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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion October 2, 2022 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 October 9, 2022 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 October 16, 2022 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:…

Easter 7C May 29

Acts 16:16-34
Psalm 97
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
John 17: 20-26

Our first reading today continues the story of Paul and his team. They are on the way to the place of prayer when they meet a young woman who is a slave. She is possessed by a spirit of divination, and her owners make a great deal of money by owning her and using this gift of hers.

This young woman follows Paul and his team crying out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” The text tells us that she did this for many days.

Paul becomes annoyed with this, and he orders the spirit to come out of her, It comes out. The healing is complete. The spirit is gone. The young woman no longer has the gift which produced a good income for her owners. Mary Donovan Turner notes that the young woman’s owners were what we would call human traffickers. (New Proclamation Year C 2013, p. 53.) 

In those days, the law said that people could own other people. The woman’s owners take hold of Paul and Silas and drag them to the authorities. The owners say that Paul and his team are “advocating customs that are not lawful for us Romans to adopt or observe.” The crowd agrees with the owners. Paul and Silas are stripped bare and beaten with rods. This passage certainly makes it clear that spreading the good news isn’t always easy!

Then Paul and Silas are given a severe flogging and put in prison. The jailer puts them in the innermost cell and fastens their feet in the stocks.

About midnight Paul and Silas are praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners are listening to them. Can we imagine this? Paul and Silas are as bare as the day they were born. They have been beaten at least twice. Their feet are fastened in the stocks and they are singing! And the other prisoners are listening!

Suddenly there is an earthquake. The foundations of the prison are shaking.The doors are open; the chains are unfastened. The jailer wakes up. He sees that the prison doors are open. He thinks that all of the prisoners have escaped, so he takes out his sword to kill himself because he is quite certain that his career, and his life are over.

But Paul cries out in a loud voice. “Don’t hurt yourself. We’re all right here.” The jailer calls for torches, and, sure enough, the prisoners are there. The jailer falls on his knees and asks, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” In addressing Paul and Silas as “sirs,” I think the jailer is concluding that these prisoners are closely associated with a higher power.

Paul and Silas tell him that he needs to believe in the Lord Jesus and they teach him and his household about what that means. And this jailer whose world has just been turned upside down follows the Way of Love, and washes their wounds. He and his family are baptized. He brings them up into his house and sets a meal before them. He extends the gift of hospitality to his new brothers in Christ.

What a beautiful and powerful story! Paul and Silas, prisoners for Christ, set a jailer free to live a new life.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is giving last instructions to his disciples. Much of his Last Discourse is a prayer. “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they (meaning the disciples and us, followers of Jesus) also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me….so that  they may be one as we are one. I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you loved me. And Jesus goes on to say that his whole purpose in his prayer is to ask that “…the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

Jesus is in us and we are in him. He is the vine, we are the branches. We are so close with him and with each other that we are one.

This story about Paul and Silas is so inspiring! it lets us know that sometimes God calls us to do hard things, challenging things, things we think we cannot do. Paul and Silas have been beaten and stripped to the status of nothing. They are totally vulnerable. Yet, when God sends the miracles and everyone is free, they stay in their cells and wait to extend God’s love to the jailer and free him and his family from their bondage and lead them into newness of life.

The faith and love of Paul and Silas speaks so powerfully to the jailer that his life and the lives of his family members are transformed. The foundations of the jail are shaken, the doors are open, and Paul and Silas just sit there and wait.They save the jailer from being fired and probably executed. They save the jailer from suicide.

Jesus is in us. and we are in him, He is that close. We are that close to him and to each other, as close as the members of a body. As close and as strongly connected as the vine and the branch.

Paul and Silas taught that truth to the jailer through their actions. They invited the jailer into the closeness and safety of God’s love by showing God’s love to this poor jailer whose prisoners had been freed by an earthquake.

May we follow the example of Paul and Silas. May we share God’s love with others, even when it is difficult. If we are called to do something, and if it’s about love, God will give us the grace to do what ever ministry God is calling us to do, even if it is to sit there and wait for the jailer after the prison foundations have shaken and the doors are open and all the other prisoners have left. God will always remind us that the jailer is going to need the grace of Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Easter 6C May 22, 2022

Acts 16:9-15
Psalm 67
Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5
John 14:23-29

Our opening reading today is from the Book of Acts. Paul is having a vision. A man from Macedonia is pleading with Paul saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Immediately, Paul and his team set sail from Troas, a city on the northwest tip of Asia Minor, which we now call Turkey. They land in Philippi, a city in northwestern Greece. They have just sailed from Asia to Europe.

Philippi is a major city in that area of the Roman Empire. Paul and his team stay in Philippi for several days and on the sabbath they go to what the text describes as a “place of prayer” by the river. Scholars tell us that this “place of prayer” by the river is probably a synagogue. 

There they find a group of women, and Paul and his team speak to them. Among these women is Lydia, a woman of means who deals in purple cloth. She is a business woman and the head of a household, which was very unusual in those days. After listening to Paul and his team, Lydia and her household are baptized.

Then Lydia invites Paul and his team to stay at her home. They make her house their base of operations  and later the community starts a house church in her home. Her entry in Lesser Feasts and Fasts says that Lydia is recognized as a saint“ in a wide range of Christian traditions, including the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, and many Protestant traditions. In the Orthodox Church she is given the title ‘Equal to the Apostles’ for her role in spreading the Christian faith.” Lydia’s feast day was yesterday, May 21.

This is a very important moment in the history of the Church. The faith which began in Asia is now in Europe.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is telling his disciples and us that he will be going to be with God. He will no longer be here on earth. This Thursday the Church observes Ascension Day. The window above the altar at Grace beautifully and movingly depicts our Lord’s Ascension.

We can only begin to imagine how shocked and saddened the disciples were to hear that Jesus would be leaving them to return to the Father. Their leader, teacher, mentor, and friend would no longer be with them in the flesh.

With Jesus among them, they could always turn to him and ask a question or seek his guidance in a difficult situation. But now he would be gone There would be a terrible hole in their hearts, in their lives.

But Jesus says some things that answer their grief and fear. First, he says the most amazing thing. He says that he and God will come and make their home with us. If we love Jesus and God, they will come and make their home with us. Jesus and God will live in our hearts. And we know that is true. We all have had times when we were confused or grieving or at our wits’ end, and there God was, or Jesus, or the Spirit, comforting us. Now our Lord is telling us that he and God and the Spirit have made their home with us.

Then Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will “teach [us] everything, and remind [us] of all that [Jesus] has said to [us].” In another place, Jesus says that the Spirit is within us. and in another place, our Lord says that the Spirit will lead us into all truth. Nowadays, there is a lot of misinformation and disinformation. The Holy Spirit is within us and will help us sort out the truth. And the truth is always about love.

And then Jesus says that wonderful thing: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

Jesus is giving us his peace, his shalom. In her book, A Wing and a Prayer, retired Presiding Bishop  Katharine Jefferts  Schori writes, “Shalom is a vision of the city of God on earth, a community where people are at peace with each other because each one has enough to eat, adequate shelter, medical care and meaningful work. Shalom is a city where justice is the rule of the day, where prejudice has vanished, where the diverse gifts with which we have been so abundantly blessed are equally valued.” (Jefferts Schori. A Wing and a Prayer, p. 33.)

Jesus is with us. Jesus, God, and the Spirit have made their home with us. And he tells us that we should not be afraid. So many things that are happening in our world are because people are afraid. Love casts out fear. Faith is fear that has said its prayers. Let us live lives of faith, not fear.

Bishop Schori continues, “Each one of us has the potential to be a partner in God’s government, to be a co-creator of a good and whole and peaceful community.” She goes on to say that we are called
“to use every resource at hand  to build the reign of God—to use the gifts we have, the ones we think we might have, and the ones we haven’t discovered yet, to be willing to speak about our vision of peace, whether in the newspaper or in the halls of Congress, and to dedicate our lives to making that vision come alive, to give our hearts to it, to believe in it, with every fiber of our being.”  

And she concludes, “Building the reign of God is a great and bold adventure, and it is the only route to being fully alive. If we don’t set out to change the world, who will?” (ibid., pp. 34-35.)

Jesus is with us, He and Isaiah and others have given us a vision, a vision based on living lives of faith, hope, and love, and honoring the dignity of every human being. We are already engaged in helping Jesus to build his shalom. We are already committed to walking the Way of Love. Jesus has made his home with us. We have made our home with him, and we are walking and working together. Thanks be to God! Alleluia!

Advent 3C December 12, 2021

Zephaniah 3:14-20
Canticle 9, p. 86
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:7-18

Our opening reading today is from the prophet Zephaniah, whose ministry took place during the reign of King Josiah (640-609 BCE.) Josiah was a great king who called the people to renew their commitment to following the law.

The people have returned from their captivity in Babylon. Zephaniah tells them that God has turned away all their enemies.  Herbert O’Driscoll points out that God is addressing the people as God’s children, “Rejoice, O daughter Zion.” God is speaking to us as our divine parent who loves us. God is calling us to rejoice. Our loving God is calling us not to fear and not to grow weak, because God is in the midst of us. God will “renew [us] in his love.” God will deal with all of our oppressors. God will save the lame and  the outcast. God will bring us home. God will bring in God’s shalom of peace, justice, and mercy.

Canticle 9 adds momentum to this theme of joy. “Surely, it is God who saves me: I will trust in him and not be afraid.” When we realize that God is in our midst and that God will lead us in the right direction, we can let go of fear, hold on to faith, and be a people of joy. This is a wonderful song about the power of faith.

Our reading from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians is full of joy and hope. Paul is writing from prison. He founded this congregation and he has kept in close touch with them. Unlike the Corinthians who have power struggles and divide into factions at the drop of a hat, the Philippians are steeped in the love of Christ. They are one as Jesus and the Father are one. They have a spirit of gentleness. Paul begins by calling them and us to “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” Paul writes, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” If we ask God for guidance and try to follow that guidance with God’s grace, peace flows into us, faith grows, and fear diminishes. As Paul says, the peace of God will guard our hearts and minds.

In our gospel, John the Baptist is calling the people and us to repentance. We can’t say that we are part of the right church or race or groups so we don’t have to change. All of us  have to look within and, as someone once said, we have to make room for Jesus in the inns of our hearts.

John calls us to share our clothing with those who have none. Tax collectors would often add a hefty charge into people’s taxes to they could make more money. John tells them they have to stop cheating people. Soldiers would sometimes use their power to abuse people. John tells them they have to treat people with respect.

The people begin to wonder whether John is the Messiah. And here John shows one of his most admirable qualities, He knows who is is. He has no desire to gain power. He tells them that one is coming who is much greater that he is. And he says that the Messiah will be sharing the news of his kingdom, his shalom. That kingdom, that shalom, will involve a major reordering of priorities based on God’s call to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

John the Baptist is a wonderful holy example for us. He knows that he is here to prepare the way of the Lord. John is the cousin of Jesus. I think they knew each other very well.  At the time when Jesus came to John to baptized in the River Jordan, John had hundreds, perhaps thousands of followers. He was like a rock star, He could have done anything he wanted to do. He could have misused his power. And yet he adhered to his vocation to be the forerunner, the one who paved the way for the messiah. It takes great strength of character and deep faith not to yield to the human wish for power and attention. It takes strength not to become a cult leader. John has that strength.

This third Sunday in Advent is a time for great joy. “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I will say. Rejoice.” It is also a time for thanksgiving. God is in our midst.

At this point in Advent, our minds turn to Christmas, to the coming of our Lord as a little baby in a little out of the way place like Sheldon, like Vermont.

John calls us to prepare the way for Jesus, to prepare room for him in our hearts and in our lives. To make just a little more room for him, just a little more room for that peace which surpasses all understanding, just a little more room for that joy which comes from the peace of faith.

Lord Jesus, help us to make room for you in the inns of our hearts. In your holy Name. Amen.

Advent 1 Year C November 28, 2021

Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25:1-9
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Luke 21:25-36

Today is the First Sunday in Advent. This is the New Year’s season of the Church. We change from lectionary year B to year C. Our vestments go from green to the purple which symbolizes both a season of penitence and a time to prepare for the coming of our King.

Our first reading is from the prophet Jeremiah. Scholars tell us that Jeremiah is in prison. The Babylonians have conquered Jerusalem. Jeremiah has actually seen bodies of his fellow citizens piled up in the streets. This is a terrible situation. Jeremiah has been imprisoned because he has told the king the truth. The king does not want to hear the truth.

In the midst of a national and personal tragedy, Jeremiah shares the most profound good news. God is going to raise up a king from the family of David, and this king is going to rule with justice based on a right relationship with God. Judah will be saved. Safety will prevail. Peace will come. In the midst of this disaster, God is sending a message of hope and healing.

In our epistle for today, Paul is writing to his beloved Thessalonians. This is one of the earliest letters in the New Testament. He had started this congregation just a few months ago and he has moved on to Corinth. He writes, “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel for you before our God because of you?” Paul loves these people deeply. He is hoping to visit them and to help them strengthen their faith. They are suffering persecution. Paul prays that God and Jesus will lead him back to these beloved people. He prays,”May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you.” These strong bonds of love enabled the followers of Jesus to stay close to each other when all they had were letters carried by messengers such as Timothy. We can be sure that when the people of the Church in Thessalonica heard this letter read. their “hearts were strengthened in holiness.”

In our gospel for today Our Lord tells us that there will be all kinds of tensions among nations and severe weather events, and we have certainly seen many of these kinds of upsets and turmoil. But Jesus tells us not to spend a great deal of time trying to figure out when he will come to us. Rather he tells us to be ready, to be alert.

All of our readings today tell us about how God comes to us in challenging times and gives us the good news about God’s kingdom of peace and harmony. 

Advent is a time when we look backward to the birth of our king in a cave used as a stable in Bethlehem. He came among us, just as we came into the world, as a baby. He is a king who knows what it is to be human. He grew up in a carpenter shop, helping his earthly father, Joseph, and learning his trade. Our King is fully human and fully divine. He knows us and understands us. We can look at his life and see how a human life is to be lived. A kingdom life. A life of shalom.

In Advent, we also look toward his coming again to complete his work of creation. It is going to require a great deal of effort to take this world. which is full of strife, just as Jeremiah’s world was, and filled with persecution just as the world of the Thessalonians was, and transform it into a world of peace and harmony. But that is what our King is trying to do. When he comes again, he will complete that work.

Meanwhile, he is asking us to help him with that work now. He is calling us to be people of hope as Jeremiah was in the midst of war and suffering, He is calling us to be people of love as the Thessalonians were in the midst of persecution. He is calling us to be people of faith.

Think about the power of the love that connected Paul with the community of faith in Thessalonica. As we read the passage, we can feel how much they cared about each other. And Paul prays that they will have that love for each other and for all people.

In this Advent time, this time that is between Jesus’ birth and his coming again, we have a great gift that can guide us as we try to walk the Way of Love. We can look at the life of our Lord here on earth as we read the gospels and we can see a living, breathing example of how to live as shalom people, kingdom people. We can follow his example. We have the model of a human life to follow; we have the living example of Jesus’ life. 

If we’re going to prepare the way of the Lord, we need to follow his example, and the wonderful thing is that we have his gift of grace. We have his help. Some of us are reading Bishop Curry’s book, Love Is the Way,  and it is full of people who “cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

One of the most important ways that we can be ready when he comes again is to move closer and closer to him by asking his grace to walk the Way of Love. In every choice, every decision we make, we can choose the path that will lead us closer to love. Love for each other, love for all.

Loving God, help us to be alert to opportunities to walk the Way of Love. Strengthen our hearts in holiness and faith and hope. Give us grace to be partners with you in building your shalom of peace and harmony and wholeness. Amen.

The First Sunday after Epiphany January 10, 2021

Genesis  1:1-5
Psalm 29
Acts 19:1-7
Mark 1:4-11

Today is the First Sunday after Epiphany, This is the day we celebrate the baptism of our Lord.

Our opening reading sets the stage for this Sunday, and our opening hymn has echoed this passage. God is creating the world. The earth is a “formless void,” and God is making something out of this void and transforming the void into a creation of beauty and variety and order.

God says that there will be light, and this is very important because we are entering the season of Epiphany, the season of light and mission. God’s light is coming into the world. As we read the story of the Creation in Genesis, after each work of creation there is a refrain: “And God saw that it was good.” The creation is good. At the end of this brief passage, God has brought the creation into being, and it is the end of the first day.

Our second reading is from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. This  book is like a good news action film. The apostles go from place to place spreading the Good News about Jesus.

In this passage, Paul goes from Corinth to Ephesus. And, amazingly, he finds some disciples there. He asks them whether they received the Holy Spirit when they were baptized, and they say that did not. They have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.

These disciples had been taught by Apollos, a Jewish man from Alexandria in Egypt who was a disciple of John the Baptist. Apollos had studied the scriptures and was an eloquent speaker, but he believed and taught a baptism of repentance as John the Baptist had.

Paul does not criticize the teachings of Apollos to these disciples. He simply tells them about the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and they ask for that baptism. About twelve people receive the Holy Spirit that day.

Paul meets these disciples where they are, asks questions about where they are on their journey, and then opens up to them a deeper understanding of Christ and of the Holy Spirit. This is how he welcomed thousands of people into this new faith.

In our gospel for today, we have the privilege of being present at the baptism of our Lord. John the Baptist, or Baptizer, was a cousin of Jesus. When Mary went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, the baby John the Baptist leaped inside Elizabeth as he recognized the presence of his Savior, who was also his cousin. From the very beginning, John knew who Jesus was.

If we stop and meditate for just a moment, Mary and Joseph were not a king and queen or a prince and princess. They were ordinary people, but they were extraordinary in the depth of their wisdom and their spiritual understanding. The baby Jesus, our Savior, was born into the midst of a wise, courageous, deeply spiritual extended family.

Joseph was from King David’s royal line but he had no worldly power.

Elizabeth and Zechariah were past childbearing age. Zechariah was a priest in the temple in Jerusalem. They were the couple God chose to raise the one who was to prepare the way for the Messiah. Even when John was in the womb, he knew that Jesus was the Savior. And as he prepared the way, he made it very clear that he was not the Savior.

But John also knew that he was the forerunner, the messenger sent to call the people to repentance, and he carried out his ministry so well that people flocked to him from near and far. He had thousands of followers who hung on his every word.

In our gospel for today, John baptizes his cousin Jesus, and, when Jesus comes up out of the water, God says, “You are my Son, the Beloved. With you I am well pleased.”

This is the beginning of our Lord’s formal ministry. As we meditate on this passage, we can wonder what John was feeling in those moments and what Jesus was feeling. Perhaps the main thing they were feeling was the overwhelming presence and love of God.

Herbert O’Driscoll reminds us that, when God speaks of Jesus as God’s Beloved, God is also speaking to us. God’s entire work of creation is filled with love, and we will never be able fully to grasp the depth of the love God has for each and every one of us and all of us together. God has made us part of God’s Beloved Community, and for that, we are grateful beyond words.

Today, we will be renewing our baptismal vows. We renew our promise to  “Continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers;” we promise to resist evil and, when we fall, repent and return to God;” we promise to proclaim  “the good news of God in Christ;” We promise to “seek and serve Christ in all persons;” and we promise to “strive for peace and  justice among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.”

This past week, on the feast of the Epiphany, an act of insurrection was committed against our capitol. This was not a peaceful demonstration.  Crimes were committed, and the proper authorities are working to hold people accountable.

We are called to walk the Way of Love, and we are called to help God  build God’s shalom on earth. We are called to be part of God’s Beloved Community. Part of living the Way of Love is calling all of us to be responsible for our behavior. Violence is not acceptable. Breaking the law is not acceptable. All of us as citizens are called to treat each other with respect and to obey the law. As our Presiding Bishop has said, we are called to choose community over chaos.  People need to be called to account for their actions. All people need to be able to feel safe. There is much work to do. For the next few weeks, I am asking that we pray the Prayer for the Human Family on page 315 of the prayer book. Today, we will renew our vows to follow Jesus in the Way of Love. Amen.

Pentecost 23 Proper 27A November 8, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pentecost 21 Proper 25A October 25, 2020

Deuteronomy  34:1-12
Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
Matthew 22:34-46

In our opening reading today, we have the opportunity to share a special moment in the life of Moses and the life of God’s people. God takes Moses to the summit of Mount Pisgah and shows Moses the promised land— the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees. The land is beautiful. We can imagine all the feelings rising in the heart of Moses as he looks out on this amazing gift from God. We can imagine that Moses felt enormous gratitude that God had led them all this way and taken care of them, given them food when they were hungry and water when the were thirsty. God has given Moses and Aaron the wisdom, strength and sheer perseverance to stay with the people and lead them when their knees were feeling weak, their hearts were faint, and their courage waning. Moses could think to himself, “We made it, against all odds.” This was a great accomplishment.

God allows Moses the gift of seeing the land that God has given the people, but Moses will not cross into that land. Moses will die in that place. He dies at the height of his powers. His vision is still good and he remains strong. But he will not enter the promised land. Moses is one of the great leaders of God’s people, and God has provided an excellent leader to follow Moses: Joshua, the son of Nun. Moses has laid his hands on this new leader. The Spirit is within Joshua. But the passage clearly states, “Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt….and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.”

Our second reading is from Paul’s letter to his beloved Thessalonians. Thessalonica was a Roman city in Macedonia, a city where the authorities could keep an eye on what was happening with the new faith in Jesus. Paul has come there after being imprisoned in Philippi. There are many competing teachers in Thessalonica, and some of them are wrongly accusing Paul of all  kinds of things Paul is not doing. Paul emphasizes that his ministry is not based on deceit or tricks but on the truth that he has received from God and from knowing our Lord. We remember that he met the risen Lord on the road to Damascus and his life was transformed. He is sharing the power of that transformation with everyone he meets, and it comes from deep in his heart.

Paul tries to make it clear that he is not trying to impress human beings; he is trying to please God. He does not flatter people. He does not want their money. He tells them that he has been gentle among them, as a nurse gently cares for children. He tells the people how much he loves them and how deeply he wants to share himself with them.

Paul is completely sincere. All he wants to do is to share the love of Jesus with these people whom he loves. As he shares his thoughts and feelings, he makes himself vulnerable to the people. And this reminds us of a great truth, that the love God has shared with us, we share with each other. We become vulnerable with each other. We share our stories. We share our challenges. We pray for each other. And as we do that, we come to love each other more and more deeply.

Paul’s ministry is a ministry of honesty, openness, and caring, He is not trying to fool anyone. He has been filled with the love of Christ, and all he wants to do is share that love.

In today’s gospel, Jesus has silenced the Sadducees, and now the Pharisees step up to try to test him. They ask him which commandment is the greatest, He gives the summary of the law found in Deuteronomy and Leviticus. “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Then Jesus asks them, “What do you think pf the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They cannot see who Jesus is.

Paul was able to see who Jesus is. He met our Lord while he was fuming with anger and going to Damascus to persecute followers of our LordS. And the risen Lord came to him and asked, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Paul was blinded by the light streaming from our Lord. He had to be led by the hand. 

But he felt the love radiating from our Lord. And that love changed him from someone who was trying to put Jesus’ followers into prison, someone who watched as people stoned Stephen, the first Christian martyr to death, into someone who devoted his life to sharing the love of our Lord with everyone he met. He planted churches the way Johnny Appleseed planted apple trees. And in our reading today, we see his gentleness and his vulnerability. just as we see the gentleness and vulnerability of our Lord on the cross.

Love is what it’s all about. Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, talks about and lives the Way of Love. All of us are called to live that Way. Love is what will heal our world. Love is what will make us one. Love calls us to look at what we have in common and work together. Love is what calls us to free each other from those things that imprison us. As Moses led the people from slavery into freedom and as our Lord frees us from all bonds.

This week, may we meditate on Moses’ leadership which freed the people. May we meditate on Paul’s gentleness and honesty and vulnerability and sheer love for the people he served. What a great model of leadership. And may we meditate on our Lord, who calls us to love God and each other, who washes the feet of his disciples and calls us to serve each other and all our brothers and sisters. Love is the greatest power on earth. Stronger than hate, stronger than fear and division. This week, let us renew our commitment to live the Way of Love.  Amen.

Pentecost 14 Proper 18A September 6, 2020

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

In our opening reading, in the first month of the new year, under the leadership of the two men God has called to be leaders, God frees God’s people from their slavery in Egypt. God calls the people to eat a special meal of roast lamb, unleavened bread,  and bitter herbs to remind them of their time of suffering under slavery. This is the Passover meal, which will be celebrated for centuries to come.

As they eat this first Passover, the people are ready for the journey, They are going to travel light. Like every great story of our ancestors in the Bible, this is our story.

As we know, Jesus ate the Passover meal with his apostles before he was crucified. He blessed the bread and wine and told them that the bread was his body and the wine was his blood shed for all of us. Although we have not been able to celebrate the Holy Eucharist together for five months, we gather as the risen Body of Christ every Sunday. Though we share Morning Prayer and not Eucharist, we know that our Lord is present with us and that he feeds us with his presence and with his love.

When we celebrate Holy Eucharist, the celebrant elevates the host, and breaks the bread, and we sing “Alleluia! Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast. Alleluia! “ The broken bread symbolizes the brokenness of our Lord’s Body and also the brokenness in us and in our world. As Christians, we believe that in his suffering on the cross Jesus took into himself all that brokenness and made it whole, and, as Barbara Brown Taylor says, “Gave it back to us as life.” As God freed God’s people from slavery in Egypt, Jesus, through the power of his love, frees us from slavery to sin. Our Lord can take our brokenness and make it whole.

In today’s gospel, our Lord gives us a pathway toward reconciliation in the community of faith. Scholars remind us that context is crucial. Preceding this gospel passage, the disciples ask Jesus who is the greatest, and our lord calls a child to come into their midst to remind them and us of the importance of innocence, humility, and openness. Then he speaks of the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine sheep and goes off to find the one lost sheep and bring it to safety.  For Jesus, no one is beyond the pale. He will search for us and rescue us when we are lost. Following this passage, Peter asks Jesus how many times we should forgive someone who hurts us, and Jesus says to forgive ninety-nine times. Jesus calls us to be humble, open, hopeful, loving, inclusive, and forgiving.

Our passage reads, “If another member of the church sins against you,…” but the original Greek reads more like, “If a brother or sister sins against  you…” This lets us know that Jesus is thinking of us as brothers and sisters, people who care deeply about each other and who treat each other with respect and love. This means that this approach of conflict resolution is not designed for situations of abuse or domestic violence. In those situations, the first thing is to get the victim to a safe place.

In our gospel scenario, the person who has been hurt goes and talks with the person who has hurt him or her. The hope is that the other person will listen carefully, acknowledge and apologize for the wrong, and change his or her behavior. If that does not work, the injured person gets one or two other members of the congregation to go with him or her and try again to get accountability and amendment of behavior from the person who has caused harm to another. If that does not work, the matter is brought to the whole congregation.

In the early Church, if there was any conflict in the congregation, the people involved had to reconcile that issue before the Peace was exchanged. In those days, the Bishop always presided, so the people stood before the bishop, worked out the matter, and then everyone passed the Peace.

Scholars tell us that the portion that talks about ejecting the person who does not listen and looking upon that person  as “a Gentile or a tax collector” is not something Jesus would say. This is the work of a later editor. We know that Jesus chose a tax collector, Matthew, as one of his apostles, and that he associated with Gentiles. Jesus did not look down on anyone. He did not exclude anyone.

Then he says, “Where two or three gather in my name, I am there among them.” And, indeed, he is with us now whether we are gathering on Zoom or in person. 

In our epistle for today, Paul, the Pharisee, the expert on the law, gives us the summary of the law, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And then he says, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” Jesus has said that he came to fulfill the law. Our readings today are telling us that God’s love can lead us into freedom. In this time of profound polarization, I ask us all to focus on the love God has for us and for all people and the power of God’s love to bring our country together in a spirit of reconciliation so that we can center our attention on the important work God is calling us to do together.

Grace Church has a long history of love and a wise history and spiritual practice of holding opposites in loving tension, and finding the path to reconciliation. This is a wonderful God-given gift in these times of division. The ability to look at each other and at others beyond our community as beloved children of God is what is going to carry us through these times of polarization into a time of reconciliation. 

As patience frays and tempers flare in this pandemic, I once again thank God for Governor Scott, Dr. Levine, and Dr. Kelso, who are exemplifying God’s love by calling us to follow the science and take care of each other. I ask your prayers for them, for all leaders, and for our children, educational leaders, and school personnel as they begin a new term. 

May our our wise and loving God lead our nation out of slavery to divisiveness and destruction into the freedom of reconciliation, respect for the dignity of every human being, and sincere work on common goals which will help all of us. May God give us the grace to see each other as brothers and sisters, neighbors we have in God, that we all may love and serve and help each other. Amen.

May we pray together the Prayer for the Power of the Spirit.

Pentecost 3A RCL June 21, 2020

Genesis 21:8-21
Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17
Romans 6:1b-11
Matthew 10:24-39

Last Sunday, our first reading ended with the birth of Isaac. At last, Abraham and Sarah have a son. This Sunday, we celebrate the weaning of Isaac. Scholars tell us that in those times, about sixteen hundred years before the birth of Christ, babies were weaned when they were three years old. There is a great feast going on to celebrate this occasion, and Sarah sees the son of Hagar, her slave, playing with Isaac. Hagar’s son is older than Isaac. 

Years ago, when Sarah had been unable to have a child, she told Abraham to have sex with her maid, Hagar, so that he would have an heir. Such things were done in those times. Having an heir meant having a future. 

Now, Sarah is seeing Hagar’s son as a threat to her son Isaac. He is older and he might try to present himself as Abraham’s heir in place of Isaac. So Sarah tells Abraham that he must order Hagar to take her son and leave. They are in a desert environment, and this is going to place Hagar and her son in great peril. Abraham is very upset over this. God tells Abraham to do what Sarah is asking and God also tells Abraham that It is through Isaac that Abraham’s descendants will be named, but that God will make a nation of the son of Hagar.

Abraham gets up early in the morning, gives Hagar a skin full of water and some bread, and sends her on her way with her son. Hagar goes into the wilderness of Beer-Sheba. She puts her son in the shade under a bush to try to protect him from the sun. Then she goes as far away as she can and still see him. She does not want to see him die.

Having done all she can, Hagar begins to weep.  The text says that “God heard the voice of the boy.” Apparently, he was crying, too. Thus we learn the boy’s name, “God hears” is the translation of the name Ishmael.  The angel of God calls to Hagar from heaven and tells her that God will make a nation of Ishmael. God calls her to take her son’s hand.  Then she sees a well. She goes and fills the skin with water and gives Ishmael a drink.

The text says, “God was with the boy and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness and became an expert with the bow. His mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.” Ishmael is a Bedouin, the ancestor of the Arab people. Christians and Jews trace their ancestry to Abraham through Isaac. Muslims trace that lineage through Ishmael.

On the human level, this is a story of jealousy and fear on the part of Sarah, emotions that drive her to treat Hagar and Ishmael very badly. On the divine level, this is an eloquent statement that God can love and protect more than one person or group at the same time.   

Biblical scholar Thomas Troeger writes, “The failure of people whom we have most honored and admired, people like Abraham and Sarah, cannot defeat the compassion of God who intervenes to rescue and uphold us.” (Troeger, New Proclamation A Series 1999, p. 121.)

Our epistle today reminds us that we have been crucified with Christ. Our old self has died. As Paul writes, “Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again.” We have been crucified with Christ, and now we are in newness of life with him. We are being transformed into his likeness.

In our gospel for today, Jesus talks about many things. He talks about confusing evil with good. He says that everything will come out into the light. He tells us that God cares even about a sparrow, that God knows each of us intimately, even to the number of hairs on our heads, and God loves us very much. He tells us not to be afraid. And then he, our Lord, the Prince of Peace, says something that shocks us. “I have come not to bring peace, but a sword.” And he says that even family members will be set against each other.

Our baptismal vows call us to honor the dignity of every human being. This is a very difficult thing for us humans to do. In our own country, people held slaves until the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Indeed, people continued to keep slaves until the first Juneteenth, June 19, 1865, two and a half years after the Emancipation. We have come to realize that one human being cannot own another. It is wrong. 

And yet, we have had such difficulty thinking of our Black and Brown brothers and sisters as fully human, just as we had a problem thinking women were fully human. We thought that getting a college education would be too difficult for them, that their minds were not up to that challenge, We thought that women should not vote, that they were not quite up to that task. 

When we were hiring workers, we hung out signs saying “No Irish need apply.” The tendency to put down other people, deny them their human rights, the tendency to be blind to the fact that God loves each of us and all of us, is, in my opinion, what our Lord is talking about when he says that he brings a sword of division. He is calling us to work our way through this issue so that we can help him bring in his peace, his shalom.

When he said, “I give you a new commandment: Love one another as I have loved you,” he knew he was challenging us. But I think he also thought and hoped that, with his guidance and grace, we would be up to the challenge. 

Our lesson from the Hebrew scriptures, written by the Elohist writer almost two thousand eight hundred years ago, addresses this issue. God loves Hagar with the same infinite love with which God loves Sarah. God loves Ishmael with the same infinite love with which God loves Isaac. As Bishop Tutu says, “God has a big family.” Within that big family, may we all be one as Jesus and God are one.  Amen.

Easter 6A  May 17, 2020

Acts 17:22-31
Psalm 66:7-18
1 Peter 3:13-22
John 14:15-21

In our opening reading from the Book of Acts, a year has passed since last Sunday’s reading. Saul has met our Lord on the road to Damascus, and he has been completely transformed from a person who wanted to kill all the followers of Jesus into an outstanding and gifted teacher and preacher. So profound is his transformation that he has a new name—Paul.

He has preached and taught many people in Asia Minor, which today we call Turkey, and now he has crossed over into Greece. He has endured many hardships. He has spent time in prison; he has been driven out of towns for preaching the good news, and now he is in one of the great cultural centers of the world, Athens.

Just before this passage begins, in verse 16, Luke tells us that Paul “was very distressed to see that the city was full of idols.” Yet, when Paul stands in front of the Areopagus, a place where philosophers presented and discussed their ideas, he frames that observation in a different way. He says, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way.” Paul notes that they have even dedicated a monument to an unknown God, and then he quotes the Greek poet Epimenides, who wrote that in God, “We live and move and have our being.” In a spirit of knowledge of and respect for their traditions and scholarship, Paul preaches about God and Jesus. When he is finished, some of his listeners scoff, some say that they want to hear more, and some follow him. One of Paul’s great gifts was the ability to approach his listeners where they were, to listen to them, to learn about and respect their culture. As we try to share the good news in our culture, we need to follow Paul’s example.

Once again, in our epistle, Peter is addressing new Christians who are experiencing persecution. Peter is encouraging these people to continue to do good rather than retaliate with evil, and to show the hope that is in them and conduct their lives with gentleness and reverence. One note. The text says to do all these things, “if suffering should be God’s will.” Suffering is never God’s will. God’s kingdom is one in which everyone has a safe place to live, nourishing food, clothing, medical care, and good work to do. Suffering is not something that God inflicts on us. It is something we inflict on each other. God wants us to live in peace and harmony with each other.

But there is suffering on this earth, and in the midst of this pandemic, we see that very clearly. Some of our brothers and sisters are suffering and dying in disproportionate numbers during this time. God is calling us to bring justice to this situation.

In our gospel, our Lord says, If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” He says that he will send the Holy Spirit to energize us to spread his love around the whole wide earth. He says, “This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.” This led me to meditate on how important it is to seek truth and to listen to those who speak the truth in love. 

One of our truth tellers is Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has served as the Director of the Institute of National Allergy and Infectious Diseases since November 2, 1984, through the presidencies of Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump. This past week, in the face of great pressure to open up the country and get back to business as usual, Dr. Fauci called all of us to move carefully and follow the science.

Much closer to home, we have another truth teller, our own Governor, Phil Scott. He has been calling us to follow the science all along as Dr. Fauci has, and he has called upon Dr. Mark Levine, our Commissioner of Health, to give us the facts we need in order to act wisely and save lives. This past Wednesday, Governor Scott also spoke truth on a different issue. There had been an encounter in Hartford, Vermont which involved verbal abuse with racial overtones. Governor Scott addressed this issue and said, “This virus cannot be used as an excuse for hatred, division, or bigotry.” Dr. Fauci, Governor Scott, Dr. Levine, and so many others are speaking the truth in a time when we deeply need to hear the truth.

Our Lord says of the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit: “You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” In other words, we can recognize when God’s Holy Spirit is at work in a person or in a situation. We can recognize when people are calling us to live in God’s love. As our Presiding bishop has said, “It’s all about God’s love.” God’s love calls away from hatred division, and bigotry and toward compassion, unity, and understanding of others.

We in Vermont are fortunate to have leaders who respect scientific findings and reliable data abut pandemics and about the Corona virus. Please continue to follow the guidance of Governor Scott,  Dr. Levine, and our other leaders. And please continue to listen to Dr. Fauci and others on the national level who are speaking the truth.

Our Lord has gone to be with God. He is no longer here with us. We are his risen, living body here on earth. As he said, he has not left us orphaned. He has not left us comfortless. He said, “You will see me; because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

In this pandemic, as our beloved Presiding Bishop has said, love is about taking care of each other. At this time, love is abut continuing with social distancing, wearing masks when we are around others, and all the other things our truthful leaders are telling us. God gave us minds and calls us to use them. In these very strange times, God’s love is about listening to people who are telling the truth. May God continue to bless and protect Dr. Anthony Fauci, Governor Scott, Dr. Levine, and all truth tellers.   And may God lead us and guide us in the way of love. Amen.