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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion April 2, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
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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 3 Proper 6B June 13, 2021

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13
Psalm 20
2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17
Mark 4:26-34

Last week we looked on as Samuel anointed Saul the first King of Israel. Things have not gone well. Saul has not been a good king. Our reading tells us that God is sorry that God has made Saul the King. Samuel is devastated over the turn of events.

Now God calls Samuel to go to Bethlehem and anoint the one God has chosen to be the next king. Samuel is terrified at the prospect. Saul is very protective of his power, and Samuel reminds God that, if Saul finds out Samuel has gone to anoint a new king, Saul will kill Samuel. God instructs Samuel to take a heifer with him and say that he has come to offer a sacrifice to God. Samuel will invite Jesse to the sacrifice and God will take care of the rest.

When Samuel arrives in Bethlehem, the elders are trembling with terror. They, too, are afraid of Saul, who does not hesitate to destroy anyone who challenges his power. Samuel assures them that he comes in peace, which is certainly true. He is trying to carry out the will of God.

I don’t know about you, but I love the next scene. Jesse makes seven of his sons pass before Samuel, Each is a fine young man. But none of them is the one God has chosen. Finally, we discover that the last son is out in the field taking care of the sheep. The youngest of all, the one who is doing the humble work of a shepherd, is the one God has chosen. The spirit of the Lord comes mightily upon David.

One of the great lessons of this passage is what God tells Samuel: “Do not look on his appearance, or on the height of his stature…for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

What good news this is for us. God does not look on the exterior things, what clothes we are wearing, how much money or power we have. No, God looks into our hearts. If we are trying to love God and love our neighbor, God sees that.

And there is another important point in this story. Biblical scholar John Hayes writes, “The lord makes the least expected choice. Expectations are reversed. The last is made the first, and God’s power is to be manifested in weakness. (Hayes, Preaching through the Christian Year B, p. 306.)

In our epistle for today, Paul writes, “We regard no one from a human point of view.” That carries on the idea that God looks upon our hearts. Because we are following Jesus, and because we know that  our Lord is looking into our hearts, and filling us with us love and grace, we look on other people and on the world differently. 

Paul writes, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new.” Because of the love of God, because we have come to know Jesus and to follow him as our Good Shepherd, we see things differently than we did before. We see people and situations through the loving eyes of God.

Every person is our brother or sister, no matter whether they are rich or poor, no matter what race they are or what kind of work they do, no matter how they dress, none of those things matter. Every person is a beloved child of God.

There is a new creation. Everything has become new. Everything is seen in a new light. God’s light. As we are transformed, we look at our brothers and sisters, not through human eyes, but through the loving eyes of God, and we reach out to them with the welcoming arms of Christ. We are the body of Christ sharing his love with all we meet.

Our gospel gives us some parables of the kingdom of God.  It’s like planting seeds and the seeds grow and grow and there is an abundant harvest.

The kingdom, the shalom of God is like a mustard seed. It is the smallest of the seeds, yet when you plant it, it grows into a shrub, so that birds can build nests in its branches.

This is one of the greatest gifts our Lord has ever shared with us, the idea that small is beautiful. We live in a beautiful place, a small place, and it is a gift from God. May we cherish that gift.

As the next king, God chose the youngest son, the one too young to come to the sacrifice. God looks into our hearts. God gives us hope. God transforms us through the power of God’s love. We are a new creation. God calls us to see things differently because of our faith. God calls us to look beyond and through the exterior things. 

May we look at others with your loving eyes, O God, and may we love others as you love us. Amen.

Advent 2A December 8, 2019

Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Romans 15:4-13
Matthew 3:1-12

Our opening reading from the prophet Isaiah begins with the image of a stump. This symbolizes a low point in the story of God’s people. Scholars tell us that this terrible time could have been after the victory of the Assyrians over God’s people or the conquest of God’s people by the Babylonians. The stump is the last vestige of the line of King David. It looks dead.

We all have seen stumps which develop green shoots, and that is what is happening here. Out of the stump of Jesse, King David’s father, comes a new shoot, a branch. And the text tells us, “The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him.” Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann writes of the Spirit as “God’s life-giving, future-creating, world-forming, despair-ending power…, which can create an utter newness.” Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching Year A, p. 11.)

Brueggemann writes that, “In the place of  …sword, spear, and javelin this king will be dressed in the saving regalia of loyal concern and love.” (Texts, p. 12.)

The spirit of God is coming to bring in the kingdom of God. Natural enemies will live together in harmony, and “a little child will lead them.” Brueggemann writes,  “The new king, powered by the spirit, will not be open to bribes (‘what his eyes see’) or convinced by propaganda (‘what his ears hear.’) He will, rather, be the kind of judge who will attend to the needs of the ‘meek’ and the ‘poor.’”  (Texts, p. 11 and 12.)

Brueggemann continues, “‘The little child’ bespeaks the birth of a new innocence in which trust, gentleness, and friendship are possible and appropriate. The world will be ordered so that the fragile and vulnerable can have their say and live their lives.” (Texts, p. 12.)

To paraphrase, Brueggemann says that “Advent is our decision to trust the [power of the Spirit] against the hopeless stump of what has failed.” (Texts, p. 12.)

Our psalm for today, Psalm 72, adds to the description of the good and just king who rules wisely and is like fresh rain nurturing the growth of the earth. Good and faithful leaders always nurture the growth of everyone in society, especially those who are at the margins. These two readings offer the basic view of the kingdom, the reign, the shalom of God.

In our epistle, Paul begins with a prayer that we might have hope. He adds, “ May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” God is the God of steadfastness and encouragement. God encourages us to hang in there and continue to hope, and God makes it possible for us to glorify God with one voice.

God brings us together in love so that we may love each other and love God.

Paul calls us to welcome others as Jesus has welcomed us. And he refers to the shoot of Jesse, the branch of David’s family, our Lord Jesus Christ, and Paul prays, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

As the days become shorter and shorter, we are called to be people of light and love and hope because our King is coming to us.

Our gospel for today brings us into the presence of one of the two great Advent figures, John the Baptist. To say the least, he is a striking figure. He certainly doesn’t wear a Brooks brothers suit, and he eats locusts and honey. Scholars tell us that locusts were among the few insects that were considered ritually clean. John is living off the land. His ministry takes place out in the wilderness, and hundreds of people flock to see him.

John preaches a baptism of repentance, He is calling us to give up our sins, examine our lives, and get ready to follow the One who is to come, the Savior. In the midst of the corruption of the Roman Empire, it’s no wonder that people are traveling to see him, They know they need to do something different with their lives. They need direction, and they sense the promise of hope and light in what John is telling them. John calls the religious leaders a “brood of vipers.” A nest of snakes. They are depending on the fact that they have Abraham for their ancestor, but John is telling them, just as Isaiah had done centuries ago, that God is about to do a new thing.

“God’s life-giving, future-creating, world-forming, despair-ending power, which can create an utter newness.” That is what Advent is about. We do self-examination. We make course corrections. We ask our Lord to give us the grace and guidance to grow closer to him. It is serious work, and it is also joyful work. “Life-giving, future-creating, world-forming, despair-ending” work.

We are on the journey of making room in our hearts and lives for Jesus to come and live with us. Live within us. We do this in a spirit of hope and love and light and joy.

Loving Lord, help us to make room for you in our lives and hearts. Amen.

Pentecost 29B November 25, 2018 Christ the King

2 Samuel 23:1-7
Psalm 132:1-13, (14-19)
Revelation 1:4b-8
John 18:33-37

Today, the last Sunday in the season of Pentecost, we celebrate Christ the King. Christ is the One we are following. Christ is the King of our lives.

In our opening reading from the Second Book of Samuel, we reflect on the great earthly king of God’s people, David. He was the youngest of the sons of Jesse, and, when Samuel was called to anoint a new king, David was the last of Jesse’s sons to appear before Samuel. The family had to call him in from taking care of the sheep.

David was deeply loved by the people. With great courage, skill with the sling, and most especially, profound faith, he felled the giant Goliath and saved his people from slavery to the Philistines.

But he was not perfect. Far from it. When he ordered that Uriah the Hittite be sent to the front lines to die in battle so that he could take Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba as his wife, David hit the moral nadir of his life. Yet, when he was confronted by the prophet Nathan, he was able to admit that, yes, he had done this horrible thing, and he was truly sorry.

In our reading today, the king is described in these words,”One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.” A good ruler is a person of light and brings the light of God to bear on every situation. A good ruler is one whose words and actions are inspired by the Spirit of God. Each of us can think of kings or presidents or other leaders who fit this description, and we can be thankful for such people.

Our reading from the Book of Revelation is a song of praise to our king, and it is a vision of heaven, where the saints and angels gather in peace and joy to sing praises to our Lord. He is the Alpha and the Omega. He is the beginning and the end. He is eternal, and his love is eternal and unchanging. This is a great comfort in times like ours, when we see so much that is the opposite of our Lord’s kingdom of compassion and peace.

It is helpful, I think to remember that Revelation was written to Christians who were living under oppression from the Roman Empire. For followers of Jesus who could be killed at any time at the whim of an emperor, this book, written in code, was a beacon of hope. The imagery which some people interpret as describing Satan or the Devil, is actually describing the Roman Empire. Our Lord triumphs over all forms of oppression and misuse of power, and that knowledge inspires us as we work to create justice in our own world.

In our gospel, we are with our King as he faces the tyranny of the Roman Empire and of the religious leaders of his time. The passage is full of paradox and many layers of meaning. Pilate asks whether Jesus is King of the Jews. but he is asking the question from a worldly point of view.

Our Lord replies that his kingdom is not of this world. How true that is. In his kingdom the last are first and the first are last. Singer and songwriter Holly Near has a song called “The Meek Are Getting Ready.” She sings about those at the margins “coasting up on empty” and we can envision our King welcoming and embracing the folks he called “the least of these, my brothers and sisters.”

At the end of this reading, Jesus says, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” As we meditate on this powerful statement, we ask ourselves, what does he mean by saying “Everyone who belongs to the truth”? Is he talking about a set of facts? Is he talking about a belief system? Is he talking about truth as a set of logical propositions? What does it mean to “belong to the truth”?

Earlier in John’s gospel, Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” Even earlier than that, back in chapter ten, he tells us that he is the good shepherd. He says, “i know my sheep, and my sheep know me.” And he tells us that, when the sheep hear the voice of the good shepherd, they follow that shepherd.

So, Jesus is the truth. His attitude, his way of doing things, his teaching, is our truth. That’s what he means by the concept of belonging to the truth. We belong to him in the sense that he is our good shepherd and we are following him.

Jesus tells Pilate and us, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” We could paraphrase that by saying that every one who belongs to our Lord listens to his voice and follows where he leads. His life, his ministry here on earth, and his love for us, all of that is the truth that we follow.

This is the end of the Thanksgiving weekend, a time to give thanks and share good food and lots of love with family and friends.

And on this Christ the King Sunday, we can be very thankful for our King, our Good Shepherd. He is our living, guiding truth, and we belong to him.

May we always listen for his voice.   Amen.


Pentecost 4 Proper 6B RCL     June 17, 2018

1 Samuel  15:34-16:13
Psalm 20
2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17
Mark 4:26-34

Last week the people wanted Samuel to appoint a king for them. Our reading ended with Saul becoming King of Israel. As our reading opens today, Saul’s reign is spiraling downward. He is a disaster as a leader, and he has little regard for the guidance of God.

While Saul is still alive, God calls Samuel to anoint the next King. The tyranny of Saul is apparent in Samuel’s asking God how he can go to the home of Jesse to carry out this mission, for Saul will kill him. God tells Samuel to say that he has come to sacrifice to the Lord.

You know the story. All of Jesse’s excellent sons pass before Samuel. As wonderful as they are, none is the one called to be King. It is the youngest, David, the shepherd, who will become the beloved leader of his people. In this passage, we read something on which we could meditate for the rest of our lives: “For the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” God does not look at our outward appearance. God looks into our hearts. That is to say, God looks at our intentions, our will, our intuitions, our thoughts. Bishop Tom mirrors this statement about God when he says that we should always evaluate situations, especially vocations, in terms of two things—intentions and integrity. What are our intentions? Are we carrying out those intentions with integrity?

In our epistle for today, Paul is still in difficult circumstances. He actually admits that it is difficult for him to be here on earth alive. He would rather be at home with the Lord. But since he is here, he is going to try to please God. We can all follow his example. Paul says that Christ died so that we would no longer live for ourselves, but for our Lord. I think we are all trying, with his grace, to do that.

Then Paul echoes our first lesson when he says that, because of Christ, we should no longer regard others from a human point of view, that, because we are now following Jesus, we are called to look at others through the eyes of Christ and love them with the heart of Christ.

And then he says this most mysterious thing—mysterious because we can think about it and pray about it and meditate on it, but we probably will never plumb its depths.  Paul writes, “So, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new.” That is what is happening to us. We are being made new. We are being transformed in Christ.

In today’s gospel, we have two parables. In the first, the kingdom of God is as if someone plants the seed, time goes by, the seed grows, we know not how. The grain grows, as if mysteriously, but the growth is energetic and robust. Finally, the grain is ready to be harvested.

In the other parable, the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. very, very small. Yet is grows into a large shrub, so large that birds can nest in it.

What are these parables telling us? Here are some thoughts. The kingdom of God is growing all the time. We do not understand how it grows, but it is progressing constantly without our awareness of how it grows. And, the other amazing thing is that the kingdom of God starts small, just like a seed, like the tiniest of seeds. Yet it can grow into something we would not believe possible.

Here in Vermont, the parable of the mustard seed is very important. Here in Vermont, a very small state which assumes national leadership on all kinds of topics far out of proportion with its size, we really do think that small is beautiful. Bigger is not always better.

In the Church, we are grappling with the fact that we will never return to the glories of the nineteen-fifties, with burgeoning buildings, bulging church schools, and no end in sight. We are now in the post-Christendom era. Membership is shrinking, formation is taking place in different ways, and we are looking around our neighborhoods seeing where God is doing good things and finding ways that we can pitch in and help. Once again, Vermont is leading in this effort, and I give thanks for Bishop Tom’s leadership on these issues.         

One of the things we will want to continue is the practice of placing just as much value on small churches as on large ones. St. Martin’s Church in Houston, where Barbara Bush’s service was held, is the largest parish in the Episcopal Church, with an average Sunday attendance of 1700 people. Vermont has no parish that even comes close to that size in numbers. But in depth of faith, commitment to the life of local parishes,  interest in learning, willingness to help neighbors near and far, the Episcopal Church in Vermont has no equal. In numbers of what we may call “mustard seed churches,” Vermont may be our national leader. This is a great gift, and I hope we will cherish that gift. When people visit with you here at Grace, or even hold concerts here, they sense a deep quality of faith and life in community. This is a pearl of great price.

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation. Let the whole world see and know that things that have been cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.