes that it is God calling this gifted young man, and he instructs Samuel on how to respond. Eli’s sons have done terrible things things that no priest should even consider, things which no person who is supposedly following God should do. They are corrupt and unfit to serve.

God calls Samuel a fourth time, and Samuel responds. What God says puts Samuel in an excruciatingly painful position. God is going to remove Eli’s family from their priestly duties and Samuel is going to replace them. Samuel has always shared everything with Eli. Now, what is he going to do? He loves and respects Eli, and Eli has been his teacher and guide.

The dreaded thing happens. Eli calls to Samuel. Herbert O’Driscoll describes this with unforgettable insight and power: Again, in Eli’s encounter with Samuel in the morning, we see the quality of this great human being. We know from elsewhere in scripture, as well as in this passage, that Eli has fallen on sad times. He has allowed himself to become obese. His sons have shamed and discredited him, and his name, and his high office. He must feel a terrible sense of personal failure. The last thing Samuel wants to do is to report to Eli the terrible things he now knows. But Eli insists, and at last when he hears what the Lord has said to Samuel, we again see the old man’s  greatness. There is not a hint of resentment, not a whisper of self-pity or self-justification.

O’Driscoll concludes, “I see a human being who even in his decline shows what once made him great, an elderly person who is open to the action of God in the present moment, who is totally devoid of jealousy and rancor, and who courageously accepts the consequences without flinching, Such an example must have helped to form the future greatness of Samuel.”  (O’Driscoll, The Word Today Year B Vol. 1, pp. 69-70.)

God is going to replace corrupt leaders, Eli’s sons, with the gifted and faithful leadership of Samuel. With deep faith and grace, Eli accepts the healing action of God which replaces brokenness with wholeness and makes it possible for God’s work to continue.

Our psalm for today beautifully and powerfully reminds us that God is our Creator and that God knows us intimately. God has a loving, healing, and creative purpose for us and for the world. God is at work building God’s shalom of peace harmony, and wholeness.

In today’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Church in Corinth, we are reminded that everything we do has an effect. The early Church was grappling with the Jewish dietary laws. People were coming into the new faith community from all kinds of backgrounds. Many of the Jewish converts felt it was necessary to continue to follow the dietary laws and wanted everyone else to do so. On the other end of the spectrum, some people had been worshippers of Zeus or Apollo and they felt they could eat anything. Paul constantly emphasized that, if we are following Christ, everything we do should be in accordance with our Lord’s teachings. If folks ate food that was sacrificed to idols, that might make their weaker brothers and sisters do something that would hurt their conscience, something they would later regret. Paul also emphasized that sexual activity is not to be taken lightly, that it is an act of deep intimacy that is best done only in the context of marriage, or a deep spiritual commitment if marriage is not possible.

In our gospel for today, Jesus calls Philip to follow him. Philip has read the scriptures and he knows very well that the Messiah is supposed to come from Bethlehem, so he asks that snarky question, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” And Philip says those wonderful words, “Come and see.” What an invitation! 

Then Jesus sees Nathanael, and calls him “an Israelite in whom there is no guile.” With Nathanael, what you see is what you get. He is honest, forthright, says it like it is. Nathanael asks Jesus how he got to know him, and Jesus says he saw Nathanael under the fig tree before Philip even called him. With Nathanael, as with so many people he met, Jesus clearly sees who a person truly is. He knows who we really are— no deceptions, just the truth. Nathanael acknowledges Jesus as the king of his life. And Jesus says something that makes us think of Jacob wrestling with the angel who is God and discovering his true identity. Jesus says,  “You will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” Someone has said that as we follow Jesus, we have one foot on earth and one foot in heaven. Jesus creates a thin place, where heaven and earth are very close. He connects us with all that is heavenly, all that is divine, because he is God walking the face of the earth.

We are living in a time of great stress. The stakes are high. We have decided to follow Jesus, as the old hymn says. This means that we are called to live by high ethical standards. We tell the truth, we see others as made in the image of God and we respect their dignity; we try to love others as God loves us, to treat others as we would like to be treated. 

Eli’s sons would normally have succeeded him. Because the sons of Eli were not following the law and were not morally capable of carrying out their duties, God called Samuel, a young man of impeccable moral character, deep faith, and courage to do God’s will in challenging and even dangerous circumstances. In this situation, three thousand years ago, God provided a just, ethical, and courageous leader for God’s people.

We are trying to follow Jesus and live the Way of Love. May our leaders on all levels, local, state, and national, follow the example of Samuel, and lead with ethical integrity, compassion, and justice for all. May we all continue to seek and do God’s will. Amen.

The First Sunday after Epiphany January 10, 2021

Genesis  1:1-5
Psalm 29
Acts 19:1-7
Mark 1:4-11

Today is the First Sunday after Epiphany, This is the day we celebrate the baptism of our Lord.

Our opening reading sets the stage for this Sunday, and our opening hymn has echoed this passage. God is creating the world. The earth is a “formless void,” and God is making something out of this void and transforming the void into a creation of beauty and variety and order.

God says that there will be light, and this is very important because we are entering the season of Epiphany, the season of light and mission. God’s light is coming into the world. As we read the story of the Creation in Genesis, after each work of creation there is a refrain: “And God saw that it was good.” The creation is good. At the end of this brief passage, God has brought the creation into being, and it is the end of the first day.

Our second reading is from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. This  book is like a good news action film. The apostles go from place to place spreading the Good News about Jesus.

In this passage, Paul goes from Corinth to Ephesus. And, amazingly, he finds some disciples there. He asks them whether they received the Holy Spirit when they were baptized, and they say that did not. They have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.

These disciples had been taught by Apollos, a Jewish man from Alexandria in Egypt who was a disciple of John the Baptist. Apollos had studied the scriptures and was an eloquent speaker, but he believed and taught a baptism of repentance as John the Baptist had.

Paul does not criticize the teachings of Apollos to these disciples. He simply tells them about the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and they ask for that baptism. About twelve people receive the Holy Spirit that day.

Paul meets these disciples where they are, asks questions about where they are on their journey, and then opens up to them a deeper understanding of Christ and of the Holy Spirit. This is how he welcomed thousands of people into this new faith.

In our gospel for today, we have the privilege of being present at the baptism of our Lord. John the Baptist, or Baptizer, was a cousin of Jesus. When Mary went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, the baby John the Baptist leaped inside Elizabeth as he recognized the presence of his Savior, who was also his cousin. From the very beginning, John knew who Jesus was.

If we stop and meditate for just a moment, Mary and Joseph were not a king and queen or a prince and princess. They were ordinary people, but they were extraordinary in the depth of their wisdom and their spiritual understanding. The baby Jesus, our Savior, was born into the midst of a wise, courageous, deeply spiritual extended family.

Joseph was from King David’s royal line but he had no worldly power.

Elizabeth and Zechariah were past childbearing age. Zechariah was a priest in the temple in Jerusalem. They were the couple God chose to raise the one who was to prepare the way for the Messiah. Even when John was in the womb, he knew that Jesus was the Savior. And as he prepared the way, he made it very clear that he was not the Savior.

But John also knew that he was the forerunner, the messenger sent to call the people to repentance, and he carried out his ministry so well that people flocked to him from near and far. He had thousands of followers who hung on his every word.

In our gospel for today, John baptizes his cousin Jesus, and, when Jesus comes up out of the water, God says, “You are my Son, the Beloved. With you I am well pleased.”

This is the beginning of our Lord’s formal ministry. As we meditate on this passage, we can wonder what John was feeling in those moments and what Jesus was feeling. Perhaps the main thing they were feeling was the overwhelming presence and love of God.

Herbert O’Driscoll reminds us that, when God speaks of Jesus as God’s Beloved, God is also speaking to us. God’s entire work of creation is filled with love, and we will never be able fully to grasp the depth of the love God has for each and every one of us and all of us together. God has made us part of God’s Beloved Community, and for that, we are grateful beyond words.

Today, we will be renewing our baptismal vows. We renew our promise to  “Continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers;” we promise to resist evil and, when we fall, repent and return to God;” we promise to proclaim  “the good news of God in Christ;” We promise to “seek and serve Christ in all persons;” and we promise to “strive for peace and  justice among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.”

This past week, on the feast of the Epiphany, an act of insurrection was committed against our capitol. This was not a peaceful demonstration.  Crimes were committed, and the proper authorities are working to hold people accountable.

We are called to walk the Way of Love, and we are called to help God  build God’s shalom on earth. We are called to be part of God’s Beloved Community. Part of living the Way of Love is calling all of us to be responsible for our behavior. Violence is not acceptable. Breaking the law is not acceptable. All of us as citizens are called to treat each other with respect and to obey the law. As our Presiding Bishop has said, we are called to choose community over chaos.  People need to be called to account for their actions. All people need to be able to feel safe. There is much work to do. For the next few weeks, I am asking that we pray the Prayer for the Human Family on page 315 of the prayer book. Today, we will renew our vows to follow Jesus in the Way of Love. Amen.