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    • 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:…
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Ash Wednesday February 22, 2012


Joel 2: 1-2, 12-17
Psalm 103
2 Corinthians 5: 20b-6:10
Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-21

Our first reading today is from the prophet Joel. He is one of the so-called Minor Prophets whose writings are found at the end of the Hebrew Scriptures. We know very little about Joel except that he is the son of Pethuel and his name means “the Lord is God.” Scholars are not sure about the time of his ministry, but their best research at this point says that Joel was a prophet closely acquainted with the temple whose ministry took place sometime after the return from the Babylonian Exile in 539 B.C.

 There is some kind of a crisis. It is described in agricultural terms as a plague of locusts and also in terms that suggest the approach of a threatening enemy.  In any case, Joel, speaking for God, calls the people to return to God with all our heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning. God says to the people, “Rend your hearts, not your clothing.” Apparently the people have drifted away from God, and God is calling them to an inward renewal of the spirit. God is also assuring them of God’s steadfast love and mercy. The whole congregation is called to this “solemn assembly,” from the oldest to the youngest, even infants who are still nursing.

 In our epistle, Paul calls us to be reconciled to God. Now is the time for us to focus our attention on growing as close to God as we can and to accept God’s grace as fully as we can. Paul tells us of all the many challenges and calamities he has suffered in his life and ministry, and yet he is still persevering and rejoicing.

 In our gospel, Jesus is giving us so much wisdom about our Lenten journey. In his time, there were people who made a big show about their religious practices. He tells us to work on our spiritual discipline quietly, almost secretly, because it is between each of us and our loving God. He tells us not to store up for ourselves treasures on earth, treasures that will not last, but to store up for ourselves treasures in heaven. And he says that wonderful thing: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” If we recognize that God and our life with God is our great treasure, right up there with our love for our families and friends, and, if we remember that the reason we are committed to this Lenten journey is because we want to respond to God’s love and grace, which have freed us from all that imprisons us, God’s love and grace, which have given us eternal life, we will have something like the proper focus for Lent.

 Lent comes from the root word for spring. Lent is a time for growth. It is a time to let go of anything that gets between us and God or between us and other people, in other words, sin. Sin is anything that gets between us and God, between us and other people, or between us and our true self. And Lent is a time to take on any discipline or practice that will help us to get closer to God, closer to other people, and closer to becoming our true self, the person God is calling us to be. Each of us is unique, and each of us is going to be giving up or taking on different things for Lent.


This past Sunday we saw who Jesus really is, and when we came down the mountain we realized that we are going to be walking the way of the cross.  Jesus says that, if we really want to follow him, we have to take up our cross and follow him. He also says that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. Back in Jesus’ time, when a carpenter made a yoke for an ox, the carpenter custom made that yoke to fit every bump and every contour and every little idiosyncratic aspect of that ox’s neck and shoulders. That yoke was carefully fitted so that the ox could do its work. That’s how our Lenten discipline and our daily spiritual discipline needs to be fitted.

 And, yes, we are to take up our cross. We are called in some way to take on a discipline that will involve sacrifice. There is no way in which it could possibly be the kind of sacrifice or self-offering that our Lord made. He is divine and we are human. But the idea is to participate in his self-giving on some level.


Our goal is to become more like our Lord. We can keep in mind the need to grow in the cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude, and in the theological virtues: faith, hope, and love and to move away from the seven root sins: pride, wrath, envy, greed, gluttony. lust, and sloth. We can remember the very helpful framework of the Ten Commandments. We can focus on our Lord’s summary of the law: “Love God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. All of these are tried and true guidelines as we navigate the journey of the spirit.

 We are walking with Jesus toward Jerusalem, toward the cross. I would like to share with you some thoughts by Barbara Brown Taylor, from her book God in Pain.

Christianity is the only world religion that confesses a God who suffers. It is not all that popular an idea, even among Christians. We prefer a God who prevents suffering, only that is not the God We have got. What the cross teaches us is that God’s power is not The power to force human choices and end human pain. It is, instead, the power to pick up the shattered pieces and make something holy out of them—not from a distance but right close up.

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

 This passage is extraordinary, I think, because it helps us to begin to understand that when we focus on God, when we walk the way of the cross, when we follow a serious spiritual discipline, we are living into the redemptive work of our Lord. By doing the work of growing closer to God, we are asking God to help us pick up the pieces of our lives so that we can put those pieces in God’s hands and invite God to transform our brokenness into wholeness and life. Lent is a time to move from death to life.

 May we have a Lent full of growth and new life.



Pentecost 12 Proper 18A RCL September 4, 2011

Exodus 12: 1-14
Psalm 149
Romans 13: 8-14
Matthew 18: 15-20

 Our opening lesson from the Book of Exodus is the account of the first Passover. The people are going to be delivered from slavery. Each household gathers for a meal of lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs to remind them of their suffering. They are ready to travel—loins girded, sandals on their feet, and staff in their hand. They will begin their journey to the Promised Land.

One of my beloved mentors, David Brown, former Rector of Christ Church, Montpelier, has wisely said that, to be a good Christian one must be a good Jew first. By that he means that so many experiences of God’s people Israel are also our experience as humans and as Christians. It is important for us to remember this Passover history and to realize that our Jewish friends celebrate this feast every year around the time we are celebrating Easter. Their history is our history. We are all enslaved in various ways, As God’s people moved toward the Promised Land, so we follow our Lord as he leads us out of slavery to sin and into newness of life.

In our epistle, Paul is coming to the end of his Letter to the Romans. He is a Pharisee, an expert on the law, but now he says simply, “The one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” He tells us that all the commandments involving our behavior toward others are summed up in the one statement, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” He says that slavery to sin is like being asleep or like being in the dark, But now the day is near and we can live in the light. Paul sounds an Advent theme of casting aside the works of darkness and putting on the armor of light. He even encourages us to “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” as though we were clothing ourselves with the goodness and strength of our Lord. Powerful and inspiring language from Paul.

Our gospel this morning deals with the question of how to deal with conflict in the Church. If someone sins against us, we are to go to then and try to resolve it one on one. If that does not work, we take two or three other members of the community and try to reach reconciliation. If that does not work, we bring it before the whole community. If the person will not amend his or her behavior, the leaders of the community may exclude the person.

What are these lessons telling us here in September of 2011? There are certainly conflicts in the Church and among Christian groups. Our Congress has recently experienced conflict to the point of deadlock.

Jesus called everyone to be a part of the community, rich and poor, men, women, and children, people from all walks of life, even those who were considered beyond the pale, such as tax collectors. In the Church, we have a principle of unity in diversity. If we look over the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Communion, and all the Christian churches, there is huge diversity. But we are all trying to follow Jesus. Even if we look at Grace Church, I think we represent the entire political spectrum from Progressives, to Democrats to Republicans to Independents and probably others. Yet we are all trying to follow Jesus.

If we look at our beloved country, the United States of America, there are people of all faiths and all nationalities. There is a huge diversity. That is a strength.

Here in Vermont, southern and central Vermont have been devastated by Irene. This past Thursday, I heard one of the town leaders in Ludlow talking. They have been hit so hard, but they had gotten the power on and they could get in and out of town. What was he saying? He said, now that we are sort of back on or feet, we are concentrating on helping our neighbors in Cavendish, who were hit even worse.

That is the Vermont way, and that is the way of every one of the major faith traditions. We are called to help each other, to look out for those who have less than we have,  to help others. We are called to share.

These lessons are about what is good for the whole community. To love each other, to care for each other—these values are emphasized in our faith and in every faith. This is the Vermont way, and it is the way of compassion.

Jesus summarized the law when he said that we are called to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength and we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. His whole life and ministry give us a clear picture of the vision of shalom. Shalom. Usually translated as “peace,” is much more than the absence of war. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori writes, in her book A Wing and a Prayer, “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.”

This is our vision of community, here at grace, in Sheldon, in all the communities from which we come, in Vermont, in the United States, and all around this earth. God’s shalom has begun, but it is not yet fully realized. We are called to pitch in and help it to happen.

I feel truly blessed to live here in Vermont. I hope and pray that our Congress will learn to do things the Vermont way, working together for the good of all. We pray for our brothers and sisters who are still dealing with the devastation of Hurricane and Tropical Storm Irene, and most especially for Gethsemane, Proctorsville. Their parish hall is “a pile of wood scraps” and the foundation of their church building is compromised. Each parish has been asked to have a contact person so that we can get together to help other parishes recover from this storm.

May we love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength and may we love our neighbors as ourselves.


Pentecost 11 August 28, 2011

Pentecost 11 Proper 17A RCL August 28, 2011

Exodus 3: 1-15
Psalm 105: 1-6. 23-26. 45c
Romans 12; 9-21
Matthew 16: 21-28

Last Sunday, our first lesson ended with the Pharaoh’s daughter adopting Moses. Much has happened between last Sunday’s reading and what we heard this morning. Moses had been living in the palace. One day, he went out to see what was going on with his people. Even though he had been adopted by the king’s daughter. He still identified with his own people, the Hebrews. He saw the hard labor his people were forced to do. He also saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew man, and he killed the Egyptian and hid his body in the sand. The upshot of this is that the Pharaoh finds out and is looking for Moses to kill him, so Moses runs away to Midian.

Reuel, the priest of Midian, places Moses under his protection. Moses marries Zipporah, Reuel’s daughter, and keeps the flocks. One day, while he is at work as a shepherd, he sees a bush which is burning but is not consumed by the flames. He turns aside. God usually calls us right in the midst of our usual activities, but we need to make ourselves available to God. We need to turn aside, as Moses did, so that God can speak to us.

God calls to Moses, and Moses says, “Here I am.” Herbert O’Driscoll wisely asks how many of us can say that we are fully present, fully in this moment. So often we are thinking of what happened yesterday or what will happen tomorrow. How important it is for us to be fully focused in this moment.

God calls Moses to set God’s people free. We can’t help but think of our modern hero, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who set his people and all of us free. We are still working on our internalized racism. Moses asks the usual question, “Who am I to do this amazing thing?” And God tells Moses that all-important thing that we need to remember: God will be with us to help us do what God is calling us to do, no matter how inadequate we may feel to carry out God’s call.

In the section of Romans which we read for today, Paul does a wonderful job of reminding us how to be a true Christian community. “Let love be genuine. Hold fast to what is good. Love one another with mutual affection. Rejoice in hope Be patient in suffering. Persevere in prayer. All of us have been through various kinds of suffering. The cross and Easter teach us that new life can come out of death and suffering. Help those in need in the community. Extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you. Echoes of the Beatitudes  Don’t be arrogant. Associate with the lowly. Live peaceably with all, If your enemies are hungry, feed them.. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink, for by doing so you will heap burning coals upon their heads.

Returning good for evil can have amazing results. Treating those who have injured us with respect, being generous to those who wish us ill, giving food and water to our enemies, all these things can transform people and situations.

As we turn to the gospel, we recall that last week, Jesus asked the disciples who they thought he was, and Peter said, “You are the messiah, the son of the living God.  But now, Jesus is talking about the fact that he is going to suffer and die. And Peter can’t accept that, “God forbid it, Lord, This must never happen to you!” And Jesus says that very difficult thing, “Get behind me, Satan.” He tells Peter that Peter is putting a stumbling block in his way, an obstacle. We have to remember that Jesus is fully human. He has thought about this. He  Has asked that old question, “Why me?” The question Moses asked, the question we all ask when we know we have to face something we would give anything not to have to face. But he knows he has to do this. And the fact that Peter doesn’t get it means that he is alone in his understanding of this and that Peter is making it harder for him.

And then he says that haunting thing: “If any want to become my followers,   let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. “  If we want to follow him, our hearts and lives have to become Christ-shaped. His values and his vision have to become our values and our vision. We have to let him live in us and we have to live in him. We have to let go of the controls and let him take over.

This reminds me of a story which you may have heard before, If so, I apologize, but I love this story. A man falls over a cliff, and, as he whizzes down the precipice, he manages to grab a little shrub. He is holding on for dear life and he yells, “Help!” My favorite prayer. Anyway, a voice answers, “Yes, my son.” And the poor guy is petrified and he says, “Who are you?” And the voice says, “ I am God.” And the fellow says, “Oh, thank you, I’m so glad you answered. Please help me. I can’t hold on to this shrub forever.” And God says, “I will help you, my son. But first, you have to let go,” And, after a bit of silence, the fellow shouts out, “Is there anybody else up there?”

Let go and let God. Not any easy thing to do. Being a Christian can be costly in various ways. Following Jesus has a price. We don’t like to talk about those things, but it’s true. That’s what Jesus is talking about today.

We are dealing with a very loving God, and, when we do let go and let God lead us and guide us, truly amazing things happen. God guides Moses and Martin Luther King, Jr., and the people are set free. Whenever we let go and let God, we become free from whatever binds us. When we let go and let God, vengeance and hatred can evolve into God’s shalom.

One small but powerful thing we can do, something that is in the spirit of today’s lessons, is to think of someone who is a problem to us, someone we are mad at or someone we think is going down the wrong path, or someone who has injured us or has hurt someone we love, and just pray this simple prayer, “God, surround _______ with your love” That’s all. Just that. No prescriptions for what God should do. Just, “God, surround ____with your love.”

We can also pray this prayer for those we love the most. It places everything in God’s healing hands.


Pentecost 9 August 14, 2011

Pentecost 9 Proper 14A RCL August 14, 2011

Genesis 45: 1-13
Psalm 133
Romans 11: 1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28

This morning, we continue with the story of Joseph. We recall that Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, who envied him because their father, Jacob, loved Jacob best and gave him an extraordinary coat. When Jacob reached Egypt, he rose to an important position second only to the Pharaoh, and he man
aged all the business of the kingdom on the Pharaoh’s behalf.

The Pharaoh had had a dream which signified that there would be seven years of good crops and seven years of famine. Under Joseph’s direction, grain had been saved from the seven good years to carry the kingdom through the famine.

The famine also affected Canaan. Jacob sends his sons to buy food in Egypt, but he keeps his beloved Benjamin with him, for he fears for his safety. The brothers arrive in Egypt.  They come before the powerful man who is in charge of selling the grain. Joseph recognizes them, but they have no idea who he is.

Joseph accuses them of spying. The brothers tell him their family story. They tell about their old father, who is waiting at home with their youngest brother. They tell how another brother was killed years ago.
Joseph nearly breaks into tears in front of them. He puts them in prison. Three days later, he tells them that they can have grain if they will leave one brother as a hostage and bring their youngest brother back to Egypt.

The brothers are scared, and they speak in their own language, thinking no one can understand them, since Joseph has spoken to them through an interpreter. Of course, Joseph understands every word. The brothers are saying that none of this would have happened if they had not sold Joseph into slavery. Again, he has trouble not bursting into tears.

Simeon remains as hostage, Joseph instructs his steward to place the money that the brothers have brought to pay for the grain on top of their packs. At their first stop, they find the money. This puzzles them. When they get home, they tell Jacob the whole story.

The famine continues, and now they have to return to Egypt with Benjamin. Once again, they meet with the governor. They have brought back the money that was left in their packs plus additional funds to buy more food. They have also brought a small present from their father.

This time, the governor, Joseph, invites them to a meal at his home. They introduce Joseph to Benjamin and give him their gift. Joseph has to leave to collect himself. At the meal, the brothers notice that they are seated in order of their ages. Also, Benjamin gets an especially large portion.

They set off for home, but Joseph has set a trap, He has instructed his steward to place Joseph’s cup in Benjamin’s pack. The steward catches up with the brothers, accuses them of stealing his master’s cup, and finds the cup in Benjamin’s pack. They all go back to appear before Joseph. He says that Benjamin must stay. Judah offers to stay instead. He explains the whole story to Joseph, emphasizing that, if Benjamin does not go home, it will kill Jacob.

Now Joseph begins to break down. He tells them that he is their long-lost brother. He tells them not to be distressed or angry with themselves for selling him into slavery. He says, “God sent me before you to preserve life.” He tells them to go home and bring back their father and the whole family, and they will live in peace under his protection and will have plenty to eat. The brothers go back to Canaan and tell Jacob this tale of incredibly rich blessing. Jacob can’t wait to go to Egypt and see Joseph and Benjamin again.

What a beautiful story! Herbert O’Driscoll writes of the tale of Joseph, “One of the loveliest things in life is to encounter a person who has every reason for being bitter and vengeful, but who refuses to be either. Instead, they remain generous, forgiving, accepting.” Joseph refuses to hang on to any resentment about what his brothers did. He and God have worked it out.

Paul, a Roman citizen, a Jew, a Pharisee who now follows Jesus with all his heart and soul and mind and strength, makes it clear that he knows that God does not reject his people just because they are not following Christ.

In the gospel, Jesus tells us that it is more important to pay attention to what goes out of our body than what goes into out body. Dietary laws are not as important as the attitudes with which we speak.  Are we speaking love and peace, or are we speaking hatred, dishonesty, and other negative thoughts and feelings?

Jesus meets a Canaanite woman. Her daughter is ill. She needs help. Jesus at this point is misunderstanding the scope of his ministry. He thinks he can help only the Jewish people. She begs him. He gives a distinctly unloving answer: “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She is not deflected from her mission.  She refuses to be excluded. “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.” Coolly, calmly, with laser focus, she becomes the agent through whom Jesus realizes his ministry is to all people. “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Jesus is fully human as well as fully divine. He thinks his ministry is limited. This Canaanite woman is not one of God’s chosen people. He should not even be speaking to her. She is a woman and she is not a Jew. But he does respond to her, and she becomes the teacher! And he has the humility to learn from her!

Joseph has a deep faith. He could have consumed himself in hatred of his brothers. But no, he saves his whole family. Paul knows that God loves all people. Jesus could have just walked past this woman. He didn’t. She could have been crushed by his sharp remark. She was not. He could have been too arrogant to listen to her point. He was not. She leads him into this powerful truth about his ministry. All of these wonderful holy examples, Joseph, Paul, and the Canaanite woman, show us  the kind of courage and compassion we are called to show forth in our lives and journeys. May God give us the grace to follow their example.    Amen.

Pentecost 7 Proper 13 July 31, 2011

Pentecost 7 Proper 13A RCL July 31, 2011

 Genesis 32: 22-31
Psalm 17: 1-7, 16
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14: 13-21

 Our first reading this morning comes from ancient sources, from a time when people believed that there were river gods or river spirits and one had to get the permission of those gods before fording the river. It was first written down by the writer we call the Jahwist, or J , who worked around 950 years before the birth of Christ, three thousand years ago.

 Jacob is headed home to see his father, Isaac. He has become rich. He has two wives, two maids, all kinds of livestock. He has sent some servants with gifts for his brother Esau, whom he cheated out of a birthright and a blessing. He is afraid that Esau will kill him.

 The servants come back saying that Esau is headed their way with four hundred men. Jacob is scared. He divides his wives, maids, and possessions into two portions and sends them over the river, figuring that, if Esau gets one batch, the other batch may be preserved. As we can see, Jacob thinks that success equals material possessions.

 During the night he wrestles with, the text says, “a man,” but we know that it is more than just a human. Various people have said that Jacob wrestled with an angel, but, by the end of the passage, we know that Jacob is wrestling with God, or perhaps with his darker side, as God calls him to become the person he is called to be.

Although this is a very old story, it has universal implications. If we are at all honest, we know that all of us struggle with certain aspects of ourselves that we don’t want to look at or examine. We would rather ignore these parts of ourselves. But God calls us to grow into wholeness. Sometimes this has a high cost. We all have wounds of one kind or another. Sometimes our own wounds and the struggle to bring our darkness into the light of Christ can be the source of our ability to help others on our journeys. I think of the insightful book by Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer.

Jacob wrestles through to a new identity, Israel, one who has striven with God and human, and has prevailed. Jacob knows that he has seen God face to face, and yet has survived that experience. He will forever walk with a limp.

The next day, Esau arrives with four hundred men. Far from killing Jacob, now Israel, Esau hugs him and kisses him, and they weep together.  We will meet Jacob again.

In our epistle, Paul expresses his sadness that his fellow Israelites are not all choosing to follow Jesus. He expresses his respect for all they his people have. In our time, it is crucial that we respect the faith of others, whether we are talking about Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, the spirituality of our First Nation peoples, or any other faith expression. Regarding Judaism, one of my most beloved mentors often points out that, in order to be a good Christian, we must first be a good Jew. In other words, we need to study and respect our heritage from Judaism.

In today’s gospel, Jesus is tired to the bone. The crowds are following him everywhere he goes. He gets into a boat to go off by himself. But the crowd walks around to the other side and meets him when he arrives. He has compassion on them and cures the sick among them.

The disciples want him to send the crowd away so that he and they can have a quiet supper. But Jesus says, “You give them something to eat.” They take stock of what they have to work with. Immediately, they express a theology of scarcity. “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” We don’t have enough. He tells them to bring him the loaves and fish. He takes them in his hands and looks to heaven. He takes, blesses, breaks, and gives this food to the people. This is a eucharistic action. When we take what God has given us, when we offer that to God, when we ask God’s blessing upon the gifts, when we break the bread and share it, it becomes more than it was, It becomes the food that Jesus gives us, the energy of his loving self, the gifts to do our ministry. So these five little loaves and two fish become enough to feed a crowd of over five thousand people.

Jesus can make a feast out of five little loaves and two fish. Jesus does not need a lot to work with. We don’t have to be a huge church with a vast staff of clergy and several choirs. We don’t have to have an organist every Sunday. We do not have to have oodles and oodles of programs. That was the Church of the Christendom era, as Anthony Robinson calls it in his book Changing the Conversation.

A small and lively congregation can wrestle through to its own sense of identity just as Jacob did. And it doesn’t have to emerge with a limp, either. A small congregation can be creative about finding ways to do high-quality Christian formation and support for its members and can discern the ministry or ministries to which it is called. I think Grace has been engaged in that process for many years.

When we think of ourselves, I hope we will be careful. Instead of saying, “Well, all we have is five leaves and two fish,” while comparing ourselves to great cathedrals, may we always remember that, with Jesus’ help and grace, we have all the gifts we need to do the ministry to which he is calling us.                            Amen

Pentecost 6 Proper 12 July 24, 2011

Pentecost 6 Proper 12 A RCL July 24, 2011

Genesis 29: 15-28
Psalm 105:1-11, 45b
Romans 8: 26-39
Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52

In our first lesson this morning, Jacob gets a taste of his own medicine as Laban turns the tables on him. But Jacob hangs in there and works another seven years so that he can marry Rachel, whom he loves.

In the passage from Romans, Paul reaches some of the pinnacles of his theology and his rhetoric. In clear and ringing tones, he makes it clear that nothing can separate us from the love of God.

Today’s gospel is one of my all-time favorites. Jesus does not put things in literal terms. He gives us glimpses, metaphors, similes, parables, stories. The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. It is among the smallest of seeds, yet it grows into a large shrub, in which birds can nest. The shalom of God starts small, but it grows into something big and beautiful.

The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that we take and mix into flour until it is leavened. You can’t see it, but it is there, transforming things. A lump of dough becomes nourishing and delicious bread.

The shalom of God is like treasure hidden in a field. Like the pearl, worth everything you have. It is like a net bursting with fish. Abundant, full of life. The kingdom of heaven is growing almost invisible, quietly, gentle, without fanfare, lovingly. It is a realm we can step into through prayer, meditation, and change of attitude. It is a realm full of gifts beyond our ability to imagine. It is the realm in which we are trying to live and move and have our being, by God’s grace. It is that process of transformation which is at this moment restoring the creation and making it whole.

How do we get in sync with the kingdom of heaven? Mainly  through prayer.  Prayer, both individual and corporate, keeps us in touch with God and with God’s guidance. Prayer keeps us on track, both as individuals and as a community of faith. Sometimes it is easy to pray, and then sometimes it can be very difficult. Paul tells us that, in those moments when we have no idea how to pray, the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. The Spirit of God prays for us, because God knows us and loves us beyond our ability to comprehend. And that is why we can be sure that all things work together for good for those who love God.

The image of the mustard seed is so important and so ignored in this age of bigger is better. Last weekend many of us had the privilege of attending the Sheldon Old Home Day celebration. The turnout was impressive. Everyone worked together. The music was great. History came alive with demonstrations of how things were done back in the day. We had a chance to see Sheldon’s Horse, The Second Continental Light Dragoons, and to hear a fascinating lecture by Howard Coffin, the noted authority on the Civil War.

The spirit of this day and the strong community support and participation reminded me of similar occasions in my home town of Calais.  Small is beautiful. Vermont is small, but what a gem. Sheldon and all the communities in Franklin County are small, and each of them has its own character and strengths.

Small is beautiful. Communities and churches do not have to be big to be good. Small places can be vibrant, alive, and full of gifts and love. I wasn’t surprised that we all worked together to prepare and serve the strawberry shortcake, and we had a wonderful time. We enjoy being together. We enjoy doing things together. We all share a common faith and a knowledge that nothing can separate us from the love of God. We all go out into the world, fed with the nourishment of Christ’s own self, to share his love with others.  There is much to be said for that.

Grace Church is a wonderful place to be, and because of the character of its members, namely you folks, Grace is the center of many vibrant ministries out in the world. We are richly blessed.  Not only did we have a wonderful time doing the strawberry shortcake ministry. We actually had fun doing the audit on July tenth!

Thanks be to God.             Amen

Pentecost 5 Proper 11 July 17, 2011

Pentecost 5 Proper 11A RCL July 17, 2011

Genesis 28:10-19a
Psalm 139: 1-11, 22-23
Romans 8: 12-25
Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-41

In various ways, all our readings today tell us something about our relationship with God.

First, we meet Jacob once again. He has cheated his older brother Esau out of his birthright and his father’s blessing. Esau is trying to kill him. Jacob is on the run, headed back to his father’s home town of Haran. He stops for this night, takes a desert stone and places it under his head as a pillow, and has a dream or a vision of a ladder connecting earth and heaven with angels going up and down the ladder.

God renews God’s promise, first made to Abraham. And God tells Jacob that all the peoples of the earth will be blessed and that God will be with Jacob. This is a vision of shalom. God’s peace and blessing over the whole earth.

Jacob wakes up. We can safely say that, until this point in his life, Jacob has been putting Jacob first, not God. But now Jacob knows that God is present. He builds a monument and names the place Beth El—Beth—house and El-Lord–Elohim—House of the Lord, place where God dwells. Jacob is still Jacob, the cheater, the guy who takes care of Number One, but he is now aware of God’s presence in his life, and his relationship with God will grow closer.

Psalm 139 eloquently tells us that, no matter where we go, God is always with us.

In our epistle, Paul has been talking about life in the flesh and life in the Spirit, two very different paths. Paul tells us that we are children of God and we can call God Abba—Dad, Papa, or in inclusive terms, Mom or Mama. We are that close. Paul describes the world in terms we can identify with. There is much struggle. People are suffering from hunger, poverty, war, and oppression. The world is not as God would have it. But something is coming to birth, and that is the kingdom, the shalom of God in which all will be made whole.

In today’s gospel, the kingdom of God is compared to a man who sows good seed in his field, but an enemy comes in the night and sows weeds, darnel.  The servants want to fix this right away, pull the weeds, clear this up. But if they pull the weeds, they will uproot the wheat. The landowner tells them that they will have to wait until the harvest. Then they can separate the wheat from the weeds.

This parable appears only in Matthew and some scholars think that it applies to Matthew’s community. As we have noted earlier, some people were falling away because of the challenges of living the faith in a hostile world.  There may also have been some folks in Matthew’s community stirring up strife and conflict.

Sometimes in the Church we have people who say, “We have to get rid of these people or those people.” This has been happening from the earliest days of the Church. These people are in. These people are out.
These people are right. These people are wrong.

The point of this parable is that God is the judge. We are not. Look at Jacob. He has done some awful things. Yet God has chosen him. Jacob is now aware of God’s presence. God will work with him. Yes, Jacob will still be flawed and fallible, just as you and I are, but God will make his life a blessing. Jacob will grow in faith, and he will become a better and better person. We all have our flaws and failings, yet God loves and cherishes us as God’s beloved children.

Theologian Richard Pervo writes, “God has invited us to gather rather than to judge, to get together and learn to live with one another, weeds and wheat alike. There is wheat within each of us as well as those all-too-visible weeds. From this patchy crop, God can fashion a miraculous bread, transforming each of us by the pure wheat of this holy offering, making us into beings shaped by hope.” (New Proclamation 2011, p. 99.)

Gracious God, thank you for seeing in us potential we cannot always see. Thank you for loving us and walking with us wherever we go. Thank you for never giving up on us. Help us to feel your presence in this and every place. Help us to sense your love. Help us to let the wheat and tares grow together and trust in you for the harvest.


Pentecost 4 Proper 10 July 10, 2011

Genesis  25: 19-34
Psalm 119: 105-112
Romans 8: 1-11
Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23

Our first lesson this morning is a part of the story of Jacob and Esau. From the beginning, these twins struggle with each other. In this part of the story, Jacob manages to cheat Esau out of his birthright. Esau is famished and he sells his birthright for a bowl of lentil soup. And even the Book of Genesis has family dynamics we can recognize. Isaac loves Esau and Rebekah favors Jacob, so we have a complicated situation here. By the end of today’s reading, Jacob has supplanted Esau. By purchasing the birthright at a bargain price, he now has the privileged place of an elder son. Not a very admirable or brotherly action on Jacob’s part, and, as we know, this is not the end of his scheming.

Paul is talking about the way in which our Lord Jesus has set us free from sin and welcomed us into a new kind of life. When Paul talks about life in the Spirit and life in the flesh,  scholars tell us that he is not talking so much about our individual inner struggles as he is talking about the fact that there are two ways of living. Life in the Spirit is a life centered in God’s will and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Life in the flesh is life centered in our own will. Jesus has already told us that the Spirit dwells within us. Now we are free to live in a whole new way on a whole new level that we would not have dreamed possible.

Our gospel for today is the familiar Parable of the Sower. Scholars tell us that the actual parable is the story Jesus tells..  A sower goes out to sow. Some of the seeds fall on the path and the birds come and eat them. Some fall on rocky ground and they spring up quickly, but there is not enough good soil to root them, so when the sun comes up, they are scorched and they wither away. Some fall among the thorns and the thorns grow up and choke them. Others fall on good soil and they bear grain, some thirty, some sixty, and some a hundredfold. The point is that there is a huge harvest.

The interpretation of the story comes later. Scholars tell us that Matthew’s community at a point in its history around 70 A. D. had lost some members. It was not easy to be a follower of Christ. People had left the community because of various challenges. Some may not have understood the new faith deeply enough and may have fallen away.  Some may have joined the community with great enthusiasm, but living a Christ-life in the middle of a  hostile culture was just too much, and they fell away. Some may have heard the word but the cares of the world and the powerful call of the world’s values of money, power, and prestige are too much, and they fall away. We should keep in mind that there was actual persecution happening in those times.

We know that Jesus just taught that wonderful and powerful message. No matter what poor soil the seeds hit, the total result is a huge harvest. No matter what challenges a community may face, no matter what challenges we as individuals may have to endure, the harvest is going to be abundant.  

Matthew’s community was living in a time of persecution. We are fortunate and blessed because we do not live in a nation where Christians are actually killed because of their faith. Some of our brothers and sisters do live in such places. Persecution is still going on. This is a very real thing. In El Salvador, shots were fired at Bishop Barahona and his driver as they went about their pastoral work.  Our Bishop in Harare, Zimbabwe is not allowed to enter the church building. We think he is still allowed to go into his own home, but we are not sure. Communications are not good.

Here in the United States, as Bishop Tom said, we probably won’t be killed because of our faith, but we may be seen as irrelevant. We need to be aware of that, but we also are called not to allow that to make us lose heart. Jesus says in this gospel, “Listen! A sower went out to sow.” In another place, he says, “Let anyone with ears listen!”

The important thing is that God is sowing God’s kingdom. Are we listening for God’s message? Are we letting God’s love go deeply into our hearts? Are we opening the arms of our hearts and minds and letting God come into our lives, not just superficially, but to the core of our being? Are we letting the seed of the Holy Spirit, which Jesus said is within us, bear fruit, and give us the gifts for ministry which we need? Are we taking God seriously in a joyful kind of way? Are we really listening?

Back in those days, they used to broadcast the seed, throw it all over the place and then plow. We pick out the best soil we can find, and prepare it in the best way we know how, and then plant that seed and nurture it and fertilize it and water it and pray for just the right amount of sun and rain. In other words, we try to up the odds for a good harvest. But God, at least God in the first century, generously throws the seeds of God’s shalom all over the place, and still there is a harvest that sets a new record.

One scholar says that maybe at one time in our life we may be the path; the seeds fall and the birds eat them. Some times we may be the rocky ground, all full of enthusiasm and then it just gets too hard to follow Jesus and we fall away. At another time we may be in that thorny situation and we may decide to put worldly values in the place of God. There is much truth in that. Still, the harvest is huge.Just for the record, I think that every one here is God’s wonderful dark loamy soil—the best!

I tend to return to that wonderful analogy which is used in a meditation book called Twenty-four Hours a Day. The author talks about being part of the stream of goodness in the world.  That is how the writer describes what we call the kingdom or the shalom of God.  The stream of goodness in the world. The meditation for July 8 ends with this prayer: “I pray that I may try to make God’s will my will. I pray that I may keep in the stream of goodness in the world.”

I think that is what Paul was taking about. That is what Isaac eventually did, but he traveled over quite a few different kinds of soil before he finally got the ears to hear. And I think it’s a good metaphor for what Jesus is saying today.

May we prepare the good soil of our spirits for a bountiful harvest. May we send our spiritual roots deep so that we can bear much fruit. May we be in the stream of goodness of the universe and may we bring forth a hundredfold for our Lord Jesus.


Pentecost 3 Proper 9 July 3, 2011

Pentecost 3 Proper 9A RCL July 3, 2011

Genesis 24: 34-38. 42-49. 58-67
Psalm 45: 11-18
Romans 7: 15-25a
Matthew 11: 16-19, 25-30

Our reading from the Hebrew scriptures today tells the story of how Abraham finds a wife for his beloved son, Isaac. The psalm is a song for a royal wedding. Our passage from Romans is Paul’s honest and insightful account of the struggles of the spiritual journey. We want to do God’s will, but, in spite of our best efforts, we do fail. Sometimes we get into recurring patterns of doing what we do not want to do and not doing what we know is right. At such times especially, God’s grace is the only thing that can break the chain and get us back on track. In our gospel, Jesus tells us that he is here to help us carry our burdens. It is a yoke for two oxen, a double yoke. We don’t have to do it alone.

This morning I want to try to shed some light on the first lesson. This passage has not appeared in our lectionary until the development of the Revised Common Lectionary which we adopted for use only in 2008.

If we read the part of Genesis which precedes this passage, and we look at the part right after God has spared Abraham from sacrificing Isaac we learn that Abraham has found out that, back in Haran, Abraham and Sarah’s home, Abraham’s brother, Nahor, has married a woman named Milcah, and they have had several children. One of these children, Bethuel, has become the father of a young woman named Rebekah.

Then Sarah dies, and Abraham arranges for her burial. Abraham is now old. God has richly blessed him, and he wants to be sure that God’s promise of descendants as numerous as the stars will come true.

So he asks his most trusted servant, who is not named but we think it is his servant Eliezer, to go back to Haran and pick a wife for Isaac from their home tribe and family. He does not want Isaac to marry one of the Canaanite women because they do not believe in Abraham’s God. Abraham also does not want Isaac to go back to Haran. He wants Isaac to stay in the promised land, so he tells Eliezer that an angel of the Lord will go with him and guide him on this mission. Abraham tells his servant that he should, with God’s guidance, pick out a woman to be Isaac’s wife, but, if the woman does not want to come back to Canaan with Eliezer, he should abort the mission. And he will be free from the oath he is about to take. Eliezer takes a solemn oath to carry out his master’s wishes.

So Eliezer takes ten of his master’s camels and all kinds of choice gifts from his master, and he sets out for the town of Nahor, which is near Haran. When he arrives, he makes the camels kneel outside the city near the well. It is toward evening, and the young women will come to draw water. Eliezer prays to God, and he says, “Let the girl to whom I shall say, ‘Please offer me your jar, so that I may drink,’ and she shall say,’Drink, and I shall water your camels’—let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac.”

Along comes Rebekah, with her water jar upon her shoulder, and the scripture says that she is very fair to look upon. She fills up her jar, and Eliezer asks her for a drink, and, sure enough, she offers him a drink and says she will water his camels, and the scripture says, Eliezer  “gazed upon her in silence to learn whether or not the Lord had made his journey successful.” (Gen. 24:21.)

As you can see from the passage which Lori has read, everything went according to plan, and we need to remember that Eliezer is trusting in God’s guidance every step of the way. This is the next step in carrying out God’s promise—to find the wife God intends for Isaac.

Rebekah has extended hospitality to Eliezer on behalf of her father, Bethuel, and now Eliezer has come to their home and is asking for Rebekah’s hand in marriage on behalf of his masters, Abraham and Isaac. Here we have to add a note about courtship in 1600 B.C. E. As one scholar puts it, the well is the singles bar in each town. The young men go to the well. The young women are drawing water.  The young man, of course, usually knows the young woman and what family she comes from; he asks her to marry him, gives her some appropriate gifts, and goes to her father’s house, whereupon the father would usually, if he feels this young man is a good match, just hand over his daughter to be married.

This is not the case in our story, Rebekah is given the privilege of choosing whether she wants to marry Isaac.  She is given a great deal of power in this account. She chooses to go to Canaan and sets out with her retinue.

They finally come upon Isaac in the Negeb. He is walking in the field in the cool of the evening. Rebekah sees him and asks who the man is. Eliezer says that it is his master. Isaac has become his master. The leadership is passing from one generation to the next. Isaac and Rebekah do not actually run across the field into each other’s arms, but they might well have done so. Eliezer tells Isaac the details of the journey, and all is well. Isaac brings Rebekah into his mother Sarah’s tent, and the rest, as they say, is history. And there is another very important point. This is not just another arranged marriage, as was the custom in those days. The text says of Isaac, “He loved her.”

As with the story of Abraham and Isaac, this story points out an increased level of understanding of several things. First, this marriage comes about as a result of God’s guidance. Eliezer, the faithful servant, is praying throughout the journey and seeking God’s will. Secondly, Rebekah is respected. Her father asks her what her wishes are. Her husband loves her.  She has a voice. She is a woman of substance.

But the major point is that every step in this story is taken with the guidance of God. What a wonderful example for us to follow. What a faithful servant of God and of his master Eliezer proves himself to be.

As Paul eloquently describes it, our journey is sometimes a struggle. Thanks be to God for the gift of grace. With God’s grace, following in the footsteps of our Lord can be, and often is, a journey of joy.

May we seek God’s guidance as faithfully as did Eliezer; may we seek and do God’s will with God’s grace. May we let our Lord Jesus be our partner in the shared yoke of obedience.


Pentecost 2 Proper 8 June 26, 2011

 Pentecost 2 Proper 8A June 26, 2011

Genesis 22: 1-14
Psalm 13
Romans 6: 12-23
Matthew 10: 40-42

 Our first lesson this morning can be shocking, to say the least. Why would a loving God ask Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, his beloved son? Why would Abraham have to go through the torture of taking Isaac up the mountain to make this sacrifice? The poignant moment when Isaac asks his father, “Where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” almost tears our hearts out. Abraham answers that God will provide the lamb. And just at the crucial moment when Abraham is reaching for the knife to kill his son, the angel of the Lord tells him to stop and Abraham sees a ram caught in the thicket by its horns. God has indeed provided, but what a wrenching story. One scholar says that, for those who want to scoff at Christianity, this is prime ammunition.

 The context for this story is that, at the time of Abraham, around 1600 B.C.E., the people of Canaan and surrounding areas were still making human sacrifices. In fact, they were sacrificing their children to their gods. This story, together with many words of the prophets, including Hosea, who wrote, speaking on behalf of God, “”For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6). God wants us to open our hearts and lives to transformation, God does not want us to be sacrificing animals, much less our own beloved children. But this was a new idea when this story was first written by the Elohist scholar around 750 B.C.E.

Jesus was very clear about the role of children. He welcomed and cherished children. He told us that we need to become like children, open, trusting, willing to allow him into our lives. Children are to be nurtured and protected.

In approaching our epistle for today, we are coming into the middle of  Paul’s letter to the Romans, In the ending to the preceding section, Paul has written,  “We know that Christ being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death that he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Some of Paul’s language can cause problems for us. When he talks about presenting our members to sin as instruments of wickedness, scholars tell us he is talking about the commitments we make with our whole selves. Do we devote ourselves to climbing the ladder of success at any cost, or do we devote ourselves to helping others? Paul talks in terms of slavery, which his listeners would have underatood. But this tends to put us off.

What Paul is talking about is, what is the direction of our lives? What is governing our lives? Are we rooted and grounded in God? Do we accept God’s love for us, and do we share that love with others? The term ”righteousness” does not mean a holier than thou attitude. It means right relationship with God. If we are in right relationship with God, we are deeply aware of God’s love for us and for all people.

My definition of sin is separation from God and from other people and from our true self.  Paul is talking about sin as a way of life, not as distinct choices. Am I centered in God and God’s compassion? Or am I centered in something else? It could be money, power, acquiring things without regard for those in need. But it’s a whole approach to life, an approach that leads away from God and away from love and compassion for others. It is easy to get caught up in this, and Paul is telling us that, because of our baptism in Jesus, our lives can go in a new direction and we can grow closer and closer to God. Recently, my daughter asked me what my bucket list is, and I said I really hadn’t thought about it. After thinking for a while, I realized it is just that—to grow closer and closer to God and more and more compassionate to other people.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is instructing the apostles on how to go out into the world and spread the Good News. They were going to have to depend on people’s hospitality. They were going to have to travel light. And Jesus says that whoever welcomes one of them welcomes him.  Whoever gives a cup of water to someone gives it to him.

Here these twelve people were, being entrusted with this message, this good news, this way of life. And whenever someone welcomed them, they would go in to that home and share the love and joy of new life in Christ, and often those people would be baptized. And as the apostles went around the Mediterranean basin, that good news spread, and the communities of followers of the Way were formed and grew.

But it all depended on the gift of hospitality. Because of hospitality, a new family was formed, the family of followers of Jesus.

What does this mean for us? During our journey in faith, we may have to make sacrifices. Working with kids in an inner city doesn’t pay as much as some other things, but it may be what we are called to. Working with kids anywhere is a vocation  which is close to the heart of God. But we are not called to sacrifice our kids or our families.

Jesus has freed us from slavery to sin and brokenness and has welcomed us into a dimension of life we had not dreamed possible.  Because of our baptism, we are committed to his shalom; we are partners with him in bringing in his kingdom.

Hospitality is so important. When someone knocks on the door, we are called to welcome them as though they were our Lord.  God loves us and calls us to make the choice to love God in return and to love others as God loves them. God wants us to open our hearts to God’s love so that God can lead us into a new dimension of living and a new level of community, here and over all the earth.

And it’sall summed up in something as simple as welcoming folks and giving them something to eat and drink.

What does all this mean for us today? First, God created us good. Jesis told us that the Spirit is within us. We have the ability to choose to be creative or destructive; to be living or unloving, to be compassionate or uncaring. God wants us to choose to love God back and to love other people as God loves them. God wants us to open our hearts to God’s love so that God can lead us into a new dimension of living and a new level of community here and all over the earth.

And it’s all summed up in welcoming folks and giving them something to eat and drink.