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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:…

All Saints Sunday Year C November 3, 2019

Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
Psalm 149
Ephesians 1:11-23
Luke 6:20-31

Our opening reading today is from the Book of Daniel. This book was written to inspire God’s people during a time when they were being persecuted by an extremely cruel tyrant called Antiochus IV. The book purports to be taking place at the time of the Exile from 586 to 538 B.C.E., but it was actually written during the time of Antiochus. Using information in the book, scholars can actually date it to 167-164 B.C.E. (Gene M. Tucker, Preaching through the Christian Year C, p. 482.)

We remember Daniel as the great hero who won the battle against the lions in that famous den. Our passage today describes a vision. The four winds of heaven stir up the great sea, and four great beasts come up out of the sea. The actual descriptions of the four beasts are omitted, but they represent four empires—the Babylonians, the Medes, the Persians, and the Greeks.

Earthly empires rise and fall, but the holy ones of God will receive and possess God’s kingdom forever. This was a beacon of hope and inspiration to God’s people struggling under the cruelty of a tyrant who was persecuting them.

In our reading from the Letter to the Ephesians, we read of the precious inheritance we have received. Like all the saints who came before us, we have set our hope on Christ. We read these stirring words. “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know the hope to which he has called you.” There is that word again—hope. We are a people of hope.

We have received such a great gift. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, all the saints who have gone before us, those who are here now, and those who will follow, and they are all cheering us on as we run the race, following our Lord Jesus. As Sister Rachel Hosmer of the Order of Saint Helena used to say, “Christ has won the victory. We are part of the mopping up operation.”

As we celebrate All Saints Sunday and think of all those who have gone before us—Laura, Hoddie, Charlotte, Harriet, Gertrude, Geraldine, A. J., Theresa, Gwen, Ruth, Frederika, Kate, Arthur, Eva, Albert, Sue, Alvin, Nat and so many more, we contemplate our gospel for today, Luke’s account of the Sermon on the Plain.

Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount is easier. It has all blessings and no woes. It is placed more on a spiritual level—“Blessed are the poor in spirit” rather than simply “Blessed are the poor.” In Luke’s gospel, our Lord says, blessed are the poor, the hungry, those who weep, those who are hated, excluded, reviled, and defamed on account of our Lord. Woe to those who are rich, full, laughing. Woe to you when people speak well of you. As many have observed, it is a huge reversal. 

Fred Craddock reminds us of the time when our Lord read the prophecy of Isaiah in the synagogue. When he finished, he said, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled.’ (Luke 4:21.) Craddock writes, “The today that Jesus declared in Nazareth still prevails. The messiah who will come has come, and the prophecy of Isaiah  (Isaiah 61:1-2) concerning the poor, the diseased, the imprisoned, and the oppressed is no longer a hope but is an agenda for the followers of Jesus.” (Craddock, Interpretation: Luke, p.88.)

In this sermon on the plain, on the level, Jesus is calling us to take the poor and hungry as seriously as we do the rich and those who have plenty of food. This is just another way of saying that this gospel is calling us to honor our baptismal covenant to “respect the dignity of every human being.”

The last portion of this reading is even more challenging to us. Our Lord calls us to love our enemies and to pray for those who abuse us. Craddock writes, “This unit… lays down the general principle that Jesus’ followers do not reciprocate, do not retaliate, and do not draw their behavior patterns from those who would victimize them.” (Craddock, p. 89.) At the same time we need to say that, if someone is being abused, they have every right to seek help. healing, and justice. 

And then he sums it up with what we know as the Golden Rule. “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Every major religion in the world has this rule or something like it. As we all know, if all of us followed the rule, God’s kingdom would come to the earth.

As we meditate on these readings, I thank God that you and I are not in this moment living in fear of being killed by someone like Antiochus IV, but there are many people who are facing such persecution in one way or another, and I hope we will pray for them and pray and work for the day when there will be peace on earth, when everyone will have enough to eat, water to drink, clothing  and safe shelter and medical care and good work to do.

As I think of these beatitudes, I think of our interfaith food shelf. People are welcomed with hospitality and respect. No one is turned away.  Our two main upstairs greeters who welcome folks and keep our records for the United Way and other agencies know almost all of our clients by name. I have seen them deal with folks who feel ashamed to have to ask for food. I have seen our volunteers extend God’s love to these people. I think that is what our Lord is talking about in this gospel.

As we celebrate with joy this great feast of All Saints, I hope we will feel the energy and love of that great cloud of witnesses cheering us on. May we continue to build God’s kingdom of peace, harmony, and wholeness  Amen.

 

Epiphany 7C February 24, 2019

Genesis 45:3-11, 15
Psalm 37:1-12, 41-42
1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50
Luke 6:27-38

Our opening reading today is an extraordinary moment in the scriptures, and I want to take a little time to think about what leads up to this moment. We all remember how we heard the story of Joseph and his brothers in Sunday School. Joseph’s father, Jacob, loved him more than any of his other sons. As we know, this is not the best parenting practice, but there it is.

Jacob made Joseph a cloak with long sleeves, that was quite fancy, and, over centuries of retelling, it became the famous coat of many colors.  Joseph also tended to have dreams, which was a bit much in the eyes of his brothers, especially since the dreams involved their having to bow down to him.

So, when Jacob sends Joseph out to see how his brothers are doing tending the sheep, they  think about killing him and finally decide to sell him to some slave traders. They take his beautiful cloak, dip it into the blood of a goat, and carry the cloak back to their father to signify that Joseph has met with a horrible fate. Jacob is  beside himself with grief.

Meanwhile, the slave traders take Joseph to Egypt and he is sold to Potiphar, the captain of the guard. Joseph is honest and intelligent, and before long, Potiphar has trained him to take over all his responsibilities. Joseph is also handsome, and Potiphar’s wife begins a determined campaign to seduce him.  Joseph resists, and she finally grabs his cloak, whereupon he runs out into the street. When Potiphar comes home, his wife tells him that Joseph has tried to seduce her.  Potiphar becomes extremely angry, and Joseph ends up in prison in the captain’s house.

Soon after, the pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker end up in prison with Joseph. Potiphar, the captain of the guard, assigns Joseph to take care of these members of the king’s court. The baker and the cupbearer ask Joseph to interpret their dreams, and Joseph ends up as the chief assistant to the pharaoh.

The pharaoh takes this extraordinary step because Joseph has interpreted pharaoh’s dream of the seven fat cows and the seven lean cows. There will be seven years of plenty and seven years of famine. During the seven years of plenty, Joseph stores the extra grain so that when the lean times arrive, there will be plenty of food.

When the time of famine comes, Joseph’s father sends his brothers to Egypt to buy grain. They meet with this great man who is their  brother and they do not recognize him, but he knows who they are. He accuses them of being spies, a crime punishable by death, but says he will let them live if they will leave one of their brothers with him and bring their youngest brother there next time they come.

Then he has his staff fill their sacks to overflowing with food, places their money on top of the sacks, and sends them home. Our scene today is the second trip of Joseph’s brothers to Egypt. The famine has continued. They have come for more food. Their brother, Simeon, who has remained with Joseph, is well, and they have kept their agreement with Joseph. They have brought their brother Benjamin. And now Joseph tells them who he is. They have wondered when the time of reckoning would come for what they did to Joseph. And now he tells them not to be distressed because they sold him into slavery. Joseph’s interpretation is that God sent him into Egypt to be able to help his family and many other people when the time of famine came.

Then he tells his brothers that their whole family will settle in the land of Goshen. They will all be together, there will be plenty of food, and all will be well. Then he kisses all  his brothers and they all cry and then they have a good talk. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be a fly on the wall for that conversation! All through his meetings with his brothers, Joseph has had to exit and go to a private room to cry his eyes out.

This story is very old, at least three thousand years old, and that makes it all the more powerful. Here is a man whose brothers sold him into slavery feeding them and the rest of his family in spite of what they did to him, and welcoming them into the land where he is essentially the king and giving them sanctuary and all that they need to survive. Joseph sees the hand of God in all the terrible things that have happened to him. Somehow he has worked through his own anger at what his brothers did to him, and he has allowed God to turn that into love. This is one of those classic stories that tell us that God can bring good out of terrible things.

That is what our Lord is talking about in our gospel for today, the continuation of the sermon on the plain. Our Lord says, “Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you.” And Joseph is doing that. He is in a position of great power; he is in charge of Egypt, one of the great powers of that time. Yet he has compassion on his brothers who were so cruel to him and he saves them and extends to them all the abundance that he enjoys in his own life.

There are so many inspiring stories from the Hebrew Scriptures that can provide much food for meditation. Would we be able to forgive our siblings for doing something like that? Would we be able to extend the kind of hospitality and help that Joseph gives his family?

Do we hold on to resentments? Do we find it difficult to forgive? Do we accept God’s forgiveness for our own failures and sins? Do we learn from difficult situations and move on?

There is a lot to think about in this story. Our collect begins, “O God, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love….” Joseph was able to receive that gift.

Gracious God, thank you for the gift of your love. Amen.

Epiphany 6C February 17, 2019

Jeremiah 17:5-10
Psalm 1
1 Corinthians 15:12-20
Luke 6:17-26

In our first reading, the prophet Jeremiah draws a contrast between people who trust in God and those who trust in their human strength, those “whose hearts turn away from God.” Jeremiah says that those who do not trust in God are like a “shrub in the desert.” On the other hand, those who trust in God, those whose hearts are rooted and grounded in God, are like a tree planted by water, sending out their roots, sending their roots deep to the living water. They do not fear when heat comes; they aren’t even anxious in a time of drought. Their leaves stay green and they bear fruit no matter what challenges are going on.

Thanks be to God for the gift of faith. We are so blessed to be able to trust everything to God, to be like trees living by the stream, bearing the fruit of the Spirit no matter what.

In our reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, some people are saying there is no resurrection of the dead. We don’t know exactly what was going on. We do know that Corinth was a bustling city with many temples dedicated to various deities, people of all kinds of philosophies, some of which did not believe in resurrection. Perhaps some folks with those beliefs came into the congregation in Corinth.

Paul responds to this situation in logical form and then concludes by saying that Jesus was raised from the dead, and he is the first in a long line of people who are following him into new life. He will be expanding on this in our reading next Sunday.

Just before our gospel reading from Luke, Jesus has been up in the hill country praying with his disciples and calling from the larger group twelve apostles who will be his closest followers. They go down from the higher country to a level place near the lake. In contrast to Matthew’s sermon on the mount, Luke’s is the sermon on the plain. Jesus is on the same level with his listeners, who include the twelve just called to be his apostles, the larger company of disciples, and a large crowd of listeners from a wide area, suggesting that Jesus is addressing his message to everyone. in this multitude are people who have already been healed, and there are many others who are trying to touch Jesus. They have come to hear him and to be healed.

Jesus blesses those who are poor, hungry, grieving, and those who are hated and excluded. He tells the poor that theirs is the kingdom of God; the hungry that they will be filled, the grieving that they will laugh; the hated and excluded that the same thing happened to the prophets and that they will be greatly rewarded in heaven.

If we really think about what Jesus is saying, we could conclude that his words are shocking. He is really turning everything upside down. We don’t want to be poor, hungry, grieving, hated, or excluded. What is Jesus saying?

Fred Craddock says, “On the lips of members of the faith community addressing one another,  a blessing is a celebration of someone’s pleasant and happy circumstances and a curse or woe is a lament over someone’s plight. However, when spoken by God or one who speaks for God, blessings and woes are more than descriptive: they are pronouncements that declare in effect that those conditions will prevail. On the lips of Jesus Christ, therefore, the blessings and the woes of our Gospel section can be taken as the ‘official’ proclamation of the way life will be among the people of God. …Blessings and woes are to be heard with the assurance that they are God’s word to us, and God will implement them.”  (Craddock, Preaching through the Christian Year C, p. 102.)

These blessings on the poor, the hungry, those who weep, and those who are despised and rejected,  and the proclamation that they are beloved of God and will receive God’s love and care and help, go far back in Luke’s gospel.

In the very first  chapter, they appear in Mary’s song, the  Magnificat , in which God  exalts the humble, lifts up the lowly, and fills the hungry with good things. A few weeks ago, we read in chapter four of Luke’s gospel of Jesus reading from the scroll of prophet Isaiah, in which Isaiah says God has sent him to proclaim good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight for the blind, and freedom for the oppressed.

After Jesus reads that passage from Isaiah in the synagogue, he rolls up the scroll and says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled.” Craddock writes, “The ‘today’ that Jesus declared in the synagogue in Nazareth still prevails; the messiah who will come has come, and the prophecy of Isaiah concerning the poor, the imprisoned, the diseased, and the oppressed is no longer a hope but is an agenda for the followers of Jesus.” (Craddock, Interpretation, p. 88.)

Trusting in God, having roots deep in the living water of Christ and of the Spirit, causes us to bear fruit, the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And so we follow Jesus, and we help him to implement his plan, his reign, his shalom.

For many years, you have helped to implement our Lord’s plan. In recent years, you have helped with a specific part of his plan. When our Lord says that the hungry will be blessed, that they will be filled, he is counting on us to help him with that, to be his hands and feet packing boxes of food and handing them out, to be his listening ears and loving heart when we talk with the folks at the food shelf and offer care and support. Individually and corporately, you have ministered to the folks Jesus calls us to care for in his beatitudes: the poor, the hungry, those who are grieving, those who are hated and excluded.

Just because a congregation is small does not mean that it is weak. As Molly Comeau would say, “You’re small, but you are mighty.” Thanks be to God for all your many ministries.

Dear Lord, help us to plant our roots deep in the living water of your love and grace, and help us to bear abundant fruit. Amen.

All Saints Sunday November 6, 2016

Daniel 7:1-3. 15-18
Psalm 149
Ephesians 1:11-23
Luke 6: 20-31

Today, we celebrate All Saints Sunday. This sermon will be short so that we can hear from our Convention delegates.

All Saints is a wonderful feast. Our  Collect reminds us that we are all members of the Body of Christ. We are knit together in one fellowship which spans all time. We are part of the Communion of Saints going back into the time of Peter and Paul and Martha and Mary Magdalene and going forward into eternity.

We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, saints, people just like you and me who loved our Lord and followed him. And, as part of this faithful multitude, we gain strength from their presence so that we can run the race that is set before us.

We are not alone. We do not have to run the race alone. We have help, very strong and good help. We are never alone. Together with the capital S saints such as the folks I mentioned earlier, we have our wonderful small s saints. And here at Grace, as we celebrate the bicentennial of this amazing parish, we can feel them cheering us on—Albert Hopson Bailey, Kate Whittemore, Hoddie, Charlotte, Laura, Harriet, Geraldine, Ruth, Gertrude, Arthur, Gwen, A. J. and Theresa, and all the people who have made Grace Church the faithful, loving, hopeful, and resilient community that it is.

We are not alone. They are all with us, helping us to be faithful to our Lord’s call to love and serve others, here and around the world.

Thanks be to God for this cloud of witnesses! Amen.

All Saints Sunday Year C RCL November 3, 2013

Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
Psalm 149
Ephesians 1: 11-23
Luke 6: 20-31

Our opening reading today is from the Book of Daniel. This book is supposedly set in the sixth century B. C. at the time of the Babylonian Exile, but it was actually written during the persecution of the Jews under the notorious tyrant Antiochus IV Epiphanes in the second century B. C.

The beasts symbolize four empires that conquered Jerusalem one after another: the Babylonians, the Medes, the Persians, and the Greeks. The lesson says that “the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever.” This book was written to inspire God’s people to persevere in difficult and brutal times. Tyrants rise and fall, but the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Our gospel for today is from Luke—the Sermon on the Plain. In Matthew, it is the Sermon on the Mount, but Luke wants to make it clear that Jesus is on a level with the people, so he offers the Beatitudes from a “level place.”

Matthew has Jesus saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Blessed are those who admit their brokenness and their need for God. Luke has Jesus blessing the poor, not because Jesus thinks it is good or ennobling for people to be poor, but because he is telling us that, no matter what we are enduring, if we have faith in God, we are kingdom people who have genuine joy and hope. Matthew has Jesus blessing the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for his sake. In addition to the poor, Luke has Jesus blessing those who are hungry and those who weep.

These kingdom qualities—being poor in spirit or literally poor, being meek, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers—these are the qualities our society avoids or sneers at. But these are the qualities we are called to admire. These are the qualities of saints.

Each of the four gospels emphasizes different things about Jesus. The Rev. Al Smith of St, James, Essex Junction used to compare the writing of the gospels to eyewitness accounts of an accident at the five corners. He said that, if we had ten eyewitnesses who wrote accounts of just one accident, each one would notice different things and accentuate different aspects, but it would be the same accident.

Matthew tended to spiritualize the Beatitudes. “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” This increased the latitude of the meaning. Even if we are not literally poor, if we are honest, we are all poor in spirit, We all need God’s help. Both Matthew and Luke are conveying the essential truth of Jesus’ description of kingdom people, shalom people. Many commentators point out that the Beatitudes are not commandments. Jesus is not saying, “Be like this.” Either we are like this or we are not.

Shalom people admit our brokenness and our need for God. We allow room for others. We don’t rush to the front of the line. We extend compassion to others. We try, with God’s help, to focus on God with all our hearts and minds. We try, with God’s help, to work for peace and reconciliation.

As many scholars have pointed out, the beatitudes are a complete reversal of the values of life in this world, For the most part, these qualities will not help us to climb the ladder of success or to get ahead in the world’s terms. Kingdom people think about the needs of others, opening literal and figurative doors for others. Letting people in line ahead of us. Sharing God’s abundance of love and healing and food and clothing and shelter, making room for those who may not have the kind of accessibility that we do. I see these values every day here at Grace. As Christians, we are all living into these values.

When he was here on earth, Jesus was creating a new family, a new community of love and healing and reconciliation. When people saw his vision of how the world could be, that vision strengthened their weak knees and set their hearts on fire.

The Letter to the Ephesians was a circular letter that was written to encourage the early Christians who gathered in house churches across the Roman Empire. Commentator Lance Pape writes of these small groups of the faithful centuries ago and asks, “How could they know that when the apostle spoke of the communion of saints it would include a throng of billions stretched across millennia?” (Pape, New Proclamation Year C 2013, p. 217)

We are part of the living, vibrant, Body of Christ. We have been knit together with millions of others into his Body. We are surrounded by “a great cloud of witnesses,” the Communion of Saints—those who have gone before us, those who are here now and those who will come after us, from Mary and Joseph, to Paul, to Ambrose of Milan, to Hilda of Whitby, to Teresa of Avila to Jonathan Myrick Daniels, to Pope Francis, to the people we meet in shops or at tea.

We are part of a living Body of people who are living these shalom values which Jesus gave us in his beatitudes. We have been sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism. We have had “the eyes of our hearts enlightened.” We have seen his vision of how he wants the world to be, and we are working toward creating that new world.

Loving and gracious God, thank you for the support of this great cloud of witnesses cheering us on. Thank you for your vision of a world brought to wholeness where everyone is loved and respected. Give us the grace to help you build your shalom. In Jesus’ Name,

Amen.