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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion March 26, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
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Pentecost 18 Proper 23C October 13, 2019

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
Psalm 66:1-11
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Luke 17:11-19

Our first reading today comes from the prophet Jeremiah. It is sometime between the fall of Jerusalem in 597 B.C.E.  and the total destruction of the city in 587 B.C.E. The leaders of Judah and many of the people have been deported to Babylon. This was a deeply tragic time in the history of God’s people. Yet biblical scholar James D. Newsome makes a crucial point. He reminds us that the exiles did survive, and he contrasts this with the situation when the Northern Kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrian Empire in 722 B.C.E. Those people were taken into captivity as well, but, as Newsome writes, “they disappeared from history.” Only those who were left at home survived, and they were later called Samaritans. (Newsome, Texts for Preaching Year C, pp. 546-47.)

Jeremiah writes this letter to the leaders of the exiles because false prophets had told the people that the exile would be short and they would return home soon. Jeremiah tells them them that the exile is going to last seventy years. And then he tells them that God is calling them to settle in Babylon, plant gardens, build houses, get married, have families, and prepare for the long haul.  

In 538 B.C.E., King Cyrus of Persia conquered the Babylonians and allowed the exiles to return home. Fifty-nine years had passed. Because they had nurtured their family life, studied and prayed together, and deepened their faith individually and corporately, they remained a cohesive community and were able to return home and rebuild.

Our next reading is from the Second Letter to Timothy, and I confess that I’m now subscribing to the view that this was written by Paul. He is near the end of his life. He is in prison in Rome. He is in chains. But then he bursts forth with the good news, “The word of God is not chained!” As the moments go on, though he has died with Christ in baptism, as we all have, he is dying again in the sense that he is becoming more and more one with Christ. He is becoming less Paul and more Christ. And, through everything, Paul shares his deep sense that, though we humans may be faithless, Christ is always faithful. Jesus carries us when we cannot walk.

Apparently the congregation which Timothy is serving is having some arguments, and Paul tells his mentee Timothy to warn the people that they need to stop “wrangling over words.” How many times in the Church have we gotten into that “wrangling over words.,” whether it’s passing the Peace or revising the prayer book or the hymnal or all the many other issues we have debated. The word of truth is that God’s love can lead us to find harmony in the midst of all these discussions.

In our gospel, Jesus is going toward Jerusalem, and he is now in the region between Samaria and Galilee. He is going toward a village and ten lepers approach him. Lepers are considered to be ritually unclean. They are supposed to shout out and warn people of their presence. Imagine having to do such a thing. This is designed to be sure that no one ever gets near them, They are outcasts. In those times, lepers lived together in little communities. In this way, they were able to offer support to each other.

These ten lepers do not shout, “Unclean! Unclean!” as they are supposed to. They stay at a distance, but they call out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” We can surmise that they have heard about Jesus. They have heard that he welcomes everyone, he respects everyone, from the most humble to the most powerful and everybody in between, and he has healing power like no one has ever seen.

Jesus looks at them with love and says, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” He has seen that they are lepers and he is advising them to go to the priests, who will certify that they are healed and can go back home to their families and resume their lives. On the way, they are healed.

One of them looks at his arm and sees that he is healed. He praises God with a shout of joy. “Hallelujah! And he turns around, goes back to Jesus, prostrates himself at Jesus’ feet. and thanks him. This man is a Samaritan. He’s a double outcast, a leper and a hated Samaritan. And he is the only one who thanks Jesus. So often in the gospels, it is the outcast who is the holy example.

Jesus notes that there were ten and only this one has come back to give thanks. And this one is a foreigner. Not one of us. And then he tells the man, Get up and go on your way, back home, back to your friends and family. You’re finished with your exile. And he says, “Your faith has made you well.”

Our faith can help us to get well and stay well in challenging times. It can give us that spirit of a sound mind and spirit of discipline that we heard about last Sunday. Our relationship with God and Jesus and the Spirit can help us to stay on course, to follow the one who loves us beyond our ability to understand. Our faith can help us to keep our sanity and hold our ground in times of exile.

And there’s one more thing—gratitude. Someone once said, and I do not know who—I heard it second or third hand. But whoever it was said: “As Christians, we know Whom to thank.” We know where all good things come from. We know that there is an inexhaustible supply of love, and it comes from God. And we can thank God for all the many blessings God showers on us. Like those exiles so many centuries ago, we can spend time with God in prayer, individually and corporately, and we can count on God to lead us and guide us in every moment and season and challenge of our lives.

Loving God, Jesus, our Good Shepherd, Spirit of truth, thank you for your unfailing love and for all the blessings you bestow on us. Help us to seek and do your will. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Pentecost 17  Proper 22C October 6, 2019

Lamentations 1:1-6
Lamentations 3:19-26
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Luke 17:5-10

In our opening reading from the Lamentations of Jeremiah, the worst has happened. Jerusalem has been conquered. Most of her people have been deported to Babylon.  The holy city is portrayed as a mother whose children have been taken away. This was one of the most devastating events in the history of God’s people.

Psalm 137 expresses the deep sorrow of God’s people during this tragic time: “By the waters of  Babylon we sat down and wept, when we remembered you, O Zion.”

During the Exile, some people were assimilated into the surrounding population, but some of God’s people kept the faith, re-examined the scriptures, remained faithful in prayer, built a strong spiritual community, and looked forward to the time when they could return home and rebuild. The other passage from Lamentations which we are using as our psalm today describes their hope and faith. Out of that time of exile they emerged stronger and more resilient than ever. “The Lord is my portion,”says my soul,“therefore I will hope in him.”

Our gospel for today is challenging. Why are the disciples asking our Lord to increase their faith? Between last Sunday’s gospel and our text for today, there is a short passage which has been left out of our readings. In that passage, Jesus is telling us that we have to be careful that we do not cause our brothers and sisters to stumble. He says it would be better if a millstone were tied around our necks and we were thrown into the sea than if we caused someone to falter in their faith. In that same brief passage, Jesus tells us that we have to confront a brother or sister if he or she sins, and that we must forgive our brother or sister if he or she sins. He says that if a member of our faith community sins seven times a day and asks us forgiveness seven times, we have to forgive that person seven times a day.

Now we can see why the disciples are asking our Lord to increase their faith. He is calling us not to put stumbling blocks in each others’ way, to confront those who sin, and to forgive those who sin. We might summarize this by saying that, in a healthy Christian community, we support each other, we confront folks when they sin, and we forgive others when they sin. This is a demanding set of expectations.

No wonder the disciples asked for more faith. But then our Lord says that if we have faith the size of a mustard seed, we could uproot a mulberry tree and plant it in the sea. In Matthew, he says we could take a mountain and throw it into the sea. As daunting as his call is to support each other and confront each other and forgive each other, he is telling us that our faith is sufficient to meet this demand.

Then he tells this parable. He begins by asking which one of us would look at our servant who has just come in from plowing or tending the sheep and ask that servant to come in and sit at the table and be served dinner. But then our Lord points out that we would not invite the servant to supper. Rather, we would ask the servant to prepare and serve the supper. But then suddenly there is another one of those reversals and we are the servants. We are only doing what God has asked us to do—support each other, guide and confront each other, and forgive each other. We are the servants of God.

This is a very tall order. We can understand why the disciples asked our Lord for more faith. Yet Jesus is telling us we have all the gifts we need and all the faith we need to be a healthy Christian community.

At this point, we can turn to our passage from the First Letter to Timothy and get some good, solid help. Scholars tell us that Timothy had survived some kind of adversity. We do not know exactly what the challenge was, but scholars tell us that Paul or one of his disciples was writing to encourage his young disciple and protegé. If this was written by Paul, it was toward the end of his ministry and he was in prison. Paul was someone who had faced all kinds of challenges—shipwrecks, beatings, ridicule, prison, on and on. If there was anyone who had been through adversity, it was Paul.

In this letter, Paul reminds Timothy of his mother, Eunice, and his grandmother, Lois, who nurtured him in the faith. How much we depend on our ancestors in the faith, that great cloud of witnesses who cheer us on.

And then Paul writes something that will stand the test of all time and every challenge: “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” The King James translation reads, “For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

God has given us a spirit of power, not to put obstacles in peoples’ way, but to welcome others and share God’s love with them. God has given us a spirit of love to encourage each other and to confront each other if we see each other going astray. God has given us a spirit of discipline, a sound mind to discern what thoughts and actions are in harmony with God’s will and what thoughts and actions are contrary to what God is calling us to do and be. In short, God has given us everything we need to be God’s loving community.  Amen.

Pentecost 21 Proper 23C RCL October 9, 2016

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
Psalm 66:1-1
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Luke 17:11-19

In our first reading, the Babylonians have captured Jerusalem, leveled the temple, and sent the leaders and many of the people into exile in Babylon. Imagine what it would be like to be conquered by an enemy and then forced to move to the country of your conquerors. It would be devastating and demoralizing.

In this darkest hour for God’s people, the prophet Jeremiah writes a  letter to the exiles. He tells them to “build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce,” he advises them to get married and raise families. And he tells them to pray for the people of Babylon because in the welfare of Babylon is the welfare of God’s people.

Biblical scholar James D. Newsome says that this advice from Jeremiah is what allowed the people not only to survive, but to thrive in their captivity and then to return home and rebuild.

What amazing advice. In the midst of disaster and exile, pursue your life and flourish. Pray for your captives.

Many scholars tell us that the Church in America is in exile. It is not “the thing to do” to attend church. People do not really care what the church has to say. The church has become irrelevant. So often our values are different from the values of our surrounding culture, It is easy for us to complain that people do not come to church, that the culture is materialistic, and so on. Yet we are called to reach out to our neighbors, love our neighbors,  and serve our neighbors rather than mourn and weep about the fact that they don’t join us for services on Sunday.

The exiles worshipped God, asked for God’s help, studied the scriptures, and strengthened their sense of community. After fifty or so years, they would return home with deeper faith and a stronger community that they had ever had.

Our epistle for today is the Second Letter to Timothy. This is a profoundly personal letter which expresses Paul’s theology in a powerful way, and it shows a deep sense of love and care for Timothy. We can imagine Paul in prison in Rome in 64 C.E., in the last months or even weeks of his life before he was martyred. Paul is in chains, but the gospel is not chained. He is passing on the legacy of faith and congregational leadership with every ounce of his energy and all the grace that God can give him. Christ loves us with every ounce of his energy. He has died for us. If we have died to our old lives in baptism, we are now rising with him into newness of life. It’s that simple. And that new life is happening in our lives right now.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is heading to Jerusalem, going through the area between Samaria and Galilee. He is on the outskirts of the village. This is where the outcasts such as lepers live. The law requires them to stay away from people. They live together in groups because no one else will associate with them.

But as Jesus enters the village, ten lepers approach him. This is very unusual. They do not call out, “Unclean!” as the law requires. They know Jesus is different. He is approachable. He is loving. He is a healer. Instead of yelling out “Unclean,” they cry out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

He looks at them with love and healing in his eyes and heart and he tells them to go and show themselves to the priests. That was the law. You had to go  to the temple and show yourself to the priests and they would certify that you were healed. Then you could go back home and be with your friends and family again.

The ten lepers have complete faith in what Jesus has said and done. They immediately head out to the temple to see the priests.  But one of them happens to look at his hand or his arm and realizes that he is already healed. He turns around, praising God with all his might and prostrates himself at Jesus’ feet in worship and thanks him.

Then we get another piece of information. This man is not a member of the orthodox faith. He is a Samaritan. He is a double outcast—a leper and a Samaritan. Just as in the parable of the Good Samaritan, the outcast is the holy example. He is the only one who gives thanks. The other nine report to the priests, get a clean bill of health and go back to their former lives.

There is so much power is stopping and thanking God for all the blessings God bestows on us. If we take the time each day to thank God for the many gifts God gives us,  it puts a different light on our day, a different light in our hearts and lives.

Even as we thank God for so many blessings, I ask your prayers for our brothers and sisters who are dealing with the destruction wrought by Hurricane Matthew in the Caribbean and along our East Coast  and for all those who are helping with rescue and recovery. We can be thankful for all the planning and preparation which reduced injuries and deaths, but many are still suffering, especially in Haiti.

Episcopal Relief and Development is asking our support for the Hurricane Matthew Response Fund, and I’ll be asking your thoughts on that at the Peace and at coffee hour.

As we journey through this bicentennial year of Grace Church, and as I reflect on gratitude, I think that our ancestors were sincerely thankful to God, and that gratitude was reflected in their outreach to people here and around the world.  We can all be thankful that we are a part of this community which is so deeply rooted in faith, gratitude, and generosity.

Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Pentecost 20 Proper 22C RCL October 2, 2016

Lamentations 1:1-6
Psalm 137
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Luke 17:5-10

In our first reading today, from the Book of Lamentations, the worst has happened. The Babylonian Empire has conquered Jerusalem. The temple and the city lie in ruins and most of the people have been deported to Babylon.

There were some people who actually remained in Jerusalem and in Judah. Every day they had to look at the rubble and wonder whether the temple would ever be rebuilt.

Others were living among alien people and alien gods who were nothing like their God. Psalm 137, our Psalm for today, captures their immense sadness. “By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept.” Their captives are asking them to sing songs from their native land. But they cannot sing. Their grief is so great. Then their grief turns to anger and revenge, which is natural and understandable, but something God calls us to avoid.

In the middle of the psalm is a prayer for the community to remember Jerusalem and remember their faith. And that is the prayer that prevailed. They used this tragic and terrible period of time to study the scriptures, to increase their commitment to prayer and worship, and to seek God’s guidance.  Jerusalem was leveled in 587 B.C.E. In 539 they returned home to rebuild. Fifty years of exile and spiritual journeying toward deeper faith.

We all have times of exile on our own lives, times when we are in grief, when we feel as though all is lost. We may even feel angry. At such times we need to turn to God for guidance, and we need to remember that God is a God of hope.

In our second reading, Timothy has apparently faced some kind of a major challenge in his ministry. We do not know what that challenge was. Paul reminds him of his mother, Eunice, and his grandmother, Lois, who nurtured him in the faith. Now, as we celebrate the bicentennial of Grace Church, we are blessed to be gifted with our own parents and grandparents in the faith. The Rev. Albert Hopson Bailey, who served here for 26 years and served our diocese, Kate Whittemore, who led the Women’s Auxiliary and started a junior auxiliary to teach young people about our faith and to support them in doing mission, and then the elder generation whom some of us have known—Hoddie, Charlotte, Laura, Arthur, Gertrude, Harriet, Geraldine, Gwen, and Ruth, to name a few.  We are building on their faith, and that legacy of faith and service supports us in our ministries.

Also in this letter, Paul writes, “…for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but of power and of love and of self-discipline.” The King James version says, “For God hath not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a a sound mind.”

Timothy had been through some difficult things. When we encounter obstacles and challenges, one thing we can do is to become fearful. Many in our nation are becoming very fearful right now. As a very wise person has said, “Faith is fear that has said its prayers.” As Christians, we are called to have faith. And we are called to remember that we have been given a spirit of power and of love and of a sound mind. We are not called to surrender to fear. We are called  to stay centered in God’s power and love. We are called to have self-discipline and to keep in the center of our hearts and minds that God is the God of faith, love, and hope. Like the exiles returning, we can build and we can rebuild God’s shalom in our world and in our communities.

In today’s gospel, the disciples are making a request: “Increase our faith!”

They are on the way to Jerusalem, and they are probably getting the idea that this journey with Jesus is not going to be easy. I think Jesus is trying to tell them that they have enough faith to do what they are called to do.

Basically he is saying that if we have faith the size of a mustard seed, we can do things we think would be impossible, with his help and with his grace and guidance. And then that mustard seed of faith is going to grow and grow.

After all, the exiles returned and rebuilt the temple, the city, and their community life. Timothy had some moments of apprehension but remained a faithful minister of Christ. The disciples had some less than noble moments—Peter denied Jesus three times, Judas betrayed him, many of them ran to the hills after the crucifixion— but they they came back and there was Pentecost, and they spread the faith all over the world, and our Grace Church saints passed down the faith to us and here we are with our mustard seeds of faith carrying on our ministries here and around the world, part of a faith community which is trying to bring the love and healing of Christ to everyone who needs his presence.

Our readings today are calling us to be people of faith, hope, and love. In our world today, some people are spreading messages of fear, hopelessness, and hate.  As Christian people, we cannot accept such a worldview.

In many of our cities, there is violence. We have not yet fully healed our corporate sin of racism.  We have made progress in healing racism, and, yes,  we have more work to do, but we cannot stop now. We have all kinds of violence, not just shootings and angry mobs of people looting but also the quiet, largely unnoticed epidemic of domestic violence and sexual abuse. And we have an epidemic of addiction.

All of these issues have been going on for a very long time. We just didn’t pay attention to them. We are making progress, and now we have to really get down to work and make more progress. As our dear sister Priscilla would say, “We need to see the glass half full.”

In the eighteen-sixties we began to realize that slavery was wrong. A century later, in the nineteen-sixties, we began to pass things like the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act to welcome our African American brothers and sisters to full citizenship. We are well on the way. We are not yet fully there. This is not the time to give up.

Domestic violence has been around since the birth of time, but no one dared to talk about it. Now we are doing something about it. Other forms of violence have also been around for centuries. We have been working on these crucial issues. Our diocesan convention will be a hopeful, faithful, look at that work.

All of these issues are related to the building of God’s shalom of peace and harmony, where everyone has a safe home to live in, food, clothing, medical care, and good work to do. God’s shalom is about peace in our hearts, peace in our communities, and peace in the world.

Let us be a people of faith, hope, and love. We have come a long way. Let us not falter. I believe that our Lord is telling us that what we see as mustard seeds of faith can help him to bring in his shalom. Lord, help us to be a people of faith, hope, and love. Help us to work for your shalom. In your holy Name. Amen.

Pentecost 21 Proper 23C RCL October 13, 2013

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7

Psalm 66:1-11

2 Timothy 2:8-15

Luke 17:11-19

In our opening reading from Jeremiah, the worst has happened. King Nebuchadnezzar has conquered Jerusalem and the leaders have been deported to Babylon.

This was a devastating event. Think of being conquered, which is bad enough, but then having all your leaders taken away to a far country. Think of being the secular and religious leaders and being torn up by the roots and taken to a foreign land. This was a demoralizing policy.

Those who were living in Babylon were living among people who worshipped other gods, not their God, not our God. The society was different. The culture was alien to them. These are the thoughts and feelings expressed in Psalm  137: “By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, when we remembered you, O Zion. As for our harps, we hung them up on the trees in the midst of that land. For those who led us away captive asked us for a song, and our oppressors called for mirth: ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion.’ How shall we sing the Lord’s song upon an alien land?”

Jeremiah has stayed in Jerusalem. He is trying to hold the people together, trying to encourage them to seek and do God’s will. He writes a letter to the leaders. He encourages them to build houses, plant gardens, get married, have families. In other words, he encourages them to prepare for the long haul in exile, not just a few months or a few years, but generations. He also calls the people to see the hand of God in this, to know that God is with them. Jeremiah tells the people to seek the well-being of Babylon and to pray to the Lord for the well-bring of Babylon and its people, because their lives are now knitted together.

The revered scholar and preacher Herbert O’Driscoll has some excellent observations on this letter of Jeremiah to the leaders in exile. He writes, “They are the very people who have made life difficult—even dangerous—for Jeremiah over the last few years. They have thoroughly vilified him, calling him everything from coward to subversive to traitor. Now they are in captivity a thousand miles away, and everything he predicted has come true. Yet, in this letter, there is not a trace of the aggravating phrase, ‘I told you so!’ This says much about the graciousness and decency of Jeremiah.” (O’Driscoll, The Word among Us, Year C, Volume 3, p 131.)

Jeremiah is giving such sound advice. Even when we think the worst has happened, we need to remember that God is with us. God is at work in the situation. We have to keep on keeping on. We have to keep on living—build homes, fill those homes with life and love and laughter. And God will bring us through it all.

The other thing that Jeremiah says is to work and pray for the welfare of the people and the city of Babylon. O’Driscoll and other scholars say that now, in this post-Christendom era, we, the Church, are in exile. We are in the midst of a land of many gods. This is no longer a Christian country. We are on the margins. We are on the outside. In a very real sense. The Church is in exile.

O’Driscoll and others suggest that, rather than looking sadly around us, we need to work for the well-being of those around us, because God loves all of us and we are all in this together.

O’Driscoll writes, “We in our own time are wrestling with the position of Christian faith in Western culture. This is a time of exile, of marginalization. It is tempting to lash out at the culture, to list its faults, to blame it for all sorts of ills. There may be good reason to do so, but such behavior achieves little. In stead, we are to seek the welfare of the city where God has sent us.” He adds that this includes participation in governance and in prayers for our communities, our state, our nation, and the world.

I was deeply moved to hear the Imam and the people of the Islamic Society of Vermont say very clearly and strongly that they oppose the violence being carried out by Muslim extremists. These are our brothers and sisters in the family of God. We have much in common. We are called to work for the good of all.

In the history of God’s people, this time of exile turned out to be highly productive. They studied the scriptures, intensified their prayer life,  and grew into a much clearer awareness of what it means to live as the people of God. This is often true of times of darkness in our individual and community life. We are forced to learn things that we would never learn without the challenges.

In our epistle for today, St, Paul reminds us that he has suffered all kinds of hardships in his ministry, but he is much like Jeremiah. He is resilient. He gets up and forges ahead and that is because, if we have died with Christ, we live with Christ. We are in new life.

As we turn to our gospel, we remember that being a leper in Jesus’ time was like being in exile among other people. You were unclean. People were not supposed to touch you, or they would become ritually unclean. You had to warn people that you were approaching so they could stay away from you. Yet these lepers somehow sense Jesus’ compassion and ask him for help. He tells them to go to the priests because the priests are the ones who can pronounce people to be clean. On the way, they are healed.

Only one comes back to thank Jesus, and that one is a Samaritan. Samaritans were cultural and religious lepers. They were the lowest of the low, beyond the pale, outcasts. So this man is a double leper. Yet he has a huge amount of faith and his faith has made him whole.

Jesus has no problem working for the well-being of these lepers. Like Jesus, Paul works for the well-being of everyone. May we do the same.

Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.