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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:…

Epiphany 5B February 7, 2021

Isaiah 40:21-31
Psalm 147:1-12, 21c
1 Corinthians 9:16-23 
Mark 1:29-39

Scholars tell us that our first reading today dates back to 540 years before the birth of Christ. King Cyrus of Persia has just conquered Babylon, where God’s people have been in exile for several decades. It hasn’t been easy for them. They miss their homeland. They are devastated at the loss of their temple, the center of their worship. But they have persevered. They have continued to pray and study the Scriptures. They have kept their community together.

Thus sounds a bit like us, doesn’t it? We miss our beloved church building. We yearn to be back together. We are tired of fasting from the Holy Eucharist. Yet we are staying together, as much as we can on Zoom. We study the Scriptures together and reflect on how they apply to our lives even though they were written so long ago.

In this particular passage, God’s people are feeling as though God has abandoned them. Why would God let an enemy like the Babylonians conquer them, drag them to a foreign land with alien gods and leave them to fend for themselves?

This passage is God’s answer to these people who are suffering. First, God puts things in perspective. God portrays Godself as the Holy One who sits enthroned on high, looks down at the earth, and sees us humans as the size of  grasshoppers. But even though we look like insects from God’s holy vantage point, God cares deeply about us. God asks the people, “Have you not seen? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not grow faint or weary….He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” 

Have we perhaps wondered whether God is abandoning us? Have we thought that God is just leaving us alone to cope with this pandemic?

Even though it deals with events that occurred twenty-five hundred years ago, this passage is saying to us, “No, God does not abandon God’s people.” As Christians, we know that Jesus is right in the midst of us, leading and guiding us as we cope with this situation.

In our epistle, Paul is giving us a wonderful example. He is saying that, when he ministers to people, he becomes one of them, just as Jesus became one of us. Paul is reminding us that when we minister to folks, we need to walk in their shoes; we need to understand where they are coming from, how they think, what problems they are facing, and how we can help them. That is exactly what our Lord did when he was here with us during his earthly life.

In our gospel, Jesus leaves the synagogue in Capernaum, where he has just healed a man, and goes to the home of Peter and Andrew. Peter’s mother-in-law is in bed with a fever. and of course, they tell Jesus about this. Immediately Jesus goes to help her.

He takes her by the hand. Imagine how it would feel to have Jesus take you by the hand. His healing power is flowing into you. You are filled with love and hope. You feel all of his healing energy focused on you. All that is broken within you is being made whole.

The fever leaves her. And she immediately gets back to her ministry among them. She serves the meal.

And then the word gets out, People from all over bring sick folks to be healed. The text says, “The whole city was gathered around the door.” We can imagine that Jesus continued healing people into the night and then finally lay down to get some rest.

But while it is still dark, he gets up and goes to a deserted place to pray. This is something Jesus always did. He took time away to pray. This is how he stayed close to God, just as we need to do. If we are going to be able to light our lamps, we have to put in the oil. Prayer is the source of our closeness with our Lord. Prayer is how we allow God to nurture our gifts, renew us, and give us guidance.

When they finally find him out in the deserted place, he tells them that they have to go to the neighboring towns so that he can share the good news and heal people. He has spent time with God, and his energy is renewed. He will journey with them throughout Galilee.

What are these readings saying to us today? Many centuries ago, when God’s people were in exile and feeling abandoned, God spoke to God’s people through the prophet Isaiah.  God let them know that God was with them. God had not abandoned them. God was helping them to keep the faith, stay together as a community, and prepare for their life together after the exile. Indeed, they did return to Jerusalem.

As Christians, we have an even stronger message from God about how much God loves us and how close God is to us right now. In Jesus, God came among us to show us how to live. We see Jesus in our gospel today, pouring out his energy to heal people and to show us how to live the Way of Love.

The risen Christ is with us now. He is in our midst, helping us to cope with Zoom and perhaps even be grateful for it; giving us the resilience to hang in there and take care of ourselves and others; giving us the patience to wait for our chance to be immunized; keeping us together; leading and guiding us as our Good Shepherd. May we always remember that. He is with us. Always. He will never abandon us.

Loving God, thank you for being with us. Thank you for leading and guiding us. Give us your grace that we may follow where you lead. In your Holy Name. Amen.

Advent 2 Year B December 6, 2020

Isaiah 40:1-11
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
2 Peter 3:6-15a
Mark 1:1-8

“Comfort, O Comfort my people,” says your God.” In our opening reading, the prophet Isaiah speaks God’s word to God’s people who are still in exile in Babylon. It is important to remember that the word “comfort” comes from the Latin “con” meaning “with” and “fortis” meaning “strength.” Comfort—with strength.

The revered Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann writes of this passage, “In Chapter 40, at long last, when all seemed lost, now speaks the Holy One of Israel. This oracle is the voice of Yahweh, who breaks the silence of exile and by utterance transforms the fortunes of Judah. This speech breaks both the despair of Judah and the power of Babylon; it penetrates the emptiness of exile and fills the world of Judaism with possibilities….”  Brueggemann continues, “We may understand ‘comfort’ as transformative solidarity; that is, not simply an offer of solace, but a powerful intervention that creates new possibilities.” (Brueggemann, Isaiah 40-66, Westminster Bible Companion, p.16.)

As we hear these words read, we naturally bring to mind and heart the powerful and beautiful music of Handel’s Messiah, and this reaches into our minds and hearts and gives us hope in our own Covid-19 exile. God is telling us that, in the midst of exile there is hope. Not only that, there are new possibilities.

Brueggemann speaks of “transformative solidarity.” In the midst of this pandemic, we are being called to transform our world and our societies. We are realizing that this pandemic is hitting people of color and poor people harder than it is impacting people of means and white people. This reminds us of our Lord’s call to feed the hungry and give clothes, shelter, and other necessities to our brothers and sisters. But these differences in levels of suffering are also calling us to build into our planning for the future equal access to health care, more justice in wages and benefits, and other ways of insuring fairness in our nation and our world so that we all bear equally the burdens of challenges like this pandemic. In the midst of all this suffering, God is speaking a message of profound light and hope. “Every valley shall be lifted up and every mountain and hill laid low.” Things are evened out in God’s kingdom. People share.

And then we hear that a voice is crying out in the wilderness, and this takes us to our gospel. John the Baptizer is that figure, that forerunner named by the prophets, among them Isaiah. John calls out, “Prepare the way of the Lord. and make his paths straight.” John calls the people to a baptism of repentance. They confess their sins, and they ask God’s help in transforming their lives, and so do we.

The gospel tells us that John was “clothed with camels hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.” Perhaps, if John the Baptizer were to appear on our Zoom screens, we might be quite shocked at his wardrobe. Very few people, even then, wore clothes of camel’s hair. John was not concerned about clothing or fashion. He had one mission: to prepare people for the appearance of the Messiah.

People thronged to him. He was the Biblical equivalent of a pop star. He didn’t center his ministry in Jerusalem where the people were. He was out in the wilderness and the people came to him. John had a huge number of followers.

John said, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Today, on the Second Sunday of Advent 2020, John the Baptizer is calling us to examine our selves and our lives, confess our sins to God or to a priest by phone or Zoom if we wish, and ask God’s help to get our lives fully on course. In that way, Advent is a kind of briefer Lent. It is a time for self-examination and metanoia, transformation.

John is a wonderful example for us. He is totally focussed, not on himself, but on the One who is to come. He is a shining example of single-mindedness, humility, awareness of who he is, and who God is. Even when he was a baby, John leapt in the womb of his mother Elizabeth when her cousin, Mary, who was pregnant with Jesus, came to visit. Even then, the baby John recognized his Lord, who was also his cousin. Even then John was that aware and that faithful.

And this takes us back to our first lesson from Isaiah. The herald is lifting up his voice to shout good tidings. “See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him…He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.” Here is the might of our Savior, and here also is his tender gentleness.

Here, in the tenth month of our exile, our loving God is giving us a powerful message of hope and transformation. He is calling us to walk the Way of Love in this time. He is calling us to take care of ourselves and each other so that we can walk together through this exile and follow him.

We can do this, with his help. Peter writes, “The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting you to perish…But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.”

Even now, he is building his kingdom, his shalom, and we are helping him by loving him and our neighbors. Now, as the days are getting shorter and the darkness is increasing, we can remember how John the Evangelist in his gospel reminds us that “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” We can let our good shepherd lead us and carry us as we continue to walk the Way of Love. Amen.

Advent 2B RCL December 10, 2017

Isaiah 40:1-11
Psalm 85:1-2,8-13
2 Peter 3:8-15a
Mark 1:1-8

Our first reading for today comes from a point in history when the exiles were still in Babylon.They have been trying to go on with their lives, deepen their understanding of the scriptures, continue their prayer life as a community of faith. They have been in captivity for almost fifty years.

And now, they are receiving the news they have been hoping and praying to hear. At last, they will be going home. “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” It is difficult for us to grasp how they must have felt to hear those words.

As we listen to these words, we cannot help calling to mind the beautiful music of Handel’s Messiah. The people are going home! It seems almost impossible, but it is true. Yes, we humans are like grass, here today, gone tomorrow, bending with every breeze. But God’s word will stand forever.  “He will feed his flock like a shepherd;  he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.”

The power and gentleness of this passage touch our hearts so deeply. This is the love of our God. No, we are not living in exile in Babylon as God’s people did fifteen hundred years ago, but we are living in difficult times, times of division and hatred and violence that seem very far from God’s shalom. In this passage, we are reminded that God is eternal and faithful, and God will lead us into God’s kingdom of peace and harmony.

In our reading from the Second Letter of Peter, the theme of God’s eternal presence is sounded again.  In God’s sight, a thousand years are like one day. God is patient with us, and God is building God’s shalom and calling us to help in that work. Christ will come again to complete the work of creation. The letter calls us to remain faithful to our Lord and to be ready for his coming again.

Our gospel for today focuses on John the Baptist, who appears in the wilderness calling us to “Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.” John offered a baptism of repentance. He called people to sincerely ask God’s forgiveness for their sins and turn their lives around. He invites us to turn to God and ask God’s help in our process of transformation, in Greek, metanoia.

John definitely did not follow the current fashion. He had a coat of camel’s hair, lived very simply, and when he said something, you knew he meant it. He was a great prophet and religious leader, but he did not base his ministry in the city of Jerusalem where all the power was centered. His home base was the wilderness, where there is no sky glow. Out there, you can see God’s stars and planets very clearly and gain a divine perspective on things. It is also quiet out there—no distractions, no human power struggles, just you and God.

For all these reasons, John had a completely clear idea of who he was and what he was about. He knew he was the messenger foretold in the prophets who had gone before him. He knew he was called to let people know that they needed to prepare for the Savior.

Thousands of people were attracted to John. He was the equivalent of a rock star in his time. People followed him everywhere. They left the big city to go out into the wilderness and be with him, so powerful was his message. But it never went to his head. He knew exactly who he was. He said, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

John is a shining example of singleness of heart, the ability to focus on Jesus with every part of his being—spirit, heart, mind, intuition, everything. This Advent and every day, we can learn so much from John the Baptist.

Here we are, on the Second Sunday in Advent, in the year of our Lord 2017. What are these readings telling us?

Among many other things, our lesson from Isaiah tells us there is always hope. Just when we think it’s over, those little flickering fingers of a new dawn appear and the thing we had hoped and prayed for finally comes to be. And God will shepherd us every step of the way on the journey home, or closer to God, or wherever it is that God is calling us to be.

One thing our epistle tells us is that God is patient with us and with everything else, which is a great blessing because we can all can try God’s patience at times. And God is eternal. God takes the long view. But when the time finally arrives, God is going to build new heavens and a new earth. The creation will be made whole.

And our gospel? It tells us more than we can absorb. But we can say this. Here is this fellow, dressed as the great prophet Elijah was dressed, out in the wilderness attracting hordes of people. But there is no glitz, there are no lights or cameras. There is just this man, John, who absolutely tells the truth straight from God and who is here to lead us to the One we have waited for all our lives, the One who loves us so much that we are willing to follow him on the hard and joyful journey of transformation, the journey to his shalom.  Amen.

Epiphany 5B RCL February 8, 2015

Isaiah 40:21-31
Psalm 147:1-12, 41c
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Mark 1:29-39

Our first reading today dates back to the time of the Exile in Babylon. The powerful Babylonian Empire swept in, attacked, and eventually leveled the temple in Jerusalem. Then they deported the people to a foreign land where they somehow had to survive for several decades.

During the Exile, the people studied the scriptures and prayed and tried to keep their faith and their community together. But, after a while, they began to feel that God has abandoned them. God no longer cared about them. God had forgotten them.

Today’s reading is God’s response. The captives are going to return home. God reminds them and us of God’s majesty and power. God does not grow faint or weary. but God gives strength to those whose energy is flagging. How many times have we gone through a tough time in our lives and wondered where is God in all of this? Then, after we have journeyed through the difficult time, we realize that God was there leading and helping us all the time. As the poem Footprints says, God never leaves us, but sometimes there is only one set of footprints because God is carrying us.

God gives us the power to fly on eagles’ wings.

In our epistle, Paul is under attack. He feels free to eat food that has been sacrificed to idols if, by doing so, he can bring someone into the community of the faithful. He says, “I have become all things to all people that I night by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel….”

Paul is a Jew, a Pharisee, yet he has become the apostle to the gentiles. He is able to walk in the shoes of the people he meets. He shares meals with them, and, if they are eating meat sacrificed to idols, he is not going to make a big fuss over that. For him, God is the only God and every gift comes from God. So he eats and talks with folks and shares about Jesus, and the next thing you know, they want to join the community of faith. He has a right to receive financial support from the community, but he continues to work as a tentmaker because this helps him to meet people and spread the good news. Everything he does is to build up the Body of Christ. Paul gives us a powerful example to follow.

In our gospel, Jesus has just been in the synagogue, where he taught and then freed a man from a demon. Now he goes to the home of Peter and Andrew. He goes from a public space into a private space among friends where , we think, he might get a few moments of rest.But that is not going to happen. Peter’s mother-in-law is in bed with a fever. There is a need for healing.

He takes her by the hand and lifts her up. Let us just imagine this for a moment. We are in bed feeling feverish and unwell and unable to do our normal work, and Jesus comes in and stretches out his hand and lifts us up, What an image. Think of the touch of his hand, the love, the healing power that flows into us.

How difficult it is for us when we are feeling weak or ill or discouraged or maybe even abandoned by God to realize that God is right here with us. Jesus is stretching out his hand to heal us, to give us strength, to lift us up.

Yet we feel we have to do it ourselves, or we feel that we are on our own, that God has more important things to do, or that God has wound up the universe like a clock and has walked off and left it to operate on its own. But no, there is Jesus, reaching out to us. There is his hand, ready to heal us and lift us up.

She gets up. The fever leaves her and she begins to serve them. She gets back to her ministry, The Greek work used here is diakonia, service. We do not know her name, but Peter’s mother-in-law is a disciple and a deacon.

Then the scene changes. At sundown, they bring many people to him who need healing and wholeness. And he touches them all and heals them. The whole city is gathered at the door. He must be very tired after all this. But in the morning when it is still dark, he goes to a deserted place to pray. Jesus is constantly doing this—going apart where he can be quiet and pray. He needs to be renewed and re-energized. He needs to be in the presence of God.

And then Peter wants him to go back because even more people have come to be healed. And healing is a good thing to do, but it is not the core of his mission. William Barclay says that the people are in away using Jesus. They want that quick fix—the healing—but they are not making a commitment to follow Jesus and help him build his kingdom. Barclay writes, “God is not someone to be used in the day of misfortune; he is someone to be loved and remembered every day of our lives.” (William Barclay, The Gospel of Mark, p. 40.)

Jesus does not stay and continue to heal, as important as that is. He is called to go to new places and spread the good news of the kingdom, the shalom of God. He tells the people that the kingdom of

God is in their midst. And he invites them and us to offer ourselves to be transformed and to bring his vision of shalom to reality.

May we follow him, May we build his shalom. Amen.