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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion June 4, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.comTime:  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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Pentecost 6 Proper 9B, July 4, 2021

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10
Psalm 48
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Mark 6:1-13

In our opening reading, all the tribes of Israel come together to make David their king. It is 1,000 years before the birth of Christ. He will be king for forty years.The text tells us that, for some time, even though Saul was king, David has been leading the troops into war. For years he has been doing the work of a king. Now the people want to anoint him as their leader.

God has called David to be king, and David is a unique kind of king. His rule is based on a covenant among David, the people, and God. God has called David to this position of leadership. David is a shepherd-king. Like a good shepherd, he will protect his flock. He will put the needs of his people first. After seven years, David moves the capitol from Hebron to Jerusalem, which is about halfway between the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. Under his leadership, the kingdoms and tribes are united. As we have said before, David is not perfect. But he has been called by God, and he is a person of deep faith.

In our epistle for today, we remember that Paul founded the church in Corinth, but he has not been there for a while. He has been staying in touch by writing letters, but that is not the same as being there. During his time away, other teachers have come through Corinth. They have accused Paul of being insincere because he told the people he would visit them and he has not been able to do so. These teachers have other criticisms of Paul, including that he isn’t a very good public speaker, and the latest one is that he does not have enough mystical experiences.

So Paul tells a story in the third person. Scholars say that this is really a story about Paul, but he is too humble to say that. Paul has been “caught up in the third heaven.” Scholars tell us that the third heaven is the highest heaven.

Perhaps we have not been to the third heaven, but I think many of us have had times when we have felt God’s presence in a way that goes beyond words. Perhaps we were looking up at the stars one clear night and sensed the paradox of the vastness of God, who could make such a universe, and yet the infinite love of God for a little creature like us. Perhaps we were listening to some favorite music and felt the glory and joy of God. Or maybe we have been struck with wonder at a sunrise. We have all had these moments of realizing the power and glory of God. 

The other teachers who have come through Corinth have bragged about their gifts and their mystical experiences, and some of the Corinthians have followed the example of these teachers and bragged about their gifts, especially the gift of speaking in tongues.

 But Paul does not brag. Instead he shares something deeply personal with these people, who can be quite arrogant, persnickety, and competitive. He shares that he has what he calls a “thorn…in the flesh.” He has prayed to God three times to remove this, and God has not removed it. Instead, God has told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

Scholars have no evidence of how Paul’s sharing about this weakness was received in Corinth, but you and I know that this takes us straight to the heart of the cross. We know that, when, we are at the end of our rope, and when we have tied a knot on the end of that rope and we are now hanging on for dear life, that’s when God can finally help us. Until that point, all our plans and solutions and delusions of our power can get in the way. The Revised Standard Version says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So, Paul is telling us,“[God’s] power is made perfect in weakness.”

That is one reason why our Lord died on that horrible instrument of torture, the cross—to show us that, when we let go and let God, new life happens. Paul says that is when “the power of Christ may dwell in [us].” When we admit our weakness. And when we share our weaknesses with trusted others, God’s power can act in amazing ways.

In our gospel for today, our Lord goes to his hometown synagogue in Nazareth. As a rabbi, a teacher, this is what he would be expected to do—go to the local synagogue and teach. But the people see him only as the local boy who went out into the world and came home to put on airs. The text tells us that he “could do no deeds of power there.” He did heal a few sick people. Our Lord sums it up: “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown….” Does this lack of hospitality and openness stop him? No. He heals a few people. And he calls the apostles and sends them out two by two. And he tells them to do their work with simplicity—take only what you absolutely need. As it turns out, they heal many people.

What are these readings telling us? God calls a young shepherd to be king and has Samuel anoint him as such. This young shepherd leads the people in battle. They get to know and trust him. He unites the two kingdoms into one. When God calls us to be together in community and we build that community on the covenant of love for God and neighbor. that is a foundation of great strength. God’s love calls us together and creates unity among us.

Our weakness can be our greatest strength. Sharing our weakness, asking for help, is a powerful thing. Admitting our weakness allows  us to let God help us. When that happens, miracles happen. The cross, which can be seen as a symbol of weakness, is, paradoxically, a symbol of great power, the greatest power in the world—the power of God’s love.

Gracious God, help us to love you with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Thank you for helping us in our weakness. Thank you for the power of your love.

In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Pentecost 9 Proper 13A August 2, 2020

Genesis 32:22-31
Psalm 17:1-7, 16
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14: 13-21

Our opening reading today is one of the most fascinating passages in the Bible. It goes back centuries, to a time when people believed that you had to be careful of local deities who governed rivers. This story was passed down by word of mouth and was finally recorded by the Biblical writer we call J because he calls God Jahweh. J’s ministry took place around 950 years before the birth of Christ, over three thousand years ago.

Jacob has schemed during his time with Laban, and he has managed to grow wealthy by taking more than his share of Laban’s many flocks and other possessions. Laban has not been exactly pleased about this, but the two men have made a covenant, so at least Laban is not pursuing Jacob.

Now Jacob is going home, and, of course, he has not forgotten that his older brother, Esau, had vowed to kill him. He sends messengers ahead to tell Esau that Jacob is on his way with many possessions and is seeking the favor of his brother. They have met Esau and given him the message. Jacob is hoping that Esau will be properly impressed with all of Jacob’s things, see that Jacob is a man of substance and power, and maybe decide not to kill Jacob after all. He has heard from his messengers that they have met Esau, and Esau is heading toward Jacob with four hundred men.

Jacob splits all the people and animals and possessions into two groups and sets them on ahead, thinking that, if Esau kills everyone and everything in one group, perhaps the other group will survive. Then he prays to God for help.

It is night, and night, especially in those times, was considered a mysterious and dangerous time. Anything could happen.

Now Jacob is left alone and vulnerable on the banks of the river.  The text tells us that “a man wrestled with him until daybreak.” They are about equal in strength. As they struggle, the man strikes Jacob in the hip and knocks it out of joint. Then the man asks Jacob to let him go because dawn is coming. But Jacob has figured out that this is not just a man. This is at least an angel and probably God. Jacob says he will not let his adversary go until the adversary gives him a blessing.

God asks Jacob his name, Jacob tells the truth. His name is Jacob. In those days, people believed that giving your name gave the adversary power over you. Jacob is surrendering his power to God. And then God gives Jacob a new name—Israel.  Jacob the supplanter becomes Israel, “he who has striven with God and man and has prevailed.” He is now the head of the tribe of Israel. Jacob names the place Peniel, “for I have seen God face to face and yet my life is preserved.” Scholars tell us that Peniel means “the face of God.”

Jacob has seen God face to face. In ancient times, people believed that you could not see God and live. But Jacob has actually wrestled with God and has been given a new identity. He will forever walk with a limp. Sometimes our struggles leave us with scars.

This story is so compelling because all of us have struggled. We have struggled at times with God, asking for direction in difficult situations. We have struggled with ourselves when we get to a crossroads in life and we’re trying to discern which path to take. We have struggled to take what we know is the right and difficult path instead of the wrong and easy path.

Now, we are struggling with a deadly virus and all of its implications. Should we wear masks when we are around other people and can’t social distance? Definitely yes. Our medical experts make that clear. Should we open our schools, and, if so how? Should Congress pass an aid package, and, if so, what should it contain? Will life ever return to normal, or what we used to call normal? At this point, we may have more questions than answers.

As it turns out, Esau arrived with his four hundred men, and Esau hugged and kissed Jacob, and they both wept with joy to see each other. God is always at work. God is always with us, transforming us into the people God calls us to be.

In our gospel, Jesus has just heard of the murder of his beloved cousin, John the Baptist. He goes off in a boat to a deserted place to pray and the people follow him. When he goes ashore there is a huge crowd, and he has compassion on them and heals those who are sick.

Evening is coming. The disciples tell Jesus to send the people away so that they can buy food. But Jesus says, “You give them something to eat.” What is their response? “We have only five loaves and two fish.” They are operating from a theology of scarcity. This is all we have, they think. We can’t possibly feed these people. 

Jesus takes the loaves and fish, looks up to heaven, blesses and breaks the loaves and fish. This is a Eucharistic action. The disciples feed the people and there are twelve baskets left over. Over five thousand people have been fed. Last year our food shelf fed a little over four thousand people. God always gives us the gifts we need to do our ministry.

We are struggling with a powerful virus. And we are struggling with our long history of racism. Jacob thought Esau was going to kill him. Instead, Esau hugged and kissed him and they had a good healing cry. The disciples saw only a huge crowd of hungry people for whom they could do nothing. Jesus fed the crowd. God is always at work. God is a God of abundance, a God of healing and wholeness, a God of transformation, and, always, always, a God of love.

God is leading us on our journey through this pandemic and our journey toward honoring the dignity of every person. God is also feeding us with God’s wisdom and guidance in the difficult decisions we will need to make. God is calling us to stay on the path of the Way of Love. Let us seek and do the will of our loving God. Amen.

May we say together the Prayer for the Power of the Spirit.

Pentecost 8 Proper 14 August 7, 2011

Pentecost 8 Proper 14A RCL  August 7, 2011

 Genesis 37: 1-4, 12-28
Psalm  105: 1-6. 16-22. 45b
Romans 10: 5-15
Matthew 14: 22-33

This morning we continue with the story of Jacob and his family. Rachel has died. As we know, Jacob, now Israel, loved Rachel dearly. She had had two children, Joseph and Benjamin. Jacob loved Joseph more than any of his other children.

Joseph is different. He has dreams.  Unfortunately, he tells these dreams to his brothers. One is that they are binding sheaves of grain in the field, Joseph’s sheaf rises upright and his brothers’ sheaves gather around Joseph’s sheaf and bow to it. Joseph’s brothers don’t like these dreams very much. To add to their ire, Jacob gives Joseph a beautiful long robe with sleeves. Now his brothers really hate him.

One day Jacob sends Joseph to check on his brothers as they tend the flocks. First they are going to kill Joseph, but Reuben, the eldest, persuades them to throw Joseph into a pit instead. He plans to go back later and rescue Joseph. Some traders come by, and the brothers decide that they will sell Joseph to them as a slave. The brothers then dip the amazing cloak into goat’s blood and take that to Jacob, who thinks Joseph has died and goes into deep mourning.

Meanwhile, the traders sell Joseph to a powerful man in Egypt, one of the Pharaoh’s chief assistants, Potiphar. Joseph is intelligent and capable. Potiphar puts Joseph in charge of everything. Joseph is also handsome. Potiphar’s wife tries to seduce Joseph, but he resists her repeated advances. In a scene which could only occur in the Old Testament, she grabs at his garment and he runs from the house, naked.  Potiphar comes home, his wife accuses Joseph of sexual misconduct, and Joseph ends up in prison.

In prison, he becomes the trusted assistant of the jailer. He is placed in charge of two servants of the Pharaoh who have been accused of misdeeds and face the death penalty. The Pharaoh’s chief baker and chief cup bearer tell Joseph their dreams, and he tells them that the cup bearer will return to his position with the Pharaoh and the baker will be executed. Sure enough, he is correct.

As time goes on, the Pharaoh becomes afflicted with bad dreams. He calls all his magicians and wise men and they cannot help him. The chief cupbearer, now back in the service of the Pharaoh, remembers Joseph’s gift of dream interpretation. He tells the Pharaoh of this young Hebrew who interpreted his and the chief baker’s dreams. and the Pharaoh asks for Joseph’s help. The Pharaoh has had a dream of seven fat cows grazing in the meadows by the Nile. Then seven cadaverous cows come and eat them up. Then the king dreams of corn, seven fat ears and seven lean ears. 

Joseph makes it clear that God is trying to tell the Pharaoh something and that Joseph’s gift of interpretation comes from God. Then he tells  the king the interpretation: there will be seven years of good crops and then seven years of famine. The king should store up as much food as possible during the good years. The upshot is that the king is deeply impressed with Joseph’s gift and with his wisdom and with Joseph’s God. He places Joseph in charge of everything.

 The next installment of the story will come next Sunday. Clearly, Joseph has come a long way His story illustrates a poster I like very much. It shoes a mountainside in early spring. The winter snow is melting and new life is about to burst forth. The caption reads,  “What we think is the end may really be a new beginning.”

Our psalm recounts the story of Joseph. Our epistle reminds us that we are all one in Christ and that our Lord is very near.

 In our gospel,  Jesus has just fed the five thousand families. He goes up to the mountain to pray. This reminds us to take time to be with God and restore the presence of the Spirit within. The disciples get into the boat; the storm comes up; they are terrified, and there he comes walking across the water. At first they think he is a ghost, but his words speak volumes, “Take heart; it is I; do not be afraid.”

Peter says, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus says one word, “Come.” Peter starts out, but when he notices the strength of the wind, he gets scared and starts to sink. With our Lord’s help, we can do what he calls us to do, but, if we lose our focus on Jesus, we falter. If and or when we falter, his hand is there; his help is there.  “Be not afraid,” he tells us. He is so near we can touch him.  He is so near we can reach out to him, grab his hand, and get pulled out of the waves which threaten to overwhelm us.

All through his journey, Joseph is aware of the hand of God leading and guiding him. He never loses his faith. He proclaims his faith unabashedly as these powerful people keep entrusting him with more and more responsibility because of his wisdom, which both he and they attribute to God. Here is this young man, this alien stranger, earning the trust of the Pharaoh because he has the gift of speaking the truth. The Pharaoh says of Joseph, “Can we find anyone else like this, one in whom is the Spirit of God?” (Genesis 41: 37.) But the presence of the Spirit in Joseph will be even more fully revealed next week. Stay tuned.

What is God telling us today? Someone can be sold into slavery and, by the grace of God, end up second in command over an empire.  Joseph never forgets God. He speaks the truth as his gift reveals the truth. His ethics are of the highest caliber.

And God is telling us, “Do not be afraid. I am right here beside you. I am walking with you, I am swimming with you. I am very close. We will see the depth of Joseph’s spirituality next Sunday. Peter became a rock of the Faith. He may have had a bit of an impetuous and wobbly beginning, but, when the tough times came, he was faithful and wise and open to God’s leading.

But the main thing is, “Be not afraid. “ A few other favorite thoughts have been in my heart this week.  We have already talked about one: “Faith is fear that has said its prayers.” Another one we have talked about that bears repeating is, “Faith and fear are two sides of the same coin.” And another one which I really like is, “Fear not tomorrow—God is already there.”  With everything going on in the world and around us, let us be strong in our faith with God’s help. Let us jeep on keeping on. Let’s help our brothers and sisters who are suffering in Somalia and elsewhere. Let us persevere in hope. Let us reach out for that steady, strong hand that is always there, and let us share his love and grace with others.    Amen

Pentecost 7 Proper 13 July 31, 2011

Pentecost 7 Proper 13A RCL July 31, 2011

 Genesis 32: 22-31
Psalm 17: 1-7, 16
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14: 13-21

 Our first reading this morning comes from ancient sources, from a time when people believed that there were river gods or river spirits and one had to get the permission of those gods before fording the river. It was first written down by the writer we call the Jahwist, or J , who worked around 950 years before the birth of Christ, three thousand years ago.

 Jacob is headed home to see his father, Isaac. He has become rich. He has two wives, two maids, all kinds of livestock. He has sent some servants with gifts for his brother Esau, whom he cheated out of a birthright and a blessing. He is afraid that Esau will kill him.

 The servants come back saying that Esau is headed their way with four hundred men. Jacob is scared. He divides his wives, maids, and possessions into two portions and sends them over the river, figuring that, if Esau gets one batch, the other batch may be preserved. As we can see, Jacob thinks that success equals material possessions.

 During the night he wrestles with, the text says, “a man,” but we know that it is more than just a human. Various people have said that Jacob wrestled with an angel, but, by the end of the passage, we know that Jacob is wrestling with God, or perhaps with his darker side, as God calls him to become the person he is called to be.

Although this is a very old story, it has universal implications. If we are at all honest, we know that all of us struggle with certain aspects of ourselves that we don’t want to look at or examine. We would rather ignore these parts of ourselves. But God calls us to grow into wholeness. Sometimes this has a high cost. We all have wounds of one kind or another. Sometimes our own wounds and the struggle to bring our darkness into the light of Christ can be the source of our ability to help others on our journeys. I think of the insightful book by Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer.

Jacob wrestles through to a new identity, Israel, one who has striven with God and human, and has prevailed. Jacob knows that he has seen God face to face, and yet has survived that experience. He will forever walk with a limp.

The next day, Esau arrives with four hundred men. Far from killing Jacob, now Israel, Esau hugs him and kisses him, and they weep together.  We will meet Jacob again.

In our epistle, Paul expresses his sadness that his fellow Israelites are not all choosing to follow Jesus. He expresses his respect for all they his people have. In our time, it is crucial that we respect the faith of others, whether we are talking about Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, the spirituality of our First Nation peoples, or any other faith expression. Regarding Judaism, one of my most beloved mentors often points out that, in order to be a good Christian, we must first be a good Jew. In other words, we need to study and respect our heritage from Judaism.

In today’s gospel, Jesus is tired to the bone. The crowds are following him everywhere he goes. He gets into a boat to go off by himself. But the crowd walks around to the other side and meets him when he arrives. He has compassion on them and cures the sick among them.

The disciples want him to send the crowd away so that he and they can have a quiet supper. But Jesus says, “You give them something to eat.” They take stock of what they have to work with. Immediately, they express a theology of scarcity. “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” We don’t have enough. He tells them to bring him the loaves and fish. He takes them in his hands and looks to heaven. He takes, blesses, breaks, and gives this food to the people. This is a eucharistic action. When we take what God has given us, when we offer that to God, when we ask God’s blessing upon the gifts, when we break the bread and share it, it becomes more than it was, It becomes the food that Jesus gives us, the energy of his loving self, the gifts to do our ministry. So these five little loaves and two fish become enough to feed a crowd of over five thousand people.

Jesus can make a feast out of five little loaves and two fish. Jesus does not need a lot to work with. We don’t have to be a huge church with a vast staff of clergy and several choirs. We don’t have to have an organist every Sunday. We do not have to have oodles and oodles of programs. That was the Church of the Christendom era, as Anthony Robinson calls it in his book Changing the Conversation.

A small and lively congregation can wrestle through to its own sense of identity just as Jacob did. And it doesn’t have to emerge with a limp, either. A small congregation can be creative about finding ways to do high-quality Christian formation and support for its members and can discern the ministry or ministries to which it is called. I think Grace has been engaged in that process for many years.

When we think of ourselves, I hope we will be careful. Instead of saying, “Well, all we have is five leaves and two fish,” while comparing ourselves to great cathedrals, may we always remember that, with Jesus’ help and grace, we have all the gifts we need to do the ministry to which he is calling us.                            Amen