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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion March 26, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
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Pentecost 9 Proper 11B RCL July 22, 2019

2 Samuel 7:1-14a
Psalm 89:20-37
Ephesians 2:11-22
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

In our opening reading, King David is now settled in his house, and the land is at peace. David wants to build a house for the Lord, a place for the ark of the covenant. He consults the prophet Nathan, and Nathan thinks this is a good idea. After all, isn’t it a wonderful thing to design and construct a beautiful building to be a special place where God is present, a place where we can pray and give praise to God?

But God speaks to Nathan and says that it is not the time for David to do this. Indeed, King Solomon, David’s wise son, will build the great temple in Jerusalem.

Sometimes we want to do a good and wonderful thing, but it is not God’s will for us to do this. We consult trusted advisors, as David did. But then God lets us know that this simply is not the time, or this particular thing is not something God has called us to do.

As we think about our epistle for today, we remember that Paul, or his disciple, is writing to Gentile Christians in Asia Minor, what we now call Turkey. In the early Church, perhaps the greatest controversy was the debate concerning the issue of Gentiles coming into the new faith.

In the beginning, Peter felt that Gentiles must be circumcised and follow the Jewish law, including the dietary laws. Then he had his vision of all the foods coming down from heaven, including food forbidden by the law, and God telling him to eat these foods. He then realized that all people, including Gentiles, were called to full membership in the Church. This issue was finally resolved at the Council of Jerusalem.

Paul became the apostle to the Gentiles. Although he was a devout Pharisee, he quickly realized that Christ had fulfilled and transcended the law. Gentiles joining the new faith did not need to be circumcised or follow the law to the letter, but we are all called to follow the spirit of the law.

Paul realized that, while this controversy was going on, Gentiles coming into the Church felt like second-class citizens. Now he is making it abundantly clear that Christ has made all of us one in him. Paul says, “Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near….” Paul tells us that Christ has dissolved all barriers between us.

We are still working out the implications of this. Although our Lord has broken through all barriers, it is taking us much time and struggle to realize that all human beings are full members of the Body of Christ.

In our gospel for today, the apostles return from their missionary journey and tell Jesus about all the wonderful things that have happened. They go off to a quiet place to be with God and each other in prayer and peace. Then they get back into the boat, cross the Sea of Galilee, and go ashore only to find a huge crowd waiting for them. The designers of the lectionary want to emphasize the huge need the people had for healing and hope.

Verses 35 through 52 are omitted from this reading. They tell us about the feeding of the five thousand.

Then Jesus and his disciples cross the Lake again and go ashore only to find that people are rushing to bring their loved ones on mats so that Jesus can heal them. This gospel reading eloquently describes the hunger people had for Jesus and the deep need they felt for his healing. Today, people still need Jesus’ healing.

As Jesus goes ashore for the first time in our gospel for today, the text says “   He had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.”

We do not have Jesus present with us in person to teach us many things. In fact, we are his risen body called to teach and heal on his behalf. Sometimes we may wish he were here so that we could turn to him and ask him questions. Indeed, he is here among us now.

People in our world and in our neighborhood may well feel like sheep without a shepherd, and our Lord is calling us to minister to these people. Even we may feel like sheep without a shepherd. On an ecclesiastical, earthly level, we do have a shepherd, and that is our Bishop. Our ultimate shepherd is Jesus.

This past Tuesday, Bishop Tom and I visited Nat and Nini. We were discussing what we can do to make the world a better place. Bishop Tom remarked that we live in a world where many people do not have enough to eat, and that, until everyone does have enough food, feeding people is a very high priority. He commended the ministry of the Sheldon Food Shelf. Thank you all for your support of the food shelf, and many other ministries, and for all the ways in which you share Christ’s love and care with others every day of your lives.

As we discussed the challenges that face the Church, Bishop Tom said that here in Vermont, and this is a paraphrase, there are two things that stand out to him. Vermont is a place where the Church has great vitality, and he pointed to Grace as an example of that. At the same time, here in the Church in Vermont, there is a certain fragility, and  he said that we need to be careful not to let the sense of fragility divert us from the vitality.

One of my spiritual guides, Sister Claire Boissy of the Sisters of Mercy, would often say, “Go where the life is.” A young leader in our Church recently said, “We don’t have to invent the wheel; we have the wheel.” The scriptures, sacraments, and teaching of the Church are the wheel. Christ is alive among us and in us. Grace is a place of life.

Let us focus on the vitality and where that leads us with the help of the Spirit. Let us also keep a careful eye on the fragility. We can be grateful that Grace has been a good steward of its building and financial gifts. And then again, let us focus on the vitality. That is where the life is, and Christ is in our midst.  Amen.


Pentecost 8 Proper 10 B RCL     July 15, 2018

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
Psalm 24
Ephesians 1:3-14
Mark 6:14-29

Our first reading is full of joy at the gifts of God. David has defeated the Philistines, something that King Saul was never able to do. God’s people are now united under one king. David is going to move the ark to Jerusalem, which he has just conquered. Jerusalem will now be the civil and religious capital of the new kingdom. David and an army of thirty thousand men are going to get the ark of God, which had led the people out of slavery in Egypt, had resided at the temple in Shiloh, and then had been placed at the home of Abinadab, a short distance from Jerusalem.

Scholars tell us that we have no way of knowing what the ark had looked like or exactly what was inside the ark. But for God’s people, it symbolized the presence and power of God. Clearly, it was large and heavy enough to require a cart. David and all the people dance with joy at this celebration of the presence of God.

David wears the ephod, a priestly garment. He makes a sacrifice to the Lord. The people place the ark inside the tent which David has made. All of this is a solemn liturgical action. David then blesses the people and distributes the food of the offering to all the people. All of this reminds us of the Eucharist and the feeding of the huge crowds by our Lord.

The rule of David, the shepherd-king, will be rooted and grounded in God, and this is something to be celebrated by all the people.

Our first reading reminds us that there is great joy in our faith in God, and our epistle builds upon that thought. The Letter to the Ephesians was probably written by a disciple of Paul, and it was a kind of newsletter addressed to the many Gentile congregations in Asia Minor.

This inspiring letter tells us that, before time began, God chose us to be God’s children. God has poured out grace upon us and has given us the gift of forgiveness and newness of life in Christ. We have been made part of the living body of Christ on the earth, and we are working with our Lord, in the power of the Spirit, to build his kingdom. These are gifts we have received from our loving and generous God, and we could spend the rest of our lives dancing with joy in gratitude for God’s many gifts to us.

Our first two readings are filled with joy, but our gospel for today seems full of darkness. Jesus and his disciples have been going around the countryside healing people and teaching about the love of God.  Jesus has just sent the disciples out to teach and preach and heal people. King Herod Antipas thinks that Jesus is John the Baptist resurrected.

It is a grisly story, and we actually have a flashback here.  Herod married his brother Philip’s wife, which was against the law. He was able to do such an awful thing because he was the ruler and no one would dare to try to stop him or even confront him.

Herod Antipas, like his father before him and descendants after him, had no respect for the law and used his power to do whatever he felt was necessary to preserve his position. Very few people would have the courage to challenge such a ruthless leader. But John the Baptist told him that what he had done was wrong. Herod had John thrown in prison, but there was something about John that drew Herod to him. Herod would talk with John from time to time. He respected John. Deep down, he knew John the Baptist was right.

We all know the story. Contrary to what Hollywood has told us, there is no Salome in this story. There is a Salome in some accounts of the resurrection, but that’s a different person.

Herodias comes in and dances. Herod is probably quite drunk, so his judgment is impaired, but he promises her anything she wants. She consults her mother, who hates John the Baptist for telling the truth, and the next scene in this horrific tragedy is the gruesome appearance of John the Baptist’s head on a platter.  Herod does not feel good about this but he gave his word, and, probably more importantly, what would all these guests think if he goes back on his ill-advised promise? John’s disciples come and give him a decent burial.

If we look at the actual text, there is a pause of several lines. We come back to the present after that flashback to the death of John the Baptist.  We remember that Jesus has sent his disciples out to share God’s love forgiveness, and healing. The disciples return from their mission trip and tell Jesus about all the healings they have done and all the wonderful gifts God has given people. Then they are surrounded by a huge crowd of people hungry to hear Jesus’ message. Night is coming, and you know this story, too. More than five thousand people are fed, and there are plenty of leftovers.

Then and now, it is a dangerous thing to speak truth to power. John the Baptist and Jesus paid the ultimate price. Many others, following in their footsteps, have also paid that price. But make no mistake: God’s love, as shown forth on the Cross, is the most powerful force in the world. Love is stronger than hate. Love is stronger than fear. God’s kingdom is growing, and God is calling us to help to build it. Now, as always, the followers of Jesus have, as our baptismal covenant says, “the gift of joy and wonder in all [God’s] works,” just as David and the people of God had great joy in God’s presence so many years ago, just as Paul and his followers had deep joy in God’s grace as the followers of Jesus were building new communities of faith.

I close with a prayer which was given to me by my sister in Christ, Sara. It is by William Sloane Coffin. “May God give us grace never to sell ourselves short, grace to risk something big for something good, and grace to remember that the world is now too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love.  Amen.”

Pentecost 7 Proper 9B RCL July 8, 2018

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10
Psalm 48
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Mark 6:1-13

In our first reading today. all the tribes of Israel gather and call David to be their king. This coronation not only makes David their king officially. It also renews the covenant between God and the people. David had many flaws, but he also had a very deep faith in God, and this was the source of his greatness as a leader.

In our epistle for today, we have a passage that is full of meaning. Paul founded the congregation in Corinth. Other teachers and leaders have followed him, and they are saying all kinds of negative things about him, including that he does not have enough mystical experiences.

So Paul tells a story. I know this man, he says, who had a profound mystical experience. He was taken up to the seventh heaven, the highest heaven, and he heard things that humans could never even think to express or repeat. The story is about himself, but he is too humble to say that.

And then, he tells this congregation that has been so difficult and so  critical of him that he has a thorn in the flesh. We have no idea what this could be. Many people have written about their theories about this, but responsible scholars make it clear that we have no way of knowing what this weakness is.

Paul makes himself vulnerable to these highly gifted and extraordinarily finicky Corinthians by sharing his greatest weakness! He tells them and us that he prayed three times for God to take this thing away, but that miracle did not happen. Instead, God told Paul something that is at the core of our faith and the center of our life in Christ, and I’m using the Revised Standard translation because  I think it makes the point even more clearly: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

What a paradox and what a mystery! We can have a weakness, a disease or a flaw or whatever it is, and through that flaw, God can show God’s power. We have this thing, whatever it is, and we pray and pray, and we do have sincere faith, and the day comes when we realize that God is showing God’s power through helping us to cope with this thorn in our flesh, and through that coping, with God’s grace, our faith deepens and our love of Christ grows stronger and our compassion for others increases.

We can only imagine how many people have read this passage and had their lives changed by it.

In our gospel for today, Jesus returns to his home town of Nazareth. They marvel at his wisdom. but they cannot see who he truly is because he is the son of Jospeh and Mary. He is someone they know. He is the son of the carpenter and why is he not working in the carpenter shop? This may be a possible source of that observation that “Familiarity breeds contempt.” Their preconceptions prevent them from realizing they are meeting their Savior.

Jesus makes a comment that holds a great deal of truth: “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” Isn’t it interesting how we hire consultants from outside to give us guidance on what to do? Sometimes that is a good idea, but we also need to realize that we who are living in a community and are members of a parish, have much more knowledge than an outsider can possibly have.

The text tells us that Jesus “Could do no deed of power there.” He had just healed the daughter of Jairus and the woman who had a hemorrhage and many other people, but he couldn’t heal anyone in Nazareth. We have to be open to the power and love and healing of our Lord in order for him to help us.

Let us note that the rejection does not stop him from doing his ministry. He goes around the villages teaching, and he sends the disciples out do their ministry of healing and forgiveness. Many people turn their lives around, and many are healed.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” This is at the heart of our faith. Jesus died on a cross. That is a position of complete and utter weakness in the world’s eyes. He did not muster an army. He did kill those who opposed him. He could have. He had all the power in the world. He took all that hatred and contempt and, as Barbara Brown Taylor says, he “took all the man-made wreckage of the world inside himself and labored with it for almost three days—and he did not let go of it until he could transform it and return it to us as life.” (Taylor, Teaching Sermons on Suffering: God in Pain, p. 118.)

And that is what he can do with our weaknesses and our defeats. He can take the things that make us feel ashamed and discouraged and unworthy and transform them into sources of a faith deeper than we could have imagined. He can turn those weaknesses into strengths that help us to carry out our ministries to others and spread his love.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Loving and gracious Lord, thank you for your grace. Thank you for your power, the power to make us and the creation whole. May we use the gift of your grace to help you build your kingdom.  Amen.

Pentecost 7 Proper 10B RCL July 12, 2015

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
Psalm 24
Ephesians 1: 3-14
Mark 6:14-29

Our first reading describes a memorable and joyful moment in the history of God’s people. King David has defeated the Philistines, which sets the people free for a new beginning. The ark of God, which is the center of God’s presence, the ark which led them through the wilderness into the promised land, is being carried into Jerusalem, which is going to be the religious and political center of the new united kingdom of Judah and Israel under David.

We do not know exactly what the ark looked like, but, clearly, it was large enough to have to be carried on a cart, a new cart to signify the new beginning. This cart was pulled by oxen. The entire journey from the home of Abinadab to Jerusalem, becomes a joyful procession. David and all the people of Israel dance together and sing praises to the glory of God. This celebration is for everyone, not just for the king’s court.

David wears the priestly garment, the ephod, and makes sacrificial offerings to God. When the ark has been reverently placed inside the tent constructed for it, David blesses the people and gives food from the ceremony to all the people to take home.

This event, at the beginning of David’s reign, makes it clear that David is the good shepherd who places his faith in God and takes care of all the people. The king is a spiritual leader as well as a political figure. This whole ceremony reminds us of the Eucharist and the feeding of the five thousand. David is a good shepherd of the people, and this ceremony foreshadows the coming of our own Good Shepherd Jesus.

Everyone present at this celebration will remember it for the rest of his or her life. What a beautiful and joyful beginning to a new reign!

In our reading from the letter to the Ephesians, we read of all the gifts and blessings God has given us. God has adopted us as God’s own children, God has chosen us to be members of the Body of Christ. Most of all, God has come among us and lived among us. Our Lord Jesus has freed us from the mire of our sins and given us the grace to live life in a new way. All these many gifts are not just for a few people, but for everyone. Just as the celebration of David’s kingship was open to all, so the gift of new life in Christ is for everyone.

Our gospel for today is extremely difficult. Let’s place it in context. Last Sunday, Jesus went to his own home town and the people did not accept him. But at the end of that gospel reading, Jesus sent his disciples out into the world to preach the good news and to teach and heal people. So at the beginning of this gospel, the disciples are out in the world carrying on Jesus’ ministry.

Herod Antipas was a very different kind of king from David. He had divorced his wife to marry the wife of his brother Philip. John the Baptist has told him that was wrong. Herod used to go and talk with John the Baptist because he knew John was right, that John had courage and morality, and that he, Herod needed both those things. But at the same time, he rankled that John had named his immoral acts.

When Herod hears about Jesus’ ministry and how word is spreading about this wonderful teacher, he thinks that John the Baptist has come back to life.

Herod’s wife had never forgiven John for pointing out the immorality of her marriage to Herod Antipas. We all know the gruesome story of the murder of John the Baptist. Depending on which gospel we are reading, the details differ slightly. Contrary to what we see in the world of film, the gospels do not mention anyone named Salome in this story. There is someone of that name mentioned in connection with the resurrection.

So Mark is doing one of his sandwich things here. He starts out one story and then inserts another one. Jesus sends the disciples out to do ministry, Herod hears about it and then we have this awful flashback to the killing of John the Baptist. John’s disciples come to get his body and give it a decent burial.

Why is this story here? One reason is to draw a parallel between Jesus and John. They both speak truth to power, threaten power, and are killed. Ultimately, Jesus is going to be crucified.

But let’s look again at the context. What happens after this section of Mark? What happens is that the disciples come back to report to Jesus on their work. And they are full of joy. They have brought healing and good news to people, and the response has been wonderful, They have had success.

What are these readings telling us? What is God telling us this morning? David was not perfect by any means. Later, he would make many mistakes. But he began by rooting and grounding his kingship in faith in God and care for his people. And he felt deep joy in his relationship with God. He danced and sang with joy in God’s many blessings.

Our epistle echoes that theme. How many blessings God has showered upon us, and how much joy we can have in knowing how much God loves us and how much we love God.

And what about this most difficult gospel? Jesus sends the disciples out. Travel light. Trust in God. Stay where you are welcomed. If people do not want to hear you, shake the dust off your feet and go on to the next town.

Yes, Herod killed John the Baptist. People in power use that power to protect themselves. Many of John’s disciples joined Jesus’ followers. And they went out and spread his love and forgiveness. And here we are, inheritors of all those gifts.Yes, there are obstacles and challenges, and persecution. These things are happening right now in our world. But above and beyond all those things is the joy in following Christ, and the gratitude for all his gifts.  Amen.


Pentecost 6 Proper 9B July 5, 2015

2 Samuel 5:1-5,9-10
Psalm 48
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Mark 6:1-13

In our opening reading, David is crowned King of Israel and Judah. We know that God had sent Samuel to anoint a King from among Jesse’s sons, and that the young shepherd boy, David, turned out to be the chosen one. A bit later, David was crowned King of the Southern Kingdom, Judah, and now the elders of Israel come to crown him as their King as well. David then takes over Jerusalem, which is on the border of the two kingdoms, as the place where the king will dwell. The most important thing is that David is the King that God has chosen and David is called to carry out God’s will. Our opening Hymn, based on Psalm 72, is a song of praise to the king. This hymn lets us know that all leaders are called to adhere to the values of God’s kingdom.

In our epistle, Paul is defending himself against people he calls “super apostles,” teachers and evangelists who have come to the faith community in Corinth and have attacked Paul. They say that Paul  says one thing and does another, this mostly because he had planned to visit Corinth and then was not able to do so. They also say that Paul does not have enough mystical experiences. According to these people, a true spiritual  leader must gave frequent mystical experiences and then brag about them.

Paul decides to play their game. He has had some powerful mystical experiences, but, when he brags, he brags about his weakness and the power of Christ. As we all know, the cross is at the center of our faith. As he showed what many might see as weakness on the cross, our Lord freed us from all that imprisons us and led us into life in a new dimension. “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness,” Paul writes. What a powerful inspiration for us when we feel our own weakness and we need God’s strength.

In our gospel, Jesus goes back to his hometown. As any rabbi would do on the sabbath, he goes to teach in the synagogue. People wonder, “Where did he get all this? How did he become such a wise teacher?” They are really impressed. But then the tide turns. Isn’t this Jesus, Mary and Joseph’s son? And they take offense at him. They think he is putting on airs.

This led me to wonder, what if we lived in Nazareth back then? Here are Mary and Joseph and their family. Here the scriptures are telling us that Jesus had four brothers, James, Joses, Judas, and Simon, and that he also had several sisters, We do not know how many. Joseph was a carpenter, and we can assume that, as was the custom, he trained Jesus in that trade. So Jesus made tables and benches and all kinds of things for his neighbors in Nazareth. He was the carpenter’s son.

At some point, Jesus went away for a while. Some scholars think he studied with the Essenes, a religious community of that time. There, he would have  engaged in prayer and study of the scriptures. As we know, he was called to be baptized in the River Jordan by his cousin John, and then his ministry began.

From this account in Mark’s gospel, we can see that Jesus was a wise teacher. How would we have responded to him? The people in the synagogue asked, “What deeds of power are being done by his hands?” I think we can be quite certain that word would have been spreading about Jesus’ ministry. People would have known about his healings.

Would we have assumed that skeptical tone? Would we have thought Jesus was putting on airs?

As most of you know, I grew up in a little village in central Vermont called East Calais. It was and is a community where people worked hard, helped each other out, and were generally down to earth folks. It was a place where you could really make a deal or a contract on a handshake. Many folks had farms, and often the dads would also work a second job to supplement the family income, because these were small farms, nothing like what we see today in Vermont. One dad was a carpenter, another worked in the granite quarries in Barre, and so on. We were all just plain, ordinary people.

When I was in high school, the son of one of our farm families came home to visit, and he was featured in the local paper, the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus. He was kind of a celebrity. He had gone to college and then he had decided to work with what we would now call an NGO, and he was spending his life working overseas to help people around the world have better lives.

While he was home, he gave a talk which many of us attended. He described the work he was doing in an extremely down to earth and humble way, and most of us were inspired. For us he was a local hero. He was the only member of his family who had gone to college,  and he was doing work that made the world a better place, but nobody thought he was putting on airs.  Here’s Don Luce. His Dad is a farmer. All his brothers work on the farm. His Mom is the postmistress.  We thought he was an inspiration.

If we had lived in Nazareth or Sheldon or Franklin or Montgomery or Fletcher and Jesus had grown up on a farm and left for awhile and then come back to our church to teach, how would we have reacted?

How would we react if he walked in right now? Would we have some preconceived notions about what a teacher should be, as the Corinthians and the people of Nazareth did?

If Jesus walked in here right now, what would we say to him?

I think we would want to thank him for all he has done for us, for giving us new life, for leading and guiding us each day, for protecting us and strengthening us in our weakness, and for giving us his amazing grace.  Amen.