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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion October 2, 2022 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion October 9, 2022 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion October 16, 2022 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…

Pentecost 7 Proper 10B July 11, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pentecost 5 Proper 8B  June 27, 2021

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27
Psalm 130
2 Corinthians 8:7-15
Mark 5:21-43

In our opening reading this Sunday, King Saul and his son Jonathan have died in battle. David offers a poetic and powerful lament for these two men. As we know, King Saul had had an illness that tormented him. The only thing that comforted the king was David playing on his lyre, sometimes called a harp. 

As his illness progressed, King Saul became convinced that David was his enemy. The king got to the point where he wanted to kill David, so David left the palace and went into hiding. Jonathan continued to be a loyal friend to David. He stayed in touch with David and warned him when Saul was looking for him to kill him. 

In this lament, David is grieving over his best friend and his greatest enemy. Yet he pays tribute to both Jonathan and Saul. “How the mighty have fallen,” he says. He celebrates the courage of Saul and Jonathan and says that they were “Beloved and lovely…swifter than eagles and stronger than lions.”

David was far from perfect, but, at a time of great sadness, he was able to pay tribute to both Saul and Jonathan, people with whom he had extremely complicated relationships. Perhaps the most important theme of this passage is the tragedy of war.

In our second reading for today, Paul is encouraging the congregation in Corinth to follow through on their promise to raise funds to help the poor people in the Church in Jerusalem. The Corinthians have many gifts and much wealth, and Paul encourages them to share their material gifts with the people of Jerusalem. The members of the church in Corinth were Gentiles, and those in Jerusalem were Jewish. Paul is calling them and us to reach out beyond barriers of race and class to help our brothers and sisters.

In our gospel for today, Mark does one of his sandwich stories. He starts out by  telling us about Jairus and his daughter and then interrupts the story right in the middle to tell another story.

Jesus and his closest followers get into a  boat and cross to the Jewish side of the Sea of Galilee. A huge crowd gathers. One of the leaders of the synagogue, Jairus, comes up to Jesus. We can be sure that Jairus knows that the authorities in Jerusalem are keeping a close eye on Jesus and trying to find a reason to put him in prison or worse.

When your child is ill, you do anything you need to do to save that child. Jairus puts his own life in danger. He falls to his knees and begs Jesus to come and heal his daughter. He has heard about Jesus, and he has complete faith that our Lord can heal his child. Jesus goes with him.

We remember that there is a huge crowd pressing in on Jesus. They want to get close to him. There is a woman in this crowd. On the social status scale, she is as far from Jairus as anyone can get. She is a woman, and in that society, women are considered as chattel, property. A complimentary way to think of a woman in that culture is that she is the equivalent of a prize cow. She is an object, a possession. In addition to that, she has had a hemorrhage for twelve years. This makes her ritually unclean according to the law. She is supposed to stay away from people. Rabbis, and Jesus is a rabbi. are not supposed to be anywhere near a woman, especially a woman who is unclean. Like Jairus, this woman, who is not named, is desperate. She has spent all the money she had going to doctors and they have done nothing to help her.  She is feeing even worse. She has heard about Jesus, and she believes in him with all her heart. She comes up behind him in the press of the crowd and touches his cloak, She completely believes that touch will heal her. The hemorrhage stops in that instant. Relief flows into her.

But Jesus has felt power going out of him. He asks, “Who touched my clothes?” The woman is filled with fear.  She could try to run away. She could attempt to disappear into the crowd. But she does not. She feels the love flowing from Jesus, a love that changes her life then and there. She is still afraid, but she kneels before him, as Jairus did, and tells him the whole truth. And what does Jesus do? Punish her? Yell at her? No. He says, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease.”

Now, some people come and tell Jairus that his daughter has died. Jairus’ heart sinks. But Jesus tells him, “Do not fear, only believe.” Jesus takes Peter, James, and John, his closest disciples, and they go with Jairus to his house. Jesus goes into the house and finds a group of people weeping and wailing. He puts them outside. He creates a place of quiet and healing. Then he takes the child’s parents and they go into her room. He takes the girl by the hand and says, “Little girl, get up!” And she gets up and walks around. And then he tells them to give her something to eat. Jesus is always practical, always down to earth. This girl is alive! She needs nourishment.

Jairus and the unnamed woman are on opposite ends of the social scale. Our Lord treats them with the same infinite level of love and respect for their dignity. He knows how they feel. They are both at the end of their tethers. They are willing to risk anything. He gives them his complete focus and energy. He is there for them. He knows their anguish and desperation. He senses the depth of their faith. A woman is healed from something that made her unclean, unacceptable. A twelve year old girl has another chance at life. Our Lord can take us by the hand and give us a new lease on life. God can heal us of things that separate us from others. God can lead us from death to life.

The ministry of healing is a powerful thing, In many and different ways, all of you are involved in ministries of healing, whether it be caring for animals, feeding others, listening to others and sharing God’s love, making prayer shawls, so many ways of sharing God’s healing with others. May our loving and healing God continue to bless you in these ministries.

“Do not fear, only believe,” our Lord tells us. Loving and gracious and healing God, strengthen our faith. In Jesus Name, Amen.

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.

Advent 2A December 8, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pentecost 13 Proper 15B RCL August 19, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pentecost 12 Proper 14B RCL August 12, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pentecost 11 Proper 13B RCL August 5, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pentecost 10 Proper 12B RCL July 29, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pentecost 9 Proper 11B RCL July 22, 2019

2 Samuel 7:1-14a
Psalm 89:20-37
Ephesians 2:11-22
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

In our opening reading, King David is now settled in his house, and the land is at peace. David wants to build a house for the Lord, a place for the ark of the covenant. He consults the prophet Nathan, and Nathan thinks this is a good idea. After all, isn’t it a wonderful thing to design and construct a beautiful building to be a special place where God is present, a place where we can pray and give praise to God?

But God speaks to Nathan and says that it is not the time for David to do this. Indeed, King Solomon, David’s wise son, will build the great temple in Jerusalem.

Sometimes we want to do a good and wonderful thing, but it is not God’s will for us to do this. We consult trusted advisors, as David did. But then God lets us know that this simply is not the time, or this particular thing is not something God has called us to do.

As we think about our epistle for today, we remember that Paul, or his disciple, is writing to Gentile Christians in Asia Minor, what we now call Turkey. In the early Church, perhaps the greatest controversy was the debate concerning the issue of Gentiles coming into the new faith.

In the beginning, Peter felt that Gentiles must be circumcised and follow the Jewish law, including the dietary laws. Then he had his vision of all the foods coming down from heaven, including food forbidden by the law, and God telling him to eat these foods. He then realized that all people, including Gentiles, were called to full membership in the Church. This issue was finally resolved at the Council of Jerusalem.

Paul became the apostle to the Gentiles. Although he was a devout Pharisee, he quickly realized that Christ had fulfilled and transcended the law. Gentiles joining the new faith did not need to be circumcised or follow the law to the letter, but we are all called to follow the spirit of the law.

Paul realized that, while this controversy was going on, Gentiles coming into the Church felt like second-class citizens. Now he is making it abundantly clear that Christ has made all of us one in him. Paul says, “Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near….” Paul tells us that Christ has dissolved all barriers between us.

We are still working out the implications of this. Although our Lord has broken through all barriers, it is taking us much time and struggle to realize that all human beings are full members of the Body of Christ.

In our gospel for today, the apostles return from their missionary journey and tell Jesus about all the wonderful things that have happened. They go off to a quiet place to be with God and each other in prayer and peace. Then they get back into the boat, cross the Sea of Galilee, and go ashore only to find a huge crowd waiting for them. The designers of the lectionary want to emphasize the huge need the people had for healing and hope.

Verses 35 through 52 are omitted from this reading. They tell us about the feeding of the five thousand.

Then Jesus and his disciples cross the Lake again and go ashore only to find that people are rushing to bring their loved ones on mats so that Jesus can heal them. This gospel reading eloquently describes the hunger people had for Jesus and the deep need they felt for his healing. Today, people still need Jesus’ healing.

As Jesus goes ashore for the first time in our gospel for today, the text says “   He had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.”

We do not have Jesus present with us in person to teach us many things. In fact, we are his risen body called to teach and heal on his behalf. Sometimes we may wish he were here so that we could turn to him and ask him questions. Indeed, he is here among us now.

People in our world and in our neighborhood may well feel like sheep without a shepherd, and our Lord is calling us to minister to these people. Even we may feel like sheep without a shepherd. On an ecclesiastical, earthly level, we do have a shepherd, and that is our Bishop. Our ultimate shepherd is Jesus.

This past Tuesday, Bishop Tom and I visited Nat and Nini. We were discussing what we can do to make the world a better place. Bishop Tom remarked that we live in a world where many people do not have enough to eat, and that, until everyone does have enough food, feeding people is a very high priority. He commended the ministry of the Sheldon Food Shelf. Thank you all for your support of the food shelf, and many other ministries, and for all the ways in which you share Christ’s love and care with others every day of your lives.

As we discussed the challenges that face the Church, Bishop Tom said that here in Vermont, and this is a paraphrase, there are two things that stand out to him. Vermont is a place where the Church has great vitality, and he pointed to Grace as an example of that. At the same time, here in the Church in Vermont, there is a certain fragility, and  he said that we need to be careful not to let the sense of fragility divert us from the vitality.

One of my spiritual guides, Sister Claire Boissy of the Sisters of Mercy, would often say, “Go where the life is.” A young leader in our Church recently said, “We don’t have to invent the wheel; we have the wheel.” The scriptures, sacraments, and teaching of the Church are the wheel. Christ is alive among us and in us. Grace is a place of life.

Let us focus on the vitality and where that leads us with the help of the Spirit. Let us also keep a careful eye on the fragility. We can be grateful that Grace has been a good steward of its building and financial gifts. And then again, let us focus on the vitality. That is where the life is, and Christ is in our midst.  Amen.

 

Pentecost 8 Proper 10 B RCL     July 15, 2018

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

Our first reading is full of joy at the gifts of God. David has defeated the Philistines, something that King Saul was never able to do. God’s people are now united under one king. David is going to move the ark to Jerusalem, which he has just conquered. Jerusalem will now be the civil and religious capital of the new kingdom. David and an army of thirty thousand men are going to get the ark of God, which had led the people out of slavery in Egypt, had resided at the temple in Shiloh, and then had been placed at the home of Abinadab, a short distance from Jerusalem.

Scholars tell us that we have no way of knowing what the ark had looked like or exactly what was inside the ark. But for God’s people, it symbolized the presence and power of God. Clearly, it was large and heavy enough to require a cart. David and all the people dance with joy at this celebration of the presence of God.

David wears the ephod, a priestly garment. He makes a sacrifice to the Lord. The people place the ark inside the tent which David has made. All of this is a solemn liturgical action. David then blesses the people and distributes the food of the offering to all the people. All of this reminds us of the Eucharist and the feeding of the huge crowds by our Lord.

The rule of David, the shepherd-king, will be rooted and grounded in God, and this is something to be celebrated by all the people.

Our first reading reminds us that there is great joy in our faith in God, and our epistle builds upon that thought. The Letter to the Ephesians was probably written by a disciple of Paul, and it was a kind of newsletter addressed to the many Gentile congregations in Asia Minor.

This inspiring letter tells us that, before time began, God chose us to be God’s children. God has poured out grace upon us and has given us the gift of forgiveness and newness of life in Christ. We have been made part of the living body of Christ on the earth, and we are working with our Lord, in the power of the Spirit, to build his kingdom. These are gifts we have received from our loving and generous God, and we could spend the rest of our lives dancing with joy in gratitude for God’s many gifts to us.

Our first two readings are filled with joy, but our gospel for today seems full of darkness. Jesus and his disciples have been going around the countryside healing people and teaching about the love of God.  Jesus has just sent the disciples out to teach and preach and heal people. King Herod Antipas thinks that Jesus is John the Baptist resurrected.

It is a grisly story, and we actually have a flashback here.  Herod married his brother Philip’s wife, which was against the law. He was able to do such an awful thing because he was the ruler and no one would dare to try to stop him or even confront him.

Herod Antipas, like his father before him and descendants after him, had no respect for the law and used his power to do whatever he felt was necessary to preserve his position. Very few people would have the courage to challenge such a ruthless leader. But John the Baptist told him that what he had done was wrong. Herod had John thrown in prison, but there was something about John that drew Herod to him. Herod would talk with John from time to time. He respected John. Deep down, he knew John the Baptist was right.

We all know the story. Contrary to what Hollywood has told us, there is no Salome in this story. There is a Salome in some accounts of the resurrection, but that’s a different person.

Herodias comes in and dances. Herod is probably quite drunk, so his judgment is impaired, but he promises her anything she wants. She consults her mother, who hates John the Baptist for telling the truth, and the next scene in this horrific tragedy is the gruesome appearance of John the Baptist’s head on a platter.  Herod does not feel good about this but he gave his word, and, probably more importantly, what would all these guests think if he goes back on his ill-advised promise? John’s disciples come and give him a decent burial.

If we look at the actual text, there is a pause of several lines. We come back to the present after that flashback to the death of John the Baptist.  We remember that Jesus has sent his disciples out to share God’s love forgiveness, and healing. The disciples return from their mission trip and tell Jesus about all the healings they have done and all the wonderful gifts God has given people. Then they are surrounded by a huge crowd of people hungry to hear Jesus’ message. Night is coming, and you know this story, too. More than five thousand people are fed, and there are plenty of leftovers.

Then and now, it is a dangerous thing to speak truth to power. John the Baptist and Jesus paid the ultimate price. Many others, following in their footsteps, have also paid that price. But make no mistake: God’s love, as shown forth on the Cross, is the most powerful force in the world. Love is stronger than hate. Love is stronger than fear. God’s kingdom is growing, and God is calling us to help to build it. Now, as always, the followers of Jesus have, as our baptismal covenant says, “the gift of joy and wonder in all [God’s] works,” just as David and the people of God had great joy in God’s presence so many years ago, just as Paul and his followers had deep joy in God’s grace as the followers of Jesus were building new communities of faith.

I close with a prayer which was given to me by my sister in Christ, Sara. It is by William Sloane Coffin. “May God give us grace never to sell ourselves short, grace to risk something big for something good, and grace to remember that the world is now too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love.  Amen.”