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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion June 11, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.comTime:  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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All Saints Year A November 1, 2020

Revelation 7:9-17
Psalm 34:1-10, 22
1 John 3:1-3
Matthew 5:1-12

Our sermon today will  be brief because we will be having reports from our delegates to Diocesan Convention.

Today, we celebrate All Saints Day. We remember that we are part of that great cloud of witnesses, the faithful saints who have followed Christ throughout the centuries. Because of God’s love, we are knit together as members of the Body of Christ, each of us using our God-given gifts to spread the love of God to everyone we meet. 

In today’s gospel, our Lord gives us the beatitudes, the blueprint for living lives of faith, hope, and compassion, bringing comfort to those who mourn, feeding our brothers and sisters both physically and spiritually, extending God’s mercy, peace, and justice, working to bring in God’s kingdom in which the creation is restored and the dignity of every human being is respected. 

Today, we celebrate the lives of our Capital S saints such as Patrick and Mary, Francis and Teresa of Avila. and our small s saints, ordinary people like you and me who followed Jesus. The saints come from all walks of life, from all over the world. They have a variety of gifts. They are shining examples of people who have followed Jesus and helped to build his kingdom.

This Tuesday is Election Day, and, as you know, the election has been going on for several weeks. We are facing many very important issues: the Covid pandemic; an economy that has been affected by that pandemic, causing severe hardship to many people; political division; and our long history of racism. I’m sure many of you have already voted. If you have not, please do exercise your privilege to cast a ballot.

This is a time of great stress. I encourage you to pray. And I ask you to focus on those three precious gifts from God: faith, hope, and love. May we have faith that God will guide our minds and hearts to make sound choices in our voting; may we have hope that God will guide us to choose wise and faithful leaders, May we be rooted and grounded in God’s love in all that we do. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Prayer “For an Election,” p, 822.

Almighty God, to whom we must account for all our prayers and privileges: Guide the people of the United States in the election of officials and representatives; that, by faithful administration and wise laws, the rights of all may be protected and our nation be enabled to fulfill your purposes; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

And now, we will have our Convention reports by Beth, Lori, and Jean.

Epiphany 6A   February 16, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Knock knock.

‘Come in.’

‘Er, Mary?’


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Epiphany 5A February 9, 2020

Isaiah 58:1-9a, (9b-12)
Psalm 112:1-9
1 Corinthians 2:1-12, (13-16)
Matthew 5:13-20

Our first reading, from the prophet known as Third Isaiah, dates back to the time when God’s people were finally able to return home to Jerusalem after the Babylonian Exile. At this stage, the temple has not  yet been rebuilt. 

Services are taking place, however, and God has called the prophet Isaiah to point out some major problems in the way the people are conducting their worship and leading their lives. The people are worshiping and fasting, but their lives do not reflect the attitudes that God expects us to have when we worship, pray, and fast.

 God calls Isaiah to tell the people that they fast, but then they pursue their own interests and oppress their workers. They go through the outward motions of worship, but their worship is not reflected in their lives. 

Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann writes of this passage, “There is no doubt that the ‘bonds of injustice’ alludes to the systemic practice of dehumanization.” The appropriate answer to this dehumanization is, in Brueggemann’s words, “the concrete response of caring people.” Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching year A, p. 129.

God then describes the fast that God expects of God’s people: “To loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free…to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them…” Scholars tell us that, when Isaiah speaks of the yoke, this refers to the burdens that poverty places on people.

Then Isaiah describes what happens when our worship and our lives are congruent and in harmony with God’s vision of shalom. “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn and your healing shall spring up quickly. The glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.”

The people have been complaining that they fast but God does not seem to hear them. This passage tells us that, if our worship is truly centered on God and if we are trying to do God’s will, “[we] shall call and God shall answer. [We] shall cry for help, and God will say, ‘Here I am.’” Closeness to God has to do with the sincerity of our worship. Prayer and worship are not empty rituals. They transform us.

Our gospel for today immediately follows the beatitudes. We missed reading those last Sunday because we were celebrating the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the temple.

Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Blessed are those who know they need God’s help and ask for God’s help and guidance. Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for a right relationship with God. Blessed are the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers.” One scholar says that in the Beatitudes, Jesus is blessing all the things we don’t want to be. God’s reign is very different from human kingdoms.

Our Lord is saying the same thing Isaiah is teaching us today. When our worship and our lives are congruent with God’s vision of shalom, then our light shines. Then the light of Christ shines forth from us. Then, he tells us, we are the salt of the earth. We are the light of the world.

Salt is tangy. It preserves things, It adds flavor. Light helps us to see. When we are following Jesus, when we are loving God and loving others, the light of Christ shines in everything we do.

In our passage from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul is dealing with the same kind of situation that Isaiah is facing in our first reading. There are some folks in the congregation who think they have a secret wisdom. They are called Gnostics, from the Greek word  gnosis, which means knowing. 

There is nothing wrong with knowing things and learning things. Learning is essential. But these people, tragically, are using their so-called secret knowledge to lord it over others in the congregation. They are also criticizing Paul, who, although he is an expert in rhetoric, the art of public speaking, does not use his knowledge of rhetoric in preaching and teaching. He preaches and teaches from his heart. We could say that Paul’s teaching, preaching, and worship are the opposite of what is going on in Jerusalem in our first reading. The worship and fasting in the temple is all an elaborate show. It is not coming from the heart.

Paul says,”My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom but on the power of God. Yet among the mature, we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age.”

Paul is saying that when we pray the prayer of Christ, learn the mind of Christ, and do the deeds of Christ, we grow into maturity in Christ. We grow into the wisdom given by God. And that wisdom helps us to, in Paul’s words,“understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.” To put it another way, true wisdom comes from God and leads us to an appreciation of all the gifts given us by God. It does not lead us to lord it over our brothers and sisters.

May we show forth the light and love of our Lord in our lives. May we follow Jesus with all our heart and soul and mind and strength and  may we love our neighbors as ourselves. Amen.

All Saints’ Sunday Year A RCL November 5, 2017

Revelation 7:9-17
Psalm 34:1-10, 22
1 John 3: 1-3
Matthew 5:1-12

All Saints is one of the most meaningful  and joyful feasts of the Church Year.

Our opening reading from the Book of Revelation shows us the vision of heaven including all those who have followed their Good Shepherd into eternal life. They are in his presence forever.

Psalm 34 is one of the most beautiful songs of praise in the Bible. “Taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are they who trust in him.”

Our very brief but powerful reading from the First Letter of John describes the results of God’s love for us. We are God’s children now, and we are growing into the likeness of Christ. The text tells us that “We will see him as he is.” This gives us deep hope that reaches down into the springs of spiritual freshness.

And then we have the vision of life which our Lord describes in his Beatitudes. Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, and those who hunger and thirst for a right relationship with God. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the pure in heart, those who are able, by God’s grace, to focus with single mindedness on the love of God and what that love calls us to do and to be.

We are all one in Jesus our Lord. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses—those who have gone before us, those who are here now, and those yet to come, all followers of Jesus. We are all part of what our Presiding Bishop calls the Jesus Movement. And we are all deeply blessed. Amen.

Now we will hear reports on our Diocesan Convention — “Declaring Dignity.”

Epiphany 5A RCL February 5, 2017

Isaiah 58:1-9a. (9b-12)
Psalm 112:1-9 (10)
1 Corinthians 2:1-12. (13-16)
Matthew 5:13-20

This sermon will be short because we have Annual Meeting today.

In our opening reading, from the prophet Isaiah, the people of God are saying that they fast and humble themselves, but God does not seem to acknowledge what they are doing. God tells them that they are performing religious observances, but their actions in their daily lives do not reflect a sincere faith. The people fast, but they are oppressing their workers and they are fighting with each other. God tells the people that the real spiritual observance is to create a just society, free people from any and all kinds of bondage, share food with the hungry and clothes with the naked. When we live our faith, God is with us. When we do not live our faith, we separate ourselves from God.

In today’s gospel, Jesus has just given the Beatitudes. Now he is telling us that we are the light of the world. He says that he has come to fulfill the law and the prophets. This means that we are called to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves. This is how we spread the light of Christ. The whole purpose of life in Christ is to share his love.

May we be faithful followers of our Lord. May we share his light and love. Amen.

Epiphany 4A RCL January 29, 2016

Micah 6:1-8
Psalm 15
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Matthew 5:1-12

In one way or another, all of our readings today deal with the questions, “What does it mean to follow God’s will?

Our first reading today is from the prophet Micah, who was a younger contemporary of the great prophet Isaiah. Micah’s ministry took place between 750 and 687 B.C. Unlike Isaiah, who was a part of the temple priesthood, Micah was not of noble birth. He was a commoner from the little village of Moresheth in the foothills southwest of Jerusalem. He was someone who could give an outsider’s view of what was happening in the great city.

As Biblical scholar Bruce Metzger writes, “Micah looked on the corruption and pretensions of the capital with a different eye.” This was a time when the temple was offering more and more animals at the altar. People had even fallen into the practice of offering their firstborn child in hopes of gaining God’s favor. They were offering all these things, but they were not offering their lives to be guided by God.

At the same time, people were not caring for each other or treating each other with respect. Corruption was widespread, especially among the privileged. The rich were growing richer and the poor were having a difficult time surviving.

Micah tells the people that this is not the kind of behavior God wants. What God wants is for us to “do justice and love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.” Commentator Andrew Foster Connors writes, “God desires justice that is measured by how well the most vulnerable fare in the community, a loyal love (hesed) that is commensurate with the kind of loyal love that God has shown toward Israel, and a careful walking (halaka) in one’s ethical life.”(Connors, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol 1, p.292.)

Walter Brueggemann writes that to walk humbly with God means, “to abandon all self-sufficiency, to acknowledge in daily attitude and act that life is indeed derived from the reality of God.” (Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching Year A, p. 120.)

In our epistle, Paul is telling the Corinthians and us that our faith does not rely on worldly wisdom or power. Our faith flies in the face of earthly power. We proclaim Christ crucified. The idea of a leader who died a criminal’s death is a disgrace in terms of Greek thought, which proclaimed the power of wisdom to overcome every obstacle, and to Jewish thought, which looked forward to the coming of a messiah who would defeat the Roman Empire.

We follow someone who suffered a death reserved for the lowest of the low, the poorest of the poor. No one of noble birth would ever undergo such a horrible death. Paul says, “God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”

There is something amazing about our loving God. He did not assemble an army. He did not attack the religious and secular leaders arrayed against him, powers that were trying to protect their turf, powers that were working against the justice and love of God. He accepted all their hate, all their venom and violence. He took it into himself and transformed it into healing, forgiveness, and newness of life.

That is why we follow him. That is why we worship him. Because he shows us a different kind of wisdom, a different kind of life-giving power, a different way to live.

In our gospel for today, we have Jesus’ Beatitudes, some of the most profound and wise words ever spoken. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Jesus begins. This takes us back to Walter Brueggemann’s wise observation that to walk humbly with God means “to abandon all self-sufficiency.” To be poor in spirit means that we know we cannot do it alone, that we need to be constantly asking for God’s help and guidance. Blessed are those who mourn because of the brokenness of this world. Like the people of Micah’s time, we as a society are not living God’s vision of justice and love. Blessed are the meek. Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines meek as “enduring injury with patience and without resentment.”  The Riverside dictionary defines meek as, “exhibiting humility and patience; gentle.” Blessed are the gentle, the humble, the patient? Yes, for they will inherit the earth. In the world’s terms, the meek get run over or pushed aside. But, as we know, Jesus’ shalom is a whole different realm from this world.

We are here because, in the words of the song, “We have decided to follow Jesus.” We know that it’s wise to ask for help from God and others on the journey with us. It’s not a sign of weakness. All the qualities that Jesus is talking about are part of the life we are trying to live, with his help and grace.

There is great joy in knowing that we have God’s help every moment of every day, and that we have wise guidance from our brothers and sisters in Christ whenever we want to ask for it. We know that compassion is not weakness. We know that all of these qualities which Jesus is describing today are the blueprint for life in a richer, fuller dimension. That is what we mean by God’s kingdom, God’s shalom.

We do not have to compete. We do not have to fight. We do not have to claw our way up the ladder of success no matter whom we hurt on the way up. There is a better way, and that is the way to life in and with Christ.

May we do justice and love kindness and walk humbly with our God. May we live these Beatitudes, with God’s grace.  Amen.

All Saints’ Sunday Year A RCL November 2, 2014

Revelation 7:9-17
Psalm 34:1-10, 22
1 John 3:1-3
Matthew 5:1-12

This Sunday, we celebrate the feast of All Saints.

Our first reading is from the Book of Revelation, the vision of John on the island of Patmos. In our reading for today, a great multitude of people, from every tribe and nation, worships God. Salvation is open to all who respond to God’s love and mercy.

Special honor is given to those who have gone through the great ordeal Scholars tell us that John was referring to those who had suffered persecution by the Roman Empire, but, over the centuries, the Church has especially remembered all those who have been martyred for their faith. Today, we pray especially for those who have suffered and lost their lives at the hands of Isis.

“They will hunger and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat, for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Our psalm continues the song of praise to God, who is so good to us. Our epistle reminds us that, because of God’s love, we are children of God, as close to God as a child is to its mother or father,

And, finally, in our gospel, Jesus gives us the Beatitudes. The poor in spirit, those who admit their need for God, receive the kingdom of heaven, Those who mourn are comforted. The meek inherit the earth. Those who hunger and thirst for a right relationship with God will be filled. Those who are merciful will receive mercy. The pure in heart, those who seek God with all their heart and soul and mind and strength, will see God. Those who are persecuted for their faith are especially close to God. The beatitudes are a blueprint of the qualities of kingdom people. We are called to be meek, not power-grabbers. We are called to be merciful, not out to climb the ladder of worldly success at any cost. These values are counter to the values of our surrounding culture. But they are the values of our Lord. We are called to follow his example.

We are part of God’s big family. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, those who are here now, those who have gone before us, and those who will come after us. We are knit together in the Body of Christ, which spans all time and all the peoples of the world. We take inspiration from the lives of the saints. And, as the beloved hymn tells us, saints are just folks like you and me. They have run the race before us and they inspire us to do the best we can, with God’s help.

These readings today also serve to remind us that our loved ones who have gone before us are there in heaven with Jesus, with God, with the angels, and with the whole communion of saints in heaven, in eternal light and joy.

May we always be thankful for God’s immeasurable love and for the communion of saints of which we are a part. Amen.

Epiphany 7A RCL February 23, 2014

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
Psalm 119:33-40
1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23
Matthew 5: 38-48

Our opening reading today is from the Book of Leviticus, a book of laws which, together with the Book of Deuteronomy, provides guidelines for how to live together in community. We are called to be holy. Holiness has to do with the way we lead our lives. Here in this reading,  we have some very clear values which we can use to shape our behavior.

When we are harvesting, we are to leave some of the crop for the poor and the alien. God’s law always carries a concern for those who are vulnerable. If some of the crop is left, they will have something to eat.

We are not to steal. We are to be honest. We are to treat the disabled with respect.  We are called to deal justly with others. We do not slander people. We are not to hate our neighbor, If we have a problem with someone, we are called to go and try to resolve the issue with our neighbor, not to let hatred fester until it boils up into something much worse.  In sum, we are called to love our neighbor. These are amazing thoughts when we realize that they date back thousands of years.

If we were to summarize these laws, we could say that they call us to have concern for the vulnerable, to be honest and fair, to respect others, to seek reconciliation and understanding, and to love our neighbors as God loves us.  These laws, written thousands of years ago, are good advice for us today.

In our epistle for today, Paul is switching his metaphors. Last week he was describing himself as a gardener or a farmer. Paul planted, Apollos watered, and God gave the growth. Now he is describing himself as a master builder. But the foundation must always be our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul wisely counsels us not to boast about human leaders, whether Peter or Paul or Apollos.  We are all one in Christ, and we all belong to Christ.

We can only imagine what might have happened if the people in Corinth who thought they were so wise had gotten on their knees and asked God for guidance. If they had listened, God would have led them to enter into a process of reconciliation with their brothers and sisters and to treat them with respect.

In today’s gospel, we are continuing with the Beatitudes.

Our reading begins with Jesus saying, “You have heard it said, ‘an eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth,” Jesus is referring to what is called the law of “retaliation in kind” as described in the books of Exodus, Deuteronomy, and Leviticus, which were written hundreds of years before Jesus was born.  Until these laws were written, if someone took out your eye, you would gather a group of people and go and kill the person and perhaps members of his family.  The law of an eye for an eye was designed to reduce the amount of violence.  So, if someone took out your eye, you could not simply go over and kill him. You could go to the judge and he would give a sentence allowing equal retribution.

Jesus’ call to love our enemies goes far beyond the law of retaliation in kind and far beyond out usual concepts of justice.  One note of caution: we need to keep in mind that this passage of scripture is not intended to deal with situations of abuse as we know them today. Jesus would never tell a battered woman to turn the other cheek. This passage does not apply to any situation of abuse. In those situations, our priority is to get the victim to a safe place and to make sure the perpetrator can no longer do harm to anyone.

Jesus calls us to be perfect.  But we need to define the word accurately. The Greek is teleios. Bishop Fred Borsch says, that teleios means “to come to the goal or purpose, that is, to become what one was created for, to reach full growth, potential, maturity. It is incredibly difficult to love our enemies, but this is what God made us to do. Bishop Borsch reminds us that Archbishop Desmond Tutu told white South African leader P. W. Botha that they are brothers and members of the same human family.  To be able to think and act in that way when one has been subjected to something like apartheid—that is what God is calling us to do.

Borsch writes, “Jesus tells of a different will of God and so a different way of life for those who would be children of this God and reflect their parent’s character.” (Proclamation 4, p. 52.)

The values reflected in our readings today are embodied in the promises we make in our baptismal vows. “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” This is what we were made for. This is what Christ’s kingdom is all about.  So these are the values of kingdom communities, of shalom communities. These are ways of living together which open the way to God’s shalom.

With God’s help, we try to live these promises. When we fail, we ask forgiveness and begin again. Why do we do this? Because this blueprint for life, these Beatitudes, are the only thing that makes sense to us. The new life in Christ means that we are becoming one with him and that we are called to become more and more like him. And slowly, slowly, it is happening.  We are being transformed.

We gather, we pray together, we study the word together, we share Eucharist, we are fed by him, our faith is nurtured. and we are becoming one with him and with each other.

That’s the kind of community Paul is talking about. Thanks be to God, we are being given the gift of that community.  We are becoming what we were created for, not through any effort of our own, but by God’s grace.  Amen.

Epiphany 6 February 16, 2014

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

In our first reading, Moses has led God’s people to the border of the promised land. He is not going to be able to go with them. The year is around 1200 B. C.,  over three thousand years ago. The people have been journeying through the wilderness for forty years, and now they are about to enter this new phase of their life together. This is the end of a long speech by Moses. He is trying to get across to the people everything that they will need to know in order to lead their lives, as individuals and as a community, in the way God wants them to live.

Moses says a dramatic thing. He says, “I have set before you today, life and prosperity, death and adversity, Choose life, that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God….” In the preceding chapters, Moses has outlined the framework within which God’s people are called to live. Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann lists the main  values involved in loving God and our neighbors, values which have been discussed in Moses’ speech to the people: “sharing feasts with the hungry (Deut. 14:27-29; canceling debts that the poor cannot pay (15:1-11); organizing government to guard against excessive wealth ((17:14-20); sharing hospitality with runaway slaves (23:156-16); not charging interest in loans in the covenant community (23:19-20);  paying hired hands promptly what they earn (24:14-15); leaving the residue of harvest for the disadvantaged (24:19-22); and limiting punishment in order to protect human dignity (25:1-3).” I list these because they make clear that Moses and God are clearly spelling out how we are called to behave when we set out to love God and our neighbor.

When God promises life and prosperity to those who love God and neighbor, God is not talking about material prosperity and the accumulation of wealth, power, and possessions. God is talking about the spiritual prosperity of a community life based on compassion and concern for others and rooted in our awareness and experience of God’s love for us.

In our epistle, we continue with a reading of Paul’s letter to the strife-torn congregation in Corinth.  As we recall, some of the members of the community are extremely arrogant, saying that they have special knowledge that no one else has.  Paul speaks to them as a nursing mother, telling them that he fed them with milk because they were not mature enough for solid food. This must have been a shock to them. I think he said this in order to puncture the balloon of their arrogance.

Various factions are saying that they belong to Paul or to Apollos. But Paul weaves all of this divisiveness into a beautiful tapestry of faith and wisdom when he offers a metaphor of growth. Paul planted the seed, Apollos watered it, and God gave the growth. We all have a common purpose, Paul says, but it is God who gives the growth.

In our gospel, Jesus is continuing the Beatitudes. He is calling us to follow the spirit of the law rather than the letter. It’s safe to say that none of us has murdered anyone literally. But have we spoken harshly or sarcastically? Have we gotten to the end of our rope and said things we wish we could take back? Have we looked on others with contempt or called someone a fool? These are not literal murder, but we all know the damage that words can do. That old saw, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” is simply not true.

Jesus calls us to be reconcilers. If we have a problem with someone, we need to go and try to work it out with them.

Then Jesus tackles the issue of adultery. But, once again, he goes to the spirit of the thing. If we look on other people as objects for our gratification, that is as bad as committing adultery. We are called to be completely and utterly faithful to our marriage commitments. We are called to treat each other with profound respect and caring.

We need to take Jesus’ words on divorce within the context of his culture. In Jesus’ time, a man could divorce his wife for a trivial reason, for example,  if he did not like her cooking. He could write up a certificate of divorce and she would be out in the street. Women and children in Jesus’ time were considered as property, possessions,  like a chair. The technical word for this is chattel. Women and children were things. So, if a man divorced a woman, and she was left alone to fend for herself, she had no means of support and no social status. She would have to go back to her family in disgrace and try to live under the protection of a male relative. If she could not do that, she would often have to resort to prostitution, a profession which is totally dependent on the objectification of persons.

Jesus says here that the only justification for divorce is adultery, but he is speaking here to men who commonly would divorce their wives for trivial reasons.  In Jesus’ culture, there was no awareness of such a thing as domestic violence or emotionally abusive behavior.  Abuse tears the fabric of a relationship. It destroys marriages.

Jesus is calling us to a higher level of commitment and behavior. He is calling us to the highest levels of compassion. He says that if our right eye causes us to sin, we should tear it out. This is one of those comments that we need to take in a spiritual sense. Jesus is not advising us to perform self-mutilation. But he is saying that, if there is something that gets in the way of our being compassionate, we need to deal with it. We need to ask God’s help and probably get professional help to work our way over it or through it so that it does not get in the way of our  spiritual growth.  We have to do whatever it takes to live lives of compassion, to love God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

In all of our readings for today, we are being called to high standards of thought and behavior.  The Beatitudes are a blueprint for personal and cultural transformation. It’s hard work!

And it is a journey filled with joy and meaning.  Thank God that we are not alone on this journey. We have our loving God, and we have each other and the entire Communion of Saints.  May God lead us and guide us.  Amen.