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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion February 5, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion February 12, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion February 19, 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 17 Proper 20B September 19, 2021

Proverbs 31:10-31
Psalm 1
James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
Mark 9:30-37

Our opening reading is the ending of the book of Proverbs. Scholars tell us that this passage was written in the period following the Babylonian Exile, some twenty-six hundred years ago. Some scholars tell us that it is best to ignore this passage because it was written so long ago, in a time when women and children were thought of as chattel, property, objects to be owned.

As we look at this passage, it is quite contemporary. Neil Elliott notes that this woman, “runs a household (v. 15), conducts her own real estate transactions( v.16), works out  (v.17), makes charitable contributions (v. 20), holds her own in public discourse, (v. 26), maintains a healthy relationship with integrity (vv. 11, 29), and even gets the credit for her husband’s rising status (v. 26)! (Elliott, New Proclamation Year B, 2000, p. 72.)

Gene M. Tucker writes, “Above all, she is by no means limited to traditional roles within the family, for she has significant public and economic roles. She is a capable merchant (v. 14) and businesswoman (vv. 18-29, 24), both producing and selling goods. She invests in real estate and improves it (v. 16). In short, virtually the only significant role she does not fulfill in her society is to sit with the elders in the gate (v. 23). (Tucker, Preaching through the Christian Year B, p. 414.)

The revised Common Lectionary was created in order to include in our readings passages about women and other marginalized people. Often these passages show us that progress toward seeing and respecting the dignity of every human being was being made, even in those long ago centuries.

Our reading from James is full of gems. We are called to act with “gentleness born of wisdom.” We are called to stay away from “bitter envy and selfish ambition,” James says these qualities are “earthly, unspiritual, and devilish.” We know that envy and ambition can lead to ruthless competition and conflict. James says they can even lead to murder.

But James tells us that the “wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, then gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits,” What a different world we live in when we have these qualities of peace, gentleness, willingness to talk and work with each other for the common good. James advises, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” The qualities James is calling us to live by are the values of God’s shalom, God’s peaceable kingdom.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is teaching his disciples about what is going to happen to him. He is going to be betrayed and killed, and he is going to rise from the dead. They had no idea what he was taking about, and the text says that they were “afraid to ask him.” This may remind us of times when we’ve been in a class and were totally confused but were even more afraid of letting the teacher know how confused we actually were, so we just stayed silent.

They arrive in Capernaum and go into the house, and he asks them what they were arguing about while they were walking along. We discover that they were arguing about who was going to be the greatest. This gives us a clue that perhaps they were thinking of the messiah in one of the ways that was common in those days: as an earthly king who would gather an army and defeat the Roman Empire and bring in a new kingdom. It would make sense to wonder who would be sitting next to this earthly king when he was on his throne.

But there was another concept of who the messiah is, and that is the messiah as a servant.  Some call him the suffering servant as portrayed in Isaiah.

Jesus tells the apostles and us that if we want to follow him, we have to be the servants of all and last of all. We can’t be trying to figure out who is the greatest. We can’t be competing for power. We are called to be servants. We are called to walk the Way of Love.

And then he gently, lovingly picks up a little child and holds the little one in his arms. As we look in on this scene, we need to remember that in our Lord’s time, children, like women, were seen as chattel, possessions, something you owned. They were not highly valued.

And Jesus is saying that we need to welcome these little ones; we need to welcome the vulnerable ones who have no power, no wealth, no influence, no voice, those whom folks see as less than fully human. And he is saying that, if we welcome these people, we welcome Jesus and we also are welcoming God.

Thank you for all the ministries you are all doing which involve helping other people in so many ways, whether it is at the food shelf or in other ministries of servanthood. When we are helping others, showing love and care to others, we are  showing that love to our Lord. That is what he is telling us today. May our loving God bless you in all your ministries. Amen.

Easter 7B May 16, 2021

Acts 1:15-17. 21-26
Psalm 1
1 John  5:9-13
John 17: 6-19

This past Thursday the Church celebrated the feast of the Ascension. Forty days after Easter, our Lord ascended into heaven. Our window at Grace portrays this scene, with the apostles looking up into heaven as Jesus ascends to be with God. This Sunday, the Seventh Sunday of Easter, carries echoes of the Ascension as we worship Jesus as our King.

In our reading from the Book of Acts, the apostles are facing a very important decision. Judas Iscariot had betrayed our Lord, pointing out Jesus so that the authorities could arrest him. This meant that there were only eleven apostles remaining. 

Peter now calls the gathered group of Jesus’ followers, about 120 people, to choose someone to complete the company of the apostles. Peter says, “So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become with us a witness to his resurrection.”

Peter calls the group to pray together for God’s guidance and to choose one of the men who have been with Jesus during his entire ministry on earth. They are going to choose someone who has been with Jesus through everything, who knows Jesus, who has eaten meals with our Lord, read the scriptures with him, learned from him, prayed with him, gathered with the others after the horror of the cross, and met the risen Lord after his resurrection. This person will join the apostles as a witness to the resurrection of our Lord.

They choose Justus and Matthias. And then they pray to God  to show them which of these men God has chosen. That man is Matthias.

As we read this wonderful story of the completion of the company of the apostles, the choosing of Matthias, I couldn’t help but think that his story is our story, too. We have not literally walked and talked with Jesus, Jesus has not literally  “gone in and out among us,” but he has been in our midst. He has led us and guided us as our Good Shepherd. We have read the scriptures together and prayed together. We have shared our struggles and supported each other. And always, always, he has been with us. And he has called us to follow him, just as he called Peter and James and John and Matthias.

The feast day of Matthias is celebrated on February 24. We know very little about this person except that he was called to serve with the other eleven as a “witness to the resurrection.” Once again, this is our story too. We did not literally stand at the foot of the cross with Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and John, the beloved apostle. We were not physically there on the first Easter morning.

But we have faithfully walked the way of the cross with our Lord. We have all walked through our own dark nights of the soul and our own experiences of death and brokenness and hopelessness. And we have all gone to the tomb expecting more death and brokenness only to find him standing there, once we recognize him. And we recognize him when he calls our name. There is the beloved voice of our Good Shepherd calling us. Calling us into new life.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is praying to God before he goes to his death on the cross. He says that he has guarded his flock as a good and faithful shepherd does. He prays that his followers “might have my joy complete in themselves.” And then he prays, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”

What would it mean for us to have the joy of Christ complete in ourselves? What would it mean for us to be wrapped in the holiness and wholeness of “the truth?” One meaning of Christ’s joy might be that he has guarded us and protected us. This does not mean that life is without its challenges, even tragedies. But through them all he has been there, by our side, or out in front leading us, or even carrying us when the going got really tough. His joy means that, as Paul said, “Death has no more dominion.” (Romans 6:9.) Life and love conquer death, brokenness, and hate.

What is God’s truth? If we reflect carefully on the gospels and the life of our Lord, God’s truth is Jesus walking the face of the earth. God’s truth is that God loves everyone and God calls us to do the same. God has a big family and God calls us to welcome everybody into that family and share that love. Love is stronger that any power on earth, stronger by far than hate or fear, or division.

If we have the joy of Jesus complete in us, it means, not that we deny the forces of death and brokenness in the world, but that we look those forces in the face and then we remember that Christ is with us; he has conquered all death and brokenness, and we are following him. Underneath the considerably depressing realities of this world, we have the presence of Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the everlasting and loving arms of God.

If we are made holy and whole in the truth, we remember that God is love, that, as the old hymn says, “God is working his purpose out,” that God cares deeply about all people, and that God is a God of justice, and, again and always, God is a God of love.

We are in the last laps of our Covid journey. Hang in there. Keep the faith. We will gather next Sunday for the Feast of Pentecost. Please wear red to symbolize the flames of the Holy Spirit. 

Meanwhile, let us remember that, like Matthias, we are called to be witnesses of the resurrection. We are called to be people of love, people of hope, people of healing. Amen. Alleluia!

Epiphany 6C February 17, 2019

Jeremiah 17:5-10
Psalm 1
1 Corinthians 15:12-20
Luke 6:17-26

In our first reading, the prophet Jeremiah draws a contrast between people who trust in God and those who trust in their human strength, those “whose hearts turn away from God.” Jeremiah says that those who do not trust in God are like a “shrub in the desert.” On the other hand, those who trust in God, those whose hearts are rooted and grounded in God, are like a tree planted by water, sending out their roots, sending their roots deep to the living water. They do not fear when heat comes; they aren’t even anxious in a time of drought. Their leaves stay green and they bear fruit no matter what challenges are going on.

Thanks be to God for the gift of faith. We are so blessed to be able to trust everything to God, to be like trees living by the stream, bearing the fruit of the Spirit no matter what.

In our reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, some people are saying there is no resurrection of the dead. We don’t know exactly what was going on. We do know that Corinth was a bustling city with many temples dedicated to various deities, people of all kinds of philosophies, some of which did not believe in resurrection. Perhaps some folks with those beliefs came into the congregation in Corinth.

Paul responds to this situation in logical form and then concludes by saying that Jesus was raised from the dead, and he is the first in a long line of people who are following him into new life. He will be expanding on this in our reading next Sunday.

Just before our gospel reading from Luke, Jesus has been up in the hill country praying with his disciples and calling from the larger group twelve apostles who will be his closest followers. They go down from the higher country to a level place near the lake. In contrast to Matthew’s sermon on the mount, Luke’s is the sermon on the plain. Jesus is on the same level with his listeners, who include the twelve just called to be his apostles, the larger company of disciples, and a large crowd of listeners from a wide area, suggesting that Jesus is addressing his message to everyone. in this multitude are people who have already been healed, and there are many others who are trying to touch Jesus. They have come to hear him and to be healed.

Jesus blesses those who are poor, hungry, grieving, and those who are hated and excluded. He tells the poor that theirs is the kingdom of God; the hungry that they will be filled, the grieving that they will laugh; the hated and excluded that the same thing happened to the prophets and that they will be greatly rewarded in heaven.

If we really think about what Jesus is saying, we could conclude that his words are shocking. He is really turning everything upside down. We don’t want to be poor, hungry, grieving, hated, or excluded. What is Jesus saying?

Fred Craddock says, “On the lips of members of the faith community addressing one another,  a blessing is a celebration of someone’s pleasant and happy circumstances and a curse or woe is a lament over someone’s plight. However, when spoken by God or one who speaks for God, blessings and woes are more than descriptive: they are pronouncements that declare in effect that those conditions will prevail. On the lips of Jesus Christ, therefore, the blessings and the woes of our Gospel section can be taken as the ‘official’ proclamation of the way life will be among the people of God. …Blessings and woes are to be heard with the assurance that they are God’s word to us, and God will implement them.”  (Craddock, Preaching through the Christian Year C, p. 102.)

These blessings on the poor, the hungry, those who weep, and those who are despised and rejected,  and the proclamation that they are beloved of God and will receive God’s love and care and help, go far back in Luke’s gospel.

In the very first  chapter, they appear in Mary’s song, the  Magnificat , in which God  exalts the humble, lifts up the lowly, and fills the hungry with good things. A few weeks ago, we read in chapter four of Luke’s gospel of Jesus reading from the scroll of prophet Isaiah, in which Isaiah says God has sent him to proclaim good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight for the blind, and freedom for the oppressed.

After Jesus reads that passage from Isaiah in the synagogue, he rolls up the scroll and says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled.” Craddock writes, “The ‘today’ that Jesus declared in the synagogue in Nazareth still prevails; the messiah who will come has come, and the prophecy of Isaiah concerning the poor, the imprisoned, the diseased, and the oppressed is no longer a hope but is an agenda for the followers of Jesus.” (Craddock, Interpretation, p. 88.)

Trusting in God, having roots deep in the living water of Christ and of the Spirit, causes us to bear fruit, the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And so we follow Jesus, and we help him to implement his plan, his reign, his shalom.

For many years, you have helped to implement our Lord’s plan. In recent years, you have helped with a specific part of his plan. When our Lord says that the hungry will be blessed, that they will be filled, he is counting on us to help him with that, to be his hands and feet packing boxes of food and handing them out, to be his listening ears and loving heart when we talk with the folks at the food shelf and offer care and support. Individually and corporately, you have ministered to the folks Jesus calls us to care for in his beatitudes: the poor, the hungry, those who are grieving, those who are hated and excluded.

Just because a congregation is small does not mean that it is weak. As Molly Comeau would say, “You’re small, but you are mighty.” Thanks be to God for all your many ministries.

Dear Lord, help us to plant our roots deep in the living water of your love and grace, and help us to bear abundant fruit. Amen.

Pentecost 18 Proper 20B RCL September 23, 2018

Proverbs 31:10-31
Psalm 1
James 3:13—4:3, 7-8a
Mark 9:30-37

Our opening reading is the conclusion of the Book of Proverbs, written about twenty-five hundred years ago. Some scholars advise us to simply skip this passage because it was written in a patriarchal culture, but, if we take a moment and look a bit more deeply into it, this passage is quite interesting, even inspiring.

This woman is intelligent and gifted in many areas. She spins wool and flax and makes clothes for herself and her family. She also makes garments for sale. She buys a field and plants a vineyard. In other words, she is a businesswoman. She works hard and manages her household including servants, with care and efficiency. She has deep faith. She does not fear the future. She is a person of justice, generous with the poor and needy. Although this description was written over two thousand years ago, this woman is a holy example for all of us.

Our reading from the Letter of James is timeless in its relevance. If we want to be seen as wise, we are called to show our faith and wisdom in our actions. If we have “bitter envy and selfish ambition in [our] hearts,” and if we are “boastful and false to the truth,” we are not following our Lord. In fact, James says, “Where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.” How true this is.

By contrast, James writes, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.” That is what we are aiming for. We may never get there one hundred per cent of the time, but, with God’s grace, we try to get as close as we can to that goal.

Then James tells us, “And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.” If we have God’s peace within us and we share that peace with others in our actions, we help to make the world a better place.

Then James talks about conflicts. He says that, if we want something we do not have, and we let that govern all our actions, we can actually commit murder. We can actually see this happening on a international level. For example, Mr. Putin wanted to take over Crimea, so he sent troops in and killed people to accomplish that goal.

On a level slightly less harmful than murder, James points out that, if we “covet something and cannot obtain it,” we humans “engage in disputes and conflicts.” This was written about two thousand years ago, but it is as true today as it was all those centuries ago.

To move away from this human need for power and control, James calls us to “Draw near to God, and [God] will draw near to [us].” Good advice in any age.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is teaching the disciples about the horrible things that are going to happen to him. They are not understanding what he is saying, and they are afraid to ask him. This reminds us that no question is stupid. Asking questions is the way we learn.

Then our Lord finds out that, not only do the disciples not understand what he is telling them, they have also been arguing along the way about which of them is the greatest. This is a huge sign that they are missing the point. I think they still had vestiges of the idea that the messiah is a military leader who will overthrow the Romans, and they are concerned with what rank they will have in the new kingdom.

As James has pointed out, we humans are so concerned about our rank and status that we will get into conflicts about it, and that is what the disciples have done, arguing about who is the greatest.

They arrive at Capernaum, and Jesus asks them what they were discussing. They are silent, but obviously Jesus figures out what the topic was. He sits down, calls the twelve apostles, his closest followers, and tries to get the point across.

First, he expresses his message in words, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” What a shocking statement. He is turning everything upside down. If we want to be first with Jesus, we have to do what he did. We have to be servants of all. Jesus is throwing out all our human notions about power and prestige and privilege. In his eyes, a buck private is just as good as a five star general. A custodian is just as worthy of respect as the CEO. A little baby in a tiny parish in Vermont is as precious as our Presiding Bishop.

And then he takes a little child in his arms. We have to remember that in Jesus’ time, it was a patriarchal society. Men had all the power. Our woman in the Book of Proverbs is extraordinary. Women and children were considered chattel—possessions, belongings. They could be treated badly, even beaten and thrown out on the street, and no one batted an eye.

Jesus takes a little child in his arms. This little person is at the bottom of the social scale, like a cat or a dog or a chair—a possession, an object. But Jesus says, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” This is a revolutionary, earth-shattering statement.

Our Lord is saying that every little child is Christ. The most vulnerable people among us are Christ. We are called to treat them as we would treat our Lord Jesus. The hungry, the thirsty, those who have no clothes, those who are homeless, those who are in prison—and little children—when we treat them with love and care, we are doing that to our Lord. He is calling us to see him in the most vulnerable among us.

Lord Jesus, you are alive among us and in us, and we are alive in you. Give us the grace to follow you, to love and serve others in your Name.  Amen.

Easter 7B RCL May 13, 2018

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
Psalm 1
1 John 5:9-13
John 17:6-19

Before our opening reading, Jesus has ascended to be with God. We have this scene on our beautiful window here over the altar. The apostles look on as Jesus rises to heaven. We can imagine all the feelings they must have had.  Their beloved leader is no longer physically with them. He has promised that he will send the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, but they must have felt a bit lost and sad.

Peter assumes leadership and calls the believers together. There are about one hundred and twenty of them.  Judas has betrayed Jesus, and the community must choose someone to take his place. This must be someone who has been with Jesus from the time he was baptized by John until the Ascension. Two men are chosen, Joseph called Barsabbas, also known as Justus, and Matthias.

This is the only time we hear of these two men in the Bible, but the scriptures tell us that they were with Jesus from the beginning of his ministry until he went to be with God. The group prays together that this may be God’s choice. Then they cast lots, and Matthias is chosen.

Although we never hear of Justus or Matthias again, we can assume that, because they were such faithful followers of Jesus, each of them carried out his ministry all the days of his life, one as an apostle, the other as an ordinary faithful follower of Jesus. This reminds us that most of the followers of our Lord are not famous. They are people who love Jesus and who go about their lives quietly sharing his love in the best way they can, with the help of his grace. They are people you meet in shops or at tea, people like you and like me.

And so, quietly, without fanfare, the community of the faithful asks God to call forth the person who will complete the company of the apostles. Two thousand years later, we in Vermont have already begun the process of discerning the person God is calling to be the next Bishop of Vermont. We will continue to pray for God’s guidance in that process.

Our gospel for today is the continuation of Jesus’ statement that he is the vine and we are the branches. The portion we are reading today is really a prayer to God. As we read and meditate on this passage,  we realize again how much our Lord loves us. Jesus tells God that everything God has given to Jesus, Jesus has given to his followers.

Jesus tells us that we are not his servants but his friends. He calls us to a shared ministry with him and with each other.

Throughout his time with his disciples, Jesus has tried in every way to convey the profound truth about the depth of God’s love for us humans and for the whole creation. Now Jesus asks God to protect the community of faith, what we now call the Church.

We can see God protecting the community of faith as we watch Peter, whom Jesus appointed to be the leader, calling the faithful together to enter a process of prayer and discernment to choose a new apostle. Over the centuries, the Church has gone through all kinds of challenges, including times of persecution, and even that has not stopped people from making the choice to follow Jesus.

Even in recent times, we can recall various controversies. Through all of these, God has protected the Church. Over all these centuries, millions of folks like us have responded to the call of our Lord to help him spread his shalom.

Our Lord prays, “Holy Father, protect them in your name…so that they may be one as we are one.” Jesus is praying for God to protect us so that we may be one as he and the Father are one. 

It goes back to the way Jesus describes our life together. He is the vine. We are the branches. His love is the oxygen, the energy, the life-spirit that courses through his body, the Vine. We all share that energy. We are all part of him, and we are all part of each other. Part of God’s protection of us is that we realize that we are one as Jesus and the Father are one. That is a very strong bond, a profoundly deep and close love.

And once again our Lord prays that we may have his joy complete in ourselves. Once again, he reminds us that following him brings great joy.

This coming Sunday we will celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us to experience and share the depth and breadth of God’s love. Please wear red to symbolize the flames dancing over the heads of the apostles. If anyone can translate a couple of sentences of the gospel into a foreign language, please let me know. I also have a text in French if anyone would like to read a portion of that.

Meanwhile, like Matthias and Justus, whose names we hear only once; and like all the other followers of Christ whose names we do not know but whose faith and example we cherish; may we faithfully seek and do God’s will. May we live in the reality of Christ’s presence and love, and share his presence and love with others.  Amen.

Pentecost 17 Proper 20B RCL September 20, 2015

Proverbs 31:10-31
Psalm 1
James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
Mark 9:30-17

Our opening reading, which is the concluding portion of the Book of Proverbs, begins with a question: “A capable wife who can find?” The passage then launches into a description. Biblical scholars have a range of views about this passage.  Some scholars advise that we should really skip this passage because it comes from a patriarchal culture. It is true that the excellence of the good woman enhances her husband’s status in the city’s gates, where all the important decisions are made, and, in a patriarchal society, women did not participate in those decisions.

But other scholars encourage us to take a deeper look. Some say that, yes, this text was written in the midst of a patriarchal culture, but that it describes a strong, gifted woman, and that she and her husband have a good relationship based on mutuality. Some say that  this woman is a personification of wisdom and that the word“husband” is actually describing the followers of wisdom. Some even say that the passage describes the qualities of God. If we keep in mind that Jesus is closely associated with wisdom, that is not a huge leap.

Let’s take this on the literal level first. This is a description of a “capable wife.” Kathleen O’Connor of Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia says that, if we look carefully at the original Hebrew,  “The woman is more literally a ‘strong woman,’ a ‘woman of worth,’ a ‘warriorlike woman.’ She is a mysterious figure who greatly rewards anyone who settles down to live in her household.”

She is creative; she weaves and makes clothes for her family; she wakes up early and works hard; she manages and takes care of her household; she buys fields and plants vineyards. Commentator Neil Elliot translates, “She girds herself with strength and makes her arms strong,” into, “She works out.” In other words, she is strong. She dresses herself and her household well. They do not have to fear the snow. They will be warmly clothed. She is a person of justice. She helps the poor and needy. She cares about her community and the world. In addition to conducting real estate transactions and running a vineyard, she has a business making and selling linen garments.

She “laughs at the time to come,” Her faith is so deep that she is joyful in the face of the future. She is a teacher, and she teaches wisdom and kindness. Her family sees that she is happy, and they praise her. She has many wonderful qualities, and the most important one is her deep faith.

Even if we take this passage at the literal level, this woman is a wonderful holy example. If we take it as a description of wisdom, or living the life in Christ, it is still a fine example for us to follow.

Wisdom is strong; it is creative; it is industrious; wisdom enhances those who associate with it; it is competent in business transactions; wisdom takes care of the people in its household;  wisdom has deep faith.

Our passage from the letter of James says, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits; without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.”

Apparently, the congregation he is addressing has been suffering from conflict and division, and he is trying to show them the way out of that.

In our gospel, Jesus has begun to talk about the cross. He is among us as one who serves, and he calls us to serve others in his Name. But the disciples are having a difficult time making the transition from a worldly military hero carrying out a revolution to our Lord, calling us to allow him to transform us.

On the way, they have been arguing and when they get to Capernaum, he asks them what they have been talking about. They are so ashamed that they fall into silence, because they have been fighting over who is going to be the greatest in his kingdom.

Of course, he knows this. They are in the house. He sits down and calls the twelve to him. We can imagine that he asks them to sit down with him. When we are trying to communicate things that are hard to grasp, it is good to get quiet, sit down together, ask God to be in our midst, calm ourselves, and put our full attention on the matter at hand.

And then Jesus says those great words of wisdom: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” That dissolves any thoughts of who is going to be the greatest. That removes any possibility of competition or comparison. We are here to serve each other, and we are all called to put each other first. That’s how his kingdom works. That’s the basis for his shalom. That’s the blueprint for the reign of God.

Then he takes a little child in his arms. In that society and time, children had no status. They were considered chattel, property, possessions. And Jesus says, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”

He is turning everything upside down. If we welcome a little child, we are welcoming him. The quality of our faith and our discipleship is based on how we welcome and treat those who are the most vulnerable. The quality of our discipleship is based, not on how great we are but on how much we serve others.

Blessed Lord, give us the grace to love and follow you and to love and serve others, especially those who are most vulnerable. In your Holy Name we pray.  Amen.

Easter 7B RCL May 17, 2015

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
Psalm 1
1 John 5:9-13
John 17:6-19

Our first reading is from the Book of Acts, which is the history of what happened in the early Church just after the death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord. Jesus has just ascended into heaven. We have a beautiful window dedicated to that scene just above our altar. Jesus has told the apostles that he has to go to be with the Father, but that he will send the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth.

Between the Ascension of our Lord and the Feast of Pentecost, the apostles gathered in one place and prayed, as Jesus had directed them to do. In our reading for today, Peter calls the apostles to deal with an extremely painful reality, the reality of Judas’ betrayal of our Lord. It is time to seek God’s guidance in choosing someone to complete the number of the Twelve. The apostles must choose someone who has been with Jesus from the very beginning of his ministry, when he was baptized by his cousin John the Baptist in the Jordan River. Someone who has been with Jesus and with the apostles, day in and day out, through all the challenges and joys of their ministry together. Someone who has watched in horror as Jesus was crucified and then cried in joyous surprise to see him risen. Someone who has stood with the group and watched him ascend to the Father. Two men are chosen—Joseph, called Barsabbas, known as Justus, and Matthias. They pray; they cast lots, and Matthias is chosen. Tradition tells us that Matthias served faithfully, just as he had followed Jesus during his ministry, but, like so many followers of our Lord, he went about his whole ministry quietly, without fanfare.

Jesus told his apostles and us that he is the Vine, and we are the branches, and he told us that the whole point of his ministry and our ministry is to share God’s love.

Yet today we deal with something terrible that happened just before Jesus endured his mock trial and was crucified. One of the people Jesus had called to be among his closest followers betrayed him. There is evidence in the scriptures that Judas regretted this act almost as soon as he did it. The Book of Acts tells us that he literally spilled his guts in a field he had bought with the thirty pieces of silver, and Matthew’s gospel tells us that he hanged himself.

Just imagine how it must have felt to be one of the twelve closest followers of Jesus and to know that a member of that group had betrayed our Lord. Sadness, anger, and many other feelings must have surged through the group.

Yet, by the grace of God, they held together. And here they are in our reading today choosing Matthias to join them.

Our gospel for today is from Jesus’ prayer for his followers. He has taught us about God, and he asks God to protect us as we live in a world that is full of violence and competitiveness and darkness and brokenness, a world that is so far from the shalom that our Lord has called us to build. And yet, quietly, steadily, the Spirit is at work, and that shalom grows.

We can see God’s protection at work as the apostles gather in prayer to call Matthias to join them. And we can be aware of God’s protection for them as they waited and prayed for our Lord to send the Holy Spirit. Our Lord also asks God to give us the gift of joy.

In our epistle for today from the First Letter of John,we read, “God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” Because we are part of the Body of Christ, we have the gift of life that is deeper and more meaningful because we are part of our Lord and he lives in us. We know what the purpose of life is. We know that he is with us. He is the Vine and we are the branches. Our life is not about just our human needs and wants. It is about allowing him to live in us. It is about our being a part of him. That is what we mean when we say that he is alive in us and we are alive in him. Much more alive than if we were just going about life on our own human terms.

Jesus has ascended to heaven. We are gathered in prayer. We are waiting with joy for the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, which is this coming Sunday. God has brought this community through many challenges. A few decades ago, the church building was condemned, and a faithful group worked to restore the building to a stable condition.  Very soon, at the Mark Sustic concert, Grace Church will be full to capacity, bursting with joyful music, and standing up to the challenge of stomping and dancing feet.

God still guides and protects the Church, and the gift of joy is still very real. Each and every one of you is much like Matthias—faithful  servants who go about your ministries quietly but with great love and care.

Fortunately, we do not have among us one who has betrayed the Lord, But we do have a beloved member who cannot be with us because of her ministry in the world, and that is our sister in Christ, jan. We also have Nick, who cannot be with us because of a demanding work schedule and family obligations. Please keep them especially in your prayers and, if you get a chance, please send  an email or two to let them know you are thinking of them.

Let us take time this week to think about the coming of the Holy Spirit among us, and let us prepare with joy to receive the gifts of the Spirit.

If you have something red to wear for Pentecost, please feel free to do that.  Please also think of all the translations of the word “Peace” that you know, and we will use them during the exchange of the Peace.

Let us thank God for God’s protection, and let us reflect on the joy we have in being members of the Body of Christ and members of this community of faith.  Amen.