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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 24 Proper 26C RCL October 30, 2016

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
Psalm 119:137-144
2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
Luke 19:1-10

Our first reading is from another of the Minor Prophets, Habakkuk. We know very little about this prophet, but, from references in the text, we think that he was writing at the height of Babylonian power, but before the conquering of Jerusalem and the Exile.

Habakkuk could see the disaster that was about to come. Once again, the words of this prophet from twenty-five hundred years ago echo our own feelings. He writes, “Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails.” He is pleading to God to correct these wrongs, but nothing is happening. So he goes to a watch post to stand and wait until God speaks.

And God answers. God tells Habakkuk to write the prophecy in large print so that a runner can see it as he speeds by. God says, “Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.” Things will be set right, and we are called to wait in faith until that time.

In our second reading, Paul, Sylvanus and Timothy are writing to a church that is dealing with persecution. Even in the midst of this challenging time, the faith of the Thessalonians is growing, and the members of the community continue to love one another. Paul says that he and his assistants boast of the Thessalonians because their faith is so strong and steadfast.

And then Paul tells us that keeping the faith in times of trial, and continuing to love and serve others as our Lord called us to do glorifies the Name of Jesus.

This is something that I have noted in the history of Grace Church. In 1853, our ancestors found out that the foundation of the church building was crumbling. At the same time, the iron foundries had gone into decline, the local economy was in trouble, and membership was declining. The Rev. Albert Hopson Bailey was Rector then, and he rallied everyone together. In spite of the bad economy, they rose to the task and constructed a new building.

In more recent years, I can’t tell you how many people, having spent some time visiting here, have commented on the genuine love and caring which they see in this community. They feel that they have encountered a Christian community as it is meant to be. These kinds of things glorify the Name of Christ. Paul, Sylvanus, and Timothy could well have sent a letter to you.

In our gospel, we have the story of Jesus’ encounter with Zaccheus. Zaccheus is a tax collector and he is rich. As a tax collector, he is despised because tax collectors worked for the Roman occupiers. They were required to collect a certain amount for the Roman government, but they often collected an additional amount over and above that to line their own pockets. Zaccheus lives in a mansion in a very nice neighborhood, but he has no friends. He is very rich and very much alone.

In spite of all the strikes against him,, Zaccheus is in the middle of the crowd this day because he absolutely must see Jesus. He feels compelled to find out more about Jesus, even though people are sneering at him and directing all their hatred and scorn at him. On top of everything else, Zaccheus is short.

He is not tall enough to see over the crowds, so he runs ahead and climbs a sycamore tree so that he can see Jesus. Jesus arrives at the base of the tree and looks up at Zaccheus. And then Jesus says the most amazing thing. He tells Zaccheus to get down out of that tree because he, Jesus, is going to stay at his house! So Zaccheus clambers down and welcomes Jesus.

When Jesus sends us out two by two, he tells us to stay wherever folks extend hospitality to us. But here, he is choosing to stay in the house of this sinner, this tax collector hated by everyone. The crowd begins to grumble about this. It takes people a long time to realize that Jesus has come to turn the world upside down. Yes, he chooses to stay with sinners and eat with them. And, of course, we are all sinners.

But then Zaccheus says some amazing things to Jesus. He says that he is going to give to the poor half of everything he has. He also says that, if he has defrauded anyone, he will pay them back four times as much. This is very generous restitution.

Jesus has not even asked Zaccheus to share his wealth. Just by having this encounter with Jesus and seeing him in the flesh and sensing the love and healing and forgiveness flowing out of Jesus, Zaccheus sees what he needs to do. He needs to share with others and he needs to make restitution for the harm he has done. And that is exactly what he is going to do.

And Jesus tells those who are complaining that this hated tax collector is also one of us and that he, Jesus, has come to save the lost. We are all sinners. We are all lost in one way or another. And we can all be honest about it and ask our Lord for help.

In our first reading, God assures Habbakuk that God’s justice and mercy will prevail. In our second reading we remember the faith and endurance of the Thessalonians in trying times and we recall the enduring faith of our forbears who, working with God, created and sustained the Grace community. And in our gospel, we remember Zaccheus, the despised tax collector who threw decorum to the winds and climbed a tree to see Jesus. His life was transformed. And ours are being transformed even now as we meet our Lord this morning, and as we follow him day by day.


Pentecost 25 Proper 28B RCL November 15, 2015

1 Samuel 1:4-20
1 Samuel 2:1-10 (Hannah’s Song)
Hebrews 10:11-14, (15-18), 19-25
Mark 13:1-8

As our first reading begins, all is not well with the people of God. The preceding book the Book of Judges, ends with this statement: “In those days there was no king in Israel. All the people did what was right in their own eyes.” The sons of the priest, Eli, the religious leader of the people, are corrupt, and there is moral slippage everywhere.

Something is about to happen. The people of God are on a threshold. God is about to give them a great gift, and that gift is given to Hannah.

In those days, a woman’s worth was based on her ability to bear children, especially male children. Hannah is barren, and Peninnah never lets her forget it. Hannah and her husband, Elkanah, go to the temple at Shiloh to worship, and Hannah reaches the end of her rope. She goes into the temple to pray to God, and the floodgates let loose.

She is sobbing and praying soundlessly. The priest, Eli, at first thinks she is drunk, but, when he confronts her, she explains her deep grief, and Eli understands and blesses her.

Hannah becomes pregnant. In those times, this would be considered a miracle. Samuel, one of the great priests and prophets of God’s people, is born. So often, just when we need it, God gives us a great gift.

In our gospel for today, the disciples are awed by the size of the massive temple in Jerusalem. Indeed, it was huge and impressive. But Jesus tells them the temple is going to be destroyed, and, indeed, that great building was leveled by the Romans in 70 A. D.

Then Jesus talks about birth pangs and says false messiahs will come and that there are going to be wars and earthquakes and famines. The disciples want to know when this will happen, but Jesus just talks about birth pangs. In other places, he clearly tells us not to worry about the signs, just be ready for him to come and complete his kingdom.

The kingdom, the shalom of Christ is growing. As it grows, the old empires of power and wealth and oppression will be overthrown. In her talks at convention, the Rev. Gay Jennings, the President of the House of Deputies at General Convention, spoke about going over new thresholds and being open to new possibilities as Jesus brings in his kingdom.

When King Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 314, Christianity became the state religion. Over the centuries, Christianity became part of the empire, the seat of power in the world. Gay Jennings reminded us that, until very recently, the majority of our presidents, congress persons, judges, and other leaders were Episcopalians.

That is no longer true. We are no longer a part of the empire, God is doing a new thing, just as God did in giving Hannah the gift of Samuel, the leader who would lead the people back to the right path.

God is always with us to give us the gifts we need when we arrive at scary points in our individual and corporate life. Jesus, our Good Shepherd, is out ahead of the flock, leading and guiding us. As his shalom comes in, there will be birth pangs. In the midst of this turmoil, we are called to be rooted and grounded in our Lord and to follow where he leads.

Today, we will gather at Frank and Priscilla’s for our harvest dinner. We are entering the season of thanksgiving, the time when we give to the United Thank Offering our gift, which represents all the times in the past year when we have given thanks to God for God’s infinite gifts to us.

It is also the time when we will be thinking about our pledge to Grace Church, which is also a return of a worthy portion of the time, talent, and treasure God has given us.

When we give to UTO, they take those offerings and help people all over the world. Our neighbors at St, Luke’s, Alburgh, have a composting toilet which they installed with the help of a grant from UTO. Over the years, over three hundred thousand dollars in UTO grants have been given to folks in Vermont.

We will be doing our UTO ingathering until the end of November, and, if you need us to wait into December so that you can give your offering, please let me know. We will need to have our pledges in so that we can make the budget for 2016, something we will be doing in December.

It is all about gratitude. Everything we have comes from God. Our time, talent. and treasure are not our own. They are gifts from God, so we return a portion in thanksgiving.

Our psalm for this morning, Hannah’s Song, captures the attitude of gratitude. She was deeply grateful for the gift of Samuel, and she gave him to God so that the people could have the leader they needed,

Hannah’s song is much like the song of another grateful mother, Mary, who sang the Magnificat. She already knew that her son was not her own, that he had come to be the Savior of the world, but she walked with him every step of the way with incredible courage and resilience.

Resilience is another thing we talked about at convention. We are called to be a thankful and resilient people, ready to cross new thresholds, ready to be part of the birth of our Lord’s kingdom.

May we pray and reflect on all the reasons we have to be thankful. May we thank God with all our hearts.

I thank God for each and every one of you, and for our life together in Christ.  Amen.

Pentecost 24 Proper 27B RCL November 11, 2012

Ruth 3:1-5, 4:13-17

Psalm 127

Hebrews 9:24-28

Mark 12: 38-44

Once again, we are following our plan of placing our attention on today’s reading from Mark’s gospel.

Jesus is teaching in the temple. This passage that we read today is his last public teaching in Mark’s gospel. From here on until his death, his teachings will be for the disciples only.

In the temple are all kinds of people from all walks of life. Some of the people are genuinely curious about what Jesus has to say. Others are literally spying on him trying to collect evidence against him.

Jesus begins by telling the people to beware of the scribes, that is, the teachers of the law. His attack is scathing. The scribes like to walk about in flowing robes. These garments are expensive, and, if you wear a long elaborate robe, your clothing makes it clear that you do not do hard work or manual labor, You can’t move quickly. You can’t really be active. So even what they wear makes it clear that the scribes are privileged. They don’t get their hands dirty. They don’t break a sweat.

Their clothing is in itself a sign that they are an honored group.

They liked to be greeted and honored in the marketplace. They sat in the seats of honor in the synagogue and in the banquet hall. The scribes are powerful; they are privileged people, they say long prayers, and yet, Jesus says, they “devour widows’ houses.”  They are hypocrites. They don’t practice what they teach. They talk the talk but they don’t walk the walk.

What does it mean that they devour the houses of widows? Scholars tell us that, in Jesus’ time, and in that culture, widows were at the bottom of the social scale. Women had no social standing aside from their husbands. When their husbands died, they lost their source of protection and their source of financial support. Often a widow would, with a trusting heart, ask a scribe to help her handle her finances. What Jesus is saying is that often the scribe would take the widow’s money for himself. So, here we have a member of the congregation trusting a leader, a teacher of the law, with her financial resources, and the teacher misusing the power given to him and cheating the woman out of everything she has. This is a serious misuse of power and privilege.

Herbert O’Driscoll writes, “Here Jesus speaks harshly of the scribes. He notes their assumed superiority, their grasping for honours and prominence, and he dismisses their religious acts as posturing and hypocrisy. He does not attack the spirituality of Judaism, but he is highly critical of what the organized form og it had become. To Jesus it seemed as if the whole religious system that centered in the Temple had become cynical, self-serving, even rapacious. There is always a danger that a great religion will descend to this state. Our Lord’s words and actions, not to speak of his death and resurrection, will themselves judge the church to the end of time, calling it to be constantly aware of the temptation to be self-serving and self-congratulatory.”

Now the scene shifts. Jesus moves to the part of the Temple where the collection boxes were located. William Barclay tells us that there were thirteen collecting boxes, one for corn, one for wine, one for oil, and so on, collections for items to be used in the sacrifices at the Temple. The collection boxes were in the shape of inverted trumpets, with the narrow end at the top. Once you had put a coin  into the collection, you could not get it out, and no one could steal the collection.

A widow comes along. She is totally vulnerable in the society. She has nothing. She throws in two coins, known as lepta. One coin was known as a lepton, meaning literally, a thin one. This is the thinnest, the smallest coin.

Other people have thrown in much more. But they have a great deal of money left. This woman has thrown in very little, but she has very little money.

The woman is vulnerable, She has no power in that society. When she throws those two lepta into the collection box, I think she feels that she is giving them to God.  She is taking a courageous action, a leap of faith. It is clean and clear and sincere.

William Barclay writes, “We may feel that we have not much in the way of material gifts or personal gifts to give to Christ, but, if we put all that we have and all that we are at his disposal. He can do things with it and with us that are beyond our imaginings.”

Though we are focusing on the gospel, let’s look at our lesson from the Hebrew scriptures for a moment. There was a famine in Judah and Naomi went to Moab with her husband and two sons. Her sons married two Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah. Naomi’s husband and sons died. All three women became widows. Hearing that the famine in Judah had ended, Naomi decided to go back home. Out of love and faithfulness, Ruth went with her, Once she was back at home, Naomi’s courage increased and she made a decision to secure protection for Ruth by having her marry Boaz, her relative, an honored and honorable man. Their son, Obed, was the grandfather of David, and from that family came Jesus.

The courage and faith of good, ordinary people like us can bear great fruit. Trusting in God is everything. That’s what these stories are about.  Ordinary people who don’t have a lot, but who have faith and trust and hope in God and who seek and do God’s will every day of their lives—people like this widow—are heroes of the faith.

Day by day, dear Lord, three things of thee we pray: to see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly, day by day.