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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion March 26, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
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Christ the King Year A November 22, 2020

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Psalm 100
Ephesians 1:15-23
Matthew 25:31-46

Our opening reading today takes us back to the time of the Babylonian Exile. Twenty-six hundred years ago (597 B.C.E.) the powerful Babylonian Empire conquered Jerusalem and sent God’s people into exile in Babylon. Eleven years later, (586 B.C.E), the Babylonians returned, destroyed the temple, and leveled many of the surrounding buildings.

Ezekiel, a priest, had been in Babylon with the people for about eleven years. The destruction of the temple was one of the most tragic points in the history of God’s people. It was heartbreaking.

We have often reflected on how the history of God’s people as revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures reflects on and parallels our own history. As we read about this low point in their life together, we here in Vermont are losing our battle with Covid-19. Once again I thank God for Governor Scott and Dr. Levine, who had to stand before us this week and let us know that the positivity rate is up to two percent, hospitalizations are rising, and we need to reverse this trend. The reason these numbers are rising is that folks are getting together socially, eating, drinking, and enjoying each others’ company without wearing masks or social distancing. Our governor said that he hasn’t seen his mother in a year. As a good leader, he understands how we all feel. As he encouraged us to wear masks and do all the other things that we know stop the virus from spreading, Governor Scott acknowledged that he cannot make people follow the guidance from our medical experts.

He spoke with courage and sincerity to those who refuse to follow the guidance, and I quote him. Don’t call it patriotic. Don’t pretend it’s about freedom. Because real patriots serve and sacrifice for all, whether they agree with them or not. Patriots also stand up and fight when our nation’s health and security is threatened. And right now, our country and way of life is being attacked by this virus, not by the  protections we put in place.” (Gov. Phil Scott, Press Briefing, Tuesday, November 17, 2020.)

This Corona Virus is killing as many people as an invading army. We heard this week that we have exceeded the number of deaths we suffered in World War II. In may ways, we can identify with our spiritual ancestors in Babylon. The Babylonian Exile is an excellent metaphor for this pandemic. In this dark moment, in this time of utter discouragement, God puts God’s words in the mouth of Ezekiel. God is going to be a good shepherd to God’s people. God is going to feed them and take care of them. God is going to  bring God’s people back together and bring them home. And God has a special word for leaders who have been abusive to the people. God will stop them from misusing their power. God directly addresses those who “pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted all the weak animals with [their] horns.” God will feed them with justice. God will set things right. God will bring the people a wise and compassionate leader like King David. As Christians, we immediately think of our King, Jesus. In these dark days of increasing positivity rates, we have  compassionate leaders in Governor Scott and his team. May we all follow their directions.

In our gospel for today, we have the blueprint for why we all gathered together and built a new building for the food shelf and why our wonderful volunteers gather six days a week to minister to our neighbors who are suffering from this pandemic. People have lost their jobs. Unemployment benefits have run out.  Extensions have expired, and there is no help forthcoming. People who have never been to the food shelf find that they have to come for help.

Our Lord tells us that when we give food to those who are hungry, we are feeding him. When we give water to the thirsty, or welcome to the stranger, or clothing to those who need it, we give those things to Jesus. When we take care of those who are sick or visit those who are in prison, we are doing that to him. We are the hands of Christ reaching out in love to help others. And every person we meet is an alter Christus, an other Christ. There is a spark of the divine in every person. Our Lord is telling us to see every person we meet as Himself, as Christ.

Christ is our King, but a very different kind of king. He eats with the lowest of the low. He loves the people nobody loves. In his kingdom, everybody is infinitely precious. Everybody is loved. This is God’s shalom.

Our retired Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori writes: 

That word “shalom” is usually translated as “peace,’ but it’s a far richer and deeper understanding of peace than we usually recognize. …It isn’t just telling two arguers to get over their differences.

Shalom is a vision of the city of God on earth, a community where people are at peace with each other because each one has enough to eat, adequate shelter, medical care, and meaningful work. Shalom is a city where justice is the rule of the day, where prejudice has vanished, where the diverse gifts  with which we have been so abundantly blessed are equally valued.  (Jefferts Schori, A Wing and A Prayer, p. 33.)

Today we celebrate Christ the King and we also celebrate Thanksgiving. Paul writes to the Ephesians, “I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.” He prays for them and us that  “eyes of our hearts may be enlightened.” What a great metaphor, Paul is praying that the light of Christ’s love may come into our hearts and lives and lift our hearts and spirits so that our hearts and lives may become full of light and love, and that we may be filled with hope. I think that lifting of our hearts is like the hope that came to God’s people 2,500 years ago as they faced the destruction of their beloved temple, the center of their worship. They believed that God dwelled in the temple, and they came to realize that God was in their midst. God gave them the hope and determination to return and rebuild.

We have so much to be thankful for, The attitude of gratitude is a very powerful thing. It is a power for good. In these dark days of Covid, our own exile from Holy Eucharist, our Exile from our beloved church building, our Good Shepherd is here in our midst. We thank you for your presence, O Lord, and we thank you for leading us and guiding us. We will celebrate Thanksgiving, with your help. We will help and feed our neighbors. We will, with your grace, help you build your shalom.

Here, in these darkest days of the pandemic, give us the grace to get back on track. Our own governor has had to remind us that not wearing a mask is not patriotic. Send your love among us, O Lord, that we may love you and love each other, that we may take care of each other, as you our Good Shepherd, take care of your flock. Amen.

Pentecost 7 Proper 12C July 28, 2019

Hosea 1:2-10
Psalm 85
Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19)
Luke 11:1-13

In our opening reading, we meet the prophet Hosea, whose ministry in the Northern Kingdom followed that of Amos. Hosea was married to a woman who was unfaithful. We do not know the details of how this happened. What we do know is that Hosea compared his experience of living with an unfaithful spouse to God’s experience with the unfaithful people of the Northern kingdom.

United Methodist Bishop William Willimon writes, “…Hosea—through vivid, striking, even offensive metaphors—reveals the heart of a God who passionately loves, forgives, seeks, finds, wants, pleads, and saves.” (Willimon, Feasting on the Word, Year C, vol. 3, p. 272.)

Hosea makes it clear that God cares deeply about us; God is not a distant observer. God is deeply involved in our lives and wants us to have lives of wholeness rather than brokenness. 

In our reading from the Letter to the Colossians, we read that we are part of the Body of Christ, that we are knit together, we are intimately connected,  with our Lord and with each other. Because of this we are called to “abound in thanksgiving.” Gratitude is a powerful force for good. We have so much to be thankful for. This passage tells us that in Christ. “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” This means that we can look at the life and ministry of our Lord and see what God would do if God were to come to earth.

Jesus is God walking the face of the earth. As we look at his life, we have a living example of how to conduct our lives. The text says that our Lord has “made us alive together with him.” Jesus has given us new life, life rooted and grounded in a fullness and joy which we could not know without him. Our Lord has made us one with him and with each other. He has made us a part of himself. We are members of his living Body, the Church.

In our gospel, Jesus and the disciples are on their way to Jerusalem. They have just ended their visit with Mary and Martha. As he so often did, Jesus has been praying, and one of the disciples, we do not know which one, asks, “Lord, teach us to pray.” 

Jesus says, “Father, hallowed be your name.” The word he uses is  the Aramaic word “Abba,” an intimate term for the word “Father.” He is asking us to call God “Dad” or” Daddy” or “Mom” or “Mama.” Because of God’s deep and abiding love, God has made us God’s children. We are as close to God as Jesus is, and Jesus is instructing and inviting us to address God in the most intimate, loving, family terms just as he addresses his Father in heaven.

This almost goes beyond our ability to understand. The power and depth of God’s love is beyond our imagining. It is a gift given to us and to all people. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu says, “God has a big family.”

God’s Name is holy. We pray for the coming of God’s kingdom of peace, harmony, and wholeness, God’s shalom in which, as our retired Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori has said, everyone has “enough to eat,  adequate shelter, healthcare, and meaningful work.” And, in following Jesus, we are offering ourselves to help to bring in that kingdom. In praying this prayer, we are also praying that God will forgive our sins as we forgive others when they hurt us. As God has extended compassion and forgiveness to us, so God calls us to extend that compassion to others.

“And save us from the time of trial.” Scholars tell us that the “time of trial” is a challenge beyond the temptations of daily life. Matthew Skinner writes, “Jesus asks for protection from circumstances that test or imperil faith, especially from the threat of persecution.” (Skinner, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol, 3, p. 289.)

Then our Lord tells a parable. A man has had an unexpected visitor, and he must feed his guest and give him lodging. He goes to his neighbor and asks for three loaves of bread. All of Jesus’ listeners know the rules of middle eastern hospitality. If someone knocks at your door, you have to feed them and give them lodging. If you do not have enough bread, you ask a neighbor for some bread,  and he has to give it to you. This particular neighbor at first delays but then finally gets up and gives his neighbor the bread.

God’s response to our prayers is very different from the response of this reluctant neighbor. God is always ready to respond and give us what we need. Later in Luke’s gospel, we will read of the father who is waiting in the driveway when his wayward son finally comes home. God is always there waiting for us.

In one way or another, all of these readings remind us of how much we need God. They reassure us of God’s unfailing love for us, and they invite us to remember that we are not alone. We have a loving divine parent. And we have each other. And we have that “great cloud of witnesses,” the communion of saints, members of the Body of Christ who have gone before us. They are praying for us even as we remember them and miss them and pray for them.

In this age of technology, it is easy to forget how much we need God.  It is tempting to feel that we are totally in charge and we have everything in control. In prayer, we acknowledge God’s love, grace, and forgiveness. We admit that we need God’s help, and we sincerely seek God’s guidance. Today’s readings remind us that God is always ready to listen and to respond. 

Loving God, thank you for your love, mercy, healing, and forgiveness. As we pass through things temporal, help us not to lose those things which are eternal. Lead us and guide us, O Lord. Amen.

Pentecost 18 Proper 20C RCL September 18, 2016

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

As we think about our first reading today, we recall that Jeremiah was one of the major prophets of the Old Testament. His ministry began in 627 B.C.E. during the reign of one of the greatest kings of Judah, King Josiah. Judah had long been trying to defend itself against the Assyrian Empire. In 627 B.C.E., the year Jeremiah was called to his prophetic ministry, the king of Assyria died, and Assyria became much less of a threat to Judah.

Somewhere between 622 and 620 B.C.E., as their sense of freedom returned with the lessening power of the Assyrians, the people of Judah were rebuilding the temple which had been destroyed by the Assyrians, and they found in the ruins a scroll of the law in the Book of Deuteronomy. King Josiah began a time of reform, a time of renewal of faith, of renewed commitment to God’’s law—“love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” Led by Josiah, the people rededicated themselves to life in community grounded on faith and love for God and each other.

In 609 B.C.E., King Josiah was killed in battle with the Egyptians.

It did not take long before his reforms were undone. Love of God and each other was a thing of the past. The rich got richer and the poor became poorer and poorer. The temple worship was not properly conducted. One scholar notes that the temple was the place you were supposed to be able to go and hear the truth. But the temple clergy no longer had the courage to tell the truth.

Meanwhile, the Babylonian Empire was gaining power. At the time of our reading, it was about to conquer Jerusalem. Jeremiah is in deep grief over this situation. The leaders are so corrupt and so faithless that they cannot remind the people that there is indeed a balm in Gilead that cures the sin-sick soul and that God is as close as their breath. The people think that God has abandoned them, when in fact they have drifted away from God.

Today’s gospel is one of many portions of Luke that deal with money and material goods and how to handle them in the kingdom of God. This parable is puzzling, to say the least, and scholars have many questions and disagreements about it.

Jesus has been talking to the Pharisees, but now he turns to the disciples. He tells them a parable. There is a rich man who has a manager.  Most scholars agree that the rich man is an absentee landlord who has hired a manager to collect payment from the farmers who are working the land.

Charges are brought that the manager is squandering the property of the rich man, and the rich man is going to fire the manager. We do not know exactly what the manager has been doing. We really do not know whether he has even done anything wrong. We simply do not have the details.

The manager thinks to himself. He is going to lose his job. He is too proud to beg, and he is not strong enough to do manual work, such as digging.

So he calls in the tenants. He asks the first one how much he owes. One hundred jugs of olive oil. He reduces it to fifty. Our translation reads “jugs,” but the actual measurement, one hundred baths, is an enormous amount of olive oil. R. Alan Culpepper, Dean of the School of Theology, Mercer University, Atlanta, Georgia, tells us that a bath is nine gallons, so this man owes nine hundred gallons of olive oil. He tells us that the second debtor owes one hundred kors of grain. Culpepper says that estimates of a kor range from six and a half to twelve bushels, but that the total is clearly substantial. He concludes that this landowner is dealing in “large commercial interests…and not in household quantities.” (Culpepper, New Interpreter’s Bible, p.308.)

To put it bluntly, the rich man is very, very rich.

Some scholars think that the manager is simply reducing the total amount owed by giving up his commission, but Culpepper’s view is that the manager is actually reducing the amount owed to the rich man.

Sharon Ringe, Professor of New Testament at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., agrees. She tells us that the original Greek translation of the manager’s title is “manager of injustice.” She points out that the economy of those times was an “economy of scarcity, where the quantity of wealth available is fixed. Some have more only if others have less.”  Ringe writes, “Any excessive accumulation in the hands of one (such as the “rich man”) is by definition evidence of injustice that must be redressed by that redistribution of wealth called “giving alms.” By reducing the amount owed by the (obviously poorer) debtors to the rich man, the manager is doing justice—a way of doing his job as “manager of injustice” that no longer aims at perpetuating and even adding to old inequities, but instead reflects the new ‘economy’ of which Jesus is the herald.”

Ringe continues, “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, or advice to keep themselves pure from contamination by wealth, 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 CompanionLuke, p. 214.)

Our Lord is calling us to help him create his shalom, which retired Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori describes as “a community where people are at peace with each other because each one has enough to eat, adequate shelter, medical care, and meaningful work. Shalom is a city where justice is the rule of the day.” (A Wing and a Prayer, p. 35.) Part of the work of bringing in God’s shalom is reducing the gap between the wealthy and the poor. That is what this “manager of injustice” is doing.  May we be faithful in all things, both large and small. May we love God and our neighbor.  Amen.

Advent 2A RCL December 8, 2013

Isaiah  11:1-10

Psalm 72: 1-7, 18-19

Romans 15:4-13

Matthew 3:1-12

Our beautiful and powerful reading from the prophet Isaiah describes a king who will come from the family of King David. The spirit of the Lord will rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding. He will be faithful. He will not judge by the usual human standards or by superficial means.  He will have compassion for the poor and the meek.

Then Isaiah gives us a description of God’s kingdom, God’s shalom. The entire creation is at peace—humans, animals, the earth itself. Children are safe. Everyone is safe. Not only is there no war, there is complete safety and protection for all creatures.

The shalom of God, the peace of Christ, is what we are called to help God to build here on earth. Our Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, describes shalom this way: “Shalom is a vision of the city of God on earth, a community where people are at peace with each other because each one has enough to eat, adequate shelter, medical care, and meaningful work. Shalom is a city where justice is the rule of the day. Where prejudice has vanished, where the diverse gifts with which we have been so abundantly blessed are equally valued.” (A Wing and a Prayer, p. 33.)

Isaiah writes, “They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” This is the world God is calling us to build. This is God’s vision.

Psalm 72 further describes this king. He is on the side of the little guys, the poor and those at the margins. He is compassionate and fair. Under his rule, the earth greens and blossoms and is restored.

In our reading from his Letter to the Romans, Paul is calling us to realize that Jesus is the king described by Isaiah, and that Jesus calls all people to follow him. The reading concludes with that beautiful prayer, “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.” We all know that there are many problems in this world, but we are called to be people of hope.

In our gospel, we meet John the Baptist. He is dressed like the prophet Elijah, and he eats locusts dipped in honey. Back in those days, if you wanted to be a mover and a shaker, you went to the big city, Jerusalem. That is where all the powerful people and where all the important things happened. But John the Baptist goes out into the wilderness, and the powerful people come to him. John the Baptist wants to be as far from the centers of earthly power as he can be.

He calls the people to repent. He calls us to undergo a process of transformation,  from the Greek, metanoia. He calls us to realign ourselves with God’s vision of a world of love, peace, harmony, wholeness, and compassion. He calls us to “Bear fruit worthy of repentance.” That would be the fruits of the Spirit as later described by St. Paul—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

The Pharisees and the Sadducees, the religious leaders of the time, are feeling threatened by John the Baptist. They come out to investigate him for themselves. They have a great deal of power and they are interested in protecting their turf. Their religious requirements often place burdens on the poor, and they do not respect the poor and the weak,  Their actions are often not in harmony with the values of God’s shalom. John calls them a “brood of vipers.” He speaks the truth with no trace of fear.

John the Baptist is calling us to open ourselves to God’s love and healing and align ourselves with God’s vision and values. But them he says that one is coming after him who will baptize us with the Holy Spirit. That one is, of course, Jesus.

What are these readings saying to us this morning?  Back on Trinity Sunday, we talked about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit– God the Creator, God the Redeemer, and God the Sanctifier. John Macquarrie writes that God has the vision, Jesus is the logos, the plan, the blueprint for human life, and the Holy Spirit is the one who brings about the realization of the plan,=. Te Holy Spirit is God at work in us and in the world. Jesus is our model for how to live. If we are going to follow him, we need to become more and more like him. That is where those fruits of the Spirit come in. We become more loving, more joyful, more peaceful, more patient, more kind, more generous, more faithful, more gentle, more self-controlled.

We know that’s where we want to be, and we know that there have been times when we have fallen short. We acknowledge to God those times when we have “done those things we ought not to have done and have not done those things which we ought to have done.” We ask God’s help, we count on God’s grace, we get back on track. That’s repentance and metanoia.

This internal spiritual work is going to help us to be better partners with God in building God’s kingdom, God’s shalom of peace and harmony. If we are at peace within ourselves and we have a strong partnership with our loving God, we can help to make a better world, like the world described by Isaiah.

Mary Hinkle Shore of Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota writes,  “For Christians, the One who actually comes as the clearest fulfillment of Isaiah’s word decides that the only way to get to the peaceable kingdom is to live out its meekness here and now, no matter what. He does not breathe fire on anyone. He seeks out sinners. He is himself a lamb lying down in the midst of wolves. With his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus gave us a window on the peaceable kingdom.”

Dear Lord, thank you for your love. Thank you for your grace. Help us to align ourselves with your vision and be partners with you as you build your shalom. Help us to make room for your in our hearts and our lives.     Amen.

Advent 1 Year A RCL December 1, 2013

Isaiah 2: 1-5

Psalm 122

Romans 13:11-14

Matthew 24:36-44

Happy New Year! The first Sunday of Advent is New Year’s Day in the Church calendar. We change from Eucharistic lectionary C to lectionary A. For the Daily Office, Morning and Evening Prayer, we go from lectionary year 1 to year 2. Our liturgical color changes from green, for the time after Pentecost, to purple, a symbol of royalty as we get ready to welcome our King, and a symbol of penitence, as we engage in self-examination and metanoia, conversion, getting back on track, bringing our lives into harmony with God’s vision of shalom, peace, compassion, healing, and wholeness. Finally, we light one candle on the Advent wreath as we count the days until Christmas.

Advent means “coming.” We prepare for the coming of Christ to complete the creation, to set all things right, to bring in his kingdom his shalom as described in our reading from Isaiah: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. Come let us walk in the light of the Lord.”

Advent is a time to get things in shape, to tie up loose ends. It is a good time to clean house and get rid of things we no longer need. It is a good time to make or revise wills and to talk to family members about our   funeral plans. It is a time for spiritual transformation.. As Paul says, “Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of  light.”

As our Lord makes clear, we do not need to try to figure out when he is going to come again. Our job is to be ready, to be prepared. If he were to come today, would we be ready?

Part of readiness is stewardship of the earth and of all that God has given us. Today, Beth will be sharing with us her experience of the blessings of stewardship.

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.