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    • 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:…

First Sunday after Christmas December 27, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advent 4B December 20, 2020

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Psalm 89:1-4. 19-26
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38

This morning, the Fourth Sunday of Advent, we begin with Canticle 15, the Magnificat, Mary’s song about God’s kingdom of justice and mercy. 

Then we read in the Second Book of Samuel about how David has built a house and is settling down after years of going from place to place. David thinks to himself that it would be a good idea to build a house for God. He discusses this with the prophet Nathan who also thinks it is a good idea. But then God speaks to Nathan and tells this faithful prophet that God will build a house for David. God will establish David as a King over God’s people. It is from this royal line that the Messiah will come.

And then we have Psalm 89, a song about God’s love. “Your love, O Lord forever will I sing; from age to age my mouth will proclaim your faithfulness.”

And then we go back over two thousand years. Here is Mary, a young woman. She is engaged to Joseph, a faithful man, a man who is very gentle, yet very strong and protective. We know that Mary, too, has a strength that is almost beyond belief, and her faith is deep and abiding.

She lives in a little town that is far from the centers of power. She is just an ordinary person going about her daily routine, like so many people before her—Moses, tending his father-in-law’s flock, David, tending the sheep, Amos, the dresser of sycamore trees. As she is going about her household chores, the angel Gabriel suddenly appears. 

Here I fall back on Madeleine L’Engle’s descriptions of angels as tall, towering beings pulsating with light and power. “Greetings, favored one!” he says, “The Lord is with you.” Here is this luminous messenger of God talking to a young woman in a little out of the way town like Sheldon or Montgomery or Fletcher or Franklin and calling her “favored one,” telling her she is beloved of God. And he is telling us, too, that we are beloved of God. And then the angel Gabriel tells Mary and you and me that the Lord is with us. And then, seeing the look of shock on Mary’s face, Gabriel says, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” And God is saying that to us as well. “Do not be afraid. God loves you. God is holding you in the palm of God’s hand.”  

And then the Angel Gabriel tells Mary that she will be the mother of God’s Son. And Mary asks, “How can this be?” And Gabriel tells her that her cousin, Elizabeth, who is far beyond childbearing age, will be giving birth to a son. We know that this is Jesus’ cousin, John, who will grow up and baptize people in the Jordan River and call them to “prepare the way of the Lord.” It all seems beyond belief. Gabriel seems quite aware of this for he tells Mary and us,  “Nothing will be impossible with God.”

And then Mary responds. Throughout this mind-bending conversation with Gabriel, she has remained calm and grounded. We see in her the steely courage that she will show at the foot of the Cross. She joins many of her ancestors, people like Abraham and Moses, who said to God, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word.” Trusting completely in God’s faithfulness and love, Mary says “Yes” to this ministry.

Soon after, she goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth. The child John leaps in Elizabeth’s womb when he senses the presence of the baby Jesus. We often say that Christians go two by two, as our Lord sent out the disciples to spread the good news. Mary had the good common sense to seek out her cousin Elizabeth so that they could guide and support each other as they went on their journey together. Their sons would change the world forever. They gave birth to the transformation of the world.

In addition to the Magnificat, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,” we can also sing Psalm 89. “Your love, O Lord, forever will I sing; from age to age my mouth will proclaim your faithfulness.”

The light is coming into the world. This past week, we watched the news and saw people being inoculated with the new vaccine from Pfizer. Other vaccines are on the way. The Moderna vaccine has already been approved. Many scientists, researchers, physicians, lab technicians, and other dedicated people have worked evenings, weekends, nights, and holidays to create these life-saving vaccines. People gathered to clap as they were shipped out of the plant in Michigan because this is something to celebrate.

As Christians, we believe that God gives us the gift to reason and learn and carry out research. Our faith is based on what we call the three-legged stool of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. God gave us minds so that we can use them to discover things that will help people to have better lives. We believe that these discoveries are a manifestation of God’s love. “Your love, O God, forever will we sing.”

Because God gave us minds and calls us to use them, we know that we must continue to practice the basics of public health in a pandemic—wear masks, keep social distance, wash our hands often, don’t gather in large numbers. We know that it will take several months to get all of us vaccinated. But, if we follow safe practices, eventually enough people will be vaccinated that we will all be safe from this virus. Our faith also teaches us to be patient. It will take time. We are very happy that Keith and Sara are in Pinellas County, Florida, the first county in that state to receive the vaccine. To me, that feels like a special gift from God.

We have been through some very difficult times, and it is not over yet.

But the end is in sight. The light, the love, is coming into the world. Let us make room for the light and love in our lives. Let us make room for Jesus in the inns of our hearts. Even though there are challenges ahead, let us take time to celebrate the light and love of God in our lives and in our world. “Your  love, O Lord, forever will we sing; from age to age our mouths will proclaim your faithfulness.” 

Let us continue to walk the Way of Love, with joy and hope in our hearts.  Amen.

Pentecost 12 Proper 16A August 23, 2020

Exodus 1:8-2:10
Psalm 124
Romans 12:1-8
Matthew 16:13-20

In our opening reading today, we hear one of the most important stories in the Bible. We recall that in last Sunday’s reading, the Pharaoh had recognized Joseph’s gifts of administration, and  God’s people were invited to come to Egypt, where there was plenty of food stored up to help everyone survive the time of famine.

Our reading begins with an important sentence. “Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. This king rules on the basis of fear. He sees that the Israelites are more numerous than the Egyptians, and he thinks the Israelites will join his enemies and overthrow him and escape from Egypt. So he forces the Israelites into slavery, and imposes increasingly ruthless burdens upon them.

The king then tells the midwives to be sure that all the Israelite baby boys will die. But the midwives believe in God, and they do not follow the king’s instructions. The king then orders that all the Hebrew baby boys must be killed. Things become worse and worse.

In the midst of this turmoil and suffering, a Levite man marries a woman from the house of Levi. She gives birth to a son. She hides him for three months. Then she knows she has to do something. She gets a papyrus basket and puts tar and pitch on it to make it into a little boat. She puts the beautiful little baby into the little boat and hides it in the reeds beside the great Nile river. The baby’s older sister, Miriam, keeps watch from a distance.

The daughter of Pharaoh comes to the river to bathe. She finds the baby, has pity on him, and concludes that he must be one of the Hebrews’ children. Just as this moment, Miriam comes up and offers to find a nurse for the baby. The king’s daughter accepts the offer.  She knows that her father has ordered the Hebrew baby boys to be killed, yet she saves this little one. The baby Moses will grow up in his own home and will have his very own mother as his nurse. When he grows older, his mother will take him to the king’s daughter, and she will adopt him. God rescues this baby from slavery and death and arranges for him to grow up in the royal palace. This is Moses, who will free his people from slavery. Biblical scholar James Newsome writes of this passage, “The oppressive hand of Pharaoh may be strong, but the redemptive hand of God is stronger still.” (Newsome, Texts for Preaching Year A, p, 454.)

In our epistle for today, St. Paul calls us to offer everything that we have and everything that we are to God. He calls us to allow ourselves to be transformed by the grace of God into the people God calls us to be. Paul encourages us to be humble, and he calls us to think clearly and carefully about things, and to use the faith that God has given us. And then he reminds us that we are members of the Body of Christ. We have different gifts, and we are called to use those gifts for the building up of the Body of Christ, because we are all one in Him.

In our gospel, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that the Son of Man is?” And they give a report on what people are saying. Some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, others Jeremiah, others say one of the prophets. And Jesus asks, “”But who do you say that I am?” Without hesitation, Peter says, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus praises Peter’s faith, and he says that Peter is the rock on which he will build his church. Like us, Peter is not perfect. He jumps into the water, walks a few feet on the water and then begins to sink. He blurts out thoughts of building three booths and preserving the moment of transfiguration when he is with Jesus, James, and John on the mountain. He denies our Lord three times. But in this moment, when our Lord is asking him this crucial question, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answers, with all his heart and soul and mind and strength, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” 

In these days of Covid 19 and so much turmoil, our readings call us to that depth of faith. Moses’ courageous, resourceful, and faithful mother put her beautiful baby in a little boat that she made herself, and, with unceasing prayer, hoped that God would protect this little one. Miriam stood by the river on constant watch to be sure her little brother was all right. And then, miracle of miracles, the Pharaoh’s daughter came down to bathe, and this little baby came under her protection. The liberator of God’s people grew up in his own home with his mother, father, and sister, and then, when he was older, was adopted and lived at the palace.

This is how God works through people who have deep, abiding faith.

Moses’ mother and sister, Peter, and so many others who have followed in their footsteps have been holy examples to us because of their deep, powerful faith.

This week, at this time in our journey with and through Covid 19, let us meditate on Moses’ mother and father and sister and on their faith. Let us meditate on the midwives, who courageously followed God instead of the corrupt king. Let us meditate upon the Pharaoh’s daughter, who knew she was going against her father’s wishes in protecting this little baby. And let us meditate on Peter, who is such a wonderful example because we can identify with him. He is so human. He has faults, just as we do. And he has faith. He knows who Jesus is. He stumbles a few times, but in the end his faith is as solid as a rock. Let us pray that we may have that strong faith.

These are not easy times. This is a time for faith, and thanks be to God, the Creator,  who has given us the gift of faith, and the gift of hope, and the gift of love. Thanks be to Jesus, the Redeemer, who has made us members of his Body, the Church, here to share his love with all people. And thanks be to God, the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier, who is always at work in us and in the world, bringing in God’s shalom of peace harmony, and wholeness. Amen.

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

Pentecost 11 Proper 15A August 16, 2020

Genesis 45: 1-15
Psalm 133
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15: (10-20) 21-28

In our opening reading today, we continue the story of Joseph. Last week, we looked on as his brothers plotted to kill him and then decided to throw him into a pit and eventually sold him to slave traders who were going to Egypt.

When they reached Egypt, the human traffickers sold Joseph to Potiphar, an officer in the Pharaoh’s army, the Captain of the Guard. It is a fast-moving story. Through many trials and tribulations, Joseph finally becomes the head assistant to the Pharaoh himself. His steady rise to this high office is due to his high moral caliber, his integrity, and his God-given gift of interpreting dreams. Joseph is now in charge of everything the Pharaoh has.

One of the dreams has to do with seven fat cows and seven lean cows. Joseph tells the Pharaoh that the seven fat cows mean that there are going to be seven years in which there will be record high harvests and the seven lean cows mean that there will be a famine.

Joseph brilliantly fills granaries full of grain during the fat years so that everyone will have something to eat in the lean years.

Joseph has now been in his high position for several years, and his brothers have already come to Egypt asking to buy grain. He has not let them know who he is and they have not recognized him. Now they are back again, and he is having great difficulty in controlling his emotions. He wants to cry at the sight of them. They threw him into a pit and then sold him to human traffickers for twenty pieces of silver, but he is not holding any grudges. He could have had them killed. He could have turned them away. But he did not do that. Now, here they are again. Joseph sends everyone else out of the room.

He bursts into tears and cries so loudly that everyone in the palace hears him, and then he tells his brothers who he is. And he gives them his interpretation of the meaning of all his struggles. God sent him to Egypt so that he could save his family and save the life of his people. He tells them to go back to their father and invite everyone to come and live in Egypt and not only survive, but thrive.

Then he hugs Benjamin and Benjamin hugs him, and they all shed tears of joy at being together again and hug each other and have a good cry and an even better talk. After all those years. And then the family comes and settles in the land of Goshen.

The story of Joseph and his brothers can teach us so much. They threw him into a pit. He could have died at any point along the way. Things didn’t start out well in Egypt. He spent some time in jail over a misunderstanding. But he never lost his faith; he always acted ethically; and he was a faithful steward of the Pharaoh’s and Egypt’s and God’s abundance. He saved a nation. And he forgave his brothers. Mercy and forgiveness are one of the themes in our readings for today. In spite of everything Joseph loved his brothers and forgave them. In spite of all the challenges and near tragedies in his life, he felt the hand of God leading him to save his family and his people, God’s people.

In our gospel for today, we have another unforgettable story. Jesus is in Gentile territory. A woman comes to him and begins to shout, “Have mercy on me Lord, Son of David, my daughter is possessed by a demon.” In those times, people thought a demon was causing diseases such as mental illness and seizure disorders. At first, Jesus does not answer. He is considered a rabbi and in those days rabbis were not supposed to speak with women. He is Jewish and in those days Jews did not speak to Gentiles. His disciples tell him to send her away. Jesus says that he was sent only to his own people, the “Lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Now the women kneels at his feet. “Lord, help me,” she begs. For the second time, she is addressing him as the Savior. Though she is a Gentile, she knows who he is.

And then our Lord says something that almost shocks us. “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs. Biblical scholar Charles Cousar writes, “The use of the term ‘dogs,’ even though metaphorical, is hardly a label of endearment. It was regularly applied, with some condescension, to Gentiles. The woman has every right to take offense.” (Cousar, Texts for Preaching Year A, p, 450.)

Jesus is showing his humanity. The Church teaches that Jesus is fully divine and fully human. In his time, people thought that Gentiles were inferior. In his humanity he is looking down on someone of a different ethnicity and religion.

But this woman has a laser focus on only one thing—making sure that her child is healed. She may be a Canaanite, but somehow she has deep faith in God and a profound understanding of God. And she answers, with calmness, reason, and enduring perseverance, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

Jesus recognizes the depth and strength of her faith. “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter is healed. Because of the faith and persistence of this devoted mother, Jesus is beginning to realize that his mission is to all people, that he is sent to bring good news, healing, forgiveness, and love to everyone.

And that is what we are called to do—to bring the love of God and Jesus and the Spirit to everyone. We are the Body of Christ in the world. We are called to be his hands reaching out to welcome people, his eyes looking at people with love, his mouth speaking words of hope and encouragement. There are no barriers. As Archbishop Tutu says, “God has a big family.” Amen.

Let us pray together the Prayer for the Power of the Spirit.

Pentecost 10 Proper 14 August 9, 2020

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

Our first reading today is one of the most famous in the Bible and in Christian education classes—the story of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph was his father’s favorite, and Jacob made his beloved son a coat with long sleeves, what we have come to call Joseph’s “coat of many colors”, or Joseph’s “Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

Joseph did have dreams, which he shared with his brothers, and this did not help the situation, One dream that particularly got their goat was that they were in the field binding sheaves when Joseph’s sheaf 

rose above his brothers’ sheaves, and the sheaves of his brothers worshipped his sheaf.

In our reading, Israel sends Joseph out to find his brothers. When Joseph finally finds them after some investigation, his brothers conspire to kill him. Reuben arrives just in time to stop them from actually killing Joseph and they decide to throw him into a pit. When Joseph arrives, they strip him of his clothes and throw him into the pit. It is dry, so at least he will not drown.

Then some traders come by, and Judah convinces his brothers to sell Joseph to the Ishmaelite traders for twenty pieces of silver. As Christians, we can’t help but think of the thirty pieces of silver which Judas received for betraying Jesus. The Ishmaelite traders take Joseph to Egypt. 

The Bible is a library of books written over centuries of time, and between its pages we can find all kinds of stories about things we humans can think and do. Together with the birth of Jacob and Esau, with Jacob hanging on to Esau’s heel, this story is one of the classic examples of sibling rivalry. What does it take for brothers to decide to kill their own sibling? Will Joseph seek revenge? Will he forgive his brothers? Joseph has an amazing, God-given gift for interpreting dreams, and we will see what happens.

In our gospel for today, Jesus has just fed over five thousand people. He tells the disciples to go across the Sea of Galilee while he dismisses the crowd. After the crowd leaves, Jesus goes to the mountain to pray. This is something that he did often. He took time apart to be with God. This is his wonderful example to us—to take time away in quiet to ask God for guidance. By the time he comes back to the shore of the lake, night is falling.

The disciples are out in the boat, but the wind has come up and the boat is far from the land. Large waves are battering the boat. The wind has blown them far out on the lake. With the howling of the wind and the size of the waves, they are afraid.

Jesus comes walking toward them on the water— right through the waves, the wind, and the chaos. They see him, but they do not recognize him. They are terrified. They cry out, “It is a ghost!” They are gripped in icy fear.

But then, Jesus speaks to them, and let us remember these words when we are sailing stormy seas with high waves and winds that threaten to swamp us: “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” 

Peter immediately responds to the presence of his Lord. “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” And Jesus says, “Come.” So Peter starts walking toward him. But when he notices exactly how strong the wind is, fear rises in his heart  and he begins to sink. He calls out to Jesus, “Lord. save me!” And Jesus reaches out his hand to Peter and saves him. They get into the boat; the wind stops, and Peter says, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

How many times have we been afraid, stricken with pure terror, and we ask our Lord for help, and he stretches out his hand and saves us? We all know that fear can paralyze us. Our Lord can calm any storm. Our Lord can save us from the storms of life. He is reaching out his hand to us right now to steady us, lift us from the chaos of fear, and bring us to a safe place.

In our epistle for today, Paul says many wonderful things. He says, “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart.” Jesus, the eternal Word who brought  the worlds into being, is near us. We can reach out our hands and touch him.

And the other thing that I think is very important for us to remember is that Paul writes here and in other letters, “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek.” In his Letter to the Galatians,  he writes, “There is no longer Jew or Greek. there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28.)

Two thousand years ago, Saint Paul was telling us that there are no distinctions between human beings. God loves us all, infinitely and equally. Any distinctions of race, gender, class, social status and all the other things we humans have used to divide us are created by human beings, not by God. We’re all in the same boat. We’re all in this together.

Here we are, sailing in the high winds and choppy seas of Covid-19, and our Lord is saying, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” As we look out on the rest of our country and see that the rates of illness and death are rising in places where there have been large parties and other gatherings where folks were close together and not wearing masks, we might imagine to ourselves that our Lord might be telling us, “Do not be afraid, but do not be cocky. This is a powerful virus.Take care of yourselves, and take care of each other. I love you.”

When Jesus reaches out his hand to take us into the boat and bring us to safety, his hand is not only a hand of rescue, but it is a hand of guidance. He gave us minds so that we could do research and determine exactly what we are facing, and then take the actions we need to in order to stay safe and keep our brothers and sisters safe from illness and death. The Way of Love is to help everyone stay safe and stay healthy. May we continue to walk in the Way of Love. Amen.

Easter 5A May 10, 2020

Acts 7:55-60
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
John 14:1-14

In our very short first reading from the Book of Acts, the community of followers of Jesus has been growing by leaps and bounds. As we learned last Sunday, the community takes care of its members. In the portion of Acts that precedes today’s reading, the apostles have gotten so busy trying to teach people and preach the Good News, that they ask the community of faith to appoint seven men of good repute to take on the ministry of distributing food to the poor. This is a ministry of servanthood, diaconia, and these men are the first deacons in the Church.

Among these seven men is Stephen, a man full of the Holy Spirit and the love of God. In our passage for today, Stephen has been preaching about the history of God’s people and the death and resurrection of Jesus. Some of the people listening to Stephen accuse him of blasphemy. In the portion we read today, Stephen is stoned to death by an angry mob. As he is dying, Stephen asks God to forgive these people who are killing him. Stephen is the first Christian martyr, and we celebrate his feast day on December 26, the day after Christmas.

There is a brief mention in this passage of a man named Saul, who witnesses this horrible event. People leave their coats with him. Saul of Tarsus is on a personal campaign to wipe out the followers of Jesus. Very soon, on the road to Damascus, he will meet the risen Lord and his life mission will change from hate to love.

In our epistle from the First Letter of Peter, we read that Jesus is the living stone, the foundation of the Church. To paraphrase the scripture, Jesus calls us out of darkness into his marvelous light. Stephen shows forth that light in his life and ministry, and in his death as well.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is aware that he is going to the cross. He is trying to be sure that his closest followers understand everything that they are going to need to know about him so that they can carry on his ministry.

First, our Lord tells his disciples and us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God,  believe also in me.” He is telling them and us that he is going to die, and he wants to make our faith as strong as possible.

So he talks about heaven, and he says some unforgettable words that have comforted people over all the centuries since he first said them. “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places,” he says. I like the King James version, too. “In my father’s house are many mansions.” It gives us such a sense of the expansive, inclusive nature of heaven. It also makes us think twice. In my father’s house are many dwelling places, or many mansions. A house is a dwelling pace, A house could be a mansion. But how does a house contain many mansions or many dwelling places? What he is trying to tell us is that heaven is big. There is plenty of room for everyone. God’s love includes everyone. As Archbishop Tutu says, “God has a big family.” So, if we or the disciples are worried about getting into heaven, the point is that God wants us to be there. God is not trying to shut people out. God is trying to welcome people in. Some people think that there are a lot of rules and regulations about getting into heaven. But, as someone has said, God is a lover, not a lawyer. Everyone is welcome in heaven.

And then Jesus says, “You know the place where I am going.” And Thomas says, “Lord, we do not know where you are going.” And that is when Jesus says to him and to us,”I am the way and the truth and the life.” The conversation goes on, The disciples are trying to grasp some very difficult concepts about God.

Finally Jesus says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” Later on, he will say, “I and the Father are one.” Jesus is telling his disciples and us that if we have seen him, we have seen God. In the entire history of God’ s people, God was seen as very scary. People were taught that they could not see God and live. 

Now Jesus is telling us that by seeing him and walking with him and learning from him about the power of love, we have seen God. And then he says something that blows all the circuit breakers in our minds. He says, “Very truly, I tell you. the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these because I am going to the Father.”

Our Lord says that we will do greater things than he has done because he is going to the Father. He is going to send the Holy Spirit, and is commissioning us to carry on his ministry. Stephen heard that commissioning loudly and clearly, So did Saul, after our Lord straightened out his thinking. Of course, we know him as St. Paul.

What are these readings saying to us in this time of pandemic? We have the account of Stephen’s martyrdom. He was a deacon. He was given a ministry of servanthood. May we serve others in the Name of Christ. Thank you Lord, for the ministry of our food shelf servants, several of whom are among us, and their number is growing.

At the beginning of this Covid 19 journey, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry was asked about social distancing, or maybe we should call it physical distancing. He said that this distancing is all about God’s love. God wants people to be safe. We are doing this out of love for our brothers and sisters. We are wearing masks for the same reason—to keep from giving the virus to others. It’s about love. 

Like Stephen and the other deacons, we are called to be servants. These days, we are especially called to serve and help those who cannot work from home and are risking their lives to do everything from ministering to the sick to stocking shelves in grocery stores. We are also called to help those who have lost their jobs. We are going to have to extend financial and other help to them so that they can feed their families. We are going to have to think as the early Church thought. God calls us to take care of each other.

I also ask your prayers for our brothers and sisters in areas where folks are opening shops and restaurants and trying to return to normal when the numbers of new cases and deaths are still rising. We pray that they may decide to stay safe.

It’s all about love. God is calling us to use our minds and our hearts. God is calling us to seek and to do God’s will. May we seek the mind of Christ. May we seek the love of God. May we seek the wisdom of the Spirit. Amen.

Pentecost 11 Proper 16A August 24, 2014

Exodus 1:8-2:10
Psalm 124
Romans 12:1-8
Matthew 16:13-20

Our first reading this morning opens on a somber note: “Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” Joseph is no longer the second in command. We do not know the details, but there has been a shift in power. The new king is threatened by the Hebrew people. They are growing too numerous and he fears their power. The pharaoh enslaves the people and forces them to make bricks and do hard labor.

Then the king moves to genocide. He tells the midwives to kill the boy babies of the Hebrew women the moment they are born. The midwives, our first heroes this morning, are actually named–Shiprah and Puah. These courageous women are not going to commit genocide. They put forth a creative explanation of why they cannot carry out the pharaoh’s orders. Then the king extends his decree to the whole population. He wants these Hebrew boy babies killed. This probably makes us think of King Herod, who , centuries later, will issue a similar order. It also brings to mind so many examples of genocide over all the years of human history. The most recent and alarming example of genocide in our world involves the brutal actions of the group called the Islamic State, or ISIS. They have killed many people, including a courageous journalist and neighbor from New Hampshire, James Foley. We pray for James, and for his family. We pray, also, for God’s guidance for the leaders of the world as they deal with this serious situation.

But back to our story. Sometimes people look at the evil in the world and decide not to bring children into such troubled times. In our story, a Levite man and a woman marry; they are people of hope. They have a son. The woman keeps her son secret as long as she can. and then she makes a little waterproof boat and puts him into it, and hides it in the bulrushes along the Nile. The baby’s sister, Miriam, keeps watch, and the miracle happens. The little one is rescued by the very daughter of the murderous king and is raised in the castle with his own mother to nurse him.

The king’s daughter knows that this is a Hebrew baby, yet she also knows that she will be able to protect this little one. She has her father wrapped around her little finger. Here this young woman, who enjoys every privilege, gives a new life to this little one and to God’s chosen people.

This is a choice we all face. When certain races or nationalities or kinds of people are being oppressed or even killed, we have the choice to realize that all people are human beings who deserve respect. The women in this story all make that choice. Because of their courage, Moses grows up to be the liberator of his people.

In the epistle, Paul is calling us to offer our whole selves to God. Not just our minds, not just an intellectual assent to the tenets of our faith. Not just our emotions. Yes, we are called to believe in God with our minds. We are called to love God with our hearts. But we are called to give all that we are and all that we have to God so that God can work with us and transform us. That is the second part of this reading. First, we have to offer all of ourselves to God, Then we have to allow God to change us, to transform us.

If we do these things, we will begin to realize on a whole new level, that we are members of Christ as our arms and legs and eyes and ears are members of us. We make up the living body of Christ.

Everyone has been given gifts by God, and each gift is equal to the next. Preaching is not more valuable than paying the bills. Teaching is not more valuable than sweeping the floor. Every person and every gift is infinitely precious and beloved by God.

In our gospel, Jesus and the disciples are in the region of Caesarea Philippi. Herbert O’Driscoll reminds us that this region is way up north near the source of the Jordan River. (The Word Today, Year A. p. 101.) First Jesus asks the disciples who people say that he is, and they report the responses they have heard. But then he asks, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter responds, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Herbert O’Driscoll wonders why Jesus has led the disciples so far north. He theorizes that our Lord leads them to Caesarea Philippi because it is far from their usual world. O’Driscoll says that as Christians, we are being led out of our former world in which the Christian faith was dominant. He writes, “We are being hauled out of the familiar, vaguely Christian culture we were formed by, into a tougher, harsher reality. And here he asks us again, in all sorts of ways and at all kinds of moments, Who do you say that I am?” (The Word Today, p. 102.)

At the end of May, Bishop Tom issued an inspiring statement called Becoming More Missional: The Episcopal Church in Vermont/ AnInvitation to be Part of a Year-Long Journey of Visioning, Discernment and Planning for Tomorrow. Beginning with the Ministry Fair at St, Paul’s Cathedral on Saturday, September 27, continuing with the pre-convention hearings on Vermont Interactive Technologies at 2 PM on Sunday, October 5, (Our group would meet in St. Albans), we in the Diocese of Vermont will be looking at ways in which our Lord is calling us to do mission. There will also be a gathering in our area in early spring.

On a local level, Bishop Tom wrote to me this past June, “It is my hope that during the Spring of 2015, you and the people of Grace Church will enter into a process we might call ‘Focusing on Grace Church’s Missional Ministries.’ This process will involve my office and is meant to take a look at the ongoing and future ministries of Grace Church. I hope this process seems a good idea to you and the congregation.” These are exciting times, and we have much good work to do.

May we again pray our Collect for today: “Grant, O merciful Lord, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Pentecost 9 August 14, 2011

Pentecost 9 Proper 14A RCL August 14, 2011

Genesis 45: 1-13
Psalm 133
Romans 11: 1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28

This morning, we continue with the story of Joseph. We recall that Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, who envied him because their father, Jacob, loved Jacob best and gave him an extraordinary coat. When Jacob reached Egypt, he rose to an important position second only to the Pharaoh, and he man
aged all the business of the kingdom on the Pharaoh’s behalf.

The Pharaoh had had a dream which signified that there would be seven years of good crops and seven years of famine. Under Joseph’s direction, grain had been saved from the seven good years to carry the kingdom through the famine.

The famine also affected Canaan. Jacob sends his sons to buy food in Egypt, but he keeps his beloved Benjamin with him, for he fears for his safety. The brothers arrive in Egypt.  They come before the powerful man who is in charge of selling the grain. Joseph recognizes them, but they have no idea who he is.

Joseph accuses them of spying. The brothers tell him their family story. They tell about their old father, who is waiting at home with their youngest brother. They tell how another brother was killed years ago.
Joseph nearly breaks into tears in front of them. He puts them in prison. Three days later, he tells them that they can have grain if they will leave one brother as a hostage and bring their youngest brother back to Egypt.

The brothers are scared, and they speak in their own language, thinking no one can understand them, since Joseph has spoken to them through an interpreter. Of course, Joseph understands every word. The brothers are saying that none of this would have happened if they had not sold Joseph into slavery. Again, he has trouble not bursting into tears.

Simeon remains as hostage, Joseph instructs his steward to place the money that the brothers have brought to pay for the grain on top of their packs. At their first stop, they find the money. This puzzles them. When they get home, they tell Jacob the whole story.

The famine continues, and now they have to return to Egypt with Benjamin. Once again, they meet with the governor. They have brought back the money that was left in their packs plus additional funds to buy more food. They have also brought a small present from their father.

This time, the governor, Joseph, invites them to a meal at his home. They introduce Joseph to Benjamin and give him their gift. Joseph has to leave to collect himself. At the meal, the brothers notice that they are seated in order of their ages. Also, Benjamin gets an especially large portion.

They set off for home, but Joseph has set a trap, He has instructed his steward to place Joseph’s cup in Benjamin’s pack. The steward catches up with the brothers, accuses them of stealing his master’s cup, and finds the cup in Benjamin’s pack. They all go back to appear before Joseph. He says that Benjamin must stay. Judah offers to stay instead. He explains the whole story to Joseph, emphasizing that, if Benjamin does not go home, it will kill Jacob.

Now Joseph begins to break down. He tells them that he is their long-lost brother. He tells them not to be distressed or angry with themselves for selling him into slavery. He says, “God sent me before you to preserve life.” He tells them to go home and bring back their father and the whole family, and they will live in peace under his protection and will have plenty to eat. The brothers go back to Canaan and tell Jacob this tale of incredibly rich blessing. Jacob can’t wait to go to Egypt and see Joseph and Benjamin again.

What a beautiful story! Herbert O’Driscoll writes of the tale of Joseph, “One of the loveliest things in life is to encounter a person who has every reason for being bitter and vengeful, but who refuses to be either. Instead, they remain generous, forgiving, accepting.” Joseph refuses to hang on to any resentment about what his brothers did. He and God have worked it out.

Paul, a Roman citizen, a Jew, a Pharisee who now follows Jesus with all his heart and soul and mind and strength, makes it clear that he knows that God does not reject his people just because they are not following Christ.

In the gospel, Jesus tells us that it is more important to pay attention to what goes out of our body than what goes into out body. Dietary laws are not as important as the attitudes with which we speak.  Are we speaking love and peace, or are we speaking hatred, dishonesty, and other negative thoughts and feelings?

Jesus meets a Canaanite woman. Her daughter is ill. She needs help. Jesus at this point is misunderstanding the scope of his ministry. He thinks he can help only the Jewish people. She begs him. He gives a distinctly unloving answer: “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She is not deflected from her mission.  She refuses to be excluded. “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.” Coolly, calmly, with laser focus, she becomes the agent through whom Jesus realizes his ministry is to all people. “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Jesus is fully human as well as fully divine. He thinks his ministry is limited. This Canaanite woman is not one of God’s chosen people. He should not even be speaking to her. She is a woman and she is not a Jew. But he does respond to her, and she becomes the teacher! And he has the humility to learn from her!

Joseph has a deep faith. He could have consumed himself in hatred of his brothers. But no, he saves his whole family. Paul knows that God loves all people. Jesus could have just walked past this woman. He didn’t. She could have been crushed by his sharp remark. She was not. He could have been too arrogant to listen to her point. He was not. She leads him into this powerful truth about his ministry. All of these wonderful holy examples, Joseph, Paul, and the Canaanite woman, show us  the kind of courage and compassion we are called to show forth in our lives and journeys. May God give us the grace to follow their example.    Amen.