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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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Pentecost 18 Proper 22A October 4, 2020

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
Psalm 19
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46

Once again we are on the journey with the people of God. They have gone through many challenges. They have struggled; they have been hungry, thirsty, angry, discouraged. They have even wished they had stayed in their slavery in Egypt. Now, our loving God is giving them a great gift, the gift of the covenant that will enable them to love God and to love their neighbors.

The first four commandments describe our relationship with God. There is only one God, and that is the God we are called to worship.   Don’t make idols. Only one God can fill that place in our hearts and lives, yet there are so many idols, things like money, power, and possessions, and our culture seems to give high value to those idols.

Use the name of God with great care. Every mention of that holy Name should be in the context of prayer. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. For those who have to work on Sundays, it is important to observe sabbath time on another day if possible. We all need time to nourish our spirits and rest our bodies and minds from the stresses of work.

The remaining six commandments deal with our relationships with our neighbors. Honor our father and our mother. Family ties are important. No murder. This refers not only to physical murder but to speaking ill of others and sharing gossip. We are called to be faithful to our spouses. No stealing. No lying. No coveting of things that others own.These commandments are the glue that will hold the people together and govern their lives. Biblical scholar James Newsome writes, “The commandments of God are God’s gracious gift to the people, by which the people are provided with the means to respond to God’s love.” (Newsome, Texts for Preaching Year A, p. 507.

Newsome seems to be implying that, if we humans are not able to live together in some kind of order, with mutual respect and caring for

each other, we will not be able to respond in gratitude to God’s love. There is great truth in that comment. The gift of the commandments enables the people to move ahead in their communal life with guidelines that will help their life together to be heathy and caring.

Just prior to our reading from Philippians, Paul offers stern words to some people in the congregation who think that Gentiles joining the congregation should have to undergo circumcision. There was a great discussion in the early Church about whether new followers of Jesus should be required to follow the dietary laws and be circumcised.

Paul speaks from a powerful position. He is a member of the tribe of Benjamin, a Pharisee, an expert in the law, and a Roman citizen, These attributes give him many privileges. But all of these things are as rubbish to him compared with the gift of knowing and following Jesus. It is the gift of faith, given to us by God, which makes us able to follow our Lord, not adherence to the law.

And then Paul speaks of the journey of following our Lord. He wants to become more and more like Christ, just as we do. But he knows that he is not there yet. That is so true. In our journey with Christ, there is always more growing to do. We are not perfect, but, as long as we are trying to follow our Lord, that’s the important thing.

Paul writes, “Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own, but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Paul is giving us another metaphor for the Covid-19 journey we are traveling at this moment and will be traveling for several months if we are to believe experts like Dr. Fauci. As medical experts have said, the fact that our President and our First Lady have been diagnosed with this virus reminds us that Covid 19 can strike anyone and that we need to follow safety measures. We pray for all who have been diagnosed with this virus and wish them a speedy and full recovery. This journey is not a sprint. It ls a marathon. Paul is so devoted to Jesus. He is so close to our Lord, that he says that Christ has made Paul his own. In a sense, they have become one through God’s love. Therefore, on his marathon journey in and to newness of life, Paul receives the energy of Christ through the Holy Spirit. And that is what we are receiving through the love of God and the power of the Spirit— power and energy to do the wise thing and the loving thing as we make this journey. Our risen Lord is on this journey with us, and we can trust in him.

In our gospel for today, our Lord is teaching in the temple. The religious authorities are watching him closely. They will eventually kill him. All tyrants try to destroy those who speak the truth. Jesus tells a parable.  He has studied the wise and inspiring prophet Isaiah who thought of God’s world as a vineyard. When you let out a vineyard to tenants, you normally expect to get a portion of the produce as payment. The owner sends people to collect the payment and the tenants beat one, kill another, and stone another. This happens a second time. The landowner finally sends his son, and the tenants kill him.

God loves us so much that God came among us. Jesus is God walking the face of the earth. We have the Ten Commandments as our guidelines on how to live our lives, but we still tend to go astray, so, as Paul knew well, God came to show us the way. Now we have a fully divine and fully human life, the life of Jesus, as our model. 

But Paul knew from his own experience that we have even more than that. We are walking the journey one cloudy day and our patience is fraying and our anxiety is rising and our temper is not in the greatest of shape. And then we feel his presence, calming our nerves, giving us strength, renewing our faith. We can feel him walking beside us. Let’s be honest: we can feel him carrying us. And, because he is risen and we know what he has been through, we feel his love and his hope and his courage flowing into us. And we know we can do this. With his help and his loving presence, we can take the next step. And the next. And, one step at a time, we can run this marathon, no matter what it takes—with his presence and his grace. Amen.

Pentecost 17 Proper 21A September 27, 2020

Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

In our opening reading, we join the people of God on their long journey in the wilderness. Like us in our journey with Covid-19, they are filled with uncertainty. They seem to confront one problem after another. Last week they had no food. This week, they are thirsty.

They ask Moses for water. He asks them why they are quarreling with him and why they are testing God. They complain more loudly. “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”

Moses cries out to God. “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me?” God is right there to help. He tells Moses to take the staff which he used to part the waters of the Red Sea. And God does something very wise. God instructs Moses to take some of the elders with him. Moses is carrying a heavy burden of responsibility, and God wants Moses to share that burden and responsibility of leadership with others. God goes before them and is waiting when they arrive. So often, on our journeys, God is there to help before we even realize we need help. God tells Moses to strike the rock of Horeb with the staff and water pours out. Moses calls the place Massah and Meribah, meaning “test,” the place where the people tested God, and “quarrel.” the place where the people quarreled with God and Moses.

God is always present with us. God gives the people and livestock the water they need to survive. The journey from slavery into freedom is not easy. Without God’s  help, the people might have turned back.

In our second reading, Paul is writing from prison to his beloved Philippians. This is not a new congregation. Paul has had a caring mutual relationship with them over several years. Scholars tell us that some conflicts have arisen within the congregation, and they are also facing challenges from outside. Just as with God’s people in the wilderness, there are challenges.

Paul calls the people to”be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.”

He calls us to focus not on our own interests but on the interests of others. This is so contrary to the values we see in our world, where so many people think only of themselves and their needs. But we as Christians as called to love others as we love ourselves, and to treat others as we want to be treated.

Paul calls us to have the same mind as Jesus had. This reminds us of our diocesan mission statement which says that we are called to “Pray the prayer of Christ, learn the mind of Christ, and do the deeds of Christ.” We are called to be one with Christ. We are called to be as much like our Lord as we possibly can, with God’s help.

In our gospel for today, Jesus has come into Jerusalem and he has cleansed the temple. The religious authorities are asking him by whose authority he is teaching and preaching and healing people. The inability of these leaders to realize that our Lord was doing God’s work is tragic. They simply cannot recognize spiritual authority when they see it.  Jesus asks them a question, “Did the baptism of John come from heaven or was it of human origin?” The leaders are caught in a political bind. So they say they do not know.

Then Jesus tells the parable about the two sons. The father asks the first one to go and work in the vineyard. The son says he won’t do it  but then he changes his mind and goes to work.  The other son says “Yes, Sir, I’ll go,” but then he doesn’t go and work in the vineyard.

Jesus asks the leaders which one did the will of his father. They answer, the first. And Jesus says that the tax collectors and prostitutes will go into the kingdom of heaven before these leaders.

The tax collectors and prostitutes can see who Jesus really is. They are not the powerful or highly respected members of society, but they are following him. They are trying to lead lives of compassion.

Jesus has such a powerful message to share. He talks about the last being first and the first being last. The religious leaders do not recognize who he is. They have no understanding of what he is about. But the folks whom people despise and look down on have no problem seeing that Jesus is God walking the face of the earth. And his message makes so much sense to them that they follow wherever he leads and they try to model their lives on his teaching.

What are these readings telling us? The journey to freedom and wholeness is not easy. Sometimes it is all we can do to put one foot in front of the other. This is definitely true during this Covid journey. God is with us, God hears us, and God takes care of us.

Our reading from Paul is calling us to be one in Christ, to be on the journey of growing more and more into the likeness of Christ, both individually and corporately, so that his love and forgiveness and healing are with us always, leading us to be a community of hope and reconciliation. 

Our gospel reading echoes that old saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” We can hear people say flowery things which sound good, but, if the actions don’t match the words, we need to look at the actions, and they tell us the truth of the situation. And we are called to be congruent people. Our actions need to reflect our beliefs. As we know, this is possible only with the gift of God’s grace. 

All of our readings today call us to remember that God loves us and is with us. No matter how challenging our journey is, we can trust in God to lead us and help us, and we can have genuine hope that with God’s help, we can and will be God’s loving, faithful, hopeful people, sharing God’s caring and compassion with each other and with our neighbors.

O God, you declare your mighty power chiefly by showing mercy and pity. Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever,  Amen.

Pentecost 18 Proper 22A RCL October 8, 2017

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
Psalm 19
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46

In our opening reading, the people of God have journeyed to the point where Moses receives the Ten Commandments. Herbert O’Driscoll remarks that some of us remember the time when almost everyone learned and recited these commandments. They were familiar to us. O’Driscoll also reminds us that there is great wisdom behind these guidelines for living. God knows us humans, and these commandments are a basic set of rules for our behavior.

We are called to worship God. We are called to avoid the worship of idols. These days, the idols are not Baal or Astarte. They might be Mercedes and Dow Jones. Use the Name of God with care. Keep the Sabbath. If we work an unusual schedule, the Sabbath may not be a Sunday, but the important thing is to take that Sabbath time to worship God, to thank God for all God’s blessings, and to refresh our body and spirit. Honor your father and your mother. Do not murder. Be faithful to your spouse or partner. Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.

God in God’s wisdom and love has given us these rules to live by.

In his inspiring letter to the congregation in Philippi, Paul, who usually comes across as one of the folks, a tentmaker who earns his own living, now lets us know that he has all the earmarks of high privilege. He is a Roman citizen, which gives him many advantages. He is a Jew. Like our Lord and every Jewish boy, he was circumcised on the eighth day of his life. More than that, he is a Pharisee, an expert in the law.  He also admits that he was a persecutor of the Church.

But one day, after witnessing the stoning of the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen, a deacon full of faith and love, and while rushing to help persecute more Christians, Paul met the risen Lord on the Road to Damascus. He was blinded by the light of Christ. He had to be led by the hand. But then he began to see. And he gave his entire life to Christ. And now he wants to know and love Christ as deeply as possible. He knows how difficult it is to follow the law. He is the one who said that he does the things he does not want to do and he does not do the things he knows he should do, and he asks God to free him from the body of that death. We can know the law, and on our own, we can follow the law to a point, but, for many of us, we get stuck. We need faith and grace to pull us through. And Paul has found that faith and grace in Christ and he is never going to let that go. To him, all his honors are as a pile of trash. All he wants to do is to follow Christ, to grow more and more like him in his love and compassion.

And he knows that he is not there yet, he says, “Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ has made me his own. Forgetting what lies behind and straining to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call in Christ Jesus.”

All we can say is may we do the same thing—press on toward the goal.

Our gospel for today is very powerful. Jesus is teaching in the temple in Jerusalem. He has read the scriptures. He has probably absorbed word for word the writings of the great prophet Isaiah, who described the people of God in various places as a vine or a vineyard. We all know the story. The workers in the vineyard kill the owner’s son.

Jesus is here addressing the religious leaders of his time, who are about to do just that—kill Jesus. The chief priests and the scribes realize that Jesus is speaking about them, but they are afraid to do anything because they know that, at the very least, he is a prophet. They will keep plotting, and our Lord will die a criminal’s death.

When leaders, whether religious or secular, get rid of people or try to diminish people because those people are telling God’s truth, those leaders are misusing their power. In Jesus’ time and in our own time, we need to be aware of those who are practicing imperium, tyranny and control, and those who are practicing auctoritas, true authority, leadership that encourages and empowers people

As Herbert O’Driscoll points out, one of the best things we can do with these readings is to reflect on the Ten Commandments, reflect on the Cardinal Virtues—prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude, and the Theological Virtues—faith, hope, and love, and renew our commitment to using them as the framework for our lives.

And we can also follow the example of St. Paul. He has such a profound commitment to Jesus. He devoted his life to killing Christians. Now he wants to help people follow Jesus. He wants to build communities of faith and love. He knows he is a work in progress, but he is following Jesus with all his energy.

This week, as we look out on our world, we see people in Mexico trying to recover from earthquakes, people in Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Puerto Rico, the Virgin islands. and so many of the Caribbean Islands, suffering from the effects of hurricanes.

And we look upon our brothers and sisters killed and hurt in Las Vegas. Our hearts go out to them and to their friends and families. Our Bishops have issued s statement on gun violence. Each of us and all of us are called to pray for all those who have died and for those who are suffering and grieving and to take action as our conscience leads us.

May the God of mercy lead us and guide us into the way of peace.

Amen.

Pentecost 17 Proper 21 A RCL October 1, 2017

Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

In our opening reading for today, the people have no water to drink. They complain to Moses, who brings the problem to God. Immediately, God provides water for the people. This reading reminds us that God provides for our needs. I know that we are all praying that food and water and essential supplies will reach our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico as soon as possible.

Our passage from Paul’s letter to his beloved congregation in Philippi gives us a powerful description of the way to be a Christ-centered community of faith. Paul calls us to “be of the same mind.” In our diocesan Mission Statement, we say that we are called to “pray the prayer of Christ, seek the mind of Christ, and do the deeds of Christ.” We are called to be of one mind, and that mind is the mind of Christ.

This means that we are daily seeking in prayer to know the will of our Lord and to do his will. We are of one mind, his mind, because we are one Body, his body.

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.” What a striking difference from the arrogance and narcissism rampant in our culture. If we defer to each other, if we are not competing with each other, what a difference that makes in a community.

“Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” This would mean that we are not focused on ourselves but on others. We are not trying to climb the ladder of success or make all the money we can. We are thinking of the needs of others.

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in human likeness.” Our Lord came among us as a servant of all. He called us to be servants. Because our Lord poured himself out in love for us, we worship him and we follow him. We try to be like him.

Paul then calls us to “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in [us], enabling [us] both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Paul is calling us to continue our journey with Christ, knowing that we will never be perfect as he is, but nonetheless knowing that the Holy Spirit is at work in us, energizing us to be people of love and compassion, people who reach out to those in need, servant people who care about others.

In today’s gospel, Jesus is in the temple in Jerusalem.  The chief priests and elders, the very people who should be seeing the truth of who Jesus is, come to challenge him, asking him by whose authority he is teaching and ministering. It is such a shame to see tyranny pretending to be true authority, and this reminds us of David Brown’s distinction between authority, auctoritas, authorship, creativity, and imperium, tyranny, control beating down the creativity of the people.

Jesus stumps them with his answer, and they are caught between a rock and a hard place. They try to come up with an answer and they realize they should simply say they do not know.

Then Jesus tells the parable about the two sons. The father asks the first son to go out and work in the vineyard. The son says he won’t do it, but later he changes his mind and goes to work. The second says “Yes, Sir,” but he never goes out into the vineyard.

One thing this parable tells us is that it is our actions that count. We can say all kinds of wonderful and flowery things, but, if our actions are not in harmony with what we say, it’s all just flowery words. If we want to find out where someone truly stands, we have to watch that person’s actions. Do they do what they say they are going to do?

The first son said No, but then that No turned to Yes. He went out into the vineyard and worked. The second son politely said, Yes, Sir,” but his actions were the opposite of his words.

Are we congruent? Do we have integrity? Do our actions match with our words? Do our lives reflect our beliefs? Jesus tells these religious leaders that the tax collectors and prostitutes will be first in his kingdom. They are the ones who are living in harmony with his gospel of compassion and service. As Lisa Ransom says, Jesus is turning the world right side up. The last shall be first and the first last.

Jesus is our model for authority—auctoritas. He has true, authentic authority. He is among us as one who serves. He empowers people. He frees up their creativity. He helps people fly like eagles. He does not hold them down and imprison them.

Last Sunday, Kim Erno talked about Paulo Freire and his Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Paulo Freire says that teaching and learning do not go just one way—from the teacher to the learner. He says that we learn from each other.  That is what Jesus did. He let the oppressed teach him. He learned from a Canaanite woman that his ministry was to all people. He called a tax collector to be one of his apostles.

When our Lord calls us to go out into his vineyard, that is the world, and do his work, I think we are going to say Yes and then we are going to match our actions with that Yes. We are going to go out into his vineyard and work for his kingdom, his shalom. May we follow him wherever he leads. Amen.

Pentecost 17 Proper 22A RCL October 5, 2014

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
Psalm 19
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46

In our beginning reading from the Book of Exodus, we are with God’s people at Mount Sinai, and God is giving them the Ten Commandments. The first four of these commandments have to do with our relationship with God, and the last six commandments deal with our relationship with each other. These commandments were the foundation of the life of the covenant community, and they can serve as an excellent framework for life together over three thousand years later.

In our epistle, Paul has been trying to counteract the efforts of opponents of his, some of whom have been trying to convince Gentiles who are joining the new community of faith that they have to follow the Jewish dietary laws. Paul lists his credentials. Like Jesus and John the Baptist, he was circumcised on the eighth day of his life. He is an Israelite of the tribe of Benjamin, a Pharisee, an expert on the law. On the secular level, he is a Roman citizen. Paul openly admits that he persecuted the Church. But when he met the risen Lord on the Road to Damascus, everything changed. His whole world was transformed.

All that Paul wants to do now is to grow closer to Christ. All of those previous privileges and honors and signs of status are as trash to him. Entrance into the kingdom of God has nothing to do with our past accomplishments. In fact, it has nothing to do with us. It is a gift. Coming from his own history and background as one who followed the law to the letter, Paul is now saying: Brothers and sisters, let us not make these new believers follow the law. That is not the point. The new life in Christ is a gift from God, Let us accept that gift. Of course, we will strive to carry out the commandments. But let us strive to surpass the law, to move from the letter to the spirit of the law.

Our gospel for today must be approached with great care. The gospel is an allegory. Jesus is in the temple and he is addressing the religious leaders of his time. The vineyard is an image used by Isaiah for the people of God. We could say it could also be an image for the kingdom, the shalom of God. The landowner is God. The slaves who were sent are the prophets, The son is Jesus. The tenants are the religious leaders.

Matthew’s gospel was written about 90 C. E.. Scholars tell us that Matthew’s community was a Jewish community which was incorporating new Gentile members. The new faith was being persecuted. This parable may have provided a ray of hope for Christians who were being oppressed.

But the point of this gospel is not to be anti-Semitic. It is to ask ourselves how we would receive the Son if he came to ask us how the vineyard is doing. Are we following the commandments? Are we bearing good fruit? Are we, like Paul, trying to align our lives with the life of our Lord? Are we trying to let him live in us? Are we trying to live in the light of his grace? Are we sharing his love with others?

This parable is asking us to look at religious leaders. The religious leaders of Jesus’ time were arguing with God. They were blind to the work that God was trying to do among them. Are we blind to the work of the Holy Spirit? Our Bishop has called us to engage in a year long process of discernment looking at what it means to be a missional Church. A couple of Saturdays ago some of us went to a Ministry Fair. In the context of Holy Eucharist, we went outside the walls of the cathedral to discover what God is doing in the neighborhood.

Several of the groups went to the Old North End, which is the less affluent part of Burlington. Many of our new Americans live there now, as well as in nearby Winooski. We found many signs of life, as some folks shared last Sunday—gardens, a solar installation. a Sustainability Academy, a compassionate veterinary practice, Pathway to Housing, an organization which provides houses for homeless people. We saw people sitting on their porches talking. We saw houses painted artistically in bright vibrant colors. There was a lot of life out there.

The religious leaders of his time were constantly challenging Jesus, Last Sunday they were asking him by what authority he healed and taught and forgave. Some people in Philippi wanted everyone to follow the dietary laws, Paul felt that was putting a stumbling block in the way of folks coming into the new faith. It is a sad thing when religious authorities or religious people get in God’s way.

One of the ideas we hear about when we discuss the missional church is that we need to go out into the world and see what God is doing. I would say, what the Holy Spirit is doing. That is because I define the Holy Spirit as God at work in us and in the world. Wherever peace grows, wherever healing happens, wherever someone is learning, there is the Holy Spirit. And we need to support those things. The Holy Spirit is at work in many ways and in many people. Some of those people do not believe in God. Some of those people cannot believe in God because religious leaders or religious people have put stumbling blocks in their path.

One of the reasons I went back to school and got my psychology degree is that I wanted to help people on their journeys toward wholeness. I also wanted to be helpful to people who would never darken the door of a church. All of you are out in the world living your faith and doing your ministries. You are able to touch the lives of people for whom our faith has become irrelevant or. worse, a negative force.

I think that is what our readings are talking about today: living our faith and being open to the work of the Holy Spirit out in the world as well as in the Church. The Shalom of God is growing every day. Loving God, help us to be open to your Spirit. Give us grace to help you build your Kingdom, your Shalom of healing and harmony and wholeness. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.