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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:…

Advent 3C December 12, 2021

Zephaniah 3:14-20
Canticle 9, p. 86
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:7-18

Our opening reading today is from the prophet Zephaniah, whose ministry took place during the reign of King Josiah (640-609 BCE.) Josiah was a great king who called the people to renew their commitment to following the law.

The people have returned from their captivity in Babylon. Zephaniah tells them that God has turned away all their enemies.  Herbert O’Driscoll points out that God is addressing the people as God’s children, “Rejoice, O daughter Zion.” God is speaking to us as our divine parent who loves us. God is calling us to rejoice. Our loving God is calling us not to fear and not to grow weak, because God is in the midst of us. God will “renew [us] in his love.” God will deal with all of our oppressors. God will save the lame and  the outcast. God will bring us home. God will bring in God’s shalom of peace, justice, and mercy.

Canticle 9 adds momentum to this theme of joy. “Surely, it is God who saves me: I will trust in him and not be afraid.” When we realize that God is in our midst and that God will lead us in the right direction, we can let go of fear, hold on to faith, and be a people of joy. This is a wonderful song about the power of faith.

Our reading from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians is full of joy and hope. Paul is writing from prison. He founded this congregation and he has kept in close touch with them. Unlike the Corinthians who have power struggles and divide into factions at the drop of a hat, the Philippians are steeped in the love of Christ. They are one as Jesus and the Father are one. They have a spirit of gentleness. Paul begins by calling them and us to “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” Paul writes, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” If we ask God for guidance and try to follow that guidance with God’s grace, peace flows into us, faith grows, and fear diminishes. As Paul says, the peace of God will guard our hearts and minds.

In our gospel, John the Baptist is calling the people and us to repentance. We can’t say that we are part of the right church or race or groups so we don’t have to change. All of us  have to look within and, as someone once said, we have to make room for Jesus in the inns of our hearts.

John calls us to share our clothing with those who have none. Tax collectors would often add a hefty charge into people’s taxes to they could make more money. John tells them they have to stop cheating people. Soldiers would sometimes use their power to abuse people. John tells them they have to treat people with respect.

The people begin to wonder whether John is the Messiah. And here John shows one of his most admirable qualities, He knows who is is. He has no desire to gain power. He tells them that one is coming who is much greater that he is. And he says that the Messiah will be sharing the news of his kingdom, his shalom. That kingdom, that shalom, will involve a major reordering of priorities based on God’s call to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

John the Baptist is a wonderful holy example for us. He knows that he is here to prepare the way of the Lord. John is the cousin of Jesus. I think they knew each other very well.  At the time when Jesus came to John to baptized in the River Jordan, John had hundreds, perhaps thousands of followers. He was like a rock star, He could have done anything he wanted to do. He could have misused his power. And yet he adhered to his vocation to be the forerunner, the one who paved the way for the messiah. It takes great strength of character and deep faith not to yield to the human wish for power and attention. It takes strength not to become a cult leader. John has that strength.

This third Sunday in Advent is a time for great joy. “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I will say. Rejoice.” It is also a time for thanksgiving. God is in our midst.

At this point in Advent, our minds turn to Christmas, to the coming of our Lord as a little baby in a little out of the way place like Sheldon, like Vermont.

John calls us to prepare the way for Jesus, to prepare room for him in our hearts and in our lives. To make just a little more room for him, just a little more room for that peace which surpasses all understanding, just a little more room for that joy which comes from the peace of faith.

Lord Jesus, help us to make room for you in the inns of our hearts. In your holy Name. Amen.

Advent 2C December 5, 2021

Baruch 5:1-9
Canticle 16, p. 92
Philippians 1:3-11
Luke 3:1-6

Our first reading today is from a book of the Bible attributed to Jeremiah’s secretary, Baruch. Scholars tell us that Baruch was not the author, and we really do not know who wrote this beautiful passage. Scholars tell us that it was written well after the lifetime of Baruch by someone who was very familiar with the work of Isaiah.  

“Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God.” The book is addressed to people who have been in exile, and God is telling them that they will return home. Jerusalem is pictured as standing on a high spot, looking out on all her children returning from the four corners of the earth.

In an echo of Isaiah, the mountains and hills are made low, and the valleys are filled up so that the path toward the holy city is level. The journey home is easy. There are no climbs or descents.The text tells us, “God will lead Israel with joy, in the light of his glory, with the mercy and righteousness that come from him.”

For this second Sunday in Advent, we have a choice between two readings from the Hebrew scriptures, and I chose this one because it gives us such a vivid and moving picture of our own return home to God in this holy time of Advent. It is a return full of joy, and God makes it much easier by leveling the ground! 

This image of the mountains being made low and the valleys filled is also symbolic of the shalom of God. In God’s shalom, there will be a level playing field. Justice will prevail.

Our Canticle for today, the Benedictus, is the song of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, celebrating the birth of this very special child who was called to be the forerunner of the Messiah. “In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.” We are walking the way of God’s shalom.

Our epistle is from the letter of Paul to his beloved community in Philippi. Paul begins with gratitude: “I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of your because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” Paul is reminding us that we are living in that in-between time. The kingdom of God has begun but is not yet complete, That will happen when Jesus comes. Paul reminds the Philippians and us that God has begun this good work and God will complete the work of creation.

Paul says that the community in Philippi “holds [him] in [their] heart” because they all share in God’s grace.  This means that we, here in Sheldon two thousand years later, hold each other in our hearts because of God’s grace, and God holds all of us in God’s heart. Paul prays that their and our “love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help [us] determine what is best,” so that when our Lord comes to complete the creation, we will have borne good fruit in helping to build his shalom. There is work to do, and there are moral and ethical decisions we will need to make, and Paul is telling us that God will be with us every step of the way to help us stay on the path of shalom.

In our gospel, we meet that great Advent figure, John the Baptist. Notice that Luke carefully places John’s ministry in its historical context. It’s the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius; Pontius Pilate is the governor of Judea, and Herod is ruler of Galilee. All the rulers are named. The word of God comes to John, the son of Zechariah, the priest in the Jerusalem temple. In the words of Isaiah, John is “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord.” Everything is made level. Everything is being straightened out. Everything is being set right. All is being made clear. We are going to see the salvation of God. We are going to meet the Messiah face to face. God’s loving and merciful and just reign is going to prevail.

John is preaching a repentance, a changing of our life and priorities, a metanoia, a transformation, a forgiveness of sins, a course correction, a possibility of freedom and release. No wonder people flocked to see and hear him. After all those years of doing things that were destructive and not doing things that were creative and life-giving, at long last there is help. There is hope.

In this year 2021, our readings today are filled with hope. The hope of returning home after an exile. The hope of living lives based on love for each other and for all people. The hope of love overflowing more and more. The hope of creating a world in which the shalom of God is more fully realized. That is a hope we can have because of the abundance of God’s grace, and the fact that God is with us. God has given us a vision, and God is helping us to fulfill that vision of shalom.

At this time of the year, when the days are so short, the light is overcoming the shadows. God is calling to us in love and joy. Our King is coming. May our hearts be filled with light and joy. May we keep each other in our hearts. May we remember that we are being held in the loving heart of God. Amen.

Pentecost 7 Proper 10B July 11, 2021

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
Psalm 24
Ephesians 1:3-14
Mark 6:14-29

Reflecting on our first reading today, Old Testament scholar James Newsome writes, “The presence of God in human life results in a joy that far exceeds that generated by other relationships and by the usual day-to-day experiences of life.” Newsome, Texts for Preaching Year B, p. 422.)

David has defeated the Philistines, a triumph King Saul could not achieve. The northern and southern kingdoms have been united. The ark of God, which had led the people of God out of their slavery in Egypt, has been at the home of Abinadab. Now David and thirty thousand men take a new cart and bring the ark of God to Jerusalem, where it will rest in a tent constructed by David. Later on, in that very spot, David’s son, Solomon, will build a temple to God. 

David wears the priestly garment, the ephod. He blesses the people. He feeds the people with the food offered at the feast in a kind of eucharistic action. In many ways, his actions are liturgical in nature. He is a religious leader as well as a king. He has been chosen by God to lead the people, and it is from his house that the Messiah will come.

As he leads the people in procession, David dances with great joy. 

We have been back in our beloved building for a few Sundays. It is such a blessing to be here where generations of faithful people have worshipped our loving and healing and merciful God. As wonderful as it is to be here, it is such a profound gift just to be together, to look into each other’s faces, to feel each other’s physical and spiritual presence in such a powerful way. For me this is such a wonderful expression of God’s love.

And that is what the writer of the Book of Ephesians, probably not Paul, but a faithful disciple of his, is expressing. This writer is telling us that God, the creator of heaven and earth, God who spoke to the people from Mt. Sinai, which was at that time an active volcano, God, who created all the plants and animals and everything else on earth, has adopted us as God’s very own beloved children.

Can you believe it? We can call God Dad, or Mom, or Papa or Mama. The creator of the universe bestows that level of love on us. We are that close to God. God is holding us in the palm of God’s hand. God is holding us in God’s loving arms.

To paraphrase James Newsome, the presence of God in our lives results in great joy. That is so true,

Then we come to our gospel for today, which is not about joy. When King Herod hears about all the healings and other wonderful things Jesus is doing, he thinks John the Baptist has come back to life. And then he remembers that he beheaded John, and our reading goes to a flashback.

Herod had arrested John the Baptist. Herod had married his brother’s wife, Herodias. John the Baptist told Herod that he had broken the law, You are not supposed to marry your brother’s wife. Herodias hated John the Baptist because he had told the truth about the law and morality.

Herod had a very complicated relationship with John. On the one hand, he did not like that John had criticized him. On the other hand, Herod liked to listen to John’s teachings about the scriptures. Down deep, I think, Herod realized that John the Baptist was a prophet speaking God’s truth.

One day, Herod had a birthday party and all his courtiers were invited. There was a great feast and the guests ate and drank their fill. His daughter came in and danced. Herod was so pleased that he offered her anything she wanted. She went out and asked her mother what her request should be. And her mother, who had a huge grudge against John the Baptist, told her to ask for John’s head. 

Scholars tell us that it is safe to assume that Herod had had far too much to drink. As drunk as he was, he did not want to kill John. He had genuine respect for John. But he had given his word, and what would all these powerful guests think if he went back on it? So he sent a soldier to do the nasty deed. This is one of the most grisly stories in the Bible or anywhere else—a tale of power and hatred gone mad.

John’s disciples come and take his body and give it a decent burial. And when Herod hears about Jesus he thinks it is John the Baptist risen from the dead, a kind of foreshadowing of the resurrection of our Lord. New Testament scholar Charles Cousar writes, “Truth-telling becomes a perilous venture in a world of Herods and Pilates.” (Cousar, Texts for Preaching Year B, P. 427.)

Even in the face of Herods and Pilates, the presence of God in our lives gives us joy. John the Baptist was the forerunner announcing the coming of the Messiah. Jesus is the light of the world and that light is shining in our lives right now. Nothing can change the power of that light and love. Nothing can dim that light. David danced with joy as he brought the ark of the covenant to a more permanent home. We dance for joy to be here now in our spiritual home. That light and love and joy is stronger than hate or fear.  Let us walk in the Way of Love. Let us dance in the Way of Love and Joy. Amen.

Epiphany 3B January 24, 2021

Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Psalm 62:6-14
1 Corinthians 7: 29-31
Mark 1:14-20

Today we will  be having our Annual Meeting, so this sermon will be brief. Our first reading today is from the Book of Jonah. God called Jonah to go to the city of Ninevah, which was the capital of the ruthless Assyrian Empire and was a city known for its violence.

Jonah tried to run away from God’s call to him, and Jonah ended up in the belly of a big fish, as the text tells us. Jonah survived that dangerous adventure. The big fish spat him out on dry land.

Now God is calling to Jonah again, and this time, Jonah goes to Ninevah and tells the people that the city will be overthrown if they do not repent of their sins and change their ways. Much to Jonah’s surprise, all the people, from the leaders on down, put on sackcloth and ashes, ask forgiveness for their sins, and change their ways. There are at least two things to be learned from the experience of Jonah and Ninevah.  First, if God calls us to do something, it’s best to do it as faithfully as we can and not try to run away. And second, there is no limit to God’s mercy. 

In our gospel, John the Baptist has been arrested. This is very bad news. But Jesus does not let this deter him from his mission. He calls people to “repent and believe in the good news.” And he chooses Peter and Andrew and James and John and tells them that he will make them fishers of people. Unlike Jonah, they immediately follow him.

I am so happy to be here today with all of you dear people who have decided to follow Jesus and share his love with others. Each and every one of you, in your own unique way, reaches out to those around you to share with them God’s love and mercy and healing. Thanks be to God for our ministry together. Amen.

The First Sunday after Epiphany January 10, 2021

Genesis  1:1-5
Psalm 29
Acts 19:1-7
Mark 1:4-11

Today is the First Sunday after Epiphany, This is the day we celebrate the baptism of our Lord.

Our opening reading sets the stage for this Sunday, and our opening hymn has echoed this passage. God is creating the world. The earth is a “formless void,” and God is making something out of this void and transforming the void into a creation of beauty and variety and order.

God says that there will be light, and this is very important because we are entering the season of Epiphany, the season of light and mission. God’s light is coming into the world. As we read the story of the Creation in Genesis, after each work of creation there is a refrain: “And God saw that it was good.” The creation is good. At the end of this brief passage, God has brought the creation into being, and it is the end of the first day.

Our second reading is from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. This  book is like a good news action film. The apostles go from place to place spreading the Good News about Jesus.

In this passage, Paul goes from Corinth to Ephesus. And, amazingly, he finds some disciples there. He asks them whether they received the Holy Spirit when they were baptized, and they say that did not. They have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.

These disciples had been taught by Apollos, a Jewish man from Alexandria in Egypt who was a disciple of John the Baptist. Apollos had studied the scriptures and was an eloquent speaker, but he believed and taught a baptism of repentance as John the Baptist had.

Paul does not criticize the teachings of Apollos to these disciples. He simply tells them about the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and they ask for that baptism. About twelve people receive the Holy Spirit that day.

Paul meets these disciples where they are, asks questions about where they are on their journey, and then opens up to them a deeper understanding of Christ and of the Holy Spirit. This is how he welcomed thousands of people into this new faith.

In our gospel for today, we have the privilege of being present at the baptism of our Lord. John the Baptist, or Baptizer, was a cousin of Jesus. When Mary went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, the baby John the Baptist leaped inside Elizabeth as he recognized the presence of his Savior, who was also his cousin. From the very beginning, John knew who Jesus was.

If we stop and meditate for just a moment, Mary and Joseph were not a king and queen or a prince and princess. They were ordinary people, but they were extraordinary in the depth of their wisdom and their spiritual understanding. The baby Jesus, our Savior, was born into the midst of a wise, courageous, deeply spiritual extended family.

Joseph was from King David’s royal line but he had no worldly power.

Elizabeth and Zechariah were past childbearing age. Zechariah was a priest in the temple in Jerusalem. They were the couple God chose to raise the one who was to prepare the way for the Messiah. Even when John was in the womb, he knew that Jesus was the Savior. And as he prepared the way, he made it very clear that he was not the Savior.

But John also knew that he was the forerunner, the messenger sent to call the people to repentance, and he carried out his ministry so well that people flocked to him from near and far. He had thousands of followers who hung on his every word.

In our gospel for today, John baptizes his cousin Jesus, and, when Jesus comes up out of the water, God says, “You are my Son, the Beloved. With you I am well pleased.”

This is the beginning of our Lord’s formal ministry. As we meditate on this passage, we can wonder what John was feeling in those moments and what Jesus was feeling. Perhaps the main thing they were feeling was the overwhelming presence and love of God.

Herbert O’Driscoll reminds us that, when God speaks of Jesus as God’s Beloved, God is also speaking to us. God’s entire work of creation is filled with love, and we will never be able fully to grasp the depth of the love God has for each and every one of us and all of us together. God has made us part of God’s Beloved Community, and for that, we are grateful beyond words.

Today, we will be renewing our baptismal vows. We renew our promise to  “Continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers;” we promise to resist evil and, when we fall, repent and return to God;” we promise to proclaim  “the good news of God in Christ;” We promise to “seek and serve Christ in all persons;” and we promise to “strive for peace and  justice among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.”

This past week, on the feast of the Epiphany, an act of insurrection was committed against our capitol. This was not a peaceful demonstration.  Crimes were committed, and the proper authorities are working to hold people accountable.

We are called to walk the Way of Love, and we are called to help God  build God’s shalom on earth. We are called to be part of God’s Beloved Community. Part of living the Way of Love is calling all of us to be responsible for our behavior. Violence is not acceptable. Breaking the law is not acceptable. All of us as citizens are called to treat each other with respect and to obey the law. As our Presiding Bishop has said, we are called to choose community over chaos.  People need to be called to account for their actions. All people need to be able to feel safe. There is much work to do. For the next few weeks, I am asking that we pray the Prayer for the Human Family on page 315 of the prayer book. Today, we will renew our vows to follow Jesus in the Way of Love. Amen.

Advent 2 Year B December 6, 2020

Isaiah 40:1-11
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
2 Peter 3:6-15a
Mark 1:1-8

“Comfort, O Comfort my people,” says your God.” In our opening reading, the prophet Isaiah speaks God’s word to God’s people who are still in exile in Babylon. It is important to remember that the word “comfort” comes from the Latin “con” meaning “with” and “fortis” meaning “strength.” Comfort—with strength.

The revered Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann writes of this passage, “In Chapter 40, at long last, when all seemed lost, now speaks the Holy One of Israel. This oracle is the voice of Yahweh, who breaks the silence of exile and by utterance transforms the fortunes of Judah. This speech breaks both the despair of Judah and the power of Babylon; it penetrates the emptiness of exile and fills the world of Judaism with possibilities….”  Brueggemann continues, “We may understand ‘comfort’ as transformative solidarity; that is, not simply an offer of solace, but a powerful intervention that creates new possibilities.” (Brueggemann, Isaiah 40-66, Westminster Bible Companion, p.16.)

As we hear these words read, we naturally bring to mind and heart the powerful and beautiful music of Handel’s Messiah, and this reaches into our minds and hearts and gives us hope in our own Covid-19 exile. God is telling us that, in the midst of exile there is hope. Not only that, there are new possibilities.

Brueggemann speaks of “transformative solidarity.” In the midst of this pandemic, we are being called to transform our world and our societies. We are realizing that this pandemic is hitting people of color and poor people harder than it is impacting people of means and white people. This reminds us of our Lord’s call to feed the hungry and give clothes, shelter, and other necessities to our brothers and sisters. But these differences in levels of suffering are also calling us to build into our planning for the future equal access to health care, more justice in wages and benefits, and other ways of insuring fairness in our nation and our world so that we all bear equally the burdens of challenges like this pandemic. In the midst of all this suffering, God is speaking a message of profound light and hope. “Every valley shall be lifted up and every mountain and hill laid low.” Things are evened out in God’s kingdom. People share.

And then we hear that a voice is crying out in the wilderness, and this takes us to our gospel. John the Baptizer is that figure, that forerunner named by the prophets, among them Isaiah. John calls out, “Prepare the way of the Lord. and make his paths straight.” John calls the people to a baptism of repentance. They confess their sins, and they ask God’s help in transforming their lives, and so do we.

The gospel tells us that John was “clothed with camels hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.” Perhaps, if John the Baptizer were to appear on our Zoom screens, we might be quite shocked at his wardrobe. Very few people, even then, wore clothes of camel’s hair. John was not concerned about clothing or fashion. He had one mission: to prepare people for the appearance of the Messiah.

People thronged to him. He was the Biblical equivalent of a pop star. He didn’t center his ministry in Jerusalem where the people were. He was out in the wilderness and the people came to him. John had a huge number of followers.

John said, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Today, on the Second Sunday of Advent 2020, John the Baptizer is calling us to examine our selves and our lives, confess our sins to God or to a priest by phone or Zoom if we wish, and ask God’s help to get our lives fully on course. In that way, Advent is a kind of briefer Lent. It is a time for self-examination and metanoia, transformation.

John is a wonderful example for us. He is totally focussed, not on himself, but on the One who is to come. He is a shining example of single-mindedness, humility, awareness of who he is, and who God is. Even when he was a baby, John leapt in the womb of his mother Elizabeth when her cousin, Mary, who was pregnant with Jesus, came to visit. Even then, the baby John recognized his Lord, who was also his cousin. Even then John was that aware and that faithful.

And this takes us back to our first lesson from Isaiah. The herald is lifting up his voice to shout good tidings. “See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him…He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.” Here is the might of our Savior, and here also is his tender gentleness.

Here, in the tenth month of our exile, our loving God is giving us a powerful message of hope and transformation. He is calling us to walk the Way of Love in this time. He is calling us to take care of ourselves and each other so that we can walk together through this exile and follow him.

We can do this, with his help. Peter writes, “The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting you to perish…But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.”

Even now, he is building his kingdom, his shalom, and we are helping him by loving him and our neighbors. Now, as the days are getting shorter and the darkness is increasing, we can remember how John the Evangelist in his gospel reminds us that “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” We can let our good shepherd lead us and carry us as we continue to walk the Way of Love. Amen.

Pentecost 9 Proper 13A August 2, 2020


Genesis 32:22-31
Psalm 17:1-7, 16
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14: 13-21

Our opening reading today is one of the most fascinating passages in the Bible. It goes back centuries, to a time when people believed that you had to be careful of local deities who governed rivers. This story was passed down by word of mouth and was finally recorded by the Biblical writer we call J because he calls God Jahweh. J’s ministry took place around 950 years before the birth of Christ, over three thousand years ago.

Jacob has schemed during his time with Laban, and he has managed to grow wealthy by taking more than his share of Laban’s many flocks and other possessions. Laban has not been exactly pleased about this, but the two men have made a covenant, so at least Laban is not pursuing Jacob.

Now Jacob is going home, and, of course, he has not forgotten that his older brother, Esau, had vowed to kill him. He sends messengers ahead to tell Esau that Jacob is on his way with many possessions and is seeking the favor of his brother. They have met Esau and given him the message. Jacob is hoping that Esau will be properly impressed with all of Jacob’s things, see that Jacob is a man of substance and power, and maybe decide not to kill Jacob after all. He has heard from his messengers that they have met Esau, and Esau is heading toward Jacob with four hundred men.

Jacob splits all the people and animals and possessions into two groups and sets them on ahead, thinking that, if Esau kills everyone and everything in one group, perhaps the other group will survive. Then he prays to God for help.

It is night, and night, especially in those times, was considered a mysterious and dangerous time. Anything could happen.

Now Jacob is left alone and vulnerable on the banks of the river.  The text tells us that “a man wrestled with him until daybreak.” They are about equal in strength. As they struggle, the man strikes Jacob in the hip and knocks it out of joint. Then the man asks Jacob to let him go because dawn is coming. But Jacob has figured out that this is not just a man. This is at least an angel and probably God. Jacob says he will not let his adversary go until the adversary gives him a blessing.

God asks Jacob his name, Jacob tells the truth. His name is Jacob. In those days, people believed that giving your name gave the adversary power over you. Jacob is surrendering his power to God. And then God gives Jacob a new name—Israel.  Jacob the supplanter becomes Israel, “he who has striven with God and man and has prevailed.” He is now the head of the tribe of Israel. Jacob names the place Peniel, “for I have seen God face to face and yet my life is preserved.” Scholars tell us that Peniel means “the face of God.”

Jacob has seen God face to face. In ancient times, people believed that you could not see God and live. But Jacob has actually wrestled with God and has been given a new identity. He will forever walk with a limp. Sometimes our struggles leave us with scars.

This story is so compelling because all of us have struggled. We have struggled at times with God, asking for direction in difficult situations. We have struggled with ourselves when we get to a crossroads in life and we’re trying to discern which path to take. We have struggled to take what we know is the right and difficult path instead of the wrong and easy path.

Now, we are struggling with a deadly virus and all of its implications. Should we wear masks when we are around other people and can’t social distance? Definitely yes. Our medical experts make that clear. Should we open our schools, and, if so how? Should Congress pass an aid package, and, if so, what should it contain? Will life ever return to normal, or what we used to call normal? At this point, we may have more questions than answers.

As it turns out, Esau arrived with his four hundred men, and Esau hugged and kissed Jacob, and they both wept with joy to see each other. God is always at work. God is always with us, transforming us into the people God calls us to be.

In our gospel, Jesus has just heard of the murder of his beloved cousin, John the Baptist. He goes off in a boat to a deserted place to pray and the people follow him. When he goes ashore there is a huge crowd, and he has compassion on them and heals those who are sick.

Evening is coming. The disciples tell Jesus to send the people away so that they can buy food. But Jesus says, “You give them something to eat.” What is their response? “We have only five loaves and two fish.” They are operating from a theology of scarcity. This is all we have, they think. We can’t possibly feed these people. 

Jesus takes the loaves and fish, looks up to heaven, blesses and breaks the loaves and fish. This is a Eucharistic action. The disciples feed the people and there are twelve baskets left over. Over five thousand people have been fed. Last year our food shelf fed a little over four thousand people. God always gives us the gifts we need to do our ministry.

We are struggling with a powerful virus. And we are struggling with our long history of racism. Jacob thought Esau was going to kill him. Instead, Esau hugged and kissed him and they had a good healing cry. The disciples saw only a huge crowd of hungry people for whom they could do nothing. Jesus fed the crowd. God is always at work. God is a God of abundance, a God of healing and wholeness, a God of transformation, and, always, always, a God of love.

God is leading us on our journey through this pandemic and our journey toward honoring the dignity of every person. God is also feeding us with God’s wisdom and guidance in the difficult decisions we will need to make. God is calling us to stay on the path of the Way of Love. Let us seek and do the will of our loving God. Amen.

May we say together the Prayer for the Power of the Spirit.

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.

Advent 3A December 15, 2019

Isaiah 35:1-10
Canticle 3, p. 50 BCP
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11

Our opening reading from the great prophet Isaiah describes a profound transformation of people, animals, and the whole creation. The disabled are healed. Those who are afraid receive strength. Waters break forth in the wilderness and deserts bloom. All the people and the animals form a joyful procession to Jerusalem.  

Walter Brueggemann writes, “The Bible is relentless in its conviction that nothing that is skewed and distorted and deathly need remain as it is. God’s power and God’s passion converge to make total newness possible….Jesus is remembered and celebrated as the one who permits human life to begin again….The Church in Advent remembers this newness happening in Jesus and prepares itself for the affirmation that God is at work even now to bring the world to God’s powerful well-being.”  (Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching, p. 19.)

Our reading from the Letter of James begins with a loving word of advice, “Be patient, beloved, until the coming of the Lord.” We are called to “strengthen [our] hearts.” We are called not to grumble against each other. We are being asked to calm ourselves, put our roots down deep into the grace and love of God, and wait expectantly for the coming of our Lord.

Last week, we met John the Baptist out in the wilderness preaching repentance. Now he is in jail. John the Baptist has been put in prison by King Herod because he confronted Herod with his immoral behavior. Even though he is locked away, John is hearing news about what the Messiah is doing.

Although John is in prison, his supporters are able to visit and talk with him, and he is able to send some of them to Jesus to ask a very pressing question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we wait for another?”

Of course, we remember that John confidently proclaimed Jesus as the Savior and asked our Lord to baptize him. Why is he now wondering whether Jesus is the Messiah?

Biblical scholar Beverly Gaventa writes,” One reason for his uncertainty could be his situation in prison. This is the explanation often picked up in sermons on the passage and developed psychologically, that is to say, John is depressed and forgotten in his jail cell, and as his incarceration continues he becomes haunted with doubts. Out of his dejection and discouragement, he sends to question Jesus.”

Gaventa continues, “The text, however, offers a more likely, explanation. In prison John hears about ‘what the Messiah was doing.’ presumably those acts of healing and mercy depicted [in our passage.] To a fierce denouncer of the sins of the people, the Messiah’s primary task must be to carry out the final judgment, to see that the ax is laid to the root of the trees and to burn every tree that does not bear fruit. What sort of Messiah could Jesus be who teaches in the synagogue, preaches the gospel of the kingdom, and heals every disease and infirmity? John seems uncertain, not because of his own plight but because of what Jesus is reputed to be doing. He is not turning out to be the kind of Messiah John expected.

Here is is important to remember that, in the history and writings of the people of God, there were two strands of thought about the Messiah. One was that the Messiah would be a military hero, coming in with great force and conquering the Roman Empire and freeing the people. The other strand was the thinking of prophets such as Isaiah. 

Gaventa continues, “What John needs is a new understanding of who the Messiah in reality is, what sort of work the Messiah does,  and with what sort of people he does it….Seeing and hearing that Jesus is preoccupied with people who have been marginalized by their situations, who can do little or nothing for themselves may represent a threat to some and prevent their accepting Jesus as Messiah. Like John, they expect that the Messiah should be doing more about stopping crime and punishing criminals. They would prefer to wait for another in hopes of finding a leader more to their liking. Jesus alone, however, defined his messiahship.” Gaventa, Texts for Preaching, pp. 26-27.

The scriptures do not tell us how John worked though this issue, but Gaventa’s comments remind us that it is very difficult for some of us to accept the messiah who is so clearly described in Isaiah’s prophecy, a loving savior who brings all of humanity and all of the creation to wholeness, health, and joy.

The text does give us Jesus’ comments on John. Our Lord says that there is no human being who is greater than John. And then our Lord gives us one of his paradoxes. “The least in the kingdom is greater than he.” John is a great man. He is a prophet and he prepares the way of the Savior. Yet, as Gaventa writes, “…the one who is least in the kingdom is greater than John. The age of fulfillment toward which John points is so decisive that even Jesus’ disciples…who understand and share his fulfilling activity, are greater than John. The comment is not made as a rebuke of John, but as an acknowledgment of the surpassing character of the new age dawning in the person of Jesus. It is an age in which disciples are still vulnerable to arrest and imprisonment, but are also changed and empowered to participate in the messianic activity of Jesus.” (Gaventa, Texts for Preaching, p. 27.

We are already following our Lord. We are already disciples. Yes, we are flawed and fallible humans, yet we are already in our process of transformation, and we are working to help our Lord build his Kingdom. Once again, I share an ancient prayer by an anonymous mystic who lived in the fifteenth century.

“Thou shalt know Him when He comes
Not by any din of drums—
Nor the vantage of His airs—
Nor by anything He wears—
Neither by His crown—
Nor His gown—
For His presence known shall be
By the Holy Harmony
That His coming makes in thee. Amen.”

Advent 2A December 8, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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