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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion June 11, 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 8 Proper 11B July 18, 2021

2 Samuel 7:1-14a
Psalm 89: 20-37
Ephesians 2:11-22
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Biblical scholars Walter Brueggemann, James Newsome, and colleagues write, “Something new begins when God’s powerful love and loving power are acted out.” They are especially referring to what they call “the radical newness that is worked in Israel with the appearance of David.” (Brueggemann, Newsome, et al Texts for Preaching, p. 428.)

As we know, David was able to draw all the tribes together and create a united Israel. God had called David to be the king. In our first reading for today, David has built a house, and he wants to build a house for the ark of the covenant. He shares this idea with Nathan the prophet, who appears for the first time in the passage. Nathan encourages David to go ahead with the project, but that night, the Lord tells Nathan that God will build a house for David. God has a special relationship with the family of David. One of David’s descendants, Solomon, will build the temple to the Lord in Jerusalem. The Messiah will come from the house of David.

In our epistle for today, part of the Letter to the Ephesians, a kind of circular letter written to the churches in Asia Minor, now called Turkey, by a faithful disciple of Paul, the theme of God’s love creating a new thing is continued.

All kinds of people were coming into the community of faith. Some of them were Jewish, and some were Gentiles, non-Jews, people who might be worshipping one of the Greek or Roman gods, or who might not have any religious connections. Many of the new converts were Gentiles, and the writer realizes that these people might have felt like second-class citizens in the community. They were not familiar with the Hebrew scriptures or the law or the tradition. And he tells these people, “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups [Jews and Gentiles] into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law…that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.”

Brueggemann, Newsome and colleagues write, “Clearly Jesus, according to this text, runs well beyond David in envisioning and enacting a new, single community of humanity, which overrides our deepest divisions.”  (Brueggemann, Newsome, et al, Texts for Preaching, p. 428.)

Our Lord is creating a new community in which “God’s powerful love”and “God’s loving power” are being acted out.

In today’s gospel reading, we remember that Jesus has just heard of the death of his cousin, John the Baptist. I think Jesus and John were quite close. They were members of a large extended family, and they were kindred spirits and faithful servants of God. So, when he heard of the death of John, I think Jesus was very sad. But he did not let that stop his work of creating loving community, teaching, and healing people. As our reading opens, he has sent the apostles out to teach and heal. Now they are coming back and reporting all they have done. 

We can imagine that they have much to share with him and with each other. They have gone out two by two, and they have shared the good news and taught, and healed people. After this debriefing, Jesus calls them to go away to a quiet place to rest and, undoubtedly, to pray. We can imagine that both he and they are exhausted from all their work. They get into a boat and go to the other side of the lake. 

But a crowd of people arrives there ahead of them. And the text says, “he had compassion on them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he began to teach them many things.” Jesus cares about people.  No matter how tired he is, his compassion seems to be almost endless. This is an example for us. We are human, and our compassion is not endless. But our Lord is calling us to try, with his grace, to be compassionate to everyone we meet. 

Then Jesus and his disciples cross back to the other side of the lake. People recognize him and bring sick people from far and wide to be healed. Wherever he goes, people bring sick friends and relatives to be made whole again. Even touching the hem of his garment heals people. The healing power of our Lord goes beyond our understanding. We, too, are called to extend the healing power of his love.

“Something new begins when God’s powerful love and loving power are acted out.” Each and every one of you is sharing the power of God’s love with others, some in ministry with elders, some with animal rescue, some at the food shelf, some with Meals on Wheels, some with young people, the list goes on and on. You are all doing ministry, caring for people, animals, and God’s creation. This week, thanks to jan, our friends at the food shelf, and our brothers and sisters at First Congregational Church in St. Albans, we are beginning to serve families in our new Welcome Home Initiative for people transitioning from temporary to permanent housing. These kinds of ministries break down barriers and bring people together. They help God to create God’s big family.

“Something new begins when God’s powerful love and loving power are acted out.” Gracious and loving God, thank you for your powerful love and your loving power. Thank you for calling us to be together to share life in you. Thank you for all the ministries you give us to do. May we minister to each other and to our brothers and sisters out in the world with your powerful love and your loving power. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Pentecost 7 Proper 10B July 11, 2021

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
Psalm 24
Ephesians 1:3-14
Mark 6:14-29

Reflecting on our first reading today, Old Testament scholar James Newsome writes, “The presence of God in human life results in a joy that far exceeds that generated by other relationships and by the usual day-to-day experiences of life.” Newsome, Texts for Preaching Year B, p. 422.)

David has defeated the Philistines, a triumph King Saul could not achieve. The northern and southern kingdoms have been united. The ark of God, which had led the people of God out of their slavery in Egypt, has been at the home of Abinadab. Now David and thirty thousand men take a new cart and bring the ark of God to Jerusalem, where it will rest in a tent constructed by David. Later on, in that very spot, David’s son, Solomon, will build a temple to God. 

David wears the priestly garment, the ephod. He blesses the people. He feeds the people with the food offered at the feast in a kind of eucharistic action. In many ways, his actions are liturgical in nature. He is a religious leader as well as a king. He has been chosen by God to lead the people, and it is from his house that the Messiah will come.

As he leads the people in procession, David dances with great joy. 

We have been back in our beloved building for a few Sundays. It is such a blessing to be here where generations of faithful people have worshipped our loving and healing and merciful God. As wonderful as it is to be here, it is such a profound gift just to be together, to look into each other’s faces, to feel each other’s physical and spiritual presence in such a powerful way. For me this is such a wonderful expression of God’s love.

And that is what the writer of the Book of Ephesians, probably not Paul, but a faithful disciple of his, is expressing. This writer is telling us that God, the creator of heaven and earth, God who spoke to the people from Mt. Sinai, which was at that time an active volcano, God, who created all the plants and animals and everything else on earth, has adopted us as God’s very own beloved children.

Can you believe it? We can call God Dad, or Mom, or Papa or Mama. The creator of the universe bestows that level of love on us. We are that close to God. God is holding us in the palm of God’s hand. God is holding us in God’s loving arms.

To paraphrase James Newsome, the presence of God in our lives results in great joy. That is so true,

Then we come to our gospel for today, which is not about joy. When King Herod hears about all the healings and other wonderful things Jesus is doing, he thinks John the Baptist has come back to life. And then he remembers that he beheaded John, and our reading goes to a flashback.

Herod had arrested John the Baptist. Herod had married his brother’s wife, Herodias. John the Baptist told Herod that he had broken the law, You are not supposed to marry your brother’s wife. Herodias hated John the Baptist because he had told the truth about the law and morality.

Herod had a very complicated relationship with John. On the one hand, he did not like that John had criticized him. On the other hand, Herod liked to listen to John’s teachings about the scriptures. Down deep, I think, Herod realized that John the Baptist was a prophet speaking God’s truth.

One day, Herod had a birthday party and all his courtiers were invited. There was a great feast and the guests ate and drank their fill. His daughter came in and danced. Herod was so pleased that he offered her anything she wanted. She went out and asked her mother what her request should be. And her mother, who had a huge grudge against John the Baptist, told her to ask for John’s head. 

Scholars tell us that it is safe to assume that Herod had had far too much to drink. As drunk as he was, he did not want to kill John. He had genuine respect for John. But he had given his word, and what would all these powerful guests think if he went back on it? So he sent a soldier to do the nasty deed. This is one of the most grisly stories in the Bible or anywhere else—a tale of power and hatred gone mad.

John’s disciples come and take his body and give it a decent burial. And when Herod hears about Jesus he thinks it is John the Baptist risen from the dead, a kind of foreshadowing of the resurrection of our Lord. New Testament scholar Charles Cousar writes, “Truth-telling becomes a perilous venture in a world of Herods and Pilates.” (Cousar, Texts for Preaching Year B, P. 427.)

Even in the face of Herods and Pilates, the presence of God in our lives gives us joy. John the Baptist was the forerunner announcing the coming of the Messiah. Jesus is the light of the world and that light is shining in our lives right now. Nothing can change the power of that light and love. Nothing can dim that light. David danced with joy as he brought the ark of the covenant to a more permanent home. We dance for joy to be here now in our spiritual home. That light and love and joy is stronger than hate or fear.  Let us walk in the Way of Love. Let us dance in the Way of Love and Joy. Amen.

Pentecost 4 Proper 7B June 20, 2021

1 Samuel 17: (1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49
Psalm 9:9-20
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Mark 4:35-41

Last Sunday, we read the story of how God sent Samuel to the home of Jesse to anoint David as King of Israel. We remember that Saul, who is still king, has been a great disappointment to both God and Samuel. He was not a good leader.

Very few people know that David has been anointed as King. The young man has been dividing his time between tending the sheep and going to the palace to play his lyre for King Saul, who has developed a very upsetting illness which can be relieved only by the presence of David playing his lyre.

David’s older brothers have been serving in the army, and David has been sent to the front lines to bring supplies to them. As he arrives, David hears Goliath, a giant of a man, hurling insults at the God of Israel and challenging God’s people to send a man to fight him. Just to give us an idea of his size, scholars tell us that six cubits and a span means that Goliath is ten feet tall. Goliath is a bully on steroids. He has no use for God and he relies only on his brute strength and his capacity for endless bragging and threatening.

David delivers the supplies for his brothers and hears the words of Goliath. He offers to go and fight Goliath. Saul is concerned for David’s safety, David assures Saul that he has killed lions and bears in order to defend his flock. Scholars tell us that there indeed were lions and bears in Palestine at that time. Saul is a bit dubious, but David says, “The Lord who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will save me from this Philistine.”  Goliath trusts in his own brute strength. David trusts completely in God. Saul tries to help David by giving the young man his armor, but the weight of the physical armor paralyzes David. He takes his shepherd’s staff, five smooth stones, and his sling. 

Goliath curses and ridicules David. David responds, “You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts…” David runs to the battle line, takes one of those smooth stones, hurls it at Goliath, and kills him.

This story is the classic tale of the victory of the underdog, but it is also a profound statement about the power of faith. Biblical scholar James Newsome writes, “The God of justice is committed to the preservation of faithful people and to the defense of those who cannot defend themselves….The point of the whole narrative is that Goliath is a predator, and as God’s agent of justice David will deal with him as such….The death of Goliath signals that Israel’s new king, this shepherd like no other, will defend his people against their oppressors. But more than that, it reaffirms that the God of Israel will never permit injustice to prevail.” (Newsome, Texts for Preaching Year B, pp. 393-394.)

As he addresses Goliath and prepares for battle, David has a depth of calmness and faith. This theme is carried into our gospel for today. Jesus suggests that he and his team take the boat to the other side of the lake. They have been surrounded by people and they need some time apart. As they head for the other side, a squall comes up. The wind and waves are threatening to swamp the boat. His companions are terrified. Jesus is asleep. In ancient times, the sea was equated with chaos. God’s work of creation brought order and beauty to the chaos. In this gospel passage, the sea becomes chaotic to the point of being deadly, and Jesus sleeps through it. Chaos does not terrify  him because of his deep faith.

All of this made me think of something our presiding Bishop has spoken about recently. He says we have a choice between community and chaos, and, of course, Bishop Curry offers the Way of Love as the basis for community.

To me, Goliath is a symbol of chaos—threatening people, throwing insults, even at God, pushing people around, even killing people. David is a symbol of the kind of deep faith that builds community instead of chaos. Because of his faith, David was able to protect his people that day. He became one of the great kings of Israel. He created community. He even brought the two kingdoms of Israel together.

Jesus is able to still the storms that terrify us. He wakes up and calms the storm. He is able to sleep because of his complete faith in God.

David steps up and offers to fight Goliath because of his deep faith in God and his determination to prevent his people from being enslaved. The life and ministry of our Lord free us from every bondage and set us free to help others.

New Testament scholar Ira Brent Driggers writes, “The world scoffs with Goliath at the prospect of defeating the seemingly unbeatable giant with a single smooth stone, just as it scoffs at the proposition of defeating sin and death through a singular, incarnate love. The Christian story here is not one of violence and bloodshed but trusting that God works within the creation (and in unexpected ways through a shepherd boy and a carpenter’s son) to realize the divine will for creation.” Driggers, New Proclamation Year B 2012, p. 92.)

Bishop Curry writes, “I am a follower of Jesus of Nazareth because I believe that his way of love and his way of life is the way of life for us all. I believe that unselfish, sacrificial love, love that seeks the good and the welfare and the well-being of others, as well as the self, that this is the way that can lead us and guide us to do what is just, to do what is right, to do what is merciful. It is the way that can lead us beyond the chaos to community.”

The faith of a young shepherd enables him to calm the chaos caused by a predatory bully. The faith of our Lord allows him to sleep through a tempest and then awaken to calm the storm. Our faith enables us to walk the Way of Love and to help God build God’s shalom of peace and love. Amen.

Pentecost 18 Proper 22A October 4, 2020

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
Psalm 19
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46

Once again we are on the journey with the people of God. They have gone through many challenges. They have struggled; they have been hungry, thirsty, angry, discouraged. They have even wished they had stayed in their slavery in Egypt. Now, our loving God is giving them a great gift, the gift of the covenant that will enable them to love God and to love their neighbors.

The first four commandments describe our relationship with God. There is only one God, and that is the God we are called to worship.   Don’t make idols. Only one God can fill that place in our hearts and lives, yet there are so many idols, things like money, power, and possessions, and our culture seems to give high value to those idols.

Use the name of God with great care. Every mention of that holy Name should be in the context of prayer. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. For those who have to work on Sundays, it is important to observe sabbath time on another day if possible. We all need time to nourish our spirits and rest our bodies and minds from the stresses of work.

The remaining six commandments deal with our relationships with our neighbors. Honor our father and our mother. Family ties are important. No murder. This refers not only to physical murder but to speaking ill of others and sharing gossip. We are called to be faithful to our spouses. No stealing. No lying. No coveting of things that others own.These commandments are the glue that will hold the people together and govern their lives. Biblical scholar James Newsome writes, “The commandments of God are God’s gracious gift to the people, by which the people are provided with the means to respond to God’s love.” (Newsome, Texts for Preaching Year A, p. 507.

Newsome seems to be implying that, if we humans are not able to live together in some kind of order, with mutual respect and caring for

each other, we will not be able to respond in gratitude to God’s love. There is great truth in that comment. The gift of the commandments enables the people to move ahead in their communal life with guidelines that will help their life together to be heathy and caring.

Just prior to our reading from Philippians, Paul offers stern words to some people in the congregation who think that Gentiles joining the congregation should have to undergo circumcision. There was a great discussion in the early Church about whether new followers of Jesus should be required to follow the dietary laws and be circumcised.

Paul speaks from a powerful position. He is a member of the tribe of Benjamin, a Pharisee, an expert in the law, and a Roman citizen, These attributes give him many privileges. But all of these things are as rubbish to him compared with the gift of knowing and following Jesus. It is the gift of faith, given to us by God, which makes us able to follow our Lord, not adherence to the law.

And then Paul speaks of the journey of following our Lord. He wants to become more and more like Christ, just as we do. But he knows that he is not there yet. That is so true. In our journey with Christ, there is always more growing to do. We are not perfect, but, as long as we are trying to follow our Lord, that’s the important thing.

Paul writes, “Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own, but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Paul is giving us another metaphor for the Covid-19 journey we are traveling at this moment and will be traveling for several months if we are to believe experts like Dr. Fauci. As medical experts have said, the fact that our President and our First Lady have been diagnosed with this virus reminds us that Covid 19 can strike anyone and that we need to follow safety measures. We pray for all who have been diagnosed with this virus and wish them a speedy and full recovery. This journey is not a sprint. It ls a marathon. Paul is so devoted to Jesus. He is so close to our Lord, that he says that Christ has made Paul his own. In a sense, they have become one through God’s love. Therefore, on his marathon journey in and to newness of life, Paul receives the energy of Christ through the Holy Spirit. And that is what we are receiving through the love of God and the power of the Spirit— power and energy to do the wise thing and the loving thing as we make this journey. Our risen Lord is on this journey with us, and we can trust in him.

In our gospel for today, our Lord is teaching in the temple. The religious authorities are watching him closely. They will eventually kill him. All tyrants try to destroy those who speak the truth. Jesus tells a parable.  He has studied the wise and inspiring prophet Isaiah who thought of God’s world as a vineyard. When you let out a vineyard to tenants, you normally expect to get a portion of the produce as payment. The owner sends people to collect the payment and the tenants beat one, kill another, and stone another. This happens a second time. The landowner finally sends his son, and the tenants kill him.

God loves us so much that God came among us. Jesus is God walking the face of the earth. We have the Ten Commandments as our guidelines on how to live our lives, but we still tend to go astray, so, as Paul knew well, God came to show us the way. Now we have a fully divine and fully human life, the life of Jesus, as our model. 

But Paul knew from his own experience that we have even more than that. We are walking the journey one cloudy day and our patience is fraying and our anxiety is rising and our temper is not in the greatest of shape. And then we feel his presence, calming our nerves, giving us strength, renewing our faith. We can feel him walking beside us. Let’s be honest: we can feel him carrying us. And, because he is risen and we know what he has been through, we feel his love and his hope and his courage flowing into us. And we know we can do this. With his help and his loving presence, we can take the next step. And the next. And, one step at a time, we can run this marathon, no matter what it takes—with his presence and his grace. Amen.

Pentecost 12 Proper 16A August 23, 2020

Exodus 1:8-2:10
Psalm 124
Romans 12:1-8
Matthew 16:13-20

In our opening reading today, we hear one of the most important stories in the Bible. We recall that in last Sunday’s reading, the Pharaoh had recognized Joseph’s gifts of administration, and  God’s people were invited to come to Egypt, where there was plenty of food stored up to help everyone survive the time of famine.

Our reading begins with an important sentence. “Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. This king rules on the basis of fear. He sees that the Israelites are more numerous than the Egyptians, and he thinks the Israelites will join his enemies and overthrow him and escape from Egypt. So he forces the Israelites into slavery, and imposes increasingly ruthless burdens upon them.

The king then tells the midwives to be sure that all the Israelite baby boys will die. But the midwives believe in God, and they do not follow the king’s instructions. The king then orders that all the Hebrew baby boys must be killed. Things become worse and worse.

In the midst of this turmoil and suffering, a Levite man marries a woman from the house of Levi. She gives birth to a son. She hides him for three months. Then she knows she has to do something. She gets a papyrus basket and puts tar and pitch on it to make it into a little boat. She puts the beautiful little baby into the little boat and hides it in the reeds beside the great Nile river. The baby’s older sister, Miriam, keeps watch from a distance.

The daughter of Pharaoh comes to the river to bathe. She finds the baby, has pity on him, and concludes that he must be one of the Hebrews’ children. Just as this moment, Miriam comes up and offers to find a nurse for the baby. The king’s daughter accepts the offer.  She knows that her father has ordered the Hebrew baby boys to be killed, yet she saves this little one. The baby Moses will grow up in his own home and will have his very own mother as his nurse. When he grows older, his mother will take him to the king’s daughter, and she will adopt him. God rescues this baby from slavery and death and arranges for him to grow up in the royal palace. This is Moses, who will free his people from slavery. Biblical scholar James Newsome writes of this passage, “The oppressive hand of Pharaoh may be strong, but the redemptive hand of God is stronger still.” (Newsome, Texts for Preaching Year A, p, 454.)

In our epistle for today, St. Paul calls us to offer everything that we have and everything that we are to God. He calls us to allow ourselves to be transformed by the grace of God into the people God calls us to be. Paul encourages us to be humble, and he calls us to think clearly and carefully about things, and to use the faith that God has given us. And then he reminds us that we are members of the Body of Christ. We have different gifts, and we are called to use those gifts for the building up of the Body of Christ, because we are all one in Him.

In our gospel, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that the Son of Man is?” And they give a report on what people are saying. Some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, others Jeremiah, others say one of the prophets. And Jesus asks, “”But who do you say that I am?” Without hesitation, Peter says, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus praises Peter’s faith, and he says that Peter is the rock on which he will build his church. Like us, Peter is not perfect. He jumps into the water, walks a few feet on the water and then begins to sink. He blurts out thoughts of building three booths and preserving the moment of transfiguration when he is with Jesus, James, and John on the mountain. He denies our Lord three times. But in this moment, when our Lord is asking him this crucial question, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answers, with all his heart and soul and mind and strength, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” 

In these days of Covid 19 and so much turmoil, our readings call us to that depth of faith. Moses’ courageous, resourceful, and faithful mother put her beautiful baby in a little boat that she made herself, and, with unceasing prayer, hoped that God would protect this little one. Miriam stood by the river on constant watch to be sure her little brother was all right. And then, miracle of miracles, the Pharaoh’s daughter came down to bathe, and this little baby came under her protection. The liberator of God’s people grew up in his own home with his mother, father, and sister, and then, when he was older, was adopted and lived at the palace.

This is how God works through people who have deep, abiding faith.

Moses’ mother and sister, Peter, and so many others who have followed in their footsteps have been holy examples to us because of their deep, powerful faith.

This week, at this time in our journey with and through Covid 19, let us meditate on Moses’ mother and father and sister and on their faith. Let us meditate on the midwives, who courageously followed God instead of the corrupt king. Let us meditate upon the Pharaoh’s daughter, who knew she was going against her father’s wishes in protecting this little baby. And let us meditate on Peter, who is such a wonderful example because we can identify with him. He is so human. He has faults, just as we do. And he has faith. He knows who Jesus is. He stumbles a few times, but in the end his faith is as solid as a rock. Let us pray that we may have that strong faith.

These are not easy times. This is a time for faith, and thanks be to God, the Creator,  who has given us the gift of faith, and the gift of hope, and the gift of love. Thanks be to Jesus, the Redeemer, who has made us members of his Body, the Church, here to share his love with all people. And thanks be to God, the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier, who is always at work in us and in the world, bringing in God’s shalom of peace harmony, and wholeness. Amen.

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

Pentecost 26 Proper 28C RCL November 13, 2016

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

Our first reading this morning comes from the prophet known as the Third Isaiah. He is writing some time after King Cyrus of Persia has permitted the people of God to return to Jerusalem. They have been in exile in Babylon for about fifty years, two generations. They got married, had families and worked and survived and prayed together and studied the scriptures. God promised them that they would return and rebuild. That hope kept them alive.

Once they arrived home, they found that the temple was a pile of rubble. The Babylonians had destroyed Jerusalem. So they set about building houses for their families and planting gardens to raise food and doing what was necessary to preserve life.

Then they began to rebuild the temple. That took them about fifty years, according to biblical scholar James Newsome. And when they finally completed the temple, it was not as splendid and beautiful as Solomon’s original. And there were still piles of rubble everywhere and they had not even begun to build the city wall, which had been totally destroyed. (Newsome, Texts for Preaching NRSV Year C, pp. 696-7.)

People began to lose heart. Some leaders were greedy and corrupt. There were conflicts, even to the point of bloodshed. Some people became so discouraged that they turned to other gods. As much as they had hoped to return and rebuild, the work before them seemed too much to tackle. (Jack R. Lundbom, Feasting on the Word. Year C, Vol. 4. p.291.) The fabric of their society was tearing apart.

In this moment, the word of God comes to them. “Thus says the Lord God: For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth…..I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.” God tells them that there will be no more weeping. Babies will no longer die. People will live long and healthy lives. People will build their homes and will not be uprooted and sent into exile.

And then God voices the vision of shalom: “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together….They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, says the Lord.” God is building something even more wonderful than the temple or the city wall. God is building God’s shalom, and God’s holy people, who have been caught in conflict and division, are the builders of that kingdom of peace and harmony. As we know, they rebuilt the city and the city wall, and they rebuilt their community of faith.

In our reading from the Second Letter to the Thessalonians, the members of the congregation are advised to “keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition  that they received from us.” Scholars tell us that the word translated as “idleness,” ataktos, is a military term meaning “disorderly” or “undisciplined.” People were not doing the tasks they were called to do on behalf of the community.

Some members were actually becoming “busybodies” and doing other people’s jobs. ( Lance Pape, New Proclamation Year C, p.234.) Some people were thinking that Jesus was going to appear very soon, so they stopped going to their paid jobs and could not make their financial contributions to the community.

People were engaging in irresponsible behavior, and that was interfering with the Church’s work of building the kingdom of Christ. Paul calls the Thessalonians and us to be faithful and loving to each other and to carry out our ministries in the Body of Christ so that we can help to build the shalom of Christ. Thanks be to God that Grace has a long history of such faithfulness and mutual love.

In today’s gospel, our Lord speaks of the destruction of the temple which indeed happened at the hands of the Romans in A. D. 70. Then he speaks of the chaos which will occur before he comes again. He also speaks of persecution, which has happened to Christians for centuries and is happening even now.

A few days ago, I watched a news story on a Christian community which had been in exile and was returning to their village as troops moved toward Mosul and liberated villages along the way. Their church had suffered extensive damage but the walls were still standing. They raised a cross outside and used large chunks of rubble to make the cross stand upright. I could sense and feel their faith and courage over thousands of miles of distance. That is what our Lord is calling us to do—to have faith in him. He is building his shalom, and we are called to help him.

The message of our epistle today is that we are members of the body of Christ, and we are called to love and care for one another so that we can do our ministry together. Each of us is essential to the Body. We are called to be aware of the needs and feelings of everyone else in the Body and to respect each other. Though we are a small community of faith, we cover a broad spectrum of political approaches. We do have differences of opinion. I believe that is a strength. We also have a long history of loving and respecting each other. This is another strength.

As Christians, we are one as Jesus and the Father are one. Our country has come through a time of stress and conflict, and there is still work to be done. But we can all be one in the Spirit of God.

We share the same dreams and visions which are expressed in our reading from Isaiah. Though Americans come from different faiths, all of those faiths share the precepts of the Golden Rule—treat others as we would want to be treated.

During the past eighteen months of this campaign, there has been much focus upon the things that divide us. We need to remember that  the things which unite us far outnumber and outweigh the things that divide us. We have so much in common. We are all connected.

May we be one as Jesus and the Father are one. In His holy Name. Amen.

Pentecost 11 Proper 13C RCL July 31. 2016

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

Our opening reading is from the Book of Hosea, an amazing prophet from 2,700 years ago. We recall that he had married a woman who was unfaithful to him. This gave him a profound insight into the way God must have felt when God’s people were unfaithful. In last week’s reading, we learned Hosea’s message that God does not stop loving us, no matter what.

This Sunday, we have the opportunity to gain even more insight into the nature of God’s love. God is speaking to God’s children. God calls Israel out of slavery in Egypt. God takes God’s children into God’s arms. God teaches God’s children to walk, leads them “with cords of  human kindness, with bands of love.  God bends down to God’s children and feeds them.

Commentator James Newsome says that God is described in terms that we could call motherly. God’s love for God’s children is described in terms of the greatest tenderness we could imagine. That is how much God loves God’s children. It is the love of any good parent. It is the love of our divine parent.

But then they and we go and worship other gods, like Baal. We lose our way. We do things we should not do and we do not do things we should do. The passage is hinting at some terrible things that will happen to God’s people. They will be conquered by the Assyrian Empire and later by the Babylonians, but, in the end, God will search for them and bring them home in safety.

There are some passages in the Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament that can make our hair stand on end. They portray an angry God who seems to be like the caricature of a bad, even abusive parent threatening all kinds of punishment. Through his own experience of loving his wife and children, Hosea was able to convey to the people and to us God’s unfailing and heartbreakingly tender love for us.

In the Letter to the Colossians, Paul is calling us to focus our lives on things above, not on earthly things. He calls us to put to death those earthly things, such as anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language. He cautions us not to lie to each other. He says that we have “stripped off the old self  and have clothed [ourselves] with the new self.”  And he says an astounding thing. He says that the new self “is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.”

We are in a process of transformation which began at our baptisms. We are going from an old self to a new self, and that new self is constantly and continually being renewed so that we will become more like Christ. And in that process of transformation, there are no longer any divisions of race or gender or class or anything that can be used to divide us, because we are all one in Christ Jesus. He is everything there is, and he is in all of us and in each of us.

In our gospel for today, our Lord is also cautioning us against the values of this world, including greed. A man’s farm is producing so much that he plans to tear down all his barns and build bigger ones, so that he can store his growing bounty.

As we read this, we notice that he is not taking any time to thank God for all his blessings and for the abundance of his crops. Nor does he ask God’s guidance about his plans. Also, he says nothing about sharing all of this abundance with others. As Jesus puts it, this man is “Storing up treasures for himself,” not for others, and not for God.

This is the opposite of what we are called to do. If we are in a process of transformation, growing more into the likeness of Christ, and if Christ is in us, that means that all our decisions are made in an attitude of prayer, what the great moral theologian Kenneth Kirk calls, “Referring all questions to God.”

If there is an abundant harvest, the first thing we need to do is thank God. The next thing we need to do is return a portion to God in thanks, and the next thing we need to do is share that bounty with others. This poor fellow is a striking example of what not to do, with his attitude of me, me, me.

An anonymous writer puts it this way. “Not what  you do so much as what you are, that is the miracle-working power. You can be a force for good, with the help of God. God is here to help you and to bless you, here to company with you. You can be a worker with God. Changed by God’s grace, you shed one garment of the spirit for a better one. In time, you throw that one away for a yet finer one. And so, from character to character, you are gradually transformed.”(Twenty-four Hours a Day, April 2.)

To paraphrase the wording of our Alleluia!Fund slogan, “Christ is alive in us. Christ is risen in our deeds.”

May we show forth his love. May we grow more and more like him. May we love him with all our hearts, and may we love others as he calls us to do.  Amen.

Pentecost 15 Proper 18B RCL September 6, 2015

Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23
Psalm 125
James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17
Mark 7:24-37

Our reading from the Book of Proverbs makes some clear ethical statements. Biblical scholar James Newsome goes back to the Hebrew root words in our lesson. His translations would go something like this. “It is better to be known for your honesty and integrity than for great riches. A spirit of generosity and compassion is better than silver or gold.” We may think the rich and the poor are different from each other, but that is an illusion. God makes us all, and everyone is worthy of respect. There are strong warnings throughout the Bible not to take advantage of or oppress those who are vulnerable.

James is echoing the values of Proverbs. As Christians, we are called to treat all persons with respect and compassion, and we are called to take care of those who need food, water, clothing, shelter, and medical care. All of us have been praying for the refugees from Syria and other places who are trying to get to freedom in Europe. Episcopal Relief and Development has been working with this tragic situation together with many other organizations. I hope that we will consider making a special contribution to help in this effort.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is going into Gentile territory, into what we would call Syria.  He goes into a house. He has been surrounded by the crowd, and he is hoping for a respite. But a woman comes to him. Her daughter is very ill, and she is desperate and determined to get Jesus to heal the little girl.

At that time in history, Jews did not talk to Gentiles, and women did not talk with rabbis.  At this point in his ministry, Jesus is thinking that he is called to minister only to the Jewish people.  Perhaps he has begun to wonder if he is called to reach beyond those boundaries. In this extraordinary encounter, this courageous woman, this outsider who would be scorned by all those in authority, is also an excellent theologian.  She breaks through those boundaries and helps Jesus to realize that he is called to minister to everyone. Jesus heals her daughter, and he goes on to heal a man who has been unable to hear or speak.

One of the great blessings of the Church is that we celebrate saints’ days. On August 24, we celebrated St. Bartholomew. He is one of our capital S saints. But we have a lot of small s saints like you and me, and their feast days are found in Holy Women, Holy Men, formerly Lesser Feasts and Fasts. This past Tuesday, we remembered David Pendleton Oakerhater. His story illustrates  some of the points in our readings for today. Here is the account from Holy Women, Holy Men.

God’s Warrior” is an epithet by which David Pendleton Oakerhater  is known among the Cheyenne Indians of Oklahoma. The title is an apt one, for this apostle of Christ to the Cheyenne was originally a soldier who fought against the United States government with warriors of other tribes in the disputes over Indian land rights. By the late 1860s Oakerhater had distinguished himself for bravery and leadership as an officer in an elite corps of Cheyenne fighters. In 1875, after a year of minor uprisings and threats of major violence, he and twenty-seven other warrior leaders were taken prisoner by the U. S. Army, charged with inciting rebellion, and sent to a disused military prison in Florida.

Under the influence of a concerned army captain, who sought to educate the prisoners, Oakerhater and his companions learned English, gave art and archery lessons to the area’s many visitors, and had their first encounter with the Christian faith. The captain’s example, and that of other concerned Christians, from as far away as New York, had their effect on the young warrior. He was moved to answer the call to transform his leadership in war to a lifelong ministry of peace.

With sponsorship from the Diocese of Central New York and financial help from a Mrs. Pendleton of Cincinnati, he and three other prisoners went north to study for the ministry. At his baptism in Syracuse in 1878 he took the name David Pendleton Oakerhater, in honor of his benefactress.

Soon after his ordination to the diaconate in 1881, David returned to Oklahoma. There, he was instrumental in founding and operating schools and missions, through great personal sacrifice and often in the face of apathy from the Church hierarchy and resistance from the government. He continued his ministry of service, education, and pastoral care among his people until his death on August 31, 1931.

Half a century before, the young deacon had told his people, “You all know me. You remember when I led you out to war I went first, and what I told you was true. Now I have been away to the East and I have learned about another Captain, the Lord Jesus Christ, and he is my leader. He goes first, and all he tells me is true. I come back to my people to tell you to go with me now in this new road. a war that makes all for peace.”

The captain at that prison and the other Christians involved, lived out our readings for today. Back in the 1860s, in spite of their advanced language and culture, Native Americans were seen by some people as savages and less than human. Yet this captain and Mrs, Pendleton and the others saw David as a gifted fellow human being. Thank God for them and for David and his ministry. And I thank God for the openness and inclusiveness of Grace Church.

Let us pray the collect for the remembrance of David Oakerhater.

O God of unsearchable wisdom and infinite mercy, you chose a captive warrior, David Oakerhater, to be your servant, and sent him to be a missionary to his own people, and to exercise the office of deacon among them: Liberate us who commemorate him today, from bondage to self, and empower us for service to you and to the neighbors you have given us; through Jesus Christ, the captain of our salvation, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.