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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion February 5, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion February 12, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion February 19, 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:…

Ash Wednesday February 17, 2021

Isaiah 58:1-12
Psalm 103:8-14
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Ashes are a symbol of mortality. We are dust, and to dust we shall return. It is good to be reminded of our mortality and our weakness. Yet within these ashes is a paradox, because these ashes are made from the palms we waved on Palm Sunday, palms we would have placed on the road in front of our Lord to welcome him as our King. We are on a journey to grow into the likeness of Christ our King. We are on a journey to grow from brokenness to wholeness. This Ash Wednesday we will be putting the ashes on our own foreheads. We will be fasting from the sensation of having the ashes placed on our foreheads by a fellow-journeyer in Christ. Some us do not have ashes to place on our foreheads, but we can still be aware of our mortality by tracing the sign of the cross on our foreheads. All of us are here because we want to observe a holy and life-giving Lent. The word Lent, after all, comes from the Middle English word lente, meaning “spring.”

We are beginning a time of prayer, fasting, self-examination, and spiritual growth. Some of us are also participating in the Social Justice Bible Challenge and Lent Madness.

Our opening reading comes from the person we call the Third Isaiah. God’s people have come home from their exile in Babylon and have begun to rebuild the temple and the city wall. They have become discouraged at the huge task before them. They fast and pray, but they argue and treat each other badly. They oppress their workers. The summary of the law calls us to love God and to treat others as we would have then treat us. Their behavior does not match their profession of faith.

God calls them to an authentic fast that includes social justice. And God calls them and us to “Loose the bonds of injustice,…to let the oppressed go free”…to share our bread with the hungry, to give shelter to the homeless, to clothe the naked—in other words, to extend the love of God to our brothers and sisters of all colors and creeds.

In our epistle, Paul calls us to “be reconciled to God,” In order to do that, we need to take the words of God spoken through Isaiah very seriously. As Christians, we are called to love God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

In our gospel, our Lord reminds us that our spiritual growth is between us and God. We are not focusing on earthly treasure, but on the precious heavenly treasure of God’s love and grace. We are fasting, praying, and giving to deepen our love for God and others.

This year, we have been through so much with Covid and everything else. Bishop Shannon is inviting us to focus on social justice issues, and I think that is a wonderful idea. We need to heal our nation, just as Isaiah’s community needed to heal their nation twenty-five hundred years ago. God is calling us to treat each other as beloved children of our loving God.

During this liturgy for Ash Wednesday, we would normally celebrate Holy Eucharist. We will not be doing that. We have been fasting from Holy Communion for eleven months, except for one Distanced Communion. We have not been together in person inside our church building for a very long time. We have much in common with God’s people who spent several decades in exile in Babylon.

My point is that we have already been engaged in a very long fast from singing together in person, celebrating Holy Communion, talking to each other face to face, hugging each other, gathering for coffee hour and conversation in person. So, as we follow our Lenten discipline, I ask that we try to be especially aware of God’s love for us, God’s love that cannot be stopped or diminished. And then let us be aware our love for God and each other, our love for all our brothers and sisters, and let us work, fast, and pray to increase and deepen that love. Let us work and pray that we may become “repairers of the breach” and “restorers of streets to live in.” Amen.

Meditation and A Prayer of Self-Offering

We have just exchanged the Peace and sung the Offertory Hymn. As we all know, we will not be celebrating Holy Eucharist. This is a huge loss. It has been an extended exile, a wandering in the wilderness. Nothing can replace sharing Holy Eucharist. Nothing can replace greeting and hugging each other at the Peace. But rather than simply reverting to the ending for Morning Prayer to conclude the service, I wanted to acknowledge the fast we have been in and the exile we have been experiencing.

We are not able literally to stand before the altar at Grace and place bread, wine, and money on the altar, to represent our offering of our God-given time, talent and treasure to God, but, at this time of offering when we would normally move into the Eucharistic Prayer, we offer to you, our loving God, our feelings of sadness, frustration, anger, hopelessness, powerlessness, all the feelings that are welling up during this time of exile and pandemic.

Loving and forgiving and healing God, we thank you for keeping us together, for giving us strength to keep gathering virtually. Thank you for your gift of faith, for those glimmers of hope, for the gift of perseverance. Thank you for binding us together with your love.

Lord Jesus, we are not celebrating Communion, but we know that you are here with us, You told us that where two or three are gathered, you would be with us and you would hear our prayers. We cannot literally receive your Body and Blood today, but we know that you are giving us spiritual food and energy. 

We know that you are walking the Way of Love, the Way of the Cross, with us. Thank you for your presence and for your love. Thank you for the gift of your Holy Spirit leading and guiding us. Because of you, we are here. You have called us together.

With all our heart, we thank you, and we offer our selves and our lives to your service. Lead us and guide us, that we may observe a Holy Lent, that we may love and serve you with singleness of heart, and that we may share your love with others. In your Holy Name, the Name of Jesus.  Amen.

Lent 1B  February 18, 2018

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

In our opening reading for today, God makes a covenant with “every living creature.” Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann writes, “The assurance from God is not only about another flood. It is, rather, a pledge to creation by the Creator, a pledge of fidelity which will keep the world safe from every jeopardy.” (Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching Year B, p. 193.)

The sign of this covenant is the “bow.” I can’t count how many times I have been driving along and suddenly cars are pulling over to the side of the road to look at a rainbow. The rainbow is a sign of God’s grace and protection.  As partners with God in the stewardship of the creation, we are called to work with God and each other to preserve the creation.

In our gospel for today, we are present as Jesus is baptized by his cousin John. The Spirit descends on our Lord, and God identifies Jesus as the beloved in whom God is well pleased. Then the Spirit compels Jesus to go out into the wilderness. Mark does not go into the details of the temptations, but we are told that Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness tempted by Satan. The text tells us that he was with the wild beasts, and that angels waited upon him.

Matthew and Luke provide details about the actual temptations. Mark concentrates on the dangers of being out in the wilderness for forty days. In ancient times, cities and villages were protected, often by walls, and the wilderness was a place of chaos and danger. Wild animals such as wolves, bears, leopards lived in the Judean wilderness at that time, and there could be other dangers as well. Mark points out that Jesus had the protection of angels as he wrestled through the process of discerning who he was and how he would carry out his ministry.

Jesus is in the wilderness for forty days.  Forty is a highly symbolic number in the Bible. After it rained for forty days and forty nights, Noah, his family, and all the animals stayed in the ark for over a year. The people of God wandered in the wilderness for forty years. The prophet Elijah spent forty days in the wilderness after Queen Jezebel said she would have him killed.

The wilderness is also where Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist carried out his ministry. After John is arrested, Jesus comes to Galilee and begins to proclaim the Good News.

Jesus’ ministry began, continued, and ended in struggle with authorities who either could not or chose not to recognize the presence of God. He begins his ministry by saying, “…the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.” Many scholars say that the word translated as “near” could also be translated as “within you.” The kingdom of God is within you.

The First Letter of Peter was written to a community of new Christians in Asia Minor who were finding that it was not easy to follow Jesus. They were surrounded by people who did not share their faith, and they were living in a world that was suspicious of the new faith, a world that tended to persecute Christians.

During Lent, we are following in the footsteps of our Lord. As he wrestled with what God was calling him to do and how he was to do it,  we are called to take time in Lent to discern our own ministries, to acknowledge our sins and failures, to ask God’s forgiveness and grace and to allow God to help us to grow into the persons God calls us to be.

Most of us have been on this journey for quite a bit of time, so it’s more a process of steady growth than a dramatic transformation, but it’s still hard work, and we wouldn’t even be able to begin without God’s love and grace.

Our gospel and epistle for today remind us of something that I find a great comfort, and that is that Jesus went through all of this, and we are simply walking the way that he has already walked.

We may not be going out into the wilderness in a literal sense, but we can identify the things that tempt us to be less than we know God calls us to be.  There are so many misuses of power in this world that it would be easy to say, “Might makes right,” or “The end justifies the means,” and get off track. These abuses of power can also be downright depressing, and we need to remember that our Lord never gave up. He persevered through everything.

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus begins his ministry after his cousin John has been arrested. John was put in jail because he confronted Herod Antipas with his immorality. He was later killed because he had spoken truth to power.

Jesus worked through his process of discernment. He wrestled with his own demons. And he came through it and carried out his ministry in a way that shows us love, courage, and integrity lived in a human life.

Our prayers are with those who died and were injured at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and with their families and friends and all who mourn this terrible loss. May we also seek God’s guidance and take whatever actions our Lord calls us to take in this matter.

Gracious and loving God, lead us and guide us as we follow you this Lent. Amen.


                  

Ash Wednesday    February 14, 2018

Isaiah 58:1-12
Psalm 103:8-14
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Here we are, on Ash Wednesday in the year 2018. Today, we will receive ashes on our foreheads which will remind us that we are frail human beings, and we need God’s help. We are dust, and to dust we shall return.These ashes are made from the palms with which we welcomed our Lord at the beginning of Holy Week.

We are here because we are about to begin another Lent, a time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, a time to deepen our relationship with God, a time to confess our sins, ask for God’s healing and grace, and get back on track so that we can follow Jesus as faithfully as possible.

Our reading from Isaiah comes from the time when the exiles had returned to Jerusalem. They were trying to rebuild the temple, their homes, and their lives, and they were becoming more and more discouraged.  They were beginning to argue with each other instead of working together. Their worship was reflecting this situation. They were going through the motions but not opening their lives to God. They were forgetting that love of God means that we also love our neighbor, and they were even oppressing their workers.

In this passage, God is calling them and us to worship with sincerity and faith and to trust in God’s response to true worship. As we do our work of self-examination this Lent and as we discover the ways in which we need to grow, God will help us with God’s grace. God does answer prayers. In this passage, God is also calling us to remember  that we engage in prayer and fasting and self-examination not only to grow in our love for God, but also to enable us to reach out in love to others.

In our passage from Isaiah, God calls us to “loose the bonds of injustice, …to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke, to share our bread with the hungry,” to give shelter to the homeless and clothing to those who have none. As we accept God’s love and extend that love to others, we are all transformed in the process. As Isaiah says, “[our] light shall rise in the darkness.”

Jesus talks about this in the gospel. Our spiritual discipline is between us and God. It is not a matter for outward show. As we pray, and as we try to increase our giving to others, and as we ask God’s help in dealing with the sins and flaws that keep getting in our way, God’s light and love will fill us more and more.

Lent comes from the middle English word “lente” meaning “springtime.” Lent is a time of growth. Yes, we fast. We simplify our lives. We give up something as a form of self-denial. We give alms in order to help those who need our help. We increase our prayer time if we can in order to spend more time with God and seek God’s direction. All of this helps us grow stronger in the faith so that we can share God’s love and healing more and more.

In our epistle for today, Paul calls us to “be reconciled to God.” Perhaps the most wonderful part of Lent or any time of penitence and self-examination is that such a season gives us the opportunity to grow even closer to God. As we simplify our schedules and our diet, and as we add more prayer time or whatever we feel God is asking us to do, the spiritual light in our lives grows just as surely as the light is increasing with the approach of spring. We are walking the way of the cross, and that way always leads to lightness and newness of life.

As a part of our spiritual life, the Church offers the sacrament of Reconciliation in which we can make our confession to a priest and receive God’s absolution. Lent is also a good time to seek spiritual guidance. If you would like to explore these, please let me know.

May our loving God be with us all as we make our Lenten journey. Amen.

Lent 4A March 26, 2017

1 Samuel 16:1-13
Psalm 23
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41

Our opening reading today tells the story of how God led Samuel to anoint David as King. David, the youngest, the shepherd, had to be called in from the fields. But he was the one God had called. For me this Lent, the key thought in this passage is, “…for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

Our psalm for today is one of the most powerful and inspiring and beloved of all the psalms. Jesus is our Good Shepherd, and he will lead us to still waters and nourishing pastures. We have nothing to fear. He will lead us every step of the way into eternal life.

In our reading from Ephesians, we are encouraged to live as people of the light.

Once again, I would like to focus on today’s gospel because it has so much to teach us. Jesus is walking along with the disciples, and they meet a man who has been blind from birth. Immediately they ask Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?”

It is so human that when something bad happens, we want to find someone to blame. Who sinned, this man or his parents. First of all, there is no way that a baby can sin. Secondly, we live in a fallen creation. Bad things happen to good people. So the disciples are asking the wrong question. Sometimes, in our effort to understand something, we do that. We ask the wrong question. We want to find an answer because that gives us some sense of control. We want to be able to say, “That’s what caused it.”

With the state of science in the time of Jesus, even if there was a cause for this man’s blindness, the people of that time probably would not have been able to find it. Perhaps it was some genetic problem. Perhaps it was something that happened during birth which would have been a tragic accident, but with the state of medicine and surgery at that time, nothing could have been done. Sometimes asking why something tragic has happened can lead us down into a pit of hopeless futility.

As Christians, we are called to focus on the attitude of our Lord. What does he say? Neither the man nor his parents sinned. This is an opportunity for us to work with God and bring light and hope into this man’s life. We are not going to dither and worry about why it happened. We are going to make this man whole.

What does Jesus do? He makes a poultice. He spits on the ground and makes a little mud pie with the dirt and spreads the mud on the man’s eyes. Then he tells him to go and wash in the Pool of Siloam. The man follows the directions to the letter and comes back able to see.

In times gone by, people would make poultices to heal all kinds of things. Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines “poultice” in this way: “A soft, usually heated and sometimes medicated mass, spread on cloth and applied to sores or other lesions.” In the fourteenth century, an anonymous mystic and spiritual guide wrote, “Take the good gracious God just as he is, as plain as a common poultice, and lay him to your sick self just as you are.”

What a wonderful thought—take the Good gracious God and lay God on our human and limited and hurting self like a common poultice.

Jesus puts a poultice on the man and cures him. The man can see. But the people around him are not convinced. They interrogate him. Then they take him to the ultimate authorities, the Pharisees, who interrogate him some more. Then they question his parents. On and on it goes. For this man, it is very simple; he was blind and now he can see. We hear these words in that wonderful hymn, “Amazing Grace” by John Newton, who wrote, “I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.” He left the slave trade, a man transformed. The man in our gospel, who was blind from the day he was born, can now see, thanks to Jesus. But many people do not want to believe this good news. They even accuse Jesus of being a sinner.

All during these interrogations and the continuing harassment from the Pharisees, who are in positions of great power, this unnamed man shows great courage. He never stops stating the facts—“The man put mud on my eyes, then I washed, and now I see.” Finally,  after demeaning and insulting him, they actually chase the man out of town.

Jesus hears about this and goes back to see this man he has healed.

They have a conversation. The man realizes that Jesus is the Savior and becomes one of his disciples. This humble and courageous man who has a disability which has put him on the margins of society, can see who Jesus is. But the learned and respected Pharisees, who have so much power, abuse the man and his parents, and fail to see the reality of Jesus.

Once again, our Lord has a healing encounter with a humble and courageous person who is open to Jesus’ transforming power.

Once again, we see the healing and transforming power of Jesus’ love.

“Take the good gracious God, just as he is, as plain as a common poultice and lay him to your sick self, just as you are….Nothing matters now except that you willingly offer to God that blind awareness of your naked being in joyful love, so that grace can bind you and make you spiritually one with the precious being of God, simply as he is in himself.” (The Cloud of Unknowing and The Book of Privy Counseling, Trans. William Johnston, Image Books, p. 153.)

Amen.

 

Lent 3 Year A March 19, 2017

Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 95
Romans 5:1-11
John 4:5-42

In his meditation for the first week in Lent, Brother Mark Brown described the forty days of Lent as an opportunity for Jesus to absorb God’s love. In the gospel of Mark, God says to Jesus, “You are my beloved. With you I am well pleased. I delight in you.”

Lent is also a time for each of us to absorb God’s love for us. This Lent, I am inviting us to focus on the gospel for each Sunday because each of these gospel accounts shows us Jesus meeting someone, and each of these encounters shows Jesus’ love for the people he meets.

This Sunday, we have an extraordinary story of Jesus’ understanding and love for us. Our Lord is in Samaria. As we know from the famous parable of the Good Samaritan, the people of Samaria were viewed as inferior. They did not worship in the right way or in the right place. Yet Jesus is going into their territory because he loves everyone and he wants to reach out to everyone.

Jesus comes to Jacob’s well. He is tired. He sits down to rest. A Samaritan woman comes to the well to draw water. Jews did not share  things in common with Samaritans. Rabbis did not speak with women. Yet Jesus asks this woman for a drink.

The woman asks Jesus how he can think of asking her for a drink? Doesn’t he know about proper customs and manners? And then Jesus does the same thing he did with Nicodemus. He throws her a mystery. If you knew how much God loves you and who I am, you would ask me for living water.

Now the woman is really interested. Living water? Maybe I would’t have to come to this well every day and lower this bucket and lug it back home and do the same thing several times a day.

But then she wonders, “You don’t even have a bucket. Where do you get this living water?”  She is beginning to wonder if this man is either crazy or greater than even Jacob. Then Jesus makes another quantum leap of the mind and spirit. “When we drink this water, we get thirsty again. But the living water that I give gushes up to eternal life.”

The woman wants that living water. Jesus asks her to call her husband and come back. This touches upon a very delicate issue, The woman has had five husbands and she is living with a man to whom she is not married. In the eyes of the average person, she is looked down upon. She is not considered very respectable. Jesus knows all this, but these outward things are not important to him. He loves this woman. In his actions to her and to all of us, he is saying, “You are my beloved child.”

I think the woman senses this. Jesus is God walking the face of the earth. He has reached across so many barriers to talk with this woman, barriers of race and religion and custom. She can sense the love in all these actions. When we know that God loves us, we can be honest about even the most painful things in our lives. She tells the truth, “I have no husband.” Jesus tells her that he knows her situation.

Now this woman is thinking that Jesus must be a prophet. She asks him about a burning theological issue. The proper place to worship is the temple in Jerusalem. The Samaritans do not worship there. So she asks this prophet, this highly respected expert, “Where should we worship?” Jesus says that we should worship in spirit and in truth. Where we worship is not the important thing. Are we worshipping the spiritual reality of God and God’s love?

Now the woman makes a quantum leap. Maybe this man is more than a prophet. She begins to talk about the messiah. He says that is who he is. He tells her she is speaking face to face with the messiah.

This wonderful courageous woman who has just had a conversation with the Savior drops her bucket, runs into the city, and proclaims the Good News. She becomes the first preacher of the gospel.

And what does she tell the people? Come and see a man who told me everything I have done.” Come and meet with our God who comes down to our level, who knows all our strengths and weaknesses, knows all the secrets we are afraid to share, knows all the things that make us the most ashamed, and loves us with a love that nothing can stop, nothing can change.

Back in those days, a woman was supposed to be married, That is how she achieved an identity in the society—as a wife and a mother. She was not supposed to live with a man who was not her husband. Many people of that time would consider her a terrible sinner. God does not see her in that way.  When God calls Samuel to go to the home of Jesse and anoint the next king, God reminds Samuel that God does not see as humans see. God looks at each of us and says exactly what God said to Jesus at his baptism, “You are my beloved. I delight in you.”

In her dialogue with Jesus, this woman did a self-examination and made a confession to Jesus. She was honest. I think she was able to be honest because she sensed the love and respect of our Lord. As we do our work of self-examination, repentance, and metanoia, transformation, this Lent, our awareness of God’s love helps us to know that whatever we need to confess to God and work on with God’s help is going to be received with caring and forgiveness and encouragement, not condemnation.

This woman brought many people to meet Jesus. Her encounter with our loving and healing God welcomed many others to experience God’s love and forgiveness. May we, too, experience and share God’s love. Amen.

Ash Wednesday March 1, 2017

Isaiah 58:1-12
Psalm 103:8-14
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Lent is a time of penitence, that is, sorrow for our sins. It is a time for honest self-examination, a time to ask our Lord’s help in allowing him to transform us into the persons he calls us to be. The Greek word for this is metanoia.  We have seen him transfigured on the holy mountain, and we are deeply committed to growing into his likeness. The ashes that will soon form the sign of the cross on our foreheads have been made from the palms that we waved on Palm Sunday to welcome our King. We will go with him to the cross and we will move with him into newness of life.

In our first reading, Isaiah reminds us that if we truly love God, we will love our neighbor. We will be a people of justice; we will free our brothers and sisters from oppression. We will feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and provide shelter for the homeless.

In our epistle, Paul tells us that this is the time to be reconciled to God, that is to grow as close to God as we possibly can.

In our gospel, our Lord calls us not to make an outward show of our spiritual practice, but to do an honest evaluation of our spiritual state and to follow spiritual practices that will build up treasures in heaven, that is, practices that will bring us closer to God. Our Lord also reminds us that deep and true spirituality is the source of great joy.

How do we do an honest assessment of or spiritual condition? One way is the summary of the law, “Love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, and love our neighbor as ourself.” Our reading from Isaiah also speaks to this.

Another guideline would be the Ten Commandments. We will be reading these each Sunday during Lent.

Another set of guidelines for self-examination and transformation are the Seven Root Sins, also called the Seven Deadly Sins, counter- balanced by the Cardinal Virtues and the Theological Virtues. These insights have come from many sources, but I especially thank David Brown, beloved mentor and former rector at Christ Church, Montpelier, now retired in Connecticut, for his wisdom and guidance.

So here we go with the Seven Root Sins, or as David used to say, “Sins I have known and loved,” and don’t we all!

First comes pride, doing it our way instead of God’s way.

Wrath, (Ira), not normal healthy anger, but holding onto a grudge, nursing it until it becomes a voracious cancer that infects everything we think and say and do.

Envy—the inability to rejoice in the blessings bestowed on others.

Greed—wanting more than we have.

Gluttony—taking more than we need.

Lust—Using other people, exploiting others for our own needs.

Sloth (acedie)—Giving in to that “I don’t care” attitude. Despair. Giving up hope.

On the positive side, we have the Cardinal Virtues.

Prudence—Kenneth Kirk defines prudence as, “The habit of referring all questions to God.” Constant communication with God. Lord, what is your will in this situation? What would you call me to do or not do?

Justice—treating everyone equally. “Respecting the dignity of every human being.”

Temperance—Balance. Like steel that has been tempered in fire and ice. Flexibility. Again, a sense of humor.

Fortitude. The grace and ability to hang in there with faith and patience on the side of God’s shalom.

And the Theological Virtues—

Faith—Total trust in God.

Hope—The ability to look at a situation in all if its brokenness and see the potential and the path for growth and healing.

Love—Accepting God’s unconditional love for everyone, including ourselves, and extending that love to others.

Always remember that Lent comes from the root word meaning “spring,” a time of growth and renewal.

In addition to all of these resources, many of us are using “Living Life Marked as Christ’s Own.”

May this Lent be full of joy and growth and healing for all of us.

Special prayers for jan’s surgery tomorrow.

Amen.

Lent 5C RCL March 13, 2016

Isaiah 43: 16-21
Psalm 126
Philippians 3:4b-14
John 12:1-8

Our first reading today is addressed to the people of God exiled in Babylon. They have been there for about fifty years. Elders have died, babies have been born. Hope is almost gone. The prophet we call the Second Isaiah speaks the word of God to the people and to us.

The opening portion of the text is reminding us of how God’s people escaped slavery in Egypt. God parted the waters; the people ran with all their might; the chariots of their captors tried to follow but sank in the mud. The people escaped. And God is saying that God is going to do a new thing that is even greater than freeing the people from that slavery.

God is going to make rivers in the desert. God is going to make a path in the desert for the people to follow.  There will be plenty of water and the desert will bloom.  The people are going home.

Our gospel for today is also found in the three other gospel accounts. In Matthew and Mark, the woman who anoints Jesus’ feet is not named. In Luke, she is described as a sinner, and, in one of the greatest misinterpretations of Scripture that has ever occurred, an ancient writer said that this sinner was Mary Magdalene. Nowhere does the text say that.

In John’s gospel, the woman is one we know well—Mary, the sister of Martha. Mary is the one who sits at the feet of Jesus to learn from him. She thus becomes one of the disciples.

It is six days before the Passover. Jesus comes to the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in Bethany, just a little way outside Jerusalem. Some time ago ago, he had raised Lazarus from the dead. This home in Bethany is one of the few places where Jesus can feel safe. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are good friends and staunch supporters. He can talk with them and seek advice from them. He can relax with them.

After dinner, Mary brings a pound of pure nard, very expensive because it comes from the Himalayan Mountains. She anoints Jesus’ feet just as he will soon wash the feet of his disciples. She wipes his feet with her hair. Judas raises a point about the expense. Couldn’t that money have been used for the poor? This is the height of hypocrisy on his part. We know that he took money from their common purse. He was an embezzler in addition to being a traitor.

Jesus defends this faithful woman disciple. Mary is actually anointing Jesus for burial. She knows the price that he is going to pay, and she honors him with her love and loyalty. She will be there until the end.

In our passage from his Letter to the Philippians, St. Paul says so much. He has many reasons to be confident according to the world’s values. He holds a very high status. He is a Pharisee and a Roman citizen. But it is as nothing to him. He calls it “rubbish.” All his former prestige is worthless to him. It’s actually a loss on his books because of the “surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord,” he writes.

Because of Jesus, Paul is now in right relationship with God, and he says that he wants to get to know our Lord more and more and he wants to become like our Lord in his death so that he can know the power of his resurrection. In other words, we have to give up all the old worldly stuff as Jesus gave up everything. We have to give up the idea of our power and prestige and empty ourselves of all that so that we can live in Christ and he can live in us.

And then Paul says something that gives us great hope, He says that he has not fully arrived. He has not reached the goal, but “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Here on the fifth Sunday in Lent, we are looking forward to one week from now, Palm Sunday, when we will be witnesses at the crucifixion of our Lord. We know that we are not 100 percent living in Christ and allowing him to live in us. We are on the road, but we are not fully there. What a comfort it is to hear that Paul is not fully there either. But then he gives us a powerful example. We are runners in a race. We are spiritual athletes.

There is a great deal of the past that we need to forget. Yes, learn from it and remember those learnings so that we do not make the same mistakes again, but then let it go. Let it go because our Lord has taken care of it. We are forgiven. And then put our energies into living in Christ and letting him live in us. No, we are not fully there, but let us let go of the pain and failure of the past, ask our Lord for help, and move firmly, one step at a time, into the future with him.

We are partners with Christ in this journey. We are called to do our part. He has made a great sacrifice. He did it out of love for us. But he can’t run the race for us. We have to do it in partnership with him. That is what Paul is talking about today.

When Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with that priceless nard, she was giving all she had to honor our Lord. We are being called to follow her example. Will we commit ourselves to walking with him? Will we press on toward the goal, counting on his grace but also giving it all we have?

May we follow him with all our heart and soul and mind and strength that we may live in him and he in us.   Amen.

Lent 4C RCL March 6, 2016

Joshua 5:9-12
Psalm 32
2 Corinthians 5: 16-21
Luke 15:1-3; 11b-32

In our opening reading today, Moses has died and God has called Joshua to lead God’s people. They have crossed the River Jordan and have reached the promised land. They celebrate their first Passover in their new home. They have escaped their slavery in Egypt and they are now free. They will no longer need the heavenly manna that has sustained them, for they will be enjoying the produce of their new land. In this lesson, we hear the important themes of freedom from slavery, new beginnings, and, of course, God’s generosity and guidance and love for all of us.

Our gospel for today is the beloved parable of the prodigal son. Some people call it the parable of the lost son because it follows the parable of the lost sheep whose shepherd left the ninety-nine other sheep and searched until he found the lost one. It also follows right after the parable of the lost coin. The housewife searched and searched until she found it. Some people call this the parable of the loving father or the generous father.

Although this story is familiar, every time we hear it we can see it in a new way. We can identify with the younger son in that we, too, have made some unwise decisions in our lives and have asked God’s forgiveness. We can also identify with the older son in situations when we feel that our loyalty has been taken for granted and we have not received enough recognition for our hard work. We can also identify with the father when we think of all that we have done for our children.

The younger son asks for his inheritance and he goes to a far country and spends it all. He ends up feeding pigs, which, for a Jewish young man is terrible because pigs are unclean and now he is considered unclean. He comes to himself. We have all had experiences like this. We go off on a tangent and make a series of bad choices, and one day we realize that this is not who we want to be. This is not our real and true self. This is not who God is calling us to be.

The younger son goes home to ask his father for forgiveness.  His father is out there at the end of the driveway waiting for him with open arms. There is a feast because this son was lost and now is found. When one of us finds our way back, there is great joy in heaven.

The older son is fuming and he tells his father what is on his mind. “Here I have slaved and slaved for you and you never so much as let me have a party with my friends. Now you’re throwing a big wing ding for this son who has spent our family’s money.”

And then the father says the thing that tells us so much. “Son, I know that you have been with me always and you have worked very hard. Everything that I have is yours. This feast is for you, too. But we have to celebrate because your brother is now found.”

It’s a both-and. It’s not that the feast is just for the younger brother. It is a continuous feast for all of us in the Communion of Saints, and it is also a feast for those who have gone way off the path and have returned. It is a feast for those who have been faithful from the word go and all the rest of us who have made mistakes along the way.

Saint Paul addresses some of this when he writes, “We regard no one from a human point of view.” He knows what he is talking about because when he did regard things from a human point of view, he thought that anyone who did not follow the law and anyone who was not part of the in-group should be killed. That is why he went around persecuting the followers of Jesus.

But then he met our Lord on the road to Damascus and Jesus asked him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”  Scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he saw the world in an entirely different way. He saw the world from the point of view of Christ. And that is why he can write, with stirring conviction, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. Everything old has passed away. See, everything has become new!” Now I know that just because my father gives a feast for my brother who lost his way does not mean that I don’t get a feast, too. God is incredibly generous, loving, and inclusive.

God is reaching out to everyone in a spirit of reconciliation. and God is calling us to carry out the ministry of reconciliation.

But there is an important point to keep in mind. If Saul had not listened to Jesus, if he had continued on his destructive path, we would never have had this letter to read.  If the younger son had not come to himself and repented and turned back toward God and gone home to confess his destructive behavior which affected not only his family but all the workers on his father’s land and all the folks in the surrounding area who depended on his father for their livelihoods; if we humans do not come to our true selves and acknowledge our destructive behavior, and confess it with a sincere intention to change our behavior, there is no reconciliation possible. It is a two-way street. There are people who do all kinds of destructive things to other people and have no idea of the damage they are doing. They think they are doing just fine. Their chances of true repentance and full commitment to changing their behavior are small.

Most of us in this sacred place right now are somewhere on the other end of the spectrum. We are acutely aware of our errors and are genuinely pained by our sinfulness.  We sincerely confess, and we truly want to change. We know we need God’s help. The parable of the prodigal or lost son is for us. We feel so distressed and sad about our sins that it is easy for us to feel hopeless. This is why, especially during this season of self-examination and repentance and metanoia, conversion, we need to hear this parable.

God is out there at the end of the driveway waiting for us to come home—home to God, home to our best and truest self, home to the human family, home to the feast of forgiveness and new life. God is waiting to wrap us in a big hug and welcome us home to the awareness that God’s love and healing are far bigger and deeper than we could ever imagine and that we are welcome to God’s infinite and eternal feast.  Amen.

Lent 3C RCL February 28, 2016

Exodus 3:1-15
Psalm 63:1-8
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Luke 13:1-9

Our opening reading today is the account of Moses’ life-changing encounter with God. Before we examine this historic moment, let us gather some background.

Just before Moses was born, the Pharaoh had ordered that the midwives kill all the boy babies born to the Hebrew people. God’s people were growing in numbers, and the Egyptian king was threatened. The Egyptian midwives refused to carry out this order. When the king complained that there were still Hebrew boy babies being born, they explained that the Hebrew women gave birth so quickly and efficiently that the birth was done before the midwife could get there. God’s people “continued to multiply and became very strong”, and the king finally commanded that every Hebrew boy baby be thrown into the Nile.

When Moses is born, his mother hides him for three months, but finally she realizes that she can hide him no longer. So she makes a basket of papyrus and seals it with pitch and tar to make it waterproof and  places the basket in the reeds by the river bank. Moses’ sister, Miriam, keeps watch.

The Pharaoh’s daughter comes down to the river to bathe, and Moses begins to cry. She finds the basket, opens it, and sees this little Hebrew baby. She takes pity on him. This is a baby that her father would kill, but she takes him into her home. Miriam offers to find a nurse for the baby, and Moses’ mother gets the job. The Pharaoh’s daughter pays Moses’ mother the usual wages for a nurse. Moses is adopted by the princess and will be raised in the palace as an Egyptian prince, with his mother serving as his nurse and nanny.

There comes a day when Moses leaves the palace and goes out to see what is going on. Even though he has been raised as an Egyptian, he identifies with his own people. He sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew man. Moses looks around to see who is watching,  sees no-one, and kills the Egyptian. The next day, he goes out again, sees two Hebrews fighting and asks the one who is in the wrong why he is fighting another Hebrew. The aggressor asks Moses who made him the judge and then asks Moses if he is going to kill him, too. Moses realizes that he was seen killing the Egyptian. The Pharaoh hears about Moses’ attack on the Egyptian and decides to kill Moses.

Moses flees to the land of Midian. He marries Zipporah, the daughter of the priest of Midian. They have children, and Moses helps with the  family agricultural business.

The fact that Moses is alive is nothing short of a miracle. Moses has survived because of the courage of the midwives who would not murder innocent children; the love  and courage of his mother and sister, and the compassion of the Pharaoh’s daughter, who adopted a baby whom her father would have killed.

So here is Moses tending the flocks of Jethro, his father-in-law, and he sees this very strange bush which is obviously on fire but never is consumed. The text says that Moses “turn[s] aside.” He notices. He goes over to look.

Most of the times when God is calling us or guiding us, we are going about our daily tasks. Like Moses, we need to be paying attention. We need to notice. We need to let God speak to us. God calls. “Moses, Moses!” And Moses answers. God tells Moses to take off his sandals, that he is on holy ground. In the midst of our daily routine, we are on holy ground. We are always in God’s presence, doing our daily chores doing the most humdrum things. It is all holy ground.

God tells Moses that he has seen the suffering of the people, and that he is calling Moses to lead the people of God out of slavery. Like all of our heroes of the faith, Moses has questions. Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and free the people? If I go to your people, what is going to make them believe me? And God tells Moses God’s Name,”I am who I am.” Moses is the first person in the Scriptures to hear the Name of God. Moses is becoming very close to God, and God is going to give Moses the grace and gifts to lead God’s people out of slavery.

Moses’ life up until this point is a crucial part of this story. He knows how powerful the Pharaoh is and how easy it is for someone with all that power to kill people. He has had to run away to save his own life. His mother had to set him adrift in a basket to try to save him when he was a baby. He has seen the suffering of his people first hand. He put his own life in danger trying to protect one of his people from an Egyptian.

Moses grew up in the palace. He could have lived his life as a member of the Egyptian royal court. He could have denied his own identity as a Hebrew man. But he did not. He could have lived a life of privilege based on that denial, but he did not choose that path. Moses has been tried and tempered in the fires of his own life experience, and now he is accepting God’s call to lead the people out of slavery into freedom.

Lent is the season in which we move from slavery to sin into freedom in Christ. The life of Moses reminds us that our own experiences of  brokenness or oppression or slavery can be our greatest sources of strength to help others on their journeys.

Fortunately, we are not being called to do what Moses did. but the story of Moses is full of rich insights for us. Our own experiences of brokenness or oppression or slavery of various kinds have strengthened us as Moses’ experiences strengthened him. Because we are walking the Way of the Cross, these experiences make us more compassionate and they give us the wisdom to help others on their journeys to new life.

May we listen for God’s call. May we trust God. May we follow our Lord into freedom and newness of life.  Amen.

Lent 2C RCL February 21, 2016

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
Psalm 27
Philippians 3:17-4:1
Luke 13:31-35

Our opening reading from the Book of Genesis is full of insight for us on our journey through Lent. It shows one of the great heroes of the faith, Abraham, in a state of fear. Our lesson opens with God telling Abraham not to be afraid. Here is the great example of faith, Abraham, who has journeyed from Ur of the Chaldeans to a new land, and now he is wondering whether he has made a huge mistake.

As we can see, God is with him, encouraging him. And Abraham asks God the real question that is bothering him. Abraham asks God, “Are you going to give me children as you promised? Am I going to have a future, or has all my journeying been for nothing?” God tries to reassure Abraham, telling him that he is going to have children. But that does not seem to make the point strongly enough

So God takes Abraham out into the night. “Look up into the heavens and count the stars. That is how numerous your descendants will be.”

When we go out at night and look up at the sky, the vastness of it speaks of God’s immense power and glory. It is impossible to count the stars. There are far too many of them.

Somehow, the immensity of God’s creation speaks to the heart and mind of Abraham, as it also speaks to us. If God can create all this and if God is telling me that I am going to have this many descendants, I have to believe it,” Abraham says to himself.

But then he needs a sign. We could say that he needs a liturgical sign. So God instructs Abraham to make a sacrifice. And Abraham does that. A deep sleep falls on him, and when he wakes up, the fire of God comes and burns the sacrifice. This is the sign of the convenient between God and Abraham.

Abraham and Sara had left a prosperous life in Ur of the Chaldeans, had packed up their possessions and their animals, and all they had, and had gone to a new land. God called them to do this, and they responded to that call.

But now Abraham comes to a point where he is doubting or questioning what he has done. Has God really called me to do this? Will God help me to take the next steps? Will God keep his promise to give us children, even though we are old? Is God really going to help me establish my home in this new and unknown land?

Even this great holy example of the faithful person, Abraham, had times of fear and doubt. That can be very reassuring to us. Sometimes we need to ask God to reassure us. Especially when we have made major decisions, even if we have felt that God is calling us to these choices, sometimes we need support and reassurance from God and trusted friends in the faith. Even Abraham needed this reassurance from God.

Questions and doubts are not the opposite of faith. They are part of our human journey of faith.

In our gospel for today, the Pharisees are trying to help Jesus. They warn our Lord that Herod wants to kill him. Jesus responds with some blunt comments. He is healing people and doing his ministry and on the third day he will finish his work. On the third day he will rise and lead us into new life. He has to keep moving because Jerusalem, even though it is the site of the temple, is dangerous. That is where those in power, such as Herod, exercise total control over everything. That is where the prophets are killed. That is where those who want to keep complete control over everything that happens exterminate everyone who threatens their power.

And then Jesus says something that is so much from his heart that it brings tears to our eyes: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

Jesus wanted so much to share his ministry of love and healing with this most holy city, and it was impossible because the earthly rulers shut him out. All they wanted to do was to kill him. They are so blind and so caught up in their own power that they could not be open to Jesus in any way.

That is something that can happen to us humans. We can actually shut God out from our lives. Jesus is expressing the sorrow of God when people attain so much power that they can prevent an entire city from having access to God.

Jesus tells the Pharisees that they will not see him until what we call Palm Sunday, the day when he will enter Jerusalem and be honored, the beginning of the week when he will die.

In his Letter to his beloved Philippians, Paul is calling them and us to keep following our Lord. By that time in the Roman Empire, moral values were beginning to slip.  As Paul says, “ Our citizenship is in heaven.” The values that Jesus calls us to, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, are not the values of this world.

What are these readings telling us today? First, even Abraham became scared and anxious. When we feel that way, we need to follow Abraham’s example. We need to talk to God about it and ask for help. We can also ask for human help from friends in the faith.

Our other two readings are also reminding us to ask God for help. Jesus would have loved to gather the people together and teach them and help them, But the religious and secular leaders prevented that.

On our Lenten journey and every day, may we ask our Lord for help. May we listen to his guidance. May we follow him in faith. And, when we are scared, may we let him gather us under his wings and protect us. Amen.