• Content

  • Pages

  • Upcoming Events

    • 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:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion April 9, 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:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion April 16, 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:…

Pentecost 14 Proper 16B

1 Kings 8:(1,6, 10-11), 22-30, 41-43
Psalm 84
Ephesians 6:10-20
John 6:56-69

In our opening reading today, King Solomon has completed the building of the new temple in Jerusalem. The ark is being brought from the tent in which it had been kept into the glorious temple which will be dedicated to God. Herbert O’Driscoll points out that the people of God are making a transition from a nomadic life to a settled life. (O’Driscoll, The Word Among Us,  Year B, Vol. 3, p. 86.)

After the Ark has been put in the most holy part of the temple, the presence of God is shown by the cloud that surrounds the Holy of Holies. King Solomon prays, saying that there is no God like the God who has led the people so faithfully, walking with them on their journey out of slavery into freedom. Solomon prays for the foreigners who may be called to worship in this temple, and asks that God will hear their prayers as well.

This is a most holy moment in the journey of God’s people Israel, and our response is one of the most beloved and beautiful psalms: “How dear to me is your dwelling, O Lord of hosts!  My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.” As the temple in Jerusalem has been the beloved house of worship for so many, Grace has been our beloved house of worship. We humans cherish these places which have been set aside for us to praise God, places where we know that prayers have been said for centuries.   

In our gospel for today, Jesus says, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my food abide in me, and I in them” When we spend time with Jesus and share the Eucharist and study the scriptures and pray together, our bond with Jesus grows stronger and stronger. We abide in him, and he abides in us. We become his living Body. We are the Body of Christ here to do his ministry on earth.

In our reading from the Letter to the Ephesians, we are given the “whole armor of God,” so that we can stay on the path and keep following Christ.  We are not facing physical persecution as the early followers of Jesus did, but life certainly has challenges for all of us.

So what kind of armor does God give us? Well, first, we fasten the belt of truth around our waist. That is something to think about. There is such a thing as truth. There are such things as facts that can be verified. The ultimate truth for us as Christians is the life and teaching of our Lord. There are many other parts of the Bible that are interesting and instructive, but, for us, the ministry of Christ as revealed in the gospels is the core.

Then we put on the breastplate of righteousness. Righteousness means right relationship with God. Are we in harmony with God? Are we following the example of Christ? His commandment to us was to love others as he has loved us.

Then we put on the shield of faith. This is going to help us to face the forces of darkness. Our faith is like a lifeline between us and Jesus so that we can follow him through the shadow of death and the caverns of despair and darkness. As the “Footprints” poem reminds us, sometimes our Lord carries us through those times.

Then we put on the helmet of salvation. The root word of salvation is wholeness. Take the helmet of the wholeness that our Lord gives to us. Live out of the strength and health that Christ gives to us.

And we hold the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Jesus is the eternal Word. He is with us to help us when the going gets tough. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it,” says John in the prologue to his gospel.

“Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication.” Pray all the time. Stay alert and pray for all the saints. That is, pray for all our brothers and sisters in Christ. Pray for all of God’s children.

The armor of God—truth, righteousness, that is, right relationship with God, faith, salvation, that is, the wholeness and health that our Lord gives us as a gift, the Holy Spirit, who energizes us and enables us to follow Christ and build his shalom, and, last but not least, prayer—prayer at all times and in all situations.

This is how we abide in Christ and allow him to abide in us. This is how we actively live in Christ and let him live in us.

A prayer from our gospel for today—“O Lord, you have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” Lead us and guide us always. In your holy Name. Amen.

Pentecost 13 Proper 15B RCL August 19, 2018

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14
Psalm 111
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-58

In our first two readings this morning, the term “wisdom” is mentioned. In our gospel, we focus on Jesus as the bread that came down from heaven, and this leads us to reflect on the meaning of the Holy Eucharist.

In our first reading, Solomon, the son of David and Bathsheba, becomes the King of Israel. In his encounter with God in a dream, Solomon asks God for the gift of wisdom, and God grants that request. Scholars tell us that there was a great flowering of wisdom literature during the reign of Solomon, and the wisdom tradition has continued since that time, about three thousand years.

In our passage from the Letter to the Ephesians, we are called to live as wise people, not foolish ones. This involves understanding and doing the will of God. We are called to keep our minds clear. Singing psalms and spiritual songs, including Taize chants, is one very effective part of the wisdom tradition. This kind of singing helps us to center our lives in God, in Christ, and in the Spirit. Giving thanks for everything at all times is a powerful part of our prayer lives.

Our gospel for today leads us into a deeper awareness of our life in Christ. We are one with him. He has given his life for us so that we may have new life. He gives himself to us, his life and energy, every time we gather for Eucharist.

We gather, we pray, we read the word of God. We hear the readings interpreted in a sermon; we say the Nicene Creed together as our statement of faith. We pray for the Universal Church, the world, our nation and all in authority, our local community, those who suffer, and those who have died. We give thanks for God’s many blessings. We confess our sins and receive God’s absolution.

At the Offertory, we we offer our time, talents, and treasure to God, We ask God to take our lives and transform them and use them in God’s service to build God’s shalom.

And then we move into the Eucharistic prayer. We remember what happened when Jesus shared that last supper with his closest followers and gave us the commandment to love one another as he loves us. And we recall that he told us to gather and share this special thanksgiving meal of bread and wine—His Body and Blood—to call him into our midst. And so, here our Lord is, the host at this Thanksgiving feast, feeding us with his very self.

We say the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer he taught us, the prayer that has been said over two thousand years.  And then we come to the part of the service called the Fraction, the breaking of the bread. As the body of our beloved Lord was broken on the cross, he took all the brokenness of the world and made it whole. He takes all the brokenness in our lives and makes it whole even now. We receive the body and blood of our Lord knowing that he is risen and present among us. He is in us and we are in him.

Now, let us pick up the thread of wisdom and try to integrate that into our reflection on these readings and on our life in Christ.

In her book Wisdom Jesus, Cynthia Bourgeault writes, “What [Jesus]…has in mind is a complete, mutual indwelling: I am in God, God is in you, you are in God, we are in each other. His most beautiful symbol for this is in the teaching in John 15 where he says, ‘I am the vine; you are the branches.” Bourgeault, Wisdom Jesus, p. 31.)

Bourgeault says that Wisdom calls us to“[see] with the eye of the heart.” She continues, “We almost always think of the heart as the center of our personal emotional life. But this is not the way the wisdom tradition sees it. In wisdom, the heart is primarily an organ of spiritual perception, a highly spiritual instrument for keeping us aligned…with the realm of meaning, value, and conscience. The heart picks up reality in a much deeper and more integral way than our poor, Cartesian minds even begin to imagine.” (pp. 35-36.)

Bourgeault goes on to say that seeing with the eye of the heart operates …from harmony, as when we hear a G and automatically think of a B and a D, “that make it into a chord, that join it to a whole.” (p. 36.) She says that metanoia, the process of transformation to which Jesus is calling us, “literally means to ‘go beyond the mind’ or ‘into the larger mind.’ It means to move into that nondual knowingness of the heart which can see and live from the perspective of wholeness.” She says, “This is the central message of Jesus. This is what his Kingdom of Heaven is all about.” I would add that this is what Jesus meant when he said that we are all one as he and God are one.

We Christians are beginning to return to the wisdom way of knowing and living. The Rock Point Intentional Community celebrates a Celtic Eucharist each month and another Wisdom School will gather this fall.  I think that Grace Church is very much a wisdom community, having an awareness of the oneness of God and the creation and the oneness of God and all God’s people. I think that awareness is at the root of Grace’s deep love for God and all people, a love that people can feel when they come into this building or when they spend time with this community. Today, once again, we meet the risen Christ and take another step toward looking at the world through his eyes and his heart.  Amen.

Pentecost 12 Proper 14B RCL August 12, 2018

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33
Psalm 130
Ephesians 4:25-5:2
John 6:35, 41-51

In our first reading this morning, King David is at a deeply tragic point in his life. As we recall from last Sunday, the prophet Nathan had told David that, because of his adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband, Uriah the Hittite, David will face conflict from within his own family.

Here is a brief summary of the tragic events. The time is three thousand years ago, and King David has several wives. David’s eldest son, Amnon, rapes Absalom’s sister, Tamar. After appealing to David who does nothing, Absalom murders Amnon. David is devastated and outraged at Absalom’s murder of his half-brother. Absalom asks Joab, King David’s faithful military leader and friend, to help patch things up, but Joab refuses. Absalom then burns Joab’s field. Absalom finally has to flee to another kingdom.

Now Absalom has returned, and he is leading a revolution against his father. Absalom is handsome and vain and proud. He is especially proud of his hair, which he grows long. Absalom is also quite charismatic, and many people are attracted to him. These people have joined his army. Absalom’s revolt has been so successful that David and his court have had to leave Jerusalem.

On the eve of the battle, David is so distressed that he actually asks his military leaders to “deal gently” with Absalom. David’s troops win the battle. The text says that the forest claims more victims than the sword, and of course, one of those is Absalom, who becomes stuck in the thick branches of an oak tree. His mule runs away, leaving him hanging by his hair. The text omits verses 10 through 14, in which some of David’s soldiers see Absalom hanging from the tree. One of them reports this to Joab, who asks him why he did not kill Absalom. The soldier says he wanted to honor David’s request for gentleness. The text tells us that Joab “thrusts three spears into the heart of Absalom.”

The Bible offers us many accounts of human nature. Some of them remind us of how noble we humans can be, and others reveal the complicated and dark depths of human depravity and the conflicts and tragedies that can arise from that darkness. The story of King David and his family has both. Few biblical accounts are as heart-wrenching as this one. When he hears of Absalom’s death, David cries out, “ O my son Absalom, my son, my son. Would I have died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

Vermont theologian Frederick Buechner writes, “He meant it, of course. If he could have done the boy’s dying for him, he would have done it. If he could have paid the price for the boy’s betrayal of him, he would have paid it. If he could have given his own life to make the boy alive again, he would have given it. But even a king can’t do things like that. As later history was to prove, it takes a God.” (Buechner, Peculiar Treasures, p. 6.)

“As later history was to prove, it takes a God.”

Our gospel for today calls to mind this passage written by Frederick Buechner. The five thousand have been fed, Jesus is telling us that he is the bread of life. These words in today’s gospel are echoed in our offertory chant from the Taizé community: “Eat this bread, Drink this cup. Come to me and never be hungry. Eat this bread, Drink this cup. Trust in me and you will not thirst.”

Jesus is with us, and following him gives us a deeper dimension of life. This is what he calls eternal life, and that life has already begun in us because of his presence. We are not alone. We do not have to trust only in ourselves. He is our Good Shepherd and he is leading us. He gives us his grace and love and healing and guidance. He feeds our deepest hunger. He leads us beside the still waters and fills us with the gifts of faith and trust in him, He gives us new life, life on a new level.

And he gives us the gift of community, of life together in him as members of his Body. Our epistle describes the qualities of that life together. We are called to be honest. We are called to deal with anger in a responsible way, not to nurse it and let it fester. We are called to work so that we will have something to share with those in need. We are called to be kind to one another, tenderhearted, and forgiving. Whatever we do or say should build up the body of Christ. We are called to “live in love,” because we are following the One who “Loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and sacrifice to God.”

As we read the tragic story of David and his family and then read our epistle and gospel for today; and as we think about the words of Frederick Buechner,  we realize again and perhaps on an even more profound level that it takes a God to bring life out of death and wholeness out of brokenness.

Blessed Lord, thank you for being with us in every moment of our lives and for feeding us with the food of your presence, your love, your forgiveness, and the gift of new life in you. Thank you for calling us to follow you and to help you build your shalom. Thank you for the gift of community rooted and grounded in your love. Give us your grace, we pray, that we may seek and do your will. Amen.

Pentecost 11 Proper 13B RCL August 5, 2018

2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a
Psalm 51:1-13
Ephesians 4:1-16
John 6:24-35

Last Sunday, we looked on as King David lost his moral compass and spiraled downward, beginning with adultery and going on to murder. These events seem almost unbelievable when we think of David, the beloved hero of his people, the faithful and courageous shepherd-king. But all of these things did happen, and they remind us that we humans are frail and fallible.

Back in Old Testament times, if a king became corrupt or broke the law, a prophet would be the one to confront the king and hold him accountable. In our reading today, Nathan is called to that difficult and dangerous vocation.

When we humans go off the skids and begin to believe that somehow the law does not apply to us, the usual kinds of confrontation from other humans often do not work very well. But Nathan is a prophet called by God, and a wise and courageous man.

He tells a story of a poor and loving and faithful man who has a beloved ewe lamb whom he treats as a member of his family and a ruthless wealthy man who takes the ewe lamb and feeds it to a traveler. King David is outraged at this inhumanity and injustice. And then Nathan tells him that he, King David, is that man.

Nathan also tells David that there will be serious and tragic consequences for his immoral behavior. At this point in the spiritual journey, some people continue to insist that they have done nothing wrong. To David’s credit, he confesses, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nonetheless, strife and tragedy will mark his family life from now on.

Our psalm for today, Psalm 51, is the psalm we recite on Ash Wednesday as we begin our Lenten discipline. This penitential psalm is an appropriate response to the story of David’s actions and to our own awareness and acknowledgment of our sins.

In our gospel today, Jesus and the disciples have fed the large crowd of  over five thousand people and have crossed the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum. The people get into boats and follow Jesus to the other side.

Our Lord tells them that they are following him because of the physical food he gives them. He calls them and us to seek the food that leads to eternal life. As his followers, we know that he means the food of his presence. We know that he is talking about the nourishment and energy that comes from spending time with him, time thinking about the scriptures and sharing in the Holy Eucharist, the feast of thanksgiving in which he feeds us with his life and energy so that we can carry out his ministry here on earth as his living and vibrant Body.

And he says something that will always live in our hearts and minds, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Our epistle for today, from the Letter to the Ephesians, is, in my opinion, one of the most important passages in the Bible. Paul is encouraging us to lead lives worthy of our calling as followers of Christ. Our lives are to be marked by humility, gentleness. and patience, and we are to live together as a community of faith in the unity of the Holy Spirit. We may have different ideas about things, different opinions, but we know that we are one in Christ Jesus in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

Then Paul reminds us that we have all received different gifts from the Spirit. Some are apostles, some prophets, some pastors and teachers and rescuers of dogs and some who help children and young people and some who minister to elders, some who help folks who have the disease of addiction, some who make places more accessible, or pay the bills, or sew, or knit, or clean, or help feed people, and the list goes on and on. All are doing the work of ministry and building up the Body of Christ. And, Paul says so wisely, we are all growing to maturity in Christ.

We are all growing together; we are all knit together as the parts of a body are knit together. We are all called to use our gifts, and we are called to “Grow up in every way into…Christ.” We are called to become as much like our Lord as possible, with his grace, and to work together in harmony. As Paul says, all of this “promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.”

The whole purpose of our life together in and with Jesus is to share his love, to be his eyes, looking on people with his compassion, his hands reaching out to welcome and heal.

This passage, Ephesians 4:1-16, and 1 Corinthians 12, are St. Paul’s clear and powerful descriptions of what it means to be the Body of Christ doing his ministry here on earth. Grace Church is doing this, with God’s grace and the help of the Holy Spirit.

There is so much to meditate about in today’s readings. David’s tragic story reminds us that we are all sinners. We all get off track at times.  With God’s grace, we acknowledge our sins and get back on the path toward God. Jesus is the true bread from heaven. Every time we gather for Eucharist, he feeds us. When two or three are together in his name, he is with us, He is with all of us at every moment in our lives. This is a gift beyond measure. We can always turn to him and ask him for help.

Paul, a persecutor of the followers of Jesus, met the risen Christ on the Road to Damascus. He was blinded by the light of Christ.  When his sight returned, he became the apostle to the Gentiles. As he founded churches around the Mediterranean, Jesus gave him the vision of what a Christian community is called to be, and he shared that vision with us. We thank our Lord Jesus Christ for his life and ministry and for the gift of life together in and with him. May we continue to minister faithfully in his Name. Amen.

Pentecost 10 Proper 12B RCL July 29, 2018

2 Samuel 11:1-15
Psalm 14
Ephesians 3:14-21
John 6:1-21

In our opening reading, we are given the opportunity to witness a low point in the journey of King David. The first clue is that David has sent out Joab, his chief military officer, to lead the troops into battle while David relaxes at him. He is not doing his job.

The next step on this downward path is that David uses his power as king to command Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, one of his most faithful soldiers, to come to his home, where he seduces her.

The next step on this downward moral spiral occurs when Bathsheba finds out that she is pregnant and David tries to get Uriah to go down to his house so that all will think the baby is his, but Uriah refuses to go and enjoy the comforts of home when Joab and all the other soldiers are on duty.

Finally, David sinks to the lowest point when he instructs Joab to put Uriah into the front lines and then withdraw in order to allow Uriah to be killed by the enemy.

Uriah’s loyalty, integrity, and sense of duty stand in stark contrast to the behavior of the king. At every step, David is using his power to get whatever he wants with no concern for the dignity of others. He is also using his power to protect himself and his position as king.

In today’s gospel, we move from Mark’s gospel to the gospel of John.

Once again, throngs of people are following Jesus and the disciples because they see how Jesus is healing the sick.

These people are also going to need to be fed, and Jesus asks Philip where they can buy food, Philip points out that they do not have nearly enough money to do that. Andrew has found a boy who has five barley loaves and two fish, not nearly enough to feed this huge crowd. But Jesus is never willing to let anyone go hungry. He invites this crowd of five thousand to sit down on the grass. Jesus takes the food, gives thanks, and the disciples distribute the food among the people. When they gather the leftovers, they fill twelve baskets. There is great abundance. There is enough to feed everyone who is hungry.

The people begin to say that Jesus is the great prophet who is to come into the world. They are beginning to sense who he is. They want to seize him and make him king. He goes to the mountain again, He does not want worldly power. He goes to be apart with God.

The disciples decide to cross the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum. A strong wind comes up and the waves get bigger. They are rowing with all their might but not making much progress. When they see Jesus walking on the water, they become terrified. In Mark’s account, they think Jesus is a ghost. He speaks to them: “It is I; do not be afraid.” They recognize him and want to take him into the boat, and immediately, they reach their destination.

Jesus did not want earthly power. He constantly tells us that his power is from another realm. No matter how big the crowds are, he always feeds them, physically and spiritually. He goes apart to be with God. Then, when he is ready to rejoin his disciples, he simply walks on the water, even in a high wind. He tells us not to be afraid. When we are in the grip of fear, it is almost impossible for us to get on the beam, to get on track and hear God’s voice calling us.

David committed adultery. Then, because of his fear that this infringement of the law would be discovered, he had a good and loyal soldier murdered.

In our epistle for today, Paul prays that we “may be strengthened in [our] inner being with power through [the] Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in [our] hearts through faith as [we] are being rooted and grounded in love.” He also prays that we “may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints,”—that is, with all our fellow Christians, “what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of God which surpasses knowledge.” In other words, Paul is praying that we will be able to sense and understand the breadth and length and the height and depth of God’s love. That is the journey of a lifetime, to even begin to understand the infinite extent of God’s love for us. And Paul says that he wants us to understand just how much God loves us so that we “may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Clearly, if David had kept his eye and mind on God, he would not have embarked on the tragic and destructive course of action he took. In trying to cover his tracks, he sank even lower. The way of faith is so different from the way of fear. Now, as always, Jesus calls to us, saying, “It is I; do not be afraid.”

God’s love for us is infinite. We will never be able to fully understand it. But Saint Paul wisely calls us to try to plumb that mystery. He knows that, as we allow ourselves to know and accept the depth of God’s love for us, we will be filled with God’s presence more and more.

As that happens, fear will wane, and faith will grow., Christ will dwell in our hearts, and we will be rooted and grounded in love.  Amen.

Pentecost 9 Proper 12B RCL July 26, 2015

2 Samuel 11:1-15
Psalm 14
Ephesians 3:14-21
John 6:1-21

Our opening reading is almost shocking in its stark portrayal of human sin. Here is King David, who loves God and has performed many courageous and noble acts and is much loved by his people, sinking so low that it almost takes our breath away.

First of all, he is not doing what a king is supposed to be doing. He is not leading the troops in battle. He has put Joab in command of the army. David looks down from his rooftop quarters and sees Bathsheba bathing. He finds out that she is the wife wife of one of his most outstanding commanders, Uriah the Hittite. This information should bring him to his senses. It should be a warning. There are precious webs of relationship here which should not be torn apart.

But he has lost his moral compass. He has Bathsheba brought to him and uses his power as king to commit adultery with her. Some time later, she tells David she is pregnant, and he calls Uriah back from the field of battle. When David tells Uriah to go home and be with his wife so that people will think the child is Uriah’s, his faithful officer sleeps outside. Uriah’s loyalty to God, his country, and his fellow soldiers who are sleeping outside makes him continue to observe military discipline. Then David gets Uriah drunk. Uriah will not enjoy the comforts of home when his men are fighting. So David sends Uriah back into battle with a letter ordering Joab to set up Uriah’s death.

Uriah’s self-discipline, loyalty, and integrity provide such a stark contrast to David’s selfishness, depravity, and duplicity that we are forced to face our own potential for darkness. This is a low point on David’s journey. How could someone with so much courage and so many gifts sink that far?

Our own dark times are probably not quite as dramatic as this one, but this story reminds us that we are all sinners.

Our reading from Ephesians is a prayer of adoration to the only One who can lift us out of those depths and save us from our own weakness and sinfulness. A little paraphrase. We bow our knees before God, who is the father and mother of all of us. God is the One who strengthens us in our inmost selves through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is God working in us and in the world. Christ dwells in our hearts through faith, as we are rooted and grounded in love. Because of God’s grace, we are able to accept and in some mysterious way understand the depth of the love God has for us. We are filled with the fullness of God. And we give glory to God who can do these things.

Like our ancestor and brother, David, we are sinners.  And yet, at the very same time we are filled with the fullness of God. And this is all reflected in our gospel.  Last week we read the parts in Mark which go before and after the feeding of the five thousand. Now, we read that wonderful story in John’s gospel. The crowd is following but now Jesus and the disciples go up the mountain and sit there together praying. They are in the presence of God. They are fed by that presence.

But the crowd follows them. More than five thousand people, if you count the women and children. Jesus asks Philip, “Where are we going to get food for these people? And Philip answers, “It would take six months’ wages to buy food for them, and then that wouldn’t be enough.” Uh-oh, we’re in trouble. We don’t have enough. Now here is Andrew. “There is a boy here with five little barley loaves and two fish.” But then Andrew goes into that scarcity model: “What is that when we have so many people?”

Jesus asks them to make the people sit down. It is a grassy place. Green. Refreshing. He leads us to the green pastures. We sit down with our extended family group. We feel cherished and safe and taken care of. He takes the loaves, thanks God, and breaks them, and they are shared with all the people, He takes, blesses, breaks, and distributes. A Eucharistic action and it is the time of the passover. Here is the heavenly food of his presence and power and love.  Here is the food that leads us out of slavery to sin.They and we are “filled with the fullness of God.”

There are twelve baskets left over. With Jesus we always have enough, There is always a way to feed folks and care for them. The people try to make Jesus king. This gospel provides a contrast to the story of David which we just read. Jesus does’t want to be an earthly king. He goes up to the mountain to pray and be with God.

The disciples get into the boat and start across the sea to Capernaum. A storm comes up. The wind is blowing so hard you can hear it whistling in your ears, and the waves are several feet high.  They row three or four miles in the wind and waves. That is hard work. He comes walking to them on the sea and they are petrified. And what does he say? “It is I; do not be afraid.” Right away, they reach their destination.

We are sinners. We get lost. We are weak. Thanks be to God, we are not alone. God loves us. We are fed with the fullness of God. We do not have to be afraid. Every day and several times a day, we can go up  toward the mountain to that grassy place and be with our Lord and be fed by him. Every week we can gather at the altar and be fed with his life-giving presence.

Today, we see two different kinds of kings. David was a great military commander who loved God and danced in joy before the Ark of the Covenant. David was also a human being who made some bad choices in our story today.

Centuries after King David came another King, who was of the house of David. Like David, he was a shepherd, our Good Shepherd.

May we follow him and be the people he calls us to be.  Amen.

Pentecost 13 Proper 16B RCL August 23m 2015

1 Kings 8:(1,6,10-11), 22-30, 41-43
Psalm 84
Ephesians 6:10-20
John 6:56-69

In our opening reading, the Ark of the Covenant has been brought to the beautiful new temple. King Solomon offers an eloquent prayer. God’s presence is signified by the cloud, which is so thick the priests cannot perform their duties. Yet King Solomon acknowledges that God is far bigger than this temple, impressive as it is.

As we have followed the story of King David and his son, Solomon, the scriptures have revealed that both these leaders, though they were respected and loved by the people, were, like us, flawed human beings. One of the endearing things about the Bible is that it does not gloss over the weaknesses of our heroes. Both David and Solomon  loved God deeply yet they  sometimes made mistakes and failed to do as God would have them do. This can be reassuring to us. We don’t have to be perfect in order to love and follow our Lord.

This is made clear in our gospel for today. Even among Jesus’ followers, there were degrees of faithfulness. Judas betrayed our Lord for thirty pieces of silver. Peter denied him three times. And yet, Jesus calls us to abide in him and he says that he will abide in us. In today’s gospel, Jesus can see that some of the disciples are having problems believing in him. Some actually leave. But, when Jesus asks Peter if he wants to go elsewhere, Peter says in his forthright way that there is no one else to go to. Peter speaks volumes when he says, “We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Believing is not something that happens just with the head or with the intellect.  Believing is not simply intellectual assent. Believing and knowing involve every aspect of ourselves and of our lives. Believing involves the heart. We remember that the heart in the Biblical sense, is not just the seat of the emotions. It is also the center of the will and the spirit and the motivations. When we say that we believe in Christ, we are saying that we believe with all of our selves.

Our reading from Ephesians addresses this and gives us tools. The letter was written at a time when the Roman Empire ruled the known world. Following Jesus is seen as a cosmic battle, because the community of faith is surrounded by a culture that is violent, materialistic, and tyrannical. Christian values are very different from the values of the surrounding culture, then as now.

In this passage, Paul calls us to clothe ourselves in the virtues we are going to need, as individuals and as a Christian community. The first thing we put on is the belt of truth. Earlier in the letter, Paul said that we need to speak the truth in love in order to make the Body of Christ healthy and strong. Then we put on the breastplate of righteousness. Righteousness does not mean being holier-than-thou. Righteousness is being in a right relationship with God, being in a healthy relationship with God, depending on God for help and opening ourselves to God’s power. The Roman Empire and all empires rest on human power. The Christian community depends on God’s power.

Let us just remind ourselves of the distinction between tyranny, imperium, and authority, auctoritas, as described by the Rev. David Brown. Imperium is the boot coming down and crushing the little guys. Auctoritas is authorship, creativity, calling things into being as our Lord did at the creation, letting be, freeing. Very different kinds of power.

Our reading says, “As shoes for your feet, put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.” Shalom, the creation in harmony, with all creatures living in safety and wholeness and health. Then we take the shield of faith. The journey can be challenging. Faith is the only thing that will get us through. We are called to put on the helmet of salvation. Scholars tell us that the Hebrew word for salvation means literally “to make wide.” Kathleen Norris writes that, when Jesus said that a person’s faith has saved him or her, the Greek word would be translated “has made you well.” Salvation is being made whole. It is not something that happens in an instant; it is usually a process. Theodore Wedel says that, when we are saved, we know that we are sinners, but we also know that we are forgiven. In this passage from Ephesians, we put on the helmet of salvation and we know that we are frail humans and sinners, and we also know that we are forgiven, we are on the way to wholeness in Christ, and this gives us a sense of the protection of our Lord. We may walk through the valley of the shadow of death, but we need fear no evil, because he is with us. We take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Our Lord is with us, the Spirit is with us, and we are called to speak the word of God. And we are called to pray in the Spirit at all times. That is how we stay in touch with God. We keep alert and we pray for all the saints, that is, all members of the Christian community. We are clothed in these gifts, these qualities, as we try to spread the gospel of peace, love, and healing in the world.

What are we hearing in these lessons? Our greatest heroes and heroines of the faith loved God with all their heart and soul and mind and strength, and they were not perfect. Even Jesus’ disciples were not perfect. Salvation is a sense of wholeness in Christ,  and an awareness of God’s forgiveness even as we are also aware that we are flawed.

We are on a journey. We are called to be spiritual athletes. We are called to stay in training. The Greek word for this is askesis. It is translated as ascetic.  But it does not mean that we have to go off into the desert and eat locusts and wild honey. It is what Paul is talking about in today’s reading. To stay strong in order to serve our Lord, there are tools we can use, and Paul is talking about some of those tools. Prayer is a very important one. You dear people are well acquainted with these tools. You use then every day.

We began today with the blessing of the new temple in Jerusalem.

One hundred and ninety-nine years ago, on August 12, 1816, some faithful folks gathered in Sheldon and formed what they called an Episcopal Society. Next year, Grace Church will celebrate its two-hundredth birthday. Please begin to think and pray about how to celebrate this wonderful occasion. Keep up the good work.  Amen.

Pentecost 12 Proper 15B RCL August 16, 2015

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14
Psalm 111
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-55

In our opening reading, King David has died, and his son, Solomon, is the new king. At this point in his life, Solomon is a young man. Scholars tell us he is about twenty. In this passage, Solomon has a dream of an encounter with God. He shows humility, admitting that he does not yet know how to perform the duties of a king, and he asks for the gift of wisdom. In the passage immediately following this one, Solomon does show wisdom when two women come to him claiming to be the mother of the same baby. When Solomon offers to decide the case by cutting the child in half and giving each of them a portion, the real mother, putting the baby’s welfare first, tells him that there is no way that she is going to let him do that, and he should simply give the baby to the other woman. Of course, Solomon gives the baby to her.

We know that Solomon built the great temple in Jerusalem. He also built himself a palace, and, toward the end of his life, he built shrines to the various gods of the many foreign ladies he married. All of this construction required workers, and he forced his subjects to do this labor. He also taxed the people heavily in order to afford all these projects plus the luxurious lifestyle of his large court. In short, he did not show  proper respect and concern for the people. He also failed to respect the traditions of Israel. Soon after he died, the country split in two.

It was a good thing to ask God for the gift of wisdom, but Solomon did not follow through on the gift. In the beginning of this lesson, we read that Solomon loved the Lord, yet he worshipped at the high places and had gone to Gibeon to sacrifice to another deity. We have the beginning of a theme here, the conflict between wisdom and foolishness.

Ephesus was a port city, full of all kinds of temples to various gods and goddesses, full of many temptations and worldly distractions. By the time Paul was writing this letter, most followers of Jesus were expecting the Lord to return very soon. They felt that their time was limited. He might come any day. So Paul is calling them and us to make the most of the time we have. The Greek word used here for time is kairos. Kairos is kingdom time, the quality of time that we experience when we are living in the new life, as opposed to chronos, or clock time.

Paul calls us not to be foolish, but to seek the will of the Lord. That is what it means to be in Christ. We ask our Lord what he wants us to be doing. We don’t simply do what we want to do. We let him guide our actions and our thoughts.

We are called not to get drunk on wine. Then as now, people used to get drunk because they thought it let them have a quick way to have an ecstatic experience of God. Obviously, getting drunk is not an experience of God. Paul calls us to allow ourselves to be filled with the Holy Spirit. That happens from giving every moment of our lives to God, and asking God to lead us and guide us in our choices so that we are living in the Spirit and filled with the Spirit.

We are called to praise God, to sing psalms and hymns to God. When we sing praise to God, especially when we sing and pray together, something happens within us. Praising God allows us to open ourselves to God’s love and grace.

We are called to “thank God at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” That is a tall order sometimes. Do we thank God that Elizabeth is going to have to have more surgery and chemo and radiation therapy? I find it impossible to do that, but we can thank God for the love and faith of her family and for the skill of her medical team, who are doing everything possible. We can thank God for the gifts of faith and hope, and we can pray for and with everyone who is praying for Elizabeth.

“Be careful then how you live,” Paul writes. Thank God that we know that there is another set of standards that go beyond the values of this world, and that we are trying, with God’s help, to live by those standards and to become new in Christ.

In today’s gospel, Jesus is actually asking us to eat his flesh and to drink his blood. In the early days of the Christian community, some people thought that we Christians were cannibals. As we study this reading, we think of Eucharist. “This is my Body,” our Lord says, “This is my blood.” Jesus is with us. He is the host at this Thanksgiving Dinner. Remember, Eucharist means “thanksgiving.”

No, we are not cannibals, but our Lord is giving us Himself in a way that goes beyond our understanding. Centuries after he walked the earth with healing and love, he is able to be more present at every point on this planet and throughout the universe because he has risen.

Every time we gather, he is here, and he feeds us with food and drink that transforms us into his likeness and welcomes us into a new way of living, a way that is very different from the values of this world. We are not just spectators at this feast. We are participants. We are joined with him in something that can transform us and transform the world.

Once again, the religious authorities are caught in the literal, the earth-bound. Jesus is inviting us into the heavenly realms that transcend those earthly prisons, and thanks be to our Lord we are able to follow him. At the center of our life in Christ is the cross. Living in wisdom and love requires sacrifice and discipline.

When he was young, Solomon asked for wisdom, but he did not have the spiritual stamina to sustain that gift. Paul calls the Ephesians and us to use every day and every moment to choose the way of compassion, maintain the spiritual focus to follow our Lord. Jesus comes to us, having suffered every horror, even the horror Elizabeth and Keith and Sara and Chris and Jack and Teddy are now enduring, and he gives us the food of himself so that we can walk into a new dimension of life and eternal life with him. Amen.

Pentecost 11 Proper 14B RCL August 9, 2015

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33
Psalm 130
Ephesians 4: 25-5:2
John 6:35, 41-51

We remember that last Sunday, the prophet Nathan had the difficult job of confronting David with his sinfulness, and God told David that David would be subjected to serious troubles from within his own family. This morning, we witness a tragic example of these troubles.

Absalom was an exceedingly handsome young man with a magnificent head of hair which he allowed to grow long. Although King David loved Absalom, he did not discipline his son, and Absalom did whatever he felt like doing. By the time we reach today’s reading, Absalom had murdered his brother Amnon and had burned a field owned by King David’s loyal commander, Joab, because Joab would not do what Absalom wanted him to do.

At this point in the tragic story, Absalom is leading a revolution against his father. Many of the Israelites are following this charismatic young man. A battle is about to take place. If David loses this battle, he will lose his kingdom. But this is not his greatest concern. David does not want anything bad to happen to his beloved son. He tells his commanders that if they come upon Absalom, they should be gentle with him. Absalom is riding on his mule, passes under a huge oak tree, and gets caught in the branches. He is hanging helplessly when Joab’s ten armor bearers come by. They kill Absalom. When David hears this news, he is heartbroken.

This whole chain of events began when David lost his own way and committed adultery and then murdered Uriah to cover up that sin. We might say that David was so busy fighting battles and building up his kingdom that he did not have the time and energy to be a good father to Absalom. Joab, his faithful commander, does what is necessary to  protect David and the kingdom.  What a sad story of human sin and frailty.

Our reading from Ephesians describes the qualities of a healthy Christian community. We must tell the truth to each other because we are members of each other. We are joined together as hands and feet and eyes and ears and heart and lungs and brain are joined in a body.  We must work so that we can help those who have less than we do. We must always be building up, not tearing down. We must put away bitterness and anger and truly love each other as Christ loved us.

This is such a contrast to the story of David and his family, which is so full of struggle and selfishness and major sins, including murder. King David would undoubtedly have given his life if he could have saved his son. But it took a greater King, our Lord Jesus, who was also of the house of David, to lead us out of the mire of our sins and give us new life.

When we live as the Letter to the Ephesians calls us to live, we all grow more and more into Christ, Our gifts are nourished for the good of the body and of the entire human community, We become stronger and stronger because our Lord is leading us. Sometimes quite suddenly, sometimes gradually, our sins fall by the wayside. We are growing into maturity in Christ. We see the Christ in each other and we truly love each other. We love to be together. We support each other on our journeys. Sometimes we are called to speak the truth in love and disagree on some things. We can speak the truth and still love and respect each other. Always, we know that we are being led by the risen Christ, who is in our midst.

I thank God often for the gift of being at Grace, where these qualities of a loving community are lived on a daily basis.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is telling us that he is the bread of life. The religious authorities can’t understand this. They keep focusing on the idea that Jesus is the son of Mary and Joseph, and there is no way that he could have come down from heaven. The idea that God loves us so much that God would actually come and live here as one of us just boggles their minds. When we  humans are closed to the amazing depth of the love of God, that’s what happens. We just cannot get our minds around the fact that God loves us so much that God would come among us as a baby, just the way we came into the world. And that God would have a profound understanding of what it means to be human because God has lived on this earth as a fully human being. Jesus is the living bread. Jesus gives us this heavenly food, the food of his very self, his energy, his love, his healing.

Maybe that is why Paul could write so eloquently and powerfully about what it means to be a Christian and how a healthy Christian community looks and functions. Because, on the road to Damascus, as Paul, then named Saul, was fuming with rage on his way to kill more followers of Christ, our Lord  broke through Saul’s hate and unbelief when he asked that question which changed everything: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Paul went blind for awhile but he saw the light. And he became the apostle called to share this news with everyone. His mind and heart were opened to this new truth, this new life.

Jesus loves us so much that he does things like that. He breaks into our mental and spiritual prisons and sets us free. All of us are human. We have all made mistakes, and we will make more. But our Lord is with us. He is the light of the world. He is the Good Shepherd, leading us. He is the Bread of Life. We also have a community of loving people who will listen to us, support us, pray for us, and help us along the way. That is what it means to be members of the Body of Christ. Grace, love, and healing are flowing through us every moment. And we are here to share all these gifts with others.

Lord Jesus, thank you for all these blessings. Lead us and guide us always. In your Name we pray.  Amen.

Pentecost 10 Proper 13B RCL August 2, 2015

2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a
Psalm 51:1-13
Ephesians 4:1-16
John 6:24-35

In our opening lesson, David has committed adultery with Bathsheba and then has murdered her husband, Uriah the Hittite, who was one of David’s most loyal and valiant soldiers. After the time of mourning, David and Bathsheba are married, and they have a son.

God is not pleased with David’s behavior, so God sends Nathan to confront the king. The job of a prophet is to hold God’s measuring rod up to individuals and society. This is not an easy ministry. And it can be dangerous, Kings do not always like to hear God’s opinion of their less than sterling behavior, and prophets have been beaten, thrown in prison, and even killed.

Let’s pause for a moment. If we were in Nathan’s position, how would we confront David and call him to repent? And an accompanying question: how would we do this and survive?

Nathan is a wise and courageous prophet. He tells a story about a rich man and a poor man. The rich man has everything anyone could want. The poor man has very little, and his most prized possession is his ewe lamb. He treats her like one of his own family. A traveler arrives at the rich man’s house, and the rich man is so stingy that he does not want to kill one of his animals to throw a dinner for the guest. So he takes the poor man’s lamb, kills it, cooks it, and serves it to the guest.

Never does it dawn on David that he is the rich man, Uriah the Hittite is the poor man, and Bathsheba is the ewe lamb. At the end of the story, David is enraged. “That rich man deserves to die,” he yells at the top of his lungs. Then poor Nathan has the courage to say those words we will never forget: “You are the man.” And Nathan tells David that God has given David many gifts and David has done terrible things, and now David is going to have great trouble from within his own family.

David does not kill Nathan. He comes to his senses. He admits his sin. He begins to see and accept the truth of what he has done. We have all had times like this, times when we have done things we ought not to have done or not done things we ought to have done, and there is no health in us.  Our psalm, which is also used on Ash Wednesday, is the proper response in these moments. We need to be washed and cleansed of our sin, and we must trust in God’s forgiveness and God’s ability to help us make a new beginning.

In our gospel, Jesus and the disciples have gone across to Capernaum, and the crowd follows them. Jesus calls them to grow into a higher level of spiritual maturity. He tells them that they are following him because of the bread that he gives them, but they need to see him as the bread that feeds them for eternal life.

A young mathematician named Blaise Pascal once wrote that we all have a God-shaped vacuum in us, and we try to fill that vacuum with all kinds of things, but it can only be filled with God. How true that is. We may fill that empty place with power or money or possessions or food or alcohol or drugs. We try to fill that God-shaped empty place with so many things. But our need is for God.

Herbert O’Driscoll notes that all our readings today are about growing into maturity. Our epistle certainly emphasizes that. What are the qualities of Christians and Christian communities? Humility, gentleness, patience, “bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

We are all members of the Body of Christ. We are all part of our Lord, our living, risen Lord. There will be tough times. There will be misunderstandings. We won’t always agree. And we are one in him.

We have been given many different gifts, and all those gifts have been given for the building up of the Body of Christ. One of the things that distressed Paul so much was that the Corinthians were using their God-given gifts to compete. “Oh, I speak in tongues, That’s better than what you do.” That is not true, as Paul tries to teach them. Each gift is as precious as the next. Everyone is essential to the Body, and every gift is necessary.

All the gifts are given “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro by every passing fad and fashion, But, speaking the truth in love, we  must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”

Paul gives us a dynamic picture of each of us growing into maturity and all of us growing together into Christ, and this is how the Body of Christ, the Church, stays healthy. And the whole purpose is to extend his love to the world.

“Speaking the truth in love” is a central and powerful concept for us as Christians. Nathan spoke the truth to David from the loving heart of God. Jesus speaks the truth to the people following him and to us. He could have operated the biggest soup kitchen in the world, but he wants to give us himself, so that we can get beyond our human selfishness and be transformed and live in a new way.

I think Herbert O’Driscoll has a wonderful insight into these lessons when he says that they are about growing into maturity. It’s not easy to face the fact that we have sinned. It may be even harder to do the work, always with God’s help, of getting back on track.

Here we gather, frail and fallible humans who are called to be the Body of Christ in this place, part of his risen Body which fills the whole wide earth. We make mistakes; we stumble and fall; we confess our sins; we receive forgiveness, and we keep growing, growing more like our Lord, growing into maturity in him.

Blessed Lord Jesus, help us to keep growing into maturity in you. Amen.