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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:…

Epiphany 2B January 17, 2021

1 Samuel 3:1-20
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
John 1:43-51

Our opening reading this morning comes from the First Book of Samuel. Samuel is a faithful young man who has been serving God and learning from the priest Eli. The text gives us a very important sense of what was going on in those times. “The word of the Lord was rare in those days, and visions were not widespread.”

Eli is getting older. His eyesight has failed, and he cannot see. Eli is resting in his room, and Samuel is lying down in the temple of the Lord. Walter Brueggemann writes, “Eli is portrayed as a feeble old man, emblem of a failed priestly order that has exhausted its its authority and its credibility. Samuel is situated in this narrative as an apprentice to Eli. But he learns quickly and is shown to be more discerning and more responsive to God than is the family of Eli. Samuel is indeed the wave of God’s future.” (Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching Year B, p. 106.)

God calls to Samuel three times. Each time, Samuel runs to Eli for instruction and guidance. On the third occasion, Eli realizes that it is God calling this gifted young man, and he instructs Samuel on how to respond. Eli’s sons have done terrible things things that no priest should even consider, things which no person who is supposedly following God should do. They are corrupt and unfit to serve.

God calls Samuel a fourth time, and Samuel responds. What God says puts Samuel in an excruciatingly painful position. God is going to remove Eli’s family from their priestly duties and Samuel is going to replace them. Samuel has always shared everything with Eli. Now, what is he going to do? He loves and respects Eli, and Eli has been his teacher and guide.

The dreaded thing happens. Eli calls to Samuel. Herbert O’Driscoll describes this with unforgettable insight and power: Again, in Eli’s encounter with Samuel in the morning, we see the quality of this great human being. We know from elsewhere in scripture, as well as in this passage, that Eli has fallen on sad times. He has allowed himself to become obese. His sons have shamed and discredited him, and his name, and his high office. He must feel a terrible sense of personal failure. The last thing Samuel wants to do is to report to Eli the terrible things he now knows. But Eli insists, and at last when he hears what the Lord has said to Samuel, we again see the old man’s  greatness. There is not a hint of resentment, not a whisper of self-pity or self-justification.

O’Driscoll concludes, “I see a human being who even in his decline shows what once made him great, an elderly person who is open to the action of God in the present moment, who is totally devoid of jealousy and rancor, and who courageously accepts the consequences without flinching, Such an example must have helped to form the future greatness of Samuel.”  (O’Driscoll, The Word Today Year B Vol. 1, pp. 69-70.)

God is going to replace corrupt leaders, Eli’s sons, with the gifted and faithful leadership of Samuel. With deep faith and grace, Eli accepts the healing action of God which replaces brokenness with wholeness and makes it possible for God’s work to continue.

Our psalm for today beautifully and powerfully reminds us that God is our Creator and that God knows us intimately. God has a loving, healing, and creative purpose for us and for the world. God is at work building God’s shalom of peace harmony, and wholeness.

In today’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Church in Corinth, we are reminded that everything we do has an effect. The early Church was grappling with the Jewish dietary laws. People were coming into the new faith community from all kinds of backgrounds. Many of the Jewish converts felt it was necessary to continue to follow the dietary laws and wanted everyone else to do so. On the other end of the spectrum, some people had been worshippers of Zeus or Apollo and they felt they could eat anything. Paul constantly emphasized that, if we are following Christ, everything we do should be in accordance with our Lord’s teachings. If folks ate food that was sacrificed to idols, that might make their weaker brothers and sisters do something that would hurt their conscience, something they would later regret. Paul also emphasized that sexual activity is not to be taken lightly, that it is an act of deep intimacy that is best done only in the context of marriage, or a deep spiritual commitment if marriage is not possible.

In our gospel for today, Jesus calls Philip to follow him. Philip has read the scriptures and he knows very well that the Messiah is supposed to come from Bethlehem, so he asks that snarky question, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” And Philip says those wonderful words, “Come and see.” What an invitation! 

Then Jesus sees Nathanael, and calls him “an Israelite in whom there is no guile.” With Nathanael, what you see is what you get. He is honest, forthright, says it like it is. Nathanael asks Jesus how he got to know him, and Jesus says he saw Nathanael under the fig tree before Philip even called him. With Nathanael, as with so many people he met, Jesus clearly sees who a person truly is. He knows who we really are— no deceptions, just the truth. Nathanael acknowledges Jesus as the king of his life. And Jesus says something that makes us think of Jacob wrestling with the angel who is God and discovering his true identity. Jesus says,  “You will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” Someone has said that as we follow Jesus, we have one foot on earth and one foot in heaven. Jesus creates a thin place, where heaven and earth are very close. He connects us with all that is heavenly, all that is divine, because he is God walking the face of the earth.

We are living in a time of great stress. The stakes are high. We have decided to follow Jesus, as the old hymn says. This means that we are called to live by high ethical standards. We tell the truth, we see others as made in the image of God and we respect their dignity; we try to love others as God loves us, to treat others as we would like to be treated. 

Eli’s sons would normally have succeeded him. Because the sons of Eli were not following the law and were not morally capable of carrying out their duties, God called Samuel, a young man of impeccable moral character, deep faith, and courage to do God’s will in challenging and even dangerous circumstances. In this situation, three thousand years ago, God provided a just, ethical, and courageous leader for God’s people.

We are trying to follow Jesus and live the Way of Love. May our leaders on all levels, local, state, and national, follow the example of Samuel, and lead with ethical integrity, compassion, and justice for all. May we all continue to seek and do God’s will. Amen.

First Sunday after Christmas December 27, 2020

Isaiah 61:10-62:3
Psalm 147
Galatians 3:23-25, 4:4-7
John 1:1-18

“Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your  incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus  Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.” This is our powerful collect for today, the First Sunday after Christmas.

And then, our reading from John’s gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” We can picture in our minds the creation of the world. Christ ,the eternal Word, was there with God, and as God brought forth God’s vision of the creation, Christ, the Word, called the creation into being. Christ, the Word, the Logos, the plan for creation, the model for human life.

And then, in the next phrases of this amazing and inspiring gospel, the light is coming into the world. John the Baptist is testifying to the light. And then the true light, which enlightens everyone, is coming into the world. Jesus, the light of the world, brings light and hope to everyone in the world. We can envision a world of darkness lighting up with the light and love of Christ, We can understand that the light of Christ, the love and hope of Christ, can turn our lives from darkness and despair to light and hope. We can almost picture the whole dark world illuminated by the light of Christ, the dawn of a new day a new year, a new life for everyone.

But then,  our gospel says, “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him,” That led ultimately to the Cross. And yet, even out of that, he brought new life.  But to all who were open to him and welcomed him into their lives, “he gave power to become children of God.” When we open our lives to his love, he brings us as close to God as children are to their own loving parents.

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us…full of grace and truth.” God loves us so much that God came among us as one of us, born as a little baby, just as we were born.

He did not come as a conquering warrior, though he could have. He did not come among us as an earthly king, though he could have done that too. He came into human life just as we do,  He was born in a little place called Bethlehem, in a cave used as a stable. He was born before Mary and Joseph were married, so some tongues wagged, and some folks considered him to be an illegitimate child. And then, King Herod, who  had heard from the wise men about the new king, killed all the baby boys to stamp out that  threat. Joseph, a very protective and courageous foster father, and Mary, as protective and courageous as her husband, had to take Jesus into Egypt. This meant that they were refugees, migrants. seeking asylum. Jesus knows what it is to be human and he also knows what it is to be persecuted, marginalized, and demeaned. 

When things became safer, the holy family moved back to Nazareth, where Joseph was a carpenter. Jesus grew up learning the carpenter’s trade and studied the scriptures and eventually began his earthly ministry by being baptized by his cousin John in the Jordan River.

After that, he spent somewhere between one and three years, depending on whose account we read, going from place to place telling people how much God loves us and how much God wants us to love each other. In a patriarchal culture, he had high respect for women; in a culture that saw children and women as chattel, possessions, he instructed his disciples to let the children come to him so that he could hold them in his arms. He made it crystal clear that God’s love knows no barriers. This was a threat to people who wanted to preserve their power, and he ended up dying on that horrible instrument of torture called the cross. 

And then, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and found that it was empty. He was not there. She saw a man and thought he was the gardener, but he called her name, and she knew that it was Jesus. He had risen. She ran to tell the others. And then people began seeing him. He appeared to two of them on the road to Emmaus, but they didn’t even recognize him until they invited him in for supper and he interpreted the scriptures in a way that set their hearts on fire. Peter and the disciples were out fishing and, when they came ashore there he was, cooking fish and bread over a fire. He appeared to the disciples in the locked upper room and said, “Peace be with you.” And he called us to build his peace, his shalom, over the whole earth. And that’s what we are trying to do, with his grace. 

He is alive, He is in our midst, and he is calling us to walk the Way of Love. Let us follow him, our Emmanuel, God with us. Amen.

Advent 3B December 13, 2020

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Psalm 126
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8,19-28

In our opening reading this morning, God’s people have returned home from exile in Babylon. As Herbert O’Driscoll points out, this is the passage that our Lord reads in the synagogue in Nazareth as he begins his ministry.

What a powerful message this is for us as we deal with this pandemic. God is calling us “to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.”

God will be leading the people as they rebuild the temple and the city, but God is also calling for a reordering of the society. Walter Brueggemann says that the workers who will be rebuilding the ruins “are the oppressed, the broken-hearted, the captives, the prisoners, those who mourn.” Brueggemann says that these people “have been defeated, marginalized, and rendered powerless, either by the economic pressures within the community or by the economic policies of foreign powers.” He says that these workers “are the ones who have ended up in bondage… because they have debts they cannot pay. The pressures of economic paralysis have led to hopelessness, powerlessness, and finally despair.” Brueggemann continues, “For all time to come these will be the blessed of God.” (Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching, pp. 22-23.)

We cannot help but notice the striking parallels between these workers 25 centuries ago and our  workers, who are unemployed through no fault of their own. Their unemployment benefits are running out. Protections against foreclosure and eviction are also expiring, and millions of people could become homeless. In the midst of this suffering, God is calling us to take care of each other and to build a just society.

This passage has deep meaning for all of us, We are all feeling brokenhearted. We are all feeling like prisoners. God will give us “the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.” It is no accident that Jesus read this passage when he went to the synagogue in Nazareth.This text is calling us to help our Lord build his shalom.

Our reading today from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is full of gems for our spiritual lives. “Rejoice always,” Paul advises us. How can he say that when we’re in the middle of a pandemic? Here we must keep in mind that Paul’s life was not easy. He was in prison several times. He endured shipwrecks, beatings, personal attacks, and all kinds of opposition and adversity. Yet in the midst of everything, Paul was able to rejoice, and he encourages us to do the same. Underneath everything, upholding everything, is the joy of knowing Jesus our Savior.

“Pray without ceasing.”Over the centuries, people have tried to do this. We have the Jesus prayer that is sometimes said as we breathe. Breathe in—“Lord Jesus, Son of God.” Breathe out, “Have mercy on me, a sinner.” Or, breathe in, “Jesus,” breathe out, “Mercy.” We breathe in the healing and forgiving presence of our Lord and we exhale our sins while remembering his mercy. So that eventually with every breath we are thinking of our Lord and his love.

“Give thanks in all circumstances.” We could say, “Saint Paul, you are really asking a lot of us right now. Thousands of people are sick and dying; there are long lines at food shelves all over the country. Things are very bad. This is terrible.” And that is true. And—we can always find things to be thankful for. We can thank God for helping our doctors and nurses and truck drivers and grocery store workers and teachers and school staff and all the essential and medical workers who are valiantly doing their jobs. We can thank the researchers and others who are working on discovering vaccines, and we can give special thanks that the process of distributing a vaccine has begun and that, in Great Britain and other places, people have already received a vaccine. We can thank everyone who practices the safety guidelines our medical experts are giving us. I thank each and every one of you for your faith and your service to others during  this time. And for your strength of spirit and your sense of humor and your spiritual balance. Yes, we can “rejoice always,” “pray without ceasing,” and “give thanks in all circumstances.”

In today’s gospel, once again, we meet John the Baptist. He quotes Isaiah, saying he is “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘make straight the way of the Lord.’” John the Baptist “was not the light but that he came to testify to the light.” Although huge crowds came out to see him and followed him, he knew that he was not the Savior.

John the Evangelist says that John the Baptist “came to testify to the light.” If we think about Isaiah’s time, a time of great economic injustice and suffering when God was calling the people to rebuild the temple and their lives and their society; or if we think about the time of John the Baptist when the people of God were oppressed by the Roman Empire, those were very difficult times. And this time of Covid is also a time filled with suffering. People are dying alone without their families. Doctors and nurses are becoming more and more exhausted.

And yet. The light is coming into the world. The darkness has not overcome that light. At the Easter Vigil, we carry the paschal candle into the dark church and we process down the aisle to the altar, chanting “The light of Christ,” and the people answer, “Thanks be to God.” New life is coming into the world. The shalom of God is growing, like the shoot that sprouts from the stump of Jesse. Thanks be to God for that light. That hope. That love which sustains all of us. Let us kindle that hope and cherish it. Let us continue to walk the Way of Love. Amen.

Epiphany 2A January 19, 2020

Isaiah 49:1-7
Psalm 40:1-12
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
John 1:29-42

This sermon will be shorter in order to allow time for our annual meeting.

In our first reading, the prophet known as the Second Isaiah is proclaiming God’s good news to God’s people. God is going to bring the exiles home. God’s servant is not only Isaiah but the entire nation of God’s people. All of God’s people are going to become a light to the whole world, and the message of God’s love is going to be extended to all people. Passages such as this are the basis for Archbishop Tutu’s statement that “God has a big family.” God’s family includes everyone.

In our gospel, John the Baptist is telling everyone that Jesus is the Savior. Two of John’s disciples follow Jesus, and he asks them what they are looking for. They answer “Rabbi,” addressing him as a teacher, and he responds, “Come and see.” One of them is Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. These two men stay with Jesus and learn from him that day. By the end of the day, Andrew goes to his brother, Simon Peter, and says, “We have found the Messiah.” Andrew takes Simon Peter to Jesus, who takes one look at this man, sees deeply into his spirit, and says, “You are Simon, son of John. You are to be called Cephas,” meaning Peter.  Like Paul who came after him, Simon’s transformation is so profound that he receives a new name. He will be the leader of the apostles.

In our epistle, Paul is writing to the followers of Jesus in Corinth. He begins his letter by emphasizing the many gifts God has given the people in that community. This is true of every community of people following Jesus.

Peter and Paul both realized what Isaiah had said several centuries before them—that God loves all people and that the good news of Jesus is for all people all around the world.

Our collect for today tells us that Jesus is the light of the world. And then our collect carries forward the concept presented by Isaiah, that  we, God’s people, illumined by God’s word and sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory. In other words, we are praying that we, you and I, lighted up and inspired by the scriptures we are reading today and the sacrament of Christ’s presence which we will be sharing, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s risen presence, and that we may spread his light and love everywhere we go.

This is a wonderful prayer. As we share the light and love of Christ, we often do that more by attitudes and actions than by words. As we follow our Lord, we find that he is transforming us just as he transformed Peter and Paul and Mary Magdalene and Teresa of Avila and so many others.

In his address to the 79th General Convention on July 4, 2018, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry described what happened when people got to know Jesus. Bishop Curry says, “They found themselves loving the way Jesus loved, giving the way Jesus gives, forgiving the way Jesus forgives, doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly just like Jesus.” As Bishop Curry says, “If it’s about love, it’s about God. If it isn’t about love, it isn’t about God.”

Lord Jesus, give us your grace that we may continue to share your light and love.  Amen.

Christmas 1 December 30, 2018

Isaiah 61:10-62:3
Psalm 147 or 147:13-21
Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7
John 1:1-18

Our First reading, from Isaiah, dates to one of the most joyful times in the history of God’s people. After almost fifty years of exile, the people are returning home to rebuild the temple and rebuild their homes and their lives.

This passage is full of images of growth and life. Isaiah writes, “As the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations. The word “righteousness” means right relationship with God. This is a beautiful and powerful statement that, just as the earth brings forth good fruit, God is going to give the people grace to have right relationships with God and with each other. This is God’s will for us as well.

Our reading from Galatians traces our spiritual history. For a long time, humans beings were imprisoned under the law. We had the ten commandments to guide us, but we were not able to follow them, and we felt separated from God. Because we could not follow the law, we felt we were drifting farther and farther from God.

Now God has sent his beloved Son, Jesus. Jesus has let us know how much God loves us, and we can now relate to God in the most intimate way. We can call God “Abba,” which is a very familiar and endearing term. This means that we can now call God Dad or Daddy or Mom or Mama. We have been adopted as God’s own beloved children.

Our reading from John’s gospel brings all of this together. John’s gospel begins with the powerful statement, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Word is Jesus, the logos, the plan, the pattern for life, the blueprint for human existence. The Word brought forth the whole creation.

And then, the powerful Word who has created the universe comes among us, is born just the same way we were born. Some of his own people do not recognize who he is, but those who do realize who he is, those who open their hearts and lives to him, receive grace upon grace. We are among those blessed and fortunate people.

Later on in John’s Gospel Jesus tells us, “The Father and I are one.” (John 10:30.) This means that God loves us so much that God Godself has come among us as a baby. God loves us so much that God adopts us as God’s own children in the closest possible relationship.

John writes, “The Word became flesh and lived among us….From his fullness we have received grace upon grace.” God has come to be with us. God is enfleshed; God is incarnate. What an extraordinary gift!

One other theme that runs through our readings today is light. John writes, “What has come into being in [Jesus] was life, and the life was the light of all people The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” At the darkest time of year, God has come among us. God’s light and love and hope have come to be with us. This is another profound and wonderful gift.

The First Letter of John tells us, “God is love.” God has come to be with us to share God’s love, grace, and truth. In his Christmas message, Bishop Tom says that we can also be a gift to others. We are the gift because we can share God’s love with others. Amen.

Epiphany 2 Year B RCL January 14, 2018

1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20)
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
John 1:43-51

In our first reading today, the young man Samuel is receiving instruction from Eli, the priest at the temple in Shiloh. God calls Samuel, but Samuel does not yet know the Lord and thinks it is his teacher, Eli, calling him. Three times Samuel goes to Eli, and finally Eli realizes what is happening. He tells Samuel that it is God calling and tells Samuel how to respond.

Then a tragic story unfolds. Eli’s sons have engaged in all kinds of unethical behavior. Eli has tried to correct their behavior, but to no avail. God is going to remove Eli and his sons from functioning as the priests at Shiloh. Unfortunately, Samuel is the one God has chosen to tell Eli about this.

Morning comes. Samuel opens the doors of the temple. Eli calls to him and insists that Samuel tell him what God has said. Samuel tells the truth, and Eli accepts God’s judgment. Eli has been a faithful teacher to Samuel and has helped Samuel discern his call. But Samuel’s first task is to share this terrible news.

Our reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians begins with some quotes from some of the other teachers who have spent time with the community. One has said, “All things are lawful.” Another has said that “Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food.” Some of these teachers have convinced some of the people that they can do anything they want to do, that they no longer have to follow the Jewish law. Others are saying that the material world and the spiritual world are separate. Neither of these things is true. As Christians, we give all of ourselves to God.

Promiscuous behavior was prevalent in the first century Roman Empire. Paul says this is not acceptable. As Christians, we commit our whole selves to our Lord. Christ came to fulfill the law, and, for us, that means that we are called to obey not only the letter but the spirit of the law.

In our Gospel, Jesus is calling his disciples. He finds Philip and says those words which change lives, “Follow me.” Philip finds Nathanael and tells him that he has found the Messiah. But Nathanael is dubious. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” he asks. The prophets said the Messiah was to come from Bethlehem.

Then Jesus sees Nathanael and says, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” Scholars tell us that this is a reference to Jacob, who was full of scheming and deceit before he underwent a transformation and became Israel. Jesus is able to look into the heart of a person. He knows that Nathanael is straightforward and tells the truth. Nathanael wonders how Jesus could get to know him so quickly. In their brief dialogue, Nathanael realizes that Jesus is indeed the Messiah.

Jesus tells his followers that they will see great things. They “will see the heavens opened and angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” That is a reference to Jacob’s experience of seeing the angels ascending and descending on the ladder between earth and heaven, an experience that opened Jacob’s mind to the presence of God.

Nathanael is also known as Bartholomew. When Philip first asked him to meet Jesus, he was full of questions, perhaps even scorn. But, when he actually talked with Jesus and intuitively sensed that Jesus had the ability to look into his heart and to love him, he wanted to follow our Lord.

All of these readings are about being called by God and responding in faith. We have not held services for the past two Sundays because of the record-breaking cold weather and snowfall. During this time, one of our beloved members has had a close call. Thanks be to God, Bryan, and many skilled medical folks, she is with us.

Our readings today speak to us in many ways.  We are all called by God to love and serve others. We all try to carry out our ministries faithfully with God’s help. But events like this remind all of us that each moment is precious, each person is precious, and we are all vulnerable. We are not invincible.

Our psalm today speaks to this awareness. God has made us. God knows us. There is no place we can go where God is not, God is everywhere. At every point in our lives, God has been there, loving us and sustaining us. Sometimes, God has carried us.

We are vulnerable. yes. But God is faithful and loving to us. I would suggest that we read this psalm, 139, this week and meditate on it. The love of God is present in every word of this psalm.

God is holding you in the palm of God’s hand.  Amen.

The First Sunday after Christmas   December 31, 2017

Isaiah 61:10–62:3
Psalm 147:13-21
Galatians 3:23-35; 4:4-7
John 1:1-18

Our readings today are filled with joy. In our opening reading from the prophet known as the Third Isaiah, we are with the people of God as they are returning home from their exile in Babylon. The mood is that of a wedding feast, and the images are of growth and faithfulness. Isaiah says, “For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.”

Righteousness means right relationship with God. The people are going to have a new and deeper and truer relationship with God and with each other. The radiance of this renewed relationship will cause God’s people to shine as a light to the world.

In our reading from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, an impressive amount of theology is condensed into just a few words. Paul, a Pharisee, tells us that before faith came, God’s people were imprisoned in the law. The law was the disciplinarian—we could say the law was the warden of the prison. We were all stuck in this prison because, as Paul says elsewhere, the things we didn’t want to do, we did; and the things we wanted to do we did not do—and we felt miserable and asked God to free us from this bondage.

Then, faith came, or, more accurately, Christ came. Jesus was born just as Paul was born, just as all of us are born. He came among us as a baby. He was one of us. And because of him, we are all now God’s children in a new and deeper and more loving way than ever before. And the Spirit of Christ is in our hearts. God has come among us and has lived a human life. The wonder of this is absolutely amazing. Only a loving and caring God would do such a thing. And what a gift! We are not alone. Our Shepherd and Brother, Jesus, has come into the world just as we did and is now living among us. He is with us to lead us and guide us.

The law is no longer a prison. It is a helpful guide. And now we have the gift of grace to follow the law.

John the Evangelist tells the story in yet another way. “In the beginning was the Word.” The Word- the logos in Greek—the Plan, the Pattern for life. The Word, Wisdom, Christ, was with God at the very beginning. The Word was the one who called the creation into being. God imagined the creation, Christ and Wisdom called it into being.

We can imagine total darkness and the vastness of the universe but nothing else—a void. And then we can imagine stars and galaxies coming into being, and then this one solar system, this one star surrounded by these planets orbiting, and then this one beautiful gem of a planet, all blue and green and tan.

Then comes John the Baptist telling us that the ultimate light was coming into the world. And then Jesus, our light, came into the world. The people in his own hometown did not accept him, but to those who did see him as he really was, he gave new life and a deep, loving relationship with God.

As Isaiah has said, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” Jesus is our Light. Here in Vermont during this very cold week, the light is increasing. The days are growing longer, and our Light is among us. As John says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

John says so much in so few words: “From his fullness,” John writes, “we have all received, grace upon grace.” It is like a waterfall of grace. Each of us has received so much from our Lord. Grace upon grace, overflowing love, forgiveness, and healing.

There is a beautiful hymn, number 84, that sums up the meaning of our readings.

Love came down at Christmas, love all lovely, love divine;
love was born at Christmas; star and angels gave the sign.
Worship we the godhead, love incarnate, love divine;
worship we our Jesus, but wherewith for sacred sign?
Love shall be our token; love be yours and love be mine, love to God and neighbor, love for plea and gift and sign.

Christina Rossetti

God has come among us as one of us. God has given us the gift of God’s very self, God’s loving presence. May we be ever thankful for this wondrous and amazing gift. Amen.

Advent 3 Year B December 17, 2017

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Canticle 3
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me….” These are the stirring words of our first reading this morning. Herbert O’Driscoll writes, “Every time I read or hear these words, I have a strange sense of being in the immediate presence of Jesus.” O’Driscoll reminds us that these are the words Jesus read when he was handed the scroll in his home synagogue in Nazareth early in his ministry. As Christians, we feel that these words describe Jesus and his ministry.

Isaiah had returned from exile In Babylon, and God was speaking these inspiring words to the people as they prepared to begin the daunting task of rebuilding everything. God’s people then and God’s people now are called to “bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners.” God assures the people that they will rebuild.

And God tells them and us what God’s values are. “For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing,” And God tells us, “For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.”

In other words, Advent is a time to think about God’s kingdom of peace, harmony, justice, and compassion. And Advent is a time to renew our commitment to help God to bring in hat kingdom, that shalom.

In our reading from Paul’s First letter to the Thessalonians, we receive good counsel: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.”  We have so much to rejoice about, because we are following Jesus into his kingdom.

To pray without ceasing, to pray constantly, is a life’s journey. Not an easy thing to do.  The nineteenth century writer of The Way of a Pilgrim devoted an entire book to this. He had heard this passage and was trying to live this command from Paul.  This is the book that tells us about the Jesus Prayer. As we breathe in, we say or think, “Lord Jesus Christ,” and as we breathe out, we think, or say, “Have mercy upon me, a sinner.” This is a prayer much used in the Eastern Orthodox Church. It can be condensed, On the in breath say or think, “Jesus;” on the out breath, think “Mercy.”

“Give thanks in all circumstances.” This advice is coming from someone who was able to give thanks even when he was in prison, which happened several times in his life. But there is always something to give thanks for. Paul encourages us to “Hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.” And Paul prays that our spirit and soul may be kept blameless until Jesus comes to complete the creation. A powerful reading from a person who had walked the journey of prayer and faithfulness.

In our gospel for today, we hear John’s account of John the Baptist. Last Sunday we heard the account from Mark. But John the Evangelist begins, “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.”

The days are so short and the nights so long, we yearn for the light, And our Light, Jesus Christ, is coming into the world. We will celebrate his presence on Christmas.

As in Mark’s gospel, John makes it very clear that he is not the Messiah. He says, “Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” John knows exactly who he is, He is the forerunner, the one who calls us to “Prepare the way of the Lord.”

Although he has a very large following and people are flowing out of Jerusalem to come out into the wilderness and hear him, none of this goes to his head. He is here to prepare the way, and that is his ministry.

The light is coming into the world. We are moving ever closer to Christmas. Yet we know that he has already come into the world and that his kingdom is growing even now. We are all doing as much we we can to help his shalom grow.

Yes, we are aware of the darkness; we are aware of our sin, and we are asking his help in growing more and more like him as we prepare to celebrate his first coming among us, his loving and healing presence among us, and his second coming to complete the work of creation.

Dear Lord, thank you for your light and love and healing. Give us grace to prepare room for you in our hearts and lives. In Your holy Name, Amen.

Epiphany 2A RCL January 15, 2017

Isaiah 49:1-7
Psalm 40:1-12
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
John 1:29-42

Our first reading comes from the prophet known as the Second Isaiah. Like Jeremiah, he had a sense that he was called by God from the time he was in the womb. We also were called by God to be God’s own beloved from the time we were in our mother’s womb.

God tells Isaiah that God is going to bring the people home from their exile in Babylon. This is wonderful news of great hope. But then God adds something that is almost mind-shattering: God is calling not only Isaiah but all of God’s people to be “a light to the nations, so that [God’s] salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” This includes us as people of God. We are called to be a light to the world, sharing the gifts of faith, hope, and love with all the people we meet.

As we turn to our epistle for today, I think of Herbert O’Driscoll, who points out that, if St. Paul has to give both bad news and good news, he always begins with the good news. The church in Corinth has some dire problems. Some people think that they know more than other people and they are trying to force others to think the way they do instead of engaging in respectful dialogue. Some people think the gifts God has given them, particularly the gift of speaking in tongues, are superior gifts and people who have that gift should be able to lord it over others. Some other teachers have come in and told the people that Paul is an inferior teacher who does not know what he is talking about, and people should follow these new teachers. One of these is named Apollos.

Paul is going to have to help the people deal with these issues, which are tearing their community apart, and he will deal with them by writing a letter full of some of the most important theology in the Christian tradition, teachings that are as fresh and essential today as they were back then in the first century. But first, he centers his letter where it should be centered—in Christ and in all the gifts our Lord has given the church in Corinth. Throughout the entire letter, he will emphasize that what is important is our Lord, his presence among us and the gifts he gives us. First Corinthians is a wonderful letter full of wisdom. We will be reading selections from this letter for the next several weeks.

In our gospel, John the Baptist sees Jesus coming toward him and he describes our Lord as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. From this passage comes our solemn chant, Agnus Dei. John is absolutely sure that Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior. The next day, John again calls Jesus the Lamb of God, and two of John’s disciples follow Jesus. If John, their teacher whom they love and trust, is saying that this is the Savior, they want to be close to him. They want to see what he is about. They want to learn from him. I think they had hoped to follow him quietly and stay near him and learn something.

But Jesus turns around and sees them. He is so matter-of-fact. “What are you looking for?” he asks them. They answer with great respect: “Rabbi, where are you staying?” This may sound like a strange question and maybe they are a bit flustered and it’s the first thing they can think of to blurt out, but the fact is that they want to follow him. Their own teacher, John, has pointed out that this is the Savior. Why wouldn’t they want to follow him? Jesus says, “Come and see.”

Come and see. What an invitation. Just come and hang out and see what’s happening. So they go with Jesus and the disciples and stay the whole day. It gets to be about four in the afternoon, and we find out who one of these two men is. It’s Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.

Now, Andrew does something that is tremendously important: he goes to his brother Simon and tells him, “We have found the Messiah.” A simple, down to earth statement. Then Andrew brings Simon to Jesus. Andrew, this quiet brother, brings Simon to Jesus. And Jesus names him Cephas, which means Peter.

We all know that Jesus later chose Peter to be the leader of the apostles. But what if his brother Andrew had not realized that Jesus was the Savior? What if Andrew had not gone to tell Peter about Jesus?

Andrew is a quiet person, but he pays careful attention to everything.

Later, when Jesus is being followed by a huge crowd and it is late and the people are hungry, Jesus asks the disciples if anyone has any food. It is Andrew who has made a connection with a little boy who has five loaves and two fish. Andrew is quiet and aware, and he connects people with each other so that good things can happen.

Peter is more demonstrative—he jumps into the water when he sees Jesus coming across the lake and begins to sink; he denies Jesus three times but then accepts Jesus’ forgiveness and renews his commitment on the shores of the lake after Jesus is risen; Peter is fiery and emotional, but he is also the rock on which Jesus builds his church. Here we have the story of how his quiet brother Andrew helps Peter to connect with our Lord, the Light of the world.

And that is what we are called to do—to listen and be aware, and live our faith, and help people to connect with Jesus because they see a glimpse of his life and love in us. Thank God for the connectors in this world, people like Andrew who bring people together, who find a little boy who is willing to share his lunch so that a crowd can be fed; people like Andrew who bring people to Christ. May we follow his example.  Amen.

 

Epiphany 2 Year B RCL January 18, 2015

1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20)
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
John 1:43-51

This sermon will be brief because we have Annual Meeting today.

One of the themes running through our readings today is the idea of vocation.

In our first reading, God is calling the young man Samuel to be a prophet. Samuel thinks Eli, his teacher and mentor, is calling him. Finally, Eli realizes that God is calling, and he instructs Samuel to respond to God and obey this call.

Eli serves as a faithful spiritual guide to Samuel and accurately discerns what is going on even though Samuel is going to have the difficult job of pronouncing God’s judgment on Eli’s sons, who have fallen far away from where they should be. Eli has not been able to control them, and now there is going to be a tragic outcome.

In the midst of his own personal tragedy, Eli remains faithful and helps Samuel to respond to God’s call. Samuel grows to become one of God’s most courageous prophets.

In our gospel, Jesus calls Philip, and Philip immediately goes and tells his friend Nathanael that he has found the Savior, Nathanael is a bit dubious but Philip says, “Come and see,” What a wonderful invitation. Nathanael meets the Lord and immediately recognizes who he is. Jesus tells them and us that we will see even greater things. But what can be greater than people meeting Jesus and responding to our Lord’s call to follow him?

Our psalm tells us that, everywhere we go, God is there. Everywhere we go, Jesus is with us. We are here because we know that. We have decided to follow Jesus and help him to build his kingdom of peace and harmony.

Every day of our lives, we wake anew and we make that choice to follow Jesus. Sometimes it is not easy. The world seems to be marching to a different drummer. Sometimes it seems as though it would be a good idea to just take the easy way out. That’s what some of the folks in Corinth were doing. They were not thinking about how their selfish behavior affected other people. Paul calls the Corinthians to remember God’s love for us and to seek and do God’s will.

Thank you for answering the call of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thank you for waking up each day and making that decision to follow him, to serve him, and to serve others in his name. Thank you for your faithfulness, and for your deep life of prayer. It makes a huge difference. Thank you for carrying our your vocations as members of the Body of Christ, bringing his love and healing to others.

You are following in the footsteps of Eli and Samuel and Philip and Nathanael. You are following in the footsteps of our Lord. It is a privilege and a joy to share the journey with you.

Amen.