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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion February 5, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion February 12, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion February 19, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…

The Second Sunday after Christmas January 3, 2021

Jeremiah 31:7-14
Psalm 84
Ephesians1:3-6, 15-19a
Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

This is our first Sunday in the year 2021, and I know most of us are happy to see 2020 go. This is also the Second Sunday of Christmas, a day we do not always have in our calendar. I actually counted back to 2012. Out of those eight years, we have celebrated the Second Sunday after Christmas only four times.

Our Collect for this day begins, “O God, who wonderfully created and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

In our opening reading from the prophet Jeremiah, God’s people are going to come home from exile. We have spoken of how our experience with Covid-19 has been like an exile.  We can’t travel; we can’t even get together with neighbors. We have to wear masks when we go out. It feels as though we are living in a foreign land.

This passage from Jeremiah is God speaking to God’s people, including us. God will become as a shepherd to us. God will be our father, guiding us home. God will answer our weeping with consolation. God will “Turn [our] mourning into joy, God will comfort [us], God will give [us] gladness for sorrow.” Things will be getting back to normal. It will take time, but it will happen. We can help this process by continuing to follow the guidance of our medical experts.

In our gospel for today, the Wise Men have been warned in a dream not to go back to King Herod. They have gone home by another road. And now the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream and tells him to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt because Herod is searching for Jesus in order to kill him. Guided by an angel of God, Joseph takes Mary and the baby to Egypt. Herod never finds Jesus, but, in order to preserve his power, he kills all the baby boys under two years old. Tyrants will stop at nothing to hold on to their control. When Herod finally dies, an angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream and tells him that it is safe to go home. Joseph is in constant contact with God and follows the divine guidance immediately. Finding that Herod’s son is now ruling Judea, Joseph does not want to risk going there. Guided by God in a dream, he travels to Galilee, a place far from the centers of power, and settles in Nazareth.

When God chose a man and woman to raise God’s Son, God chose two ordinary working people, Mary and Joseph. They were people of profound faith who had strong prayer lives, close communication with God, wisdom, accurate intuition, extraordinary courage, determination, and self-discipline. But they did not have worldly power.

Mary became pregnant before they were married, so Jesus was born under the shadow of illegitimacy. Jesus was born when they were homeless. A kind inn keeper gave them lodging in a stable. Then they became refugees. They had to escape into Egypt. They were seeking asylum, some degree of safety.

In his sermon on the First Sunday after Christmas on December 29, 2013, Pope Francis said, “And today, the gospel presents to us the Holy Family on the sorrowful road of exile, seeking refuge in Egypt. Joseph, Mary and Jesus experienced the tragic fate of refugees, which is marked by fear, uncertainty and unease.” In his address for the 106th World Day of Migrants and Refugees on September 27, 2020,  Pope Francis called us to respond to the suffering of the many people who are becoming displaced persons and refugees as a result of the Covid pandemic.

In our Collect, we call on our loving God, who has “wonderfully created and yet more wonderfully restored the dignity of human nature.” We ask God to “Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity.” 

In our reading from Ephesians, Paul writes, “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may come to know the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu says, “God has a big family,” and our own Presiding Bishop Michael Curry calls us to walk the Way of Love.

In his sermon on December 29, 2013, Pope Francis said, “Jesus wanted to belong to a family  who experienced these hardships, so that no one would feel excluded from the loving closeness of God.”

As we walk with the Holy Family today, experiencing with them the terror of having to escape from a despot who is trying to kill their child, may we commit ourselves to helping displaced people and refugees know the loving presence of God. May we work for a world in which no one has to be a migrant or a homeless person or a refugee.

When God came among us as a baby, Jesus and his mother and foster father suffered homelessness, and were forced to flee as migrants and refugees. Yet, at every crisis and point of decision, Mary and Joseph asked for God’s guidance and followed God’s will. As we look out on our country and our world, can we see our homeless people and migrant people as the Holy Family? Can we see these people through God’s eyes? Can we have the faith and hope to tackle issues of race, class, and income inequality so that we can help God restore the dignity of every human being?

Borrowing from Paul, with “the eyes of our hearts enlightened,” may we know the hope to which you have called us, O Lord, the hope of your shalom, and may we use the power of your grace to see others with your eyes and help you restore the dignity of every human being. Amen.

Christmas 2   January 5, 2020

Jeremiah 31:7-14
Psalm 84:1-8
Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19a
Matthew 2:1-12

Our opening reading from the prophet Jeremiah describes the exiles coming home from the north.  Everyone is returning home—not only those who are healthy and strong, but also the blind, the lame, those who are pregnant, even those who are giving birth. God is calling the people home, and there is great rejoicing. The text tells us that the life of the people will become “Like a watered garden,” a life of safety and peace and growth and plenty.

Psalm 84 was sung by pilgrims going into the temple in Jerusalem. It is a song about our desire for union with God. 

Our reading from the Letter to the Ephesians tells us that God loved us before the world was formed. Before time, God loved us and called us to be God’s children. We will spend our entire lives trying to grasp the depth of God’s love for us.

Our gospel for today is the story of the wise men coming to “pay homage” to Jesus. The text does not say that there were three wise men. Tradition has developed that part of the story. There are many theories about the star that guided these men on their journey. Some say that it was a conjunction of planets; others say it was Halley’s comet. Scholars think these men were astrologers and priests from Persia, people who observed the stars very carefully. Translating them into more modern terms, I see them as deeply spiritual scientists, astronomers or astrophysicists. They were people who were respected and taken very seriously. And they saw something in the sky that they knew had great meaning. They saw that star and they had to follow that star no matter what. Their sole purpose was to “pay homage” to this new king.

When they finally reached Judea, they followed protocol and went to King Herod and asked where the child was, and we know that this news of a new king terrified Herod, who so insincerely asked the wise men to let him know where the child was so that he, too, could go and “pay him homage.” What he really wanted to do was to kill the infant who was a threat to his power.

Biblical scholar Thomas Troeger tells us that the Greek word translated “pay homage” is proskyneo.  Troeger writes, “Because ‘journey’ is a primal metaphor for the life of faith, [we] might explore how the [journey of the wise men] begins with their need to give themselves utterly and completely to the only one who is worthy of worship. This implication is clear in the Greek, since proskyneo was commonly used  to describe the custom of prostrating oneself at the feet of a king. The physical posture dramatically expresses the idea of giving not just gifts, but our entire selves to Christ.”

Troeger points out that, when Herod says that he, too would like to pay homage to the new king, the irony of his statement is striking. Troeger writes, “The irony is that Herod unknowingly states what in truth he needs to do. The despot who rules by violence and fear needs to prostrate himself before the power of compassion and justice, needs to give himself entirely to the grace that is incarnate in the child whom the magi are seeking.”

Troeger reminds us that, when they finally reach the house, not a stable or a cave because their journey has taken at least a year, the wise men go into the house, see Mary and Jesus, and “pay homage.”

He concludes, “Only after this act of worship, only after giving themselves completely to Christ, do they present their material gifts.”

May we also give ourselves completely to Christ.  Amen.

The Epiphany    January 6, 2019

Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14
Ephesians 3:1-12
Matthew 2:1-12

Today we have the joy of celebrating the feast of the Epiphany on a Sunday. The word “epiphany” means a “showing forth” or a “manifestation.” On this feast it becomes clear that the new faith in Christ is for all people.

Our first reading is from the prophet known as the Third Isaiah, a disciple of Isaiah writing around 539 B.C.E. King Cyrus of Persia has issued an edict allowing all the people exiled in Babylon to return to their homes. God is calling on Jerusalem to “Arise, shine, for your light has come.” Light is one of the major themes of the Epiphany season. God tells the people, “Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”

Psalm 72 is a song of praise to the king, and it is also a description of a good leader. The king has a right relationship with God and seeks God’s guidance. The good leader is a good shepherd of the people, a leader who truly cares about the people, who rules with justice and protects the vulnerable, a leader who has true authority, auctoritas , authorship, creativity, a king who nurtures growth, and brings peace and prosperity for all.

In our passage from Ephesians, Paul, or most likely a disciple of Paul, reveals the mystery: the Good News of Christ is for everyone. God loves everyone. Or, as Archbishop Tutu would say, “God has a big family.”

And then we come to our passage from Matthew’s gospel. Wise men from the East come to worship Jesus. We really don’t know who these people were. Some scholars say they were from Persia, some say from Babylon. Persia would be what we know as Iran; Babylon would be Iraq. Some say that the wise men were Zoroastrian priests. Quite a few say that they were astrologers. Most say that these men knew about the stars and other heavenly bodies, that they observed the stars, and that, back in those days, people believed that the birth of a king was usually revealed in the heavens.These wise men believed that the star was guiding them to something very important. They felt compelled to follow that star wherever it led them. Matthew does not tell us that there were three kings, but tradition quickly developed that story, possibly because Matthew says that they offered three gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Scholars tell us that these men made a long journey. It probably took them somewhere between a year and two years. By the time they reached Jesus, the text says they entered a house, not a stable. They had to be wealthy to make such a journey and to bring such gifts. Scholars tell us that it is probably accurate to assume that the wise men had many camels, both to carry them as passengers and to carry their belongings, provisions for the journey, and their gifts for the new king. They also had many servants. They were wealthy and powerful, but they were not literal kings. The text calls them kings in deference to the references to kings in our reading from Isaiah and in the prophecy of Micah.

They made a courtesy visit to King Herod, who is the figure in this story who opposes everything this new king stands for. A dream warned them not to return to Herod, but we can assume they had figured that out anyway.

Many people have created paintings of these wise men. People have written stories and poems about them. People have even created names for them. Why is this? I think it is because we are drawn to them and to their journey. Epiphanies, revelations, discoveries are not just a thing of the past. We also journey to worship our Lord and to offer our gifts. And gifts are another theme of the Epiphany season. Each and every one of you offers gifts to God and others every day. What gift will each of us offer to our Lord this Epiphany?

It is very clear that the wise men were Gentiles. Their coming and worshiping Jesus makes it clear that all people are loved and welcomed by God. In those days, when you came to pay homage to a king, you gave gifts as a courtesy, but I think after this long and arduous journey, their offering was much more than a courtesy. I think that their encounter with this very different king changed their lives. All the old rules and theories were gone. This king comes into the world as a little baby, totally vulnerable, and his rule is going to be the reign of love.

Another theme of the Epiphany season is mission. God loves everyone, and we are called to make that clear to everyone we meet. This June, when Bishop Tom makes his final visitation to Grace, we will be celebrating the ministry of our local food shelf and the construction of a new building to facilitate that ministry.

Later on in Matthew’s gospel, in chapter 25, Jesus talks with his followers about ministry and about how his love calls us to treat people. The first thing he says is, “I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat.”

This is our king, who calls us to give food to those who are hungry, to give water to those who are thirsty, to welcome the stranger, to clothe the naked, to care for the sick, to visit those who are in prison.

This is an entirely new way to look at kingship, leadership and power. In this season of light, love, gifts, and mission, may we give thanks for God’s love, and may we continue to help God build God’s kingdom of peace and harmony.  Amen.

Pentecost 23 Proper 28A RCL November 16, 2014

Judges 4:1-7
Psalm 123
1 Thessalonians 5: 1-11
Matthew 25:14-30

In our reading from the Book of Judges, God’s people have fallen into the hands of King Jabin. We hear the good news that God is going to give strength to Barak and Deborah to win the victory over King Jabin and live in freedom. In our epistle, Paul once again sounds the theme that we are called to be awake.

This morning, I would like to focus on the parable we hear in the gospel, the familiar parable of the talents. The master gives one person five talents, another two talents, and another one talent. Scholars tell us that a talent is worth fifteen years’ wages. If we recall the work of Thomas Troeger, who actually calculated the value of one talent, basing his figures on a wage of fifteen dollars an hour after taxes, one talent is worth $468,000’ two talents are worth $936,000. and five talents are worth $2,340,000. This master is generous.

I would offer the thought that each of us is the servant who has received five talents. God has given us so much. God has given us the gift of life itself, the gift of loving families, good work to do, comfortable homes, food, medical care, clothes to wear so that we can stay warm in winter. We are rich in blessings. We have so much.

Now, we can say, Well, I worked hard for what I have. And this is true. But who gave us the energy and the intelligence and the drive and the perseverance to work hard? These, too, are gifts from God. The point is that everything good in our lives comes from God.

I always like to suggest here that we make a gratitude list or update our list. I can breathe. I can walk. I can talk, I can see. I can hear. I can think. I can listen. Many people here have the gift of being healers. Some folks here are gifted painters and carpenters. Some folks here are gifted athletes, musicians, gardeners, teachers, creators of accessible spaces. All of you here have the gift of being with other people and helping them to feel heard and giving them hope. All of these are gifts from God. And you honor those gifts from God, Quietly, without fanfare, you use those gifts to God’s glory.

Perhaps the greatest gift that God has given us is God’s unconditional, unfailing love. In our opening reading today, God’s people have fallen away from God, and God is still going to raise up Deborah and Barak to set them free. God can count the hairs on our heads, God knows us inside and out, God knows our strengths and our weaknesses, God knows us, wears and all, and still God loves us mightily. God loves us with a love that will never go away, never die.

This is made so clear to us in the life and ministry of Jesus, God walking the face of the earth. God is not a God who stands far off. God loves us so much that God comes to be with us, to teach us how to live. This is the greatest gift of all.

Let us just pause for a moment and remember: God loves me. If I were the only person on earth, Jesus would have died for me on the cross. God loves me more than I can ever imagine. May God give me the grace to accept that unfailing love.

In response to all of God’s gifts, which are beyond our imagining, we are called to return to God a worthy portion—the Bible says one tenth— of what God has given us. A worthy portion of the time, talent, and treasure that God has given us.

This is what our pledge represents. Our thankful response to God, and our returning to God a worthy portion of what God has given us. This is between each of us and God.

Our pledge includes our service to others in the community, our caring for neighbors and friends and family. I know that all of you are constantly reaching our to others and offering help. Our pledge also includes charitable contributions to organizations such as the Red Cross, Episcopal Relief and Development, the United Thank Offering, the United Way, and many other fine charities.

Time, talent, and treasure. How do we spend the time God gives us? How do we use the talents God has given us? How to we spend the treasure God gives us? Someone once said that we can tell our priorities by looking through our checkbook. That is probably true. We can also get an idea of our priorities by looking at how we use the time and talents God gives us.

As we prepare for Thanksgiving and Advent, please think about these two key things: 1) God loves us more than we can fathom; and 2) everything we have is a gift from God.

After we spend some time meditating on these things—they are mysteries which we will never be able fully to understand, but it is still good to try to plumb the depth of the love behind these truths—then we make our pledge in gratitude.

The Attitude of Gratitude—one of the most powerful things in this world. That is the basis of our pledge and that is the ground of our offering of our God-given time and talents in service of our brothers and sisters.

God has given us so much. May we always be grateful. May God’s Name be praised! Amen.

Christmas 2 January 5, 2014

Jeremiah 31: 7-14
Psalm 84:1-8
Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19a
Matthew 2:1-12

Our opening reading for today is a beautiful and powerful passage about the return of all the exiles from the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah.  They had been conquered by the Assyrians and then by the Babylonians, and the people had been deported to foreign lands.

They had spent years studying the law and deepening their commitment to God and their faith. They had also learned in this time of desolation to cherish their homeland.  Now they will be returning.

God is going to gather them from the ends of the earth–the blind and the lame,  those with child and those in labor. The text says, “Their life shall become like a watered garden.” The people will live in peace and abundance. This is the vision of God’s shalom.

Psalm 84 expresses the joy of being in God’s house, the joy of returning home after a long exile.  Even though we have not been in exile in Babylon or elsewhere, we can still identify with this feeling of joy at being in God’s house and being in God’s presence.

Our epistle, from the Letter to the Ephesians, once again emphasizes that God has made us heirs of God’s kingdom. God has come close to us. God has adopted us, made us sons and daughters of God. We are able to call God Daddy or Mom. Paul gives thanks for the people of God and prays that we may receive a “spirit of wisdom as we come to know [God], so that, with the eyes of [our] hearts enlightened, we may know what is the hope to which he has called us, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.”

What does this mean? First, we have had “the eyes of our hearts enlightened” because the light of the world, Jesus, has come to live in our world, in our hearts, and in our lives. We are not alone. He is always with us. He is constantly bringing light into our hearts and minds, constantly leading us into new truths and teaching us new things. And the most important thing is how deeply he loves us.

Therefore, we have a deep hope, no matter how many challenges we may face, no matter how many tragedies we may hear about on the news, no matter how much suffering we may see around us and within our own lives and families at times. Christ is with us and with all people. Wholeness will come out of brokenness. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

So, we believe in the power of God to bring light out of darkness and to make wholeness out of brokenness.  We have the gift of faith, and it is a great gift indeed.

In our gospel for today, we read again the story of the Wise Men. They were highly respected, probably Zoroastrian priests, a combination of scientists, scholars, and spiritual leaders. They had noticed that something important was happening in the solar system. There was a star, and they had to follow it. They felt that a new king was going to be born. So they packed up gifts, made ready for a long journey and set out to follow that star.

Following the highest diplomatic protocols, they met with King Herod, but it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that he did not want their report on the new king for good purposes. They went on to Bethlehem, and when they got there, finding this little baby who was going to be the greatest king the world has ever known, but not in earthly terms, they fell on their knees and worshipped him. Many a scientist has done the same thing. We try to plumb the mysteries of creation and are led to the ultimate mystery of the Creator of all things. They gave him gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

A dream confirmed that it would be a big mistake to go back and visit King Herod. So they went home by another way.

Many people have been inspired by the story of the wise men. T. S. Eliot wrote about what a life changing experience it was for these journeyers to meet Jesus. Life was never the same after that.  All of the old points of reference were gone. A new landscape, a new world, had come.

James Taylor wrote a song called “Home by Another Way “ which explores the corrupting nature of Herod’s power and tells us to “keep a weather eye on the chart on high and go home another way.”

We have spent this Advent and Christmas moving closer and closer to the stable in Bethlehem and finally meeting our Lord Jesus as a tiny baby.   We will grow with him as he matures and carries out his ministry.

We have met Jesus and he has changed our lives forever, and is continuing to change and transform us.

May we always follow that star.  May we always follow him.

Amen.