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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion June 4, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.comTime:  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 June 11, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.comTime:  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 June 18, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.comTime:  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:…

Lent 1 Year B February 21, 2021

Genesis 9:8-17
Psalm 25:1-9
1 Peter 3:18-22
Mark 1:9-15

We all remember the story of the Flood which precedes our reading for today from the Book of Genesis. That story, which comes from an ancient Babylonian epic, says that people were becoming so sinful that there were only eight good people on earth, Noah and his family. God told Noah to build an ark and fill it with two of every animal, and then God made a flood that covered the earth and drowned everyone except Noah and his family.

Scholars tell us that the first part of the Noah story was written by a different person or persons than the part we are reading today. These learned people tell us that the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch or Torah, were written by four different people, or groups of people, at four different times in history. The first writer is called J, the Jahwist, because he or she called God Jahweh. J was working around 900-950 B.C.E. The second writer is known as E, the Elohist,  because this writer called God Elohim, meaning Lord. The third, called D or the Deuteronomist, worked around 620 B.C.E. during the reign of King Josiah, and the fourth writer was called P or the Priestly writer. This person or group of people was at work during and after the exile, around 587-539 B.C.E.

The Jahwist writer, J, writing around three thousand years ago, gave us an anthropomorphic view of God. God was like a human being. In the view of the Jahwist writer, people are sinning, God gets angry, God causes a flood and drowns all the sinners and saves the eight people who are good.

Our passage today was written by the PrIestly writer, who has a far less primitive understanding of who God is. Walter Brueggemann tells us that the bow which God hangs in the sky is the bow used for warfare. God is hanging up this weapon and declaring that God will protect the creation and all that is in it. Brueggemann writes, “That the bow is suspended in the sky means that God has made a gesture of disarmament, has hung up the primary weapon, and now has no intention of being an aggressor or adversary. That is, the demobilized weapon of God is a  gesture of peace and reconciliation. God intends to be ‘at peace’ with God’s world, recalcitrant though it has been.”

(Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching Year B, p. 193. 

Brueggemann tells us that this view of God’s compassion comes from the experience of the exile, and that this text was first written and read during the exile. He says that the exile “was the quintessential disruption in the life of ancient Israel. “ He continues, “Thus it is plausible to see that the exile is the historical experience of chaos narrated through the Flood.” (Brueggemann, Ibid,. p. 192.) Writing 500 years after the Jahwist writer, the Priestly writer and his community have a much deeper sense of the compassion of God.

In our gospel, Jesus comes to be baptized by John in the river Jordan and the voice of God comes from heaven, saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Jesus then goes into the wilderness to be tempted, and the angels take care of him. John is arrested, but that does not deter Jesus. He goes through Galilee proclaiming the good news and telling the people, “The kingdom of God has come near.” In some translations, he says, “The kingdom of God is within you.”

Over the centuries, our understanding of God has grown. The Jahwist writer portrays God as someone who would flood the earth to kill sinners. About five hundred years later, the Priestly writer has realized that God wants to protect us and the creation. Jesus, God walking the face of the earth, comes to be with us, tells us that his shalom is within us, goes through forty days of struggle with the forces of darkness, and emerges faithful to God and the Way of Love, showing us that we can do the same. God has become one of us.

Sometime during this pandemic, with my Covid brain I don’t know exactly when, I was driving home. I have been driving as little as possible, so it was some form of essential trip. The important thing is that I saw a rainbow, It wasn’t the most dramatic rainbow I have ever seen, but there it was, in the midst of this pandemic, shining forth the promise of God’s shalom. Usually, when a rainbow appears, especially on the Interstate,  everybody pulls over to the side of the road. I think we all know what it means, no matter what our religion or lack thereof. This wasn’t the aInterstate and there was not enough space to pull over, so I kept on going, and the rainbow faded quite quickly. But however brief it was, I saw it as a clear sign of blessing and peace from our loving God.

It was that experience with the gift of the rainbow that drew me to focus on the reading from Genesis about God’s promise to Noah and to all of us.

But our dear brother in Christ, the highly respected, even revered scholar of the Hebrew Scriptures, Walter Brueggemann, has opened up for us a connection we should not ignore. Twenty-five hundred years ago, the Priestly writer or group, having lived through the exile, could tell us that God made a covenant with all of us that God would never again flood the earth, that God is a God of peace, God loves us and the creation, and God is calling us to cherish the creation and  each other.

And to top it all off, our gospel tells us that Jesus, the One we are following, God walking the face of the earth, was tempted as we are and fought and prayed and asked God for help just as we do, and gave us a living example and experience of our God who loves us and the whole creation and everyone and everything in it. God hangs up the bow as a reminder that our loving God calls us be people of peace and reconciliation. And God will die on a cross to make that call as clear as possible.

God’s people learned all this through their exile in Babylon. May our awareness of God’s compassion grow deeper and stronger during our Lenten exile in the wilderness of Covid-19.  Amen.

Pentecost 15 Proper 20C September 22, 2019

Jeremiah 8:18—9:1
Psalm 79:1-9
1 Timothy 2:1-7
Luke 16:1-13

In our opening reading from the prophet Jeremiah, God’s people have reached a low point in their corporate life. Earlier in Jeremiah’s ministry, King Josiah had put into place reforms that brought a new life and breath into the society.  The king encouraged his people to return to sincere faith and worship and to follow the law faithfully.

But Josiah was killed in battle. His son Jehoiakim had become king, and all the progress had been unraveled. There was little justice in the land. The clergy were not preaching God’s truth. The rich were growing more and more wealthy, and the poor were barely surviving.  Jeremiah’s lament is also God’s lament for the people.

Our gospel for today raises more questions than answers. Why does the rich man believe the charges he hears against his manager? Why doesn’t the landowner investigate the charges? Why does he simply fire the steward on the basis of these charges without giving him a chance to explain? Most of all, why does the master praise the shrewdness of the manager he has fired? Is Jesus trying to tell us that we should be shrewd? That’s strange, because shrewdness isn’t listed among the great Christian virtues.

Scholars remind us that the rich man was very rich. R. Alan Culpepper notes that, though our translation mentions “a hundred jugs of olive oil; the actual measure was 100 baths of olive oil, which would equal nine hundred gallons. Culpepper says that in this parable we are dealing with “large commercial interests.” (New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX, p. 308.) Other scholars point out that landowners were typically extremely wealthy while the tenant farmers who raised the crops had to pay exorbitant commissions to the landowners plus extremely high taxes to the Roman authorities.

In reducing the debts of the tenant farmers, the manager is in a sense leveling the financial playing field by increasing the income of the tenant farmers and decreasing the income of the already wealthy landowner. Sharon Ringe says that the original title of the manager in Greek is “manager of injustice,” and that in redistributing wealth the manager is doing justice.

 Ringe writes, “For the disciples, this provides a ‘management model’ for their own role as leaders….instead of urging upon them a lifestyle or even an ideal of poverty,…it challenges them to manage wealth in the direction of justice. In the process, they will be creating new communities and relationships that will allow their mission to go forward and that will support the enjoyment of abundant life by all people.” (Ringe, Westminster Bible Companion: Luke, p. 214.)

Herbert O’Driscoll also has a very interesting interpretation of this parable. He points out that in Galilee at the time of Jesus, there were many large estates often owned by absentee landlords and managed by stewards. He says that we humans are realizing that we haven’t been very good stewards of God’s creation. Like the manager, we are facing a crisis because of our poor stewardship of God’s creation. The worldwide climate strike emphasizes the immediacy of this crisis.

O’Driscoll points out that we, like the manager, are asking what we can do? Bill McKibben has an article in the current Time magazine in which he envisions looking back from the year 2050 and describes what we did to save the earth.

The manager in the parable asks the tenant farmers how much they owe the master. And they give their answers. O’Driscoll writes, “This is exactly the question being asked of all sorts of huge enterprises today. It is a very tough and unpopular question that no one wants to hear. But answers must be found. New attitudes have to be adopted, compromises made, profits reduced. The consequences are enormous.” (O’Driscoll, The Word among Us Year C, Vol, 3, p. 115. 

The point is that the manager acted quickly. True, he was acting in his own interest. But we, too, will be acting in our own interest as we take the actions necessary to create the just and loving shalom of God and to save our planet. It is not so much the shrewdness as the ability to take action that is being praised.

What actions is God calling us to take in order to be good stewards of our planet? What actions is God calling us to take in order to create a more just society?

There are two statements in this passage that we can easily imagine our Lord as saying. “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much.” We know that is true. Our faithfulness in small tasks prepares us for being faithful servants when the big decisions and the major tasks come along.

And finally, No one can serve two masters. We cannot serve God and wealth. Wealth is not in itself a bad thing. We are called to be wise stewards of the wealth entrusted to us. We are called to share the wealth and the gifts given to us by God. But God must always come first. If we let Mammon be our god, if we allow anything to take the place of God, we will not be following the way our Good Shepherd would lead us, and we pray that, if that happens, we will listen to the voice of God calling us back.

As Paul or his faithful disciple says, “For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all.”

May our loving God help us to “love things heavenly,” to “hold fast to the things that shall endure,” and to act decisively to be responsible stewards of God’s creation and to help God to build God’s shalom of justice and peace.  Amen.

Advent 3C RCL December 13, 2015

Zephaniah 3:14-20
Canticle 9
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:7-18

Our opening reading today is from the prophet Zephaniah. Scholars tell us that he was probably a descendant of King Hezekiah, who was one of the most highly respected kings of Judah. Zephaniah’s ministry took place during the reign of King Josiah, from 640 B. C. to 609 B. C.

Josiah was another one of Judah’s great kings. In 621 B.C., a book of the law was found in the temple, and Josiah led the people in great reforms. The period preceding his reign had been marked by corruption in public and private life, and by the worship of false gods.

Josiah brought the people back to following God’s law.

The theme of our reading is that God will bring comfort to those who repent and make the changes necessary to serve God faithfully.

Our epistle today is short but powerful.  Paul is writing from prison. He is writing to a beloved congregation which is suffering persecution. Yet he can encourage us to “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice!”

That is why this Sunday is called Laudate Sunday. Laudate is the Latin for “rejoice!” We also have lighted the rose candle today. This candle symbolizes joy and also reminds us of Mary, the mother of Christ.

So here is St. Paul, writing from prison, encouraging us to rejoice. Epaphroditus, a man from the congregation in Philippi, has just made a visit to Paul, a visit during which Epaphroditus fell ill. Now he is well and is returning to his home congregation. He has brought gifts and support from the Philippians to Paul. Even as they are facing persecution, they reach out to him and support him. Even as he is in prison, he tells them to rejoice. He has been through every trial that one could imagine, including arrest and threats to his life. From that cauldron of challenge and threat and adversity he writes to share his God-given strength and faith with them. What does he say?  Here they are facing adversity, possibly death. And Paul says, “Let your gentleness be known to everyone.” Gentleness is not weakness. Gentleness does not mean that we are wimpy. It does not mean that we fail to take care of ourselves. Compassion is the true strength. One observer of the early Church said, “See these Christians, how they love one another.”

Paul says, “The Lord is near.” This can mean at least two things. One, Christ is coming to complete and heal the creation and make it whole. Two, Christ is right beside you. Christ is in our midst. Do not worry about anything. Someone has said that ninety-nine percent of the things we worry about never happen. Whenever we begin to worry, we need to stop that thought and begin to pray. Let us tell God what we are concerned about and thank God for being near so that we can ask for help. And the peace from God will guard us and keep us in a state of faith and hope and cooperation with God. This is a wonderful passage.

In our gospel, once again we encounter John the Baptist. He is telling us that we all need to examine our consciences and make the changes that are necessary to bring us into harmony with God. John is not vague. People ask him what they should do, and he tells us. Share with others, Help those who have little or nothing. Be honest. Live your lives with integrity. Don’t abuse power. Don’t be a bully.

But then he says the thing that makes him such a towering example. John is such a holy example that people think he is the Messiah. So he tells them, “Someone is coming, and I am not worthy to untie his shoe. I baptize with water to help you cleanse yourselves and prepare, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

John knows exactly who he is. He is not the messiah. He is very famous and he draws huge crowds, but he is not the messiah. And he knows that. He is not tempted to go for the fame and glory and power. He is not going to try to compete with Jesus. He is going to prepare the way.

Part of the work of Advent is for us to realize exactly who we are. We are all children of God, and this is one of the reasons that we can rejoice.

How can Paul write from prison to a congregation facing persecution and tell them to rejoice, let their gentleness be known to everyone, and not to worry? Because “The peace of Christ, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Because we have our Good Shepherd leading us into his peace and his victory, and because we are following him, we can actually stop worrying, trust him, and abide in his peace. In other words, we can turn our worrying into praying and trust that God is working to make all things right.

There is much to be concerned about in our world today, and each of us has personal concerns for family members and other people we love. We all have many things that we can worry about. I am not suggesting that we should all become complacent. What I am suggesting is that, when we begin to worry or fret, that we immediately pray about that matter, whatever it may be, and put it into God’s hands. If we start to worry about it again, we give it to God again. We may have to do this hundreds of times a day. But gradually God will work with that issue and we will be changed.

One way to do this is to say something like, “Dear Lord, I’m worrying about that again. It’s too big for me to handle. I offer it to you, I put it in your hands. Your will be done. Amen.

That is how Paul can say, “Do not worry about anything.” Because God calls us to turn our worries into prayers. May we trust God in all things. May our prayers increase our trust and faith in God.  Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice.  Amen.