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    • 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:…
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Pentecost 14 Proper 17B   August 29, 2021

Song of Solomon 2:8-13
Psalm 45:1-2, 7-10
James 1:17-27
Mark 7:1-8. 14-15, 21-23

Our opening reading today is from the Song of Solomon. It is a celebration of human romantic love, and, over the centuries, people have also seen it as a poem about God’s love for us. The images of spring and growth at the end of the passage speak eloquently to the fact that love, both human and divine, is a powerful source of new life.

This morning, we begin to study a series of passages from the Letter of James. Traditionally, Christians have thought that the author of this letter is James, the brother of Jesus. Over the years, there has been much scholarly debate. Luke T. Johnson, Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at the Candler School of Theology, Emory University, in Atlanta, Georgia, makes a convincing argument in favor of the traditional view that this letter was written by James, the brother of our Lord. James became the first Bishop of Jerusalem and led the early followers of Jesus through some very challenging times. 

If James is the author, this is one of the earliest Christian texts. As we read it, we can remember that the person who wrote it was very close to Jesus and knew the mind and heart of our Lord.

James begins, “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, from whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” All love and all generosity comes from our gracious and loving God who showers us with gifts of grace. God’s love is infinite and endless. Nothing can change that love or separate us from that love.

Because of God’s gift of love, we have the grace to follow the guidance James is giving us. “Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger, for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” The word “righteousness” can be defined as “right relationship with God.” We humans are called to listen to each other very carefully. We are called to be very slow to speak.  And we are called to “be slow to anger,” because anger impairs our relationship with God and with each other. In other words, we are called to listen to each other heart to heart, seek the mind of Christ, and do the will of Christ.

James writes, “Be doers of the word and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.” Our faith is shown in our actions, and the center of our faith is loving God and our neighbors. James continues, “ Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” In the time of James and Jesus, if orphans and widows did not have a male relative to protect them and give them a place in society, they had no power, no voice, and no way to gain respect. Caring for those who are vulnerable is a crucial way for us to express our acceptance of God’s love and our sharing of that love with those who have little or no power in our society. We are called to express God’s compassion, caring, and justice.

In today’s gospel, Jesus is in Galilee, where observance of the law is a bit more relaxed. He and his disciples have not washed their hands before they began their meal. The Pharisees are scolding them because they are not following the rules of ritual purity. Washing the hands is seen by the Pharisees as a way to show that one is following the law.

In Jesus’ time, germ theory, bacteriology, and virology were unknown, so the first thing we need to do is to say that washing our hands before we eat is a very good idea. The gospel is not dealing with biology. It’s a very good idea to wash our hands and eat from clean dishes with clean forks and knives and spoons.

Jesus tells the Pharisees, “There is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come.” On a biological level, there are many things that we can eat or drink that can make us very ill. but that is not what Jesus and the Pharisees are talking about. 

Our Lord is saying that what comes out of us, from our hearts, which are the seat of our will, our intentions, our intuitions as well as our feelings, that is what matters. Are we living lives of love and compassion and generosity? Are we loving God and our neighbor?

Mark’s gospel was written at a time when some of the followers of Jesus were Jewish and some were Gentiles. One of the biggest controversies was whether the followers of Jesus should be required to follow the Jewish law, including the dietary laws. Peter had a vision in which God told him that all foods are lawful, and all people are loved by God. This led the leaders of the community including James, the brother of Jesus, to conclude that following the Jewish law was not essential. The new faith was open to everyone. 

Both our epistle and gospel today make it very clear that outward observances are not the source of faith or a deep relationship with God. Our inward and outward selves must be congruent. We are called to be hearers and doers of the word. Outward observances can be beautiful and inspiring, but they need to be sincere. They need to come from the heart.

Yesterday, our Church calendar commemorated Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, one of the great theologians of the Church. Here is the collect for his day.

Lord God, the light of the minds that know you, the life of the souls that love you, and the strength of the hearts that serve you: Help us, following the example of your servant Augustine of Hippo, so to know you that we may truly love you, and so to love you that we may fully serve you, whom to serve is perfect freedom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Easter 4B April 25, 2021

Acts 4:5-12
Psalm 23
1 John 3:16-24
John 10:11-18

In our opening reading from the Book of Acts, Peter and John have healed a man who has been lame from birth. A crowd has gathered, and the authorities have become alarmed at the size of the crowd and at Peter’s insistence that the man’s healing happened in the name of Jesus of Nazareth.

Peter is not afraid. He is so filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit that he feels compelled to share the good news that Jesus has healed this man.

Our psalm for today is one of the most beloved psalms in the Bible. When we meditate on this psalm, it fills us with assurance of the presence of our Lord, and it reminds us that Jesus is leading us every step of the way. He leads us to good pastures so that we can be nourished by his presence, and he leads us to the still waters where we can be quiet and know that our Lord is right beside us.

Our reading from the First Letter of John continues the exploration of the theme of God’s love. One of the gems of this passage is, “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” 

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. Jesus has just healed a blind man on the sabbath, and the Pharisees are outraged. They have interrogated the man and his parents. Now they are questioning Jesus. In both our reading from Acts and our gospel for today, the authorities are upset about the power of Jesus to heal people.

Jesus says that he is the good shepherd. This year, as we are moving through this pandemic, I want to be sure that we understand the biblical shepherd. We often think of flocks of sheep being rather unruly, and border collies herding these sheep.

The biblical shepherd did not work that way. The biblical shepherd went ahead of the sheep to let them know that the path was safe. Because the sheep knew and trusted the shepherd, they followed as a group. In the village was a sheepfold. This was an impressive structure with very high walls. In that high wall was a very sturdy door. Someone guarded that door at night to keep the sheep safe. When each shepherd came to the door the next morning, the gatekeeper would let the shepherd in.

Each shepherd had a different voice and a different call. When the shepherd called, only his own sheep would follow. The sheep and the shepherd got to know each other very well. The shepherd knew the gifts and flaws of every sheep. He knew their idiosyncrasies, their little foibles and characteristics. He knew everything about them. And he loved those sheep. The sheep knew their shepherd would take care of them. So they followed him. 

Back in those times, there were still lions and bears in Palestine, and those lions and bears could attack the flock. Shepherds had to fight off those wild animals. Being a shepherd demanded great skill and courage.

When he had gathered his flock, the shepherd would lead them out into the pastures and hills beyond the village. When the next shepherd arrived, he would call his flock in the same way, each shepherd with a different voice and call. 

In the face of authorities challenging their mission of healing, both Peter and our Lord preach powerful and eloquent sermons. It is very sad to think that authorities, even religious authorities, would try to stop people from healing because the law says you can’t do that on the sabbath. Both Peter and Jesus make it clear that human rules cannot stop God’s healing power.

Jesus gives his life for his sheep. And he is calling everyone to join his flock. The hired hands are in it for themselves. The good shepherd is here to lead and protect his sheep. He willingly lays down his life for his sheep. Good leaders should not be in it for themselves, They should really care. There is a contrast between the authorities and Peter and Jesus.

But there is something even more important. Every one of us, and all of us together, those on Zoom and those who are not, everybody is a part of Jesus’ beloved flock. And here we are, over a year into this Covid Era. 

Every day of all those weeks. Jesus has called us each by name and we have recognized his loving and courageous voice. We know he would give his life for us. He already has. And here he is, calling to us, Here he is, in our midst, even though we haven’t been able to celebrate Holy Eucharist together and do so many of the other things that we hold as precious gifts and signs of our faith. Yet, we are here, and he is here with us.

We can hear his voice. “I know my sheep and my own know me,” he says. And we know he has given his life for us. And we know that he is risen and right here with us. We are not alone. He is leading us and guiding us. We stay together; we move together; we work together; he loves us and we love him and each other.

This coming Sunday. May 2, we have the opportunity return to hybrid worship. If the weather permits, some of us will be outdoors at Grace. The rest of us will be on Zoom. When we are allowed to be inside our beloved building, we will continue our hybrid worship. Some of us will be at Grace, Some will be at home on Zoom. We will stay together.

This gospel is about the crucifixion. And it is about Easter. Jesus gives his life for the sheep, for us, and for everyone. Out of the pain and struggle and brokenness of the cross, our Lord brings life. Love is the most powerful force in the world. Reaching out to others, helping them, healing them, giving of ourselves, that is the Way of Love. Let us continue to help and serve others in Jesus’ name, Let us continue to walk the Way of Love. 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 20 Proper 24A October 18, 2020

Exodus 33:12-23
Psalm 99
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Matthew 22:15-22

Last Sunday, in the words of my beloved mentor David Brown, God was about to “gunch” God’s people because they built the golden calf. This placed Moses in an extremely awkward situation.  God is about to rain fire down on the people Moses has led many miles into the wilderness. We can imagine that Moses found this a terrifying prospect. Remember that old saying, “Faith is fear that has said its prayers?” Moses has clearly devoted himself to mammoth amounts of prayer, thus replacing any fear with wholehearted faith. He convinces God that God should not consume God’s people with fire.

As we approach our reading for today, we remember that ancient people firmly believed that you could not see God and live. God was so powerful that being close to God or seeing the face of God would kill you.

At this point, God and Moses have had quite a long relationship and a rich dialogue. In our reading for today, Moses asks God to “show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight.” And God answers, “My presence will go with you and I will give you rest.” Then Moses tells God that if God will not go with the people, there is no sense in their going ahead on their journey. And God says that God will go with them.

And then Moses asks something that probably no human had ever asked. “Show me your glory, I pray,” Moses asks. And God says that God will go past a place in the rock and will put Moses in a cleft of the rock and will cover Moses with God’s hand while God passes by. This way, Moses will not see God’s face and will not die from seeing the sheer power of God.

In leading the people of God from slavery into freedom, Moses has had some powerful conversations with God. This faithful leader has actually convinced God to change God’s mind. In the process, Moses has gotten to know God better and better. And I’m going to say that Moses has come to love God. God listens to him and actually follows his advice! Because he loves God and wants to know God as fully as he can, Moses asks something that no one has ever asked before, He wants to see God’s glory. He knows very well that no one can see the face of God and live.

God listens to Moses, as God has listened even when Moses disagreed with God. It has been a long journey since Moses turned aside from watching and guarding the flock of Reuel his father-in-law and saw a bush which was burning but was not consumed. And heard the voice of God coming from that fire. Heard the voice of God calling him, Moses, just an ordinary human, to go back to Egypt and lead the people of God out of slavery.

In one of the most tender and touching passages in Scripture, God answers Yes to Moses’ request. Moses will be able to see God’s glory, but Moses will be protected by being in the cleft of the rock and being covered by God’s almighty and loving hand so that Moses will not die.

In contrast to being a force of destructive power, God is now developing a very close and loving relationship with God’s chosen leader of the people, Moses. In the Hebrew Scriptures, God often appears as a God who regularly gunches people when they go astray. Sodom and Gomorrah come to mind. But this tender moment between God and Moses is a little glimpse into our evolving human understanding of God as not only transcendent, a God mighty enough to create the universe and stand above and beyond the creation, far away and mighty in power, but also immanent, a God who is close to us, as close as our breath, as close as the beating of our hearts.

As Christians, we believe that God loves us beyond our ability to understand or imagine. Yes, loves us frail and fallible creatures who are anything but perfect—loves us so much that, as our loving God watched us make one disastrous choice after another and grow closer and closer to some cosmic brink, our loving God realized the only way to reach us was to become one of us.

And so, in a little place called Bethlehem, Jesus was born. And he was raised in another little town called Nazareth. A town much like Sheldon or Fletcher or Montgomery or Franklin or Fairfield or any other little town in Vermont. Nazareth was out of the way and it was a place where folks could think for themselves and not be so much under the sway of the occupying Roman Empire. Jesus is our gracious God choosing out of love to walk the face of the earth and live among us to show us the way to new life.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is being grilled by the Pharisees and the Herodians. Their question is, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?” Jesus is caught between the Devil and the deep  blue sea on this one. The Herodians are pro-Caesar and the Pharisees are anti-Caesar. Jesus asks for a coin, and he says, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s.”

As Christians, we know that everything we have is a gift from God. Even our very lives. Every breath. The energy to be able to help other people. The vision of a kingdom, a shalom of peace, love, and wholeness for the creation.

The Roman Empire occupied Palestine at that time. They were great engineers. The roads and aqueducts were great, but the government was ruthless. One whiff of  insurrection and they squashed it. Once again, we have David Brown’s very helpful distinction: what is the meaning of authority? The distinction is between auctoritas—authorship, creativity, flexibilility, freeing people to realize their God-given potential and imperium—tyranny, control, imprisoning people for the slightest infraction, squashing opposition, removing freedom, — a heavy boot coming down on the people and killing them.

For survival’s sake, we might pay our taxes to Rome so that we won’t be arrested or killed. Or we might try to rebel. But to God, we owe everything—God’s gifts of time, talent, and treasure, the gifts of faith, hope, and love and all that goes with those gifts. We offer our lives to God so that God can lead us and guide us into what God is calling us to do. God is a God of freedom, love, and creativity. Tyranny tries to annihilate all those gifts. 

And so, Moses and God deepen their partnership in leading the people to freedom. And our Lord calls us to offer our lives in gratitude to our loving God, our Holy One, who leads us into the freedom and grace of new life. Amen.

Pentecost 20 Proper 22B RCL October 7, 2018

Job 1:1; 2:1-10
Psalm 26
Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
Mark 10:2-16

In our opening reading this morning, we are looking in at a meeting of the heavenly beings. God points out a man named Job, who is faithful to God and chooses good over evil. Satan, who at that time in history was seen as a kind of prosecuting attorney, challenges God. Satan is certain that, if forced to endure all kinds of challenges and tragedies, Job will eventually curse God. So God gives Satan permission to visit these trials upon Job.

Our reading ends with the very sad picture of Job sitting in ashes with sores all over his body. Job’s wife tells him to give up his integrity, curse God, and die. Job refuses to do so. In the course of doing that, he insults his wife’s intelligence, revealing the sexist views of his time. Women were considered to be less intelligent than men. But we must remember that the book was written about twenty-five hundred years ago. Let’s hope that we have made some progress on that issue.

Back in those times and even now, there is a belief that, if we trust in God and do God’s will, we will be healthy, wealthy, and wise. If we are faithful, we will be prosperous. This belief can be summarized as good things happen to good people; bad things happen to bad people.

Such beliefs fall under what I call BT, Bad Theology. We have only to look at the life of our Lord to see that good people indeed suffer. Jesus endured the worst possible death and humiliation that anyone could suffer in his time.  Many of God’s most faithful servants have faced great difficulties. Yesterday in our calendar, we remembered William Tyndale, who was killed for translating the Bible into English!

Job loses all his many possessions; his family and friends desert him, except for some so-called friends who spout Bad Theology to him, adding to his suffering. People laugh at him. Where once he was sought out for advice and counsel, people avoid him. And still he will not curse God. He will not abandon his faith. He will not give up hope. The Book of Job does not solve the problem of evil, but it does assure us that bad things happen to good people and that just because someone has great riches and power does not mean that that person is following God.

We live in a fallen creation. This world us not operating in the way that God would want it to. At the center of our faith is a cross, and, as we look upon that cross, we realize how far this world is from what God would call it to be. On that cross, some very powerful humans tried to kill the love of God.

We had another clergy conference this week on racial reconciliation. One of the books we were asked to read was White Like Me by Tim Wise. Tim is the son of a Jewish father and a Christian mother. He is white. He grew up in Nashville, and, for some reason, he had more African-American friends in school than white friends, that is, up through middle school. In middle school, he noticed that the classes were supposedly arranged according to ability, but the white students ended up in the accelerated classes and the African-American children ended up in the slower classes, no matter how intelligent they were.

When he got to high school, the system became even more rigid. There were college-bound tracks and vocational tracks. No African-American young people ended up in the college-bound tracks. At one point, early in high school, one of Tim’s closest African-American friends tells Tim that he will no longer speak to him because they are in different worlds. Simply because he was white, Tim had opportunities that students of color did not have.  When it comes to issues of race and gender and class, we are not on a level playing field.

In our gospel for today, the Pharisees ask one of those questions that indicate that they are not trying to learn anything; they are trying to trick Jesus.  In Jesus’ time, it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife for the most minor reason. He could divorce her if he didn’t like her cooking or if she didn’t keep house the way he wanted her to. The woman, on the other hand, did not have the same rights. She was his property. It was almost impossible for a woman to get a divorce for any reason.

In order to be responsible interpreters of the Bible, we must pause and say that when our Church barred divorced persons from receiving Communion, that was a misuse of Scripture. There are times when divorce or annulment of a marriage is warranted. Domestic violence is real, and it kills marriages. Also, some people can appear to be capable of holding up their end of a marriage commitment but, as time goes on, it becomes apparent that they do not possess that ability.

Jesus is telling us that marriage is a lifelong commitment, and he is also telling us not to treat any human beings as property. The reason we know this is that Jesus tells the disciples to let the children come to him. It is hard for us to believe, but in those days, children were chattel, possessions, and, worse, they were almost considered dispensable. 

A man of that time and culture would not spend time with children. He was too busy going about important business to waste his time with a little child. That was women’s work.

Yet our Lord takes these little ones and cherishes them. And he tells us that we need to receive his kingdom with childlike openness and wonder and trust and faith. As we read the Book of Job, we can see that Job has that almost childlike faith. He will not give up on God. He trusts God.

Our Lord is also calling us to treat the most vulnerable among us with the same love and respect with which he treated those children.  Amen.

Pentecost 5 Proper 9A RCL July 9, 2017

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
Psalm 45:11-18
Romans 7:15-25a
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Our opening reading from the Book of Genesis is relatively new to the lectionary. The first time we encountered this lesson was back in 2011. Sarah has died, Abraham is growing older, and he sends his faithful servant to find a proper wife for Isaac, his beloved son.

The servant remains unnamed but many scholars think it is his beloved and trusted servant, Eliezer. Abraham has heard that his brother, Nahor, has married Milcah, and that have had a family. One of their sons, Bethuel, has become the father of a young woman named Rebekah. Abraham thinks Rebekah would be just the right wife for Isaac.

Eliezer goes back to the homeland of Abraham. Every step of his journey is steeped in prayer. He goes to the well, which is always the meeting place of the village, and Rebekah not only offers him a drink of water but also offers to water his camels. This is the height of hospitality, which is a great virtue.

In those days, women and children were considered as chattel, possessions like a chair or a good cow. A father could give his daughter to a man without even consulting her. But in Rebekah’s family, they actually ask the young woman’s opinion, and Rebekah says that she would like to marry Isaac. She has a choice in this important matter.  There is a celebration, and then Rebekah and her nurse and all her maids get on their camels, and the journey continues. Clearly, Rebekah is a woman of substance. They finally arrive in the Negeb. Isaac is out walking in the cool of the evening, looks up and sees the camels. Rebekah is very pleased to see Isaac, and they enter into a marriage based on mutual love and respect.

This story has at least two major themes. The first is that Eliezar’s journey on behalf of his master is rooted and grounded in God’s will and direction. The second is that, even in those days, Rebekah’s family asks Rebekah’s opinion, and they listen to her. Even though she is a mere woman, she has a voice. She is a capable and gracious woman of means and status, and that will be reflected in her marriage.

Our reading from Paul describes our own experience. We can want to do something, and will to do something, but sometimes, we do just the opposite. Or, we can make up our mind not to do something, but then we go ahead and do it anyway. At times, we humans can feel as though there is a war going on inside us.

When Paul talks about our “mortal bodies,” or our “members,” Biblical scholar Bruce Metzger tells us those terms can be translated as “all the faculties and functions of the person.” Left to our own human faculties and abilities, sometimes we do the opposite of what our best intentions call us to do.

If this continues, and we do things we know are destructive over and over again, that is one sign of addiction. We become powerless over alcohol, or drugs, or gambling, or spending, or eating, or electronic devices, or accumulating wealth and power, and on and on the list can go. Recently, I heard a report by an electronics expert on how our phones and iPads and computers are set up to make us addicts. We  become programmed so that we will need to check our phones or ipads more and more often to see if there is something new on Facebook or Twitter. We are constantly checking our devices. People looking intently at their phones have actually walked out into traffic.

Step Two of many recovery programs says, “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” Sanity comes from the root word sanus in Latin, meaning healthy. We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could return us to health (sanitas.)

Paul writes, “Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Our Lord can rescue us from this merry-go-round of brokenness.

Our gospel for today describes crowds who are never pleased. John the Baptist fasts and drinks only water, and the people don’t like him. Jesus eats and drinks wine, and they say he is a glutton and a drunkard. Jesus says that wisdom is given to infants, meaning that wisdom does not necessarily reside with those who have college degrees or important titles or great wealth and power but can be given to anyone, regardless of status, and is often given to those who have very little material wealth.

Then Jesus says those words which are among the gems of the Bible: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me: for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

The Pharisees burden people, especially, the poor, with over six hundred laws which they cannot possibly follow. The “infants”, the everyday people, do not have the leisure time to follow these rules. They have to spend most of their time working to support their families. The Pharisees and other teachers of the time ask people to follow a set of rules.

Jesus is asking us to follow him. He understands what it is to be human. He truly loves ordinary people like you and me. He is meek and gentle. He is also trained as a carpenter, and a good carpenter in those days would fashion a yoke to fit every lump and bump on the neck  and shoulders of an ox. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who knows us intimately and who can lead us into green pasture and beside still water. He can lead us into newness of life.

His yoke is easy and his burden is light. He frees us from the struggle that Paul so aptly describes.

May we follow him.  Amen.