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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion March 26, 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 April 2, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion April 9, 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:…

Easter 6C May 22, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advent 2C December 5, 2021

Baruch 5:1-9
Canticle 16, p. 92
Philippians 1:3-11
Luke 3:1-6

Our first reading today is from a book of the Bible attributed to Jeremiah’s secretary, Baruch. Scholars tell us that Baruch was not the author, and we really do not know who wrote this beautiful passage. Scholars tell us that it was written well after the lifetime of Baruch by someone who was very familiar with the work of Isaiah.  

“Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God.” The book is addressed to people who have been in exile, and God is telling them that they will return home. Jerusalem is pictured as standing on a high spot, looking out on all her children returning from the four corners of the earth.

In an echo of Isaiah, the mountains and hills are made low, and the valleys are filled up so that the path toward the holy city is level. The journey home is easy. There are no climbs or descents.The text tells us, “God will lead Israel with joy, in the light of his glory, with the mercy and righteousness that come from him.”

For this second Sunday in Advent, we have a choice between two readings from the Hebrew scriptures, and I chose this one because it gives us such a vivid and moving picture of our own return home to God in this holy time of Advent. It is a return full of joy, and God makes it much easier by leveling the ground! 

This image of the mountains being made low and the valleys filled is also symbolic of the shalom of God. In God’s shalom, there will be a level playing field. Justice will prevail.

Our Canticle for today, the Benedictus, is the song of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, celebrating the birth of this very special child who was called to be the forerunner of the Messiah. “In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.” We are walking the way of God’s shalom.

Our epistle is from the letter of Paul to his beloved community in Philippi. Paul begins with gratitude: “I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of your because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” Paul is reminding us that we are living in that in-between time. The kingdom of God has begun but is not yet complete, That will happen when Jesus comes. Paul reminds the Philippians and us that God has begun this good work and God will complete the work of creation.

Paul says that the community in Philippi “holds [him] in [their] heart” because they all share in God’s grace.  This means that we, here in Sheldon two thousand years later, hold each other in our hearts because of God’s grace, and God holds all of us in God’s heart. Paul prays that their and our “love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help [us] determine what is best,” so that when our Lord comes to complete the creation, we will have borne good fruit in helping to build his shalom. There is work to do, and there are moral and ethical decisions we will need to make, and Paul is telling us that God will be with us every step of the way to help us stay on the path of shalom.

In our gospel, we meet that great Advent figure, John the Baptist. Notice that Luke carefully places John’s ministry in its historical context. It’s the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius; Pontius Pilate is the governor of Judea, and Herod is ruler of Galilee. All the rulers are named. The word of God comes to John, the son of Zechariah, the priest in the Jerusalem temple. In the words of Isaiah, John is “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord.” Everything is made level. Everything is being straightened out. Everything is being set right. All is being made clear. We are going to see the salvation of God. We are going to meet the Messiah face to face. God’s loving and merciful and just reign is going to prevail.

John is preaching a repentance, a changing of our life and priorities, a metanoia, a transformation, a forgiveness of sins, a course correction, a possibility of freedom and release. No wonder people flocked to see and hear him. After all those years of doing things that were destructive and not doing things that were creative and life-giving, at long last there is help. There is hope.

In this year 2021, our readings today are filled with hope. The hope of returning home after an exile. The hope of living lives based on love for each other and for all people. The hope of love overflowing more and more. The hope of creating a world in which the shalom of God is more fully realized. That is a hope we can have because of the abundance of God’s grace, and the fact that God is with us. God has given us a vision, and God is helping us to fulfill that vision of shalom.

At this time of the year, when the days are so short, the light is overcoming the shadows. God is calling to us in love and joy. Our King is coming. May our hearts be filled with light and joy. May we keep each other in our hearts. May we remember that we are being held in the loving heart of God. 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 19 Proper 23A October 11, 2020

Exodus 32:1-14
Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23
Philippians 4:1-9
Matthew 22:1-14

In our first reading today, Moses is spending a great deal of the time on the mountain receiving the law from God. The people get upset about Moses’ long absence and ask Aaron to make them a God. Aaron collects all their gold earrings and makes a calf. God sees this and tells Moses that he needs to go down the mountain and set things right, referring to the people as “your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt.” God tells Moses to let God alone so that God can “consume them,” and then God promises to make Moses “a great nation.”

Moses’ response is worth our notice. The  text says, “But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, ‘O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you  brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?” Moses makes several more wise comments and then reminds God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, to whom God promised descendants as numerous as the stars and the sands of the earth.

In reference to God’s anger, Biblical scholar Beverly Zink-Sawyer writes,  “Rather than instilling within us fear of a vengeful, angry God,… these characteristics should comfort us with the realization that we, indeed, have been made in the image of a God who feels as deeply as we have been created to feel—and feels not only the negative emotions of anger and disappointment expressed in the text, but positive emotions such as love and forgiveness.”  (Zink-Sawyer, New Proclamation Year A 2008, p. 224.

What struck me this year was Moses’ ability to calm God down, remind God that God, not Moses, had brought God’s people out of slavery in Egypt, and help God to remember that God had promised to Abraham and his descendants that God would make them as numerous as the stars. In a time when people believed that you could not see God or even be near God and live, Moses shows amazing courage and presence of mind.

Edwin Friedman was a rabbi and a family therapist who worked with families and organizations around the world. One of his major ideas is that leaders should provide a “non-anxious presence.” Moses certainly does that in this passage. Biblical scholar Shauna K. Hannan says that we have often referred to this story as “the ‘golden calf’ incident,” and suggests that we might want to give it the title, “God changes God’s mind at the request of Moses.”  (Hannan, New Proclamation Year A 2011, p. 183.)

Our gospel for today is extraordinarily challenging. Professor Hannan says that Martin Luther called this parable “the terrible gospel which  he did not like to preach.” (Ibid, p. 185.) Luke’s version of this parable is far more popular. The king sends his servants out to invite people. The prospective guests give excuses but no one is beaten or killed. The king finally invites everyone, the lame, the halt, and the blind, and the message of God’s inclusiveness is clear.

Matthew’s gospel was written around 90 C.E., and his community was made up of Jewish people who had become followers of Jesus. The injuring and killing of the slaves refers to the treatment of the prophets and of Christian missionaries. The burning of the city is a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 C.E. When the king sends the slaves out to invite everyone to the banquet, that symbolizes the opening of the new faith to the Gentiles. God’s kingdom is open to everyone.

But then there is the  portion that does not appear in Luke’s gospel. Scholars tell us that wedding garments were easily available and that almost everyone had one. In addition, these garments were often passed out to guests. So, this is not an issue of what the guest was wearing. The point is that God graciously and generously invites all people into God’s kingdom. But, when we accept God’s  invitation, we need to have the proper attitude. God’s love, grace, and mercy are great gifts to us, and we are called to accept those gifts with gratitude, openness, and faithfulness. Matthew is telling us that this man did not have the right attitude.

In today’s new testament lesson, Paul is showing his deep love for the congregation in Philippi. He has known these people for a long time. He urges Euodia and Syntyche to resolve whatever their difference has been. We do not know exactly what it was, but we do know that we are called to be of one mind in Christ. Scholars tell us that these two women were leaders in the congregation, and their oneness in Christ was crucial to the health of the community.

Paul also calls us to “rejoice in the Lord always,” not an easy thing do in the days of Covid 19, but essential to our faith. He also calls us to be gentle to everyone. Gentleness is one of the fruits of the Spirit. He reminds us that “the Lord is near.” As near as our breath. We can reach out and touch our beloved Good Shepherd who is leading and guiding us. Paul calls us not to worry but to pray. If we are worried about something, we need to pray about it and put it into the hands of God.

And then he writes, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Whatever we have learned from our dearest teachers about God and Jesus and the Spirit, Paul is calling us to think about these things. 

One of the most powerful things he mentions is that when we are worried, we should pray. If we’re worried abut a friend or a relative; if we are deeply troubled about all the people who are dying of this virus; if we are worried about the strife in our country; if we are worried about kids, teachers, administrators, and staff returning to school—all these are things we are called to pray about.

God’s kingdom is open to all. May we have an attitude of trust and gratitude. The risen Christ is in our midst. May we follow him every step of the way. Amen.

Easter 6C May 26, 2019

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

Our first reading, from the Book of Acts, is dramatic. Paul and his team are in Troas, a port city in what was then called Asia Minor. Today we call this country Turkey. Herbert O’Driscoll tells us that, if he had looked across the Aegean Sea, Paul would have been able to see Europe.

That night, Paul has a vision. A man from Macedonia is calling to him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Paul immediately realizes that this is a call from God to go and proclaim the good news to the people of Macedonia. The writer of Acts even describes the course they took.

They end up in Philippi, a leading city in the area and a Roman colony. On the sabbath day, they go to an area outside the city gate where, the text says, “we supposed there was a place of prayer.” Scholars think there was no actual synagogue there, but Paul and his team find a group of women gathered. The good news is about to be preached on European soil for the first time. The new faith is leaping from Asia to Europe.

Lydia is described as a “worshiper of God.” This wording indicates that she is a Gentile who is interested in the Jewish faith; she is drawn to a God of justice and mercy. She has her own business. She sells purple fabric to the wealthy and powerful in the area. She also has her own house. She is a woman of means who is accustomed to dealing with the upper classes. God has opened her heart to listen eagerly to what Paul has to say.

We have no record of what Paul said, but it must have touched the minds and hearts of his listeners. Lydia and the entire group are baptized.  Then Lydia invites Paul and his team to stay at her house. Later on, when Paul returns to stay with Lydia and her household, there is a house church in her home. This is how the new faith spread. The good news was preached; people felt the call to follow Jesus; they gathered in the homes of folks who could afford to have homes, and the word spread.

In our reading from the Book of Revelation, we are in a vision looking down from a mountain onto the holy city of Jerusalem. The light and love of God are shining forth.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is telling the disciples that he will be going to be with God. He will be leaving them. This Thursday, the Church celebrates the feast of the Ascension. As the disciples look on, our Lord rises to heaven to be with the Father. This glorious window depicts that scene.

We can only imagine how sad those faithful followers of Jesus were to see him move away from them. They would never see him again.

And yet, here in our gospel, he is telling them and us, “Those who love me will keep my word and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” He is telling us that if we love him, our actions will show that love. What we say and do will express his love. True love is not only a feeling. It is actions which respect the dignity of every human being. And Jesus says that, if we live lives centered in him, he will make his home with us. God will make God’s home with us. If we follow Jesus, he will be with us always. He will make his home with us.

Then Jesus tells the disciples and us that he will send his Spirit. Jesus says that the Spirit will remind us of what Jesus has taught us. And our Lord gives us his peace, his shalom, his vision of how human life is to be lived

Retired Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori writes,”That word ‘shalom’ is usually translated as ‘peace,’ but it’s a far richer understanding of peace than we usually recognize. It’s not just a 1970s era hippie holding up two fingers to greet a friend—‘Peace, Bro.’ It isn’t just telling two arguers to get over their differences. Shalom is a vision of the city of God on earth, a community where people are at peace with each other because each one has enough to eat, adequate shelter, medical care, and meaningful work. Shalom is a city where justice is the rule of the day, where prejudice has vanished, where the divine gifts with which we have been so abundantly blessed are equally valued.” (Schori, A Wing and a Prayer,” p. 33.)

As Jesus gives us his vision of Shalom, he also offers us one more paradox. He says, “I am going away, and I am coming to you.”He is going to be with God, but he will also be with us and he will be giving us his grace so that we can help him bring in his kingdom, his shalom across the whole wide earth.

Love is at the root of it all, his love that we know so well—the love that will seek out every lost sheep. strengthen our weak knees, buoy up our spirits, and welcome everyone into his big family. Nothing ca get in the way of his love. Nothing can stop his love.

This week, especially on Thursday, Ascension Day, we meditate on that paradox: Our Lord has gone to be with God and yet he has made his home with us. He is with us, with that unfailing love and grace, leading us and guiding us into his Shalom.  Amen. 

Pentecost 16 Proper 20A RCL September 24, 2017

Exodus 16:2-15
Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16

In our opening reading today, we are journeying with the Israelites, who have escaped their slavery in Egypt, but they are now wishing they had died there, because they are missing the abundance of food which they enjoyed. Of course, they are forgetting that they were enslaved.  All they can do is complain that they do not have enough food. Any journey from slavery to freedom is a demanding one. God gives them quails and manna from heaven.

In his letter to his beloved congregation in Philippi, Paul says that he would actually be glad to die and to go and be with Christ, but he will stay here in order to help the community of faith to grow and progress and have joy in their faith. Paul calls the Philippians and us to “Live [our lives] on a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

In our gospel for today, our Lord gives us a parable that tells us how to live lives worthy of him.

Back in the time of Jesus, there was no Vermont Department of Labor, no employment office where you could go to find work. If you were looking for work, you would go to the village marketplace and employers would come and hire people.

Early one morning, a landowner goes to the village marketplace and hires some workers for the usual daily wage. They go to his vineyard and get to work. He goes out to the marketplace about nine o’clock and finds other people standing idle, and he tells them to go to work in the vineyard ad he will pay them what is right. They go to work. Apparently, this landowner wants to give everyone some useful work to do.

The landowner goes out at noon and again at three o’clock and again at five o’clock and hires more people.

At the end of the day, the landowner tells his manager to pay the laborers, but he does it in a very strange way. He tells the manager to begin with the last and go to the first. This sounds a lot like Jesus is the landowner because he kept saying that the last shall be first and the first last. So we can be pretty sure that this is how Jesus would run things.

The manager calls the people who were hired last and he gives them the entire usual daily wage for a full day’s work. That is more than fair. That is extremely generous. Finally, the people who started early in the day receive their pay. Lo and behold, it is the usual daily wage.

They are so upset they can hardly contain themselves. “You paid those late guys the same as you paid us. We worked all day. What is the matter with you? You should have paid us more.”

The landowner quietly but firmly replies, “When I hired you, I said I would pay you the usual daily wage. That is exactly what I did. I chose to give to these last folks the same as I gave to you. After all. they were standing there all day waiting for a job. They were willing to work. Why are you so angry because I am generous?”

With God, with Jesus, and with the Holy Spirit, the last shall be first and the first shall be last. God is fair, God is just, and God is generous.

Lately, I have been thinking of my own family. My mother’s side of the family came over from Germany before the American Revolution. They fought in the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. My father’s side of the family were Roman Catholics who came over from Northern Ireland in the latter part of the nineteenth century. My grandfather, who was  eight years old, came over in a ship with his grandmother. They landed at Ellis Island in New York City and they worked hard and became civil servants in the City of New York and later in Vermont.

When my grandfather was growing up, I am sure that he saw signs that said, “No Irish need apply.” Later on, the Italians came over and they were the low people on the totem pole, and then others and others. Now we have the dreamers and we have our neighbors from Mexico who keep our dairy farms going

For God, no one is the low person on the totem pole. The last are the first and the first are the last.

This year, our clergy conference is on “Racial Reconciliation.” Right now, I am reading a wrenching book by Michael Eric Dyson. The title is “Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America.” Michael’s own son, a physician, has been stopped by the police for no reason. Michael, who has written nineteen books, is a professor of Sociology at Georgetown University, and holds numerous honors, has had to deal with racism directed at him his whole life.

In preparation for this clergy conference, we are required to take the RACE Implicit Bias Test.

Today’s gospel addresses many issues. It addresses race. It also addresses the issue of our migrant workers here in Vermont. Kim Erno will be speaking on that at our potluck agape feast at noon today. This gospel speaks to all the issues that we use to separate ourselves, all the issues we use to give some people privilege and power and other people less privilege and power. God is calling us today to think about these things, to pray about these things, to do honest and thorough self-examination and to follow our baptismal vows to “respect the dignity of every human being.” “Dignity” is also the theme of our diocesan convention this year.

May we “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves.” May we strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” Amen.

Let us say together The Baptismal Covenant, page 304.

Easter 6C RCL Year C May 1, 2016

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

Once again, our opening lesson places us in the midst of an important scene in the course of history. Paul and his ministry team are in Troas, a city near ancient Troy in what we would call Turkey. Paul has a vision. A man from Macedonia is calling him to “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” We do not know who the man in the vision is, but it is clear that Paul takes this to be a call from God.

We are given the exact route that they follow. They are going from the continent of Asia to Europe. They are going to make history. They are going to proclaim the Good News on a new continent.

They land in Philippi, an important Roman city.  They remain there for several days. When the Sabbath comes they go outside the city gate to a place of prayer by the river. They are hoping to find a synagogue where Paul, a Rabbi, would have the right to teach.

But they find no building. Instead they find a group of women gathered for worship. Paul and his team sit down and talk with the women. There are two striking things going on here. In the ancient world, it would be highly unusual to find a group of women worshiping together, and it also would be unusual for a rabbi to sit down with these women. God is dong a new thing. Barriers are coming down.

Among these women is an extraordinary person named Lydia. She is a dealer in purple cloth. Most scholars see her as a prosperous business woman. Since only the Roman nobility were allowed to wear purple cloth because purple symbolizes royalty, scholars tell us that we can assume that Lydia is accustomed to dealing with the noble class.

Lydia is a seeker. She is a Gentile who is interested in learning about God.  The Lord opens her heart to listen eagerly to Paul, and she and her household are baptized. This is another unusual thing. Lydia is the head of a household.

She takes her faith so seriously that she immediately invites Paul and his team to stay in her house. After some persuasion, they accept, Later, after Paul and Silas are released from prison, they go to stay with her again. By that time, services are being held on a regular basis in her house. It has become a house church.

Lydia and her community of women who are engaged in the cloth trade are the first converts in Europe. The church in Philippi was the first Christian community in Europe, and it was a loving and faithful group of people. Paul loved them very much.

Here we have the story of how our faith spread from Asia to Europe, People meet beside the river to learn more about God and a new faith community is born.

Our reading from the Book of Revelation describes the glorious and eternal worship of Christ, the Lamb of God.

In our gospel, Jesus is continuing his teaching of the apostles in preparation for the ascension. He is going to leave them, and he is trying to give them everything they will need to carry on faithfully when he is no longer here on earth.

He is telling them and us that, even though he will not be here in a physical sense, the Holy Spirit will be with us, and the Spirit is the presence of Christ with us. The Spirit leads us and guides us as it did Paul and his team in our first lesson.

Jesus tells us several very important things in this reading. First, the heart of our life with him and in him is love, and the quality of our love for him will be demonstrated in our actions.

Secondly, we will always have his peace, his shalom. This means that, no matter what happens to us, his presence and his stillness and faith will always be within us. In addition, the vision of his shalom, his reign of peace and harmony for the whole world, will always be our vision.

He has taught us to respect the dignity of every human being, and in our opening reading we see Paul and his helpers sitting and praying with a group of women to whom they would not have been allowed to speak if they had been following the customs and laws of that time.

He has called us to create a world of peace in which everyone has enough to eat, clothes to wear, a place to live, good and useful work to do, adequate medical care, a world in which all people can feel safe. He has called us to  help him to extend his shalom to the whole creation.

Perhaps most of all he has assured us that he will be with us wherever we are. He will be with us in the sharing of bread and wine which is the food of his love and presence and energy. He will be with us as we pray for healing for our brothers and sisters, and our beloved pets. He will be with us in times of joy and in times of loss. He will be with us in every moment. He will abide in us and we in him.

When Paul and his helpers landed in Philippi, and then rested, and then went to the river to find the praying community they brought with them the presence of Christ. Lydia was waiting for that moment. It changed her life. The Church began in Philippi, and countless others were able to experience the presence of Christ in a community of deep faith.

Thanks be to God for two hundred years of that experience of the presence of Christ here at Grace, and thanks be to God for all the saints who, like Lydia, accepted our Lord with all their hearts and spread the Good News.

May we follow in their footsteps.  Amen