• Content

  • Pages

  • Upcoming Events

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

Pentecost 8 Proper 11B July 18, 2021

2 Samuel 7:1-14a
Psalm 89: 20-37
Ephesians 2:11-22
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Biblical scholars Walter Brueggemann, James Newsome, and colleagues write, “Something new begins when God’s powerful love and loving power are acted out.” They are especially referring to what they call “the radical newness that is worked in Israel with the appearance of David.” (Brueggemann, Newsome, et al Texts for Preaching, p. 428.)

As we know, David was able to draw all the tribes together and create a united Israel. God had called David to be the king. In our first reading for today, David has built a house, and he wants to build a house for the ark of the covenant. He shares this idea with Nathan the prophet, who appears for the first time in the passage. Nathan encourages David to go ahead with the project, but that night, the Lord tells Nathan that God will build a house for David. God has a special relationship with the family of David. One of David’s descendants, Solomon, will build the temple to the Lord in Jerusalem. The Messiah will come from the house of David.

In our epistle for today, part of the Letter to the Ephesians, a kind of circular letter written to the churches in Asia Minor, now called Turkey, by a faithful disciple of Paul, the theme of God’s love creating a new thing is continued.

All kinds of people were coming into the community of faith. Some of them were Jewish, and some were Gentiles, non-Jews, people who might be worshipping one of the Greek or Roman gods, or who might not have any religious connections. Many of the new converts were Gentiles, and the writer realizes that these people might have felt like second-class citizens in the community. They were not familiar with the Hebrew scriptures or the law or the tradition. And he tells these people, “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups [Jews and Gentiles] into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law…that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.”

Brueggemann, Newsome and colleagues write, “Clearly Jesus, according to this text, runs well beyond David in envisioning and enacting a new, single community of humanity, which overrides our deepest divisions.”  (Brueggemann, Newsome, et al, Texts for Preaching, p. 428.)

Our Lord is creating a new community in which “God’s powerful love”and “God’s loving power” are being acted out.

In today’s gospel reading, we remember that Jesus has just heard of the death of his cousin, John the Baptist. I think Jesus and John were quite close. They were members of a large extended family, and they were kindred spirits and faithful servants of God. So, when he heard of the death of John, I think Jesus was very sad. But he did not let that stop his work of creating loving community, teaching, and healing people. As our reading opens, he has sent the apostles out to teach and heal. Now they are coming back and reporting all they have done. 

We can imagine that they have much to share with him and with each other. They have gone out two by two, and they have shared the good news and taught, and healed people. After this debriefing, Jesus calls them to go away to a quiet place to rest and, undoubtedly, to pray. We can imagine that both he and they are exhausted from all their work. They get into a boat and go to the other side of the lake. 

But a crowd of people arrives there ahead of them. And the text says, “he had compassion on them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he began to teach them many things.” Jesus cares about people.  No matter how tired he is, his compassion seems to be almost endless. This is an example for us. We are human, and our compassion is not endless. But our Lord is calling us to try, with his grace, to be compassionate to everyone we meet. 

Then Jesus and his disciples cross back to the other side of the lake. People recognize him and bring sick people from far and wide to be healed. Wherever he goes, people bring sick friends and relatives to be made whole again. Even touching the hem of his garment heals people. The healing power of our Lord goes beyond our understanding. We, too, are called to extend the healing power of his love.

“Something new begins when God’s powerful love and loving power are acted out.” Each and every one of you is sharing the power of God’s love with others, some in ministry with elders, some with animal rescue, some at the food shelf, some with Meals on Wheels, some with young people, the list goes on and on. You are all doing ministry, caring for people, animals, and God’s creation. This week, thanks to jan, our friends at the food shelf, and our brothers and sisters at First Congregational Church in St. Albans, we are beginning to serve families in our new Welcome Home Initiative for people transitioning from temporary to permanent housing. These kinds of ministries break down barriers and bring people together. They help God to create God’s big family.

“Something new begins when God’s powerful love and loving power are acted out.” Gracious and loving God, thank you for your powerful love and your loving power. Thank you for calling us to be together to share life in you. Thank you for all the ministries you give us to do. May we minister to each other and to our brothers and sisters out in the world with your powerful love and your loving power. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Advent 4B December 20, 2020

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Psalm 89:1-4. 19-26
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38

This morning, the Fourth Sunday of Advent, we begin with Canticle 15, the Magnificat, Mary’s song about God’s kingdom of justice and mercy. 

Then we read in the Second Book of Samuel about how David has built a house and is settling down after years of going from place to place. David thinks to himself that it would be a good idea to build a house for God. He discusses this with the prophet Nathan who also thinks it is a good idea. But then God speaks to Nathan and tells this faithful prophet that God will build a house for David. God will establish David as a King over God’s people. It is from this royal line that the Messiah will come.

And then we have Psalm 89, a song about God’s love. “Your love, O Lord forever will I sing; from age to age my mouth will proclaim your faithfulness.”

And then we go back over two thousand years. Here is Mary, a young woman. She is engaged to Joseph, a faithful man, a man who is very gentle, yet very strong and protective. We know that Mary, too, has a strength that is almost beyond belief, and her faith is deep and abiding.

She lives in a little town that is far from the centers of power. She is just an ordinary person going about her daily routine, like so many people before her—Moses, tending his father-in-law’s flock, David, tending the sheep, Amos, the dresser of sycamore trees. As she is going about her household chores, the angel Gabriel suddenly appears. 

Here I fall back on Madeleine L’Engle’s descriptions of angels as tall, towering beings pulsating with light and power. “Greetings, favored one!” he says, “The Lord is with you.” Here is this luminous messenger of God talking to a young woman in a little out of the way town like Sheldon or Montgomery or Fletcher or Franklin and calling her “favored one,” telling her she is beloved of God. And he is telling us, too, that we are beloved of God. And then the angel Gabriel tells Mary and you and me that the Lord is with us. And then, seeing the look of shock on Mary’s face, Gabriel says, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” And God is saying that to us as well. “Do not be afraid. God loves you. God is holding you in the palm of God’s hand.”  

And then the Angel Gabriel tells Mary that she will be the mother of God’s Son. And Mary asks, “How can this be?” And Gabriel tells her that her cousin, Elizabeth, who is far beyond childbearing age, will be giving birth to a son. We know that this is Jesus’ cousin, John, who will grow up and baptize people in the Jordan River and call them to “prepare the way of the Lord.” It all seems beyond belief. Gabriel seems quite aware of this for he tells Mary and us,  “Nothing will be impossible with God.”

And then Mary responds. Throughout this mind-bending conversation with Gabriel, she has remained calm and grounded. We see in her the steely courage that she will show at the foot of the Cross. She joins many of her ancestors, people like Abraham and Moses, who said to God, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word.” Trusting completely in God’s faithfulness and love, Mary says “Yes” to this ministry.

Soon after, she goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth. The child John leaps in Elizabeth’s womb when he senses the presence of the baby Jesus. We often say that Christians go two by two, as our Lord sent out the disciples to spread the good news. Mary had the good common sense to seek out her cousin Elizabeth so that they could guide and support each other as they went on their journey together. Their sons would change the world forever. They gave birth to the transformation of the world.

In addition to the Magnificat, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,” we can also sing Psalm 89. “Your love, O Lord, forever will I sing; from age to age my mouth will proclaim your faithfulness.”

The light is coming into the world. This past week, we watched the news and saw people being inoculated with the new vaccine from Pfizer. Other vaccines are on the way. The Moderna vaccine has already been approved. Many scientists, researchers, physicians, lab technicians, and other dedicated people have worked evenings, weekends, nights, and holidays to create these life-saving vaccines. People gathered to clap as they were shipped out of the plant in Michigan because this is something to celebrate.

As Christians, we believe that God gives us the gift to reason and learn and carry out research. Our faith is based on what we call the three-legged stool of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. God gave us minds so that we can use them to discover things that will help people to have better lives. We believe that these discoveries are a manifestation of God’s love. “Your love, O God, forever will we sing.”

Because God gave us minds and calls us to use them, we know that we must continue to practice the basics of public health in a pandemic—wear masks, keep social distance, wash our hands often, don’t gather in large numbers. We know that it will take several months to get all of us vaccinated. But, if we follow safe practices, eventually enough people will be vaccinated that we will all be safe from this virus. Our faith also teaches us to be patient. It will take time. We are very happy that Keith and Sara are in Pinellas County, Florida, the first county in that state to receive the vaccine. To me, that feels like a special gift from God.

We have been through some very difficult times, and it is not over yet.

But the end is in sight. The light, the love, is coming into the world. Let us make room for the light and love in our lives. Let us make room for Jesus in the inns of our hearts. Even though there are challenges ahead, let us take time to celebrate the light and love of God in our lives and in our world. “Your  love, O Lord, forever will we sing; from age to age our mouths will proclaim your faithfulness.” 

Let us continue to walk the Way of Love, with joy and hope in our hearts.  Amen.

Pentecost 12 Proper 14B RCL August 12, 2018

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33
Psalm 130
Ephesians 4:25-5:2
John 6:35, 41-51

In our first reading this morning, King David is at a deeply tragic point in his life. As we recall from last Sunday, the prophet Nathan had told David that, because of his adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband, Uriah the Hittite, David will face conflict from within his own family.

Here is a brief summary of the tragic events. The time is three thousand years ago, and King David has several wives. David’s eldest son, Amnon, rapes Absalom’s sister, Tamar. After appealing to David who does nothing, Absalom murders Amnon. David is devastated and outraged at Absalom’s murder of his half-brother. Absalom asks Joab, King David’s faithful military leader and friend, to help patch things up, but Joab refuses. Absalom then burns Joab’s field. Absalom finally has to flee to another kingdom.

Now Absalom has returned, and he is leading a revolution against his father. Absalom is handsome and vain and proud. He is especially proud of his hair, which he grows long. Absalom is also quite charismatic, and many people are attracted to him. These people have joined his army. Absalom’s revolt has been so successful that David and his court have had to leave Jerusalem.

On the eve of the battle, David is so distressed that he actually asks his military leaders to “deal gently” with Absalom. David’s troops win the battle. The text says that the forest claims more victims than the sword, and of course, one of those is Absalom, who becomes stuck in the thick branches of an oak tree. His mule runs away, leaving him hanging by his hair. The text omits verses 10 through 14, in which some of David’s soldiers see Absalom hanging from the tree. One of them reports this to Joab, who asks him why he did not kill Absalom. The soldier says he wanted to honor David’s request for gentleness. The text tells us that Joab “thrusts three spears into the heart of Absalom.”

The Bible offers us many accounts of human nature. Some of them remind us of how noble we humans can be, and others reveal the complicated and dark depths of human depravity and the conflicts and tragedies that can arise from that darkness. The story of King David and his family has both. Few biblical accounts are as heart-wrenching as this one. When he hears of Absalom’s death, David cries out, “ O my son Absalom, my son, my son. Would I have died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

Vermont theologian Frederick Buechner writes, “He meant it, of course. If he could have done the boy’s dying for him, he would have done it. If he could have paid the price for the boy’s betrayal of him, he would have paid it. If he could have given his own life to make the boy alive again, he would have given it. But even a king can’t do things like that. As later history was to prove, it takes a God.” (Buechner, Peculiar Treasures, p. 6.)

“As later history was to prove, it takes a God.”

Our gospel for today calls to mind this passage written by Frederick Buechner. The five thousand have been fed, Jesus is telling us that he is the bread of life. These words in today’s gospel are echoed in our offertory chant from the Taizé community: “Eat this bread, Drink this cup. Come to me and never be hungry. Eat this bread, Drink this cup. Trust in me and you will not thirst.”

Jesus is with us, and following him gives us a deeper dimension of life. This is what he calls eternal life, and that life has already begun in us because of his presence. We are not alone. We do not have to trust only in ourselves. He is our Good Shepherd and he is leading us. He gives us his grace and love and healing and guidance. He feeds our deepest hunger. He leads us beside the still waters and fills us with the gifts of faith and trust in him, He gives us new life, life on a new level.

And he gives us the gift of community, of life together in him as members of his Body. Our epistle describes the qualities of that life together. We are called to be honest. We are called to deal with anger in a responsible way, not to nurse it and let it fester. We are called to work so that we will have something to share with those in need. We are called to be kind to one another, tenderhearted, and forgiving. Whatever we do or say should build up the body of Christ. We are called to “live in love,” because we are following the One who “Loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and sacrifice to God.”

As we read the tragic story of David and his family and then read our epistle and gospel for today; and as we think about the words of Frederick Buechner,  we realize again and perhaps on an even more profound level that it takes a God to bring life out of death and wholeness out of brokenness.

Blessed Lord, thank you for being with us in every moment of our lives and for feeding us with the food of your presence, your love, your forgiveness, and the gift of new life in you. Thank you for calling us to follow you and to help you build your shalom. Thank you for the gift of community rooted and grounded in your love. Give us your grace, we pray, that we may seek and do your will. Amen.

Pentecost 11 Proper 13B RCL August 5, 2018

2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a
Psalm 51:1-13
Ephesians 4:1-16
John 6:24-35

Last Sunday, we looked on as King David lost his moral compass and spiraled downward, beginning with adultery and going on to murder. These events seem almost unbelievable when we think of David, the beloved hero of his people, the faithful and courageous shepherd-king. But all of these things did happen, and they remind us that we humans are frail and fallible.

Back in Old Testament times, if a king became corrupt or broke the law, a prophet would be the one to confront the king and hold him accountable. In our reading today, Nathan is called to that difficult and dangerous vocation.

When we humans go off the skids and begin to believe that somehow the law does not apply to us, the usual kinds of confrontation from other humans often do not work very well. But Nathan is a prophet called by God, and a wise and courageous man.

He tells a story of a poor and loving and faithful man who has a beloved ewe lamb whom he treats as a member of his family and a ruthless wealthy man who takes the ewe lamb and feeds it to a traveler. King David is outraged at this inhumanity and injustice. And then Nathan tells him that he, King David, is that man.

Nathan also tells David that there will be serious and tragic consequences for his immoral behavior. At this point in the spiritual journey, some people continue to insist that they have done nothing wrong. To David’s credit, he confesses, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nonetheless, strife and tragedy will mark his family life from now on.

Our psalm for today, Psalm 51, is the psalm we recite on Ash Wednesday as we begin our Lenten discipline. This penitential psalm is an appropriate response to the story of David’s actions and to our own awareness and acknowledgment of our sins.

In our gospel today, Jesus and the disciples have fed the large crowd of  over five thousand people and have crossed the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum. The people get into boats and follow Jesus to the other side.

Our Lord tells them that they are following him because of the physical food he gives them. He calls them and us to seek the food that leads to eternal life. As his followers, we know that he means the food of his presence. We know that he is talking about the nourishment and energy that comes from spending time with him, time thinking about the scriptures and sharing in the Holy Eucharist, the feast of thanksgiving in which he feeds us with his life and energy so that we can carry out his ministry here on earth as his living and vibrant Body.

And he says something that will always live in our hearts and minds, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Our epistle for today, from the Letter to the Ephesians, is, in my opinion, one of the most important passages in the Bible. Paul is encouraging us to lead lives worthy of our calling as followers of Christ. Our lives are to be marked by humility, gentleness. and patience, and we are to live together as a community of faith in the unity of the Holy Spirit. We may have different ideas about things, different opinions, but we know that we are one in Christ Jesus in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

Then Paul reminds us that we have all received different gifts from the Spirit. Some are apostles, some prophets, some pastors and teachers and rescuers of dogs and some who help children and young people and some who minister to elders, some who help folks who have the disease of addiction, some who make places more accessible, or pay the bills, or sew, or knit, or clean, or help feed people, and the list goes on and on. All are doing the work of ministry and building up the Body of Christ. And, Paul says so wisely, we are all growing to maturity in Christ.

We are all growing together; we are all knit together as the parts of a body are knit together. We are all called to use our gifts, and we are called to “Grow up in every way into…Christ.” We are called to become as much like our Lord as possible, with his grace, and to work together in harmony. As Paul says, all of this “promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.”

The whole purpose of our life together in and with Jesus is to share his love, to be his eyes, looking on people with his compassion, his hands reaching out to welcome and heal.

This passage, Ephesians 4:1-16, and 1 Corinthians 12, are St. Paul’s clear and powerful descriptions of what it means to be the Body of Christ doing his ministry here on earth. Grace Church is doing this, with God’s grace and the help of the Holy Spirit.

There is so much to meditate about in today’s readings. David’s tragic story reminds us that we are all sinners. We all get off track at times.  With God’s grace, we acknowledge our sins and get back on the path toward God. Jesus is the true bread from heaven. Every time we gather for Eucharist, he feeds us. When two or three are together in his name, he is with us, He is with all of us at every moment in our lives. This is a gift beyond measure. We can always turn to him and ask him for help.

Paul, a persecutor of the followers of Jesus, met the risen Christ on the Road to Damascus. He was blinded by the light of Christ.  When his sight returned, he became the apostle to the Gentiles. As he founded churches around the Mediterranean, Jesus gave him the vision of what a Christian community is called to be, and he shared that vision with us. We thank our Lord Jesus Christ for his life and ministry and for the gift of life together in and with him. May we continue to minister faithfully in his Name. Amen.

Pentecost 9 Proper 11B RCL July 22, 2019

2 Samuel 7:1-14a
Psalm 89:20-37
Ephesians 2:11-22
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

In our opening reading, King David is now settled in his house, and the land is at peace. David wants to build a house for the Lord, a place for the ark of the covenant. He consults the prophet Nathan, and Nathan thinks this is a good idea. After all, isn’t it a wonderful thing to design and construct a beautiful building to be a special place where God is present, a place where we can pray and give praise to God?

But God speaks to Nathan and says that it is not the time for David to do this. Indeed, King Solomon, David’s wise son, will build the great temple in Jerusalem.

Sometimes we want to do a good and wonderful thing, but it is not God’s will for us to do this. We consult trusted advisors, as David did. But then God lets us know that this simply is not the time, or this particular thing is not something God has called us to do.

As we think about our epistle for today, we remember that Paul, or his disciple, is writing to Gentile Christians in Asia Minor, what we now call Turkey. In the early Church, perhaps the greatest controversy was the debate concerning the issue of Gentiles coming into the new faith.

In the beginning, Peter felt that Gentiles must be circumcised and follow the Jewish law, including the dietary laws. Then he had his vision of all the foods coming down from heaven, including food forbidden by the law, and God telling him to eat these foods. He then realized that all people, including Gentiles, were called to full membership in the Church. This issue was finally resolved at the Council of Jerusalem.

Paul became the apostle to the Gentiles. Although he was a devout Pharisee, he quickly realized that Christ had fulfilled and transcended the law. Gentiles joining the new faith did not need to be circumcised or follow the law to the letter, but we are all called to follow the spirit of the law.

Paul realized that, while this controversy was going on, Gentiles coming into the Church felt like second-class citizens. Now he is making it abundantly clear that Christ has made all of us one in him. Paul says, “Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near….” Paul tells us that Christ has dissolved all barriers between us.

We are still working out the implications of this. Although our Lord has broken through all barriers, it is taking us much time and struggle to realize that all human beings are full members of the Body of Christ.

In our gospel for today, the apostles return from their missionary journey and tell Jesus about all the wonderful things that have happened. They go off to a quiet place to be with God and each other in prayer and peace. Then they get back into the boat, cross the Sea of Galilee, and go ashore only to find a huge crowd waiting for them. The designers of the lectionary want to emphasize the huge need the people had for healing and hope.

Verses 35 through 52 are omitted from this reading. They tell us about the feeding of the five thousand.

Then Jesus and his disciples cross the Lake again and go ashore only to find that people are rushing to bring their loved ones on mats so that Jesus can heal them. This gospel reading eloquently describes the hunger people had for Jesus and the deep need they felt for his healing. Today, people still need Jesus’ healing.

As Jesus goes ashore for the first time in our gospel for today, the text says “   He had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.”

We do not have Jesus present with us in person to teach us many things. In fact, we are his risen body called to teach and heal on his behalf. Sometimes we may wish he were here so that we could turn to him and ask him questions. Indeed, he is here among us now.

People in our world and in our neighborhood may well feel like sheep without a shepherd, and our Lord is calling us to minister to these people. Even we may feel like sheep without a shepherd. On an ecclesiastical, earthly level, we do have a shepherd, and that is our Bishop. Our ultimate shepherd is Jesus.

This past Tuesday, Bishop Tom and I visited Nat and Nini. We were discussing what we can do to make the world a better place. Bishop Tom remarked that we live in a world where many people do not have enough to eat, and that, until everyone does have enough food, feeding people is a very high priority. He commended the ministry of the Sheldon Food Shelf. Thank you all for your support of the food shelf, and many other ministries, and for all the ways in which you share Christ’s love and care with others every day of your lives.

As we discussed the challenges that face the Church, Bishop Tom said that here in Vermont, and this is a paraphrase, there are two things that stand out to him. Vermont is a place where the Church has great vitality, and he pointed to Grace as an example of that. At the same time, here in the Church in Vermont, there is a certain fragility, and  he said that we need to be careful not to let the sense of fragility divert us from the vitality.

One of my spiritual guides, Sister Claire Boissy of the Sisters of Mercy, would often say, “Go where the life is.” A young leader in our Church recently said, “We don’t have to invent the wheel; we have the wheel.” The scriptures, sacraments, and teaching of the Church are the wheel. Christ is alive among us and in us. Grace is a place of life.

Let us focus on the vitality and where that leads us with the help of the Spirit. Let us also keep a careful eye on the fragility. We can be grateful that Grace has been a good steward of its building and financial gifts. And then again, let us focus on the vitality. That is where the life is, and Christ is in our midst.  Amen.

 

Pentecost 10 Proper 13B RCL August 2, 2015

2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a
Psalm 51:1-13
Ephesians 4:1-16
John 6:24-35

In our opening lesson, David has committed adultery with Bathsheba and then has murdered her husband, Uriah the Hittite, who was one of David’s most loyal and valiant soldiers. After the time of mourning, David and Bathsheba are married, and they have a son.

God is not pleased with David’s behavior, so God sends Nathan to confront the king. The job of a prophet is to hold God’s measuring rod up to individuals and society. This is not an easy ministry. And it can be dangerous, Kings do not always like to hear God’s opinion of their less than sterling behavior, and prophets have been beaten, thrown in prison, and even killed.

Let’s pause for a moment. If we were in Nathan’s position, how would we confront David and call him to repent? And an accompanying question: how would we do this and survive?

Nathan is a wise and courageous prophet. He tells a story about a rich man and a poor man. The rich man has everything anyone could want. The poor man has very little, and his most prized possession is his ewe lamb. He treats her like one of his own family. A traveler arrives at the rich man’s house, and the rich man is so stingy that he does not want to kill one of his animals to throw a dinner for the guest. So he takes the poor man’s lamb, kills it, cooks it, and serves it to the guest.

Never does it dawn on David that he is the rich man, Uriah the Hittite is the poor man, and Bathsheba is the ewe lamb. At the end of the story, David is enraged. “That rich man deserves to die,” he yells at the top of his lungs. Then poor Nathan has the courage to say those words we will never forget: “You are the man.” And Nathan tells David that God has given David many gifts and David has done terrible things, and now David is going to have great trouble from within his own family.

David does not kill Nathan. He comes to his senses. He admits his sin. He begins to see and accept the truth of what he has done. We have all had times like this, times when we have done things we ought not to have done or not done things we ought to have done, and there is no health in us.  Our psalm, which is also used on Ash Wednesday, is the proper response in these moments. We need to be washed and cleansed of our sin, and we must trust in God’s forgiveness and God’s ability to help us make a new beginning.

In our gospel, Jesus and the disciples have gone across to Capernaum, and the crowd follows them. Jesus calls them to grow into a higher level of spiritual maturity. He tells them that they are following him because of the bread that he gives them, but they need to see him as the bread that feeds them for eternal life.

A young mathematician named Blaise Pascal once wrote that we all have a God-shaped vacuum in us, and we try to fill that vacuum with all kinds of things, but it can only be filled with God. How true that is. We may fill that empty place with power or money or possessions or food or alcohol or drugs. We try to fill that God-shaped empty place with so many things. But our need is for God.

Herbert O’Driscoll notes that all our readings today are about growing into maturity. Our epistle certainly emphasizes that. What are the qualities of Christians and Christian communities? Humility, gentleness, patience, “bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

We are all members of the Body of Christ. We are all part of our Lord, our living, risen Lord. There will be tough times. There will be misunderstandings. We won’t always agree. And we are one in him.

We have been given many different gifts, and all those gifts have been given for the building up of the Body of Christ. One of the things that distressed Paul so much was that the Corinthians were using their God-given gifts to compete. “Oh, I speak in tongues, That’s better than what you do.” That is not true, as Paul tries to teach them. Each gift is as precious as the next. Everyone is essential to the Body, and every gift is necessary.

All the gifts are given “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro by every passing fad and fashion, But, speaking the truth in love, we  must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”

Paul gives us a dynamic picture of each of us growing into maturity and all of us growing together into Christ, and this is how the Body of Christ, the Church, stays healthy. And the whole purpose is to extend his love to the world.

“Speaking the truth in love” is a central and powerful concept for us as Christians. Nathan spoke the truth to David from the loving heart of God. Jesus speaks the truth to the people following him and to us. He could have operated the biggest soup kitchen in the world, but he wants to give us himself, so that we can get beyond our human selfishness and be transformed and live in a new way.

I think Herbert O’Driscoll has a wonderful insight into these lessons when he says that they are about growing into maturity. It’s not easy to face the fact that we have sinned. It may be even harder to do the work, always with God’s help, of getting back on track.

Here we gather, frail and fallible humans who are called to be the Body of Christ in this place, part of his risen Body which fills the whole wide earth. We make mistakes; we stumble and fall; we confess our sins; we receive forgiveness, and we keep growing, growing more like our Lord, growing into maturity in him.

Blessed Lord Jesus, help us to keep growing into maturity in you. Amen.