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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion December 11, 2022 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion December 18, 2022 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion December 25, 2022 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…

Epiphany 5B February 7, 2021

Isaiah 40:21-31
Psalm 147:1-12, 21c
1 Corinthians 9:16-23 
Mark 1:29-39

Scholars tell us that our first reading today dates back to 540 years before the birth of Christ. King Cyrus of Persia has just conquered Babylon, where God’s people have been in exile for several decades. It hasn’t been easy for them. They miss their homeland. They are devastated at the loss of their temple, the center of their worship. But they have persevered. They have continued to pray and study the Scriptures. They have kept their community together.

Thus sounds a bit like us, doesn’t it? We miss our beloved church building. We yearn to be back together. We are tired of fasting from the Holy Eucharist. Yet we are staying together, as much as we can on Zoom. We study the Scriptures together and reflect on how they apply to our lives even though they were written so long ago.

In this particular passage, God’s people are feeling as though God has abandoned them. Why would God let an enemy like the Babylonians conquer them, drag them to a foreign land with alien gods and leave them to fend for themselves?

This passage is God’s answer to these people who are suffering. First, God puts things in perspective. God portrays Godself as the Holy One who sits enthroned on high, looks down at the earth, and sees us humans as the size of  grasshoppers. But even though we look like insects from God’s holy vantage point, God cares deeply about us. God asks the people, “Have you not seen? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not grow faint or weary….He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” 

Have we perhaps wondered whether God is abandoning us? Have we thought that God is just leaving us alone to cope with this pandemic?

Even though it deals with events that occurred twenty-five hundred years ago, this passage is saying to us, “No, God does not abandon God’s people.” As Christians, we know that Jesus is right in the midst of us, leading and guiding us as we cope with this situation.

In our epistle, Paul is giving us a wonderful example. He is saying that, when he ministers to people, he becomes one of them, just as Jesus became one of us. Paul is reminding us that when we minister to folks, we need to walk in their shoes; we need to understand where they are coming from, how they think, what problems they are facing, and how we can help them. That is exactly what our Lord did when he was here with us during his earthly life.

In our gospel, Jesus leaves the synagogue in Capernaum, where he has just healed a man, and goes to the home of Peter and Andrew. Peter’s mother-in-law is in bed with a fever. and of course, they tell Jesus about this. Immediately Jesus goes to help her.

He takes her by the hand. Imagine how it would feel to have Jesus take you by the hand. His healing power is flowing into you. You are filled with love and hope. You feel all of his healing energy focused on you. All that is broken within you is being made whole.

The fever leaves her. And she immediately gets back to her ministry among them. She serves the meal.

And then the word gets out, People from all over bring sick folks to be healed. The text says, “The whole city was gathered around the door.” We can imagine that Jesus continued healing people into the night and then finally lay down to get some rest.

But while it is still dark, he gets up and goes to a deserted place to pray. This is something Jesus always did. He took time away to pray. This is how he stayed close to God, just as we need to do. If we are going to be able to light our lamps, we have to put in the oil. Prayer is the source of our closeness with our Lord. Prayer is how we allow God to nurture our gifts, renew us, and give us guidance.

When they finally find him out in the deserted place, he tells them that they have to go to the neighboring towns so that he can share the good news and heal people. He has spent time with God, and his energy is renewed. He will journey with them throughout Galilee.

What are these readings saying to us today? Many centuries ago, when God’s people were in exile and feeling abandoned, God spoke to God’s people through the prophet Isaiah.  God let them know that God was with them. God had not abandoned them. God was helping them to keep the faith, stay together as a community, and prepare for their life together after the exile. Indeed, they did return to Jerusalem.

As Christians, we have an even stronger message from God about how much God loves us and how close God is to us right now. In Jesus, God came among us to show us how to live. We see Jesus in our gospel today, pouring out his energy to heal people and to show us how to live the Way of Love.

The risen Christ is with us now. He is in our midst, helping us to cope with Zoom and perhaps even be grateful for it; giving us the resilience to hang in there and take care of ourselves and others; giving us the patience to wait for our chance to be immunized; keeping us together; leading and guiding us as our Good Shepherd. May we always remember that. He is with us. Always. He will never abandon us.

Loving God, thank you for being with us. Thank you for leading and guiding us. Give us your grace that we may follow where you lead. In your Holy Name. Amen.

Epiphany 4B January 31, 2021

Deuteronomy 18:15-20
Psalm 111
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Mark 1:21-28

In our opening reading from Deuteronomy, Moses is saying farewell to God’s people. He will not go with them into the promised land. But Moses is also saying that God will call forth from the people a prophet like Moses. This reminds us of all the great prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, and Hosea. 

These prophets were called by God to tell the truth, often to leaders who were going astray. They had the courage to speak truth to power. My beloved mentor, David Brown, described a prophet as someone who holds the plumb line of God, the standard of God, the values of God, up to the society, and asks, is this society living by the values God has given us to govern our life together?

In our reading for today, God says, “Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I shall hold accountable.” Prophets are called to speak the truth. They are called to speak the word of God. They are called to lead lives that are in harmony with the word of God. This is our model for good leaders.

Our second reading today allows us to look in on the people of the Church in Corinth, a bustling city with many temples dedicated to various Greek and Roman deities. The people in the congregation in Corinth are wondering whether it is acceptable to eat meat that has been “sacrificed to idols.” This was a difficult issue because, after meat was dedicated to these various deities, it was sent to the markets to be sold. Often, business dealings took place over a meal, so decisions on this topic could affect one’s livelihood.

Some people in the Corinth community say it’s fine to eat such meat because there is only one God. Others are not sure; some are deeply troubled about this. Paul reminds us that “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up,” 

Whether or not to eat meat sacrificed to idols is not a burning issue for us, but Paul’s advice about our attitudes in the midst of controversies is highly relevant.  

The core of the law and of our faith is that we love God and love our neighbor. As we grapple with issues in the Church, we are bound to have different opinions. In Corinth, the people who felt comfortable eating meat sacrificed to idols were being a bit pushy in trying to convince others to agree with them. Paul is reminding us to focus on God’s love for us and our love for each other. He is also calling us to be aware of the difference between freedom and license. Christ has set us free, but that does not mean that we have a right to do things that hurt others in the community. If we think it’s okay to eat meat sacrificed to idols, we can refrain from doing that if it would hurt others in the community of faith.

In our gospel, it is the Sabbath day. Jesus goes to teach in the synagogue in Capernaum. Jesus can be seen as the greatest of all the prophets. He speaks the word of God. The people are amazed because he has true authority. What he speaks is from God.

In the synagogue is a man who has an unclean spirit. Since he is seen as ritually unclean, he is supposed to stay away from others. He is marginalized. The unclean spirit immediately recognizes Jesus and names him. Jesus speaks the word of God, telling the spirit to be silent and come out of the man. The spirit convulses the man and comes out. The man is now healed.

The prophet speaks the word of God, and that word is a word of wholeness, not brokenness; life, not death; unity, not division; love not hate.

Fred Craddock writes, “Jesus is the strong Son of God who has entered a world in which the forces of evil… are crippling, distorting, and destroying life….But with Jesus comes the word of power to heal, to help, to give life, and to restore. In Mark a battle is joined between good and evil, truth and falsehood, life and death, God and Satan. And sometimes, says Mark, the contest is waged in the synagogue.”  Craddock, Preaching through the Christian Year B, p. 92.

What forces are creating brokenness, division, and hate in our world? What forces operate against God’s shalom of peace, love, and harmony? Racism is one. We all have implicit racism from living in a country where white people are treated differently than people of color. Other such forces are greed, seeking power in order to use and control others, dishonesty, classism, misogyny, violence. Many forces are working against the shalom of God.

Where do we find God’s truth in our world? What forces are working on behalf of truth? What forces are working against truth? Our readings today are encouraging us to be sure that we find sources of information that deal with facts, sources that give us information which is based on scientific research and truth, sources that base their work on information and research from trained, ethical experts who convey reliable, factual information.

Writing of Jesus’ healing of the man in the synagogue, Fred Craddock reflects on the power of words. He writes, “It is the quality of the speaker’s life that makes the words word of God. Another criterion is the character of God: Ours is a God who loves and cares for people, who seeks their wholeness and  health, who speaks healing rather than harming words. “ (Craddock, Proclamation 2 Epiphany Series B, p. 33.

May we all speak the words of God, words of love and caring, words of wholeness and health.  Amen.

Epiphany 3B January 24, 2021

Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Psalm 62:6-14
1 Corinthians 7: 29-31
Mark 1:14-20

Today we will  be having our Annual Meeting, so this sermon will be brief. Our first reading today is from the Book of Jonah. God called Jonah to go to the city of Ninevah, which was the capital of the ruthless Assyrian Empire and was a city known for its violence.

Jonah tried to run away from God’s call to him, and Jonah ended up in the belly of a big fish, as the text tells us. Jonah survived that dangerous adventure. The big fish spat him out on dry land.

Now God is calling to Jonah again, and this time, Jonah goes to Ninevah and tells the people that the city will be overthrown if they do not repent of their sins and change their ways. Much to Jonah’s surprise, all the people, from the leaders on down, put on sackcloth and ashes, ask forgiveness for their sins, and change their ways. There are at least two things to be learned from the experience of Jonah and Ninevah.  First, if God calls us to do something, it’s best to do it as faithfully as we can and not try to run away. And second, there is no limit to God’s mercy. 

In our gospel, John the Baptist has been arrested. This is very bad news. But Jesus does not let this deter him from his mission. He calls people to “repent and believe in the good news.” And he chooses Peter and Andrew and James and John and tells them that he will make them fishers of people. Unlike Jonah, they immediately follow him.

I am so happy to be here today with all of you dear people who have decided to follow Jesus and share his love with others. Each and every one of you, in your own unique way, reaches out to those around you to share with them God’s love and mercy and healing. Thanks be to God for our ministry together. Amen.

Advent 2 Year B December 6, 2020

Isaiah 40:1-11
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
2 Peter 3:6-15a
Mark 1:1-8

“Comfort, O Comfort my people,” says your God.” In our opening reading, the prophet Isaiah speaks God’s word to God’s people who are still in exile in Babylon. It is important to remember that the word “comfort” comes from the Latin “con” meaning “with” and “fortis” meaning “strength.” Comfort—with strength.

The revered Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann writes of this passage, “In Chapter 40, at long last, when all seemed lost, now speaks the Holy One of Israel. This oracle is the voice of Yahweh, who breaks the silence of exile and by utterance transforms the fortunes of Judah. This speech breaks both the despair of Judah and the power of Babylon; it penetrates the emptiness of exile and fills the world of Judaism with possibilities….”  Brueggemann continues, “We may understand ‘comfort’ as transformative solidarity; that is, not simply an offer of solace, but a powerful intervention that creates new possibilities.” (Brueggemann, Isaiah 40-66, Westminster Bible Companion, p.16.)

As we hear these words read, we naturally bring to mind and heart the powerful and beautiful music of Handel’s Messiah, and this reaches into our minds and hearts and gives us hope in our own Covid-19 exile. God is telling us that, in the midst of exile there is hope. Not only that, there are new possibilities.

Brueggemann speaks of “transformative solidarity.” In the midst of this pandemic, we are being called to transform our world and our societies. We are realizing that this pandemic is hitting people of color and poor people harder than it is impacting people of means and white people. This reminds us of our Lord’s call to feed the hungry and give clothes, shelter, and other necessities to our brothers and sisters. But these differences in levels of suffering are also calling us to build into our planning for the future equal access to health care, more justice in wages and benefits, and other ways of insuring fairness in our nation and our world so that we all bear equally the burdens of challenges like this pandemic. In the midst of all this suffering, God is speaking a message of profound light and hope. “Every valley shall be lifted up and every mountain and hill laid low.” Things are evened out in God’s kingdom. People share.

And then we hear that a voice is crying out in the wilderness, and this takes us to our gospel. John the Baptizer is that figure, that forerunner named by the prophets, among them Isaiah. John calls out, “Prepare the way of the Lord. and make his paths straight.” John calls the people to a baptism of repentance. They confess their sins, and they ask God’s help in transforming their lives, and so do we.

The gospel tells us that John was “clothed with camels hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.” Perhaps, if John the Baptizer were to appear on our Zoom screens, we might be quite shocked at his wardrobe. Very few people, even then, wore clothes of camel’s hair. John was not concerned about clothing or fashion. He had one mission: to prepare people for the appearance of the Messiah.

People thronged to him. He was the Biblical equivalent of a pop star. He didn’t center his ministry in Jerusalem where the people were. He was out in the wilderness and the people came to him. John had a huge number of followers.

John said, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Today, on the Second Sunday of Advent 2020, John the Baptizer is calling us to examine our selves and our lives, confess our sins to God or to a priest by phone or Zoom if we wish, and ask God’s help to get our lives fully on course. In that way, Advent is a kind of briefer Lent. It is a time for self-examination and metanoia, transformation.

John is a wonderful example for us. He is totally focussed, not on himself, but on the One who is to come. He is a shining example of single-mindedness, humility, awareness of who he is, and who God is. Even when he was a baby, John leapt in the womb of his mother Elizabeth when her cousin, Mary, who was pregnant with Jesus, came to visit. Even then, the baby John recognized his Lord, who was also his cousin. Even then John was that aware and that faithful.

And this takes us back to our first lesson from Isaiah. The herald is lifting up his voice to shout good tidings. “See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him…He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.” Here is the might of our Savior, and here also is his tender gentleness.

Here, in the tenth month of our exile, our loving God is giving us a powerful message of hope and transformation. He is calling us to walk the Way of Love in this time. He is calling us to take care of ourselves and each other so that we can walk together through this exile and follow him.

We can do this, with his help. Peter writes, “The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting you to perish…But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.”

Even now, he is building his kingdom, his shalom, and we are helping him by loving him and our neighbors. Now, as the days are getting shorter and the darkness is increasing, we can remember how John the Evangelist in his gospel reminds us that “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” We can let our good shepherd lead us and carry us as we continue to walk the Way of Love. 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.


                  

Epiphany 4B RCL January 28, 2018

Deuteronomy 18:15-20
Psalm 111
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Mark 1:21-28

In our first reading, from the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses is giving his farewell address to the people of God. He will not be going with them into the Promised Land. But he is assuring the people that God is going to raise up leaders who will be as faithful as Moses has been.

This is a comforting word at this time in our diocesan life. Bishop Tom will be retiring by September of 2019. Most of us have had an opportunity to know and work with him over the years, and we have grown to love and trust him. He has been a great support for Grace Church, and we will miss him deeply. This reassurance that God will provide a good and faithful leader is a great help as we face this time of transition.

Our psalm today reinforces the theme of God’s faithfulness and presence with us.

In our epistle today, St. Paul is addressing a thorny issue of that time. Corinth was a bustling port city with temples devoted to all kinds of Greek and Roman gods and goddesses. If you went to the market to buy meat, chances were that it had been dedicated to one or another of these gods or goddesses.

The issue of whether to eat meat devoted to an idol is not a burning issue for us today. But Paul’s guidance in how to deal with controversial issues is relevant in all times and places.

Paul says that,  as Christians we know that these Greek and Roman deities are not equal to God. If we eat meat sacrificed to an idol, it means nothing. It is just meat. But, for someone who is new to the faith, it may not be that simple. We can think with our head, “Oh, that meat was sacrificed to an idol, and it does not matter if we eat it.” But, if someone eats that meat and then their conscience bothers them because some part of them believes that eating that meat is somehow wrong, we should not encourage them to eat that meat. Paul is telling the Corinthians and us to be very careful about pushing folks into positions that are not comfortable for them, positions that disturb their conscience. It does not matter if our position is intellectually correct. What matters is our effect on other members of the congregation. So, if we are at a meal and we know that someone in our community would be troubled it we eat that meat sacrificed to an idol, we need to consider that person’s feelings and choose not to eat the meat.

Paul says,”Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” He calls us to avoid doing anything that might make one of our brothers or sisters stumble on their journey with Christ.

In today’s gospel, it is the sabbath, and Jesus teaches in the synagogue in Capernaum. He is magnetic. His person and his words convey the truth of God’s love and faithfulness. He has genuine authority—auctoritas, authority that works on behalf of people, authority that sets people free from things that imprison them.

Now the focus changes to a man in the synagogue who is possessed by a demon. In our terms, the man is seriously ill, possibly with a mental illness or a seizure disorder such as epilepsy. In those days, folks with such illnesses were thought to be possessed by something evil. They were considered unclean and people did not associate with them.

Jesus has no patience with anything that harms people or separates them from others. In a commanding voice, he calls the forces of darkness to leave this man. The revered Biblical scholar Fred Craddock writes of this passage: “Jesus is the strong Son of God who has entered a world in which the forces of evil…are crippling, alienating, distorting and destroying life….But with Jesus comes the word of power to heal, to help, to give life, and to restore. In Mark, a battle is joined between good and evil, truth and falsehood, life and death, God and Satan.” (Craddock, Preaching through the Christian Year, p. 92.

There are many things which cripple, alienate, and distort life today. We have only to think of the epidemic of addiction, particularly of opiate addiction, that is taking lives every day all over our country. The sin of greed, which some have called affluenza, infects people to the point where no amount of money and wealth is enough. The pursuit of power is another destructive force of darkness. People will lie, cheat, and steal to achieve their goals. Violence stalks our streets. All of these are distortions of what human life is meant to be. They destroy individuals and they destroy community. In the face of all these, as Craddock says, “Jesus has the word of power to heal, to help, to give life, and to restore.”

We can see from this gospel passage that Jesus has no patience with anything that is destructive to any of his children. This man was not anyone famous, but Jesus confronted and defeated the evil that threatened him.

God is faithful. God calls us to be faithful. God calls us to use our gift of free will with extreme care and profound love and consideration for our brothers and sisters. God calls us to put the needs of others before our own needs. Our Lord stands clearly and unequivocally against the forces of darkness. He is the light that has come into the world.

Herbert O’Driscoll says that we, who know our Lord as the Compassionate One, may be shocked to see the power with which our Lord vanquishes this demon. He writes, “For me, the value of this passage is the glimpse it gives us of the immense natural authority that was clearly present in Jesus’ words and actions.” (O’Driscoll, The Word Today, Year B, Volume 1, p. 86.)

In our readings today, Moses, St. Paul, and Jesus give us sterling examples of leaders with moral authority. May God give us such leaders in our own time. Amen.

Epiphany 3B RCL January 21, 2018

Jonah 3:1-5
Psalm 62:6-14
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Mark 1:14-20

I am so happy to see you today! We have had to cancel services for three Sundays in a row because of the very cold weather. Welcome back, and Happy Epiphany season!

This sermon will be short because today we have Annual Meeting.

As you know, Epiphany is the season of light and mission. Our first reading today comes from the book of Jonah, one of the so called Minor Prophets whose books are at the end of the Hebrew scriptures.

The story of Jonah actually was designed to tell God’s people that they were supposed to share their faith with everyone. Ninevah, the capital of the Assyrian Empire was seen as a sinful city because of its violence. God called Jonah to go and preach God’s mercy to Ninevah. Jonah didn’t want to do this because he thought Ninevah was just too sinful to save. So, when God called, Jonah ran away on a ship to Tarshish. A storm came up, and Jonah ended up in the belly of a big fish. Jonah called to God for help, and the big fish spat him out on the shore.

Now we meet Jonah again. This time he obeys God, goes to Nineveh, calls the people to repent, and they do. His mission is successful. Later on, Jonah pouts because his mission has been a success. God has to reassure Jonah that no one is beyond God’s forgiveness. God cares about all the people in Ninevah. God even cares about the livestock.

In our reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul is telling the people to prepare for the coming of our Lord. He is basically saying, “Act as if it is going to happen today.” Always be ready.

In our gospel, John the Baptist has just been arrested. John was a cousin of Jesus, and Jesus loved him very much. The arrest of John was very bad news. Yet Jesus did not let this deflect him from his mission. He went on calling disciples—Peter and Andrew, James and John answered the call. Jesus had said to them, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

God calls all people together. God’s kingdom of love, peace, and harmony has begun. We are called to help God to build that kingdom. Fortunately, we have been following the example of Peter and Andrew, James and John, rather than Jonah. We have been following Jesus to the best of our ability, with the help of his grace. Today, we will gather at our Annual Meeting to take a look at where we have been and where we hope to go. Our collect for today is an excellent prayer for this occasion.

Collect for today—p. 215: Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

1 Epiphany: The Baptism of our Lord   January 7, 2018

Genesis 1:1-5
Psalm 29
Acts 19:1-7
Mark 1:4-11

Today is the First Sunday after the Epiphany, the day we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord. All of our readings tell about new beginnings.

In our first reading, from the Book of Genesis, God begins with a “formless void.” God makes a wind come up over the waters, and then God says, “Let there be light,” and the light comes into the world. Epiphany is the season of light and the season of mission.

In our reading from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, which gives us the account of events in the early Church, Paul arrives in Ephesus. He finds that Apollos had been there before him. Apollos was a Jewish man from Alexandria who had been deeply impressed with the teachings of John the Baptist and had traveled around the Mediterranean Sea with a group of other followers of John spreading the word about John the Baptist just as Paul had traveled with his helpers spreading the Good News about Jesus.

When Paul talks to the people in Ephesus, he learns the they had been baptized by Apollos into John’s baptism, that is, a baptism of repentance. They knew they had to change their ways and turn to God. But they had not received the baptism of Christ and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.

As he learned these facts, Paul did not criticize Apollos. He simply shared the information that there was another, deeper baptism. Once they heard about this, the people wanted to receive that baptism. When he laid his hands on them, they received the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This is another new beginning. The congregation in Ephesus, composed of twelve people, has taken a giant step in faith, They have become members of the Body of Christ. They have now been equipped to carry out their ministry as ambassadors for Christ.

In our gospel, Mark tells us about John the Baptist, who so eloquently and powerfully called the people to repent and to turn toward God. Thousands of people flocked out into the wilderness to hear him preach and to receive his baptism. He made it clear that he was not the Messiah but that his job was to prepare the way for the Savior. He also made it clear that he baptized with water, but the Savior would baptize with the Spirit. So, when the congregation in Ephesus heard about this from Paul, they could relate it to the teaching they had received from John the Baptist.

To fulfill the word of the prophets, and to begin his formal ministry, Jesus came from Nazareth to be baptized by John in the Jordan River. At that time Jesus was completely unknown and John was a spiritual rock star attracting huge crowds. Yet John, with true humility, knows exactly what is happening. He has done his work. He has called the people to repentance, and they have responded in droves. Now his  work is done. He must decrease, and Jesus must increase.

John immerses Jesus, and, when Jesus comes up out of the waters, he sees the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove. He also hears the voice of God saying, “You are my Son, the beloved, and with you I am well pleased.” Now the Savior is beginning his ministry. The true light has come into the world. This is the greatest new beginning the world has ever seen.

The true light has come into the world. We are following him. We are patterning our lives after his life. How can we help his light to shine even more brightly? How can we help him to build his kingdom, his shalom, this Epiphany? How can we bear the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness. and self-control? How can we help Him to make the world a better place? As we discover the answers to these questions, we can be sure that he will be with us every step of the way and that he will give us his grace and love to light our path.  Amen.

Advent 2B RCL December 10, 2017

Isaiah 40:1-11
Psalm 85:1-2,8-13
2 Peter 3:8-15a
Mark 1:1-8

Our first reading for today comes from a point in history when the exiles were still in Babylon.They have been trying to go on with their lives, deepen their understanding of the scriptures, continue their prayer life as a community of faith. They have been in captivity for almost fifty years.

And now, they are receiving the news they have been hoping and praying to hear. At last, they will be going home. “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” It is difficult for us to grasp how they must have felt to hear those words.

As we listen to these words, we cannot help calling to mind the beautiful music of Handel’s Messiah. The people are going home! It seems almost impossible, but it is true. Yes, we humans are like grass, here today, gone tomorrow, bending with every breeze. But God’s word will stand forever.  “He will feed his flock like a shepherd;  he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.”

The power and gentleness of this passage touch our hearts so deeply. This is the love of our God. No, we are not living in exile in Babylon as God’s people did fifteen hundred years ago, but we are living in difficult times, times of division and hatred and violence that seem very far from God’s shalom. In this passage, we are reminded that God is eternal and faithful, and God will lead us into God’s kingdom of peace and harmony.

In our reading from the Second Letter of Peter, the theme of God’s eternal presence is sounded again.  In God’s sight, a thousand years are like one day. God is patient with us, and God is building God’s shalom and calling us to help in that work. Christ will come again to complete the work of creation. The letter calls us to remain faithful to our Lord and to be ready for his coming again.

Our gospel for today focuses on John the Baptist, who appears in the wilderness calling us to “Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.” John offered a baptism of repentance. He called people to sincerely ask God’s forgiveness for their sins and turn their lives around. He invites us to turn to God and ask God’s help in our process of transformation, in Greek, metanoia.

John definitely did not follow the current fashion. He had a coat of camel’s hair, lived very simply, and when he said something, you knew he meant it. He was a great prophet and religious leader, but he did not base his ministry in the city of Jerusalem where all the power was centered. His home base was the wilderness, where there is no sky glow. Out there, you can see God’s stars and planets very clearly and gain a divine perspective on things. It is also quiet out there—no distractions, no human power struggles, just you and God.

For all these reasons, John had a completely clear idea of who he was and what he was about. He knew he was the messenger foretold in the prophets who had gone before him. He knew he was called to let people know that they needed to prepare for the Savior.

Thousands of people were attracted to John. He was the equivalent of a rock star in his time. People followed him everywhere. They left the big city to go out into the wilderness and be with him, so powerful was his message. But it never went to his head. He knew exactly who he was. He said, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

John is a shining example of singleness of heart, the ability to focus on Jesus with every part of his being—spirit, heart, mind, intuition, everything. This Advent and every day, we can learn so much from John the Baptist.

Here we are, on the Second Sunday in Advent, in the year of our Lord 2017. What are these readings telling us?

Among many other things, our lesson from Isaiah tells us there is always hope. Just when we think it’s over, those little flickering fingers of a new dawn appear and the thing we had hoped and prayed for finally comes to be. And God will shepherd us every step of the way on the journey home, or closer to God, or wherever it is that God is calling us to be.

One thing our epistle tells us is that God is patient with us and with everything else, which is a great blessing because we can all can try God’s patience at times. And God is eternal. God takes the long view. But when the time finally arrives, God is going to build new heavens and a new earth. The creation will be made whole.

And our gospel? It tells us more than we can absorb. But we can say this. Here is this fellow, dressed as the great prophet Elijah was dressed, out in the wilderness attracting hordes of people. But there is no glitz, there are no lights or cameras. There is just this man, John, who absolutely tells the truth straight from God and who is here to lead us to the One we have waited for all our lives, the One who loves us so much that we are willing to follow him on the hard and joyful journey of transformation, the journey to his shalom.  Amen.

Lent 1 Year B RCL February 22, 2015

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

Noah and his family have kept the faith and are saved from the flood to make a new beginning. We have been made children of God and inheritors of the kingdom through the waters of baptism. Now, we begin our Lenten journey in the wilderness with our Lord.

Whenever we take a journey, it is usually helpful to have maps and compasses, guidelines, GPS, something to go by. This year, I thought it might be useful to reflect on the seven root sins and the theological and cardinal virtues. This framework was first suggested to me by David Brown, rector of Christ Church, Montpelier, now retired, who was one of my major mentors.

The Seven Root Sins are pride, wrath, envy, greed, gluttony, lust and sloth. The Theological Virtues are faith, hope, and love. The Cardinal Virtues are prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude.

Pride. Doing it our own way instead of seeking God’s will. This is not the same thing as feeling pride at a job well done. The sin of pride has nothing to do with healthy self-esteem. Pride is the thing that says, “I’ll do it my way.” Pride does not even ask for God’s help. Pride is the opposite of humility and obedience. Humility is openness. It comes from the root word for humus, good, rich open earth ready for planting.

If we have humility, it does not mean that we are groveling or that we think we are worms in God’s sight. It means that we are open to God’s guidance and grace. It is a really good idea to ask for God’s help often.

Here at Grace, I think all of us sincerely want to seek and do God’s will. But we may not want to “bother” God by asking for help when God has so many huge issues to deal with. Please don’t let that stop you. God wants us to ask for guidance and help. That’s how we strengthen our relationship with God. It is impossible to bother God.

Wrath. Wrath is not the same thing as anger. Anger is a normal, human emotion. Anger happens when something is wrong in a situation, when someone is not treating someone else with respect, when someone is oppressing someone else, or dismissing, or not hearing. Wrath is nursing anger, breeding resentment, focussing on a person or a situation until we are consumed with wrath. It destroys us. It eats us alive. If there is wrong in a situation, we need to take steps to set it right, get help if needed, or, if the situation continues to be unhealthy and it cannot be changed, we need to get out of it.

Envy is the inability to rejoice in the blessings which others receive.

Greed is wanting more than we need. Gluttony is taking more than we need. This is something we in the developed nations need to think about. Lust is using other people. Someone once said, We are called to love people and use things, not to use people and love things.”

Sloth (Acedie) has nothing to do with taking sabbath time, enjoying times of rest and leisure. We need sabbath time to renew our bodies and spirits. Sloth is not caring, giving up. Sloth is not to be confused with depression, which is a clinical lack of energy. When we are severely depressed, we do not have the energy to care, but that is not a sin. It is a clinical condition.

The Theological Virtues—Faith, hope, and love. Faith is trust in God. As we noted earlier, the more we ask for God’s help in doing God’s will, the stronger our faith grows

When we are open to God’s help, when we ask for God’s will and seek to do God’s will, we begin to realize the depth of God’s love. That is, we develop a deeper and deeper relationship with God. We realize more and more that God is always there for us, and this strengthens our faith. Faith is that trust in God which comes out of our relationship with God, that give and take with God that happens on a daily, even a moment-by-moment basis.

Hope is the ability to look at a situation in all its complexity, accurately seeing the darkness and brokenness in that situation, and still perceiving the potential for wholeness in that situation.

Love. The ultimate meaning of love is God’s unconditional love for us. That is what we are aiming for. We will never reach it, but it is a good goal.

Prudence. Kenneth Kirk says that prudence is “The habit of referring all questions to God.” Constant communication with God, seeking God’s will. Dear Lord, what do you want me to do in this situation? What perspective do you want me to have on this situation?

Justice—Giving each person his or her just due. Treating everyone with respect, no matter what their social status, education, wealth, power, or any other consideration.

Temperance—balance, humor, flexibility. Fortitude. Hanging in there on the side of the shalom of God.

Perhaps it is because we are having such a cold winter, but this year, it is important to me that Lent comes from the Middle English word for “Springtime.” During Lent, we examine our lives, confess our sins, and ask God’s forgiveness and grace to move away from the brokenness of sin toward the wholeness of God.

Lent is a time for growth. We are called to grow more and more like our Lord as we follow him to the cross and into new life. He is with us, to lead us and guide us. May we turn to him with all our heart. Amen.