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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion February 5, 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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Lent 5B March 21, 2021

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 51:1-13
Hebrews 5:5-10
John 12:20-33

Our opening reading today comes from the Book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah was one of the great prophets of God. Here is what God said to him, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Scholars tell us that Jeremiah was very young, around eighteen years old, when God called him to be a prophet. Jeremiah told God that he was too young to answer this call.  Here is how Jeremiah tells the story. Then I said, “Ah, Lord God, truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy.’ for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord. Then the Lord put out his hand, and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth.” God calls all of us to our ministries, and God gives each of us the gifts we need to carry out our ministry.

Jeremiah was called at a time when the leaders were corrupt. Jeremiah pronounced God’s judgment on their immoral and unjust behavior, and they responded by persecuting him. Some religious leaders tried to kill him. He was beaten, put into the stocks, and thrown into a cistern. Eventually, the Babylonian Empire conquered Judah and deported the leaders and others to Babylon.

As we know, this was one of the lowest points in the history of God’s people. In the midst of this terrible time, God says about the people, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts….They shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” The law will no longer be words written on tablets long ago. The law will be written on their hearts. God will be close to the people, and the people will be close to God. Each person and all the people will have a close relationship with God. And God will forgive the people.

Think of what these words from God meant to these people over twenty-five hundred years ago as they tried to hang on to faith and hope during the exile. Thanks to the love of God and the encouragement of their spiritual  leaders, they kept the faith, they gathered to pray and study the scriptures, and they strengthened their community during this time of exile and desolation.

In our gospel for today, the people are gathering for the Passover, and Jesus is preparing for the cross. He says something that has so much truth in it that we can meditate on it for our whole lives and still only scratch the surface of its meaning. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain, but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” We can think of ourselves as a little seed, a grain of wheat, self-contained, individual, able to make our own choices, do things our own way. We are sitting on a large rock in a field. Will we jump into the rich loam of God’s love and grace and grow? Or will we remain in our own little world? If we jump into the richness of God’s love and grace, we grow. We love and follow Jesus.

But then our Lord, right in front of us, goes through a dialogue with himself and God. “What shall I say—Father, save me from this hour? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.”

In meditating on this gospel, i found my mind and heart turning to thoughts of Brian Sicknick. Brian was 42 years old.  In a statement posted on the Capitol Police website on January 7, Brian’s family wrote, “There really aren’t enough kind words in any language to describe how sweet Brian was. He was truly a lovely, humble soul. Everyone who met him adored him. We are missing him terribly. He loved his job with the U. S. Capitol Police….He also had an incredible work ethic. He was very serious about showing up to work on time and refused to call out sick unless absolutely necessary.” 

Brian went to work on January 6, faithfully carried out his duties amidst the physical brutality and chaos of the attack, on our Capitol, was sprayed with a powerful chemical substance, became very ill, returned to his division office, collapsed, was taken to the hospital, and died the next evening at 7:30. He was protecting our Capitol. He was doing his job. As you know, a friend of mine has a connection with Brian. She knows someone who is a good friend of the family. From all accounts, Brian walked the Way of love.

There is something about walking the Way of Love. There is something about jumping into the good earth of God’s grace and helping to build God’s shalom of peace and harmony. There is something about surrendering our ego, giving ourselves to something bigger than ourselves, throwing ourselves into the loving arms of God. When we try to save our lives, we lose them. When we lose our lives for Jesus’ sake, we find new meaning in our lives. We enter into eternal life, life in a new dimension.

We are following Jesus. Today and again in the garden we will hear his own struggle about the cross.  He knows everything about what it is to be human. And that is everything to us when we have to face our own cross, whether it is a decision we don’t want to have to make, a child or a grandchild going through something horrible, a sacrifice of something that has been very important but, when we finally let it go, we find ourselves on a path to new life. In all of these things, we can follow him because we know that he understands exactly what is being demanded of us because he has gone through it himself. Every time we face our own cross, he is there with us. And that makes it possible for us to take the right course, to follow him, even though we are sure it will lead to some kind of death. And every time it leads to new and light-filled life. 

We are at a delicate time in our exile, our desert wandering, our fast. There is great hope for freedom, but we have to continue to follow the science and be careful, or we may cause another spike. This may be our most profound challenge yet. Fortunately, blessedly, we are not alone. We are never alone. We have help, the best possible help. Blessed Lord Jesus, thank you for leading and guiding us. Help us to walk the Way of Love with you. In your holy Name,  Amen.

Lent 5C RCL April 7, 2019

Isaiah 43:16-21
Psalm 126
Philippians 3:4b-14
John 12:1-8

Our opening reading is from the prophet known as the Second Isaiah. The exiles have been in captivity in Babylon for five decades, and God is calling Isaiah to proclaim the amazing good news that the exiles will be coming home. They will be free.

This wonderful news is placed in the framework of another earlier time when God freed God’s people. The people had been enslaved in Egypt, but God moved the waters of the Red Sea, allowing the people, who had only the clothes on their backs, to run over the sodden and mucky ground and get to the other side. The chariots and horses of the Egyptians sank into the mud. Now, many years later, God is going to do a new thing, It is springing forth like water in the desert. God is going to make a path in the wilderness so that the people can follow it and return home from Babylon after all these years.

Our psalm today is a song of praise to God from the exiles who are returning to rebuild Jerusalem. We can hear the joyous laughter of the people who sowed with tears and are now reaping with joy.

Our epistle for today is one of the most eloquent and moving passages in the Bible. Paul is addressing his beloved Philippians. The sentences preceding this text reveal that there are some people in the congregation who still believe that all new converts must be circumcised.

Jesus has come, not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. As Paul says,
“The letter kills, but the spirit gives life.” (2 Cor. 3:6) Yet some people are clinging to old beliefs and traditions. Paul brings his entire life to bear on this issue. He himself was circumcised on the eighth day. He is a member of the tribe of Benjamin and a Pharisee, an expert in the law. Few people on the planet have more knowledge of the law than he does. His credentials are impressive.

Then he comes to the part that fills him with shame, the kind of shame we feel when we face something we wish we had never done. He persecuted the followers of Jesus. He watched from the sidelines as an angry mob stoned Stephen to death. He was on the way to Damascus to continue this mission when he met Jesus.

Yes, he was blameless under the law, but he had persecuted the followers of the One who was able to lead him into new life.

He lost his entire way of life. He realized that the cause which had dominated his every moment was not a noble cause after all. And yet, even though he lost that former life, he sees everything as gain.

Saul met our Lord on the road to Damascus. Jesus asked him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” No, he had not been with Jesus for several years the way the others had, but, in that brief meeting when he was blinded by the light, Saul began a lifelong relationship with the risen Christ. Like us, Paul never followed our Lord during Jesus’ earthly life, but his faith was just as deeply rooted as if he had spent every day of his life with Jesus. I believe that he did spend every day of his life with the risen Lord, just as we do, and that he grew very close to our Lord.

Paul has lost all the things he thought were so valuable, and he has gained a relationship with the risen Christ, and Paul wants to continue to grow closer to Jesus. Paul knows that by sharing in the suffering of Christ we experience the power of the resurrection. Our Lord takes all of our times of struggle and shame and defeat and transforms them into new life.

Paul admits that he isn’t there yet. He hasn’t arrived. He is still on the journey, just as we are. But he presses on to make the new life entirely his own, because Jesus has made Paul his own. Paul calls us to “forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead.” Paul clearly has great faith. Although he persecuted the followers of Jesus, he has come to know our Lord so deeply that he can encourage us on our journey of growing closer and closer to Christ.

In our gospel, it is only six days before the Passover. Jesus is going to die. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, who are among his closest friends, give a dinner for him. Lazarus has just been raised from the dead, and there he is at the supper table. The previous verses tell us that folks have gone to inform the authorities, and the raising of Lazarus has propelled them to find a way to kill Jesus. For the powers that be who are squashing life at every turn, the power to give newness of life is a huge threat.

Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with very expensive nard to show her love and respect for him and to assure him that she will be there every step of the way. Judas raises an issue about the expense, which is entirely bogus. Apparently, he wanted Mary to put that money in the common purse, but not because he cared about the poor. The text tells us that he stole money from the common funds. In effect, he wanted more money for himself. Scholars tell us that Jesus’ comment about the poor is simply to point out that his earthly life is about to end. Obviously, he cared about the poor, and in his kingdom everyone has enough to live a healthy and meaningful life.

What are these readings saying to us? There are some themes here about traveling light and letting go of things that do not lead to life.  The heavy chariots and horses sank. Traveling light, God’s people made it to freedom. Paul devoted the first part of his life to the law and to his faith. Yet it had led him to kill people. His shame was almost more than he could bear. His transformation was profound. What is God calling us to let go of? What things in our lives lead to death? What in our lives leads to life?

Mary pours out a treasure of love, faith, and devotion to Jesus. She is going to follow him through death and beyond to new life. Mary and Paul are sterling examples for us to follow. In our Collect for today, we pray that, “among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found.” May it be so. Amen.

Lent 5B March 18, 2018

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 51:1-13
Hebrews 5:5-10
John 12:20-33

In our opening reading, which dates back to 587 B.C., over twenty-five hundred years ago, God tells the people that God is going to make a “new covenant” with them. Scholars tell us that this is the first time the term “new covenant” is used in the Scriptures.

God speaks these words from a position of deep intimacy. God says that God is the husband of the people. This gives us some sense of the love God has always had for us. And God says something that is almost too difficult to grasp—that God is going to put God’s law within God’s people, within us. God is going to write the law on our hearts.

Webster’s dictionary tells us that a covenant is a “solemn agreement between two parties.” When Moses brought the law down from Mount Sinai, that was a sign of the covenant between God and the people. The law was the glue that bound the people together and bound together God and the people.

For us as Christians, the New Covenant is expressed in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. His life speaks to us. Everything he says and does means something to us. His words and actions, his attitudes and thoughts are like lighthouses guiding us to safety on a stormy sea. They are like springs of water giving us new, fresh lives.

Today, Jesus tells us one of the most important things he has ever said to us. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains just a single grain: but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” We could meditate on this for the rest of our lives, and, in a sense, that is what we do as Christians. Last Sunday, we were talking a bit about the writer Elizabeth Goudge. Her characters think about this statement of Jesus in many ways and in great depth.

Let’s imagine for a moment. Each of us is like a grain of wheat. Each of us is a little seed, enclosed in our protective capsule, our hard little shell. Imagine each of us, a little, self-enclosed seed wrapped in our secure little shell. Each of us is on a big rock. Far below is God’s fertile, loamy earth.

We’re sitting on our rock, but if we stay here, we will always be alone. We will never be part of anything bigger. On one level, it’s great to be on our rock. We are in total control of our little world up here. We can make our decisions and run things the way we want to. But staying up here is not what we were designed for.

We are being called to give up our control. We are called to jump into the earth. And it’s scary. Very scary. Will we disappear? What will happen to us? There’s something big we are called to do, but we’re going to lose control and give ourselves to something much bigger.

Finally, we take the leap of faith. We jump into God’s wonderful earth and bury ourselves in that good, warm soil and let the sun shine on us and warm us and let the rain come down so that we can sprout, and put down our roots, and reach up toward the sun and break through the earth and reach up and up and up to God and to the sun and grow until we are a part of a beautiful field of wheat.

We look around and see all this golden wheat, waving in the wind. And it is beautiful. This wheat will be gathered and made into bread, perhaps Communion bread. In the words of Richardson Wright, “We make, O Lord, our glorious exchanges: what Thou hast given us, we offer,  that we may, in turn, receive Thyself.”

As followers of Christ, we are called to jump into the fertile loam of God’s love. We are called to jump into the stream of goodness in the universe. We are called to take the risk of giving up what we think is so important—our thoughts and plans and theories—and jump into the loving arms of God and grow into the persons God calls us to be.

When we do this, we enter a process of transformation. We are caterpillars that turn into butterflies. We are little grains of wheat that become part of something very, very big and very, very good. We become part of God. We become one with God. The grain of wheat falls into the earth and it bears fruit. That grain has died to self and now lives to God.

The cross was a horrible instrument of torture designed to make people suffer untold pain and cruelty and to humiliate them. And to fill them with fear of the power of the Roman Empire. It was a form of death reserved for the lowest of the low. When Jesus breathed his last on that horrible cross, he was propelled into the arms of God. He fell into the good earth of God’s love. The Apostles’ Creed says that he descended to the dead. He went there to share God’s love with those in the underworld.

Nothing in this universe is untouched by God’s love, not even Hell.

If we are going to bear fruit, we have to give up our little islands of isolation and jump into God’s love.

And then we will bear fruit. The fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  It’s a lifelong journey, and we’re on that journey.

May we continue to take those leaps of faith.  Amen.

 

Lent 5B RCL March 22, 2015

Jeremiah 31: 31-34
Psalm 51:1-13
Hebrews 5:5-10
John 12:20-33

Our first reading, which dates back to 587 B.C. E., over 2,500 years ago, is the first mention of the term “new covenant” and the only mention of that term in the Hebrew scriptures.

Although he lived all those centuries ago, the prophet Jeremiah had a life that could be made into a miniseries. He was the son of Hilkiah, a priest who lived in Anathoth, two miles outside of Jerusalem. Scholars tell us that living just that short distance outside the center of power made Jeremiah an outsider. When God called Jeremiah to be a prophet, God said, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” This is true of all of us. God has known us from the beginning, and God has called us.

Jeremiah is young, and he tells God that he does not feel that he should be a prophet because he is only a boy. But God says, “I have put my words in your mouth.”

As I thought about this sermon, I began to realize that Jeremiah, like so many of the prophets, reminds me of our Lord. Jeremiah’s ministry was anything but easy. During much of his ministry, the king, the priests, and the official prophets were corrupt. Jeremiah tried to call them back to God;s ways, but they just strayed farther and farther from God.

Jeremiah also had the extremely difficult job of telling those in power that they were going to be conquered by the Babylonian Empire. For that, he was placed under arrest.

Our reading for today is God’s revolutionary proclamation through Jeremiah of a new covenant. This happens after the Babylonian Empire has conquered Judah, leveled the temple in Jerusalem and deported the people to Babylon. It happens in the midst of the deepest possible pain and defeat and suffering, a time when the worst possible disaster has occurred.

It is clear that the people have fallen away from God. but that does not stop God from reaching out in love and mercy. Some of the most significant moments in the life of God’s people and in our lives happen in the midst of crisis and suffering.

God is going to write this new covenant on their—and our—hearts. Everyone is going to have the opportunity to be close to God. Barriers such as social status, occupation, and education, melt away. Everyone will be equal in the sight of God. There will be no need for experts or teachers. Everyone will be able to be as close to God as we are to each other right now. This is the covenant that God offered to God’s people 2,500 years ago. They had erred and strayed like lost sheep. yet God was ready to forgive all of it and begin anew.

God was saying that the spiritual life is not a matter of following rules. It is about interior transformation which leads to changed attitudes and behaviors. In our hearts, we finally realize how much God loves us, and that love touches and transforms us and our lives.

The great Episcopal theologian Urban Holmes talks about how many people still believe that the spiritual journey is about following rules. If we follow the ten commandments and do everything right, our lives will be happy and we will avoid suffering. But that is not what our faith teaches.

Following Jesus does not make us successful in the world’s terms. Following Jesus does not protect us from suffering and disaster and heartbreak and brokenness. In fact, as we see from his own life and the lives of many saints, following Jesus often takes us to a cross of one sort or another.

Sometimes you and I have to undergo suffering. It is not something that God sends upon us. It is part of living in a fallen creation. This world is not as God would want it to be. There is much brokenness that would not be God’s intention. God’s vision for the creation is a vision of wholeness and harmony. But we are not there yet.

The suffering that comes into our lives may be a family situation which is tragic and complicated. We struggle through it with God’s help. We can’t fix it; It is way too complicated, but we ask God’s help and we do the best we can one day at a time.

It may be a point of decision in our own lives. We agonize over it and seek God’s guidance, but nothing is coming clear. It may be a diagnosis that changes our lives. It may be a setback to ourselves or someone dear to us. Sometimes we may grieve deeply and cry. Sometimes we may be angry about it and have to ask God’s help to deal with that. As we look around our world and see the suffering of so many people, we suffer with them.

We are following our Lord to the cross. Our Lord is the embodiment of the new covenant. Life in Christ is not a matter of following the rules as a matter of duty. The love of Christ is engraved in the center of our being. Christ is in us and we are in him.

In 1373, Julian of Norwich, in an England ravaged by plague and war, had fifteen visions of Our Lord on the cross. She wrote, “Do you want to understand the Lord’s meaning in this experience? Understand it well. Love was his meaning. Who showed it to you? Love. What did he show you? Love. Why did he show it? For love. …Thus it was that I learned that Love was our Lord’s meaning.”

That Love has come into our hearts and into our lives. He has suffered the worst. He is with us in our sufferings, and, because we know how much he loves us, we can fall into his loving arms as a seed falls into the ground. Then wholeness comes out of brokenness. Life comes out of death. Because he has suffered and won the victory, we no longer have to fear suffering. We no longer have to fear death. We no longer have to live in fear of any kind. Instead, we can live in faith.

Amen.