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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion December 11, 2022 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 18 Proper 22A October 4, 2020

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
Psalm 19
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46

Once again we are on the journey with the people of God. They have gone through many challenges. They have struggled; they have been hungry, thirsty, angry, discouraged. They have even wished they had stayed in their slavery in Egypt. Now, our loving God is giving them a great gift, the gift of the covenant that will enable them to love God and to love their neighbors.

The first four commandments describe our relationship with God. There is only one God, and that is the God we are called to worship.   Don’t make idols. Only one God can fill that place in our hearts and lives, yet there are so many idols, things like money, power, and possessions, and our culture seems to give high value to those idols.

Use the name of God with great care. Every mention of that holy Name should be in the context of prayer. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. For those who have to work on Sundays, it is important to observe sabbath time on another day if possible. We all need time to nourish our spirits and rest our bodies and minds from the stresses of work.

The remaining six commandments deal with our relationships with our neighbors. Honor our father and our mother. Family ties are important. No murder. This refers not only to physical murder but to speaking ill of others and sharing gossip. We are called to be faithful to our spouses. No stealing. No lying. No coveting of things that others own.These commandments are the glue that will hold the people together and govern their lives. Biblical scholar James Newsome writes, “The commandments of God are God’s gracious gift to the people, by which the people are provided with the means to respond to God’s love.” (Newsome, Texts for Preaching Year A, p. 507.

Newsome seems to be implying that, if we humans are not able to live together in some kind of order, with mutual respect and caring for

each other, we will not be able to respond in gratitude to God’s love. There is great truth in that comment. The gift of the commandments enables the people to move ahead in their communal life with guidelines that will help their life together to be heathy and caring.

Just prior to our reading from Philippians, Paul offers stern words to some people in the congregation who think that Gentiles joining the congregation should have to undergo circumcision. There was a great discussion in the early Church about whether new followers of Jesus should be required to follow the dietary laws and be circumcised.

Paul speaks from a powerful position. He is a member of the tribe of Benjamin, a Pharisee, an expert in the law, and a Roman citizen, These attributes give him many privileges. But all of these things are as rubbish to him compared with the gift of knowing and following Jesus. It is the gift of faith, given to us by God, which makes us able to follow our Lord, not adherence to the law.

And then Paul speaks of the journey of following our Lord. He wants to become more and more like Christ, just as we do. But he knows that he is not there yet. That is so true. In our journey with Christ, there is always more growing to do. We are not perfect, but, as long as we are trying to follow our Lord, that’s the important thing.

Paul writes, “Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own, but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Paul is giving us another metaphor for the Covid-19 journey we are traveling at this moment and will be traveling for several months if we are to believe experts like Dr. Fauci. As medical experts have said, the fact that our President and our First Lady have been diagnosed with this virus reminds us that Covid 19 can strike anyone and that we need to follow safety measures. We pray for all who have been diagnosed with this virus and wish them a speedy and full recovery. This journey is not a sprint. It ls a marathon. Paul is so devoted to Jesus. He is so close to our Lord, that he says that Christ has made Paul his own. In a sense, they have become one through God’s love. Therefore, on his marathon journey in and to newness of life, Paul receives the energy of Christ through the Holy Spirit. And that is what we are receiving through the love of God and the power of the Spirit— power and energy to do the wise thing and the loving thing as we make this journey. Our risen Lord is on this journey with us, and we can trust in him.

In our gospel for today, our Lord is teaching in the temple. The religious authorities are watching him closely. They will eventually kill him. All tyrants try to destroy those who speak the truth. Jesus tells a parable.  He has studied the wise and inspiring prophet Isaiah who thought of God’s world as a vineyard. When you let out a vineyard to tenants, you normally expect to get a portion of the produce as payment. The owner sends people to collect the payment and the tenants beat one, kill another, and stone another. This happens a second time. The landowner finally sends his son, and the tenants kill him.

God loves us so much that God came among us. Jesus is God walking the face of the earth. We have the Ten Commandments as our guidelines on how to live our lives, but we still tend to go astray, so, as Paul knew well, God came to show us the way. Now we have a fully divine and fully human life, the life of Jesus, as our model. 

But Paul knew from his own experience that we have even more than that. We are walking the journey one cloudy day and our patience is fraying and our anxiety is rising and our temper is not in the greatest of shape. And then we feel his presence, calming our nerves, giving us strength, renewing our faith. We can feel him walking beside us. Let’s be honest: we can feel him carrying us. And, because he is risen and we know what he has been through, we feel his love and his hope and his courage flowing into us. And we know we can do this. With his help and his loving presence, we can take the next step. And the next. And, one step at a time, we can run this marathon, no matter what it takes—with his presence and his grace. Amen.

Lent 5C RCL April 7, 2019

Isaiah 43:16-21
Psalm 126
Philippians 3:4b-14
John 12:1-8

Our opening reading is from the prophet known as the Second Isaiah. The exiles have been in captivity in Babylon for five decades, and God is calling Isaiah to proclaim the amazing good news that the exiles will be coming home. They will be free.

This wonderful news is placed in the framework of another earlier time when God freed God’s people. The people had been enslaved in Egypt, but God moved the waters of the Red Sea, allowing the people, who had only the clothes on their backs, to run over the sodden and mucky ground and get to the other side. The chariots and horses of the Egyptians sank into the mud. Now, many years later, God is going to do a new thing, It is springing forth like water in the desert. God is going to make a path in the wilderness so that the people can follow it and return home from Babylon after all these years.

Our psalm today is a song of praise to God from the exiles who are returning to rebuild Jerusalem. We can hear the joyous laughter of the people who sowed with tears and are now reaping with joy.

Our epistle for today is one of the most eloquent and moving passages in the Bible. Paul is addressing his beloved Philippians. The sentences preceding this text reveal that there are some people in the congregation who still believe that all new converts must be circumcised.

Jesus has come, not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. As Paul says,
“The letter kills, but the spirit gives life.” (2 Cor. 3:6) Yet some people are clinging to old beliefs and traditions. Paul brings his entire life to bear on this issue. He himself was circumcised on the eighth day. He is a member of the tribe of Benjamin and a Pharisee, an expert in the law. Few people on the planet have more knowledge of the law than he does. His credentials are impressive.

Then he comes to the part that fills him with shame, the kind of shame we feel when we face something we wish we had never done. He persecuted the followers of Jesus. He watched from the sidelines as an angry mob stoned Stephen to death. He was on the way to Damascus to continue this mission when he met Jesus.

Yes, he was blameless under the law, but he had persecuted the followers of the One who was able to lead him into new life.

He lost his entire way of life. He realized that the cause which had dominated his every moment was not a noble cause after all. And yet, even though he lost that former life, he sees everything as gain.

Saul met our Lord on the road to Damascus. Jesus asked him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” No, he had not been with Jesus for several years the way the others had, but, in that brief meeting when he was blinded by the light, Saul began a lifelong relationship with the risen Christ. Like us, Paul never followed our Lord during Jesus’ earthly life, but his faith was just as deeply rooted as if he had spent every day of his life with Jesus. I believe that he did spend every day of his life with the risen Lord, just as we do, and that he grew very close to our Lord.

Paul has lost all the things he thought were so valuable, and he has gained a relationship with the risen Christ, and Paul wants to continue to grow closer to Jesus. Paul knows that by sharing in the suffering of Christ we experience the power of the resurrection. Our Lord takes all of our times of struggle and shame and defeat and transforms them into new life.

Paul admits that he isn’t there yet. He hasn’t arrived. He is still on the journey, just as we are. But he presses on to make the new life entirely his own, because Jesus has made Paul his own. Paul calls us to “forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead.” Paul clearly has great faith. Although he persecuted the followers of Jesus, he has come to know our Lord so deeply that he can encourage us on our journey of growing closer and closer to Christ.

In our gospel, it is only six days before the Passover. Jesus is going to die. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, who are among his closest friends, give a dinner for him. Lazarus has just been raised from the dead, and there he is at the supper table. The previous verses tell us that folks have gone to inform the authorities, and the raising of Lazarus has propelled them to find a way to kill Jesus. For the powers that be who are squashing life at every turn, the power to give newness of life is a huge threat.

Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with very expensive nard to show her love and respect for him and to assure him that she will be there every step of the way. Judas raises an issue about the expense, which is entirely bogus. Apparently, he wanted Mary to put that money in the common purse, but not because he cared about the poor. The text tells us that he stole money from the common funds. In effect, he wanted more money for himself. Scholars tell us that Jesus’ comment about the poor is simply to point out that his earthly life is about to end. Obviously, he cared about the poor, and in his kingdom everyone has enough to live a healthy and meaningful life.

What are these readings saying to us? There are some themes here about traveling light and letting go of things that do not lead to life.  The heavy chariots and horses sank. Traveling light, God’s people made it to freedom. Paul devoted the first part of his life to the law and to his faith. Yet it had led him to kill people. His shame was almost more than he could bear. His transformation was profound. What is God calling us to let go of? What things in our lives lead to death? What in our lives leads to life?

Mary pours out a treasure of love, faith, and devotion to Jesus. She is going to follow him through death and beyond to new life. Mary and Paul are sterling examples for us to follow. In our Collect for today, we pray that, “among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found.” May it be so. Amen.

Lent 2C   March 17. 2019

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
Psalm 27
Philippians 3:17-4:1
Luke 13:31-35

In our opening reading for today, we meet those shining examples of faith, Abraham and Sarah. At this point, their names are still Abram and Sarai. God has called them to leave their comfortable life in Mesopotamia and journey to Canaan.

Abram and Sarai have no children, and God has promised them that they would have many descendants. They have been through trials and tribulations and challenges too numerous to describe, and, although they are humans like us, they have stayed on the path and kept the faith as well as anyone could  under the circumstances. Yet, they are still childless.

Back in those days, around 1600 years before the birth of Christ, having children was everything. If you had children, you had a future, If you had no children, you had no future. If you had children, you could leave your land and flocks and herds and fields to them and they would take care of you. If not, it was easy to feel that you had nothing to live for.

By this time in their lives, Abram and Sarai are very old, way beyond the childbearing years. Yet God has made a covenant with them, and now Abram is asking God, when are you going to keep your end of this bargain? God takes Abram outside and shows him the night sky. See that? That’s how many descendants you will have.

Abram still needs more proof, so God actually tells Abram to carry out a liturgical offering, a sacrifice. Then Abram falls asleep and has a dream in which God confirms that the promise will come true.  

Have you ever thought you didn’t have a future? Have you ever thought God had broken a promise? Has your faith ever wavered? Here we have Abraham, that great icon of the faithful person, needing reassurance from God. And God responds.

In today’s gospel, the Pharisees warn Jesus that Herod is trying to kill him.  Jesus has little patience with the machinations of worldly leaders. His response is terse, “Go tell that fox that I’m going to keep on healing people and helping people and on the third day I finish my work.”

Jesus knows exactly what is going on. These days we would say he is streetwise. He knows that Herod is a fox who is ready to raid the hen house and eat the chickens. He is totally focused on his mission, and he knows that he has to go to Jerusalem. Yet he tells us a tragic truth. Jerusalem, the city where the temple is located, the city which is supposed to be listening for the voice of God and following God’s leading, is a city in which the leaders, both sacred and secular, do not hear the voice of God. Beverly Gaventa writes, “Ironically, tragically, the city that houses God’s Temple also houses a persistent refusal to hear God’s word.”  (Gaventa, Texts for Preaching Year C, p, 207.

Because of this, Jesus wants to protect his little chicks. Like a mother hen, he wants to gather us under his wings and protect us from the likes of Herod and other foxes. But he cannot do this. The powers that be in Jerusalem are not going to permit it. He is called to go to Jerusalem, and he will go, but he will not be permitted to offer healing and comfort and protection to the people. The earthly powers will stand in the way. They will kill him. Jesus knows exactly what a fox is, because he has the vantage point of a mother hen, or maybe even a chick.

How easy it is for us humans, when we acquire a great deal of money and a great deal of fame and power, to lose our bearings. The recent scandal involving very rich people paying money to insure that their children get into the best colleges and other people running a business that facilitates these transactions is a glaring example of this.

What would we do if we had that amount of money and power? What would we do without our faith? What would we do without God and Jesus and the Spirit guiding us and giving us grace?

In his letter to his beloved Philippians, Paul reminds us that, ultimately, we are not citizens of this world. Yes, we are called to stay informed and participate in our government and exercise our vote, but, as Paul writes, “Our citizenship is in heaven.” We are following Jesus, “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith”. We are waiting for him to come and complete his work of creation. And we are not waiting passively. We are doing all we can to help him build his reign of peace, harmony, and wholeness.

Sometimes, on this journey, we wonder, where is God in all of this? Sometimes we may feel that God is far away. Abram felt that way, even though he was a person of deep faith. He called out to God and God answered him.

In today’s gospel, we stand beside our Lord as he shares his profound grief, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it. How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” Even  before we call out to him, our Lord is ready to help us.

And yet, our Lord knows that he will not be allowed to offer that comfort and protection to Jerusalem. He will be killed.

But we are listening, and we know that, at this very moment and always, Jesus is offering us his presence, his grace and strength and guidance. He is with us right now, doing just that. We don’t even have to ask him, We don’t have to call on him. He is here.

May we accept his gracious gift of himself.  Amen.

Pentecost 18 Proper 22A RCL October 8, 2017

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
Psalm 19
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46

In our opening reading, the people of God have journeyed to the point where Moses receives the Ten Commandments. Herbert O’Driscoll remarks that some of us remember the time when almost everyone learned and recited these commandments. They were familiar to us. O’Driscoll also reminds us that there is great wisdom behind these guidelines for living. God knows us humans, and these commandments are a basic set of rules for our behavior.

We are called to worship God. We are called to avoid the worship of idols. These days, the idols are not Baal or Astarte. They might be Mercedes and Dow Jones. Use the Name of God with care. Keep the Sabbath. If we work an unusual schedule, the Sabbath may not be a Sunday, but the important thing is to take that Sabbath time to worship God, to thank God for all God’s blessings, and to refresh our body and spirit. Honor your father and your mother. Do not murder. Be faithful to your spouse or partner. Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.

God in God’s wisdom and love has given us these rules to live by.

In his inspiring letter to the congregation in Philippi, Paul, who usually comes across as one of the folks, a tentmaker who earns his own living, now lets us know that he has all the earmarks of high privilege. He is a Roman citizen, which gives him many advantages. He is a Jew. Like our Lord and every Jewish boy, he was circumcised on the eighth day of his life. More than that, he is a Pharisee, an expert in the law.  He also admits that he was a persecutor of the Church.

But one day, after witnessing the stoning of the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen, a deacon full of faith and love, and while rushing to help persecute more Christians, Paul met the risen Lord on the Road to Damascus. He was blinded by the light of Christ. He had to be led by the hand. But then he began to see. And he gave his entire life to Christ. And now he wants to know and love Christ as deeply as possible. He knows how difficult it is to follow the law. He is the one who said that he does the things he does not want to do and he does not do the things he knows he should do, and he asks God to free him from the body of that death. We can know the law, and on our own, we can follow the law to a point, but, for many of us, we get stuck. We need faith and grace to pull us through. And Paul has found that faith and grace in Christ and he is never going to let that go. To him, all his honors are as a pile of trash. All he wants to do is to follow Christ, to grow more and more like him in his love and compassion.

And he knows that he is not there yet, he says, “Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ has made me his own. Forgetting what lies behind and straining to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call in Christ Jesus.”

All we can say is may we do the same thing—press on toward the goal.

Our gospel for today is very powerful. Jesus is teaching in the temple in Jerusalem. He has read the scriptures. He has probably absorbed word for word the writings of the great prophet Isaiah, who described the people of God in various places as a vine or a vineyard. We all know the story. The workers in the vineyard kill the owner’s son.

Jesus is here addressing the religious leaders of his time, who are about to do just that—kill Jesus. The chief priests and the scribes realize that Jesus is speaking about them, but they are afraid to do anything because they know that, at the very least, he is a prophet. They will keep plotting, and our Lord will die a criminal’s death.

When leaders, whether religious or secular, get rid of people or try to diminish people because those people are telling God’s truth, those leaders are misusing their power. In Jesus’ time and in our own time, we need to be aware of those who are practicing imperium, tyranny and control, and those who are practicing auctoritas, true authority, leadership that encourages and empowers people

As Herbert O’Driscoll points out, one of the best things we can do with these readings is to reflect on the Ten Commandments, reflect on the Cardinal Virtues—prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude, and the Theological Virtues—faith, hope, and love, and renew our commitment to using them as the framework for our lives.

And we can also follow the example of St. Paul. He has such a profound commitment to Jesus. He devoted his life to killing Christians. Now he wants to help people follow Jesus. He wants to build communities of faith and love. He knows he is a work in progress, but he is following Jesus with all his energy.

This week, as we look out on our world, we see people in Mexico trying to recover from earthquakes, people in Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Puerto Rico, the Virgin islands. and so many of the Caribbean Islands, suffering from the effects of hurricanes.

And we look upon our brothers and sisters killed and hurt in Las Vegas. Our hearts go out to them and to their friends and families. Our Bishops have issued s statement on gun violence. Each of us and all of us are called to pray for all those who have died and for those who are suffering and grieving and to take action as our conscience leads us.

May the God of mercy lead us and guide us into the way of peace.

Amen.

Pentecost 17 Proper 22A RCL October 5, 2014

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
Psalm 19
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46

In our beginning reading from the Book of Exodus, we are with God’s people at Mount Sinai, and God is giving them the Ten Commandments. The first four of these commandments have to do with our relationship with God, and the last six commandments deal with our relationship with each other. These commandments were the foundation of the life of the covenant community, and they can serve as an excellent framework for life together over three thousand years later.

In our epistle, Paul has been trying to counteract the efforts of opponents of his, some of whom have been trying to convince Gentiles who are joining the new community of faith that they have to follow the Jewish dietary laws. Paul lists his credentials. Like Jesus and John the Baptist, he was circumcised on the eighth day of his life. He is an Israelite of the tribe of Benjamin, a Pharisee, an expert on the law. On the secular level, he is a Roman citizen. Paul openly admits that he persecuted the Church. But when he met the risen Lord on the Road to Damascus, everything changed. His whole world was transformed.

All that Paul wants to do now is to grow closer to Christ. All of those previous privileges and honors and signs of status are as trash to him. Entrance into the kingdom of God has nothing to do with our past accomplishments. In fact, it has nothing to do with us. It is a gift. Coming from his own history and background as one who followed the law to the letter, Paul is now saying: Brothers and sisters, let us not make these new believers follow the law. That is not the point. The new life in Christ is a gift from God, Let us accept that gift. Of course, we will strive to carry out the commandments. But let us strive to surpass the law, to move from the letter to the spirit of the law.

Our gospel for today must be approached with great care. The gospel is an allegory. Jesus is in the temple and he is addressing the religious leaders of his time. The vineyard is an image used by Isaiah for the people of God. We could say it could also be an image for the kingdom, the shalom of God. The landowner is God. The slaves who were sent are the prophets, The son is Jesus. The tenants are the religious leaders.

Matthew’s gospel was written about 90 C. E.. Scholars tell us that Matthew’s community was a Jewish community which was incorporating new Gentile members. The new faith was being persecuted. This parable may have provided a ray of hope for Christians who were being oppressed.

But the point of this gospel is not to be anti-Semitic. It is to ask ourselves how we would receive the Son if he came to ask us how the vineyard is doing. Are we following the commandments? Are we bearing good fruit? Are we, like Paul, trying to align our lives with the life of our Lord? Are we trying to let him live in us? Are we trying to live in the light of his grace? Are we sharing his love with others?

This parable is asking us to look at religious leaders. The religious leaders of Jesus’ time were arguing with God. They were blind to the work that God was trying to do among them. Are we blind to the work of the Holy Spirit? Our Bishop has called us to engage in a year long process of discernment looking at what it means to be a missional Church. A couple of Saturdays ago some of us went to a Ministry Fair. In the context of Holy Eucharist, we went outside the walls of the cathedral to discover what God is doing in the neighborhood.

Several of the groups went to the Old North End, which is the less affluent part of Burlington. Many of our new Americans live there now, as well as in nearby Winooski. We found many signs of life, as some folks shared last Sunday—gardens, a solar installation. a Sustainability Academy, a compassionate veterinary practice, Pathway to Housing, an organization which provides houses for homeless people. We saw people sitting on their porches talking. We saw houses painted artistically in bright vibrant colors. There was a lot of life out there.

The religious leaders of his time were constantly challenging Jesus, Last Sunday they were asking him by what authority he healed and taught and forgave. Some people in Philippi wanted everyone to follow the dietary laws, Paul felt that was putting a stumbling block in the way of folks coming into the new faith. It is a sad thing when religious authorities or religious people get in God’s way.

One of the ideas we hear about when we discuss the missional church is that we need to go out into the world and see what God is doing. I would say, what the Holy Spirit is doing. That is because I define the Holy Spirit as God at work in us and in the world. Wherever peace grows, wherever healing happens, wherever someone is learning, there is the Holy Spirit. And we need to support those things. The Holy Spirit is at work in many ways and in many people. Some of those people do not believe in God. Some of those people cannot believe in God because religious leaders or religious people have put stumbling blocks in their path.

One of the reasons I went back to school and got my psychology degree is that I wanted to help people on their journeys toward wholeness. I also wanted to be helpful to people who would never darken the door of a church. All of you are out in the world living your faith and doing your ministries. You are able to touch the lives of people for whom our faith has become irrelevant or. worse, a negative force.

I think that is what our readings are talking about today: living our faith and being open to the work of the Holy Spirit out in the world as well as in the Church. The Shalom of God is growing every day. Loving God, help us to be open to your Spirit. Give us grace to help you build your Kingdom, your Shalom of healing and harmony and wholeness. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Lent 5C RCL March 17, 2013

Isaiah 43:16-21
Psalm 126
Philippians 3:4b-14
John 12:1-8

If we were to choose a theme for today’s readings, it might be that our lessons today focus on three victories that were won at great cost. Isaiah is writing to the exiles in Babylon to tell them that God is about to set them free. He compresses some of their earlier history into just a few words. but these well-chosen words create a clear picture of what is happening. The people of God are escaping their slavery in Egypt. They are running as fast as they can, traveling light. They have left everything. The Egyptian horses and chariots try to follow them but they are too heavy. They bog down in the waters of the Red Sea. They cannot rise and the waters flow over them.

God is doing a new thing. God is making a way in the wilderness, rivers in the desert. Over and over again, God brings us out of slavery into freedom. God brings us home from exile. God builds God’s shalom. But at a great cost.

Paul is writing to his beloved community at Philippi. Some of the people want to continue to observe the law, and they want to make circumcision a requirement for being a Christian.

Paul is trying to get across to them what Isaiah said, that God is doing a new thing. the fulfillment of the law in Christ, the freeing of God’s people. Paul lists his qualifications to speak about the law and freedom in Christ. He was circumcised on the eighth day, he is a member of the tribe of Benjamin, he is a Hebrew, he is a Pharisee, but then he painfully and honestly states that he persecuted the Church. Under the law, he was blameless.

He met the risen Christ on the road ro Damascus, and, when Jesus asked him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me,” the whole landscape of his life changed.  Everything that had mattered so much before became as rubbish. He let go of all of it because he wanted to know the Lord Jesus Christ.

He wants the righteousness, that is, the right relationship with God, that moves through faith in Christ. He wants to know Christ and the power of Christ’s resurrection, and the sharing of Christ’s sufferings, and he knows that he must share in Christ’s death if he is going to share in the new life. We all have things we need to die to in order to live anew in Christ.

And Paul says that he has not yet reached the goal, but he presses on to make it his own as Jesus has made Paul his own. In baptism we are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever, and then we make the eternal journey of living into that resurrection life.

But then Paul says something that is so honest, so humble, so refreshing to us who are on the journey and may be wondering if we can hang in there. He says, “Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” From time to time, we all have questions.  We all have some things, some decisions we regret.

It is important to reflect on the past in order to learn from it. But then it is necessary to let go of the past and put it into God’s hands. We need to let go and let God. We need to press on toward the light of Christ. Paul gave up all his former power and privilege. He also gave up being part of a system that was based on power and privilege in order to follow Jesus.

In our gospel,  it is six days before the Passover. Jesus and the disciples go to the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. These three people were close friends of Jesus, and their home was a sanctuary for him. I think Jesus visited there whenever he could and these four people loved each other very deeply.

Martha serves. After supper, Mary, Jesus’ first women disciple, anoints his feet with perfume made from nard, which comes from the Himalayas and is extremely expensive. This story is told in the other gospels.  In Matthew and Mark, the woman is not named. In Luke, she is called a “sinner,” and she has been associated with Mary Magdalene. When we have more time, we will look at that issue, but there is nothing in Luke’s gospel that would link this woman with Mary Magdalene and nothing in the scriptures that would imply that Mary Magdalene, another of Jesus’ disciples, was a sinner.

Here in John’s gospel, this woman is clearly Mary, whom Martha chided because she was sitting at Jesus’ feet in the classic posture of a formal disciple. She is honoring Jesus. She is also showing forth the love which we as Jesus’ followers are called to show, the love which Jesus will give us as an example when he washes the disciples’ feet.

Judas makes his comment. John gives his opinion of that. But then Jesus says that Mary has bought the perfume to anoint his body. Amid the devotion of Mary and the duplicity of Judas, we are now headed for the cross.

Think of the courage Jesus has. He knows where he is going and he is going to see it through. There is no greater victory than this and no greater cost. To follow Christ, each of us has to let go of certain things. Each of us with God’s help, has to fight certain battles unique to each person. Each of us has to take on certain disciplines. These pale in comparison to what our Lord has done for us. Nonetheless, we struggle with these things. We struggle to live into the wholeness and health of life in Christ’s kingdom.

Our models for today are God’s people traveling light and running to freedom; Paul, giving up his status and a system based on status in order to spread the good news and press on toward the goal of new life in Christ; and, most of all, Jesus himself, who will now set his face toward Jerusalem, have his own struggle in the garden, undergo a mock trial and a criminal’s agonizing death, and come back to us even more alive than before.

When we let go of things that get in the way of our journey toward Christ, we fall into the abyss of God’s love and we are transformed. And when we come back from that experience, we are even more alive than before.

May we follow him every step of the way, in faith, hope, and love.

Amen.