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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion April 2, 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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Advent 3C RCL December 16, 2018

Zephaniah 3:14-20
Canticle 9, p. 86
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:7-18

This is the third Sunday in Advent, called Rejoice Sunday from the Latin Gaudete, meaning “rejoice” because of the call to rejoice in our epistle for today. We light the third candle on the Advent wreath, the rose colored candle, which symbolizes joy.

Our opening reading is from the prophet Zephaniah. Zephaniah’s ministry took place in Judah during the time of King Josiah (640-609 B.C.E.) The first two books of Zephaniah’s book are full of doom and gloom. This was a dark time when Judah was under oppression by the Assyrians.

Scholars tell us that our reading for today, the last part of Zephaniah’s book, was added by other writers long after Zephaniah’s ministry, probably during the time of the Exile, or during the period when the exiles were returning home.

So, if we were to read the entire book, we would have two chapters of suffering and hopelessness and disaster, and then we would read this passage, which is full of deep joy and proclaims that God is in our midst. The passage tells us that God gives victory, that God deals with oppressors, saves the lame and the outcast, changes our shame into praise, and brings us home. It is fascinating to me that a scholar from the time of the Exile added this section to Zephaniah’s book, as if to say, “Don’t give up.  We speak to you from one of the darkest times in our history as God’s people. And we tell you that, with God, there is always hope.” As we know, the exiles returned home, rebuilt the temple, the city of Jerusalem, and their lives. Without this passage, Zephaniah’s book would be dark indeed.

Our canticle from Isaiah repeats this theme of hope and joy. “Surely it is God who saves me; I will trust in God and not be afraid.”

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul is writing from prison. And what does he say? “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say. Rejoice!” He is in prison and he is saying this to them and to us. What quality is he emphasizing? Gentleness. “Let your gentleness be known to everyone,” Paul writes. What an idea. Imagine a headline: “The Church in Philippi is known for its gentleness.” Or “Grace Church is marked by a spirit of gentleness.” Which is true, by the way.  What a great headline.

Then Paul says the thing which made our liturgical scholars choose this reading for the third Sunday in Advent: “The Lord is near.” This can have several meanings. One is that Jesus is as near as our breath. The risen Lord is with us now, among us, leading us.  

Another meaning is that our Lord is near in the sense that he will come to complete the creation. He is building his shalom and we are a part of that process. A third meaning is that, when he came to be with us, he came as one of us. He is like us, He understands us. He is fully human as well as fully divine. He knows what it is to be human, with all our struggles, and he is with us in our dilemmas and challenges.

The Paul says something that may make us burst out in laughter: “Do not worry about anything,” he says. And he is writing from prison! We spend a lot of time worrying. And Paul is asking us to take that time and pray, with thanksgiving. To let our needs be known to God with thanksgiving. We all know that a spirit of thanksgiving, the attitude of gratitude, can cause a big shift in our outlook. If we do all this, “the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.” Thanking God, trusting God to give us what we need, does bring that peace which is beyond our understanding.

And then, in our gospel, we meet John the Baptist. Crowds are coming out from the city into the wilderness to meet him. He is calling them to grow closer to God, and they ask, “What shall we do?” And he answers, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none.” God calls us to share some of what we have with those who have less than we do.

Tax collectors came, and he said, “Collect no more than what is prescribed,” Tax collectors would add a bonus for themselves. That was wrong. Soldiers came to John and he told them not to extort money from people. They were misusing their power to get money from  people. They should be satisfied with their wages. Through John, God is calling the people to live lives of compassion and justice. And that is what God is calling us to do today.

What are these readings saying to us? Our first reading, from Zephaniah, is calling us to be a people of hope, even in times of darkness and challenge. Our reading from Paul is a resounding call to rejoice, to give thanks, to turn our worries into prayers, and to abide in the peace of God. Our gospel calls us to repent, to turn fully toward God, to get back on track, make a course correction, get rooted and grounded in God, and be people of generosity, justice, and compassion.

John says, “Bear fruits worthy of repentance,” and once again, we think of Paul’s list of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22): love joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness. and self-control.

Once again, in this season of Advent, we are in a time of self-examination and discernment. We are letting go of things that are not life-giving. We are turning toward the light and love of Christ. We are getting things in order, updating our wills, doing advanced directives, getting rid of clutter whether it be spiritual or physical, lightening our load so that we can be ready when he appears. We are choosing to grow closer and closer to God, Jesus, and the Spirit.

“The Lord is near.” We are on our way to Bethlehem. We are on our way to meet him. Let us make room for him in the inn of our hearts. Amen.

Advent 2C RCL December 6, 2015

Baruch 5:1-9
Canticle 16
Philippians 1:3-11
Luke 3:1-6

Our opening reading takes place in the time of the Babylonian Exile. Jerusalem has been devastated. Many people have been deported. The temple is in ruins. Jerusalem is addressed in this passage. She is in mourning because of this terrible defeat and destruction. The prophet calls her to “take off the garments of sorrow and put on forever the beauty  of the glory from God.” The exiles, her children, are going to come home in safety. God’s mercy and righteousness will fill the land.

Our psalm this morning is Canticle 16, the Song of Zechariah. Let us think about the story of Zechariah for a moment. Zechariah was a faithful priest in the temple of the Lord. He was married to Elizabeth. They had no children, and they were “getting on in years,” as the NRSV says.

One day, Zechariah is serving at the altar and offering the incense when suddenly something very strange happens. There is an angel standing on the right hand side of the altar. Zechariah is terrified. The angel tells him that Elizabeth is going to have a son and that Zechariah is to name him John, meaning “God is gracious.”

The angel goes on to say that John is going to be a prophet who will bring many people to God. Zechariah asks how this can happen, since he and Elizabeth are old, and the angel Gabriel assures him that  this is indeed going to happen. From that day until after John is born, Zechariah is unable to speak. Our canticle for today is the prophecy which Zechariah utters after John was named.

Now we have two powerful bursts of light and hope in the face of darkness and despair: against all odds, the exiles return and John is born.

Let us look at our next reading. Paul wrote this letter to the Philippians from prison.  The community in Philippi was the first church Paul had founded on European soil. They have supported him throughout his ministry, and he thanks God for them every day. They pray for him, and he prays for them. They have a close relationship because they are members and ministers together in the Body of Christ. There is an abundance of love between Paul and these people, and they are looking forward to the day when Jesus will come to complete his shalom. They call the time of his second coming the “day of Jesus Christ.”

What does Paul pray for these wonderful people and for us? He prays that our “love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you determine what is best….” Paul is praying that, in all the love God showers on us, God will help us to determine what is best. God will help us sort out our priorities. God will help us focus on the things that are most important and not focus on things that are less important. God will help us to get into harmony with the values of God’s kingdom.

In our gospel, we focus on one of the great Advent figures: John the Baptist. Luke makes sure that we know exactly when John’s ministry took place. He names all the worldly rulers; he names the high priests. And then Luke tells us what is really important: the word of God came to John the Baptist in the wilderness. Far, far away from all this worldly power and empire, out in the wilderness where God can speak to us, the wilderness where the people of God journeyed for forty years from slavery into freedom, the wilderness where priorities become clear, where there are no distractions. John comes to us. He calls us to repent. He calls us to prepare the way of the Lord. He calls us to do whatever we need to do to get our lives in order so that we can follow our Lord into freedom and wholeness.

John is quoting the prophet Isaiah (40:3-5) when he calls us to prepare the way of the Lord, and John calls us to the vision of God’s shalom in an earlier chapter of Isaiah: “the wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the failing together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11: 6, 7a,9.} Peace comes to the world. Former enemies live together in harmony. All creatures and humans and the whole creation can grow and flourish as they should.

How can we prepare the way of the Lord? Some of us work to protect our environment, That is one way of helping God preserve and restore this beautiful creation. Some of us help children and young people to move from abusive homes into safer settings. Some of us work to help people who are trying to free themselves from domestic violence. Some of us work to help people recover from addictions. We have recently sent an offering to help refugees who are fleeing from terrorist attacks. These are all ways to help God build God’s kingdom of peace.

This past Wednesday, fourteen people were killed and twenty-one people were injured when a husband and wife opened fire on a group of people at a holiday gathering in San Bernardino, California. Once again, we are horrified. I ask your prayers for those who were hurt and killed, and for their families. I also ask your prayers for our leaders, local, state, and national, and for all of us, that we may follow God’s leading in finding ways to bring peace rather than violence.

The prayer of St. Paul for us today is that God will help us to determine what is best. Syed Farook went to the mosque and prayed every day. The morning service was at 4 AM. The leader of the mosque said that Syed was quiet and appeared to take his faith very seriously. He also said that a person would have to be crazy to murder people as Farook did. Muslim leaders have condemned this horrible act and are offering prayers and support to the families and loved ones. All of the major religions of the world, including Islam, are religions of peace.

What is God calling us to do—or not do— in this tragic situation? What actions will help to stop this tragic repetition of mass killings?  Several observers have said that we are in danger of becoming so numb to this violence that we might accept it as the “new normal.” I hope and pray that we will not do that.

What actions and attitudes can we take in order to help God to build a world of peace instead of this world of increasing violence and bloodshed? I do not pretend to have an answer. I do think that we are called to ask God for guidance in deep and intense prayer, as individuals, as faith communities, as a nation, and as a world community.

In spite of almost impossible odds, the exiles came home; Elizabeth and Zechariah had a son, who is now leading us to prepare the way of the Lord. Even now, our Lord is quietly building his shalom. Even now, in the face of this horror.

O God our Creator, O Jesus our Redeemer, O Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove, lead us, we pray. Give us the grace to be agents of your peace and healing. We pray in the Name of Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.