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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:…

The First Sunday after Epiphany January 10, 2021

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

Today is the First Sunday after Epiphany, This is the day we celebrate the baptism of our Lord.

Our opening reading sets the stage for this Sunday, and our opening hymn has echoed this passage. God is creating the world. The earth is a “formless void,” and God is making something out of this void and transforming the void into a creation of beauty and variety and order.

God says that there will be light, and this is very important because we are entering the season of Epiphany, the season of light and mission. God’s light is coming into the world. As we read the story of the Creation in Genesis, after each work of creation there is a refrain: “And God saw that it was good.” The creation is good. At the end of this brief passage, God has brought the creation into being, and it is the end of the first day.

Our second reading is from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. This  book is like a good news action film. The apostles go from place to place spreading the Good News about Jesus.

In this passage, Paul goes from Corinth to Ephesus. And, amazingly, he finds some disciples there. He asks them whether they received the Holy Spirit when they were baptized, and they say that did not. They have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.

These disciples had been taught by Apollos, a Jewish man from Alexandria in Egypt who was a disciple of John the Baptist. Apollos had studied the scriptures and was an eloquent speaker, but he believed and taught a baptism of repentance as John the Baptist had.

Paul does not criticize the teachings of Apollos to these disciples. He simply tells them about the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and they ask for that baptism. About twelve people receive the Holy Spirit that day.

Paul meets these disciples where they are, asks questions about where they are on their journey, and then opens up to them a deeper understanding of Christ and of the Holy Spirit. This is how he welcomed thousands of people into this new faith.

In our gospel for today, we have the privilege of being present at the baptism of our Lord. John the Baptist, or Baptizer, was a cousin of Jesus. When Mary went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, the baby John the Baptist leaped inside Elizabeth as he recognized the presence of his Savior, who was also his cousin. From the very beginning, John knew who Jesus was.

If we stop and meditate for just a moment, Mary and Joseph were not a king and queen or a prince and princess. They were ordinary people, but they were extraordinary in the depth of their wisdom and their spiritual understanding. The baby Jesus, our Savior, was born into the midst of a wise, courageous, deeply spiritual extended family.

Joseph was from King David’s royal line but he had no worldly power.

Elizabeth and Zechariah were past childbearing age. Zechariah was a priest in the temple in Jerusalem. They were the couple God chose to raise the one who was to prepare the way for the Messiah. Even when John was in the womb, he knew that Jesus was the Savior. And as he prepared the way, he made it very clear that he was not the Savior.

But John also knew that he was the forerunner, the messenger sent to call the people to repentance, and he carried out his ministry so well that people flocked to him from near and far. He had thousands of followers who hung on his every word.

In our gospel for today, John baptizes his cousin Jesus, and, when Jesus comes up out of the water, God says, “You are my Son, the Beloved. With you I am well pleased.”

This is the beginning of our Lord’s formal ministry. As we meditate on this passage, we can wonder what John was feeling in those moments and what Jesus was feeling. Perhaps the main thing they were feeling was the overwhelming presence and love of God.

Herbert O’Driscoll reminds us that, when God speaks of Jesus as God’s Beloved, God is also speaking to us. God’s entire work of creation is filled with love, and we will never be able fully to grasp the depth of the love God has for each and every one of us and all of us together. God has made us part of God’s Beloved Community, and for that, we are grateful beyond words.

Today, we will be renewing our baptismal vows. We renew our promise to  “Continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers;” we promise to resist evil and, when we fall, repent and return to God;” we promise to proclaim  “the good news of God in Christ;” We promise to “seek and serve Christ in all persons;” and we promise to “strive for peace and  justice among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.”

This past week, on the feast of the Epiphany, an act of insurrection was committed against our capitol. This was not a peaceful demonstration.  Crimes were committed, and the proper authorities are working to hold people accountable.

We are called to walk the Way of Love, and we are called to help God  build God’s shalom on earth. We are called to be part of God’s Beloved Community. Part of living the Way of Love is calling all of us to be responsible for our behavior. Violence is not acceptable. Breaking the law is not acceptable. All of us as citizens are called to treat each other with respect and to obey the law. As our Presiding Bishop has said, we are called to choose community over chaos.  People need to be called to account for their actions. All people need to be able to feel safe. There is much work to do. For the next few weeks, I am asking that we pray the Prayer for the Human Family on page 315 of the prayer book. Today, we will renew our vows to follow Jesus in the Way of Love. Amen.

Pentecost 23 Proper 25B RCL October 28, 2018

Job 42:1-6, 10-17
Psalm 34:1-8
Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 10:46-52

Our sermon today will be short in order to allow time for our delegates to Diocesan Convention to share their observations.

The theme of Convention was “Go Tell It on the Mountains,” and we explored ways in which we can share the Good News.

This mornings readings are full of that good news. Job realizes, as all of us do, that he cannot possibly understand the mind of God. In turn, God showers Job with even more blessings than he had enjoyed before.

Psalm 34 calls us to “Taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who trust in him.”

In our gospel for today, Jesus and his disciples arrive in Jericho. As they leave Jericho with the usual large crowd following them, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, calls out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Some people sternly tell him to be quiet, but he shouts even more loudly.

Jesus stops and calls Bartimaeus to come over to him. Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus says, “My teacher, let me see again.” And Jesus answers, “Go, your faith has made you well.” Bartimaeus does not go anywhere. He follows Jesus.

When we feel our Lord’s love and healing flowing out to us, we want to follow him.

In our Collect for today, we ask God to “increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and love.” These are amazing and wondrous gifts which God gives us every day, and, even as we ask God to give us more of these gifts, we know that God is constantly filling us with faith, the faith to follow Jesus and to share his love with others. And with hope, the ability to look at the world around us and know that the Holy Spirit is at work bringing in the Shalom of God. And the gift of love, God’s love which nothing can stop, God’s love for all people, regardless of their race, class, education, social status, gender, or any of the other things which can be used to divide us. In God’s eyes, we are all precious. God stops for the blind Bartimaeus and makes him whole.

God loves everyone.

This week and every week, every day, every moment, let us absorb God’s gifts of faith, hope, and love. Let us be a people of faith, hope, and love. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Pentecost 22 Proper 24B RCL October 21 2018

Job 38: 1-7, (34-41)
Psalm 104: 1-9, 25, 37c
Hebrews 5: 1-10
Mark 10: 35-45

In our opening reading last Sunday, Job was trying to find God but could not. Job had wanted to plead his case before God.

This Sunday, God speaks to Job out of a great whirlwind and asks Job questions. Where was Job when God created the earth? Can Job cause rain and lightning to come from the skies? Can Job provide food for lions? Can Job create humans and give them minds?

Like Job, we are human beings, and we know that the answer to all these questions is No. God has created the world and everything in it.  God has created the universe, galaxies, stars, and planets. The power and majesty of God shine through this passage. Like Job, we feel quite small and insignificant after reading these words. The transcendence of God is made clear in this passage from Job. God is far more powerful than we are. The majesty of God is almost frightening in this passage.

And yet, God is immanent. God is close to us. In Jesus, God has come to be among us as one of us. To think that the creator of the world cares enough to do this is mind-boggling, but it is true.

In our gospel for today, James and John, two of our Lord’s closest followers, are asking a favor from Jesus. They want to sit beside him in places of honor in his kingdom. Jesus asks them whether they will be able to drink the cup that he will have to drink—that is, his crucifixion. They have no idea what he is talking about and they say that, yes, they can drink that cup, and Jesus tells them that, yes they will suffer. We know that the new faith did undergo persecution.

But then the other ten apostles become angry that James and John have asked for this place of privilege, and Jesus tries to make clear the contrast between his kingdom and the kinds of kingdoms we humans tend to think about.

Jesus says that in the usual way of things, human rulers lord it over their subjects. Leaders are usually tyrants. But in the shalom of Jesus, this is not how it is going to be. In the shalom of Jesus, those who want to be leaders must be servants. The one who is called to be first of all must be the most loyal servant of all.

And our Lord says, “For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Our Lord gave his life to free us from many forms of slavery.

What a profound difference this is from the question James and John were asking. They were asking for the places of honor and glory in an earthly kingdom  and Jesus was saying: the kingdom I am calling you to help build is not like that.

Our epistle also emphasizes this point. The writer of Hebrews begins by talking about the high priest in the temple in Jerusalem. This was someone who in that society had great power. Yet the writer talks about the weakness and frailty of the high priest, who must offer sacrifices for his own sins. The writer says that the high priest must be humble, not presuming to take the office but must be called by God, as Aaron was.

And then the writer talks about Jesus as our great high priest. In his Letter to the Philippians, Paul writes that our Lord “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant….”

Jesus was creating a new community based on love and servanthood. This is such a far cry from the way the world does things that it is difficult to get our minds around it. Even James and John fell back into the usual way of thinking about leadership. Jesus had to remind all his followers that leaders often lord it over their subjects and become tyrants over them.

But then our Lord says, “It is not so among you.” He tells us that serving others and serving each other is the mark of leadership in his community, his Body. People take care of each other and work together to get the job done. There is no vying for honor or power. There is a great deal of love for God and for each other and for all others. There is a desire to help and serve others. Those are the marks of our Lord’s community.

You and God have built such a community here.  No one is vying for honors. Everyone respects the dignity of every other person. Faithfulness, love, servanthood and service are to be found in abundance. Folks work efficiently and in good humor to get the job done, whatever it might be.

Somehow I find it extraordinarily difficult to imagine any member of Grace Church asking our Lord for the place of honor. And I think that is a greet blessing. Well done, good and faithful servants.  Amen.

Pentecost 21 Proper 23    October 14, 2018

Job 23:1-9, 16-17
Psalm 22: 1-15
Hebrews 4:12-16
Mark 10:17-31

In our opening reading from the book of Job, several months have passed, and Job has continued to suffer. Job wants to plead his case before God. He feels that God would consider the matter carefully and fairly, and he would like to hear God’s response to him.

The tragic thing is that Job cannot find God. No matter where he turns, God is not there. Our psalm describes this situation of feeling abandoned by God. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is the cry of our Lord as he suffered on the cross.

Job says, “God has made my heart faint. If only I could vanish in darkness, and thick darkness would cover my face.” He wants to disappear.

All of us go through such times. St. John of the Cross called this the “dark night of the soul.” In such times, God seems very far away. When we are going though one of those dark night experiences, we can recall times when God was so close we could feel God’s presence, but those times seem far away. Nothing we do seems to help. All we can do is keep putting one foot in front of the other, keep trying to follow our Lord, keep praying, and keep hoping.

Our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.” Scholars tell us that the word of God in this context means the scriptures and especially the gospels. If we think about what we know of God from the prophets, such as Isaiah and Amos, God’s word is indeed living and active.

At the same time, the Holy One who will be our judge is someone who understands our weakness. He understands what it means to be human. He has compassion on us, and he will give us the grace to get back on the path and persevere on the journey.

In our gospel for today, a rich young man kneels before Jesus and asks him what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus reviews the commandments with him. The rich young man has followed those all his life. And then Jesus looks deeply into this man’s spirit with great love and sees, as Fred Craddock notes, that this young man’s wealth defines him, and he is not going to be able redefine himself as a follower of Jesus unless he sells everything and gives the money to the poor.  Craddock writes, “Here stands a person whose life has been defined by wealth, and. sadly, he will not accept a new definition of himself.” (Craddock, Preaching through the Christian Year, Year B, p.441.)

Privilege is an insidious thing. If we have wealth and privilege, it becomes easy to think that we have all this wealth and all these things because of our own strength. It is so difficult for us to remember that everything that we have is a gift from God. We can think that we have worked hard for all these things, and we have earned them and that is true. But God has given us the gifts and the health and the energy to do that work. all good things from God.

Furthermore, people who have wealth and privilege are treated differently. Other defer to them and wait on them. With all the trappings that go along with wealth and privilege, it is easy to fall into feeling self-important, and it is extremely difficult to keep in mind that we are all totally dependent on God and that we are all frail and fallible human beings.

For this particular individual, Jesus tells him to sell everything, give the money to the poor, and come back and follow him. The man cannot do it. Jesus tells the man to do this because he sees that the wealth is going to prevent this man from trusting completely in God and opening himself to God’s grace in order to follow Jesus and carry out his ministry.

The disciples, who have left everything to follow Jesus, wonder aloud, “Then who can be saved?” This is because they have the belief, which was common at that time, that wealth is a sign of God’s favor. So, they reason, if this very wealthy young man cannot be saved, who can?

Our Lord is telling us that wealth and power can get in the way of answering God’s call and building God’s kingdom. Is Jesus saying that everyone has to sell all they have? No, but he is saying that we, as privileged people compared to all the other folks on this planet, have to be very careful to remember to thank God for all God’s many gifts, to share those gifts with others, and to continually seek and do God’s will.

What are these readings telling us? Sometimes, God may seem far away. That happened to Job and to our Lord, so we are in good company. In such times in our lives, we are called to keep on keeping on, keep asking God for help, stay on the path, and the day will come when God is once again as close as our breath.

The scriptures and the life of our Lord speak to all kinds of situations in our lives. They speak clearly and incisively. Always, however, there is the compassion of our Lord, who has walked the way before us.

We need to give up the things that get in the way between us and our Lord. We need to depend totally on him. Even when we cannot feel his presence, he is with us, and he is helping us to get through those difficult times, and he is giving us the three greatest gifts: faith, hope, and love.   Amen.

 

Pentecost 20 Proper 22B RCL October 7, 2018

Job 1:1; 2:1-10
Psalm 26
Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
Mark 10:2-16

In our opening reading this morning, we are looking in at a meeting of the heavenly beings. God points out a man named Job, who is faithful to God and chooses good over evil. Satan, who at that time in history was seen as a kind of prosecuting attorney, challenges God. Satan is certain that, if forced to endure all kinds of challenges and tragedies, Job will eventually curse God. So God gives Satan permission to visit these trials upon Job.

Our reading ends with the very sad picture of Job sitting in ashes with sores all over his body. Job’s wife tells him to give up his integrity, curse God, and die. Job refuses to do so. In the course of doing that, he insults his wife’s intelligence, revealing the sexist views of his time. Women were considered to be less intelligent than men. But we must remember that the book was written about twenty-five hundred years ago. Let’s hope that we have made some progress on that issue.

Back in those times and even now, there is a belief that, if we trust in God and do God’s will, we will be healthy, wealthy, and wise. If we are faithful, we will be prosperous. This belief can be summarized as good things happen to good people; bad things happen to bad people.

Such beliefs fall under what I call BT, Bad Theology. We have only to look at the life of our Lord to see that good people indeed suffer. Jesus endured the worst possible death and humiliation that anyone could suffer in his time.  Many of God’s most faithful servants have faced great difficulties. Yesterday in our calendar, we remembered William Tyndale, who was killed for translating the Bible into English!

Job loses all his many possessions; his family and friends desert him, except for some so-called friends who spout Bad Theology to him, adding to his suffering. People laugh at him. Where once he was sought out for advice and counsel, people avoid him. And still he will not curse God. He will not abandon his faith. He will not give up hope. The Book of Job does not solve the problem of evil, but it does assure us that bad things happen to good people and that just because someone has great riches and power does not mean that that person is following God.

We live in a fallen creation. This world us not operating in the way that God would want it to. At the center of our faith is a cross, and, as we look upon that cross, we realize how far this world is from what God would call it to be. On that cross, some very powerful humans tried to kill the love of God.

We had another clergy conference this week on racial reconciliation. One of the books we were asked to read was White Like Me by Tim Wise. Tim is the son of a Jewish father and a Christian mother. He is white. He grew up in Nashville, and, for some reason, he had more African-American friends in school than white friends, that is, up through middle school. In middle school, he noticed that the classes were supposedly arranged according to ability, but the white students ended up in the accelerated classes and the African-American children ended up in the slower classes, no matter how intelligent they were.

When he got to high school, the system became even more rigid. There were college-bound tracks and vocational tracks. No African-American young people ended up in the college-bound tracks. At one point, early in high school, one of Tim’s closest African-American friends tells Tim that he will no longer speak to him because they are in different worlds. Simply because he was white, Tim had opportunities that students of color did not have.  When it comes to issues of race and gender and class, we are not on a level playing field.

In our gospel for today, the Pharisees ask one of those questions that indicate that they are not trying to learn anything; they are trying to trick Jesus.  In Jesus’ time, it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife for the most minor reason. He could divorce her if he didn’t like her cooking or if she didn’t keep house the way he wanted her to. The woman, on the other hand, did not have the same rights. She was his property. It was almost impossible for a woman to get a divorce for any reason.

In order to be responsible interpreters of the Bible, we must pause and say that when our Church barred divorced persons from receiving Communion, that was a misuse of Scripture. There are times when divorce or annulment of a marriage is warranted. Domestic violence is real, and it kills marriages. Also, some people can appear to be capable of holding up their end of a marriage commitment but, as time goes on, it becomes apparent that they do not possess that ability.

Jesus is telling us that marriage is a lifelong commitment, and he is also telling us not to treat any human beings as property. The reason we know this is that Jesus tells the disciples to let the children come to him. It is hard for us to believe, but in those days, children were chattel, possessions, and, worse, they were almost considered dispensable. 

A man of that time and culture would not spend time with children. He was too busy going about important business to waste his time with a little child. That was women’s work.

Yet our Lord takes these little ones and cherishes them. And he tells us that we need to receive his kingdom with childlike openness and wonder and trust and faith. As we read the Book of Job, we can see that Job has that almost childlike faith. He will not give up on God. He trusts God.

Our Lord is also calling us to treat the most vulnerable among us with the same love and respect with which he treated those children.  Amen.

Pentecost 22 Proper 25B RCL October 25, 2015

Job 42:1-6, 10-17
Psalm 34:1-8 (19-22)
Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 10:46-52

As we think about our opening reading, we remember that Job has lost everything. Yet he still has not lost his faith. He wants to see God and plead his case. Last week he had his encounter with God, and God asked Job and us, some searching questions: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy? Who has put wisdom in the inward parts, or given understanding to the mind?”

Like most of us, Job has had an encounter with the transcendent God, the God who is beyond our imagining. Job has come to realize that he will never be able to understand God, because God is much bigger than we humans are,  and God is more powerful than we humans are. Job apologizes to God for his presumption. And God restores everything Job has lost, and gives Job even more than the abundance he already had.

When we go through those tough times, those times when God seems so far away, those times when everything seems dark and there is no hope to be found, times when we think we will never be able to find the light in the darkness, times when we lose things that are precious to us, and yet we keep searching for God, we hang on to whatever threads of faith we can find. We ask the prayers and support of friends—and most of us have much more helpful friends than Job’s so-called friends who blamed him for his plight—sometimes suddenly, sometimes gradually, the darkness lifts and our lives come back together again. And often our faith grows stronger after such times of struggle. Often, we grow stronger having walked through the valley of the shadow of death. Many times, when we have an experience like that, we come to a deeper realization that God was with us all the time.

In our gospel for today, we meet the blind man Bartimaeus. He cannot see. But he can hear Jesus and the disciples coming along the road. Bartimaeus shouts,“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” People tell him to be quiet, but he shouts even more loudly. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” Jesus stops. Jesus is always listening for our cries for help. “Call him here,” Jesus says.

So the people tell Bartimaeus, “Take heart, he is calling you.” Most of us are not totally blind, but there are many forms of blindness. Sometimes there are things we do not want to see, things we do not want to recognize and accept. They may be things about ourselves or they may be things about others or about situations. But when we call upon our Lord, he hears, and he stops to be with us.

The people tell Bartimaeus, “Take heart, get up, he is calling you.” When we are in a tough situation, and we have been groping along the best we can and we realize we can ask Jesus for help, that is a time when we can truly take heart. We have been muddling along the best we can, and suddenly we realize that Jesus is there to help us.

We can really take heart. Our spirits lift. There is light at the end of the tunnel after all.

Bartimaeus throws off his cloak, throws off all protection. He springs up and comes to Jesus. He has heard Jesus’ voice, and, though he is blind, he is able to make a bee-line for that voice.

Then Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” And Bartimaeus asks for his sight. Jesus does not even touch him. “Go, your faith has made you well.” What does Bartimaeus do? He follows Jesus. He becomes a disciple.

Sometimes when we are in blindness, and we have not seen some important things, and, gradually or suddenly, these things become very clear to us, sometimes it can be a shock. Our doctor gives us a dreaded diagnosis, or we see something dark in a situation we had thought was full of light, or someone we had trusted betrays us, or we lose a dear friend. And there Jesus is, asking what he can do for us.

It is so important to remember to ask him for his help.

In our reading from the Book of Job, we encounter the transcendent God, the God who is more powerful than we can imagine. In our gospel, there is God on our level. Jesus has come to be with us. Bartimaeus calls out for mercy, and Jesus has mercy on him and heals his blindness.

As the Letter to the Hebrews tells us, our Lord knows what it is to be human. He is fully human and fully divine. He has bridged the gap between the all-powerful God and the human level. He has made it possible for us to meet God as our brother and our savior, to see God face to face, and to ask and receive loving help from God.

This morning, Jesus is asking each of us, “What do you want me to do for you?” He is listening for our answer. He cares about each of us and about all of us together. Let us take some time this week and ask for his help. Amen.

Pentecost 20 Proper 23B RCL October 11, 2015

Job 23:1-9. 16-17
Psalm 22:1-15
Hebrews 4:12-16
Mark 10:17-31

In our first reading, we meet Job once again. When the story began, Job was wealthy. He had 7,000 sheep, 1,000 oxen, 500 donkeys, and 3,000 camels. Best of all, he had seven sons and three daughters. In ancient times, a person’s children were his or her future. But things have changed. Raiders have come and taken away all his livestock and killed his servants. A terrible wind has come up and leveled the house where all his children and their families were gathered. His skin is covered with boils from his head to his toes. Once, he was respected. Now, people avoid him.

Except for three so-called friends, who are now telling him that he must have done something awful to deserve all this suffering. They subscribe to the belief common at that time that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people.  So, if bad things are happening, you must have done something bad.

Job does an honest and searching self-examination. He has always tried to be faithful to God and compassionate to his fellow humans, and, with God’s help, he has pretty much succeeded. It really hurts that his friends dream up a theory that he has been especially mean to poor people who can’t defend themselves. This is simply not true.

Job really wants to talk to God about this, but he cannot find God. Today’s psalm captures the situation perfectly. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When everything is going wrong, we sometimes feel that God has deserted us. Of course, God is right beside us, but, in the dark night of the soul we don’t realize that God is with us. When he cannot find God, Job wants to be swallowed up by the darkness. Most of us know exactly how that feels. Our life is unraveling, and we think that God has abandoned us.

In our gospel, Jesus is setting off on a journey. He is going to Jerusalem. He is going to the cross. A man runs up, kneels before Jesus, and asks, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Scholars tell us that in ancient times, if you flattered someone and he accepted the flattery, that created an obligation. He had to do something for you. Jesus does not accept the flattery. He points out that none is good except God. Jesus goes on to tell the man that he knows all the commandments, and Jesus enumerates them, but he adds one. “You shall not defraud.”

The man said he has kept those commandments all his life. Now, this man has asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. When we inherit something, the inheritance is a gift. There is nothing we can do to earn the gift of God’s love and grace. Perhaps what he is really asking is, what must he do to become a follower of Jesus?

Jesus looks into this man’s eyes and sees right into his heart and soul, as he does with all of us. This man has great wealth, and that wealth has become his identity. The wealth has gotten to the place where it is going to get in the way of his following Jesus. But without the wealth, the man feels he is a nobody. And so Jesus tells the man that he is going to have to sell everything and give the money to the poor.

The man can’t do it. He walks away grieving.

Is our Lord telling you and me that we must sell everything and give the money to the poor? In my opinion, no. When Jesus gives this guidance to this man, that advice is tailored to that man and his situation.

For us, the question is, what is getting between me and Jesus? What is keeping me from giving my whole life to him? If there is something in the way, we need to ask his help in moving it out of the way.

It is true that, compared to the rest of the world, we are wealthy. So many people do not have a place to live; they do not have enough food and water. They do not have clothing. We all know this, and this is why Grace Church recently gave $778.00 to Episcopal Relief and Development. Thank you for your generosity. We are so blessed. We have so much. And we know that we are called to share God’s blessings with others.

Jesus makes it clear that wealth and power can throw us off the track very quickly. He says, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Why is he saying this?

We need to remember the context of this gospel passage. Just before this part of the gospel, he took children into his arms and he told us that we need to become like children. We need to trust God. We need to be open to God’s love grace, and guidance.

When we humans accumulate great wealth and power, it is easy for us to forget about God. It is easy for us to think that we are God. After all, I can do this and buy this.  With huge amounts of money, humans get a great deal of power in this culture, and it is easy to forget God. With great wealth, it is difficult to trust in God as a little child.

We have all had times in our lives when we really needed God’s help, and sometimes we may have felt that God has left us. I hope those times are few and far between for you. Jesus knows how that feels. He felt that on the cross. We have a great high priest who knows how that feels, He knows how everything feels. He is one of us. He understands. Knowing that, knowing that he has walked every step of the way before us, we can throw ourselves into his loving arms and ask him to help us. We can even ask him to carry us.

And he will.    Amen.

Pentecost 19 Proper 22B RCL October 4, 2015

Job 1:1, 2:1-10
Psalm 26
Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12
Mark 10:2-16

Our opening reading is from the Book of Job. In ancient times, people believed that good things happened to good people, and bad things happened to bad people. Even today, we see vestiges of these beliefs. If something awful happens, we wonder whether we did something to cause it. If we become sick, we think about how we should have exercised more, or followed a more healthy diet. Jesus tells us that the rain falls on the just and the unjust.

When his three year old son was diagnosed with a degenerative disease, Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote the wise book, When Bad things Happen to Good People. His thoughtful and prayerful struggle with this issue has helped millions of people.

In our reading, we learn that Job is a good man. But Satan, the adversary, the prosecuting attorney in the heavenly circles, is certain that, if God will allow him to afflict Job with bodily suffering, Job will lose his faith and curse God. We will be following his story for the next few weeks.

We all know how easy it is to have faith and hope and love when all is going well. But what happens to us when everything seems to go wrong? What happens to our faith? That is the question we will be looking at as we walk with Job.

The Letter to the Hebrews was written to inspire Jewish Christians in the early days of the faith. Their journey was not easy. They had left the established faith for what appeared to be a little splinter group. In our lesson for today, we read the words, speaking of Jesus, “He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.”

Jesus was fully human, and he was fully divine. To put it more simply, Jesus was God walking the face of the earth. He has told us that he will be with us always, and he will be with us every step of the way. In fact he leads us because he is our Good Shepherd. This is good news indeed. Jesus is with us at this very moment, leading us and guiding us.

In our gospel, the Pharisees are trying to trip Jesus up. They ask one of those questions which is not really seeking knowledge. “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” In Jesus’ time, a man could divorce his wife for almost any reason, for example,  if he dd not like her cooking or  if he did not like the way she kept the house. Women were viewed as chattel, possessions. Like a piece of furniture or perhaps like a prized cow.

Women could not divorce their husbands, even if they were being beaten.

In this context, Jesus asks the Pharisees a question. “What does Moses say?” Moses allows a man to write a certificate of divorce. If a man wrote a certificate of divorce for his wife and her family did not take her in, she was forced to live out on the street earning her living any way that she could, often by prostitution.

And then Jesus says that Moses allowed for a certificate of divorce because marriage was not being taken seriously enough. He puts marriage on an entirely different, and higher, plane than his culture envisioned. Jesus describes marriage as a deep relationship of mutuality between two people. He is transforming marriage from a situation of a man owning property to a mutual relationship. Under the laws of his time, men were divorcing their wives just because they got tired of them and were marrying other women. In Jesus’ opinion, that amounted to adultery. Unfortunately, the Church sometimes takes things out of context, and  there was a time when people who had taken their marriages very seriously and were divorced for valid reasons were kept from receiving Communion. Thanks be to God, those days are past.

When our Lord takes the little children into his arms, he is carrying out another revolution. In those days, babies and children were not valued. Men did not spend time with children. That was considered a waste of time. By taking these little ones into his arms, and by saying what he has said about marriage, Jesus is telling us that everyone is precious. Women and children are people, too. God loves and values everyone. Everyone is of infinite value in the eyes of God.

Making the commitment of marriage and keeping it is not an easy thing. Nowadays, we know that there is such a thing as domestic violence, which can tear marriages and families to shreds. We know that there are mental illnesses which make it impossible for persons to have the ability to make and keep a commitment. These things were unknown in Jesus’ time. The fact that the Church kept people from Communion when they most needed reassurances of God’s love and the comfort of a faith community is very sad.

Though our gospel is about marriage, it also applies to other relationships, including friendships, our ties with colleagues at work, and the love that binds us together as a parish family. In all these relationships, we are called to value each other, to keep our promises, to be honest, and to support each other.

Jesus reminds us today that no one is inferior to anyone else. He calls us to approach him and each other with the openness and trust of little children.  Amen.

Pentecost 22 Proper 25B RCL October 28, 2012

Job 42:1-6, 10-17

Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22)

Hebrews 7: 23-28

Mark 10:46-52

This morning, we are trying an experiment. Our Christian Formation group will be meeting early in the service to look over the gospel and discuss it briefly. Then they will be joining us for the sermon. The sermon may take a different form, or several different forms. It may well become less of a preaching experience and more of a dialogue. We will see where the Spirit leads us.

Here, in the gospel of Mark, Jesus is on his last journey to Jerusalem. He and the disciples are heading down the Jordan Valley. They are in Jericho, where Herod built a town that was rich and bustling. The Jordan Valley was quite desolate. Travelers stopped in Jericho to stock up on supplies for the rest of the journey. The surrounding area was an oasis, where fruits and vegetables could be raised, providing food for travelers.

If you were a beggar, you put yourself in a strategic position to catch travelers before they left the town because the travelers would be rested and well-stocked for the rest of the journey, and possibly in a generous mood.

Bartimaeus has learned that Jesus is coming by. We can imagine that Bartimaeus has heard much about Jesus. Among other things, he has heard that Jesus heals people. Bartimaeus has been on the edges of society since he became blind. He wants to be whole and have a full life. So he calls out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” People tell him to be quiet. Don’t bother the rabbi. But he calls out even more.

Jesus stands still. We remember that any person who is sick, who is not whole and well, is an outsider in the society, the least of the least. Normally, no one would pay any attention to Bartimaeus. Yet Jesus stops. He asks the crowd to call Bartimaeus to him. The people, who had been telling Bartimaeus to be quiet, now tell him to take heart and get up and go to Jesus.

Bartimaeus throws off his cloak. This is a wonderful symbol. This is the most important moment in his life. We could say that he doesn’t want anything to weigh him down, that he wants to travel light, as Jesus tells us to do. We could say that he does not want anything to be a barrier between himself and Jesus as a cloak would be. What thoughts come to your mind? Bartimaeus comes to Jesus open and free and without any barriers to healing. He comes eagerly. Are we open to Jesus and asking him for healing?

Bartimaeus springs up and comes to Jesus. This man is blind. If I were blind I might go slowly and carefully, but, no, Bartimaeus flies to Jesus. He has faith that he will find the way. Do we run to Jesus in faith and hope and openness?

Jesus respects this man who has the courage to ask for help and runs eagerly to Jesus. He asks a simple question, “What do you want me to do for you?” If Jesus were asking you or me this question, which, of course, he is, what would we say? What would we ask for?

Bartimaeus says, “My teacher, let me see again.” This lets us know that Bartimaeus was once able to see, that this blindness has come from an injury or a disease, that he knows what it is like to have the gift of sight and that he has lived without this gift for some time.

Then Jesus says, “Go, your faith has made you well.”

Immediately, right away, Bartimaeus regains his sight. And what does he do? He follows Jesus. He becomes a disciple.

When we are reading the Bible, we can ask, did Jesus really heal people? Did Jesus really heal Bartimaeus? I believe that Jesus did and does heal people and that he healed Bartimaeus. But that’s not the point. The point is, can we put ourselves in the place of Bartimaeus? Can we imagine how hard it was for someone who had once had sight to sit there day after day and beg? And how he hears about Jesus and hears that Jesus has the power to heal and, even though people are telling him to be quiet, he gives a shout out to Jesus and asks for compassion (mercy) and then Jesus stops and pays attention. Think what that means to Bartimaeus. This great teacher is listening to me.

Sometimes when we call for help and we are truly listened to and heard, it makes a big difference to us, It lets us know that the person who is listening really cares about us. Caring is the beginning of healing. It makes a big difference to be heard and taken seriously. So that was the beginning of the healing.

Jesus says that Bartimaeus’ faith has made him well. We are getting more and more research that says that faith and prayer heal people. That’s true. Medical skill and scientific knowledge and medications and MRI’s and surgery and lab work also heal thousands upon thousands of people. As Christians we believe that God inspires us humans to do research to learn about diseases and how to cure them and learn about surgery and medication and tests like CAT scans and MRIs and all the other aspects of medical science. So that’s another way that God and Jesus and the Spirit are inspiring people to heal others and people to be healed every day—through scientific research and medical skill and technology. All of that is part of God’s healing.

I have tried in this sermon to share some ideas about how we can read a gospel passage and think about it and put ourselves into the mind and heart of a character like Bartimaeus so that we can understand some basic truths about Jesus and how he treated people and how he affected people and how he treats us and affects us and our lives.

Jesus is touching peoples’ lives and healing people right now. It’s not something that just happened long ago.

Is there something you want Jesus to help you with? Something you want him to heal? Ask him. And if you want to have the laying on of hands or prayers for healing, we can do that, too, Ask any time and we can do that after the service. Does anyone want to share a thought before we close? Please feel free.

Lord Jesus, help us to ask for what we need from you and help us to be open to receive your help. Amen.