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

Christmas Eve—The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ

Isaiah 9:2-7
Hymn 92—Angels from the realms of glory
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-20

No matter how many times we hear the Christmas story, it has something new to tell us every year. Isaiah proclaims, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” And indeed we have seen and are seeing that light.

This year, I have been thinking about the sheer humanness of this Christmas journey. Here we have Mary, a very young woman who is very pregnant, and Joseph,  the man to whom she is not yet married. So this pregnancy has a shadow of illegitimacy even though the Holy Spirit has created this child. Joseph is a man of deep faith who has a close relationship with God, a man who seeks the guidance of God and follows that guidance. And so, under this shadow but enlightened by God, Joseph does not divorce Mary, but rather follows God’s guidance. Mary, after asking some very reasonable questions, has said Yes to this amazing, creative, wonderful enterprise of God.

Things have been peaceful under the rule of Caesar Augustus, but Mary and Joseph live in a land that is occupied and carefully and sometimes ruthlessly, controlled by the vast and powerful Roman Empire. It has been a time of peace, which is good, but you know how governments can be. They like to keep track of things, so there is a census. Mary and Joseph have to go from Nazareth to Bethlehem, which is about 70 miles as the crow flies. It’s between 70 and 90 miles if you don’t fly, depending on the route you take.

Our son Michael was born on December 27, so that particular year I had no problem identifying with Mary. In fact, I thought about her a lot. Joseph was walking, leading the donkey on which she rode. Scholars tell us that back then folks usually walked about 3 miles an hour, and that the journey of, say, 80 miles would have taken at least four days, perhaps more. If it was four days, Joseph was walking almost seven hours each day. And Mary was keeping her seat on a lurching, bouncing, not very smoothly moving donkey that had no springs, shock absorbers or struts. Thinking about this has given me great respect and love for Mary. She is the one who said Yes to all of this, and we can all be thankful to her, because that took a level of courage that I can barely even imagine. We can also thank Joseph, who, because he loved Mary very much, respected her for her common sense and sound judgment, and had deep faith in God, believed what she told him about the angel Gabriel and his preposterous message and her saying Yes and then listened carefully to another angel who came to Joseph in a dream and confirmed Mary’s account.

And then when they finally got there, all the hotels were full, but a kindly innkeeper let them stay in the stable. So they were essentially homeless and then we know that, later, Joseph had to take his new family into Egypt to protect Jesus from King Herod, who, hearing of the birth of a new baby king, felt the best way to deal with this threat to his power was to kill all the baby boys. We’re getting ahead of ourselves, but this is by way of saying that our king was not born into privilege or security but into homelessness and refugee status.

But here he is, lying in a manger with bands of cloth around him—-a baby, not a king, not a president, not an emperor, but a baby. He came into the world just as we did.

And to whom did the angels proclaim this good news? Not kings and queens, not the privileged, but shepherds out tending their sheep by night. The fact that the angels told them first is astounding because shepherds were at the bottom of the social scale, They were considered ritually unclean, which was not a good thing to be, but  they couldn’t help it. Day in and day out, they were dealing with smelly sheep, the sheep manure, blood from cuts, flies circling around, all kinds of unclean things. And those are the people who were the first to receive these glad tidings. We need to keep in mind that the great King David, the ancestor of Jesus, was a shepherd, and that we know Jesus as our Good Shepherd, who will lead us to the green pastures and the good water. We know his voice and he knows us, warts and all, and loves us more than we can imagine but again we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Those shepherds had a quick consultation, and they knew they had to go and welcome this new king. The shepherds were the first preachers of the good news, They told everyone what the angels had told them. Mary treasured these things and pondered them in her heart and the shepherds went back to their flocks, singing God’s praises, their hearts warm with the love of God. On the social scale, they were low, but they were very close to the heart of God.

So God comes to us just as we came into the world, as a baby, and God lives a human life so that we can see God’s love shining forth from a fellow human being and we can live the way of love as Jesus calls us to do and as Bishop Curry teaches us to do.

We call Jesus Emmanuel, God with us. This day we remember and gather and sing with joy because God has come to be one of us and to show us the way. Our king has come to us in the most amazing way— as a little tiny baby in a little out of the way place rather like Sheldon or Montgomery or Fairfield or Fletcher or Franklin or Bakersfield or Enosburg Falls or Richford or Swanton or St. Albans. And God has come as an ordinary person to ordinary people like you and me.

And why has all of this happened? Because, in spite of our flaws, our past mistakes and stupid decisions and errors of judgment and things we wish we could do over again and get it right and things we wish we had not done at all, God loves us with a love that nothing can stop, a love that is immense beyond out ability to imagine, a love that is stronger than hate, a love that transforms division into unity, brokenness into wholeness, a love that brings life out of death. A love that is the most creative and powerful force on earth or anywhere else in God’s beloved universe. As Bishop Curry says, “Love is the Way.” Let us live in that Iove and walk that way of love.  Amen.

Good Friday April 2, 3021

Toward the end of the Good Friday gospel which we have just read, after hours and hours of suffering, Jesus sees his mother, Mary, and Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene, and John, the Beloved Disciple standing at the foot of the cross.

Although he has gone through this horrible agony, Jesus does one more thing that expresses his love so profoundly.   He says to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” And to John.”Here is your mother.” He creates a new family. He takes care of his mother. He takes care of his beloved friend. From that hour, John takes Mary, the mother of our Lord, into his home.

In his great love, our Lord has made us into a family, a family bonded together by his love and his presence. We have been in a long fast—over a year. We have not been able to be together; we have not been able to share Holy Eucharist; we have not been able to share the Peace, or hug each other, or talk face to face.

When this all began, I thought maybe it would be a few weeks or maybe months. But it has been much longer. During that time, more of our members have been called to volunteer at our food shelf. This ministry is a clear and powerful expression of God’s love for everyone. As Archbishop Tutu says, “God has a big family.”

Although we have been in this long, lonely, tragic fast and have lost so many brothers and sisters to Covid 19, I believe we have grown more deeply aware of this family God is creating and of the love God has for all of God’s children, our brothers and sisters. I think we have realized on deeper levels the power of God’s love.

Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “By entering into the experience of the cross, God took the man-made wreckage of the world inside himself and labored with it—a long labor, almost three days—and he did not let go of it until he could transform it and return it to us as life. This is the power of a suffering God, not to prevent pain but to redeem it, by going through it with us.” (Taylor, God in Pain: Sermons on Suffering, p. 118.)

God has made us a part of God’s big family, and God has been pouring out God’s love and grace and healing so that we can move through this exile, this fast, this desert experience of loneliness and lostness, this wandering, this grief, this frustration and anger, and grow stronger for it, as individuals and as a family rooted and grounded in Christ, a family linked together by the love of Christ. A family nurtured and guided by our Good Shepherd, who hears us when we call and knows each of us by name.

He has taken all the brokenness, all the sin, all that hurts and destroys and, as Taylor says, “returned it to us as life.” He has done all of this because he loves us with a love that is so deep and wide that we will never be able to understand it, but we can accept that love, and we can share it with others as we have been doing.

Just before he died, he created that new family, We are a part of that. We are a family in Him, and we are a part of his big family. May we accept his boundless love and may we continue to share his love with our brothers and sisters. Amen.

First Sunday after Christmas December 27, 2020

Isaiah 61:10-62:3
Psalm 147
Galatians 3:23-25, 4:4-7
John 1:1-18

“Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your  incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus  Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.” This is our powerful collect for today, the First Sunday after Christmas.

And then, our reading from John’s gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” We can picture in our minds the creation of the world. Christ ,the eternal Word, was there with God, and as God brought forth God’s vision of the creation, Christ, the Word, called the creation into being. Christ, the Word, the Logos, the plan for creation, the model for human life.

And then, in the next phrases of this amazing and inspiring gospel, the light is coming into the world. John the Baptist is testifying to the light. And then the true light, which enlightens everyone, is coming into the world. Jesus, the light of the world, brings light and hope to everyone in the world. We can envision a world of darkness lighting up with the light and love of Christ, We can understand that the light of Christ, the love and hope of Christ, can turn our lives from darkness and despair to light and hope. We can almost picture the whole dark world illuminated by the light of Christ, the dawn of a new day a new year, a new life for everyone.

But then,  our gospel says, “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him,” That led ultimately to the Cross. And yet, even out of that, he brought new life.  But to all who were open to him and welcomed him into their lives, “he gave power to become children of God.” When we open our lives to his love, he brings us as close to God as children are to their own loving parents.

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us…full of grace and truth.” God loves us so much that God came among us as one of us, born as a little baby, just as we were born.

He did not come as a conquering warrior, though he could have. He did not come among us as an earthly king, though he could have done that too. He came into human life just as we do,  He was born in a little place called Bethlehem, in a cave used as a stable. He was born before Mary and Joseph were married, so some tongues wagged, and some folks considered him to be an illegitimate child. And then, King Herod, who  had heard from the wise men about the new king, killed all the baby boys to stamp out that  threat. Joseph, a very protective and courageous foster father, and Mary, as protective and courageous as her husband, had to take Jesus into Egypt. This meant that they were refugees, migrants. seeking asylum. Jesus knows what it is to be human and he also knows what it is to be persecuted, marginalized, and demeaned. 

When things became safer, the holy family moved back to Nazareth, where Joseph was a carpenter. Jesus grew up learning the carpenter’s trade and studied the scriptures and eventually began his earthly ministry by being baptized by his cousin John in the Jordan River.

After that, he spent somewhere between one and three years, depending on whose account we read, going from place to place telling people how much God loves us and how much God wants us to love each other. In a patriarchal culture, he had high respect for women; in a culture that saw children and women as chattel, possessions, he instructed his disciples to let the children come to him so that he could hold them in his arms. He made it crystal clear that God’s love knows no barriers. This was a threat to people who wanted to preserve their power, and he ended up dying on that horrible instrument of torture called the cross. 

And then, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and found that it was empty. He was not there. She saw a man and thought he was the gardener, but he called her name, and she knew that it was Jesus. He had risen. She ran to tell the others. And then people began seeing him. He appeared to two of them on the road to Emmaus, but they didn’t even recognize him until they invited him in for supper and he interpreted the scriptures in a way that set their hearts on fire. Peter and the disciples were out fishing and, when they came ashore there he was, cooking fish and bread over a fire. He appeared to the disciples in the locked upper room and said, “Peace be with you.” And he called us to build his peace, his shalom, over the whole earth. And that’s what we are trying to do, with his grace. 

He is alive, He is in our midst, and he is calling us to walk the Way of Love. Let us follow him, our Emmanuel, God with us. Amen.

Advent 4B December 20, 2020

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Psalm 89:1-4. 19-26
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38

This morning, the Fourth Sunday of Advent, we begin with Canticle 15, the Magnificat, Mary’s song about God’s kingdom of justice and mercy. 

Then we read in the Second Book of Samuel about how David has built a house and is settling down after years of going from place to place. David thinks to himself that it would be a good idea to build a house for God. He discusses this with the prophet Nathan who also thinks it is a good idea. But then God speaks to Nathan and tells this faithful prophet that God will build a house for David. God will establish David as a King over God’s people. It is from this royal line that the Messiah will come.

And then we have Psalm 89, a song about God’s love. “Your love, O Lord forever will I sing; from age to age my mouth will proclaim your faithfulness.”

And then we go back over two thousand years. Here is Mary, a young woman. She is engaged to Joseph, a faithful man, a man who is very gentle, yet very strong and protective. We know that Mary, too, has a strength that is almost beyond belief, and her faith is deep and abiding.

She lives in a little town that is far from the centers of power. She is just an ordinary person going about her daily routine, like so many people before her—Moses, tending his father-in-law’s flock, David, tending the sheep, Amos, the dresser of sycamore trees. As she is going about her household chores, the angel Gabriel suddenly appears. 

Here I fall back on Madeleine L’Engle’s descriptions of angels as tall, towering beings pulsating with light and power. “Greetings, favored one!” he says, “The Lord is with you.” Here is this luminous messenger of God talking to a young woman in a little out of the way town like Sheldon or Montgomery or Fletcher or Franklin and calling her “favored one,” telling her she is beloved of God. And he is telling us, too, that we are beloved of God. And then the angel Gabriel tells Mary and you and me that the Lord is with us. And then, seeing the look of shock on Mary’s face, Gabriel says, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” And God is saying that to us as well. “Do not be afraid. God loves you. God is holding you in the palm of God’s hand.”  

And then the Angel Gabriel tells Mary that she will be the mother of God’s Son. And Mary asks, “How can this be?” And Gabriel tells her that her cousin, Elizabeth, who is far beyond childbearing age, will be giving birth to a son. We know that this is Jesus’ cousin, John, who will grow up and baptize people in the Jordan River and call them to “prepare the way of the Lord.” It all seems beyond belief. Gabriel seems quite aware of this for he tells Mary and us,  “Nothing will be impossible with God.”

And then Mary responds. Throughout this mind-bending conversation with Gabriel, she has remained calm and grounded. We see in her the steely courage that she will show at the foot of the Cross. She joins many of her ancestors, people like Abraham and Moses, who said to God, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word.” Trusting completely in God’s faithfulness and love, Mary says “Yes” to this ministry.

Soon after, she goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth. The child John leaps in Elizabeth’s womb when he senses the presence of the baby Jesus. We often say that Christians go two by two, as our Lord sent out the disciples to spread the good news. Mary had the good common sense to seek out her cousin Elizabeth so that they could guide and support each other as they went on their journey together. Their sons would change the world forever. They gave birth to the transformation of the world.

In addition to the Magnificat, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,” we can also sing Psalm 89. “Your love, O Lord, forever will I sing; from age to age my mouth will proclaim your faithfulness.”

The light is coming into the world. This past week, we watched the news and saw people being inoculated with the new vaccine from Pfizer. Other vaccines are on the way. The Moderna vaccine has already been approved. Many scientists, researchers, physicians, lab technicians, and other dedicated people have worked evenings, weekends, nights, and holidays to create these life-saving vaccines. People gathered to clap as they were shipped out of the plant in Michigan because this is something to celebrate.

As Christians, we believe that God gives us the gift to reason and learn and carry out research. Our faith is based on what we call the three-legged stool of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. God gave us minds so that we can use them to discover things that will help people to have better lives. We believe that these discoveries are a manifestation of God’s love. “Your love, O God, forever will we sing.”

Because God gave us minds and calls us to use them, we know that we must continue to practice the basics of public health in a pandemic—wear masks, keep social distance, wash our hands often, don’t gather in large numbers. We know that it will take several months to get all of us vaccinated. But, if we follow safe practices, eventually enough people will be vaccinated that we will all be safe from this virus. Our faith also teaches us to be patient. It will take time. We are very happy that Keith and Sara are in Pinellas County, Florida, the first county in that state to receive the vaccine. To me, that feels like a special gift from God.

We have been through some very difficult times, and it is not over yet.

But the end is in sight. The light, the love, is coming into the world. Let us make room for the light and love in our lives. Let us make room for Jesus in the inns of our hearts. Even though there are challenges ahead, let us take time to celebrate the light and love of God in our lives and in our world. “Your  love, O Lord, forever will we sing; from age to age our mouths will proclaim your faithfulness.” 

Let us continue to walk the Way of Love, with joy and hope in our hearts.  Amen.

Good Friday  4/10/2020

Good Friday  4/10/2020

Here we are, standing at the foot of the cross with Mary and John and some of the others. It is finished. We are standing here in the midst of a pandemic, what in earlier times would have been called a plague, a plague that is covering the earth with disease and death.

And he has died. He was our great hope, and he has died. Before he gave up his spirit, he turned to John and Mary. To John he said, “This is your mother,” and to Mary he said, “This is your son.”

He formed a new family. And, in our Collect for today we pray, “Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.

It is over. He has died a horrible death, the death reserved for the lowest of the low, hardened criminals. He was hardly one of those. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, courageous but hitherto secret disciples, take his body away to give it a loving and reverent burial.

It is over. All hope is gone. Or is it? In her book God in Pain, Barbara Brown Taylor writes concerning the cross, “He took the man-made wreckage of the world inside himself and labored with it—a long labor, almost three days—and he did not let go of it until he could transform it and return it to us as life.”

On Holy Saturday we remember that he descended into hell, descended to the dead, so that every part of the creation, every creature would have the promise, the possibility, of new life in him.

For almost three days he wrestled with it all, the human grasping for power and then abusing that power, the very thing that had killed him; the human wish for power that drives us to conquer each other, to lord it over each other, to kill each other, to torture each other, to sort each other out by race and class so that somebody always ends up on the bottom and we always end up on top.  Every sin, every form of brokenness that kills and destroys all that is good. He takes it all into himself, and, as Taylor says so eloquently and so truthfully, he wrestles with it in the crucible of his love and healing and transforms it into life.

He is doing this while Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus risk their lives asking Pilate for permission to take his cherished body and place it in Joseph’s new tomb. He is doing this while he is lying in that tomb.

As we walk through the rest of the journey to Easter, through the remainder of Good Friday and then Holy Saturday, may we be aware, not only of the horrific death which he endured, but of the power of his love, which is able to labor with every misuse of power, every brokenness which human sin can create, to labor with all of that and transform it into life.  Amen.

Epiphany 6A   February 16, 2020

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Psalm 119:1-8
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Matthew 5:21-37

Our readings today cover so much important spiritual territory that we could literally spend a week-long retreat praying and reflecting on them.

In our lesson from Deuteronomy, Moses has brought the people to the boundary of the promised land, but he is not going to be able to lead them into that land. He is trying to teach them everything they need to know in order to be faithful to God and to each other on the next part of their journey.

Moses tells the people, “I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.” Then he calls them to “Choose life.” Scholars tell us that when Moses, speaking for God, tells us that, if we follow God’s law to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves we will have life and prosperity, he does not mean material wealth, but rather a quality of life in a community based on love, respect for the dignity of every human being, compassion, and justice. When we choose life, we are choosing a way of life that makes it possible for everyone in the community to flourish.

In our epistle, Paul is once again trying to teach the congregation in Corinth to be a community like the one Moses is describing, a community where everyone loves God and each other, where every person’s gifts are celebrated and appreciated, a community that is one as Jesus and God and the Spirit are one.

Our gospel for today is a continuation of the Beatitudes. Jesus is elaborating on the meaning of the commandment to love God and each other. He is trying to help us understand not only the literal meaning but also the spiritual meaning of the commandments.

We all know we are not supposed to murder any one. But what about the kind of murder we can do with sharp and hurtful words, or gossip? We are called to love each other. If we are angry with someone, we are called to reconcile with them.

Then Jesus addresses the issue of adultery. Back then, a woman could be stoned for committing adultery. A man could divorce his wife for a trivial reason, such as, he didn’t like her cooking. She would be thrown out on the street, and, if she didn’t have a male relative to take care of her, she would be homeless. Jesus calls us not to look upon each other as objects, but to realize that every one of us is a child of God.

Then our Lord addresses the issue of swearing to tell the truth in formal circumstances such as taking an oath in court. He makes it clear that he is calling us to tell the truth all the time.

All of this reminds me of a wonderful book by one of my heroes, Archbishop Desmond Tutu. I think he is probing one of your heroes as well. The book is called God Has a Dream. It was published in 2004, but it speaks to us just as eloquently sixteen years later as it did back then.

He writes, “When, according to the Christian faith, we had fallen into the clutches of the devil and were enslaved by sin, God chose Mary, a teenager in a small village, to be the mother of His Son. He sent an archangel to visit her. I envision it happening like this.

Knock knock.

‘Come in.’

‘Er, Mary?’

‘Yes.’

‘Mary, God would like you to be the mother of His Son’

“What? Me? In this village you can’t even scratch yourself without everybody knowing it. You want me to be an unmarried mother? I’m a decent girl, you know. Try next door.”

If she had said that, we would have been up a creek. Mercifully, marvelously, Mary said, ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word,’ and the universe breathed a cosmic sigh of relief, because she made it possible for our Savior to be born.

“Mary was a poor teenage girl in Galilee and reminds us that transfiguration of our world comes from even the most unlikely places and people. You are the indispensable agent of change. You should not be daunted by the magnitude of the task before you. Your contribution can inspire others, embolden others who are timid, to stand up for the truth in the midst of a welter of distortion, propaganda, and deceit.”

Archbishop Tutu continues, “God calls us to be his partners to work for a new kind of society where people count, where people matter more than things, more than possessions; where human life is not just respected, but positively revered; where people will be secure and not suffer from the fear of hunger, from ignorance, from disease; where there will be more gentleness, more caring, more sharing, more compassion, more laughter; where there is peace and not war.

And he continues, “Our partnership with God comes from the fact that we are made in God’s image. Each and every human being is created in this same divine image. That is an incredible, a staggering assertion about human beings.” He goes on to say, “You don’t have to say, ‘Where is God?’ Every one around you—that is God.” (Tutu, God Has a Dream, pp. 61-63.)

Every one of us is made in the image of God. Every one of us is a beloved child of God. Every one of us is an alter Christus an “other Christ.”  Every one of us, every human being, is a spark of the divine fire of love and light. This awareness is at the heart of our call to follow Jesus and to create the kind of community and the kind of world he calls us to create.

We are made in God’s image, and we are human. We are frail and fallible. We need God’s help. That is why we gather to pray and to be with God and Jesus and the Spirit in a special way. Because we need to rely on God’s grace and guidance.

May we choose life, life rooted and grounded in the love of God. May we follow Jesus and live the Way of Love. May we be enlivened by the Holy Spirit, who energizes us to love others as God loves us. Amen.

All Saints’ Sunday

Isaiah 25:6-9
Psalm 24
Revelation 21:1-6a
John 11: 32-44

Today, we celebrate All Saints’ Sunday. The feast of All Saints happens on November 1, but we are, as the Church says, translating that feast to today. so that we can reflect on the meaning of this wonderful day in the Church calendar and carry that forth into our lives.

In our first reading, the prophet Isaiah describes a feast which God makes for all people. God will swallow up death forever and will wipe the tears from all faces. The whole human family is filled with joy. God has made us whole. There is nothing to fear.

In our reading from the Book of Revelation, the same theme is repeated, God will wipe every tear from our eyes. As John Donne said, “Death has no more dominion.” Christ, the Alpha and the Omega, is making all things new.

In our gospel for today, we read once again the powerful story of the raising of Lazarus. Mary, Martha, and their brother Lazarus were among Jesus’ closest friends, They lived a short distance outside of Jerusalem, and our Lord would go to their home and stay with them and share meals and discussion and prayer with these very close friends.

Jesus is so deeply moved at the death of Lazarus that he cries in front of the people gathered. This is a good example for us. There are times to grieve, and tears are the welling up of those deep feelings. Tears are a healing gift, a way to cope with emotions that are deep and powerful.

Both Mary and members of the crowd tell Jesus that he could have prevented this death. The truth is that Jesus cannot save us from death and suffering. We live in a fallen creation. The world is not operating as God would have it work. But he can free us from every bond. He can give us new life, life on an entirely different plane—richer, more full of light, more full of love.

They open the tomb, and there is a stench. Lazarus is really dead. But Jesus calls to him, and Lazarus stumbles out into the light. And then Jesus tells them to unbind him and let him go. I translate that to myself as Jesus’ command to set us free from whatever may imprison us.

The feast of all Saints reminds us that we are part of a great cloud of witnesses, faithful followers of Jesus who have gone before us, those who are here now, and those who will follow us. We are not alone. We are part of a huge community of faith, the Body of Christ, the Church.  As our Presiding Bishop would say, we are members of the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement.

And today we also pray that, together with all the rest of that great cloud of witnesses, we “might rejoice in their fellowship, and run with endurance the race that is set before us, and, together with them, receive the crown of glory that never fades away.” Living the Christian in a secular age is not easy. We can certainly use every ounce of endurance that God can give us.

As we look at the world around us, we are still reeling from the terrible events of recent days. There have been several different acts of violence. As people of faith, we are especially horrified by the fact that eleven of our Jewish brothers and sisters were killed while they were in their sanctuary, which they saw as a place of safety, worshiping God.

Joyce Feinberg, 75, a research specialist at the University of Pittsburgh, Richard Gottfried, 65, a dentist, Rose Mallinger, 97, Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, a primary care physician, Cecil Rosenthal, 59, and David Rosenthal, 54, two brothers, Daniel Stein, 71, Bernice and Sylvan Stein, Bernice was 84, Sylvan 86. Irving Younger, 69, and Melvin Wax, 88, a former accountant. Each of these people was a loving member, not only of the Tree of Life synagogue, but also of the Squirrel Hill community.

Messages of love and support have come to the Tree of Life synagogue from all over the world. A neighboring Muslim community has already sent generous contributions of money and help, and stands ready to do anything needed. The Rabbi says that the community will rebuild the sanctuary.

Remember how shocked we were when a young man sat in a Bible study at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston South Carolina and then killed nine members of that group. Once again, we gather together to remember those who have died, their families and friends.

This is yet another terrible tragedy, and I ask you to keep the people of the Tree of Life synagogue in your prayers.

Even in the midst of tragedy, our readings today remind us that we are a people of faith. We are a people of joy. We are a people of hope. We are a people of endurance. Our Lord is a God of compassion who brings light and life and love to all people. That is the One we are following, as saints have followed him for over two thousand years.

May we follow him in faith, and may we continue to share his love.

Amen.

 

Pentecost 3 Proper 5B RCL June 10, 2018

1 Samuel 8:4-11, (12-15), 16-20, (11:14-15)
Psalm 138
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Mark 3:20-35

Last Sunday, we were present as God called Samuel to be the last of the judges, the leaders who mediated between the Israelites when they had a conflict, but were also spiritual leaders and prophets. Ironically, Samuel is now in the position that Eli was in last week. Samuel has grown old; his sons are not able to carry out the work of a judge, and the people want a  king just as all their neighbors have.

Samuel may be old, but he has not lost his wisdom or his integrity. He knows that, in the words of Lord Acton , “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.” Samuel warns the people that their king is going to place their sons in military service; and he will he will take their daughters to serve his court in the palace; and he will take over fields and orchards and give them to his courtiers and will demand tithes of all the produce of the land.

As usual. Samuel consults God about this issue, and God instructs Samuel to listen to the will of the people. In the end, Samuel anoints Saul as king. This is the beginning of a tragic time in the history of God’s people.

As Christians, we are called to understand the right use of power. Here again, we can remember David Brown’s distinction between auctoritas and imperium. Auctoritas, authority, the right use of power, is authorship, creativity, helping the people to be creative and to flourish. Imperium is tyranny, control, the opposite of true authority.

In our epistle, Paul is writing to his beloved congregation in Corinth. People have been accusing Paul of being insincere, and he is struggling to help the Corinthians realize that charge is simply not true. Yet, as Herbert O’Driscoll points out, Paul is becoming discouraged. Paul writes powerfully and eloquently, “Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” We’re all getting older, but God is constantly renewing us. Our “earthly tent,” our mortal body, will perish, but our spirits will dwell forever with God. How anybody could accuse Paul of being insincere about the faith when he could give us such poetic insights about God’s love and the nature of life in Christ is beyond me, but there were folks in Corinth who wanted to take control of the congregation and teach some ideas that were very far from our faith. There again, we have an example of people who were trying to seize power and then misuse that power.

In our gospel for today, we have a complicated and heart wrenching scene. Jesus is surrounded by huge crowds. His truth and his love and healing are magnetic. Word is going around that he has lost his mind. Some people are saying that he is doing all these healings by the power of the devil. It is a very serious and terrible thing when we give credit to the devil for the works that God is doing. It is a serious distortion of reality when we call what is good evil and what is evil good. The scribes, supposedly religious leaders and scholars are doing this. That is a horrendous misuse of power. Jesus vehemently denounces this. Biblical scholar Bruce Metzger writes, “The unforgivable sin is the utter rebellion against God that denies him as the doer of his own acts.” (Note, Matthew 12:31-32, NRSV NT p. 18.) It is difficult to fathom how anyone could watch what Jesus was doing for God’s people and accuse him of being possessed by the ultimate evil forces.

Meanwhile, there is another encounter happening in this gospel. Jesus’ family has come. Even his mother, Mary, has made the long journey. Perhaps they have heard the rumors that Jesus has lost his mind. I think it is more likely that they know the authorities are watching Jesus and trying to entrap him and they are hoping to persuade Jesus to go with them and lie low for awhile. The crowd is so big that they can’t get anywhere near Jesus, but they do get a message to him. “Your mother and your brothers and your sisters are outside asking for you.” And Jesus responds, “Who are my mother and my brothers? He looks around at those near him and says, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Herbert O’Driscoll invites us to think about how Mary must have felt when she heard that. It always reminds me of that time the family headed home and found out Jesus wasn’t with them and went back to the temple in Jerusalem. When they told him how worried they were, he said, “Didn’t you know I have to be about my father’s business?” That must have been a shock to Mary and Joseph.

This time, I think he is trying to say that he is creating a new family. It does not erase the former family, but it includes everyone who does God’s will. It may have hurt Mary and Jesus’ siblings to hear that comment about family.

We do not know the rest of the story, but we do know that Jesus would steal away to the mountains to pray, or take some time and go to the home of Mary and Martha and Lazarus. We can imagine that he found some time to get away and talk with Mary about what God was calling him to do and to reassure her of his love for her and his brothers and sisters. We know that one of his brothers, James, became Bishop of Jerusalem and died for his faith. Obviously, the family of Jesus cared deeply about him. They all showed up to try to help in whatever way they could. Jesus, the personification of love, cared about them as well.

And, of course, we recall that, in John’s gospel, when Jesus was dying on the cross, Mary stood there at the foot of that horrible instrument of torture and John stood beside her, and Jesus made them a family, He said, “Son, here is your mother; Mother, here is your son.” He was asking his beloved disciple John to take care of his mother. That was part of forming that new family. He wasn’t abolishing existing family ties; he was expanding the concept of family to include all of us.

There is so much to think about in these lessons. May we choose leaders who have true authority. May we, with your help, O Lord, accurately discern between good and evil. May we know the power of your love and healing. In your holy Name. Amen

Lent 5A  April 2, 2017

Ezekiel 37:1-14
Psalm 130
Romans 8:6-11
John 11:1-45

Our first reading, which comes from the Book of Ezekiel, is one of the most compelling passages in the Bible. Ezekiel was a priest and a prophet who lived with the exiles in Babylon. His ministry took place from 593 to 563 B.C.

The people of God spent fifty years in exile. As time went on, they began to feel that their whole nation, the whole of Israel, was dead. After all, they were in captivity in an alien land. A foreign power was occupying their homeland. The temple in Jerusalem, the center of their worship, lay in ruins. They had little or no hope of ever returning. They might as well be dead. They had no future. They were prisoners in a foreign land.

Our reading this morning is Ezekiel’s God-given vision of the nation of Israel, the people of God lying dead in the valley of dry bones, and God raising these dry bones back to life.  God asks Ezekiel, “Mortal, can these bones live?” Ezekiel humbly answers, “O Lord God, you know.”  Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann writes, “Only God can answer. This is not a question permitting human response, because the power for life is held only by God. Only God knows, not because God has ‘information,’ but because only God has the power to make life happen.” (Texts for Preaching Year A, p. 219.)

This passage tells us that God brings life, not only for individuals but for nations, especially oppressed nations and groups. God takes these dry bones and puts muscles and flesh on them and covers them with skin and puts breath (ruach) into them. Last Sunday we made an offering to help the nation of South Sudan. God can bring life to our brothers and sisters in South Sudan, and in Haiti and Zimbabwe and El Salvador and all the other places where death is stalking the people. Brueggemann calls us to “…trust the stunning freedom and power of the God who gives life.” (Texts for Preaching Year A, p. 221.)

No situation is hopeless. God brings life. God is going to bring the exiles home.

In our gospel for today, we have another powerful account from Jesus’ ministry. As we look at this story, we remember that Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are Jesus’ closest friends. They live in Bethany, which is about two miles outside of Jerusalem. Jesus has spent many hours at their home, which is a kind of sanctuary for him. It is a relatively safe place for him in the midst of all the intrigue and power politics of Jerusalem.

Lazarus falls ill. Mary and Martha send a message to Jesus to come as quickly as he can. Jesus waits another two days. By this time, Jerusalem is an extremely dangerous place for him to visit. But Jesus also says that he is waiting so that God’s glory may be fully revealed. Finally he tells the disciples that they are going to Judea. He says that Lazarus has fallen asleep and he is going to awaken him. Going to Jerusalem is dangerous. Thomas even says, “Let us go, that we may die with him.”

When Jesus and the disciples arrive, Martha meets them. She gently rebukes Jesus, saying that, if he had been there, Lazarus would never have died, Jesus could have healed him. Jesus tells her that Lazarus will rise again. And he says those words which are at the center of our faith, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Martha says that she believes this.

Mary comes to Jesus, kneels at his feet, and, weeping, tells Jesus that if he had come earlier, Lazarus would never have died. All of their friends who have been mourning with Mary and Martha are crying as well. Jesus himself is in tears at this point. Our Lord is fully human as well as fully divine, and this is a terrible loss. One of his best friends has died. Some of the mourners again point out that, if Jesus had arrived sooner, he could have prevented this tragedy.

Then Jesus commands them to take away the stone. The down-to-earth Martha points out that Lazarus has been dead for four days and there is going to be a smell. This is real death. But Jesus is focusing on the fact that God brings life. Yes, a beloved friend has died. This is real. But God brings life.  Into every situation, no matter how seemingly hopeless, God brings life.

They take away the stone. Jesus prays, thanking God for the miracle that is about to come. Lazarus staggers out into the light, the cloths in which he had been wrapped unwinding as he propels himself out of the dark cave. Jesus says, “Unbind him and let him go!” Lazarus is alive and free.

Whenever we feel hopeless, whenever we encounter death of any kind, the death of slavery or of addiction or of oppression, God brings life. In the face of all death and brokenness, God brings life.

In the words of Walter Brueggemann, may we “trust the stunning power and freedom of the God who gives life.”  Amen.