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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion March 26, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion April 2, 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 April 9, 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:…

Christ the King Year A November 22, 2020

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Psalm 100
Ephesians 1:15-23
Matthew 25:31-46

Our opening reading today takes us back to the time of the Babylonian Exile. Twenty-six hundred years ago (597 B.C.E.) the powerful Babylonian Empire conquered Jerusalem and sent God’s people into exile in Babylon. Eleven years later, (586 B.C.E), the Babylonians returned, destroyed the temple, and leveled many of the surrounding buildings.

Ezekiel, a priest, had been in Babylon with the people for about eleven years. The destruction of the temple was one of the most tragic points in the history of God’s people. It was heartbreaking.

We have often reflected on how the history of God’s people as revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures reflects on and parallels our own history. As we read about this low point in their life together, we here in Vermont are losing our battle with Covid-19. Once again I thank God for Governor Scott and Dr. Levine, who had to stand before us this week and let us know that the positivity rate is up to two percent, hospitalizations are rising, and we need to reverse this trend. The reason these numbers are rising is that folks are getting together socially, eating, drinking, and enjoying each others’ company without wearing masks or social distancing. Our governor said that he hasn’t seen his mother in a year. As a good leader, he understands how we all feel. As he encouraged us to wear masks and do all the other things that we know stop the virus from spreading, Governor Scott acknowledged that he cannot make people follow the guidance from our medical experts.

He spoke with courage and sincerity to those who refuse to follow the guidance, and I quote him. Don’t call it patriotic. Don’t pretend it’s about freedom. Because real patriots serve and sacrifice for all, whether they agree with them or not. Patriots also stand up and fight when our nation’s health and security is threatened. And right now, our country and way of life is being attacked by this virus, not by the  protections we put in place.” (Gov. Phil Scott, Press Briefing, Tuesday, November 17, 2020.)

This Corona Virus is killing as many people as an invading army. We heard this week that we have exceeded the number of deaths we suffered in World War II. In may ways, we can identify with our spiritual ancestors in Babylon. The Babylonian Exile is an excellent metaphor for this pandemic. In this dark moment, in this time of utter discouragement, God puts God’s words in the mouth of Ezekiel. God is going to be a good shepherd to God’s people. God is going to feed them and take care of them. God is going to  bring God’s people back together and bring them home. And God has a special word for leaders who have been abusive to the people. God will stop them from misusing their power. God directly addresses those who “pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted all the weak animals with [their] horns.” God will feed them with justice. God will set things right. God will bring the people a wise and compassionate leader like King David. As Christians, we immediately think of our King, Jesus. In these dark days of increasing positivity rates, we have  compassionate leaders in Governor Scott and his team. May we all follow their directions.

In our gospel for today, we have the blueprint for why we all gathered together and built a new building for the food shelf and why our wonderful volunteers gather six days a week to minister to our neighbors who are suffering from this pandemic. People have lost their jobs. Unemployment benefits have run out.  Extensions have expired, and there is no help forthcoming. People who have never been to the food shelf find that they have to come for help.

Our Lord tells us that when we give food to those who are hungry, we are feeding him. When we give water to the thirsty, or welcome to the stranger, or clothing to those who need it, we give those things to Jesus. When we take care of those who are sick or visit those who are in prison, we are doing that to him. We are the hands of Christ reaching out in love to help others. And every person we meet is an alter Christus, an other Christ. There is a spark of the divine in every person. Our Lord is telling us to see every person we meet as Himself, as Christ.

Christ is our King, but a very different kind of king. He eats with the lowest of the low. He loves the people nobody loves. In his kingdom, everybody is infinitely precious. Everybody is loved. This is God’s shalom.

Our retired Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori writes: 

That word “shalom” is usually translated as “peace,’ but it’s a far richer and deeper understanding of peace than we usually recognize. …It isn’t just telling two arguers to get over their differences.

Shalom is a vision of the city of God on earth, a community where people are at peace with each other because each one has enough to eat, adequate shelter, medical care, and meaningful work. Shalom is a city where justice is the rule of the day, where prejudice has vanished, where the diverse gifts  with which we have been so abundantly blessed are equally valued.  (Jefferts Schori, A Wing and A Prayer, p. 33.)

Today we celebrate Christ the King and we also celebrate Thanksgiving. Paul writes to the Ephesians, “I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.” He prays for them and us that  “eyes of our hearts may be enlightened.” What a great metaphor, Paul is praying that the light of Christ’s love may come into our hearts and lives and lift our hearts and spirits so that our hearts and lives may become full of light and love, and that we may be filled with hope. I think that lifting of our hearts is like the hope that came to God’s people 2,500 years ago as they faced the destruction of their beloved temple, the center of their worship. They believed that God dwelled in the temple, and they came to realize that God was in their midst. God gave them the hope and determination to return and rebuild.

We have so much to be thankful for, The attitude of gratitude is a very powerful thing. It is a power for good. In these dark days of Covid, our own exile from Holy Eucharist, our Exile from our beloved church building, our Good Shepherd is here in our midst. We thank you for your presence, O Lord, and we thank you for leading us and guiding us. We will celebrate Thanksgiving, with your help. We will help and feed our neighbors. We will, with your grace, help you build your shalom.

Here, in these darkest days of the pandemic, give us the grace to get back on track. Our own governor has had to remind us that not wearing a mask is not patriotic. Send your love among us, O Lord, that we may love you and love each other, that we may take care of each other, as you our Good Shepherd, take care of your flock. Amen.

Pentecost 24 Proper 28A November 15, 2020

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

On our opening reading today, from the book of Judges, God’s people have been oppressed for twenty years by King Jabin. The strength of his oppression is emphasized by the fact that he has nine hundred  iron chariots.

The judges described in this book were not only people who helped citizens resolve conflicts, but also military leaders and charismatic spiritual leaders and sometimes prophets. In our passage this morning, we meet Deborah, the only woman judge in the history of God’s people. Deborah is a highly respected and wise person, People come from long distances to consult her because of her wisdom.

In our passage this morning. God tells Deborah to let Barak know that God wants Barak to fight the dreaded Jabin.  Actually, Barak will be waging war against Sisera, Jabin’s military leader. In the part that is omitted from our lectionary, Barak says he will not lead the troops into battle unless Deborah goes with him. Barak is an excellent general and Deborah is known as an expert military tactician. With the help of another courageous woman, Jael, they defeat Sisera.

Scholars tell us that the Book of Judges describes events dating back to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries before the birth of our Lord. It is encouraging to think that God’s people had a woman such as Deborah as a spiritual, legal, and military leader thirty-four hundred years ago. All these centuries later, we have elected our first woman Vice-President.

In our reading from Thessalonians, we are reminded that we are “children of the light” and we are called to “put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation”

In our gospel, a man goes on a journey and gives five talents fo one servant, two talents to another, and one talent to another. As we know, back in those days, the gold coin known as a talent was worth a huge amount of money. After a long time, the man comes back. The servants who were given the five talents and the two talents have each doubled the money given. If we use our talents well, we receive two things—more responsibility and the joy of our master. But the servant who was afraid buried his talent. His fear paralyzed him.

God is a loving God who gives each of us and all of us gifts to be used. Gifts of music, gifts of listening to others and offering God’s healing, strength and hope; gifts of nurturing and rescuing animals; keeping the books, doing audits, gifts of serving our communities by counting ballots; gifts of working with the historical society, gifts of faith and love shared with many people. So many gifts that you all are exercising every day of your lives.

Because God loves us, we can depend on God. We can step out beyond our bounds of caution. I think of our food shelf. Because people were willing to find money for a building, offer their labor, and work for a vision, others were willing to give money and help in any way they could, and now our food shelf is feeding people who are suffering from the economic shock waves of this pandemic.

We are moving toward Thanksgiving. What a wonderful thing to have a national holiday devoted to thanking God for all our many blessings even in the midst of Covid 19. During this time in November, we make our United Thank Offering. Some of us have these little blue boxes and when we are thankful for something we put a coin in the box and then we offer all those coins. I would suggest that we dump out our coins or do an estimate of the many times we have thanked God in the past year and then write out a check and send it to Lori.  Make it out to Grace Church and put UTO on the memo line. 

Lori will put all the offerings together and send a check to our UTO representative here in Vermont. Our UTO rep will send our UTO offering to the national UTO ingathering. The United Thank Offering offers all kinds of help, from grants for building composting toilets at churches such as  St. Luke’s, Alburgh to assistance  to centers for helping refugee children with homework, senior centers, health centers, a ministry of cutting wood for families in need and a wide array of other ministries.

This is also the time of year when we think about our pledges. God gives us so many gifts and blessings, not because we have earned them or deserve them but because God loves us so much. Out of all those blessings, we return a worthy  portion to God. The Bible says that amount should be a tithe, a tenth of what God gives us. Because many centuries have passed and most of us give to charities, some folks talk about a modern tithe of five percent, meaning five percent to the church and five percent to charities. But the important thing is to give a worthy proportion to God in thanksgiving for all that God gives us.

Our giving includes time, talent, and treasure. If you are giving some of your God-given time and talent at the food shelf, or helping others in other ways, whether they are elderly folks or perhaps young people, either by physically helping or offering financial help, that is part of your offering in gratitude to God. Offering a portion of our time, talent, and treasure out of gratitude to God is an important part of our spiritual lives, and I know that each of you is sharing generously your time, talent, and treasure.

We haven’t been together in church for a very long time, so we can’t put our money in the plate, but please send your UTO, United Thank Offering, to Lori. I will put her address in my email when I send out this sermon. For those who have pledged in the past, please send Lori a note listing the amount you wish to pledge for 2021. This will help us to plan our budget. 

In November on behalf of everyone at Grace, we send out our outreach checks to Rock Point School, Brookhaven Center, The Abenaki Circle of Courage, Martha’s Kitchen, Sheldon Interfaith Food Shelf, Oglala Lakota College, Samaritan House, and Kairos prison ministry. This is a total of $1400 to these ministries on behalf of Grace Church.

God is constantly showering us with all kinds of gifts and filling us with grace. Let us continue to share these gifts with others and to thank our loving God for all these blessings and, most of all for God’s unfailing love. Amen.

Pentecost 23 Proper 27A November 8, 2020

Joshua 24:1-3A,14-25
Psalm 78:1-7
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 25:1-13

Today we have the opportunity to be present at a crucial moment in the history of God’s people. Joshua calls all the people together and reviews their history. He reminds them of how God called their ancestor Abraham to go from Ur of the Chaldeans into the land of Canaan. and how God gave Abraham many descendants, just as God had promised. He reminds them of how God led the people out of Egypt and protected them every step of the way on their journey from slavery into freedom.

Now the people have left behind their time of suffering and slavery in Egypt. They are ready to settle in the land God has promised them. And Joshua calls them to do a very important thing. As they leave their life as a nomadic people and settle down, their leader is calling them to think carefully about their values. How will they conduct their life together? How will they treat each other? Whom will they serve?

Joshua is calling them to let go of all the gods they met in the land beyond the great river Euphrates, the gods they met when they were in Egypt, the gods of the Amorites, all of those other gods. And Joshua is calling them to serve the one, holy, and living God. And, like all good leaders, Joshua is setting an example, He tells the people, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

We are already settled here in Vermont, and in Florida and New York and Virginia, but we are in the middle of another kind of journey, our journey with Covid-19. And we are dealing with our recent election. And our economy, which has been deeply affected by the pandemic. And how to help the people who are suffering because they have lost their jobs and their unemployment insurance has run out, and the people who  have lost loved ones to Covid, and the issues of injustice in our society. 

Whom will we serve? Will we serve God? If we do, we have a clear path defined in the summary of the law—“Love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” If we follow that path we will follow the Way of Love and our path will be relatively clear. It begins and ends with God’s gifts of faith, hope, and  love. It bears the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,  gentleness, and self-control. If we follow those other gods, fear, despair, hate, violence, division, ruthlessness, selfishness, greed, those will lead us down quite a different path. Here, in the midst of our Covid journey, we can renew our promise to serve God and walk the Way of Love. And I know you are doing that.

Our epistle and our gospel both address the question, “How do we deal with times of uncertainty?” In our epistle, the Thessalonians are asking what has happened to those who have died. And Paul tells them that, when our Lord comes to bring in his shalom, his kingdom, the dead will be raised. and the living will follow them into paradise.

There are many new people coming into the congregation, and Paul is giving them strong teaching in the center of hope in the Christian faith—that, as John Donne wrote, “Death has no more dominion.” Christ has risen from the dead and has conquered death forever, and Paul is letting the Thessalonians know that they will be together with their loved ones who have gone before them in the communion of saints.

Paul is giving the gift of hope to these people who are wondering what will happen to their loved ones. Will they ever see them again? Yes, they will. Hope is such an important gift from God in these times. With hope, we can go on. We can take the next step. And the next.

In our gospel, we have the familiar parable of the ten wise bridesmaids and the ten not so wise bridesmaids. Everyone in those days knew what the bridesmaids were supposed to do. They were supposed to have their lamps lighted to escort the bridegroom into the feast. If you were a bridesmaid, there was one thing to remember— take a good supply of oil. Some of our young women did that; some did not. The bridegroom is delayed. Jesus was here 2,000 years ago. He said he would return. What do we do until then? Carl R. Holladay, Professor of New Testament at Candler School of Theology, Emory University in Atlanta, has a very interesting point about this parable. He writes, “The issue is preparedness in the face of uncertainty.” Holladay, Preaching through the Christian Year A, p. 507. The gospel is really about what we will do when our Lord comes to complete the work of creation and bring in his Shalom of peace, harmony and wholeness. Will we be prepared?

Will we be prepared to meet him even in this time of Covid, which is filled with uncertainty? Can we, with God’s grace, keep our faith in this time when there are so many questions and very few answers? Are we ready to meet him? Are we ready to help him complete his kingdom? Do we love God? Do we love our neighbors? 

Someone recently said, maybe instead of having what we call the ASA, Average Sunday Attendance, which, for us, has been ranging between 11 and 17,  we should write in our register how many people we meet in a week. If we did that, our food shelf volunteers could put down all those numbers of people who receive good food to keep them going. We do that because our Lord called us to feed those who are hungry.

When, not if, but when, Summer Music at Grace resumes, the people who attend may not realize it but they are coming into a place that is filled with the presence of God. In a secular society they talk about Grace’s amazing acoustics and how there is a special feel abut the place. I believe they are encountering God’s love and the love of God expressed through the joy of music.

Whom will we serve? Are we prepared? Are we ready to help Jesus build his shalom of peace and love? Are we now building his shalom by sharing his love with others?  Or, on a lighter note—Sign seen in  church office. Jesus is coming: look busy.

Thank you, loving God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, for your gifts of faith, hope, and love. Thank you, God, for creating us. Thank you, Our Good Shepherd, Jesus, for leading us and guiding us. Thank you, Holy Spirit, for energizing us to walk the Way of Love. May we walk in that Way, every day of our lives, and may we be prepared for your coming again. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Christ the King — November 26, 2017

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-14
Psalm 100
Ephesians 1:15-23
Matthew 25:31-46

Our first reading today is from the book of the prophet Ezekiel. Ezekiel was a priest who served among the people of God exiled in Babylon from about 593 to 563 B.C. The powerful Babylonian Empire conquered Jerusalem in 597 B.C. and sent many of the leaders and others into exile. Then, in 586 B.C., the Babylonian armies came back and totally destroyed the temple and many of the surrounding buildings. Scholars tell us that this is the point when Ezekiel wrote this passage. Not only are the people in exile, but now the temple, the center of their worship, has been turned to rubble.

At this darkest hour, God calls Ezekiel to speak God’s word to the people. And God is telling the people that God will gather them up. God will gather all of God’s people from wherever they have had to flee, and God will bring them home. God will feed the people with good pasture, and God will be their shepherd.

God will bring back the ones who have strayed. God will bind up the wounds of those who are injured, and will strengthen the weak. But the fat and strong, that is, the leaders who have hurt the people and have prospered at the expense of the people, will face a time of reckoning. God speaks directly to these leaders, who in essence have bullied the people. God says, “Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scatted them far and wide, I will save my flock….”

God says that God will set over them one shepherd, God’s servant David. We know that David had ruled several hundred years before this time in history, so, as Christians, we take this as a reference to the kingship of Christ, who was from the family of David.

In this prophetic writing, from twenty-five hundred years ago, God is calling all leaders to care for their people, not to hurt them.

In our gospel for today, as we celebrate Christ the King, Jesus speaks about the  values and actions of those who are following him and bringing in his kingdom. He tells us that, if we feed the hungry or give water to the thirsty or welcome the stranger or clothe folks who have nothing to wear, or take care of those who are sick or visit those who are in prison, we are doing those things to him.

Our king identifies, not with the rich and powerful, but with those who need help, those who are weak, those who have no power, those who are at the margins of society. When he tells his followers that they have done all these things to him, they are astonished. They had no idea. They were just trying to help a fellow human being.

Jesus is so different from our usual ideas of a king. He is not powerful in the world’s meaning of the word. He has no army. He has no palace. He was born in a stable to a carpenter and his wife. Shortly after his birth, his father had to take the family to Egypt to save Jesus’ life, so they became refugees, aliens in a strange land because King Herod was killing baby boys. Our king has suffered, and he has a special place in his heart for those who suffer.

Our king grew up in a carpenter’s home, worked in the shop with his earthly father, studied at the synagogue with the other kids, and eventually he went to the river Jordan and was baptized by his cousin John.

Wherever he went, he lived the values of his kingdom. When he went into the synagogue and reads the scroll of Isaiah, it said that he was coming to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, to comfort all who mourn, and to bring God’s peace and harmony. That is what he did during his entire ministry, and that is what he calls us to do.

Today we make our United Thank Offering and we also begin to pray about our pledges. Today and every day, God calls us to help those who need God’s love and caring. The season of Pentecost is coming to a close, and this coming Sunday we move into Advent.

May we take time to reflect on the depth of God’s love for us and for all people. May we help and serve others in Christ’s Name. Amen.

Pentecost 24 Proper 28A RCL November 19, 2017

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

In our opening reading, the people of God have fallen into the hands of King Jabin of Canaan. The commander of Jabin’s army is Sisera. The people of God have been living under the harsh rule of King Jabin for twenty years, and Sisera has amassed a huge army. He has nine hundred chariots of iron.

In this reading, we meet one of the great women leaders of God’s people, Deborah, who is a judge and a prophetess. She is highly respected, and people come from miles away to consult her. The other hero of this story is Barak, a great military leader.

In this time of crisis, God calls Deborah to lead the people. Deborah is known to have a gift for military strategy. She has the wisdom to ask Barak to make the first move in this military campaign. With the combination of Deborah’s gift of strategy and Barak’s gift of courage and military leadership, God’s people take the important step to conquer King Jabin.

In our epistle, Paul reminds us that we are children of the light. He calls us to “put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation,” Most of all, he calls us to keep awake. Advent is coming.

In today’s gospel, we hear the beloved parable of the talents. As we know, a talent was a coin that was worth a great deal of money. Thomas Troegher computes that five talents would be worth $156,000.
The person who received those five talents goes out and makes five more. The two talent fellow makes two more. But the poor fellow who got one talent has gone and buried it. And the master is not at all pleased. Caution and prudence are great virtues, but our one talent man carries them a bit too far. He could have at least put the talent in the bank and gained interest.

Matthew’s congregation was being encouraged not to hide their light under a bushel. They were being called to go out and spread the good news even in the face of persecution. We, too, are called to go out and spread the good news every day of our lives, and all of us take that very seriously. Every one of you is out in the world doing God’s work, and I thank God for that and for each of you.

This week we will celebrate Thanksgiving. We are moving toward the time when we make our UTO offering, and I suggest that we bring in that offering next Sunday. This is also the time when we think about our pledges for the coming year.

In that context, I submit that each of us has been given the maximum of five talents. We have been given the gift of God’s love. God loves each of us as the apple of God’s eye. God loves us with a love that cannot be stopped. As Paul says in another epistle, “Nothing can separate us from God’s love.”

We have been given gifts of God’s healing and forgiveness. We have been given gifts of energy and compassion and caring so that we can go out into the world and do good work and care about people and care for our families and make the world a better place. All these gifts are like the talents in the parable, God gives these gifts to us because God loves us.

What is our response? Our response is to return a worthy portion of or time, talent, and treasure to God. All of you devote time to Grace Church. Many of you devote time to the work of the diocese. All of you devote great amounts of time to helping other people, both in your work and in your spare time. In terms of treasure, we make pledges of money that we are returning to God from the treasure God has given us. This includes not only our pledges to the Church but also contributions we make to charities like the United Way, The Red Cross, and so many others.

Someone once said that we Christians know Whom to thank. We know that God gives us everything. We may go out and help people, but it is God who gives us the ability to do that. And so we thank God with all our hearts. That is what stewardship is all about—thanks.

The attitude of gratitude is a powerful thing. We know that all good things come from God, and we thank God by returning a worthy portion. We have so much to be thankful for. It would take us hours to name all of these things. Thank you, dear Lord, for your love, for our families, for our life together, for our country and our freedoms, for those who have fought for these precious rights, for warm homes, food, clothing, health, the ability to help others, and on and on our lists could go.

The United Thank Offering, UTO, is based on the fact that every day we can put a coin into our UTO box to thank God for some gift that God is giving us or has given us. Incidentally, the UTO is the outgrowth and continuation of the Women’s Auxiliary which was such a key part of Grace’s history for so many years. We continue that tradition in our gifts to UTO.

Please think about all these wonderful gifts from God prayerfully and with full gratitude to our loving God. We will do our UTO ingathering this coming Sunday, and we will also have our pledge sheets available so that we can take them and fill them out.

Thanks be to God for all of God’s many gifts to all of us. Amen.

Pentecost 23 Proper 27A RCL November 12, 2017

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
Psalm 78:1-7
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 25:1-13

In our first reading, the people of God are moving into the promised land. Joshua gathers them together and reviews their history. God brought Abraham from beyond the Euphrates River and led him to Canaan and gave him descendants as numerous as the stars. And the people review a more recent part of their history, the journey from slavery in Egypt into freedom in this new land.

But Joshua is reminding them that they are called to choose to follow God. Scholars tell us that now that the people have crossed into this new land, they are probably hearing about the local gods. In those days, it was customary to pay respect to the gods of an area where you were moving in. And Joshua is making it clear that the people are called to follow one God. He says that his family is definitely gong to remain faithful to God. Then, as now, the commitment of a leader usually means a great deal to people. The people make their commitment to be faithful to God.

In our reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians, people in the congregation are dying. Many of the early Christians had expected that our Lord would return very quickly, but at the time this letter was written, about 20 years after our Lord’s death and resurrection, he still has not come to bring in his kingdom. Paul is assuring the people that  all will rise to new life.

Our gospel for today also addresses the issue of the coming of Christ. Matthew’s gospel was written about 90 A.D., sixty years after the end of our Lord’s earthly ministry. People are wondering when Jesus will come again to bring in his shalom. And so Matthew shares our Lord’s parable of the ten wise bridesmaids and the ten foolish bridesmaids.

Herbert O’Driscoll reminds us that a wedding was a feast for the whole community. If someone in the village was getting married, everyone was invited to the celebration. As dusk gathered, the bridesmaids would light their lamps and the lamps would be flickering as the day disappeared. Everyone knew that if you were a bridesmaid, you needed to make sure to buy plenty of extra oil in advance so that you could bring it with you. You never knew quite when the bridegroom would appear. It was something you could not predict. So, you had to be prepared.

We all know the story. The less than wise bridesmaids run out of oil. As the sky darkens, five of those lamps flicker out. The bridesmaids plead to their wiser companions to give then some oil. But they can’t. They have made their commitment to be prepared. The bridegroom arrives in a flurry of festivity. Five of the bridesmaids go in to the feast, and five are left at the door. Our Lord calls us to “Keep awake, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

The call to keep awake is one of the major themes of Advent, which is only a short two weeks away. But this reminder to stay alert and to be ready is wise advice in every season.

Reflecting on this call to “Keep awake,” Herbert O’Driscoll writes, “I never know when God passes by in my experience, when eternity intersects with time, and spirit with flesh. I never know when a door between the worlds opens, and I am invited to a wedding. I may be invited to taste the sweetness of God in a moment of liturgy, in a moment of friendship…in a moment of beauty discovered in art or nature. But if such things are offered, then I must be ready when the offer is made. I must assume that any moment is the potential moment, any place is the potential place, any conversation or encounter is the encounter with God.” (The Word Today, Year A, Volume 3, P. 173.)

Any moment, every moment is a potential encounter with God. We never know when it is going to happen. That is why we need to be ready at all times. We need to be awake to the presence of God in every moment. O’Driscoll mentions Brother Lawrence, who wrote a book called The Practice of the Presence of God. He was a  monk who lived in the seventeenth century. He worked in the kitchen, and as he washed dishes, scrubbed floors, and peeled potatoes, he was deeply aware of God’s presence in all of these small and mundane things.

In our readings today, we are called to follow the example of Joshua and so many others and serve the Lord. We are called to have faith and hope because we believe that we are already in eternal life and that our ultimate destination is the heavenly banquet with our Lord and the saints and angels. And we are called to be awake, to be ready to meet Christ in every moment of life, whether we are scrubbing the floor, talking with a friend, or receiving the bread of heaven, the Body of Christ at the Eucharist.

In all of these moments, in every moment, Christ is present. Christ is alive and is among us at this moment. Amen.

Proper 29 A RCL—Christ the King—November 23, 2014

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Psalm 95:1-7a
Ephesians 1:15-23
Matthew 25:31-46

Today is Christ the King Sunday. The season after Pentecost comes to a close. Next Sunday we will begin Advent. This is also the Sunday before Thanksgiving, a time when we think of all the many gifts God has given us. We gather with family and friends to give thanks. After our service, we will go to Frank and Priscillas to share our harvest dinner.

Our opening reading this morning comes from the time of the Exile in Babylon. At the point of our reading for today, the Babylonian Empire has conquered Jerusalem, the people have been deported to Babylon, and they have been living in exile for about ten years. Ezekiel has just learned that the Babylonians have destroyed the temple in Jerusalem, and more refugees will be coming to Babylon.

 The people are devastated. They have been praying and keeping the faith and studying the scriptures, but now, they feel that they have lost everything. In todays lesson, God is speaking to the people. through the prophet and priest Ezekiel. God is going to search for the sheep and rescue them, and gather them, and bring them into their own land and feed them with good pasture. God is going to search for the lost and strayed and is going to bind up the injured and strengthen the weak. God is going to gather the people and lead them home to Jerusalem.

God is going to destroy the fat and the strong,that is, the rich and powerful leaders who had gained even more power and wealth at the expense of the ordinary people. Those who abused the weak are now going to face the consequences of their actions. God is going to protect the flock. This passage from Ezekiel reminds us that God has always had special concern for the weak and those at the margins.

The people have always thought that God dwelled in the temple in Jerusalem. Now that the temple has been destroyed, they wonder where God is. We are not living in literal exile, but we are living in a time when darkness and chaos and violence are all too apparent. We may ask ourselves, Where is God in all of this?This reading from 2,500 years ago reminds us that God is right in the midst of us, leading us through the darkness to the light. This is a message of profound hope.

In our epistle, Paul tells us that our Lord has risen from the dead and is with us now; he has conquered the forces of darkness and he is the head of his living Body, the Church. Christs kingdom is growing even now, growing inexorably in the face of the darkness and brokenness that we see in the world around us. And his kingdom, his shalom of peace and harmony, will be realized when he comes again.

In our gospel, Jesus describes kingdom people. They feed the hungry; they give water to the thirsty; they welcome the stranger; they clothe the naked; they care for the sick; and they visit those who are in prison. They take care of other people, especially those who are vulnerable. And Jesus tells them, Truly, I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these, who are members of my family, you did it to me.

In a profound sense, whether we are kingdom people or not comes down to how we treat folks who are weak, folks who have no power, no money, no say in how things get done. We know this, not only from this gospel story, but also from the life and ministry of our Lord. He was constantly criticized because he associated with the wrong peopletax collectors, prostitutes, people who were considered beyond the pale. He valued women and children, who had no status in his society. He touched lepers and healed them. His love for every one of his children is our example.

As we think about this gospel, we look forward to Advent, when we prepare for Jesuscoming again and we also look back to his first coming. When he came among us, he was not born in a castle. He was born to a carpenter and his wife in a little out of the way place. They were not rich or powerful. They were what Jesus in todays gospel calls, the least of these, my family.Very early in his life, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph had to become refugees and flee to Egypt to get away from King Herod, who was killing baby boys.

This is how the king of creation came to be among us. Jesus knows what it is like to live on the margins of society, to be beyond the pale, to be despised. He is asking us to think about how that feels to folks and to treat our brothers and sisters with respect.

We have been given so much. He is simply calling us to share his many gifts with others. For the next two Sundays, we will be doing our U T O ingathering, and next month, we will be making our offering to Episcopal Relief and Development. We will also be making our pledges to Grace Church in thanksgiving to God.

Christ is our King, but he is a very different kind of King. He is the King of Compassion. He has a special place in his heart for those who are most vulnerable.

Next Sunday, we will begin the season of Advent, and we will once again plumb the mystery of our God, who created the galaxies and the planets in their courses,yet came among us just the way we came into the world, as a tiny baby.

This week, we celebrate Thanksgiving, and we have so much to be thankful for: loving families, our faith community here at Grace, the abundance of our lives, both spiritual and material, and the presence of our loving God among us, leading us and guiding us and showering us with gifts to be shared. Amen.

Pentecost 22 Proper 27A RCL November 9, 2014

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
Psalm 78:1-7
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 25:1-13

In our opening reading for today, God’s people have reached a moment of transition. They are going to settle down in the land of Canaan and they are going to stop being nomads. Joshua also calls them to an important choice. They must renew their covenant with God. They must choose to be loyal to God.

Back in those days, when you moved into a new land, you encountered gods different from your own. There were the gods from beyond the river, that is, the Euphrates, and there were also the local gods of the land of Canaan, most notably fertility gods. Joshua calls the people to renew their vows to God. He leads by example, He tells the people that he and his family will worship Yahweh. The people follow his example.

In our secular age, we are surrounded by other gods—or we might say, idols. Many folks worship power and wealth. Some people strive for their fifteen minutes of fame. We are called to worship God.

In our epistle for today, the situation is that folks in the early church thought that Jesus would return quickly. But now it’s about twenty years after the death and resurrection of our Lord, and someone in the congregation has died. People are wondering what will happen to this person. Paul is telling them that because our Lord has been raised from the dead, we will be raised. Now it has been two thousand years since our Lord was here on earth. We can still be a people of hope because we know that death has no dominion over us. We are in eternal life now and we will be with our Lord and all the saints and angels in heaven.

Our gospel is dealing with a wedding banquet, but scholars tell us that Matthew’s congregation was also dealing with the question of Christ’s coming again. When will he come? Why has he not come already? Matthew was writing about 90 AD, some sixty years after our Lord’s death. Everyone hearing this parable knew how weddings went. If you are a bridesmaid, the first thing you do is to make sure that you have plenty of oil in reserve. It’s going to get dark and you will want to have your lamp lighted, and you will want to be sure that you have enough oil so that, at the crucial moment when the bridegroom arrives, you will be able to welcome him with you lamp burning.

The wise bridesmaids may seem to be selfish when they refuse to share their oil, but everyone knew what the priorities were when it all began, and they are focussing on the important thing: when the bridegroom arrives, I want to have my lamp lighted, with plenty of oil to spare. The foolish bridesmaids have to go off to buy oil and the bridegroom arrives when they are gone. They miss the feast.

This parable is almost a foreshadowing of Advent themes. It has been two thousand years, but our Lord will come and he will bring in his shalom. Our job is to be ready. We don’t want to miss the feast.

How do we go about being ready? Charles Cousar writes,”Watching means seizing the day, loving God and neighbors in each moment….” Texts for Preaching, Year A, p. 561.) Jesus calls us to be ready for his return. He cautions us not to speculate on when he will come, not to engage in theories or hypotheses, not to search the scriptures for signs. Rather, we are to accept God’s love, be ready in each moment of our lives, be people of hope looking forward to the time when he will come to us and establish his kingdom of peace, love, harmony, and wholeness. We are called to be ready for the moment when he will restore the creation to be as he created it to be.

Now we are in a time of transition, We are moving from ordinary tine, the season after Pentecost, into Advent time, beginning to prepare for his coming again.

It is not easy to live in a secular society. We can understand the situation of God’s people settling in Canaan. At times we might be tempted to put our trust in some of those other gods. Maybe the accumulation of lots of things or just the right clothes can make us happy. Maybe retail therapy is the way to a life of joy. That’s what the advertisers are telling us. Maybe clawing our way up the ladder of worldly success isn’t that bad after all. As the saying goes, it’s a dog eat dog world. Did you ever see that TV program called “Monk”?

The theme song has a lot of truth in it. “It’s a jungle out there.”

But the whole point is that, if we love God with everything we have and if we love our neighbors, and if all of us do that, the world will be a peaceable kingdom, not a jungle. That is God’s vision for the creation. Everyone getting along. In fact, everyone helping each other. Everyone having enough—enough food, clothing, shelter, good work to do, love. and caring and peace and healing.

That is the kingdom, the shalom that we are called to be ready to welcome. That’s the feast we are called to attend. That is the vision we are called to bring to fruition. That is why we love God and believe in God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength. That is why we are people of hope, because we know that God loves us and all people and that God calls us to life in a different and richer dimension, eternal life, fullness of life. And that is why was are going to be sure to have more than enough oil so that we can keep our lamps lighted into the dusk and into the darkness, and, when he comes, we will be ready to welcome him and the whole creation will be filled with light.

May we love God in every moment, May we love our neighbors in every moment. May we be ready to welcome our Lord. Amen.