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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:…
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Lent 2 Year B RCL March 4, 2012

 Genesis 17: 1-7, 15-16
Psalm 22: 22-30
Mark 8: 31-38 

This morning we start out with the great man of faith, Abram. He is 99 years old. God appears to him and tells him that he is going to be the “ancestor of a multitude of nations.” The only problem with this is that Abram and his wife have not been able to have any children. But God tells Abram that they will have a son. God also says that Abram’s name will become Abraham and Sarai’s name will become Sarah. There will be a change of identity for each of them.

 In our epistle for today, Paul builds on this image of Abraham as the major example of the faithful person. Paul tells us that, “hoping against hope,” Abraham did not doubt God’s word to him. And we all know what happened. God was faithful.

I want to focus on today’s gospel because it has so much in it. Jesus has alluded to it before, but now he is trying to help the disciples to understand the nature of his ministry. He spells it right out for them: he is going to be rejected by all the important authorities and he is going to be killed.

Peter can’t stand this. He takes Jesus aside and begins to scold him for saying such awful things. I think he does this for several reasons. The first is that he loves Jesus and he doesn’t want Jesus to die. The other is that he has the idea of a messiah as a liberating king who comes in and sets up his reign by force. It’s going to take a long time before Peter gets this idea out of his head. The idea of the suffering servant as presented by Isaiah and other prophets was not as popular and easy as the idea of the conquering hero, but that’s the messiah God was sending.

But then we have this painful, dramatic moment. Jesus snarls to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Ouch! How this must have stung Peter. How it must have shocked him to have Jesus call him this name. Satan is the ultimate tempter, and Jesus is calling Peter this terrible name.

I believe that Jesus uses this wording because he is indeed tempted. He doesn’t want to suffer. Later in the garden he asks that, if this cup may pass from his lips, let it happen, but, if not, he will go through with it. I wonder if Jesus was shocked after saying these words. I wonder if he wanted to take them back. But there they were, hanging in the air.

Then Jesus gathers the crowd along with the disciples and he says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

What does this mean? On the most simple level, it means that, if we are focused only on ourselves, on what we need and what we want, we are going to miss the point of life. In Twelve Step programs, there is a saying that EGO means Ease God Out. There is much truth in that. On the other hand, Jesus is not calling us to destroy ourselves by taking on too much or to sacrifice ourselves by taking care of others and never taking care of our own needs. We are called to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. In order to do this, we need to realize that God loves us and we need to love ourselves. So, there is a fine balance here.

I believe that Jesus is calling us to make our major commitment to him   and to his shalom. He is calling us to give ourselves to something larger than ourselves which will give meaning to our lives and will bring us true joy. But life in him is not trouble free. We may have to make difficult sacrifices, hard choices.  Some folks seem to believe that if we follow Jesus, our lives will be all peaches and cream; we will be protected from all pain and problems, and we will live happily ever after. All we have to do is to look at the lives of a few saints to realize that that is not true. When we look at the life of Jesus, we know it isn’t true.

On Ash Wednesday we said that Jesus is calling us to take up our cross and he also said that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. We talked about each yoke for each individual ox was carved specifically to match every bump and lump on that ox’s neck and shoulders. To take up our cross is to walk our Lenten journey knowing that our yoke is  especially fitted to us. There is a certain lightness of being associated with taking the focus off self and throwing ourselves in with the work of God’s shalom.

One of my favorite followers of Jesus, Barbara Brown Taylor, talks about taking up our cross in terms of facing our worst fear. She says that the reason Peter said what he said was that, when Jesus told them he was going to die, that raised the specter of Peter’s worst fear: death. Peter had to face the fact that Jesus was going to die and he, Peter was going to die.

Whatever our worst fear may be, she says, we need to look it in the face. It may be fear of a diagnosis of some dread disease, or it may be fear of not measuring up, or it may be fear of death. But, whatever it is, that fear holds us in bondage. That fear is running our lives.

Taylor writes, “Whatever it is that scares you to death, so that you start offering to do anything, anything at all, if it will just go away, that is your cross, and, if you leave it lying there, it will kill you. If you turn away from it, (God forbid it, Lord!) with the excuse that this should never have happened to you, then you deny God the chance to show you the greatest mystery of all: that there, right there in the dark fist of your worst fear, is the door to abundant life.

Taylor continues. “I cannot say more than that. I don’t dare, or God might test me on it, but Jesus does dare. Stop running from your cross, he says. Reach down and pick it up. It isn’t nearly as scary once you get your hands on it, and no one is asking you to handle it alone. All you have to do is believe in God more than you believe in your fear. Then pick it up, come on with me, and I will show you the way to the door.”

May we walk the way of the cross. May we pick up the cross of our worst fear and let our Lord transform it into new life.  Amen.

Lent 1 Year B RCL February 26, 2012

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

 Martin Smith is a priest and a monk, a member of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, a religious community for men in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. Martin is a member of the community based in Boston. I have long respected his spiritual depth.

In his book of meditations for Lent,  A Season for the Spirit, Martin has a wonderful meditation on the Baptism of Christ. I am going to share this meditation with you because it gives us a perspective I have never heard expressed by any other person. I hope this will be as helpful to you as it has been to me.

Martin Smith writes, “If you were to picture the scene of Jesus’ baptism in your imagination, what would it be like? What feelings would arise? I did not realize how much I had been influenced by the typical representations of the scene in conventional Christian art until I went to a showing of Paolini’s film, The Gospel according to St. Matthew.  I found myself taken by surprise at the scene of Jesus’ baptism by John, and wept. It took a lot of thinking and praying to gain insight about why I had been moved by this scene in particular. In time I realized that hundreds of stained glass windows and paintings depicted only the two figures in the water. But the film shook me into the realization that Jesus’ baptism was  not a private ceremony but a mass affair with hundreds of men and women swarming in the river, and hundreds more waiting on the bank to take their place. Religious pictures had blunted the impact of the gospels’ insistence on the sheer numbers involved. “And there went out to him all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem, and they were baptized by him in the River Jordan, confessing their sins.”  (Mark 1:5.) Luke repeats the word ‘multitudes’ and paints the picture of a mass baptism. ‘Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized….’  (Luke 3: 21.)

Insight gradually dawned that I had been moved by an intuition of Jesus’ solidarity with ordinary, struggling men and women. John preached a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” It was for the masses of mediocre people whose failures, lukewarmness, and mundane unfaithfulness made the prospect of coming judgment terrible. New converts to Judaism passed through a baptismal rite as part of their initiation. Now everyone needed a fresh start, as radical as the one made by a pagan who was embracing Judaism. John was offering  to the masses of ordinary people a baptism which could give them that new beginning.

Jesus’ reaction to John’s preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins was a crucial turning point. He could have kept his distance, an innocent young man conscious of unbroken faithfulness to God, looking with pity on the thousands of ordinary people who were overwhelmed by the realization of their own moral inadequacy. But instead of looking down on them from afar, secure in his own guiltlessness, Jesus plunged into the waters with them and lost himself in the crowd. He threw away his innocence and separateness to take on the identity of struggling men and women who were reaching out en masse for the lifeline of forgiveness.

It was at that moment when Jesus had thrown away his innocent individuality in exchange for the identity of needy, failed, struggling human beings that ‘the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, “thou art my beloved Son: with thee I am well pleased.”’ (Luke 3: 21, 22.)

God’s pleasure in Jesus can no longer be contained, and it bursts out. God is well-pleased precisely in Jesus’ self-emptying assumption of our identity. The Spirit reveals to Jesus that he is the beloved Son of God at the precise moment when Jesus had taken on the role of the son of Man. The strange idiom which Jesus was to use to refer to himself might be better translated, ‘the Human Being.’ In the muddy river Jesus was taking on the role of representing Humanity, of being its suffering  Heart and Self before God. As soon as Jesus had done that decisively, God flooded him with awareness of his unique relationship as Son and anointed him with the life-giving Breath for his mission.

I had wept because the fleeting images of the film had invited me into the Jordan experience as no static stained-glass window or old master had done. Can you feel and see yourself as part of that crowd of  humanity in the muddy water, as I started to then, and experience the entry of Jesus into our condition, into our needs? He chooses to plunge into it and make it his own. Nothing about me, about us, is foreign to him. He has chosen to be the Self of our selves.

And now, years later, I believe I wept because of the timing of the descent of the Spirit, the coincidence between the moment of Jesus’ solidarity with human beings and the moment of God’s revelation of intimate relationship with Jesus. Never did any event so deserve the name ‘moment of truth.’ The Spirit descended when Jesus embraced the truth of our interconnectedness, our belonging together in God. As soon as Jesus undertook to live that truth to the full, he was suffused with awareness of his own unique origin from and union with God and was filled with God’s Breath. This coincidence reveals the axis on which the gospel turns. The barriers which hold us back from one another in fearful individuality are the identical barriers which block the embrace of God and insulate us from the Spirit. It is one and the same movement of surrender to open ourselves to intimacy and personal union with God in the Spirit, and to open ourselves to compassion and solidarity with our struggling, needy fellow human beings. I was weeping in that Oxford cinema, though I did not understand it at the time, under the impact of this insight. To be open to the Spirit is also to be open to humanity in all its fractured confusion and poverty and its ardent reaching for fulfillment. To be open to the embrace of the Father is necessarily and inevitably to be open to the whole creation which is held in that embrace.”

Martin closes the meditation with this prayer:

“Spirit like a dove descending, in spite of my timidity I am appealing to you to centre my heart on this axis of truth in these forty days. Every small step you enable me to take towards a deeper compassion for my fellow human beings will lead me further into the experience of the Father’s delight in me and care for me. And vice versa. Every step I take in meditation to intensify my awareness of the love of God poured into my heart through the gift of your indwelling, will take me into a deeper identification with the suffering world, ‘groaning in travail together until now.’”

Epiphany 6B RCL February 12, 2012

2 Kings 5: 1-14
Psalm 30
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
Mark 1 40-43

 In our opening reading, we have the wonderful story of Naaman, a powerful general who has leprosy. Scholars tell us that the word “leprosy” in the Bible does not necessarily mean the horribly disfiguring  ailment which we call leprosy, Hansen’s Disease.  In biblical times, many different kinds of skin ailments were called leprosy.  These diseases all caused great distress for their victims. In Jewish law, anyone with such a disease was considered unclean. More on this later.

 Naaman is an excellent general and a very successful and wealthy  man. Except for this one problem, his life is perfect. The great preacher and theologian Herbert O’Driscoll says that he wonders why someone in the nineteenth century didn’t make an opera out of the story of Naaman’s healing.After many ups and downs, he finally does wash himself seven times in the Jordan river and is immediately healed, but it is entirely through the efforts of servants and other little people that he finally sees reason and follows Elisha’s simple directions.

 Naaman is a foreigner and is not a Jew, yet God still heals him. His money and his power have nothing to do with this happy outcome. It is purely the gift of a loving God.

 In our gospel for today, we have another healing of a leper. If you had a skin condition in Jesus’ time, as we noted earlier, you were considered ritually unclean.  Biblical scholar Paul Galbreath tells us that anyone with such a condition  had to go to the priests who would determine how serious his condition was and would make a treatment plan. If the disease was in an acute stage, the person would be quarantined to determines the severity and infectious nature of the condition. Galbreath says that if the person showed no signs of healing, he could be banished. Herbert O’Driscoll writes that a person with such a skin condition had to stay 150 yards away from any other human being, except another leper. In addition to the physical suffering inflicted by the disease, the isolation and stigma and loneliness were horrendous.

 I share this information to allow us to get a sense of the desperation of this man. We wonder how many times this person had tried to approach Jesus. We think what it must have taken for him to get to this point. He calls out to Jesus, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Of course Jesus chooses to make this man whole, He reaches out, touches him, and says, “I do choose. Be made clean!”

 It is almost impossible for us to understand all the levels of meaning in this. In those days, to be ritually unclean was almost worse than being dead. This is why the priest and the Levite walk by on the other side rather than touching the man who has fallen among thieves in the parable of the Good Samaritan. In order to obey the law, they have to choose allowing someone to die rather than risking becoming ritually unclean.

When Jesus reaches out and touches this leper, he not only takes the risk of getting the man’s disease, he becomes ritually unclean. He tells the man to go to the priest and make the offering required in order for them to declare him clean. That’s what you had to do. The priest had to say that you were well now and you could return to your family and friends, associate with people, talk with people, and generally become human again.

But Jesus can’t go to the priest and be declared clean. From now on, he is going to be fighting this system of ritual purity and impurity. Paul Galbreath writes, “ Thus the point of the healing is to press the issue of injustice with religious leaders who uphold laws in ways that violate God’s mercy for those who are sick and weak. Jesus sends the man to the priest in order that he may provide witness over and against a system that has isolated him from contact with members of his community.” (Galbreath, New Proclamation, Year B 2012, p.94.)

Jesus transcended the purity code. He reached out and touched everyone you weren’t supposed to associate with. We can ask ourselves, what kinds of folks do we consider impure or not quite up to snuff? People with HIV/Aids, drug addicts, alcoholics, those who have served time in prison, migrant workers, all these groups come to mind. We still have this tendency to say these people are in, but those people are out. As we run the spiritual race, as we develop our askesis, our athletic training of the spirit which Paul described so eloquently, it’s so important for us to remember that, in our Lord’s kingdom, everyone is sitting at the table.  Everyone is at the feast.

This past Tuesday, I had the privilege of meeting the Rev. Kim Erno, a native of Swanton who has spent the past ten years in Mexico doing all kinds of creative ministries which we will be hearing more about in coming months. For some time now, Kim has felt a call to return home and work with our Mexican migrant workers here in Franklin County.

Beth and Jan will have the opportunity to meet with Kim on February 16 at a gathering of folks from churches around this area and they will be discussing this new ministry.

This new ministry, called FARM (Franklin Alliance for Rural Ministries) is a wonderful response to today’s gospel. Kim is now working in the areas of Mexico from which most of our farm workers come. He speaks Spanish fluently and, when he returns and begins this ministry, he will be able to make personal connections between our brothers working here and their families in Mexico. He told me that the men working here do not have Spanish as their native language. Their native tongue is Mayan. Their roots go way back. Kim is also creating a network in Canada with people who help migrant workers north of the border, so we have all kinds of borders being crossed, barriers being broken, brothers and sisters becoming part of God’s loving family.

At the end of our visit, Kim and I came up and knelt at the altar rail and prayed together. I would ask that we pray together now.

Loving and gracious God, thank you for making us one in You. We pray for Kim as he prepares to come back home. Fill him with your grace, lead him in your light and guide him in your Spirit. We pray for those who will meeting on February 16, that your Spirit will be with them. And we pray for our migrant workers and those who are ministering and will be ministering to them. May they be surrounded by your love and filled with your grace. In Jesus’ name.


Epiphany 5B RCL February 5, 2012

 Isaiah 40: 21=31
Psalm 147: 1-12, 21c
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Mark 1: 29039

Our first reading, from the prophet known as the Second Isaiah, takes us back to the time of the Exile in Babylon. The people are feeling that God has forgotten them. Here they are, far from home, trying to hold on to their faith, but beginning to lose heart. They think that God does not understand their situation. Sometimes we feel that way. We ask, where is God in all of this? Does God care that we are going through this awful situation?

Through the prophet Isaiah, God answers the people. God is the One who created all things. As the text says, “The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.” And God assures us that God does not grow weary, that God “gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless …Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles.”

There is a deep truth in these passages from Isaiah:  that God is with us, that God understands us, that God will never grow weary in helping us, that, as Paul says, “God’s power is made perfect in weakness.” When we feel powerless and admit our powerlessness, God enables us to fly like eagles.

This theme of weakness carries into our epistle today. The congregation in Corinth has some members who feel they have superior knowledge. They are coming from a position of power, and they are attacking Paul. Paul is not saying that he has superior power or knowledge. He is saying that he tries to understand people, to walk in their shoes and have empathy for them so that he can share the good news with them in ways that they can understand. He writes, “I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some….” He is coming from a place of humility and meets people where they are. He is following the example of our Lord, who said, “I am among you as one who serves.”

In our gospel, Jesus and his disciples leave the synagogue in Capernaum and go to the home of Simon Peter and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law is in bed with a fever. They tell Jesus that she is ill. Jesus goes and takes her by the hand, and lifts her up. Scholars tell us that the Greek word used by Mark for “lifted up” is the same word Mark uses for Jesus’ resurrection. So this word means more than just lifted to a standing position. It means a rising to new life. The fever leaves her and she begins to serve them. The word for “to serve” is diakonia, the root word for deacon. Jesus heals her and calls her into new life and restores her to her ministry. Like the ministries of most of us, it is an ordinary everyday ministry of service—diakonia.

Word spreads fast. A healing has happened. By evening the whole city is at the door bringing people who need healing. Jesus ministers to them, but then, in the early morning, he goes off to pray. We all need to do that. We have times when we go to be with God and be recharged and renewed.

The disciples go to find Jesus and he tells them to go to the neighboring towns to share the good news and to make people whole.

What are these readings saying to us? First, at times when we feel that God is far away, times when we think there is no hope, times when we feel weak and unable to put one foot in front of another, God speaks to us and says, “I am the Creator of the vast galaxies, and I am also your loving God who will never leave you. I am always with you, to help you and guide you.”

Secondly, Jesus came as one of us, and Paul models that awareness in his ministry. He becomes the people he is called to serve, as Jesus became one of us. When we do our ministry we are called to become one with the people we are called to serve, to come from a place of empathy and servanthood, rather that a place of superiority and power. As Paul said, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”

Third, Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law, and she goes right back to serving them. He lifts her up, he makes her whole. He welcomes her to new life, and then she serves a meal. Not very exciting, we could say.

Most of our ministries are ordinary, everyday ministries of service. Nothing very dramatic. But because our Lord has called us and walks with us every step of the way, we do these ordinary things in a different way. Because he is with us, we listen to a troubled person in a different way, with his concern, with his love. Because he is with us, we may be writing a grant or working on a budget, or cleaning someone’s teeth, or doing laundry for a traumatized kid, or baking, or doing carpentry, or making a building more accessible, but we are doing it in a different way. We are carrying the presence and grace of our Lord to those we meet.

The fourth century theologian and bishop Cyril of Jerusalem wrote, “Everywhere the Savior becomes ‘all things to all men.’ To the hungry, bread; to the thirsty, water; to the dead, resurrection; to the sick, a physician; to sinners, redemption.” (New Proclamation Year B 2012, p. 91.)

Loving and gracious God, thank you for coming among us and leading us into newness of life. Thank you for calling us to minister to others in your Name. Give us grace, we pray, that we may be aware of your presence and help in the smallest and most ordinary of tasks and that we may share your love and healing as we serve our brothers and sisters, who, like us, are your beloved children. In Jesus’ Name.  Amen.

Epiphany 4B RCL January 29, 2012

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

In our first reading, God’s people are on the border of Canaan, poised to go into the promised land. God is assuring them that God will raise up prophets like Moses to guide the people. There is a long line of prophets such as Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Hosea, and many others who held God’s measuring rod up to their societies and called people to follow God’s ways.

More recently, we have prophetic people such as Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyl, who has led the struggle for democracy in Burma, also called Myanmar, and Professor Wangari Maathai, the tree lady of Kenya, founder of the Green Belt movement to plant trees and combat deforestation.  The Green Belt Movement has also promoted social justice and democracy. God is constantly calling forth prophets.

 Our reading from 1 Corinthians asks the question: Is it all right to eat food that has been sacrificed to idols? This may not be a burning question for us, but there are other issues which can divide us.  Paul offers a profound insight. He says, “Knowledge puffs up but love builds up.” As we are working through decisions and issues in the Body of Christ, it is important to treat each other with respect and to exercise humility.  Freedom and license are two different things. Our behavior affects the lives of others in the community.

In today’s gospel, Jesus and the disciples go to Capernaum, a large town located on the northern end of the Sea of Galilee. When the Sabbath comes, they go into the synagogue. In those days, the local synagogue was a place for teaching, praying, and studying the scriptures together. The Temple in Jerusalem was the place where worship and sacrifice took place.

Jesus teaches the people. They are astounded because he teaches with a personal authority and immediacy that is magnetic. They can tell that he has a close personal relationship with God.  He is not just mouthing things he has learned in a scholarly setting.  Jesus is not a Scribe, one of the people who are the official teachers of the law.  His authority comes directly from God.

Then we move into the next part of this gospel. There is a man with an unclean spirit in the synagogue.

 Scholars tell us that, in the first-century Mediterranean world, people believed that everything was caused by personal forces.  God was at the top, followed by “other gods,” sons of gods, and archangels. Then came angels, spirits, and demons. Then came humans with our own layers of social status.

Demons resisted any attempt to dislodge them from their host. In this gospel, the demons try to protect themselves by using Jesus’ name and recognizing his authority. If the demons admit Jesus’ power, maybe he will leave them alone.  Theologian Nancy Koester writes, “After all, why should the Holy One of God care about a bunch of unclean spirits inhabiting some worthless human being—especially if these unclean spirits know and confess who is boss? But Jesus will have none of it. For Jesus, authority is not merely the right to wield power over those of lesser rank, but it keeps in view the ends for which that power is used. Jesus does not make little compromises with evil. He has the authority to deliver, heal, convict, forgive, cleanse, and raise from the dead. He aims to defeat evil so that we can be set free.” (New Proclamation Year B, 1999-2000,  p. 111.)

 People believed that demons (the Greek term) or unclean spirits (the Semitic term) could control human behavior. Demons were seen as a force causing people to behave in unacceptable ways that separated them from the community. To set someone free from the demons not only cured them but also restored them to the community.

 Normally when Jesus encounters unclean spirits or demons in the gospel, I talk about how diseases were in those days attributed to demon possession. But this gospel is focusing on Jesus’ ability to confront and defeat the forces of darkness. Very early in his gospel, Mark is putting Jesus’ ministry in a cosmic framework.  He cares about even the most humble and insignificant person, and he has the power to defeat any and all forces that would rob us of God’s intended wholeness.

 Jesus has authentic authority. Remember that the word “authority” comes from the Latin auctoritas, authorship, creativity, that which sets us free. If we go back to our epistle for today, we would say that true authority builds up, does not tear down. True authority is always working toward health and wholeness.  The opposite of authority is the Latin imperium, that which imprisons, confines, controls.

In this scientific age, we do not often think in terms of forces which may control us. But they exist even if we don’t want to name them or face them. Greed, materialism, self-serving ambition, violence as entertainment, all forms of addiction including substance abuse, gambling, internet addiction, and the list goes on. All of these imprison people.

 We also don’t like to acknowledge the existence of evil in this world. But it is there. Many times it comes from our own misuse of God’s gift of free will.  Whenever we think we are facing the forces of darkness, it is a good idea to look within and see what we are doing to create this or contribute to it. But there are times when it is clear that there is a powerful and palpable force of darkness. C. S, Lewis, in his classic The Screwtape Letters, cautioned us neither to deny the existence of evil nor to give it too much power. 

I am an Associate of a religious order for women in the Episcopal Church called the Order of St. Helena.  I had the privilege of working with a wonderful spiritual guide who was a member of the Order. Her name was Sister Rachel Hosmer. Sister Rachel worked for many years in Africa. The people she worked with had beliefs similar to those of Jesus’ time. Their world was full of spirits and they practiced voodoo. People actually died from curses and other practices. Once, when I was having some encounters with the forces of darkness, Sister Rachel told me something like this: “When you are being assailed by these forces, they seem huge and endlessly powerful, so dark that they block your view, but just remember that, in the face of the light of Christ, they are but a little speck.”  Sister Rachel’s comment is a perfect summary of our gospel for today.                                   Amen.