• Content

  • Pages

  • Upcoming Events

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

The Day of Pentecost Year C June 5, 2022

Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:25-35, 37b
Romans 8:14-17

Our gospel for today is part of Jesus’ last talk with his disciples, his so-called Last Discourse. In this portion of the discourse, Jesus says that those who see him have seen God. Jesus also says, “The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do, and in fact will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.”

Jesus also says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the father and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you,” And then Jesus gives them his peace. his shalom.

After this, Jesus is crucified, rises from the dead, appears to various disciples—He walks with two of them on the road to Emmaus. He appears to Peter and the others on the shore of the lake for a fish and bread breakfast. Twice, he moves past the locked doors and comes to them as they wait in fear of the authorities.

Forty days later, he ascends to heaven to be with God. Before he leaves, he tells them to go into Jerusalem, stay together, pray, and wait for the coming of the Spirit. That is exactly what they do. They miss him terribly. They wonder what they are going to do without him, and they keep remembering that he has told them that in seeing him they have seen God, that they are to love each other and they are to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth.

Our reading from Acts describes the coming of the Holy Spirit. They are together. They are waiting. They are grieving. missing him terribly, and wondering how they are going to do all the things he has asked them to do. It is the day of Pentecost, fifty days after the Passover. In their calendar this is a feast at the end of the wheat harvest. People have come to Jerusalem from all over the Mediterranean basin to celebrate this feast of Weeks.

A huge wind comes up, the ruach that molds and shapes the desert sands. Flames of fire dance over their heads. And suddenly, these uneducated folk who have never studied foreign languages, burst forth in all the known languages of the world. They proclaim God’s love heart to heart in all the languages of the known world. People from all of the regions surrounding the Mediterranean Sea hear about the love of God in a way that deeply touches their hearts.

People think the disciples are drunk, but Peter assures them that is not the case. God has given this group of people who are devastated at the loss of their leader the gift to share God’s love heart to heart. All barriers are dissolved. This little group of simple Galileans is going to turn the world upside down. Pentecost is the birthday of the Church, and we are here, two thousand years later, to continue to share God’s love heart to heart with everyone we meet.

In his last discourse with them, Jesus said that he would send the Spirit. And here we have a profound paradox. Jesus is not here in a physical, bodily sense. We cannot literally see him or hear him, but we can sense his call. We can feel his leading, especially when we take time to be quiet with him in prayer and ask for his direction .

Because Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit to lead us into all the truth of his love, he can do something he could not do when he was physically here. He can be everywhere at once. He can be with devastated families and loved ones in Uvalde, Texas and Buffalo, New York and Laguna Woods, California, Sandy Hook, Connecticut and Parkland, Florida, people huddling in a cellar under a hospital in Ukraine because their houses have been bombed, and Ukrainian soldiers fighting valiantly to preserve their country. He can be with all people who are trying to live the Way of Love all over the world.

He is here with us now. The Rev. Michael Marsh, the Rector at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Uvalde, Texas, has said that, as we contemplate the events of the past few weeks, there are two things. There is sorrow and there is love. There is indeed great sorrow. We are all grieving as the disciples grieved after Jesus left them. This grief has been almost unbearable. We pray for those we have died or have been injured and for their families and loved ones. We pray that the Holy Spirit will lead us into the truth of how to make lasting change. And, as we pray, we reach deep down into that everlasting and immeasurable well of God’s love. Come, Holy Spirit. Come in the wind and the fire of your cleansing energy. Help us to speak your love heart to heart. Come, Holy Spirit. Give us your healing. Give us and our legislators the courage to make the changes we need to make in order to keep children safe in their schools, to allow people of all races and creeds and classes and identities to shop for groceries, gather in their houses of worship, and be safe in their streets and neighborhoods. Come, Holy Spirit. Help us to build the shalom of God. Amen.

Easter 3A April 26, 2020

Acts 2:14a, 36-41
Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17
1 Peter 1:17-23
Luke 24:13-35

Our opening reading today is a continuation of Peter’s sermon on Pentecost. Peter shares the good news abut Jesus in such a powerful way that three thousand people are baptized.

Our second reading is from the First Letter of Peter. This letter was written to followers of Jesus who were being persecuted. Peter calls them to “live in reverent fear during the time of your exile.” The word “fear” in this passage can be described as awe at God’s ability to carry us though difficult experiences, indeed God’s ability to bring life out of death. (Beverly Gaventa, Texts for Preaching Year B, p. 278.) 

As we have noted previously, and as Bishop Shannon has said, we who are living in this era of Covid 19, can feel as though we are in exile. We can identify with God’s people who were exiled in Babylon and we can also identify with the followers of Jesus who had to hide from the Roman authorities during times of persecution. Peter tells them and us, “Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew…..”

Our gospel for today is one of the most beloved inspiring, and moving passages in the Bible, the account of the journey of two followers of Jesus on the road to Emmaus. It is later in the day on the first Easter. Two followers of our Lord are walking on the road, talking about everything that has happened. They are sad and confused.

Suddenly, there is someone walking with them. They do not recognize him. They go on talking intensely, trying to figure out what has happened. They know that Jesus has died. There are rumors of something else, but they are not sure what to make of them. The stranger walks with them. Finally he asks them what they are talking about. They stop walking, and the profound sadness and grief shows on their faces. They can’t believe that this man is asking them what they are discussing.

Finally, Cleopas says, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He is a follower of Jesus and he is calling Jesus a stranger. We see this in all the accounts of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. Jesus somehow looks different. People do not recognize him.

Jesus asks, “What things?” Cleopas answers and gives Jesus a summary of the whole story. Then he goes to the root of the issue. “Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive.” And Cleopas reports that some of the others went to the tomb, but they did not see Jesus.

Then Jesus, still not revealing his identity, recounts the whole teaching of the prophets abut the messiah. They still do not realize who he is.

They come near to their home and he begins to walk ahead as if to continue his journey, but they urge him to come in. They still do not recognize him, but they are extending hospitality to this stranger.

When they are finally sitting at the table and he takes the bread and blesses it, they finally realize who he is. Then they become aware that, as he taught them, their hearts burned within them. For those who had seen the horror of the cross, it was so difficult to recognize the risen Jesus when he appeared to them. 

Right away, these two followers of Jesus rush back to Jerusalem as fast as their legs can carry them. They go to the house where the apostles are staying. When they go into the room, they hear the others saying that Jesus is alive and he has appeared to Peter. They tell the others about their encounter with the risen Lord. He is appearing to folks here and there. The word is spreading. Jesus is alive! He has been through the worst that anyone could have to endure, and he has come out the other side. He has defeated death in all its forms. 

This powerful encounter of two faithful and devastated followers of Jesus with their risen Lord gives us hope. Have you ever been walking along your journey, perhaps in a time of great defeat, disappointment, and sadness, and felt Jesus silently falling into step with you and helping you along the way? Have you ever felt the presence of Jesus when you were struggling with a problem that seemed too complicated to solve? I think many of us have felt his presence in many different kinds of moments. His loving presence, leading and guiding us.

There is a bittersweet side to this beautiful gospel story for us in this time of social distancing. The way he gave us to call him into our midst, the way we have to celebrate his presence with us most clearly and powerfully is the Eucharist, meaning Thanksgiving. And we cannot gather and celebrate Holy Eucharist at this time.

Here, in the midst of the Great Fifty Days of Easter, this is a sad fact that we have to deal with. When we get back to Grace Church and share our first Eucharist, that will be a happy day indeed. 

Meanwhile, we need to remember that, although the Holy Eucharist is a wonderful and special way to celebrate the presence of Jesus among us, it is by no means the only way. We must remember that he said, “When two or three are gathered in my name, I am in the midst of them.” He is with us now. He is with each of us in every moment of our lives.

Like the faithful people whom Peter was addressing in his letter, we are called to “love one another deeply from the heart.” We are also called to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Let us continue to follow the science. Let us work and pray for accurate and widely distributed testing for both they disease and the antibodies. Let us also pray for continuing development of contact tracing, effective treatments and vaccines. In the words of our collect, let us pray “that we may behold [our Lord] in all his redeeming work,” especially in the work of our medical folks, scientists, essential workers, first responders, food shelf volunteers, and all who are showing forth his love in this time when his love is so profoundly needed. Amen.

Pentecost 19 Proper 24

Jeremiah 31:27-34
Psalm 119:97-104
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Luke 18:1-8

In our first reading today, the prophet Jeremiah has been imprisoned  by the king for saying that the Babylonians would conquer his people. The Exile is now happening. The leaders and many of the people have been taken to Babylon. It is a time of despair and hopelessness, one of the most tragic times in the history of God’s people.

The word of God comes to the prophet Jeremiah. God is going to bring the people back and they will build and plant. Everyone will have the opportunity to be responsible for his or her own life. God will make a new covenant with the people, even more amazing than the covenant in which God led them out of their slavery in Egypt.

God is going to put God’s law of love and mercy and justice into the very hearts of God’s people. Each person will know God. Each person will be profoundly aware of God’s love and forgiveness. In this text, God says this will be a “new covenant.” As Christians, we are reminded of the life and ministry of Jesus, God walking the face of the earth, Jesus, the One who embodies and expresses the love, healing, forgiveness, mercy, and justice of God in a human life. Jesus is calling us to be a people of hope.

In our reading from the Second Letter to Timothy, Paul begins by reminding Timothy of the people who have taught him the faith—his grandmother, Lois, and his mother, Eunice, and, of course, Paul, his mentor and teacher. Each of us can be grateful for the people who have formed us in our faith—parents, Sunday School teachers, Godparents, people we have met along the way who have taught us, strengthened our faith, and helped us through challenging times. 

Then we read, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction,  and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, some people began to teach that every word of scripture was dictated by God to a divine secretary, who wrote the Bible word for word, and that the Bible should be interpreted literally.

Through careful scholarship, we know that the Bible was written by many persons over many centuries. We also know that the Bible contains many passages which contradict each other. So, when we say that the Bible was “inspired by God,” we mean that the people who wrote this library of books contained within the Bible were indeed inspired by God to record the events in the history of the people of God, and that the Bible conveys deep truths to us, but it is not meant to be a factual, historical or scientific document. What is important is the depth of spiritual insight conveyed in the Bible. Just to know that God spoke to Jeremiah in a terrible time and reassured Jeremiah and the people that they would return and rebuild gives us hope all these centuries later.

Like Paul, Timothy is called to share the good news of Christ’s love and to be faithful in that ministry.

In our gospel, Jesus is telling the disciples and us a parable about “the need to pray always and not to lose heart.” This parable has two unforgettable characters— a judge who “neither fears God nor has respect for people,” and a very persistent widow. In Jesus’ time, widows and orphans were extremely vulnerable. They had no one to give them financial support or protection. The judge is in a position of great power. The widow is powerless. 

The widow is looking for justice. The judge is not doing his job. Judges were supposed to be people who carried out God’s justice on behalf of the people, but this particular judge is a poor example of his profession.  The woman is unstoppable. She hounds the judge until he at last grants her justice. 

The point of the parable is that God is nothing like this judge. God loves us and wants to hear our prayers and wants to help us. God is on the side of justice; justice is an essential part of God’s kingdom. If this persistent woman can get justice from this judge who is completely devoid of human sympathy and unwilling to do his job, we should be just as energetic and disciplined in our prayers to God as this courageous and faithful widow was in her quest for justice. The parable closes with our Lord asking, “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

As we look around our world, we see a huge gap between how things are operating here on earth and how God and Jesus and the Spirit would have things done. Isaiah and the prophets and our Lord himself have given us a clear picture of the kingdom, the shalom of God. Looking around, it would be easy to give up hope. It would be easy to stop praying.

But then we think of Jeremiah in prison, his country conquered by a powerful foreign empire. proclaiming God’s promise that the people will return and rebuild. We read a message from Paul, also in prison, telling us that the good news is not chained, encouraging Timothy and each of us to share the good news, to love and feed and clothe and welcome people. And Luke, writing fifty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, writing to a  community of faith that was undergoing persecution, calling them and us to be as persistent in prayer as that feisty, faithful widow was because God is a God of Love and of justice. God is listening to each and every prayer. And God will give us the grace to build God’s shalom.  Amen.

Easter 7B RCL May 13, 2018

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
Psalm 1
1 John 5:9-13
John 17:6-19

Before our opening reading, Jesus has ascended to be with God. We have this scene on our beautiful window here over the altar. The apostles look on as Jesus rises to heaven. We can imagine all the feelings they must have had.  Their beloved leader is no longer physically with them. He has promised that he will send the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, but they must have felt a bit lost and sad.

Peter assumes leadership and calls the believers together. There are about one hundred and twenty of them.  Judas has betrayed Jesus, and the community must choose someone to take his place. This must be someone who has been with Jesus from the time he was baptized by John until the Ascension. Two men are chosen, Joseph called Barsabbas, also known as Justus, and Matthias.

This is the only time we hear of these two men in the Bible, but the scriptures tell us that they were with Jesus from the beginning of his ministry until he went to be with God. The group prays together that this may be God’s choice. Then they cast lots, and Matthias is chosen.

Although we never hear of Justus or Matthias again, we can assume that, because they were such faithful followers of Jesus, each of them carried out his ministry all the days of his life, one as an apostle, the other as an ordinary faithful follower of Jesus. This reminds us that most of the followers of our Lord are not famous. They are people who love Jesus and who go about their lives quietly sharing his love in the best way they can, with the help of his grace. They are people you meet in shops or at tea, people like you and like me.

And so, quietly, without fanfare, the community of the faithful asks God to call forth the person who will complete the company of the apostles. Two thousand years later, we in Vermont have already begun the process of discerning the person God is calling to be the next Bishop of Vermont. We will continue to pray for God’s guidance in that process.

Our gospel for today is the continuation of Jesus’ statement that he is the vine and we are the branches. The portion we are reading today is really a prayer to God. As we read and meditate on this passage,  we realize again how much our Lord loves us. Jesus tells God that everything God has given to Jesus, Jesus has given to his followers.

Jesus tells us that we are not his servants but his friends. He calls us to a shared ministry with him and with each other.

Throughout his time with his disciples, Jesus has tried in every way to convey the profound truth about the depth of God’s love for us humans and for the whole creation. Now Jesus asks God to protect the community of faith, what we now call the Church.

We can see God protecting the community of faith as we watch Peter, whom Jesus appointed to be the leader, calling the faithful together to enter a process of prayer and discernment to choose a new apostle. Over the centuries, the Church has gone through all kinds of challenges, including times of persecution, and even that has not stopped people from making the choice to follow Jesus.

Even in recent times, we can recall various controversies. Through all of these, God has protected the Church. Over all these centuries, millions of folks like us have responded to the call of our Lord to help him spread his shalom.

Our Lord prays, “Holy Father, protect them in your name…so that they may be one as we are one.” Jesus is praying for God to protect us so that we may be one as he and the Father are one. 

It goes back to the way Jesus describes our life together. He is the vine. We are the branches. His love is the oxygen, the energy, the life-spirit that courses through his body, the Vine. We all share that energy. We are all part of him, and we are all part of each other. Part of God’s protection of us is that we realize that we are one as Jesus and the Father are one. That is a very strong bond, a profoundly deep and close love.

And once again our Lord prays that we may have his joy complete in ourselves. Once again, he reminds us that following him brings great joy.

This coming Sunday we will celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us to experience and share the depth and breadth of God’s love. Please wear red to symbolize the flames dancing over the heads of the apostles. If anyone can translate a couple of sentences of the gospel into a foreign language, please let me know. I also have a text in French if anyone would like to read a portion of that.

Meanwhile, like Matthias and Justus, whose names we hear only once; and like all the other followers of Christ whose names we do not know but whose faith and example we cherish; may we faithfully seek and do God’s will. May we live in the reality of Christ’s presence and love, and share his presence and love with others.  Amen.

Pentecost 14 Proper 18A RCL September 10, 2017

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

In our opening reading from the Book of Exodus, we find the instructions for what has come to be called the Passover. For centuries, our Jewish brothers and sisters have celebrated this feast of their escape from slavery into freedom.

Herbert O’Driscoll reminds us that, because our Lord was crucified and rose from death at the time of the Passover, our Holy Eucharist is associated with that feast. At the time of the Fraction, the celebrant breaks the bread, and we sing, “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast.”

When we break the bread, this symbolizes the brokenness in our lives, in our communities, in our nations,  and in the world. At the same time, we rejoice in the fact that our Lord has taken all that brokenness,  including the brokenness of death, and made it into the wholeness of new life. We celebrate our own Passover from slavery to sin into the freedom of life in Christ.

In our reading from the Book of Romans, Paul, who is a Pharisee, a scholar of the Law, tells us that great truth—that love is the sum total of the Law. He writes, “The commandments are summed up in this word,  Love your neighbor as yourself. “

Paul tells us that the night is gone and the day is here, and he calls us to “put on the armor of light.” He actually calls us to dress ourselves in Christ, to clothe ourselves in the love and grace of our Lord, and to do only those things which are in harmony with love of God and others.

In our gospel, we recall that a bit earlier, the apostles have asked Jesus who is the greatest and he has taken a child in his arms and called us to become as humble and open and trusting as little children. Following that, Jesus has told the parable of the lost sheep, reminding us that everyone is precious to him, even those whom we might consider to be “lost.” To our Lord, no one is lost or beyond hope.  As further context, following this passage, Peter asks Jesus how many times we must forgive and our Lord answers, “seventy-seven times.”The point is that we should not count the times we forgive each other as we try to live together in community.

In today’s gospel, Jesus gives us a short course in conflict resolution. If someone in our faith community has hurt us, we should talk with them privately. We hope they will acknowledge that they have hurt us, ask our forgiveness, and change their behavior.  If that does not happen, we take one or two others along with us and make another attempt. This means that we are asking the prayers and wisdom and help of others in the community in order to resolve the conflict. If the person refuses to listen to even two or three members of the community then the issue is shared with the whole church.

At this point, we recall that, in the early Church, at the peace, any people who were not reconciled would come before the bishop, who was always the celebrant in the very early Church. Right in front of the whole congregation the bishop would help the people to reconcile. Then the bishop would extend the peace. When the celebrant says, “The peace of the Lord be always with you,” and we answer, “And also with you,” that is the remnant in our service of the early process of reconciliation. The community would not move ahead into the Eucharistic Prayer until they were all reconciled with each other.

Scholars tell us that we need to look at the the next part of this passage with great care.  Jesus would not say that we should excommunicate people or shun people. These are words added later, by an editor. Jesus was criticized for associating with Gentiles and tax collectors. He loved these people. He even called a tax collector, Matthew, to be one of the apostles. So he would not say that we should treat people as Gentiles and tax collectors.

At the end of our passage for today, Jesus says, “When two or three are gathered in my name, I am among them.” When we are gathered in his name, this means that we are gathered with a clear sense that, in his view, no one is “lost,” or beyond the pale. Everyone is worthy of respect. Our baptismal vows call us to “respect the dignity of every human being,” and we are called to forgive countless times. When we gather in his name, we are centered and focused in his love.

Once again, I must emphasize that this gospel does not apply to situations of abuse or domestic violence. These provisions apply to life in community where everyone is considered precious and equal. In situations of abuse or violence, we must do all we can to help victims get to a place of safety.

God cared deeply about God’s people enslaved in Egypt and called Moses to lead them to freedom. God with us, Emmanuel, God walking the face of the earth, died and rose again to lead us to freedom through life in him. Paul, a Pharisee who had devoted his life to the law, has been transformed in Christ and tells us that love is at the center of everything. Our Lord calls us to resolve any conflicts and to practice the ministry of reconciliation so that we can keep the community of faith strong and ready to respond to any need.

Love is at the center of everything. Amen.

Pentecost 7 Proper 11A RCL July 23, 2017

Genesis 28:10-19a
Psalm 139
Romans 8:12-25
Matthew 13:24-30. 36-43

In our first lesson today, we are continuing the story of Jacob. Last Sunday, we looked on as Jacob cheated his brother Esau out of his birthright, that is, Esau’s right to be the leader of the family and to receive a double inheritance. When Esau came in from hunting, Jacob got him to give up his birthright for a bowl of lentil stew.

Between that point and our reading for today, much more has happened. Isaac, the father of Jacob and Esau, realizes that he is going to die very soon. So he sends Esau out to hunt for game and bring it home and prepare it in Isaac’s favorite way so that Isaac can have this festive meal and give Esau his blessing, another right of the eldest son, before Isaac dies.

Rebekah, who loves Jacob more than Esau, cooks up a scheme with Jacob. She gets him to kill “two choice kids” for her to cook, and she dresses Jacob in Esau’s clothes, which are hanging right in the closet, Because Esau is a hairy man, Rebekah puts the skins of the calves on Jacob’s arms and hands. Before Esau gets home, Jacob goes into his father’s room, pretends to be Esau, and receives Isaac’s blessing.

When Esau gets home with the game for his mother to cook, he finds out what Jacob has done. He vows that he will hunt down Jacob and kill him.

In today’s reading, Jacob is running for his life. He is on his way to Haran, his father’s home, where he hopes to find shelter and support. But night is coming. He takes a desert rock, puts it under his head, and has an amazing dream. There is a ladder connecting earth and heaven, and there are angels ascending and descending on it. God stands beside him and renews the promise God made to Abraham many years ago.

Herbert O’Driscoll says of this dream, “In some strange way it is a dream of shalom, of unity, of connectedness. It shows Jacob a much bigger reality than our Western culture has seen in the last few centuries. In Jacob’s dream there is a door between realities. Humanity is no longer a prisoner of the world.” (O Driscoll, The Word Today Year A, Vol. 3, p 56.)

Jacob wakes up and he knows that God is real and that God has chosen Jacob to carry on the blessing God gave to Abraham. God has also told Jacob that God will be with Jacob always. For the first time in his life, Jacob realizes that he is not the center of the world. He has met God. He sets up a  monument to this moment and he names the place Bethel—beth-el—house of God.

God uses the most unlikely people to carry out God’s plans. Here is Jacob, the supplanter, the heel, the cheat, the schemer. He has fallen into the hands of the living God. God has chosen him.

Our psalm for today, number 139, tells us that there is nowhere we can go, that will take us away from God. God is everywhere, and God’s love and grace will follow us everywhere we go.

In our epistle today, a reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans, Paul is continuing his thoughts about life in the flesh, life based entirely on humans goals and needs and visions, and life in the Spirit, life rooted and grounded is the love, joy, peace, grace, and power of God. Life in the Spirit is a life based in hope.

One of the most powerful parts of this reading is the sheer fact that, thanks to our Lord Jesus, we are children of God. This relationship is so close and so intimate that we can now call God Abba. Abba is a term of endearment and intimacy. It can be translated “Daddy,” or  “Papa,” or “Dad,” or, in more inclusive language, “Mama,”  or “Mom.” We are that close to God. We are God’s beloved children.

In our gospel, Jesus tells another parable. Someone sows good seed, but in the depths of night, someone comes in and plants weeds. When the grain appears, the weeds grow up along with it.  The point of the parable is that we are going to have to let the grain and the weeds grow together.  If we try to pull the weeds, the tender little wheat plants will come up with them. When harvest time comes, the wheat plants will be sturdy. We can come along and pull the weeds and then harvest the wheat. The interpretation of the parable and the furnace of fire are not something our Lord would have said, They are later editorial additions. We recall that Matthew’s gospel was written around 70 A D. in a time of persecution and great fear and turmoil.

This parable is saying that we have to let the weeds and the wheat grow together. So often, in the Church and in the world, we want to do the sorting ourselves. We want to root out this bad thing or that bad thing.  But in God’s garden, often we need to have patience. In time, it will become clear which are the weeds and which are the wheat. Sometimes, we are a bit confused as to which is which. If something bears the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, it is of God. God is the ultimate judge.

I think of the Civil War and the issue of slavery. There were good people on both sides. Church people argued on both sides of this issue. When I was much younger, there was great turmoil and suffering over simply allowing people of color to go to a bathroom, use a drinking fountain, or be served at a lunch counter. We are still working on that issue.

Tragically, we humans have a tendency to think that we have the right to exclude some people. We find excuses to do this. We say that people of color are inferior. or women are inferior or gay people are inferior or Muslims are inferior—the list goes on and on—and then we try to shut these people out. And God says, “You are all my people, and you are all my beloved. Live together in my love.”  Amen.

Pentecost 6 Proper 10A RCL July 16, 2017

Genesis 25:19-34
Psalm 119:105-112
Romans 8:1-11
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

In our first reading this morning, we continue the story of Isaac, Abraham’s son. Isaac is forty when he marries Rebekah, and it is a long time, twenty years, before she is able to have a child.

When she becomes pregnant, she is carrying twins, and the brothers struggle  so much that she cries out, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?” God tells her there are two nations within her, and that her older son will serve her younger son. This is not the way things usually happened in those days.

When the children are born, the first one comes out all red and hairy, and he is named Esau. He is associated with the nation of Edom, meaning red. His younger brother comes out grasping Esau’s ankle, and he is named Jacob, Jacob means, “he takes by the heel,” or “He supplants.”

Esau becomes a skillful hunter, someone who can bring home game for meals. Jacob is quiet and lives in a tent. Isaac loves Esau because he is fond of game. Rebekah loves Jacob. Biblical scholar Bruce Metzger tells us that the two boys represent the hunter and the shepherd, two opposing ways of life in those days.

I often remark that the Old Testament often has the makings of a great soap opera, Here we have the father preferring one son and the mother preferring the other, and we have two boys representing two ways of life. There will be conflict and drama in this story.  

One day, Jacob is cooking a stew—some translations call it a “mess of pottage;” others call it lentil stew. Esau comes in from hunting, and he is famished. He asks his brother for a bowl of stew. Here Jacob proves he is truly a heel and is trying to supplant his brother. Most people would give their brother a bowl of stew for nothing, but not Jacob. He makes Esau promise to give his birthright to Jacob. The is no small matter. The birthright is the ancestral privilege of the eldest son. It involves becoming the leader of the family when the father dies and also receiving a double inheritance. Esau is not exactly good at long-term planning. He wants the lentil stew and the wants it now. So he sells his birthright for a mess of pottage. Esau throws away his future for a bowl of stew.

Historically, Edom was a nation before Israel was. This story explains why Israel became more powerful than Edom. Much later, Jacob will wrestle with an angel and learn some things about the nature of God and his relationship with God. Now, he is a heel who is out for whatever he can get.

Our epistle, from Paul’s Letter to the Romans, talks about life in the flesh, that is life centered in the human faculties and abilities, and life in the Spirit, that is, life centered in God’s will. Jacob is obviously operating on the human level, the level of the flesh. Thanks be to God, we are living in the Spirit, and the Spirit dwells in us.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is in Galilee, a place that is comfortable for him, a place far away from the human power centers in Jerusalem. The crowd is so large that the people push him right to the shores of the lake, so he gets into a boat. He tells a parable.

A sower goes out to sow some seed. Back in those days, you sowed seed broadcast. You held it in your hand and spread it over the ground. After that, you plowed. In the parable, some seed falls on the path and the birds come and eat it up. Some falls on rocky ground, springs up quickly, but because there is no depth of soil, the seeds are scorched by the sun and wither away. Some seeds fall among thorns, which grow up and choke them. Others fall on good soil and bring forth grain.  Nowadays, the seed has a much better chance of growing well because we plow and harrow and make the soil ideal for growth before we plant the seed.

The bottom line on this parable is that, even with all the adverse conditions, the harvest is abundant. This parable is about the kingdom, the shalom of God. It is growing even now. The kingdom of peace, love, harmony throughout the whole creation is growing even now. In spite of everything, the shalom of God is growing.

But the parable is also dealing with an important question: why do some people hear the word of God, put it at the center of their lives, and bear much fruit, and why do others hear but then let various things get in the way? Matthew’s gospel was written around 70 A.D. in a time of persecution. The community had lost some members. People went into hiding. We can certainly understand why some people would leave the community when their lives and the lives of their family members were threatened. Various issues can get in the way of people’s hearing the Good News and following Jesus. Once again, the point is that, in spite of adversity, the harvest is abundant.

Two hundred and one years ago, a group of people got together here in Sheldon and formed what they called an Episcopal Society. Out of that grew Grace Church. Over all these decades, Grace Church has provided good soil for the Good News and good soil for the growth of the Kingdom of God.

I first came to Grace about thirty years ago, back in the nineteen eighties, and I felt as though I had received a great gift. Here was a community of folks who were living kingdom lives, shalom lives. I still feel that way. Thanks to the faith of people through the years and the grace of God, we are in a community where the Good News can grow, where the seed of God’s love can blossom and flourish. We can come and be nurtured and then go out into the world and share God’s love and caring for all people, from children to the elderly, and everyone in between.

Dear Lord, thank you for your many gifts, and especially for this community of faith which is now entering its third century. May we follow you faithfully.  Amen.

Pentecost 4 Proper 8A RCL July 2, 2017

Genesis 22:1-14
Psalm 13
Romans 6:12-23
Matthew 10:40-42

Our first reading is a story that can cause intense responses—shock, puzzlement, even anger. How could God do such a thing to Abraham after all that Abraham has endured? He has just given up his son Ishmael. How could God ask him to give up Isaac?

Biblical scholars Cuthbert A. Simpson of Christ Church, Oxford and Walter Russell Bowie of Virginia Theological Seminary tell us that this is one of those passages that must be put into context. (The Interpreter’s Bible, pp. 642-645.) Thomas Troegher echoes their insights (New Proclamation, Series A 1999, pp. 128-129.)

Scholars tell us that this passage was written by the Elohist writer, who was working around 750 B.C.E. The story of Abraham, depicting the journeys of nomadic people around 1600 B.C.E., dates back several centuries earlier.

One one level, this is a story about the testing of Abraham’s faith. Sarah has had a son, Isaac. This fulfills God’s promise to Abraham that he would be the father of countless people. But now God calls to Abraham and says, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offering.” Abraham gets up early, makes things ready, and takes Isaac and two young men with him. Abraham is obedient. We have no idea what he is thinking.

After three days’ journey, they arrive at the point where Abraham and Isaac will go on and the two young men will stay with the donkey and wait. Abraham, who is not a fool or a dreamer, tells the young men, “We will worship, and then we will come back to you.” We may be wondering and agonizing, but Abraham is trusting that he and Isaac will come back. He is focused on worshipping God. He has walked a long way with God, and God has always been faithful to him.

So they journey on. Isaac is carrying the wood on his back. Abraham is carrying the fire and the knife. As they walk on, Isaac asks one of the most poignant questions in the Bible. “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Abraham is focused fully on Isaac. His response is full of love for his son and attentiveness to Isaac: “God himself will provide a lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” Have you ever had a time when you felt God was calling you to do something you did not want to do, something you felt was extremely scary, something that you did not understand, but still you went step by step, trusting in the goodness of God? This is one of those times. The tenderness and deep faith of this moment make us catch our breath. Now Abraham and Isaac are bound together in this deep faith. God will provide.

The story moves on. Everything is prepared for the sacrifice. Now we aren’t breathing at all and our eyes are welling up with tears and perhaps rage. Why would God do such a thing?

Abraham takes the knife. But an angel of the Lord stops him. “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him.” Abraham looks up and sees a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns.

Scholars Simpson, Bowie, and Troegher remind us that, at that time in history, the Canaanites were practicing child sacrifice. They say that this story, as wrenching as it may be to us today, is an eloquent statement that God does not want us to engage in that kind of sacrifice. God calls us to offer the spiritual sacrifice of changed hearts and transformed lives.

In our epistle for today, Paul is saying that before Christ came to free us humans, we were slaves to sin. Now, because of the grace given us by our Lord, we are free. We have been changed forever. We are now living in the realm of eternal life, newness of life, fullness of life. We are citizens of God’s kingdom We are moving in an entirely new direction, a direction leading to life rather than death.

in our gospel, Jesus is instructing his disciples. He says that whoever welcomes them will be welcoming him, will be welcoming God. Whoever gives them a drink of water will be giving that drink to him.

The disciples would be going out into the world, two by two. They would be totally dependent on the hospitality of people in the towns and villages they visited. For people who welcomed them into their homes, think what a blessing that would be to those people. To sit with Peter or James or John or Thomas, to listen to what they had to say about their life with Jesus and how he had taught them and what they had done together and what a difference he had made in their lives. That would be transforming, We wouldn’t be able to get enough of that. Our lives would be changed.

Wherever he went, Jesus would take children in his arms. He always calls us to take care of the most vulnerable among us.

What are these readings saying to us today? Our first lesson is a story of faith. God sometimes calls us to walk new roads, and when that happens, we have to take each step, slowly and thoughtfully, and with great attention and deep faith, and we need to trust that God will give us what we need. God will provide. Our first reading is partly about faith and also about letting go of practices that are hurtful, practices that God would not want us to follow. God loves children; God has special love for those who are vulnerable, and God wants us to care especially for those people.

Our epistle and gospel let us know that Christ has given us a great gift, the gift of newness of life, and that gift has been shared and cherished throughout all the centuries since he was here on earth. May we open our hearts and lives to our Lord’s gifts of faith and transforming love, and may we share those gifts.  Amen.

Pentecost 3 Proper 7 RCL June 25, 2017

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

As Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann observes, our first reading can sound harsh to modern people, but to people of that time, the story is about God’s mercy. Scholars tell us that this passage is from the person we call the Elohist writer, because he refers to God as Elohim, Lord. This author was working around 750 B.C.E. The events he is describing go back hundreds of years before that.

Sarah has given birth to Isaac, a happy event, and Isaac is growing. Back in those times, polygamy was the custom, and Hagar, Abraham’s other wife, has a son called Ishmael. Sarah does not want Ishmael to have the same rights of inheritance as Isaac, so she asks Abraham to send Hagar away. In a nomadic desert environment, this is an especially cruel thing to do.

God tells Abraham to grant Sarah’s wish and assures Abraham that God will take care of Hagar and Ishmael. In a heart-wrenching scene, Abraham tenderly gives Hagar some bread and water, puts little Ishmael on her shoulder, and sends her away. She wanders in the wilderness of Beer-sheba. When the bread and water are gone, Hagar puts Ishmael under a bush so that he can at least have some shade, and she prays to God that she will not have to watch her child die.

God answers her prayer. She looks and sees a well nearby and gives Ishmael some water. God promises to make a great nation of Ishmael.

Thus Abraham becomes the father of both Jews and Arabs.

It is important to note that, at this very moment,  children are dying of hunger and thirst in many places around the world because of war and famine. This reading calls us to join with God in offering mercy and help to these people. Episcopal Relief and Development and other groups are doing just that every day.

Our gospel for today is filled with many profound thoughts. Our Lord is letting us know that his light will reveal everything. He is also preparing his followers to face persecution. He says, “Do not fear those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” He assures us of God’s love. God cares about one sparrow. God knows us and loves us. Jesus tells us God knows the number of hairs on our heads. As one wag put it, “God counts the hairs on our heads—and on our wigs, too!”

But then our Lord says something that shakes us to our foundations: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace  to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” And then he describes all the divisions that will happen because of him. Son against father; daughter against mother; daughter-in-law against her mother- in-law.

It is important for us to realize that Jesus is not saying that he likes this division. In his wisdom, he says that, when we are sincerely trying to discern what he is calling us to do, when we are trying with his grace, to figure out what we are called to do in order to build his kingdom, there are going to be divisions.

One of the most tragic examples of this division, in my opinion, is our own Civil War. People on both sides could find justifications for their opinions in the Bible. Clergy preached on behalf of both sides of this issue. Good people took both sides of this issue. We can picture a family on a plantation torn apart by this question.

Other relatively recent examples come to mind. Families were divided by the Vietnam War. A young man, after much prayer and guidance, becomes a conscientious objector. His father, a career military man, cannot understand this.

We continue to be divided by issues of race.

In Ireland, the home country of half my family, Protestants and Roman Catholics have been mortal enemies. Hopefully, things are changing.

In the Church itself, we have had all kinds of divisions. Scholars discovered very early liturgies, and we had the Green Book, the Zebra Book, and finally the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. Some people loved the peace; some did not.  Then we revised the hymnal. That was a bit easier. Some people left the Church over the ordination of women. Some left over the ordination of LGBT people. God’s mercy and love have carried us through many times of trial and tribulation, and, thanks be to God, we are still here.

The unfailing love and inclusiveness of God challenge our longstanding notions and traditions of tribe and class and race and religion and privilege. It is so difficult for us to realize that God loves everyone. It is so easy for us to exclude one group or another, one person or another.

Our opening reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, which dates back over 2,700 years, is telling us that God loves both Jews and Arabs. Abraham is the father of Jews, Arabs, and Christians. And our Lord is calling us to take up the cross, and, as our Unitarian-Universalist brothers and sisters would say, “stand on the side of love.” God has a big family. It includes everyone.   Amen.

Day of Pentecost Year A June 4, 2017

Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:25-35, 37b
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
John 20:19-23

Today is the Day of Pentecost, a very special day in the Church calendar. This day is sometimes called the Birthday of the Church because, on that day, two two thousand years ago, the gifts of the Holy Spirit energized and transformed the first followers of Jesus into an effective mission team spreading the Good News all over the known world at that time.

Our readings for today are among the most important and inspiring lessons in our entire lectionary. Chronologically, they are in a rather unusual order. The gospel reading comes first in time; the reading from Acts is the second; and the amazing text from the First Letter to the Corinthians is the third reading in chronological order.

Let’s take them in order so that we can re-trace our spiritual history. Our gospel for today is the same gospel which we read every year on the Second Sunday of Easter. It is the evening of the first Easter. The followers of Jesus know that he is risen. Mary Magdalene has gone to the tomb and found it empty. She has called Peter and John, and they, too, have examined the empty tomb. Then the risen Jesus has appeared to Mary and has told her to let the disciples know that he is going to the Father.

Jesus’ closest followers are gathered in the home where they had been staying. They are terrified. They have locked the doors because they are afraid of the authorities, both religious and secular. Jesus walks right through the walls of their fear and says those words we will never forget: “Peace be with you.” God’s shalom be with all of us. God’s vision of peace at every level— total absence of hostility.  God’s harmony filling the whole creation. Everyone has enough to eat, clothes to wear, a place to live, good work to do, medical care, the basic things needed for life. God’s shalom. We are all one. The creation is one. All is moving toward wholeness and fullness of life. The followers of Jesus all know of God’s vision of shalom. They have read about it in Isaiah and  the other prophets.

But now Jesus does something else. He breathes the Holy Spirit into them. He is giving them the ability to forgive sins, to exercise the ministry of reconciliation. After this,  the risen Lord begins appearing to people so that they can see that he is alive.  He appears to Thomas, to the two disciples walking to Emmaus, to Peter and the others on the beach where they share a meal of bread and fish, and to others. And he tells them to stay together and pray.

That is what they have been doing when we meet them again in our first reading today. They have been gathered at the house in Jerusalem praying and preparing for the coming of the Spirit. Devout Jews from all over the known world are also in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost, fifty days after the Passover. This is a harvest festival something like our Thanksgiving.

A violent wind hits the house, the ruach, the wind that molds and shapes the desert sands, the wind of the Spirit. And flames dance over the apostles’ heads. Then they begin to speak in all the languages of the known world, and the writer of Acts takes the time to mention all these many countries. These simple Galileans, who have never taken a course in foreign languages, are somehow able to speak all of these languages so that all of these worldwide visitors can understand them.

Some people think the apostles are drunk, but Peter reassures them that this is not the case. The vision of the prophet Joel is happening. God is pouring out God’s Spirit on everyone. All people, old and young, will dream dreams and have visions of God’s shalom, God’s kingdom of peace and harmony.

Our epistle for today, from chapter 12 of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, is the latest of our readings in chronological time. Scholars tell us that Paul wrote this inspiring passage in 53 or 54 A.D., approximately twenty years after the resurrection of our Lord. Chapter 12 of this letter is one of the most important and essential statements of the theology of the Body of Christ. Paul says, “There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.” We each do different ministries, but God activates all of these ministries. Paul mentions some of the gifts, “the utterance of wisdom”, “the utterance of knowledge,” “faith,” “gifts of healing,” and we could add, playing the organ, paying the bills, keeping the building in shape, mowing the lawn, shoveling snow, helping young people, visiting elders, caring for animals, helping people recover from addiction, working for sustainability and accessibility, mentoring, gardening, and on and on the list goes. All of these are gifts of the Spirit.

No gift is superior to another. No person is superior to another. We are all one in Christ. As St. Paul says, “We are all baptized into one Body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free.” In other words, the Body of Christ is inclusive. People of all races and nations, male and female, gay and straight, tall and short, old and young, “and in-between”, as Al Smith used to say, people of all colors, all classes, all levels of education, all kinds of jobs, from CEOs to janitors, we are all included. We are one, as Jesus and the Father are one.

Like the apostles, so many years ago at that first Pentecost, we are called to spread the Good News of God’s love and healing and forgiveness. To carry out that mission, we receive the gifts of the Spirit just as they did.

Following in the footsteps of those first faithful followers of Jesus so many centuries ago, may we, here in the Vermont branch of the Jesus Movement, go forth in the power of the Spirit, and may we share God’s love, healing, and forgiveness with everyone we meet. Amen.