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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion December 11, 2022 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 December 18, 2022 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 December 25, 2022 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…

Pentecost 22 Proper 25B October 24, 2021

Job 42: 1-6, 10-17
Psalm 34:1-8
Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 10:46-52

In our opening reading today, we meet Job once again. He wanted to meet with God, to argue his case before God. He wanted God to know that he was a good man, a righteous man. He wanted God to understand him and his situation.

As we saw last Sunday, Job did meet God. Once he was in the presence of the almighty God, the creator of the universe, he realized there was no way that he would be able to fathom the mystery of God. In today’s reading, Job says that he despises himself, but Biblical scholar James D. Newsome says that translation is a bit off the mark. He suggests that, instead of Job saying. I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes,” we should understand Job as saying, “I admit my mistake and I yield.” (Newsome, Texts for Preaching, p. 558.)

Newsome rephrases Job’s apology to God this way, “When I asked you to meet me in court, O Jahweh, I simply didn’t know what I was talking about. But things are clearer to me now. I no longer wish to challenge you;  I only wish to learn from your wisdom.” (Newsome, p. 558.)

Have you ever been angry with God? Have you ever argued with God? Shaken your fist at God and hurled questions at God? I think most of us have been angry with God at one time or another. And one important point of these readings from Job is that it is all right to be mad at God, to yell and scream and cry at God about the awful things that happen to us in life. I remember one time at a retreat, a dear friend and I knelt before the altar as he expressed his anger with God about his son’s fatal illness.

But after all of this struggle, God gives Job twice what he had before; his friends return to him. Life is even better than it was before.  And what does this mean? Newsome gives us a powerful answer: “Yahweh loves Job as Yahweh loves all people. Yahweh blesses Job as Yahweh intends to bless all people…. God’s ways are mysterious and past our understanding, but one thing is not in dispute: the God of Israel, the Father of Jesus Christ, is a God of compassion whose ultimate will for all persons is peace and joy.” (Newsome, p. 55.)

In our reading from Hebrews, the writer describes the ancient high priests who would go into the temple once a year and offer sacrifices for the sins of the people. Each priest would eventually die and would be replaced. The life, ministry, death, and resurrection of our Lord have given us a close relationship with our God. We have become God’s children. As our Lord says, we can call God “Abba,” “Dad,” or “Mom.” Because of the ministry of Jesus, we are not far away from God as Job was. Our God is in the midst of us. Our God is as close as our breath.

In today’s gospel, Jesus and his disciples are in Jericho. Herbert O’Driscoll tells us that, after you walked through the busy streets of Jericho, heading south, the beggars would be gathered on the outskirts of the city. If you had stayed overnight, you were well fed and you would be rested and might be in a better mood to be generous.

Here is Bartimaeus, a blind beggar. He hears that Jesus is coming. We can surmise that he has heard about Jesus already because he begins shouting loudly to get our Lord’s attention. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” People tell him to be quiet, but he shouts even more loudly. He is determined to get Jesus’ attention. It is a long walk to Jerusalem, and Jesus could well have ignored Bartimaeus. But he did not do that. He stopped and said, “Call him here.” Now the people who  have been telling Bartimaeus to be quiet get into the spirit of things. They tell Bartimaeus, “Take heart; get up; he is calling you.”

Bartimaeus throws off his cloak. Perhaps he is shedding his old life for a new one. Perhaps he is lightening his burden. Bartimaeus springs up and goes to Jesus. He is blind but he has heard that voice and he goes right to Jesus. Then our Lord asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And Bartimaeus says, “My teacher, let me see again.” This tells us that Bartimaeus was once able to see. He has not always been blind. To have once been able to see and now be blind lets us know that he has undergone a great loss. He was once able to see, and now he has a severe disability and has to beg for a living.

Jesus does not make a poultice and put it on the eyes of Bartimaeus, He does not even touch Bartimaeus. He says, “Go; your faith has made you well.” But Bartimaeus does not go anywhere. He regains his sight and follows Jesus.

This is our high priest, This is our God among us. He could ignore us. He could resume his journey without listening or paying attention. But he never does that. He listens. He treats everyone of us as his beloved brother or sister. He hears the anguish, the longing, the depth of our need. And he responds. Bartimaeus can now see, and what does he do? He becomes a disciple of Jesus.

Most of us have probably argued with God or railed at God and that is fine. God can take it. But we can also ask God for help. We can also ask God to heal us, strengthen us, guide us, give us the grace to do something we know we have to do, but we have no idea how we’re going to be able to do it without God’s help.

This is why God has come among us. So that we can reach out the way Bartimaeus and thousands of others have reached out to our loving God, We have all asked God for help at one time or another, and that may be why we are all following Jesus. Because there is real help with him. He asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” And we tell him, and he listens. He hears us. And in one way or another, he helps us. It may not be in the way we imagined, but it may be a way that turns out to be better. As James Newsome says, “God is a God of compassion whose ultimate will for all persons is peace and joy.” 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 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.

The Day of Pentecost May 31, 2020

Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:25-35, 37b
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
John 20:19-23

Last week, we read that Jesus ascended to heaven and the disciples returned to the upper room in Jerusalem to pray and wait expectantly for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

In Jewish tradition, Pentecost, or the feast of Weeks, came fifty days after the first day of Passover. James D. Newsome tells us that the Jewish feast of  Pentecost marked the end of the celebration of the spring harvest. This is why there were devout Jews gathered in Jerusalem from all over the known world—to celebrate the feast of Pentecost or Weeks.

But this feast was also the beginning of another season, which lasted until the feast of booths or tabernacles. On that feast, the people offered the first fruits of the fields to God. 

Newsome writes, “Pentecost/Weeks is thus a pregnant moment in the life of the people of God and in the relationship between the people and God. Or to put the matter more graphically, but also more accurately, Pentecost is the moment when gestation ceases and birthing occurs. Thus, it is both an end and a beginning, the leaving behind of that which is past, the launching forth into that which is only now beginning to be. Pentecost therefore is not a time of completion. It is moving forward into new dimensions of being, whose basic forms are clear but whose fulfillment has yet to be realized.”  (Newsome, Texts for Preaching Year A, p. 329.

The disciples are gathered. Jesus has told them that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them. A rushing wind sweeps in, the desert wind, the ruach, symbolizing the power of the Spirit. Flames of fire dance over the heads of the disciples, and they speak in all the languages of the known world. They are filled with the gifts of the Spirit.

We say that the feast of Pentecost is the birthday of the Church. The Spirit comes upon the disciples to shower gifts upon them and set their hearts on fire, and from that point, the new faith spreads over the known world.

In our reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, we read his stirring description of the Church as the Body of Christ, with each member given different gifts, all of the gifts empowered by the same Spirit. All the members of the body are one, as Jesus and the  Father and the Spirit are one. We have all been baptized in the Spirit—everyone, no matter what our nationality or previous religion or gender or status in life, or race, or any of the other things we use to divide ourselves. All these distinctions are  gone—we are all one in Christ. Each person is precious in the sight of God. All members are equal as the Body builds itself up in love.

Newsome’s comment that Pentecost is a moment of birthing, a leaving behind of what is past, and a launching forth into something new which is just beginning, rings forth with the truth of the Holy Spirit.

“Peace be with you,” our Lord says in that first evening of the first Easter day. Shalom is the word he uses. He walks through walls of fear to say that word.

Here are some glimpses of shalom. Isaiah 11:6-8a “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, ad the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall feed; their young shall lie down together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.”

Walter Brueggemann: “That persistent vision of joy, well being, and prosperity is not captured in any single word or idea in the Bible, and a cluster of words is required to express its many dimensions and subtle nuances: love, loyalty, truth, grace, salvation, justice, blessing, righteousness…It bears tremendous freight, the freight of a dream of God that resists all our tendencies to division, hostility, fear, … and misery. Shalom is the substance of the biblical vision of one community embracing all creation.  (Brueggemann,  Living Toward a Vision, p. 16.)

Retired Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori: “Shalom is a vision of the city of God on earth, a community where people are at peace with each other because each one has enough to eat, adequate shelter, medical care, and meaningful work. Shalom is a city where justice is the rule of the day, where prejudice has vanished, where the diverse gifts with which we have been so abundantly blessed are equally valued.” (Jefferts Schori, A Wing and a Prayer, p. 33.)

This past Friday, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and other faith leaders called us to a service of lament and mourning for the more than 100,000. Americans who have died of Covid 19. We will also be mourning the death of George Floyd, who was killed this past Monday by a police officer in Minneapolis.  On May 24, Dr. Matthew W. Hughey, a member of the Department of Sociology at the University of Connecticut, had an article in the Hartford Courant entitled “There’s another pandemic besides the corona virus that we must fight: racism.”  Ever since white people brought African people to America in 1619 to sell them as slaves, we have unsuccessfully grappled with what Jim Wallis of the Sojourners community calls “America’s Original Sin.” The full title of his 2017 book is “America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America.” 

There is much to mourn and lament, so many lives lost to both pandemics. Dr. Martin Luther King has said, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.”

If James Newsome is right about Pentecost being a time for birth,—and I think he is right—maybe, just maybe, with God’s grace, we can all come together and begin to listen to each other and learn from each other and find that bridge, or those many bridges, that Wallis is talking about. I pray that we can. I pray that we can live in peace as brothers and sisters. Because that is the vision our loving and healing God is calling us to fulfill. May we lean on the everlasting arms of God. May we trust in the power of God. May we bring all of God’s gifts of love and wisdom to heal both these pandemics.

May we now pray the Prayer for the Power of the Holy Spirit.

Pentecost 23 Proper 28 November 17, 2019

Isaiah 65:17-25
Canticle 9
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Luke 21:5-19

Our opening reading is from the person we call the Third Isaiah. Biblical scholar James D. Newsome places the time of this passage around 475 B.C. (Newsome, Texts for Preaching Year C, p. 596.) It is fifty years since the exiles have come back home to Jerusalem from Babylon. They have built the new temple, but it pales in comparison to the original temple built by King Solomon. 

There is still a great deal of rubble in the city. The city walls have yet to be rebuilt. Not all the people have come home to help in this daunting project of rebuilding. Many have remained in the relative safety of the city of Babylon.  The people of God are becoming discouraged

We all know what can happen when a group of people are tackling a huge task. Scholars tell us that, rather than remaining faithful to God’s call to love God and each other, some of the people turned to worshipping other Gods. There were squabbles, and factions developed.

Among the people facing this enormous challenge of rebuilding was the person we call the Third Isaiah. We know very little about him except for his powerful prophetic writings. We can imagine him as a person of deep faith watching the people of God dissolve into arguing and splitting into opposing groups. Newsome writes, “In this despairing situation, however, certain individuals began to raise their heads and to sing the old songs of joy and hope, but in a new key.….Yes… Jerusalem had been restored—somewhat at least. But God’s eye was on another Jerusalem also—a Jerusalem not of bricks and mortar, but of the human heart.” Newsome, p. 597.)

This faithful prophet brings God’s word to God’s people trying to rebuild Jerusalem centuries ago and to us today. God is about to create “New heavens and a new earth.” Infants will live long lives. People will build houses and will not have to leave them to escape an invader. People will plant gardens and vineyards and enjoy the harvest.

God tells us that before we call, God will answer. This is a foretaste of the promise that the Holy Spirit prays for us when we cannot find the words. And then we hear an echo of Isaiah’s vision of the kingdom of God in Chapter 11. “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together. ….They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.”

In our epistle for today, The Thessalonians are being led to believe that Jesus is coming very soon or has come already to complete his work of creation. Some people are quitting their jobs. In all the free time they have, they are meddling in other people’s lives. 

When these folks quit their jobs, this means that they are not able to carry out their contributions to the community of faith. Back in those days, followers of Jesus shared their wealth so that they could help out those who needed food or clothing or shelter. In listening to the false teachers who are telling them that our Lord’s second coming is going to happen soon or already has happened, these people are not carrying out their ministries in the community of faith and are weakening the community. Each of us is called to carry out our ministries so that the community of faith can remain strong. 

Paul writes these wise words, “Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.” When our Lord comes again to judge the earth, it will be clear that he is here. Until then, we need to be active in our ministries and be prepared to meet him when he comes.

In our gospel for today, our Lord is preparing his followers for persecution. Many will come in his name and say that they are Jesus who has returned to lead us. The scriptures talk about times of turmoil that will precede his coming again, and this makes it easy for  misguided people to stir up fear by pointing to signs of the end times.

As we look around our world, we see many signs of turmoil. As we look around our nation, we see a great deal of tension and division.

God gives us a vision of new heavens and a new earth, a vision of unity, peace, harmony, and healing. God calls us to work together.

In reference to our reading from Isaiah, the great preacher and scholar Herbert O’Driscoll writes, “There is not a single imperative in the work of Isaiah that we do not need today. To be pointed toward the future. To be given a shining vision of what may be possible. To be called to build enthusiastically and confidently, trusting that there is a purpose in the events of human history. Finally to be given a vision of reconciliation between the endless warring forces of our culture. These are what we long for, These are what we will seek till the end of time.” (O’Driscoll, The Word Among Us Year C Vol 3, p. 166.)

 

Pentecost 18 Proper 23C October 13, 2019

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
Psalm 66:1-11
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Luke 17:11-19

Our first reading today comes from the prophet Jeremiah. It is sometime between the fall of Jerusalem in 597 B.C.E.  and the total destruction of the city in 587 B.C.E. The leaders of Judah and many of the people have been deported to Babylon. This was a deeply tragic time in the history of God’s people. Yet biblical scholar James D. Newsome makes a crucial point. He reminds us that the exiles did survive, and he contrasts this with the situation when the Northern Kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrian Empire in 722 B.C.E. Those people were taken into captivity as well, but, as Newsome writes, “they disappeared from history.” Only those who were left at home survived, and they were later called Samaritans. (Newsome, Texts for Preaching Year C, pp. 546-47.)

Jeremiah writes this letter to the leaders of the exiles because false prophets had told the people that the exile would be short and they would return home soon. Jeremiah tells them them that the exile is going to last seventy years. And then he tells them that God is calling them to settle in Babylon, plant gardens, build houses, get married, have families, and prepare for the long haul.  

In 538 B.C.E., King Cyrus of Persia conquered the Babylonians and allowed the exiles to return home. Fifty-nine years had passed. Because they had nurtured their family life, studied and prayed together, and deepened their faith individually and corporately, they remained a cohesive community and were able to return home and rebuild.

Our next reading is from the Second Letter to Timothy, and I confess that I’m now subscribing to the view that this was written by Paul. He is near the end of his life. He is in prison in Rome. He is in chains. But then he bursts forth with the good news, “The word of God is not chained!” As the moments go on, though he has died with Christ in baptism, as we all have, he is dying again in the sense that he is becoming more and more one with Christ. He is becoming less Paul and more Christ. And, through everything, Paul shares his deep sense that, though we humans may be faithless, Christ is always faithful. Jesus carries us when we cannot walk.

Apparently the congregation which Timothy is serving is having some arguments, and Paul tells his mentee Timothy to warn the people that they need to stop “wrangling over words.” How many times in the Church have we gotten into that “wrangling over words.,” whether it’s passing the Peace or revising the prayer book or the hymnal or all the many other issues we have debated. The word of truth is that God’s love can lead us to find harmony in the midst of all these discussions.

In our gospel, Jesus is going toward Jerusalem, and he is now in the region between Samaria and Galilee. He is going toward a village and ten lepers approach him. Lepers are considered to be ritually unclean. They are supposed to shout out and warn people of their presence. Imagine having to do such a thing. This is designed to be sure that no one ever gets near them, They are outcasts. In those times, lepers lived together in little communities. In this way, they were able to offer support to each other.

These ten lepers do not shout, “Unclean! Unclean!” as they are supposed to. They stay at a distance, but they call out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” We can surmise that they have heard about Jesus. They have heard that he welcomes everyone, he respects everyone, from the most humble to the most powerful and everybody in between, and he has healing power like no one has ever seen.

Jesus looks at them with love and says, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” He has seen that they are lepers and he is advising them to go to the priests, who will certify that they are healed and can go back home to their families and resume their lives. On the way, they are healed.

One of them looks at his arm and sees that he is healed. He praises God with a shout of joy. “Hallelujah! And he turns around, goes back to Jesus, prostrates himself at Jesus’ feet. and thanks him. This man is a Samaritan. He’s a double outcast, a leper and a hated Samaritan. And he is the only one who thanks Jesus. So often in the gospels, it is the outcast who is the holy example.

Jesus notes that there were ten and only this one has come back to give thanks. And this one is a foreigner. Not one of us. And then he tells the man, Get up and go on your way, back home, back to your friends and family. You’re finished with your exile. And he says, “Your faith has made you well.”

Our faith can help us to get well and stay well in challenging times. It can give us that spirit of a sound mind and spirit of discipline that we heard about last Sunday. Our relationship with God and Jesus and the Spirit can help us to stay on course, to follow the one who loves us beyond our ability to understand. Our faith can help us to keep our sanity and hold our ground in times of exile.

And there’s one more thing—gratitude. Someone once said, and I do not know who—I heard it second or third hand. But whoever it was said: “As Christians, we know Whom to thank.” We know where all good things come from. We know that there is an inexhaustible supply of love, and it comes from God. And we can thank God for all the many blessings God showers on us. Like those exiles so many centuries ago, we can spend time with God in prayer, individually and corporately, and we can count on God to lead us and guide us in every moment and season and challenge of our lives.

Loving God, Jesus, our Good Shepherd, Spirit of truth, thank you for your unfailing love and for all the blessings you bestow on us. Help us to seek and do your will. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Pentecost 14 Proper 19C September 15, 2019

Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28
Psalm 14
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-10

Our first reading today comes from the prophet Jeremiah. There is an enemy from the North, probably the Babylonian Empire, and the attack of this enemy is going to cause such vast destruction that scholars tell us the wording is similar to that used to describe the chaos before the creation. The earth becomes “waste and void,” and the heavens have no light.

The attack is described as a hot desert wind, and scholars such as Walter Bouzard tell us that, though this passage refers to events that happened about two thousand six hundred years ago, we, the people of God in the twenty-first century, can read this passage as an indication of what human activity is doing to God’s creation. Bouzard writes, “The link between human sin and environmental degradation has received a new and less metaphorical meaning in recent decades. Whatever one thinks about the scientific causes of global warming,  the fact remains that human consumption has filled our seas with plastic and our rain with acids. This is not the direct judgment of God, of course, but it does seem that God has created the world in such a way that sin’s consequences are felt in our environment. What might Christians do?” (Bouzard, New Proclamation Year C 2013, Easter through Christ the King, p. 176

Whether it is an enemy from the North, or some other threat, the devastation described in our reading is profound. “The whole land shall be a desolation,” God says. Biblical scholar James D. Newsome says that we might describe the situation portrayed in this reading in two words: “total despair.” (Newsome, Texts for Preaching Year C, p. 507.) But this is not the last word. There is a final note of hope. God says, “Yet I will not make a full end.”

Our epistle for today is from the First Letter to Timothy. Scholars have spent long hours, days, and years debating whether this letter was written by Paul late in his ministry or by a faithful disciple of Paul. In either case, the latter is written to convey the thought and spirit of Paul, and it is directed to his beloved helper, Timothy. Once again, we hear the theme of hope. If anyone deserved to be written off by God, it was Saul, the merciless persecutor of the followers of Christ. 

But what did our Lord do? The risen Jesus spoke to Saul of Tarsus and asked Saul why he was killing followers of what was then called The Way.  And Saul was transformed by the mercy and love of Christ.

In our gospel for today, the Pharisees and the scribes are complaining because Jesus eats with sinners and tax collectors. Always, we need to keep in mind that the Pharisees and scribes were people like us. We should not label them as the hated Other. They were just trying to keep their faith as it had been handed down to them. Unfortunately, the legal scholars had expanded the ten commandments into six hundred thirty-three rules and regulations that only people of wealth and leisure could follow.

In response to their complaints, Jesus tells two parables. The first one is about the one lost sheep out of a flock of one hundred. Jesus asks which shepherd would not leave the flock and go to find the lost sheep.  The shepherds listening to Jesus would have asked, “Are you crazy? You want us to leave our flock to be eaten by wild animals and go off and find the one lost sheep?”

Thus is just another example of how the kingdom of Jesus turns everything upside down. Yes, Jesus goes out and finds the lost sheep. And he lays it across his shoulders, takes it home, and invites his neighbors in for a feast. In a similar fashion, the woman who has lost the silver coin searches and searches until she finds it and invites her neighbors in to celebrate with her.

In his book, Kingdom, Grace, and Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus, Robert Farrar Capon writes, “Jesus’ plan of salvation works only with the last, the lost, the least, the little, and the dead; the living, the great, the successful, the found, and the first simply will not consent to the radical slimming down that Jesus, the Needle of God, calls for if he is to pull them through into the kingdom.” (p. 388)

On the parables of the lost coin and the lost sheep. Capon writes, “The entire cause of the recovery operation in both stories is the shepherd’s, or the woman’s, determination to find the lost. Neither the lost sheep nor the lost coin does a blessed thing except hang around in its lostness. On the strength of this parable, therefore, it is precisely our sins, and not our goodnesses, that most commend us to the grace of God.  Capon says that the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin “…are parables about God’s determination to move before we do—in short, to make lostness and death the only tickets we need to the Supper of the Lamb…. These stories are parables of grace, and grace only.” (Kingdom, Grace, Judgment, p. 186-187.)

Capon concludes, “It is about the ‘one thing necessary’ (See Luke 10:42): the response of trust, of faith in Jesus’ free acceptance of us by the grace of his death and resurrection. It is, in other words, about a faithful, Mary-like waiting upon Jesus himself as the embodiment of the mystery—and about the danger of substituting some prudent, fretful, Martha-like business of our own for that waiting.” (Kingdom,Grace,Judgment, p. 424.)

I think that “Mary-like waiting” is what our Collect for today is about. This prayer dates back to at least 750 A.D. Our traditional version goes back to the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. The 1549 version of the prayer reads,  “O God, forasmuch as without thee we are not able to please thee, grant that the working of thy mercy may in all things direct and rule our hearts.”

It is not that we cannot do good things without God. Of course we can. It is, rather, that God is calling us to respond to God’s gifts of grace, love, and mercy, and to trust God to lead us in everything that we think and do because trusting in God frees us from our lostness and allows us to live in our foundness and our freedom as God’s beloved children. May we accept God’s gift of grace. Amen.

Pentecost 8 Proper 13C August 4, 2019

Hosea 11:1-11
Psalm 107:1-9, 43
Colossians 3:1-11
Luke 12:13-21

Last Sunday, Our Lord taught us how to pray. He told us to call God “Abba,” which translates not as “Father, “ or “Mother,” but as “Dad” or “Mom.” We are called to address God just as Jesus does, in an intimate, familiar way.

In our reading this morning from the prophet Hosea, we have the opportunity to meditate together on God as our loving, divine parent.

God says “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” God called God’s people out of slavery in Egypt, but after they reached the promised land, they began to worship alien gods such as Baal. a fertility god, and other idols as well.

God says, “Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms, but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love, I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks.”  

These words describe God’s unfailing parental love for God’s children, in this case the people of the Northern Kingdom. But the people are not following God. They are straying far from the law. During the ministry of Hosea, the gap between the rich and poor continued to widen; people did not take care of each other; there was constant war with the Assyrian Empire, and finally, the Assyrians conquered God’s people. Our reading reminds us that God guided the people home from that experience of exile.

God is upset about this to the point of anger, but God says, “I will not come in wrath.” Even though God’s people are being faithless, God loves them. As they suffer, God suffers with them. Biblical scholar James D. Newsome writes, “The suffering God of Hosea anticipates the suffering Christ of Gethsemane and of Calvary’s cross  (Newsome, Texts for Preaching Year B, p. 452.)

Our reading from the letter to the Colossians calls us to set our minds on things that are above, not on earthly things. We are called to get rid of things like anger, malice, slander, abusive language, and lying. In making the choice to follow Christ, we have stripped off the old self and have clothed ourselves in the new self. Elsewhere in the epistles, we are called to put on Christ, to clothe ourselves in Christ.

 What a difference it makes when we speak the truth, when we act from compassion, when we lift each other up instead of tearing each other down. Paul’s list of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22 describe the qualities that we show when we are truly following Jesus—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Our reading concludes by saying that, as we grow into Christ, as we become more and more like our Lord, differences of race, religion, class, and national origin dissolve and we become one in Christ.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is preaching and teaching and someone from the crowd asks our Lord to settle a dispute over a family inheritance.

Our Lord takes this opportunity to warn us to be careful about greed. Greed was one of the things tearing up the society in the Northern Kingdom and leading to its fall, and, of course, it is one of the seven root sins. In our own society, we also have a widening gap between the rich and the poor, and we receive constant messages that tell us the accumulation of wealth and power are what life is all about.

Jesus tells a stunning parable. The land of a rich man—notice Jesus says “the land of a rich man” not “a rich man.” The land, God’s creation, God’s gift to this man, produces great abundance. There is so much that he runs out of buildings to store the produce of the land. Does he think of giving anything to those less fortunate? Apparently not. Does he thank God for God’s many blessings? No. He does not talk with God at all. His entire dialogue is with himself. 

He decides to tear down all his buildings and build new ones to hold this bountiful harvest. He says, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” Is it wrong to relax and eat, drink and be merry? Not at all.

But where is God in all of this? Where is our Lord’s call to us to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves?” This man tells his soul that there is material wealth to last for many years and it is now time to celebrate, but material things are not what nourish the soul. The man dies that night.

Jesus says, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” What does it mean to be rich toward God?

Biblical scholar Richard P. Carlson writes, “Being rich toward God entails using one’s resources for the benefit of one’s neighbor in need as the Samaritan did. Being rich towards God includes intentionally listening to Jesus’ word as Mary did. Being rich toward God involves…giving alms as a means of establishing lasting treasure in heaven. Life and possessions are a gift of God to be used to advance God’s agenda of care and compassion, precisely for those who lack resources to provide for themselves.” Feasting on the Word Year C Vol. 3, p. 315.

What are our readings telling us today? Our lesson from Hosea expresses God’s tender and unfailing love and care for us, even when we are straying far from God. As St. Paul tells us in his Letter to the Romans, “Nothing can separate us from the love of God.” Our reading from Colossians calls us to focus on the things that are above, becoming more and more like our Lord. In our gospel, our Lord calls us to treasure every moment of this life and to live lives that are cross-shaped. We are called to reach up toward God and to reach out to share God’s love with others. Amen.

Pentecost 21 Proper 23C RCL October 9, 2016

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
Psalm 66:1-1
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Luke 17:11-19

In our first reading, the Babylonians have captured Jerusalem, leveled the temple, and sent the leaders and many of the people into exile in Babylon. Imagine what it would be like to be conquered by an enemy and then forced to move to the country of your conquerors. It would be devastating and demoralizing.

In this darkest hour for God’s people, the prophet Jeremiah writes a  letter to the exiles. He tells them to “build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce,” he advises them to get married and raise families. And he tells them to pray for the people of Babylon because in the welfare of Babylon is the welfare of God’s people.

Biblical scholar James D. Newsome says that this advice from Jeremiah is what allowed the people not only to survive, but to thrive in their captivity and then to return home and rebuild.

What amazing advice. In the midst of disaster and exile, pursue your life and flourish. Pray for your captives.

Many scholars tell us that the Church in America is in exile. It is not “the thing to do” to attend church. People do not really care what the church has to say. The church has become irrelevant. So often our values are different from the values of our surrounding culture, It is easy for us to complain that people do not come to church, that the culture is materialistic, and so on. Yet we are called to reach out to our neighbors, love our neighbors,  and serve our neighbors rather than mourn and weep about the fact that they don’t join us for services on Sunday.

The exiles worshipped God, asked for God’s help, studied the scriptures, and strengthened their sense of community. After fifty or so years, they would return home with deeper faith and a stronger community that they had ever had.

Our epistle for today is the Second Letter to Timothy. This is a profoundly personal letter which expresses Paul’s theology in a powerful way, and it shows a deep sense of love and care for Timothy. We can imagine Paul in prison in Rome in 64 C.E., in the last months or even weeks of his life before he was martyred. Paul is in chains, but the gospel is not chained. He is passing on the legacy of faith and congregational leadership with every ounce of his energy and all the grace that God can give him. Christ loves us with every ounce of his energy. He has died for us. If we have died to our old lives in baptism, we are now rising with him into newness of life. It’s that simple. And that new life is happening in our lives right now.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is heading to Jerusalem, going through the area between Samaria and Galilee. He is on the outskirts of the village. This is where the outcasts such as lepers live. The law requires them to stay away from people. They live together in groups because no one else will associate with them.

But as Jesus enters the village, ten lepers approach him. This is very unusual. They do not call out, “Unclean!” as the law requires. They know Jesus is different. He is approachable. He is loving. He is a healer. Instead of yelling out “Unclean,” they cry out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

He looks at them with love and healing in his eyes and heart and he tells them to go and show themselves to the priests. That was the law. You had to go  to the temple and show yourself to the priests and they would certify that you were healed. Then you could go back home and be with your friends and family again.

The ten lepers have complete faith in what Jesus has said and done. They immediately head out to the temple to see the priests.  But one of them happens to look at his hand or his arm and realizes that he is already healed. He turns around, praising God with all his might and prostrates himself at Jesus’ feet in worship and thanks him.

Then we get another piece of information. This man is not a member of the orthodox faith. He is a Samaritan. He is a double outcast—a leper and a Samaritan. Just as in the parable of the Good Samaritan, the outcast is the holy example. He is the only one who gives thanks. The other nine report to the priests, get a clean bill of health and go back to their former lives.

There is so much power is stopping and thanking God for all the blessings God bestows on us. If we take the time each day to thank God for the many gifts God gives us,  it puts a different light on our day, a different light in our hearts and lives.

Even as we thank God for so many blessings, I ask your prayers for our brothers and sisters who are dealing with the destruction wrought by Hurricane Matthew in the Caribbean and along our East Coast  and for all those who are helping with rescue and recovery. We can be thankful for all the planning and preparation which reduced injuries and deaths, but many are still suffering, especially in Haiti.

Episcopal Relief and Development is asking our support for the Hurricane Matthew Response Fund, and I’ll be asking your thoughts on that at the Peace and at coffee hour.

As we journey through this bicentennial year of Grace Church, and as I reflect on gratitude, I think that our ancestors were sincerely thankful to God, and that gratitude was reflected in their outreach to people here and around the world.  We can all be thankful that we are a part of this community which is so deeply rooted in faith, gratitude, and generosity.

Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Pentecost 13 Proper 15C RCL August 14, 2016

Isaiah 5:1-7
Psalm 80:1-2. 8-18
Hebrews 11:29-12:2
Luke 12:49-56

In our opening reading, the prophet Isaiah tells us a moving story of God’s love. God has a vineyard. With utmost care, God plants the best vines, builds a watchtower, and makes a wine vat. God expects this vineyard to yield grapes, but, as scholar James D. Newsome translates literally, the vineyard produces “stinkers.” (Texts for Preaching Year C, p. 470.)

The Southern Kingdom of Judah is enjoying great prosperity, but there is no justice. As in our society, the rich are becoming richer, but the poor are losing ground. There will be invasions by foreign powers—first Assyria and then Babylonia.

In our second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, the new converts are reminded of the powerful history of faith from the time of the Exodus onward. God frees God’s people. God leads us out of all forms of slavery. God brings us safely home.

And then the reading moves into that stirring call to faith and action which we read on the feast of All Saints: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”

The journey of faith is envisioned as a race. We are spiritual athletes practicing askesis, spiritual discipline. Sin is like ankle weights that have been fastened to our legs, slowing us down, deflecting us from the goal. We are called to put aside the weight of sin, focus our eyes upon Jesus, and run with all the energy we can muster. Jesus is our goal. Living in him and allowing him to live in us is the source of the meaning and purpose of our lives.

But then we reach today’s troubling gospel. It makes us stop short. Our Lord, the Prince of Peace, is talking about strife and conflict. Not only that, he is describing deep conflict between members of families—father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, on and on.

Following Jesus is not easy. Our Lord is talking about what  Bonhoeffer called “The Cost of Discipleship.” It is important that we remember that he is on his way to Jerusalem, and he is well aware that the authorities are already keeping a close eye on him. He is attracting huge crowds. The authorities do not like this because they perceive a threat to their rule and control. Indeed, they have every reason to be threatened because the values of his shalom are the opposite of their values. They use violence to control their own people, and they will eventually kill Jesus.

When faced with this passage, I always think of our own Civil War. I think of families in the South, people who owned plantations, who treated their slaves well, and I think of the growing awareness that owning another person is not acceptable. Last Sunday Jesus said that when we wait for the master to arrive, he will sit down and serve us!

Even though slavery was accepted and practiced in Biblical times, it is not acceptable. But think of the pain and turmoil those families in the South endured. Some members of the family still felt that slavery was scriptural and permissible. Others were beginning to see the high standards which are set by the gospel.

During the nineteen fifties and sixties, we grappled in earnest with the issue of racial equality, and that struggle continues into the present.

It is so difficult for us to realize that, in God’s eyes, everyone is infinitely beloved.

In every age, following Christ can cause division. A father wants his son to carry on the family business. The son feels a deep vocation to the ordained ministry.

The son tries to fight this call. He does not want to hurt his father. Finally he sits down with his Dad and shares his vocation. The father is hurt and angry. They make a decision to pray about it and to keep talking together. Finally, the father works his way, with God’s help, to a place of acceptance.

Or, it goes the other way. The father simply does not understand his son’s selfish, willful lack of respect for the family business. This creates a chasm between the father and the son, an abyss of grief and anguish, and suffering for all the family members.

The values of God’s shalom are not the values of this world. God is still calling us to work toward that shalom, but we are not there yet. We can see the conflict, the birth pangs of God’s shalom everywhere.

How can we faithfully follow Christ in the midst of all this conflict? How can we possibly choose the values of his shalom in the midst of all this turmoil? Well, we can,  as our diocesan mission statement says, and as St. Augustine said many years ago, “Pray the prayer of Christ, learn the mind of Christ, and do the deeds of Christ.” In other words, we can root and ground our lives in prayer; meditate on and study and absorb the life of Jesus; and make his life the model for our lives.

Lisa W. Davison, Professor of Religious Studies at Lynchburg College in Virginia writes, “The good news is that Jesus has already run the race, marked the course, and provided a role model for us to follow.”

(Davison, New Proclamation Year C 2010, p. 183.

Let us run the race; let us follow him with all our heart and with all the grace he can give us. In his holy Name we pray. Amen.