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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion October 2, 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:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion October 9, 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:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion October 16, 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:…

Easter 5C May 15, 2022

Acts 11:1-18
Psalm 148
Revelation 21:1-6
John 13:31-35

In our gospel for today, Jesus has gathered with his disciples for the last supper. He has washed their feet. He has told them that they and we are called to be servants. He has said that he will be going to be with God, and that one of them will betray him. At this point in the narrative, Judas has left, and Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

Biblical scholar Charles B. Cousar writes, “A new and unparalleled model for love has been given the disciples….In Jesus the disciples have a concrete, living expression of what love is. Love can no longer be trivialized or reduced to an emotion or debated over as if it were a philosophical virtue under scrutiny. Jesus now becomes the distinctive definition of love.”

Cousar says that this “new commandment” of Jesus also means that eternal life is not something to be realized in the future. It begins now. He writes, “At the center of the new era is the community established by Jesus, the intimate though at times unfaithful family, whom he affectionately addresses as ‘little children.’ What holds the family together and makes it stand above all the rest is the love members have for one another—dramatic, persistent love like the love Jesus has for them.” (Cousar, Texts for preaching, p. 311.

A short time after Jesus has given this new commandment and sealed it with his death, resurrection, and the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we catch up with Peter. He has been called to meet with some believers in Jerusalem because they are upset that he is ministering to Gentiles.

And Peter tells his amazing story. He was in Joppa. He went up on the roof to pray, and he had a vision of all kinds of food, clean and unclean, being lowered from heaven as on a sheet. Then the voice of God said, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” Peter objected strenuously. “Lord, I have always followed the dietary laws. I would never eat anything that was unclean!” The voice of God came a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” 

God has just thrown the dietary laws out the window. This happens three times. We recall that the number three signifies completeness. The dietary laws are now gone. Peter has lived his life by these laws, and now they are erased.

But the Holy Spirit is not finished. Peter has no time to think this over. Three men from Caesarea arrive. The Spirit tells Peter to go with them without question and to make no distinction between himself and them. Walls are tumbling down all over the place. Six brothers are with him, and they accompany him to Caesarea. 

When they reach Caesarea, they go into the home of a man named Cornelius. He is a centurion in the Roman army, a devout man who loves God and gives generously to the people. An angel has told Cornelius to call Peter to come to see him.

As Peter begins to speak, the Holy Spirit falls on everyone gathered in Cornelius’ house, and Peter remembers how Jesus said, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Peter concludes that the Holy Spirit can be given to everyone. He says, “If then God  gave the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” When the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem hear this, they are silenced.

Jesus’ commandment to love one another as he loves us has created a new community, and in the Book of Acts we see that community growing by leaps and bounds. Walls come down, barriers are broken, lives are transformed. Love is spreading faster than they can keep up with it. The Holy Spirit is at work.

Two thousand years later, we are that community. Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, is leading us in living and walking the Way of Love. He says “If it’s about love, it’s about God. If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.”

To return to the story of Peter, once the Gentiles in Cornelius’ home have received the holy Spirit, Peter asks, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he orders the people to be baptized. Then he and the brothers with him stay at the home of Cornelius for several days. They will be spending time together sharing their faith and building a larger and stronger community of believers.

We are called to help God to create God’s Beloved Community, a community where all people are accepted as precious and equal. When Peter was having his vision of God up on the roof, walls came down and divisions between people were erased. When the people in Cornelius’ home received the Holy Spirit, Peter realized that they should be baptized. As Paul said so many years ago. “In Christ, there is no slave nor free, no Jew nor Greek, no male nor female. We are all one in Christ Jesus.” 

Lord Jesus, our Good Shepherd, help us to love each other and all others as you have loved us. In your holy Name. Amen. Alleluia!

Christmas Eve—The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ

Isaiah 9:2-7
Hymn 92—Angels from the realms of glory
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-20

No matter how many times we hear the Christmas story, it has something new to tell us every year. Isaiah proclaims, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” And indeed we have seen and are seeing that light.

This year, I have been thinking about the sheer humanness of this Christmas journey. Here we have Mary, a very young woman who is very pregnant, and Joseph,  the man to whom she is not yet married. So this pregnancy has a shadow of illegitimacy even though the Holy Spirit has created this child. Joseph is a man of deep faith who has a close relationship with God, a man who seeks the guidance of God and follows that guidance. And so, under this shadow but enlightened by God, Joseph does not divorce Mary, but rather follows God’s guidance. Mary, after asking some very reasonable questions, has said Yes to this amazing, creative, wonderful enterprise of God.

Things have been peaceful under the rule of Caesar Augustus, but Mary and Joseph live in a land that is occupied and carefully and sometimes ruthlessly, controlled by the vast and powerful Roman Empire. It has been a time of peace, which is good, but you know how governments can be. They like to keep track of things, so there is a census. Mary and Joseph have to go from Nazareth to Bethlehem, which is about 70 miles as the crow flies. It’s between 70 and 90 miles if you don’t fly, depending on the route you take.

Our son Michael was born on December 27, so that particular year I had no problem identifying with Mary. In fact, I thought about her a lot. Joseph was walking, leading the donkey on which she rode. Scholars tell us that back then folks usually walked about 3 miles an hour, and that the journey of, say, 80 miles would have taken at least four days, perhaps more. If it was four days, Joseph was walking almost seven hours each day. And Mary was keeping her seat on a lurching, bouncing, not very smoothly moving donkey that had no springs, shock absorbers or struts. Thinking about this has given me great respect and love for Mary. She is the one who said Yes to all of this, and we can all be thankful to her, because that took a level of courage that I can barely even imagine. We can also thank Joseph, who, because he loved Mary very much, respected her for her common sense and sound judgment, and had deep faith in God, believed what she told him about the angel Gabriel and his preposterous message and her saying Yes and then listened carefully to another angel who came to Joseph in a dream and confirmed Mary’s account.

And then when they finally got there, all the hotels were full, but a kindly innkeeper let them stay in the stable. So they were essentially homeless and then we know that, later, Joseph had to take his new family into Egypt to protect Jesus from King Herod, who, hearing of the birth of a new baby king, felt the best way to deal with this threat to his power was to kill all the baby boys. We’re getting ahead of ourselves, but this is by way of saying that our king was not born into privilege or security but into homelessness and refugee status.

But here he is, lying in a manger with bands of cloth around him—-a baby, not a king, not a president, not an emperor, but a baby. He came into the world just as we did.

And to whom did the angels proclaim this good news? Not kings and queens, not the privileged, but shepherds out tending their sheep by night. The fact that the angels told them first is astounding because shepherds were at the bottom of the social scale, They were considered ritually unclean, which was not a good thing to be, but  they couldn’t help it. Day in and day out, they were dealing with smelly sheep, the sheep manure, blood from cuts, flies circling around, all kinds of unclean things. And those are the people who were the first to receive these glad tidings. We need to keep in mind that the great King David, the ancestor of Jesus, was a shepherd, and that we know Jesus as our Good Shepherd, who will lead us to the green pastures and the good water. We know his voice and he knows us, warts and all, and loves us more than we can imagine but again we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Those shepherds had a quick consultation, and they knew they had to go and welcome this new king. The shepherds were the first preachers of the good news, They told everyone what the angels had told them. Mary treasured these things and pondered them in her heart and the shepherds went back to their flocks, singing God’s praises, their hearts warm with the love of God. On the social scale, they were low, but they were very close to the heart of God.

So God comes to us just as we came into the world, as a baby, and God lives a human life so that we can see God’s love shining forth from a fellow human being and we can live the way of love as Jesus calls us to do and as Bishop Curry teaches us to do.

We call Jesus Emmanuel, God with us. This day we remember and gather and sing with joy because God has come to be one of us and to show us the way. Our king has come to us in the most amazing way— as a little tiny baby in a little out of the way place rather like Sheldon or Montgomery or Fairfield or Fletcher or Franklin or Bakersfield or Enosburg Falls or Richford or Swanton or St. Albans. And God has come as an ordinary person to ordinary people like you and me.

And why has all of this happened? Because, in spite of our flaws, our past mistakes and stupid decisions and errors of judgment and things we wish we could do over again and get it right and things we wish we had not done at all, God loves us with a love that nothing can stop, a love that is immense beyond out ability to imagine, a love that is stronger than hate, a love that transforms division into unity, brokenness into wholeness, a love that brings life out of death. A love that is the most creative and powerful force on earth or anywhere else in God’s beloved universe. As Bishop Curry says, “Love is the Way.” Let us live in that Iove and walk that way of love.  Amen.

Pentecost 21 Proper 24B October 17, 2021

Job 38:1-7, 34-41
Psalm 104:1-9, 25, 37c
Hebrews 5:1-10
Mark 10:35-45

In our first reading for today, Job finally has the opportunity to talk with God. God speaks to Job out of a whirlwind, and God has some questions: “Where were you when when I laid the foundations of the earth?…Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that a flood of waters may cover you? Can you send forth lightnings, so that they may go and say to you, ‘Here we are?’ Who has put wisdom in the inward parts, or given understanding to the mind?”

Job is in the presence of the God who has called the creation into being, the God who has made each of us and has given us our minds and our ability to think. Job is encountering the almighty God, whose power makes us humans seem infinitesimally small and extraordinarily weak.

In this dramatic scene from the Bible, Job stands silent while God speaks out of the whirlwind. This is not a meeting of equals. Biblical scholar James D. Newsome writes, “This text offers a straightforward answer, as remarkable for what it omits as for what it contains: You, Job, simply do not possess the wisdom to contest God. Therefore, trust God and you will be at peace.” (Newsome, Texts for Preaching, p. 551.)

Our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that every high priest is able to deal with our human frailties and weaknesses because every high priest is human and has these human flaws just as much we we do. After our encounter with God in our first reading, this is reassuring.

Jesus is our great high priest. He is God walking the face of the earth. We believe that he is fully human and fully divine. In contrast to the almighty God who speaks to Job out of the whirlwind, our Lord knows what it is to be human. He is not above us; he is with us and among us. The life, ministry, death. and resurrection of Jesus show us how much God loves us. God has come to be among us. God has become one of us. This is an amazing gift.

In our gospel for today, James and John tell Jesus that they want him to do whatever they ask of him. This is a demand, not a request. He asks them what they want, and they say they want to sit, one on his right and one on his left, in his glory.

Their arrogance is surprising, even shocking. He is their teacher, their leader. We can imagine that Jesus was taken aback, perhaps even a bit irritated, even angry. What in the world are they thinking, after all this time watching him take care of people, listen to them, teach them, heal them, forgive them, love them? Have they missed the point entirely?

He asks them whether they can drink the cup that he will have to drink  and undergo the baptism that he will endure. We recall his prayer to God that this cup might pass from him, and we know that his love and servanthood were fully expressed in his death on the cross. James and John assure our Lord that they will be able to drink that cup and undergo that baptism. The path to glory leads through the experience of the cross.

The other disciples are angry with James and John. And Jesus says something that expresses so much of what he is calling us to do. He says, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Jesus is telling us so many important things in this encounter. In the world, so many people are trying to climb the so-called ladder of success. People lord it over each other, and this whole process often produces tyrants.  In the shalom of Christ, we are all called to be servants. Instead of a ladder to success, there is more of a circle. Each person is a beloved child of God, an alter Christus, an “other Christ.” As we look at each other, we are not looking at a competitor or an enemy to be pushed off the ladder so that we can succeed, but at a brother or sister, an “other Christ.” When we look at each other, we are looking into the face of God, the face of Christ.

Herbert O’Driscoll writes of the disciples,  “Jesus calls them and very deliberately tells them the great truth about authority in the kingdom of God. In the world around them the basis of authority is power. But in the kingdom, and in the community that claims to be questing for the kingdom, authority comes from servanthood….This has been the pattern of his own ministry among them. Now it must become the pattern of their ministry to each other and among others.” (O’Driscoll, The Word among Us Year B, p.135.

This is the pattern our Lord is calling us to follow, and thanks be to God, that is what happens here at Grace. Folks pray together, work together, love each other, help each other, and go out into the world to help others. Power is not the source of authority. Love and service are  the center of our life together. Thanks be to God.

With this in mind, We will be doing a book study on Zoom beginning in November. Our book will be “Love is the Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubled Times,” by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. Please let me know if you would like to join us, and what days and times would be good for you. This winter, we will be reading together several books about walking the Way of Love. This will be an inspiring journey.

Almighty God, you created the universe, from galaxies and planets to tiny, delicate flowers, and butterflies and tigers and everything in between. You came among us to show us how to love and serve each other. Give us the grace to be aware of your power, which surpasses our understanding, and your love, which you have expressed in coming among us as one of us. Help us to love you with all our hearts and to love and serve others. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Pentecost 16 Proper 19B  September 12, 2021

Proverbs 1:20-33
Psalm 19
James 3:1-12
Mark 8:27-38

In our opening reading today, Wisdom is calling to us. Wisdom is depicted as a female person, usually a beautiful young woman. The prophets are seen as people who have acquired wisdom. Jesus is seen as Wisdom.

Herbert O’Driscoll writes, “Wisdom is understood as the companion of God, a part of God, an aspect of God. The figure of Wisdom expresses the mind of God. This is why the Wisdom passages are so important….   We are being asked to consider a relationship with God as the deepest and richest knowledge of all. To possess it is to enrich all other knowledge. Moreover, knowledge of God brings a sense of being at home in ourselves and in the world, because we know to whom we and the world most truly belong.” (O’Driscoll. The Word among Us, p. 102.)

In our passage from Proverbs, wisdom is calling to the people, but very few people seem to be answering.

James Newsome writes, “A gracious God has placed at the disposal of men and women the ability to understand what God wants them both to be and to do. That is to say God has created a world of order and coherence, and by studying that world (in terms both of what we might term “nature” and of “human nature) it is possible to understand God.” (Newsome, Texts for Preaching, p. 506.)

As we listen to Wisdom calling to the people and hearing very little response, we can be grateful that we are on the journey of following Jesus, growing close to God, and living the Way of Love.

The fact that we are on this journey is itself a gift from God. Our loving God has brought us together, and, as we study the scriptures and learn together and pray together, and spend time with our risen Lord, we learn more and more the depth and breadth of God’s love for us.

In our gospel for today, Jesus asks the disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter says “You are the Messiah.” And then Jesus tells them what is going to happen. He is going to die on the cross. And Peter says, Lord, that horror cannot happen to you. And Jesus tells Pater that, by saying that, Peter is tempting Jesus to be unfaithful to his call. And then our Lord calls us to take up our cross. And then he says that those who lose their life for his sake and for the gospel will save their lives.

One way of thinking about Wisdom is to think that those who are on the path of Wisdom are seeking the mind of Christ. We are seeking, as our diocesan mission statement says, “To pray the prayer of Christ, learn the mind of Christ, and do the deeds of Christ.” This is a trinitarian concept that goes back to St. Augustine of Hippo, a very ancient and wise way of thinking about our lives as Christians.

Reading Bishop Curry’s book, The Way of Love, has made me think that when we take up our cross, we are really taking up the mantle of the Way of Love. We are really trying, with God’s grace to see each brother or sister as a beloved child of God and we are working with our loving God to help God create the Beloved Community of all people on earth living together in mutual respect and peace. God’s shalom, where, to paraphrase retired Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori, everyone has enough to eat. a place to live, adequate clothing and other essentials, healthcare, and good work to do.

Another book I have been reading recently is Sara Miles’ “Take this Bread,” the story of how she goes into St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, receives Communion, and answers a call from God to start food pantries. In this process, serving the folks at the food pantry becomes a kind of Holy Communion, in which everyone is loved and fed, clients become volunteers, and God’s love is magnified and passed on and on in a kind of eternal and ever-growing circle. Our food shelf is very much like that.

This makes me realize that when we take up our cross, it is a cross of love. It does involve a death to self; it involves listening very carefully for the distinctive call of our Good Shepherd. It involves following him, but he is always guiding us and taking care of us. Always there is the love, so deep we cannot fathom it, so wide we can’t see across it even with a telescope. Love, surrounding us and carrying us. Love that picks us up when we are too tired to walk. Love that leads us to green pastures and still waters. Love that brings light out of darkness, hope out of despair, wholeness out of brokenness, life out of death.

In this relationship with our extraordinary Good Shepherd, we are moving toward Wisdom. He is Wisdom. And we are moving toward the heart of God. And the heart of God is love.

I’m hoping that we may have a group study of both these books so that we can read them and reflect on them carefully, maybe a chapter at a time, savor them, share our responses, and grow together in the love of God, the mind of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Loving God, thank you for calling us to your Wisdom. Lead us and guide us, O Lord. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

The Second Sunday after Christmas January 3, 2021

Jeremiah 31:7-14
Psalm 84
Ephesians1:3-6, 15-19a
Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

This is our first Sunday in the year 2021, and I know most of us are happy to see 2020 go. This is also the Second Sunday of Christmas, a day we do not always have in our calendar. I actually counted back to 2012. Out of those eight years, we have celebrated the Second Sunday after Christmas only four times.

Our Collect for this day begins, “O God, who wonderfully created and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

In our opening reading from the prophet Jeremiah, God’s people are going to come home from exile. We have spoken of how our experience with Covid-19 has been like an exile.  We can’t travel; we can’t even get together with neighbors. We have to wear masks when we go out. It feels as though we are living in a foreign land.

This passage from Jeremiah is God speaking to God’s people, including us. God will become as a shepherd to us. God will be our father, guiding us home. God will answer our weeping with consolation. God will “Turn [our] mourning into joy, God will comfort [us], God will give [us] gladness for sorrow.” Things will be getting back to normal. It will take time, but it will happen. We can help this process by continuing to follow the guidance of our medical experts.

In our gospel for today, the Wise Men have been warned in a dream not to go back to King Herod. They have gone home by another road. And now the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream and tells him to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt because Herod is searching for Jesus in order to kill him. Guided by an angel of God, Joseph takes Mary and the baby to Egypt. Herod never finds Jesus, but, in order to preserve his power, he kills all the baby boys under two years old. Tyrants will stop at nothing to hold on to their control. When Herod finally dies, an angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream and tells him that it is safe to go home. Joseph is in constant contact with God and follows the divine guidance immediately. Finding that Herod’s son is now ruling Judea, Joseph does not want to risk going there. Guided by God in a dream, he travels to Galilee, a place far from the centers of power, and settles in Nazareth.

When God chose a man and woman to raise God’s Son, God chose two ordinary working people, Mary and Joseph. They were people of profound faith who had strong prayer lives, close communication with God, wisdom, accurate intuition, extraordinary courage, determination, and self-discipline. But they did not have worldly power.

Mary became pregnant before they were married, so Jesus was born under the shadow of illegitimacy. Jesus was born when they were homeless. A kind inn keeper gave them lodging in a stable. Then they became refugees. They had to escape into Egypt. They were seeking asylum, some degree of safety.

In his sermon on the First Sunday after Christmas on December 29, 2013, Pope Francis said, “And today, the gospel presents to us the Holy Family on the sorrowful road of exile, seeking refuge in Egypt. Joseph, Mary and Jesus experienced the tragic fate of refugees, which is marked by fear, uncertainty and unease.” In his address for the 106th World Day of Migrants and Refugees on September 27, 2020,  Pope Francis called us to respond to the suffering of the many people who are becoming displaced persons and refugees as a result of the Covid pandemic.

In our Collect, we call on our loving God, who has “wonderfully created and yet more wonderfully restored the dignity of human nature.” We ask God to “Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity.” 

In our reading from Ephesians, Paul writes, “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may come to know the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu says, “God has a big family,” and our own Presiding Bishop Michael Curry calls us to walk the Way of Love.

In his sermon on December 29, 2013, Pope Francis said, “Jesus wanted to belong to a family  who experienced these hardships, so that no one would feel excluded from the loving closeness of God.”

As we walk with the Holy Family today, experiencing with them the terror of having to escape from a despot who is trying to kill their child, may we commit ourselves to helping displaced people and refugees know the loving presence of God. May we work for a world in which no one has to be a migrant or a homeless person or a refugee.

When God came among us as a baby, Jesus and his mother and foster father suffered homelessness, and were forced to flee as migrants and refugees. Yet, at every crisis and point of decision, Mary and Joseph asked for God’s guidance and followed God’s will. As we look out on our country and our world, can we see our homeless people and migrant people as the Holy Family? Can we see these people through God’s eyes? Can we have the faith and hope to tackle issues of race, class, and income inequality so that we can help God restore the dignity of every human being?

Borrowing from Paul, with “the eyes of our hearts enlightened,” may we know the hope to which you have called us, O Lord, the hope of your shalom, and may we use the power of your grace to see others with your eyes and help you restore the dignity of every human being. 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.

The Day of Pentecost May 31, 2020

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

Last week, we read that Jesus ascended to heaven and the disciples returned to the upper room in Jerusalem to pray and wait expectantly for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

In Jewish tradition, Pentecost, or the feast of Weeks, came fifty days after the first day of Passover. James D. Newsome tells us that the Jewish feast of  Pentecost marked the end of the celebration of the spring harvest. This is why there were devout Jews gathered in Jerusalem from all over the known world—to celebrate the feast of Pentecost or Weeks.

But this feast was also the beginning of another season, which lasted until the feast of booths or tabernacles. On that feast, the people offered the first fruits of the fields to God. 

Newsome writes, “Pentecost/Weeks is thus a pregnant moment in the life of the people of God and in the relationship between the people and God. Or to put the matter more graphically, but also more accurately, Pentecost is the moment when gestation ceases and birthing occurs. Thus, it is both an end and a beginning, the leaving behind of that which is past, the launching forth into that which is only now beginning to be. Pentecost therefore is not a time of completion. It is moving forward into new dimensions of being, whose basic forms are clear but whose fulfillment has yet to be realized.”  (Newsome, Texts for Preaching Year A, p. 329.

The disciples are gathered. Jesus has told them that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them. A rushing wind sweeps in, the desert wind, the ruach, symbolizing the power of the Spirit. Flames of fire dance over the heads of the disciples, and they speak in all the languages of the known world. They are filled with the gifts of the Spirit.

We say that the feast of Pentecost is the birthday of the Church. The Spirit comes upon the disciples to shower gifts upon them and set their hearts on fire, and from that point, the new faith spreads over the known world.

In our reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, we read his stirring description of the Church as the Body of Christ, with each member given different gifts, all of the gifts empowered by the same Spirit. All the members of the body are one, as Jesus and the  Father and the Spirit are one. We have all been baptized in the Spirit—everyone, no matter what our nationality or previous religion or gender or status in life, or race, or any of the other things we use to divide ourselves. All these distinctions are  gone—we are all one in Christ. Each person is precious in the sight of God. All members are equal as the Body builds itself up in love.

Newsome’s comment that Pentecost is a moment of birthing, a leaving behind of what is past, and a launching forth into something new which is just beginning, rings forth with the truth of the Holy Spirit.

“Peace be with you,” our Lord says in that first evening of the first Easter day. Shalom is the word he uses. He walks through walls of fear to say that word.

Here are some glimpses of shalom. Isaiah 11:6-8a “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, ad the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall feed; their young shall lie down together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.”

Walter Brueggemann: “That persistent vision of joy, well being, and prosperity is not captured in any single word or idea in the Bible, and a cluster of words is required to express its many dimensions and subtle nuances: love, loyalty, truth, grace, salvation, justice, blessing, righteousness…It bears tremendous freight, the freight of a dream of God that resists all our tendencies to division, hostility, fear, … and misery. Shalom is the substance of the biblical vision of one community embracing all creation.  (Brueggemann,  Living Toward a Vision, p. 16.)

Retired Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori: “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.)

This past Friday, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and other faith leaders called us to a service of lament and mourning for the more than 100,000. Americans who have died of Covid 19. We will also be mourning the death of George Floyd, who was killed this past Monday by a police officer in Minneapolis.  On May 24, Dr. Matthew W. Hughey, a member of the Department of Sociology at the University of Connecticut, had an article in the Hartford Courant entitled “There’s another pandemic besides the corona virus that we must fight: racism.”  Ever since white people brought African people to America in 1619 to sell them as slaves, we have unsuccessfully grappled with what Jim Wallis of the Sojourners community calls “America’s Original Sin.” The full title of his 2017 book is “America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America.” 

There is much to mourn and lament, so many lives lost to both pandemics. Dr. Martin Luther King has said, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.”

If James Newsome is right about Pentecost being a time for birth,—and I think he is right—maybe, just maybe, with God’s grace, we can all come together and begin to listen to each other and learn from each other and find that bridge, or those many bridges, that Wallis is talking about. I pray that we can. I pray that we can live in peace as brothers and sisters. Because that is the vision our loving and healing God is calling us to fulfill. May we lean on the everlasting arms of God. May we trust in the power of God. May we bring all of God’s gifts of love and wisdom to heal both these pandemics.

May we now pray the Prayer for the Power of the Holy Spirit.

Easter 6A  May 17, 2020

Acts 17:22-31
Psalm 66:7-18
1 Peter 3:13-22
John 14:15-21

In our opening reading from the Book of Acts, a year has passed since last Sunday’s reading. Saul has met our Lord on the road to Damascus, and he has been completely transformed from a person who wanted to kill all the followers of Jesus into an outstanding and gifted teacher and preacher. So profound is his transformation that he has a new name—Paul.

He has preached and taught many people in Asia Minor, which today we call Turkey, and now he has crossed over into Greece. He has endured many hardships. He has spent time in prison; he has been driven out of towns for preaching the good news, and now he is in one of the great cultural centers of the world, Athens.

Just before this passage begins, in verse 16, Luke tells us that Paul “was very distressed to see that the city was full of idols.” Yet, when Paul stands in front of the Areopagus, a place where philosophers presented and discussed their ideas, he frames that observation in a different way. He says, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way.” Paul notes that they have even dedicated a monument to an unknown God, and then he quotes the Greek poet Epimenides, who wrote that in God, “We live and move and have our being.” In a spirit of knowledge of and respect for their traditions and scholarship, Paul preaches about God and Jesus. When he is finished, some of his listeners scoff, some say that they want to hear more, and some follow him. One of Paul’s great gifts was the ability to approach his listeners where they were, to listen to them, to learn about and respect their culture. As we try to share the good news in our culture, we need to follow Paul’s example.

Once again, in our epistle, Peter is addressing new Christians who are experiencing persecution. Peter is encouraging these people to continue to do good rather than retaliate with evil, and to show the hope that is in them and conduct their lives with gentleness and reverence. One note. The text says to do all these things, “if suffering should be God’s will.” Suffering is never God’s will. God’s kingdom is one in which everyone has a safe place to live, nourishing food, clothing, medical care, and good work to do. Suffering is not something that God inflicts on us. It is something we inflict on each other. God wants us to live in peace and harmony with each other.

But there is suffering on this earth, and in the midst of this pandemic, we see that very clearly. Some of our brothers and sisters are suffering and dying in disproportionate numbers during this time. God is calling us to bring justice to this situation.

In our gospel, our Lord says, If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” He says that he will send the Holy Spirit to energize us to spread his love around the whole wide earth. He says, “This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.” This led me to meditate on how important it is to seek truth and to listen to those who speak the truth in love. 

One of our truth tellers is Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has served as the Director of the Institute of National Allergy and Infectious Diseases since November 2, 1984, through the presidencies of Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump. This past week, in the face of great pressure to open up the country and get back to business as usual, Dr. Fauci called all of us to move carefully and follow the science.

Much closer to home, we have another truth teller, our own Governor, Phil Scott. He has been calling us to follow the science all along as Dr. Fauci has, and he has called upon Dr. Mark Levine, our Commissioner of Health, to give us the facts we need in order to act wisely and save lives. This past Wednesday, Governor Scott also spoke truth on a different issue. There had been an encounter in Hartford, Vermont which involved verbal abuse with racial overtones. Governor Scott addressed this issue and said, “This virus cannot be used as an excuse for hatred, division, or bigotry.” Dr. Fauci, Governor Scott, Dr. Levine, and so many others are speaking the truth in a time when we deeply need to hear the truth.

Our Lord says of the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit: “You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” In other words, we can recognize when God’s Holy Spirit is at work in a person or in a situation. We can recognize when people are calling us to live in God’s love. As our Presiding bishop has said, “It’s all about God’s love.” God’s love calls away from hatred division, and bigotry and toward compassion, unity, and understanding of others.

We in Vermont are fortunate to have leaders who respect scientific findings and reliable data abut pandemics and about the Corona virus. Please continue to follow the guidance of Governor Scott,  Dr. Levine, and our other leaders. And please continue to listen to Dr. Fauci and others on the national level who are speaking the truth.

Our Lord has gone to be with God. He is no longer here with us. We are his risen, living body here on earth. As he said, he has not left us orphaned. He has not left us comfortless. He said, “You will see me; because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

In this pandemic, as our beloved Presiding Bishop has said, love is about taking care of each other. At this time, love is abut continuing with social distancing, wearing masks when we are around others, and all the other things our truthful leaders are telling us. God gave us minds and calls us to use them. In these very strange times, God’s love is about listening to people who are telling the truth. May God continue to bless and protect Dr. Anthony Fauci, Governor Scott, Dr. Levine, and all truth tellers.   And may God lead us and guide us in the way of love. Amen.

Easter 5A May 10, 2020

Acts 7:55-60
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
John 14:1-14

In our very short first reading from the Book of Acts, the community of followers of Jesus has been growing by leaps and bounds. As we learned last Sunday, the community takes care of its members. In the portion of Acts that precedes today’s reading, the apostles have gotten so busy trying to teach people and preach the Good News, that they ask the community of faith to appoint seven men of good repute to take on the ministry of distributing food to the poor. This is a ministry of servanthood, diaconia, and these men are the first deacons in the Church.

Among these seven men is Stephen, a man full of the Holy Spirit and the love of God. In our passage for today, Stephen has been preaching about the history of God’s people and the death and resurrection of Jesus. Some of the people listening to Stephen accuse him of blasphemy. In the portion we read today, Stephen is stoned to death by an angry mob. As he is dying, Stephen asks God to forgive these people who are killing him. Stephen is the first Christian martyr, and we celebrate his feast day on December 26, the day after Christmas.

There is a brief mention in this passage of a man named Saul, who witnesses this horrible event. People leave their coats with him. Saul of Tarsus is on a personal campaign to wipe out the followers of Jesus. Very soon, on the road to Damascus, he will meet the risen Lord and his life mission will change from hate to love.

In our epistle from the First Letter of Peter, we read that Jesus is the living stone, the foundation of the Church. To paraphrase the scripture, Jesus calls us out of darkness into his marvelous light. Stephen shows forth that light in his life and ministry, and in his death as well.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is aware that he is going to the cross. He is trying to be sure that his closest followers understand everything that they are going to need to know about him so that they can carry on his ministry.

First, our Lord tells his disciples and us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God,  believe also in me.” He is telling them and us that he is going to die, and he wants to make our faith as strong as possible.

So he talks about heaven, and he says some unforgettable words that have comforted people over all the centuries since he first said them. “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places,” he says. I like the King James version, too. “In my father’s house are many mansions.” It gives us such a sense of the expansive, inclusive nature of heaven. It also makes us think twice. In my father’s house are many dwelling places, or many mansions. A house is a dwelling pace, A house could be a mansion. But how does a house contain many mansions or many dwelling places? What he is trying to tell us is that heaven is big. There is plenty of room for everyone. God’s love includes everyone. As Archbishop Tutu says, “God has a big family.” So, if we or the disciples are worried about getting into heaven, the point is that God wants us to be there. God is not trying to shut people out. God is trying to welcome people in. Some people think that there are a lot of rules and regulations about getting into heaven. But, as someone has said, God is a lover, not a lawyer. Everyone is welcome in heaven.

And then Jesus says, “You know the place where I am going.” And Thomas says, “Lord, we do not know where you are going.” And that is when Jesus says to him and to us,”I am the way and the truth and the life.” The conversation goes on, The disciples are trying to grasp some very difficult concepts about God.

Finally Jesus says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” Later on, he will say, “I and the Father are one.” Jesus is telling his disciples and us that if we have seen him, we have seen God. In the entire history of God’ s people, God was seen as very scary. People were taught that they could not see God and live. 

Now Jesus is telling us that by seeing him and walking with him and learning from him about the power of love, we have seen God. And then he says something that blows all the circuit breakers in our minds. He says, “Very truly, I tell you. the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these because I am going to the Father.”

Our Lord says that we will do greater things than he has done because he is going to the Father. He is going to send the Holy Spirit, and is commissioning us to carry on his ministry. Stephen heard that commissioning loudly and clearly, So did Saul, after our Lord straightened out his thinking. Of course, we know him as St. Paul.

What are these readings saying to us in this time of pandemic? We have the account of Stephen’s martyrdom. He was a deacon. He was given a ministry of servanthood. May we serve others in the Name of Christ. Thank you Lord, for the ministry of our food shelf servants, several of whom are among us, and their number is growing.

At the beginning of this Covid 19 journey, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry was asked about social distancing, or maybe we should call it physical distancing. He said that this distancing is all about God’s love. God wants people to be safe. We are doing this out of love for our brothers and sisters. We are wearing masks for the same reason—to keep from giving the virus to others. It’s about love. 

Like Stephen and the other deacons, we are called to be servants. These days, we are especially called to serve and help those who cannot work from home and are risking their lives to do everything from ministering to the sick to stocking shelves in grocery stores. We are also called to help those who have lost their jobs. We are going to have to extend financial and other help to them so that they can feed their families. We are going to have to think as the early Church thought. God calls us to take care of each other.

I also ask your prayers for our brothers and sisters in areas where folks are opening shops and restaurants and trying to return to normal when the numbers of new cases and deaths are still rising. We pray that they may decide to stay safe.

It’s all about love. God is calling us to use our minds and our hearts. God is calling us to seek and to do God’s will. May we seek the mind of Christ. May we seek the love of God. May we seek the wisdom of the Spirit. Amen.

Pentecost 16 Proper 21C September 29, 2019

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16
1 Timothy 6:6-19
Luke 16:19-31

In our first reading, the prophet Jeremiah gives us the exact year. It is the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, and the eighteenth year of King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon, also known as Nebuchadnezzar. It is the year 588 B.C.E. In 587 B.C.E., Jerusalem will fall to Babylon. In our time, Babylon is known as Iraq.

Jeremiah is in prison in the court of the palace guard. King Zedekiah has arrested Jeremiah because Jeremiah predicted that, with all the corruption and injustice that was going on under the leadership of Zedekiah, the Babylonian Empire would conquer Judah.

And yet. And yet. Our reading contains details of a real estate transaction. Jeremiah is from Anathoth. He buys a field from his cousin. The text tells us, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both the sealed deed of purchase and the open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.”

No matter how bad things get, with God there is always hope. Jeremiah is investing in that ray of hope, and God has the last word.

Our gospel reading for today is the story of the rich man and Lazarus. This is not the Lazarus who is the brother of Mary and Martha. The rich man’s clothing and food are the finest available. At his gate lies Lazarus, a poor man covered with sores. In those days, there were no napkins, and the wealthy used pieces of bread to wipe their mouths and then threw those pieces of bread on the floor. Lazarus would have loved to eat those bits of bread. The picture of the dogs coming and licking his sores is particularly moving. It also means that he is unclean and therefore an outcast.

When the the rich man and Lazarus die, there is a great reversal. The poor man is carried by angels to be with Abraham. The rich man descends to Hades, where he is tormented. The rich man looks up and sees Abraham with Lazarus by his side. The rich man calls out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in agony in these flames.”

This tells us so much. The rich man knows Lazarus’ name. He went in and out of his gate every day and saw this poor man begging, and he even knew his name, yet he never shared any of his food or clothing or riches with Lazarus. He never really saw Lazarus as a fellow human being.

There is a long tradition that teaches that wealth is a sign of God’s favor and poverty is a sign of God’s disfavor. If someone is poor, they deserve it, says this tradition. In this parable and others, Jesus makes it clear that he does not agree with that tradition. He is calling us to see everyone as a brother or sister in him.

Barbara Brown Taylor reminds us of the version of this parable in the Cotton Patch Gospel. “O Father Abraham, send me my water boy. ‘Water boy! Quick! I’m just about to perish down here. I need a drink of water.’ That old rich guy has always hollered for his water boy. ‘Boy, bring me water! Boy, bring me this! Boy, bring me that! Get away, boy! Come here, boy!’”  (Taylor, Bread of Angels, pp. 111-112.)

Taylor comments, “Even on the far side of the grave, the rich man does not see the poor man as a fellow human being. He still sees him as something less. He thinks Lazarus is Father Abraham’s gofer, someone to fetch water and take messages, but Father Abraham sets him straight. Cradling old bony Lazarus in his bosom, he says No, No, and No.”

We are hearing this parable from our Lord, who has risen from the dead. We are here because we are trying , to the best of our ability and with his grace, to follow him. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. paraphrased Unitarian minister and theologian Theodore Parker when he said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Our epistle gives us clear direction. Paul calls us to “Fight the good fight of the faith.”  “…do good, be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing for [ourselves] the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that we may take hold of the life that really is life.”

This is the first Sunday after the consecration of the Rt. Rev. Shannon McVean-Brown as the eleventh Bishop of Vermont. As you know, the whole process has been conducted in an atmosphere of prayer, and the Holy Spirit has been present at every stage of the journey.

Our new bishop is building on a strong foundation laid by God and her predecessors. She has long and faithful experience in helping the arc of the moral universe to bend toward justice and in helping our Lord to build his shalom. 

May we keep her in our prayers. May we also give thanks for the ministry of Bishop Tom, who helped to build the foundation on which we now stand. And may we give hearty thanks for our Presiding Bishop, Michael. May we continue to keep these faithful and loving servants of God and their families in our prayers.

May we all continue to work together in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ and in the power of the Spirit.

Guide our feet Lord, while we run this race. Amen.