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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion June 4, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.comTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
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Pentecost 20 Proper 23B October 10, 2021

Job 23:1-9, 16-17
Psalm 22:1-15
Hebrews 4:12-16
Mark 10:17-31

Our first reading today is a continuation of the story of Job. He has lost all his livestock and his children, and his body is covered with sores, so he is carrying a diagnosis of leprosy, which makes him ritually unclean and basically an outcast.

Three so-called friends have come to visit him, and they have all revealed that they are very bad theologians. Job has just heard from his friend Eliphaz that he must have done something really awful in order to be suffering such tragedies.

Back in Biblical times, as we will recall, people believed that bad things happen to bad people and good things happen to good people. This is what Job’s friend Eliphaz believed. The logical conclusion is that if bad things are happening to us, it is because we are bad. That simply isn’t true. We all have friends who have gone through terrible trials and tribulations, even though they are loving and caring people. And, of course, our Lord went to the cross, and we know that he was entirely good. 

Job wants to talk with God; he wants to lay the facts before God so that God can see that he is not an evil person. But he can’t find God. No matter where he turns, God is not there. God is absent. The famous mystic, John of the Cross, called such experiences the “dark night of the soul.”

Job has been very close to God all his life. For him to feel so far away from God must have added to his suffering.

The belief that we must have done something bad if we are undergoing tragedy is still alive in our culture. We receive a cancer diagnosis and we wonder what we did to deserve this, or what we did wrong. One of our children has a sports injury, is prescribed opiates, becomes addicted to these medications, and we are sure we are terrible parents.

We live in a fallen creation. Bad things happen to good people. Job would like to talk with God about this.

In our reading from Hebrews, we have a powerful response to suffering. The writer rings out the good news: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, but without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

When tragedies strike us, when the going gets tough, when we feel overwhelmed, we can turn to One who has been through it all. Jesus has taken all kinds of abuse and suffering which he did not deserve, and that is what the cross means. He suffered the worst that hate can muster, an ignominious death on an instrument of torture, and, to paraphrase Barbara Brown Taylor, he took all of that inside himself and labored with it until he could give it back to us as life.

So, when we are suffering, we can turn to him; we can be sure that he understands what we are going through, and we can know that he is right here with us, going through it with us. We are never alone. The cross erases any thought that bad things happen only to bad people.

In our gospel for today, a man comes up to Jesus and asks him what he must do to inherit eternal life. First of all, an inheritance is a gift, so the man’s question is rather unusual. The man has followed the law all his life. Jesus looks at this man, and the text says that Jesus loved him. Jesus is able to see that this man’s wealth has become his identity, and that his dependence on his wealth has become his whole life, so much so that the man will never be able to let God into his life. So he tells the man to get rid of that obstacle, sell all that he has, give the money to the poor, and then come and follow him with total trust in God. The man is not able to follow our Lord’s guidance. 

Wealth can get in the way of giving our lives to God. If we have a great deal of wealth, it gives us power, and, for some people, that power and wealth get in the way of being faithful to God and following Jesus. In the kingdom of Jesus, many who are first will be last, and many who are last will become first.

This year, I am deeply touched by our collect. “Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works….” Each of us is surrounded by God’s grace in every moment of our lives.

In Celtic theology, there is the concept of encompassing. God’s love and grace encompass us. We are surrounded by God’s love and grace. If we are going through a difficult time, if bad things are happening, our Lord is with us, leading and guiding us. God’s grace is preceding and following us, surrounding us.

As John of the Cross told us, there may be times when we do not feel the presence of God, and in those times we can know that though we cannot feel God’s presence, God is there with us, Jesus is there to lead us to the still waters, and the Holy Spirit is there to give us the strength to accept God’s love and grace and to take the next step. And the next. And the next. Amen.

Pentecost 21 Proper 23    October 14, 2018

Job 23:1-9, 16-17
Psalm 22: 1-15
Hebrews 4:12-16
Mark 10:17-31

In our opening reading from the book of Job, several months have passed, and Job has continued to suffer. Job wants to plead his case before God. He feels that God would consider the matter carefully and fairly, and he would like to hear God’s response to him.

The tragic thing is that Job cannot find God. No matter where he turns, God is not there. Our psalm describes this situation of feeling abandoned by God. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is the cry of our Lord as he suffered on the cross.

Job says, “God has made my heart faint. If only I could vanish in darkness, and thick darkness would cover my face.” He wants to disappear.

All of us go through such times. St. John of the Cross called this the “dark night of the soul.” In such times, God seems very far away. When we are going though one of those dark night experiences, we can recall times when God was so close we could feel God’s presence, but those times seem far away. Nothing we do seems to help. All we can do is keep putting one foot in front of the other, keep trying to follow our Lord, keep praying, and keep hoping.

Our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.” Scholars tell us that the word of God in this context means the scriptures and especially the gospels. If we think about what we know of God from the prophets, such as Isaiah and Amos, God’s word is indeed living and active.

At the same time, the Holy One who will be our judge is someone who understands our weakness. He understands what it means to be human. He has compassion on us, and he will give us the grace to get back on the path and persevere on the journey.

In our gospel for today, a rich young man kneels before Jesus and asks him what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus reviews the commandments with him. The rich young man has followed those all his life. And then Jesus looks deeply into this man’s spirit with great love and sees, as Fred Craddock notes, that this young man’s wealth defines him, and he is not going to be able redefine himself as a follower of Jesus unless he sells everything and gives the money to the poor.  Craddock writes, “Here stands a person whose life has been defined by wealth, and. sadly, he will not accept a new definition of himself.” (Craddock, Preaching through the Christian Year, Year B, p.441.)

Privilege is an insidious thing. If we have wealth and privilege, it becomes easy to think that we have all this wealth and all these things because of our own strength. It is so difficult for us to remember that everything that we have is a gift from God. We can think that we have worked hard for all these things, and we have earned them and that is true. But God has given us the gifts and the health and the energy to do that work. all good things from God.

Furthermore, people who have wealth and privilege are treated differently. Other defer to them and wait on them. With all the trappings that go along with wealth and privilege, it is easy to fall into feeling self-important, and it is extremely difficult to keep in mind that we are all totally dependent on God and that we are all frail and fallible human beings.

For this particular individual, Jesus tells him to sell everything, give the money to the poor, and come back and follow him. The man cannot do it. Jesus tells the man to do this because he sees that the wealth is going to prevent this man from trusting completely in God and opening himself to God’s grace in order to follow Jesus and carry out his ministry.

The disciples, who have left everything to follow Jesus, wonder aloud, “Then who can be saved?” This is because they have the belief, which was common at that time, that wealth is a sign of God’s favor. So, they reason, if this very wealthy young man cannot be saved, who can?

Our Lord is telling us that wealth and power can get in the way of answering God’s call and building God’s kingdom. Is Jesus saying that everyone has to sell all they have? No, but he is saying that we, as privileged people compared to all the other folks on this planet, have to be very careful to remember to thank God for all God’s many gifts, to share those gifts with others, and to continually seek and do God’s will.

What are these readings telling us? Sometimes, God may seem far away. That happened to Job and to our Lord, so we are in good company. In such times in our lives, we are called to keep on keeping on, keep asking God for help, stay on the path, and the day will come when God is once again as close as our breath.

The scriptures and the life of our Lord speak to all kinds of situations in our lives. They speak clearly and incisively. Always, however, there is the compassion of our Lord, who has walked the way before us.

We need to give up the things that get in the way between us and our Lord. We need to depend totally on him. Even when we cannot feel his presence, he is with us, and he is helping us to get through those difficult times, and he is giving us the three greatest gifts: faith, hope, and love.   Amen.

 

Pentecost 20 Proper 23B RCL October 11, 2015

Job 23:1-9. 16-17
Psalm 22:1-15
Hebrews 4:12-16
Mark 10:17-31

In our first reading, we meet Job once again. When the story began, Job was wealthy. He had 7,000 sheep, 1,000 oxen, 500 donkeys, and 3,000 camels. Best of all, he had seven sons and three daughters. In ancient times, a person’s children were his or her future. But things have changed. Raiders have come and taken away all his livestock and killed his servants. A terrible wind has come up and leveled the house where all his children and their families were gathered. His skin is covered with boils from his head to his toes. Once, he was respected. Now, people avoid him.

Except for three so-called friends, who are now telling him that he must have done something awful to deserve all this suffering. They subscribe to the belief common at that time that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people.  So, if bad things are happening, you must have done something bad.

Job does an honest and searching self-examination. He has always tried to be faithful to God and compassionate to his fellow humans, and, with God’s help, he has pretty much succeeded. It really hurts that his friends dream up a theory that he has been especially mean to poor people who can’t defend themselves. This is simply not true.

Job really wants to talk to God about this, but he cannot find God. Today’s psalm captures the situation perfectly. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When everything is going wrong, we sometimes feel that God has deserted us. Of course, God is right beside us, but, in the dark night of the soul we don’t realize that God is with us. When he cannot find God, Job wants to be swallowed up by the darkness. Most of us know exactly how that feels. Our life is unraveling, and we think that God has abandoned us.

In our gospel, Jesus is setting off on a journey. He is going to Jerusalem. He is going to the cross. A man runs up, kneels before Jesus, and asks, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Scholars tell us that in ancient times, if you flattered someone and he accepted the flattery, that created an obligation. He had to do something for you. Jesus does not accept the flattery. He points out that none is good except God. Jesus goes on to tell the man that he knows all the commandments, and Jesus enumerates them, but he adds one. “You shall not defraud.”

The man said he has kept those commandments all his life. Now, this man has asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. When we inherit something, the inheritance is a gift. There is nothing we can do to earn the gift of God’s love and grace. Perhaps what he is really asking is, what must he do to become a follower of Jesus?

Jesus looks into this man’s eyes and sees right into his heart and soul, as he does with all of us. This man has great wealth, and that wealth has become his identity. The wealth has gotten to the place where it is going to get in the way of his following Jesus. But without the wealth, the man feels he is a nobody. And so Jesus tells the man that he is going to have to sell everything and give the money to the poor.

The man can’t do it. He walks away grieving.

Is our Lord telling you and me that we must sell everything and give the money to the poor? In my opinion, no. When Jesus gives this guidance to this man, that advice is tailored to that man and his situation.

For us, the question is, what is getting between me and Jesus? What is keeping me from giving my whole life to him? If there is something in the way, we need to ask his help in moving it out of the way.

It is true that, compared to the rest of the world, we are wealthy. So many people do not have a place to live; they do not have enough food and water. They do not have clothing. We all know this, and this is why Grace Church recently gave $778.00 to Episcopal Relief and Development. Thank you for your generosity. We are so blessed. We have so much. And we know that we are called to share God’s blessings with others.

Jesus makes it clear that wealth and power can throw us off the track very quickly. He says, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Why is he saying this?

We need to remember the context of this gospel passage. Just before this part of the gospel, he took children into his arms and he told us that we need to become like children. We need to trust God. We need to be open to God’s love grace, and guidance.

When we humans accumulate great wealth and power, it is easy for us to forget about God. It is easy for us to think that we are God. After all, I can do this and buy this.  With huge amounts of money, humans get a great deal of power in this culture, and it is easy to forget God. With great wealth, it is difficult to trust in God as a little child.

We have all had times in our lives when we really needed God’s help, and sometimes we may have felt that God has left us. I hope those times are few and far between for you. Jesus knows how that feels. He felt that on the cross. We have a great high priest who knows how that feels, He knows how everything feels. He is one of us. He understands. Knowing that, knowing that he has walked every step of the way before us, we can throw ourselves into his loving arms and ask him to help us. We can even ask him to carry us.

And he will.    Amen.