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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion April 2, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
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Pentecost 11 Proper 15A RCL August 20, 2017

Genesis 45:1-15
Psalm 133
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15: 21-28

As we reflect on our opening reading today, we need to recall that, in last Sunday’s lesson, Joseph’s brothers had planned to kill him and then threw him into a pit and then sold him to a group of human traffickers for twenty pieces of silver. Those twenty pieces of silver might make us think of the price Judas received for betraying our Lord—thirty pieces of silver.

The slave traders took Joseph to Egypt. After many trials and tribulations, some bizarre challenges that would have totally flummoxed most other people, and much help from God, Joseph has risen to a high position in a powerful kingdom. He is second only to the Pharaoh in the land of Egypt.

Famine is stalking the land, but Egypt has plenty of grain stored, thanks to Joseph’s wise planning. Joseph’s brothers have come to buy grain. This is their second visit to this great man, and they have done something he asked them to do on their first trip. They have brought their brother Benjamin with them.  They do not recognize Joseph. But he has recognized them. He sends everyone out of the room except himself and his family because he is not going to be able to control his tears.

He asks if his father is all right. They cannot answer him. They are speechless because they are so shocked that this great man is losing control of his emotions. Then he tells them who he is. And he also tells them that he holds no grudge against them because he feels that God has led him to this place so that he can help his people to survive. Joseph tells his brothers to bring the whole family to the land of Goshen, where there is plenty of food.  Then he gives a big hug to his beloved brother Benjamin, and they cry tears of joy because they thought they would never see each other again. Then they all have a good talk.

This is one of the great scenes of reconciliation in the Bible. Joseph had as much power as a king in one of the great kingdoms of that time. He could have killed or tortured all his brothers. But he used his great power for good. All those years he focused on love, not hate. He felt God had brought him to this point so that he could help his people, save then from famine, and preserve them for even greater things in the future.

Our reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans focuses on God’s mercy to us.

In today’s gospel, we have one of the most extraordinary encounters in our Lord’s ministry. Jesus is in the coastlands of the Mediterranean Sea. He has gone into the territory of the Gentiles. This is unusual because he had said that he was here only to minister to his own people.

A woman calls to him for help. She is a Canaanite. She is not a Jew. She is not part of the flock he has felt called to minister to. But she has a dire need. Her daughter is tormented by a demon. In those days, this is the way people described certain illnesses, often mental illnesses or seizure disorders. This woman is desperate.

His disciples urge him to have nothing to do with her. She is a woman. Rabbis were not supposed to speak with women. And she is a Gentile, Rabbis were not supposed to speak to Gentiles. The disciples tell him to send her away.

So he tries to explain, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” In other words, I am supposed to minister only to my own people. You are not one of those people. That’s why I cannot help you. And we can picture him turning away and getting ready to leave.

But she comes and kneels before him. This is a position of supplication and respect. “Lord, help me, “ she pleads.

Something is stirring within Jesus. I think he is sensing that his whole vision is going to change in a major way, and I think he is upset by this. At any rate, his answer is shocking, almost angry, “It is not fair to take the children’s food—that is, the food intended for Jewish people, God’s chosen people—and throw it to the dogs.” The word “Dogs,” then as now, could be used as an insult.

Here she is, pleading for the health and life of her daughter, and Jesus throws this slur, implying that she is inferior. Most of us would have given up at that point. But not this courageous woman, this woman who can think on her feet at light speed, this woman who is about to expand Jesus’ vision of his mission by quantum leaps: “Yes, Lord,” she says, “yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

Could you at least be like the master who lets us dogs eat the crumbs under the table? This Canaanite woman, this person who is not one of the chosen people, who is of the wrong gender, who is beyond the pale, who is at the bottom of the social ladder, who is an outsider if ever there was one, changes our Lord’s understanding of his ministry. Now he knows that he is called to minister to all of us. He has had inklings, but this woman suddenly becomes a theology professor.

This woman has the faith and feistiness to hang in there and get her point across and Jesus, the teacher, the rabbi, the eternal Word, God walking the face of the earth, has the humility, in his humanity, to be taught by a mere Gentile woman.

He sings her a hymn of praise, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter is healed instantly.

And all of our walls, of status, education, race, gender, sexuality, education, politics, economics, religion, all of our walls come tumbling down.

He is Lord of all, and we are all part of his family.  Amen.

Pentecost 11 Proper 13C RCL July 31. 2016

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

Our opening reading is from the Book of Hosea, an amazing prophet from 2,700 years ago. We recall that he had married a woman who was unfaithful to him. This gave him a profound insight into the way God must have felt when God’s people were unfaithful. In last week’s reading, we learned Hosea’s message that God does not stop loving us, no matter what.

This Sunday, we have the opportunity to gain even more insight into the nature of God’s love. God is speaking to God’s children. God calls Israel out of slavery in Egypt. God takes God’s children into God’s arms. God teaches God’s children to walk, leads them “with cords of  human kindness, with bands of love.  God bends down to God’s children and feeds them.

Commentator James Newsome says that God is described in terms that we could call motherly. God’s love for God’s children is described in terms of the greatest tenderness we could imagine. That is how much God loves God’s children. It is the love of any good parent. It is the love of our divine parent.

But then they and we go and worship other gods, like Baal. We lose our way. We do things we should not do and we do not do things we should do. The passage is hinting at some terrible things that will happen to God’s people. They will be conquered by the Assyrian Empire and later by the Babylonians, but, in the end, God will search for them and bring them home in safety.

There are some passages in the Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament that can make our hair stand on end. They portray an angry God who seems to be like the caricature of a bad, even abusive parent threatening all kinds of punishment. Through his own experience of loving his wife and children, Hosea was able to convey to the people and to us God’s unfailing and heartbreakingly tender love for us.

In the Letter to the Colossians, Paul is calling us to focus our lives on things above, not on earthly things. He calls us to put to death those earthly things, such as anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language. He cautions us not to lie to each other. He says that we have “stripped off the old self  and have clothed [ourselves] with the new self.”  And he says an astounding thing. He says that the new self “is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.”

We are in a process of transformation which began at our baptisms. We are going from an old self to a new self, and that new self is constantly and continually being renewed so that we will become more like Christ. And in that process of transformation, there are no longer any divisions of race or gender or class or anything that can be used to divide us, because we are all one in Christ Jesus. He is everything there is, and he is in all of us and in each of us.

In our gospel for today, our Lord is also cautioning us against the values of this world, including greed. A man’s farm is producing so much that he plans to tear down all his barns and build bigger ones, so that he can store his growing bounty.

As we read this, we notice that he is not taking any time to thank God for all his blessings and for the abundance of his crops. Nor does he ask God’s guidance about his plans. Also, he says nothing about sharing all of this abundance with others. As Jesus puts it, this man is “Storing up treasures for himself,” not for others, and not for God.

This is the opposite of what we are called to do. If we are in a process of transformation, growing more into the likeness of Christ, and if Christ is in us, that means that all our decisions are made in an attitude of prayer, what the great moral theologian Kenneth Kirk calls, “Referring all questions to God.”

If there is an abundant harvest, the first thing we need to do is thank God. The next thing we need to do is return a portion to God in thanks, and the next thing we need to do is share that bounty with others. This poor fellow is a striking example of what not to do, with his attitude of me, me, me.

An anonymous writer puts it this way. “Not what  you do so much as what you are, that is the miracle-working power. You can be a force for good, with the help of God. God is here to help you and to bless you, here to company with you. You can be a worker with God. Changed by God’s grace, you shed one garment of the spirit for a better one. In time, you throw that one away for a yet finer one. And so, from character to character, you are gradually transformed.”(Twenty-four Hours a Day, April 2.)

To paraphrase the wording of our Alleluia!Fund slogan, “Christ is alive in us. Christ is risen in our deeds.”

May we show forth his love. May we grow more and more like him. May we love him with all our hearts, and may we love others as he calls us to do.  Amen.

Pentecost 11 Proper 14B RCL August 9, 2015

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

We remember that last Sunday, the prophet Nathan had the difficult job of confronting David with his sinfulness, and God told David that David would be subjected to serious troubles from within his own family. This morning, we witness a tragic example of these troubles.

Absalom was an exceedingly handsome young man with a magnificent head of hair which he allowed to grow long. Although King David loved Absalom, he did not discipline his son, and Absalom did whatever he felt like doing. By the time we reach today’s reading, Absalom had murdered his brother Amnon and had burned a field owned by King David’s loyal commander, Joab, because Joab would not do what Absalom wanted him to do.

At this point in the tragic story, Absalom is leading a revolution against his father. Many of the Israelites are following this charismatic young man. A battle is about to take place. If David loses this battle, he will lose his kingdom. But this is not his greatest concern. David does not want anything bad to happen to his beloved son. He tells his commanders that if they come upon Absalom, they should be gentle with him. Absalom is riding on his mule, passes under a huge oak tree, and gets caught in the branches. He is hanging helplessly when Joab’s ten armor bearers come by. They kill Absalom. When David hears this news, he is heartbroken.

This whole chain of events began when David lost his own way and committed adultery and then murdered Uriah to cover up that sin. We might say that David was so busy fighting battles and building up his kingdom that he did not have the time and energy to be a good father to Absalom. Joab, his faithful commander, does what is necessary to  protect David and the kingdom.  What a sad story of human sin and frailty.

Our reading from Ephesians describes the qualities of a healthy Christian community. We must tell the truth to each other because we are members of each other. We are joined together as hands and feet and eyes and ears and heart and lungs and brain are joined in a body.  We must work so that we can help those who have less than we do. We must always be building up, not tearing down. We must put away bitterness and anger and truly love each other as Christ loved us.

This is such a contrast to the story of David and his family, which is so full of struggle and selfishness and major sins, including murder. King David would undoubtedly have given his life if he could have saved his son. But it took a greater King, our Lord Jesus, who was also of the house of David, to lead us out of the mire of our sins and give us new life.

When we live as the Letter to the Ephesians calls us to live, we all grow more and more into Christ, Our gifts are nourished for the good of the body and of the entire human community, We become stronger and stronger because our Lord is leading us. Sometimes quite suddenly, sometimes gradually, our sins fall by the wayside. We are growing into maturity in Christ. We see the Christ in each other and we truly love each other. We love to be together. We support each other on our journeys. Sometimes we are called to speak the truth in love and disagree on some things. We can speak the truth and still love and respect each other. Always, we know that we are being led by the risen Christ, who is in our midst.

I thank God often for the gift of being at Grace, where these qualities of a loving community are lived on a daily basis.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is telling us that he is the bread of life. The religious authorities can’t understand this. They keep focusing on the idea that Jesus is the son of Mary and Joseph, and there is no way that he could have come down from heaven. The idea that God loves us so much that God would actually come and live here as one of us just boggles their minds. When we  humans are closed to the amazing depth of the love of God, that’s what happens. We just cannot get our minds around the fact that God loves us so much that God would come among us as a baby, just the way we came into the world. And that God would have a profound understanding of what it means to be human because God has lived on this earth as a fully human being. Jesus is the living bread. Jesus gives us this heavenly food, the food of his very self, his energy, his love, his healing.

Maybe that is why Paul could write so eloquently and powerfully about what it means to be a Christian and how a healthy Christian community looks and functions. Because, on the road to Damascus, as Paul, then named Saul, was fuming with rage on his way to kill more followers of Christ, our Lord  broke through Saul’s hate and unbelief when he asked that question which changed everything: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Paul went blind for awhile but he saw the light. And he became the apostle called to share this news with everyone. His mind and heart were opened to this new truth, this new life.

Jesus loves us so much that he does things like that. He breaks into our mental and spiritual prisons and sets us free. All of us are human. We have all made mistakes, and we will make more. But our Lord is with us. He is the light of the world. He is the Good Shepherd, leading us. He is the Bread of Life. We also have a community of loving people who will listen to us, support us, pray for us, and help us along the way. That is what it means to be members of the Body of Christ. Grace, love, and healing are flowing through us every moment. And we are here to share all these gifts with others.

Lord Jesus, thank you for all these blessings. Lead us and guide us always. In your Name we pray.  Amen.