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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:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion April 9, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
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Pentecost 12 Proper 15B August 15, 2021

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14
Psalm 111
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-58

In our opening reading today, David dies. Solomon, the son of David and Bathsheba, becomes king. We all remember his prayer to God, in which he admits he does not have a great deal of knowledge. At this time in his life, Solomon is only about twenty years old. But Solomon asks God for the gift of wisdom. Directly after this passage, two women come to the new king, both insisting that they are the mother of the same baby. Through wisdom, Solomon determines which woman is the real mother of the baby. 

Scholars tell us that during the reign of Solomon, there was a great blossoming of wisdom literature which has lasted into our own time and has inspired many of us. Solomon also built the temple in Jerusalem, constructed a magnificent palace, and built temples to the gods of his many wives and concubines. He was able to do these things because he imposed forced labor and brutal taxation on his people. Upon Solomon’s death, the Northern Kingdom seceded and the monarchy was divided.  Unfortunately, there was a gap between his stated ideals and his actual behavior.

Our epistle for today also emphasizes wisdom. We are called to be wise and to use each moment to the fullest by seeking and doing the will of God. We shouldn’t get drunk, but should be filled with the Spirit, singing and worshipping together. We should give thanks to God at all times and for all things.

In order to follow this guidance, we will need to spend much time in prayer, asking for God’s will and then asking for the grace to do God’s will. This is what the great moral theologian  Kenneth Kirk calls “the habit of referring all questions to God.” We are in a constant dialogue with God, seeking the divine will and then doing what God is calling us to do.

If we are filled the with Spirit, we are gathering together, singing psalms and spiritual songs, praying together as we are doing right now. And we are thanking God at all times and for all things. The attitude of gratitude does not always come easily. What if something is not going the way we want it to go? What if something terrible is happening? What if a friend or loved one has just been diagnosed with cancer? When good things happen, thanking God is a wonderful spiritual practice. It makes the good thing reverberate and expand in our hearts. When something awful is happening, we can thank God for God’s grace and healing and we can pray for our loved one and  ask God to help us be there for our friend or loved one. Even in the worst of times, we can thank God for being with us, for giving us the gift of faith and the energy to ask God for help.

After our long Covid fast, I am thanking God today for the opportunity to be with this loving community and to read the scriptures and sing hymns and spiritual songs with you, to pray for ourselves and others, and to be in the presence of our Lord as a community of faith. What a  gift! Thank you, Lord.

In our gospel, Jesus is saying that the bread that he gives for the world is his flesh. This reminds us that in the early church, followers of Jesus were accused of being cannibals. We are not literally eating the flesh and drinking the blood of our Lord. We are doing these things sacramentally. Then our Lord says that unless we eat his flesh and drink his blood, we will have no life in us. Those who do share in Holy Eucharist will abide in him, will rest in him will live in him, will be alive in him, will be part of him.

Abiding means a very close relationship. We become one with him and he becomes one with us. We are alive in each other. We are so closely connected that we are one. 

And, because we are so close to our Lord, because we are one with him and alive in him, we are now leading a new life, life in a different dimension. This is what we call eternal life. But it does not mean that we have to die in order to enter eternal life. This newness of life, this life in a new and deeper dimension is here right now. We are living that new life now,. We are in eternal life, fullness of life, right now.

In this new life. this life in a different dimension, Jesus is very close to us. He is in our midst. We can reach out and touch him. We can sense his presence. We can ask his help. We can see and follow him.

We are one with Jesus, with God, with the Spirit, and with each other.

We can ask God’s guidance and receive that guidance, together with the grace to carry it out. We can grow in God’s wisdom and do the things God would have us do. This is what it means to be filled with the Spirit. The energy and love of God are within us. Our relationship with God is so close that we can grow in compassion and do God’s will almost instinctively, because we are constantly asking for and receiving God’s guidance.

The Holy Eucharist is the way our Lord gave us to call him into our midst. “Do this in remembrance of me” literally means “Do this for the anamnesis, the “not forgetting” of me. In a very short time, our Lord will be feeding us with the essence of himself with his energy, his love, his grace, so that we can go out into the world and be his hands and feet, his body, ministering to a world that needs his love and healing.

St.Teresa of Avila was a very practical mystic who lived from 1515- 1582. She wrote these wonderful words describing how we are parts of the living Body of Christ.

“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body here on earth but yours.  

Keep up the good work! Amen.

Epiphany 3A January 26, 2020

Isaiah 9:1-4
Psalm 27:1, 5-13
1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Matthew 4:12-23

Our first reading, this powerful and moving passage from Isaiah, is also our first reading on Christmas Day. Scholars tell us that this text dates back to around 725 B.C.E. The Assyrian Empire has defeated the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and the Southern Kingdom, Judah, has been living in deep fear and anguish. They have been terrified that the Assyrians will defeat them, too.

A new king has been born, and God is telling the people that they are moving from the darkness of that fear into the light. God has freed them from the oppressor. There will be a new kingdom of justice and compassion. As Christians, we immediately think of the reign of our King, Jesus, who comes among us to break every yoke/

Our psalm describes what life is like in the light, the presence of God. Yes, life has many challenges, but we do not live in fear. We sense the presence and protection of God. Both our reading from Isaiah and our psalm for today are filled with the  joy of being in the presence of God.

Last week, our reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians focused on the gifts which God has given them—and us— so that they and we, can follow Christ and be a loving community. In today’s passage, Paul is beginning to address some of the major problems that are affecting the community in Corinth.

There are some people in the Corinthian community who feel that their gifts are superior to the gifts of other people. For example, some of the people feel that the gift of speaking in tongues is the highest gift of all, and, if you don’t have that gift, you are inferior. In Chapter 13 of this letter, Paul tells us in no uncertain terms that the greatest gift is love.

 In today’s text, Paul is pointing out that the members of the community have divided up into factions. Some are following a man named Apollos, a charismatic teacher who had come through town and attracted followers in the congregation. Others are following Paul, others Peter, and so on. The question is, who are we supposed to be following? The answer is, not Paul, nor Peter, not Apollos, but Jesus. 

Herbert O’Driscoll talks about “the indignant claim to being right or superior or more genuine than others….a putting down of someone else, an excluding of them from some real or imagined charmed circle of orthodoxy or shared spiritual experience. The message—rarely put into words—is, ‘I am of Christ, and you are not!’” (O’Driscoll, The Word Today Year A Vol. 1, p. 81.)

We can tell from reading this passage that Paul is deeply troubled by these divisions. Christ was crucified for us, not Paul. We were baptized in the name of Christ, and he is the head of the Church. One of the great strengths of Grace Church is that you keep these truths constantly in mind. You remember that you are following Christ, and that he calls you to be a community of love.

In our gospel for today, Jesus learns that John the Baptist has been put in prison. This is ominous news. Jesus had gone South to be baptized by John the Baptist. This brought him closer to Jerusalem, where Herod Antipas ruled. Now he moves north to Galilee, where there is more distance from the center of Herod’s ruthless and unjust tyranny.

And what does our Lord do? He can see that Herod is asserting his deadly control, ready to extinguish any flickering flame of justice or compassion. He could have allowed fear to deflect him from his mission. He could have run away. He could have tried to hide. 

But he does not run away or hide. He knows that it is time for him to form a community. He knows that he is not going to spread the good news of the light and love of God alone. He knows what Isaiah has written. He knows that it is time for the light to shine. Walking by the Sea of Galilee, he sees Peter and Andrew, two fishermen, casting their nets, and he says those words we will never forget: “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately, they leave their nets and follow him. A little further along, he sees James and John, the sons of Zebedee, on the boat with their father, and he calls them. They leave the boat and their father, and follow him.

And then, very simply, Matthew tells us that Jesus went all around Galilee, teaching in the synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. We can imagine that, as he and Peter and Andrew and James and John went from place to place, others joined them.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” We have seen that light. Our darkness has been enlightened by the light and love of our Lord. We are following him. With his grace, we are sharing his love.

In our Collect for today, we pray that God will give us the grace to answer “the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the good news of his salvation…”

This past Tuesday, the clients of the food shelf gathered in the new building. There, Nancy and Debbie welcomed the people and signed them up to receive food. Some folks shared their needs and illnesses and challenges. We prayed with them. And then we prayed together for all the folks who come for help. Meanwhile, our volunteers were at work in the church undercroft packing and distributing the food. It was a very cold day, but they  cheerfully helped the clients carry their food to their vehicles.

Our volunteers did a lot of hard work in that extremely cold weather, but there was no complaining. Our clients had to wait for a long period of time but there was no complaining. There was a lot of laughter, and love, and light. In this and many other ways, we are receiving the grace to answer the call of our Lord and to share the good news of his salvation. Thanks be to God for all of God’s many gifts. Amen. 

Pentecost 8 Proper 13C August 4, 2019

Hosea 11:1-11
Psalm 107:1-9, 43
Colossians 3:1-11
Luke 12:13-21

Last Sunday, Our Lord taught us how to pray. He told us to call God “Abba,” which translates not as “Father, “ or “Mother,” but as “Dad” or “Mom.” We are called to address God just as Jesus does, in an intimate, familiar way.

In our reading this morning from the prophet Hosea, we have the opportunity to meditate together on God as our loving, divine parent.

God says “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” God called God’s people out of slavery in Egypt, but after they reached the promised land, they began to worship alien gods such as Baal. a fertility god, and other idols as well.

God says, “Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms, but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love, I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks.”  

These words describe God’s unfailing parental love for God’s children, in this case the people of the Northern Kingdom. But the people are not following God. They are straying far from the law. During the ministry of Hosea, the gap between the rich and poor continued to widen; people did not take care of each other; there was constant war with the Assyrian Empire, and finally, the Assyrians conquered God’s people. Our reading reminds us that God guided the people home from that experience of exile.

God is upset about this to the point of anger, but God says, “I will not come in wrath.” Even though God’s people are being faithless, God loves them. As they suffer, God suffers with them. Biblical scholar James D. Newsome writes, “The suffering God of Hosea anticipates the suffering Christ of Gethsemane and of Calvary’s cross  (Newsome, Texts for Preaching Year B, p. 452.)

Our reading from the letter to the Colossians calls us to set our minds on things that are above, not on earthly things. We are called to get rid of things like anger, malice, slander, abusive language, and lying. In making the choice to follow Christ, we have stripped off the old self and have clothed ourselves in the new self. Elsewhere in the epistles, we are called to put on Christ, to clothe ourselves in Christ.

 What a difference it makes when we speak the truth, when we act from compassion, when we lift each other up instead of tearing each other down. Paul’s list of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22 describe the qualities that we show when we are truly following Jesus—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Our reading concludes by saying that, as we grow into Christ, as we become more and more like our Lord, differences of race, religion, class, and national origin dissolve and we become one in Christ.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is preaching and teaching and someone from the crowd asks our Lord to settle a dispute over a family inheritance.

Our Lord takes this opportunity to warn us to be careful about greed. Greed was one of the things tearing up the society in the Northern Kingdom and leading to its fall, and, of course, it is one of the seven root sins. In our own society, we also have a widening gap between the rich and the poor, and we receive constant messages that tell us the accumulation of wealth and power are what life is all about.

Jesus tells a stunning parable. The land of a rich man—notice Jesus says “the land of a rich man” not “a rich man.” The land, God’s creation, God’s gift to this man, produces great abundance. There is so much that he runs out of buildings to store the produce of the land. Does he think of giving anything to those less fortunate? Apparently not. Does he thank God for God’s many blessings? No. He does not talk with God at all. His entire dialogue is with himself. 

He decides to tear down all his buildings and build new ones to hold this bountiful harvest. He says, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” Is it wrong to relax and eat, drink and be merry? Not at all.

But where is God in all of this? Where is our Lord’s call to us to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves?” This man tells his soul that there is material wealth to last for many years and it is now time to celebrate, but material things are not what nourish the soul. The man dies that night.

Jesus says, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” What does it mean to be rich toward God?

Biblical scholar Richard P. Carlson writes, “Being rich toward God entails using one’s resources for the benefit of one’s neighbor in need as the Samaritan did. Being rich towards God includes intentionally listening to Jesus’ word as Mary did. Being rich toward God involves…giving alms as a means of establishing lasting treasure in heaven. Life and possessions are a gift of God to be used to advance God’s agenda of care and compassion, precisely for those who lack resources to provide for themselves.” Feasting on the Word Year C Vol. 3, p. 315.

What are our readings telling us today? Our lesson from Hosea expresses God’s tender and unfailing love and care for us, even when we are straying far from God. As St. Paul tells us in his Letter to the Romans, “Nothing can separate us from the love of God.” Our reading from Colossians calls us to focus on the things that are above, becoming more and more like our Lord. In our gospel, our Lord calls us to treasure every moment of this life and to live lives that are cross-shaped. We are called to reach up toward God and to reach out to share God’s love with others. Amen.

Pentecost 7 Proper 12C July 28, 2019

Hosea 1:2-10
Psalm 85
Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19)
Luke 11:1-13

In our opening reading, we meet the prophet Hosea, whose ministry in the Northern Kingdom followed that of Amos. Hosea was married to a woman who was unfaithful. We do not know the details of how this happened. What we do know is that Hosea compared his experience of living with an unfaithful spouse to God’s experience with the unfaithful people of the Northern kingdom.

United Methodist Bishop William Willimon writes, “…Hosea—through vivid, striking, even offensive metaphors—reveals the heart of a God who passionately loves, forgives, seeks, finds, wants, pleads, and saves.” (Willimon, Feasting on the Word, Year C, vol. 3, p. 272.)

Hosea makes it clear that God cares deeply about us; God is not a distant observer. God is deeply involved in our lives and wants us to have lives of wholeness rather than brokenness. 

In our reading from the Letter to the Colossians, we read that we are part of the Body of Christ, that we are knit together, we are intimately connected,  with our Lord and with each other. Because of this we are called to “abound in thanksgiving.” Gratitude is a powerful force for good. We have so much to be thankful for. This passage tells us that in Christ. “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” This means that we can look at the life and ministry of our Lord and see what God would do if God were to come to earth.

Jesus is God walking the face of the earth. As we look at his life, we have a living example of how to conduct our lives. The text says that our Lord has “made us alive together with him.” Jesus has given us new life, life rooted and grounded in a fullness and joy which we could not know without him. Our Lord has made us one with him and with each other. He has made us a part of himself. We are members of his living Body, the Church.

In our gospel, Jesus and the disciples are on their way to Jerusalem. They have just ended their visit with Mary and Martha. As he so often did, Jesus has been praying, and one of the disciples, we do not know which one, asks, “Lord, teach us to pray.” 

Jesus says, “Father, hallowed be your name.” The word he uses is  the Aramaic word “Abba,” an intimate term for the word “Father.” He is asking us to call God “Dad” or” Daddy” or “Mom” or “Mama.” Because of God’s deep and abiding love, God has made us God’s children. We are as close to God as Jesus is, and Jesus is instructing and inviting us to address God in the most intimate, loving, family terms just as he addresses his Father in heaven.

This almost goes beyond our ability to understand. The power and depth of God’s love is beyond our imagining. It is a gift given to us and to all people. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu says, “God has a big family.”

God’s Name is holy. We pray for the coming of God’s kingdom of peace, harmony, and wholeness, God’s shalom in which, as our retired Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori has said, everyone has “enough to eat,  adequate shelter, healthcare, and meaningful work.” And, in following Jesus, we are offering ourselves to help to bring in that kingdom. In praying this prayer, we are also praying that God will forgive our sins as we forgive others when they hurt us. As God has extended compassion and forgiveness to us, so God calls us to extend that compassion to others.

“And save us from the time of trial.” Scholars tell us that the “time of trial” is a challenge beyond the temptations of daily life. Matthew Skinner writes, “Jesus asks for protection from circumstances that test or imperil faith, especially from the threat of persecution.” (Skinner, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol, 3, p. 289.)

Then our Lord tells a parable. A man has had an unexpected visitor, and he must feed his guest and give him lodging. He goes to his neighbor and asks for three loaves of bread. All of Jesus’ listeners know the rules of middle eastern hospitality. If someone knocks at your door, you have to feed them and give them lodging. If you do not have enough bread, you ask a neighbor for some bread,  and he has to give it to you. This particular neighbor at first delays but then finally gets up and gives his neighbor the bread.

God’s response to our prayers is very different from the response of this reluctant neighbor. God is always ready to respond and give us what we need. Later in Luke’s gospel, we will read of the father who is waiting in the driveway when his wayward son finally comes home. God is always there waiting for us.

In one way or another, all of these readings remind us of how much we need God. They reassure us of God’s unfailing love for us, and they invite us to remember that we are not alone. We have a loving divine parent. And we have each other. And we have that “great cloud of witnesses,” the communion of saints, members of the Body of Christ who have gone before us. They are praying for us even as we remember them and miss them and pray for them.

In this age of technology, it is easy to forget how much we need God.  It is tempting to feel that we are totally in charge and we have everything in control. In prayer, we acknowledge God’s love, grace, and forgiveness. We admit that we need God’s help, and we sincerely seek God’s guidance. Today’s readings remind us that God is always ready to listen and to respond. 

Loving God, thank you for your love, mercy, healing, and forgiveness. As we pass through things temporal, help us not to lose those things which are eternal. Lead us and guide us, O Lord. Amen.

Pentecost 5 Proper 10C RCL July 14, 2019

Amos 7:7-17
Psalm 82
Colossians 1:1-14
Luke 10:25-37

Our opening reading comes from the prophet Amos. Scholars tell us that Amos’ ministry took place between 760 and 750 B.C., two thousand seven hundred years ago.

United Methodist Bishop Willimon writes, “Prophecy is the gifted ability to see what other people cannot or will not see. Prophets focus primarily on the moral and spiritual condition of a nation; they do not simply predict future events, but warn of consequences to injustice. Willimon, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 3, p. 221.)

Amos was minding his own business, going about his daily work of being a farmer and a shepherd and a “dresser of sycamore trees,” when God called him to leave his home and land in the Southern Kingdom of Judah and venture into the Northern Kingdom of Israel.

Amos was not a member of the professional prophets’ guild. He had no colleagues to support him. Under the leadership of King Jeroboam the Second, Israel had exercised its military might and expanded its land to the farthest reaches in its history. The king and the other prominent and powerful people enjoyed an obscene level of wealth and power while the rest of the people tried to eke out enough to survive.

Amos had a vision of God holding up God’s plumb line of justice and compassion to this corrupt society, and, of course, the society did not pass muster. The priest of Bethel, Amaziah, was completely under the control of the king, and he advised Amos to go home to Judah. Amos responded by telling Amaziah in no uncertain terms that the Northern Kingdom was going to collapse under the weight of its own corruption and that God’s justice would prevail.

Here we have a picture of a nation whose king is so corrupt and such a tyrant that no one dares to stand against him. This includes the priest, who has become a servant of the king instead of being a servant of God. The courage and faithfulness of Amos offer us a shining example of God’s prophets through the ages.

The parable of the Good Samaritan also speaks to us powerfully over the intervening two thousand years. The lawyer asks a question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Biblical scholar Fred Craddock makes a profound observation on this: “Asking questions for the purpose of gaining an advantage over another is not a kingdom exercise. Neither is asking questions with no intention of implementing the answers.” (Craddock, Luke, Interpretation, Westminster John Knox, p. 130.) Scholars tell us that the law had defined “neighbors” as “your kin” (Lev. 19:17-18.) Cousar, Texts for Preaching Year C, p. 427.)

So, when Jesus told this parable and the priest and Levite passed by on the other side, his hearers would not have batted an eye. They would have accepted that behavior because they knew that people who served in the temple had to observe the laws designed to keep them ritually pure for their religious duties. The beaten man is described as “half dead,” and priests and levites were forbidden to go near a dead body even if it was a parent. (Cousar, Ibid., p. 427.)

But when the Samaritan stops and helps the man, Jesus’ hearers would have been shocked beyond our ability to understand. Samaritans had split off from the true faith; they had intermarried with the Assyrians who had conquered them. They refused to help with the building of the temple in Jerusalem and instead built their own temple on Mount Gerizim. Their worship and theology were not orthodox. They were seen as the ultimate Other, and they were hated.

Since the man was beaten and bloody and the robbers had taken all his clothes, it was impossible to tell whether this unfortunate man was Jewish or Samaritan, rich or poor, but that did not matter. The Samaritan looked beyond all the possible labels and saw him as a fellow human being who would die if no one helped him. The Samaritan offered the best treatment he could for the wounds and then took the man to an inn and paid for his continuing care.

Once again, Jesus is stretching the limits of the law. A neighbor is not just “our kin.” It is anyone who needs our help. And the Samaritan, who shows such profound compassion and goes so many extra miles, becomes an inspiring example of what it means to be a good neighbor.

Jesus is constantly and forever stretching the limits of our hearts and minds. He is always calling us to deeper compassion. He is in every moment calling us to be inclusive, to dissolve the barriers that get in the way of his love. He is calling us to look at each other, to look at every person, through his eyes.

May we let him lead us. Amen.