• Content

  • Pages

  • Upcoming Events

    • 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:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion April 16, 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:…

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.

Advent 3C RCL December 16, 2018

Zephaniah 3:14-20
Canticle 9, p. 86
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:7-18

This is the third Sunday in Advent, called Rejoice Sunday from the Latin Gaudete, meaning “rejoice” because of the call to rejoice in our epistle for today. We light the third candle on the Advent wreath, the rose colored candle, which symbolizes joy.

Our opening reading is from the prophet Zephaniah. Zephaniah’s ministry took place in Judah during the time of King Josiah (640-609 B.C.E.) The first two books of Zephaniah’s book are full of doom and gloom. This was a dark time when Judah was under oppression by the Assyrians.

Scholars tell us that our reading for today, the last part of Zephaniah’s book, was added by other writers long after Zephaniah’s ministry, probably during the time of the Exile, or during the period when the exiles were returning home.

So, if we were to read the entire book, we would have two chapters of suffering and hopelessness and disaster, and then we would read this passage, which is full of deep joy and proclaims that God is in our midst. The passage tells us that God gives victory, that God deals with oppressors, saves the lame and the outcast, changes our shame into praise, and brings us home. It is fascinating to me that a scholar from the time of the Exile added this section to Zephaniah’s book, as if to say, “Don’t give up.  We speak to you from one of the darkest times in our history as God’s people. And we tell you that, with God, there is always hope.” As we know, the exiles returned home, rebuilt the temple, the city of Jerusalem, and their lives. Without this passage, Zephaniah’s book would be dark indeed.

Our canticle from Isaiah repeats this theme of hope and joy. “Surely it is God who saves me; I will trust in God and not be afraid.”

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul is writing from prison. And what does he say? “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say. Rejoice!” He is in prison and he is saying this to them and to us. What quality is he emphasizing? Gentleness. “Let your gentleness be known to everyone,” Paul writes. What an idea. Imagine a headline: “The Church in Philippi is known for its gentleness.” Or “Grace Church is marked by a spirit of gentleness.” Which is true, by the way.  What a great headline.

Then Paul says the thing which made our liturgical scholars choose this reading for the third Sunday in Advent: “The Lord is near.” This can have several meanings. One is that Jesus is as near as our breath. The risen Lord is with us now, among us, leading us.  

Another meaning is that our Lord is near in the sense that he will come to complete the creation. He is building his shalom and we are a part of that process. A third meaning is that, when he came to be with us, he came as one of us. He is like us, He understands us. He is fully human as well as fully divine. He knows what it is to be human, with all our struggles, and he is with us in our dilemmas and challenges.

The Paul says something that may make us burst out in laughter: “Do not worry about anything,” he says. And he is writing from prison! We spend a lot of time worrying. And Paul is asking us to take that time and pray, with thanksgiving. To let our needs be known to God with thanksgiving. We all know that a spirit of thanksgiving, the attitude of gratitude, can cause a big shift in our outlook. If we do all this, “the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.” Thanking God, trusting God to give us what we need, does bring that peace which is beyond our understanding.

And then, in our gospel, we meet John the Baptist. Crowds are coming out from the city into the wilderness to meet him. He is calling them to grow closer to God, and they ask, “What shall we do?” And he answers, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none.” God calls us to share some of what we have with those who have less than we do.

Tax collectors came, and he said, “Collect no more than what is prescribed,” Tax collectors would add a bonus for themselves. That was wrong. Soldiers came to John and he told them not to extort money from people. They were misusing their power to get money from  people. They should be satisfied with their wages. Through John, God is calling the people to live lives of compassion and justice. And that is what God is calling us to do today.

What are these readings saying to us? Our first reading, from Zephaniah, is calling us to be a people of hope, even in times of darkness and challenge. Our reading from Paul is a resounding call to rejoice, to give thanks, to turn our worries into prayers, and to abide in the peace of God. Our gospel calls us to repent, to turn fully toward God, to get back on track, make a course correction, get rooted and grounded in God, and be people of generosity, justice, and compassion.

John says, “Bear fruits worthy of repentance,” and once again, we think of Paul’s list of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22): love joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness. and self-control.

Once again, in this season of Advent, we are in a time of self-examination and discernment. We are letting go of things that are not life-giving. We are turning toward the light and love of Christ. We are getting things in order, updating our wills, doing advanced directives, getting rid of clutter whether it be spiritual or physical, lightening our load so that we can be ready when he appears. We are choosing to grow closer and closer to God, Jesus, and the Spirit.

“The Lord is near.” We are on our way to Bethlehem. We are on our way to meet him. Let us make room for him in the inn of our hearts. Amen.

Pentecost 19 Proper 23 October 15, 2017

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

In our opening reading, Moses has gone up on the mountain to speak with God, and the people decide to make the infamous golden calf. Once again, we need to keep in mind that, in the early days of our human acquaintance with God, sometimes we attributed to God the worst of human characteristics. In this case, God becomes very angry and Moses has to calm God down.

Often in the Old Testament, God appears as what I call a bad parent, reacting in a childish or violent way to the bad behavior of God’s people. But this passage makes clear our human tendency to veer off the path and turn to idols of various kinds.

Our reading from Paul’s powerful letter to the Church in Philippi has many truths to tell us. “Rejoice in the Lord always,” Paul writes. “”Let your gentleness be known to everyone.” When we are deeply aware of the presence of God in our lives, when we are able to rejoice in God’s presence, we are more able to remain grounded and gentle. Paul also says, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” The shalom of Christ, his peace within us and his vision of shalom for the creation, enfold us in Christ’s love and fill us with the grace to enable us to live into his vision of shalom.

I want to take time today to focus on this very challenging gospel. Luke’s gospel has the story of the wedding feast, but it is more straightforward and has fewer complications than Matthew’s version. Let us see if we can bring some clarity to this passage.

A king is giving a wedding banquet for his son. He sends his slaves to those who are invited. The first thing we need to say is that we now know that holding slaves is not acceptable. Those on the guest list do not respond properly. Some of them go off and do other things, and the rest hurt and kill the messengers. Scholars tell us that Matthew’s community was a Jewish community which had tried to reach out to the synagogue and met with great resistance and even violence. They were inviting folks to follow Jesus and there was conflict, even violence.

So now the king tells the messengers to go out and invite everybody to the wedding banquet. We now know that Jesus invites everyone to the feast. But there is one person who does not have the proper wedding garment. Scholars tell us that this has nothing to do with literal garments. It isn’t that this poor fellow didn’t have a tuxedo or that he couldn’t afford to have decent clothing.

Scholars tell us that the wedding garment symbolizes our attitude to our Lord’s invitation. Do we have the proper attitude and do our actions match our words? Biblical scholar Charles Cousar writes that the wedding garment symbolizes “[doing} the will of my Father in heaven,” (Matthew 7:21) and having “a righteousness [that] “exceeds that of the scribes and the pharisees” (Matthew 5:20), producing “the fruits of the kingdom.” (Matthew 21:43.) All are expressions to identify the consistency between speech and life, words and deeds, that is appropriate for those who call Jesus “Lord.” The garment represents authentic discipleship and the parable prods the audience to self-criticism lest they find themselves among the “bad,” who are finally judged.  (Cousar, Texts for Preaching Year A, pp. 523-24.)

This is a challenging gospel. This past Tuesday, we had a clergy gathering at Trinity, Rutland. Almost all of the clergy were present. The title of the gathering was “Racial Reconciliation— Acknowledgement.” Acknowledgement is the first stage in our recognition, that, as white people, we have what is called “white privilege.” Our lives have been much easier than the lives of persons of color because of our white privilege. The other thing that we have is called “white innocence,” which means that we deny the existence of white privilege and thereby deny the existence of racism.

I have already sent to you the email which Bishop Tom sent to us as we prepared for this day. The email had readings and other resources which I hope you will feel free to use. Among them is the book Tears We Cannot Stop, by Michael Eric Dyson. This is a wrenching book which tells a truth we may be reluctant to accept.

Another resource is the RACE Implicit Bias Test. There is a link to that on the email. This is a test developed at Harvard University. It is a real eye opener. You are all welcome to take this test.

We also had two speakers. One of them is the Rev. Arnold Thomas, who is serving at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Underhill and has previously served as Executive Minister of the Vermont United Church of Christ. The other speaker was Shela Linton, a founding member of the Root in Brattleboro.

One thing that is clear from our speakers and from the resources on the list, is that racism is very present in our country and in Vermont.

This includes our migrant workers here in Vermont.

For me this means that, if I am to be wearing a proper wedding garment, I must be about the work I know Jesus is calling me to do, and as our 78th General Convention calls all of us to do, which is, “to find more effective and productive ways to respond to racial injustice as we love our neighbors as ourselves, respect the dignity of every human being, and transform unjust structures of society.” I hope and pray that we will all make a commitment to this work.

Blessed Lord, our Shepherd and Savior, give us the grace to be authentic disciples. Give us the courage to make our deeds match our words. Give us the creative holy energy to help you to build your shalom. Amen.

Advent 3C RCL December 13, 2015

Zephaniah 3:14-20
Canticle 9
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:7-18

Our opening reading today is from the prophet Zephaniah. Scholars tell us that he was probably a descendant of King Hezekiah, who was one of the most highly respected kings of Judah. Zephaniah’s ministry took place during the reign of King Josiah, from 640 B. C. to 609 B. C.

Josiah was another one of Judah’s great kings. In 621 B.C., a book of the law was found in the temple, and Josiah led the people in great reforms. The period preceding his reign had been marked by corruption in public and private life, and by the worship of false gods.

Josiah brought the people back to following God’s law.

The theme of our reading is that God will bring comfort to those who repent and make the changes necessary to serve God faithfully.

Our epistle today is short but powerful.  Paul is writing from prison. He is writing to a beloved congregation which is suffering persecution. Yet he can encourage us to “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice!”

That is why this Sunday is called Laudate Sunday. Laudate is the Latin for “rejoice!” We also have lighted the rose candle today. This candle symbolizes joy and also reminds us of Mary, the mother of Christ.

So here is St. Paul, writing from prison, encouraging us to rejoice. Epaphroditus, a man from the congregation in Philippi, has just made a visit to Paul, a visit during which Epaphroditus fell ill. Now he is well and is returning to his home congregation. He has brought gifts and support from the Philippians to Paul. Even as they are facing persecution, they reach out to him and support him. Even as he is in prison, he tells them to rejoice. He has been through every trial that one could imagine, including arrest and threats to his life. From that cauldron of challenge and threat and adversity he writes to share his God-given strength and faith with them. What does he say?  Here they are facing adversity, possibly death. And Paul says, “Let your gentleness be known to everyone.” Gentleness is not weakness. Gentleness does not mean that we are wimpy. It does not mean that we fail to take care of ourselves. Compassion is the true strength. One observer of the early Church said, “See these Christians, how they love one another.”

Paul says, “The Lord is near.” This can mean at least two things. One, Christ is coming to complete and heal the creation and make it whole. Two, Christ is right beside you. Christ is in our midst. Do not worry about anything. Someone has said that ninety-nine percent of the things we worry about never happen. Whenever we begin to worry, we need to stop that thought and begin to pray. Let us tell God what we are concerned about and thank God for being near so that we can ask for help. And the peace from God will guard us and keep us in a state of faith and hope and cooperation with God. This is a wonderful passage.

In our gospel, once again we encounter John the Baptist. He is telling us that we all need to examine our consciences and make the changes that are necessary to bring us into harmony with God. John is not vague. People ask him what they should do, and he tells us. Share with others, Help those who have little or nothing. Be honest. Live your lives with integrity. Don’t abuse power. Don’t be a bully.

But then he says the thing that makes him such a towering example. John is such a holy example that people think he is the Messiah. So he tells them, “Someone is coming, and I am not worthy to untie his shoe. I baptize with water to help you cleanse yourselves and prepare, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

John knows exactly who he is. He is not the messiah. He is very famous and he draws huge crowds, but he is not the messiah. And he knows that. He is not tempted to go for the fame and glory and power. He is not going to try to compete with Jesus. He is going to prepare the way.

Part of the work of Advent is for us to realize exactly who we are. We are all children of God, and this is one of the reasons that we can rejoice.

How can Paul write from prison to a congregation facing persecution and tell them to rejoice, let their gentleness be known to everyone, and not to worry? Because “The peace of Christ, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Because we have our Good Shepherd leading us into his peace and his victory, and because we are following him, we can actually stop worrying, trust him, and abide in his peace. In other words, we can turn our worrying into praying and trust that God is working to make all things right.

There is much to be concerned about in our world today, and each of us has personal concerns for family members and other people we love. We all have many things that we can worry about. I am not suggesting that we should all become complacent. What I am suggesting is that, when we begin to worry or fret, that we immediately pray about that matter, whatever it may be, and put it into God’s hands. If we start to worry about it again, we give it to God again. We may have to do this hundreds of times a day. But gradually God will work with that issue and we will be changed.

One way to do this is to say something like, “Dear Lord, I’m worrying about that again. It’s too big for me to handle. I offer it to you, I put it in your hands. Your will be done. Amen.

That is how Paul can say, “Do not worry about anything.” Because God calls us to turn our worries into prayers. May we trust God in all things. May our prayers increase our trust and faith in God.  Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice.  Amen.