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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion April 2, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion April 9, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion April 16, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…

Pentecost 16 Proper 20A September 20, 2020

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

Last Sunday, we read the inspiring account of how God led the people out of slavery into freedom. This Sunday, we are on the journey with God’s people. Sometimes journeys are exciting. Going to new places can be interesting, educational, and a lot of fun. Sometimes journeys are more challenging, like hiking the Long Trail or the Appalachian Trail or even climbing Camel’s Hump on a late autumn day when the higher you got the icier it gets. Sometimes journeys are inward exploration, like therapy or recovery from addiction. In the beginning there can be a sense of excitement, and there are also times when you just want that drink or drug or when it’s so hard to move away from old habits of thinking or doing that you just want to quit.

Today, God’s people just want to give up, turn around  and go back to Egypt because they are really hungry and the food was very good there. In other parts of the scripture, the text actually mentions their favorite foods, the melons and the leeks. So they complain to Moses and Aaron. And God hears their complaint and feeds them with quails in the evening and manna in the morning. God hears them. God feeds them. God’s mercy and care are always with us.

The Scriptures tell us that God’s people wandered in the wilderness for forty years. We have  been wandering in the wilderness of this Covid desert for six months, and we are getting very tired of the whole thing. We have not shared Holy Eucharist for all these months; we cannot gather in our beautiful church building which symbolizes God’s love to us and which reminds us of the great cloud of witnesses, the faithful people who have worshipped and absorbed God’s word and tried to do God’s will over two centuries. This building is a holy place for us. It wraps us in God’s love. And we cannot go in.

And we are feeling sad and frustrated. And maybe a bit angry as well.

I think we can identify with the people of God on their journey through the wilderness. We may not be physically hungry but we have had it  with this pandemic, and we have a lot to complain about.

This past Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci joined Governor Scott’s press briefing for the first half hour. He gave Vermont high marks for our work so far. He even said that Vermont can be an example for the nation. He noted that we have not achieved this because we have a small population. He said that we have achieved our low numbers because of wearing masks, social distancing at least six feet, washing our hands as often as possible, avoiding crowds, and being outdoors as much as possible. If more populated areas followed the same guidelines, he said, they would have the low positivity rates and other great statistics that we have.

In other interviews, Dr. Fauci has warned that the fall and winter will be a challenge and that we need to be careful to continue to follow the guidelines. On Tuesday he advised us to “Be prudent,” and to be careful regarding our interactions in the community. He said he does not think a second wave is  inevitable if we continue to follow the health measures we have been doing.

We want to get back to normal. We want to go back into our church building, share Holy Eucharist, not wear masks, sing, and have coffee hour. Unfortunately, that is not going to be happening for a while. 

On May 18, delegates from all our parishes gathered in the Cathedral Church of Saint Paul. Our delegates were Beth, Lori, Jean, and me. We had three outstanding priests who felt called to be our Bishop. We had had opportunities to meet and talk with these people at the walkabouts. In an atmosphere of love and with a framework of meditation and prayer, and, with a profound sense of our oneness in Christ, we elected our Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Dr. Shannon MacVean-Brown, on the first ballot. An election on the first ballot is very rare.

The Episcopal Church goes back to the earliest roots of the Church in claiming the apostolic succession. We can trace our bishops back to the apostles.  The word “Episcopal” means “having bishops.” In the service of ordination of a bishop, we read that a bishop is called “to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church.” St. Paul addresses this when he writes to his beloved Philippians, “Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that…I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel.”

In her meeting with the clergy this past Wednesday, Bishop Shannon told us that the House of Bishops had recently met with Dr. Fauci.  In that meeting, Dr. Fauci encouraged everyone “Not to let [our] guard down.” He said that “cold and dry air helps the virus to thrive.” He told the bishops that fifty percent of transmissions of the disease come from people who have no symptoms. The  bottom line is that in-person worship indoors will not be happening soon. This is not just in Vermont but in Episcopal churches around the nation. These decisions are based on science.

This is extremely difficult news to hear. I think it’s easy for us to identify with God’s people in the wilderness. Why do we have to be going through this?

Our gospel for today can be shocking. Biblical scholar Thomas Troeger writes, “The story is about something greater than employment practices.” Referring to Matthew’s community, Troeger writes,  “People have made enormous sacrifices to follow Jesus, and now there are newcomers, including Gentiles. …This is what the kingdom of heaven is like. God, without breaking agreements with the friends who came early to the cause, will be generous to all, including the latecomers.” (Troeger, New Proclamation Series A 1999, p. 224.

God’s love and grace go far beyond our expectations. We are all beloved workers in God’s vineyard, whether we have been working faithfully for years or months or weeks or days. God’s love and grace are given to all of us in equal and generous amounts. 

We have called Bishop Shannon to be our leader. Her guidance to us is coming, not from a place of fear, but from a place of wisdom and love. God has called us together. Some of us have been here at Grace for a long time. Others have joined us more recently. I know we all love each other, and those of us who have been here awhile are very happy to welcome our new bothers and sisters. 

This time in the life of the Church and in our life together is extremely challenging. And it is one of those times when we really need to focus on being one with God and each other just as Jesus and the Father and the Spirit are one.

To paraphrase our reading from Paul and our gospel, let us all stand firm in the unity of the Spirit, thanking God for God’s outpouring of love and grace. And let us work together in God’s vineyard to share God’s love and grace with everyone we meet. With God’s unfailing help, we will get through this time, and we will be stronger for it. Amen.

Pent 13 Proper 17A RCL August 30, 2020

Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26. 45c
Exodus 3:1-15
Romans 12:9-21
Matthew 16:21-28

Last week, we read the inspiring story of the birth of Moses. The new Pharaoh was a cruel tyrant, but Moses’ parents, his sister, the midwives, and the princess all showed profound courage, and Moses’ life was saved. When he grew older, he was adopted by the princess and went to the palace to live.

Much has happened between last Sunday’s reading and our lesson for today. To summarize, the young man Moses leaves the palace and sees the sufferings of the Hebrew people. Though he is a prince, he still identifies with his own people. He sees an Egyptian trying to kill a Hebrew man, and he kills the Egyptian and buries him in the sand. His sense of justice calls him to defend his fellow Israelite.

A short time later, he goes out again, but this time he sees two Hebrew men fighting each other. He confronts the man who is at fault and tells them not to fight. He is trying to teach his people to work together, not against each other. But the man who is at fault confronts Moses and asks him whether Moses is going to kill him the way he killed the Egyptian. Soon, Moses realizes the king is looking for him. He escapes and goes to Midian.

He stops by a well and meets the seven daughters of Reuel, the priest of Midian. Some shepherds harass the young women. Moses defends Reuel’s daughters and waters their flock. Once again, he is defending and protecting those who are vulnerable. Moses fights for justice everywhere he goes. The young women see him as an Egyptian, but he sees himself as an Israelite.

The young women arrive home early and their father asks them how they watered the flock so quickly. They tell him about the Egyptian young man who protected them from the shepherds and watered the flock in record time. Reuel realizes that this is an extraordinary young man and welcomes Moses to visit the family. Eventually, Moses marries Reuel’s daughter Zippporah and becomes a shepherd.

These events have a deep connection with Grace Church because Keith’s ancestor, Reuel Keith, founder of Virginia Theological Seminary, was named after Reuel, the priest of Midian, who welcomed Moses into his family and thus became a mentor and protector to the man who would lead God’s people out of slavery in Egypt.

This brings us to today’s reading. God has heard the cries of God’s captive people in Egypt. Moses is faithfully going about his daily work as a shepherd. He is alert.  He pays attention to the world around him. And he notices a most unusual thing— a bush that is on fire but is not consumed. He goes to investigate. And God calls to him. Moses realizes he is on holy ground. He is in the presence of God, and God is calling him to lead God’s people out of slavery.

Like so many people called by God over the ages, Moses does not feel up to the task.  And God tells Moses something very important.  God assures Moses that God will be with Moses every step of the way. God does not call us to do difficult things and them leave us alone. God walks with us, God leads us and guides us.

God helps Moses understand who God is—“I am who I am.” And the wonderful thing about Hebrew verbs is that they are all tenses at once—I am who I am; I was who I was; I will be who I will be. God is dynamic and eternal. God will guide Moses as he leads the people out of slavery into freedom. God has chosen a leader who sees the suffering of God’s people, defends his own people, protects those who are vulnerable, and tries to bring justice in every situation. As we know from reading the Scriptures, leading God’s people to the promised land was not easy, but God was with Moses on the journey.

In our gospel, Peter cannot bear to think of Jesus suffering. In his effort to banish this thought, he gets in the way of our Lord’s accepting his own cross, and Jesus admonishes him and tells him to get out of the way. He even calls him Satan because he is so upset that Peter, in showing compassion for our Lord’s suffering, is actually deflecting our Lord from his vocation. Each of us has our own cross to bear. Each of us will suffer in one way or another as we try to follow our Lord and be faithful. We may have rifts with family members. We may lose friends. We may not achieve success in the world’s terms. But in the end these crosses also lead us into life in a new dimension.

Our epistle for today is addressed to a community which is suffering persecution. “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor….Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer….Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly…Live peaceably with all….If your enemies are hungry, feed them.” This is the vision of God’s shalom which Jesus expresses in the beatitudes and which his mother, Mary, sings about in the Magnificat.

What are these readings saying to us in this time of Covid 19? Moses was the person God chose to lead God’s people out of slavery. He did not feel that he was up to the job. When God calls us, most of us do not feel adequate to the task. We are part of a long line of people, a “great cloud of witnesses,” who say Yes in spite of all our misgivings and, with the grace of God, do our ministries to the best of our ability, depending solely on the grace of God.

Jesus came to show us what a life centered in God’s love looks like. Paul, born a Pharisee, a persecutor of the Church, met our Lord on the road to Damascus and was blinded for three days by the light of that love. In our epistle for today Paul offers us a poetic blueprint of living the life in Christ and being ministers of reconciliation.

Jesus has called us to live the Way of Love, and I’m pretty sure that not one of us feels that we are up to the task. But we are in very good company. Moses, Jeremiah, Isaiah. and so many heroes and heroines of the faith felt inadequate, too. Nowadays, sharing God’s love with others involves being careful not to spread Covid 19. It has been difficult to do all the things the medical experts are telling us to do. but here in Vermont we have the lowest statistics in the country, and, as our Presiding Bishop reminds us, keeping people safe and saving lives is our first priority. 

This means that we will not be able to hug each other, or share Communion, or sing together, or have a coffee hour with actual food—for a while. We don’t know for how long. In the meanwhile, “Let love be genuine, love one another with mutual affection, rejoice in hope.” Live the Way of Love. Amen.

Pentecost 10 Proper 14 August 9, 2020

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

Our first reading today is one of the most famous in the Bible and in Christian education classes—the story of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph was his father’s favorite, and Jacob made his beloved son a coat with long sleeves, what we have come to call Joseph’s “coat of many colors”, or Joseph’s “Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

Joseph did have dreams, which he shared with his brothers, and this did not help the situation, One dream that particularly got their goat was that they were in the field binding sheaves when Joseph’s sheaf 

rose above his brothers’ sheaves, and the sheaves of his brothers worshipped his sheaf.

In our reading, Israel sends Joseph out to find his brothers. When Joseph finally finds them after some investigation, his brothers conspire to kill him. Reuben arrives just in time to stop them from actually killing Joseph and they decide to throw him into a pit. When Joseph arrives, they strip him of his clothes and throw him into the pit. It is dry, so at least he will not drown.

Then some traders come by, and Judah convinces his brothers to sell Joseph to the Ishmaelite traders for twenty pieces of silver. As Christians, we can’t help but think of the thirty pieces of silver which Judas received for betraying Jesus. The Ishmaelite traders take Joseph to Egypt. 

The Bible is a library of books written over centuries of time, and between its pages we can find all kinds of stories about things we humans can think and do. Together with the birth of Jacob and Esau, with Jacob hanging on to Esau’s heel, this story is one of the classic examples of sibling rivalry. What does it take for brothers to decide to kill their own sibling? Will Joseph seek revenge? Will he forgive his brothers? Joseph has an amazing, God-given gift for interpreting dreams, and we will see what happens.

In our gospel for today, Jesus has just fed over five thousand people. He tells the disciples to go across the Sea of Galilee while he dismisses the crowd. After the crowd leaves, Jesus goes to the mountain to pray. This is something that he did often. He took time apart to be with God. This is his wonderful example to us—to take time away in quiet to ask God for guidance. By the time he comes back to the shore of the lake, night is falling.

The disciples are out in the boat, but the wind has come up and the boat is far from the land. Large waves are battering the boat. The wind has blown them far out on the lake. With the howling of the wind and the size of the waves, they are afraid.

Jesus comes walking toward them on the water— right through the waves, the wind, and the chaos. They see him, but they do not recognize him. They are terrified. They cry out, “It is a ghost!” They are gripped in icy fear.

But then, Jesus speaks to them, and let us remember these words when we are sailing stormy seas with high waves and winds that threaten to swamp us: “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” 

Peter immediately responds to the presence of his Lord. “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” And Jesus says, “Come.” So Peter starts walking toward him. But when he notices exactly how strong the wind is, fear rises in his heart  and he begins to sink. He calls out to Jesus, “Lord. save me!” And Jesus reaches out his hand to Peter and saves him. They get into the boat; the wind stops, and Peter says, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

How many times have we been afraid, stricken with pure terror, and we ask our Lord for help, and he stretches out his hand and saves us? We all know that fear can paralyze us. Our Lord can calm any storm. Our Lord can save us from the storms of life. He is reaching out his hand to us right now to steady us, lift us from the chaos of fear, and bring us to a safe place.

In our epistle for today, Paul says many wonderful things. He says, “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart.” Jesus, the eternal Word who brought  the worlds into being, is near us. We can reach out our hands and touch him.

And the other thing that I think is very important for us to remember is that Paul writes here and in other letters, “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek.” In his Letter to the Galatians,  he writes, “There is no longer Jew or Greek. there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28.)

Two thousand years ago, Saint Paul was telling us that there are no distinctions between human beings. God loves us all, infinitely and equally. Any distinctions of race, gender, class, social status and all the other things we humans have used to divide us are created by human beings, not by God. We’re all in the same boat. We’re all in this together.

Here we are, sailing in the high winds and choppy seas of Covid-19, and our Lord is saying, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” As we look out on the rest of our country and see that the rates of illness and death are rising in places where there have been large parties and other gatherings where folks were close together and not wearing masks, we might imagine to ourselves that our Lord might be telling us, “Do not be afraid, but do not be cocky. This is a powerful virus.Take care of yourselves, and take care of each other. I love you.”

When Jesus reaches out his hand to take us into the boat and bring us to safety, his hand is not only a hand of rescue, but it is a hand of guidance. He gave us minds so that we could do research and determine exactly what we are facing, and then take the actions we need to in order to stay safe and keep our brothers and sisters safe from illness and death. The Way of Love is to help everyone stay safe and stay healthy. May we continue to walk in the Way of Love. Amen.

Pentecost 8 Proper 12A July 26, 2020

Genesis 29:15-28
Psalm 105:1-11, 45b
Romans 8:26-39
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

In our first reading today, we continue the story of Jacob. He has gone to the home of his uncle, Laban, Rebekah’s brother. Jacob generously offers to work seven years in order to marry Rachel, whom he loves. The seven years pass, and, when Jacob asks for the hand of Rachel in marriage, Laban substitutes Leah for her sister.

When morning comes, it is clear that Laban, like Jacob, is a trickster and he has outsmarted Jacob. When Jacob questions this deception, Laban tells him that the local custom is to marry off the older daughter first. Jacob agrees to work another seven years in order to marry Rachel.

Why is Jacob, the trickster who usually wins, so agreeable about this arrangement? For one thing, he probably is not that eager to go home. After all, Esau has threatened to kill him. For another thing, he loves Rachel very much. If we look at this situation in its ancient context, he has been very fortunate. He has married within his mother’s family, as she had wished. As biblical scholar James Newsome puts it, “Not just any bedouin showing up at the oasis could hope to labor for the sheik’s daughter.” (Newsome Texts for Preaching Year A, p. 418.) 

Because of the family connections, Jacob will be able to marry the woman he loves. In his earlier years, we can imagine him trying to outsmart Laban in some way as he always did at home, but now, he quietly accepts and carries out the additional seven years of work. He is changing. He has been called by God, and he is beginning a process of transformation. One of the signs of this is that he will be persistent. He will complete those seven years.

In our gospel for today, we have several descriptions of the kingdom of heaven, It is like a mustard seed, the very smallest of seeds, You would think it would produce a tiny plant, but it grows into a large shrub where birds can nest. God’s kingdom can start small and grow into great power and beauty, Small is beautiful. This is a wonderful message for us here in Vermont. 

The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman mixed in with her flour and made delicious bread. The kingdom of heaven is often invisible, but it produces amazing results, like warm bread coming from the oven. The yeast transforms the flour and other ingredients.

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. You find it and it is so precious that you give everything you have in order to gain it.  Life in the shalom of God is so precious that we are willing to devote ourselves fully to being a part of it.

The shalom of God is a pearl of great price, something of great value, something to be cherished. It is like a net full of fish. It is a kingdom of abundance.

These are all glimpses into life in the shalom of God. It is a way of life that starts small and grows and grows. It is a life of transformation as we grow more and more into the likeness of our Lord. The shalom of God is something to which we can devote all our energies, helping our Lord to bring in his kingdom of peace and harmony, sharing his love and life with everyone. It is a life of abundance. God gives us all the gifts we need to  carry out our ministries and help to build God’s shalom if peace and love.

In our epistle for today, Paul tells us some wonderful things that can strengthen our faith. He reminds us that the Spirit prays for us when we cannot find the words to pray or cannot even formulate the thoughts to pray. God knows us so well and loves us so much that God prays on our behalf. As Paul writes, “The Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” What a comforting thought. God prays for us when we cannot, And they are deep prayers, “sighs too deep for words.” God is praying for us. 

Then, in the final portion of this reading, we have a passage of Scripture that rings down through the ages. “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life,  nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor heights nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

As we look out on our world, we see many people suffering and dying in this pandemic. We see people waiting in line for food. Waiting in line to be tested. We see a great deal of suffering.

And we may wonder, Where is God in all of this? Wherever love is being shown in this world, God is there. God is present in the skilled and loving service of doctors, nurses, EMTs, and other medical professionals who are risking their lives to help others. God is with the transport workers, grocery clerks, sanitation workers, child care workers, and so many others who are on the front lines every day helping all of us. God is present in the many acts of love and caring that we see every day. 

Nothing can stop the love of God. In the midst of everything that is going on, God is at work. Usually God works very quietly. No fanfare, no fuss. Just love at work. God is rooting for us, God is praying for us. And, if we listen for God’s still small voice in all the turmoil, God is leading us. If we listen carefully for the voice of Jesus, our Good Shepherd, he is guiding us. Amen.

May we always move in the direction of love. May we love God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, and may we love our neighbors as ourselves. Amen.

Pentecost 16 Proper 20A RCL September 24, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us say together The Baptismal Covenant, page 304.

Pentecost 13 Proper 17 September 3, 2017

Exodus 3:1-15
Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c
Romans 12:9-21
Matthew 16:21-28

Last Sunday, our opening reading was the beginning of the life of Moses. We remember that the Pharaoh had ordered that all the Hebrew baby boys should be killed. Because of the courage of his mother and sister, and because of the compassion and courage of the Pharaoh’s daughter, Moses is brought up in the palace of the king and when he comes of age, the princess adopts him as her son.


Even though he has grown up with all the advantages of a noble upbringing, Moses still identifies himself as a Hebrew. One day, he goes out into the city. He sees his fellow Hebrews doing forced labor,  and he comes upon an Egyptian beating a Hebrew. He kills the Egyptian and buries him in the sand. The next day, he goes out and sees two Hebrews fighting with each other. He tells the one who is at fault that he should not fight with his fellow Hebrew. Biblical scholar Walter Brueggeman wisely notes that Moses is encouraging solidarity among the Hebrew slaves.


The Pharaoh soon hears that Moses has killed an Egyptian and sets out to kill Moses. Moses flees to Midian. He sits down by a well. As we remember, in the desert, the well is the town center, a place of refreshment and a place to meet people. The seven daughters of Reuel, the priest of Midian, come to draw water. Some shepherds come and drive the young women away from the well. Moses comes to their defense and waters their flock. The young women go home, leaving Moses at the well.Their father, Reuel, asks them how they have gotten home so early, and they tell him that an Egyptian helped them to get rid of the shepherds and then watered their entire flock for them. This tells us that Moses, although he identifies himself as a Hebrew, still carries enough signs of being a part of the Egyptian royal court that these young women see him as an Egyptian.


Reuel senses that this is an extraordinary young man. He has rescued Reuel’s daughters. Reuel sends his daughters back to the well to invite Moses to break bread with them. Eventually, Moses marries Reuel’s daughter Zipporah and she has a son. Moses names him Gershom, saying, “I have been an alien residing in a foreign land.” In Hebrew. “ger’ means alien. Moses knows what it is to be different, to be an alien in a foreign land, even though he was raised in the king’s house. In defending his fellow Hebrew, in encouraging his Hebrew brothers to support each other instead of fighting, and in driving the shepherds away from the young women, he shows his commitment to justice and his willingness to fight for those who are vulnerable.

Here is this young man. Moses, a Hebrew raised in the palace of the King of Egypt, who has had to run for his life and is now living in Midian under the protection of Reuel, the priest of that place. Incidentally, the name Reuel means “friend of God.” (Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 4, p 54.)

In our reading for today, time has gone by, and Moses is tending the flocks of his father-in-law, Jethro. Scholars tell us that Jethro is another name for Reuel. (Brueggemann, The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 1, p. 711.) Moses is doing his work, and he sees this most amazing thing—a bush that is engulfed in flames but is not burning up. It is there, glowing.

Moses goes toward this amazing incandescent shrub burning with the luminous presence of God. And God calls his name. Moses answers in the words so many of our biblical heroes and heroines use: “Here I am.” As Herbert O’Driscoll points out, Moses is fully present in this moment. He is not rushing to the next task, He is not thinking of what he has done yesterday or what he has to do tomorrow or next week. He is there, in that moment. God tells him to take his sandals off, for this is holy ground. And God tells Moses who God is. And Moses is afraid.

God tells Moses that God has noticed the suffering of God’s people in Egypt, and he has chosen Moses to lead the people to freedom. And God says that most crucial thing, that God will be with Moses throughout the journey to freedom. Moses has many questions, and God keeps saying to him in various ways, that God is giving Moses this ministry, and God will guide him every step of the way.

The story of Moses speaks to us this Sunday for many reasons. First, it is a miracle that he survived beyond infancy. Secondly, even though he had a royal upbringing, he had compassion on those who were suffering oppression. He defended the Hebrew man who was being beaten; he encouraged his Hebrew brothers to work together instead of fighting, and he defended the daughters of Reuel who were being harassed by the shepherds. He had to run for his life, but he made a new life for himself with the protection of Reuel. He was just going about his daily work when God chose him to lead his people from slavery to freedom. He was present to that moment and he said Yes to God’s call, even though he was wondering how in the world he would be able to lead these people to the promised land. As we know, because we have read the rest of the story, leading those people was no picnic. But they got there.

In our epistle for today, Paul is reminding us of the qualities of a Christian community, and, as we know, the main quality is love. “Love one another with mutual affection…rejoice in hope…persevere in prayer.”  And Jesus calls us to take up our cross. Someone has said that our lives are intended to be cross-shaped. We reach up to God and we reach out to others with God’s love.

As we reflect on the ministry of Moses leading the people to freedom and the ministry of our Lord leading us to freedom from everything that would imprison us, and the love of God that is at the center of everything, I thank God this day for the many ministries that people in this community do in order to help both people and animals to move from slavery to freedom, from suffering to peace and joy. I also thank God for Reuel, the priest of Midian, who nurtured and protected Moses, the liberator of God’s people, and for his namesake, the Rev. Dr. Reuel Keith, beloved priest and scholar and founder of the Virginia Theological Seminary.  Amen.

Pentecost 10 Proper 14A RCL August 13, 2017

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

Last Sunday, we had an interesting and unusual event in our lectionary. When a feast of our Lord, such as the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple, or, the Transfiguration of our Lord, comes on a Sunday, that feast supersedes the normal lectionary. This past Sunday, in reading the lessons for the Transfiguration, we skipped the lessons for the ninth Sunday of Pentecost.

So I am going to fill in just a little of the story of Jacob and his family. Last Sunday’s readings described Jacob sending his two wives, their two maids, his eleven children and all his possessions to go ahead of him so that, when they got to his brother Esau and Esau asked them whom they belonged to, they would say, “Jacob,” and Esau would know that his brother was returning home. It was Jacob’s sincere prayer that seeing his possessions and wives and children might inspire mercy on the part of Esau and prevent him from killing Jacob.

Meanwhile, Jacob stayed back and had his wrestling match with God. This left him with a dislocated hip and a new name, Israel. Esau did indeed have mercy on Jacob, and now we see how large the family of Jacob, now Israel, has  become.

But that old sin of envy and jealousy is running rampant. Envy is defined by my mentor David Brown as, “The inability to rejoice in the blessings and good fortune of others.” Joseph is loved by his father. He has a special cloak, that coat of many colors, that “amazing technicolor dreamboat.” He has a special place in his father’s heart, and his brothers want to kill him. Fortunately, Reuben persuades them to throw Joseph into a pit and at least leave him alive. Then, when the Midianite traders come by, Judah comes up with the bright idea of selling their brother to them for twenty pieces of silver. Thus Joseph is taken into Egypt.

In our epistle, Paul is quoting Scripture, specifically Deuteronomy 30:11-14. We do not have to go to great lengths to find Christ. We do not have to bring him down from heaven, and we do not have to bring him up from hell, where he descended to share his love with everyone and every part of the creation so that no one will be separated from him. The writer of Deuteronomy was referring to the law when he said, “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart.” But Paul is extending that wisdom to our understanding of our Lord. He is near us. We do not have to go far to find him. He has come to earth to find us and to heal us and forgive us and give us grace to continue on our journey to him, and he is walking with us every step of the way.

Jesus is God walking the face of the earth. God has come to be with us. God loves us so much that God would come to be one of us.

In today’s gospel, Jesus has just fed the five thousand. He tells the disciples to get into a boat and go to the other side of the lake while he dismisses the crowds. And then, what does he do? He goes up to the mountain to pray. He goes to be with God, his heavenly Father. Jesus did this whenever he could. He went to God for guidance, sustenance. He went to his divine Father for feeding, refreshment, true peace, true direction. This is something we need to do each and every day, several times a day. The great moral theologian Kenneth Kirk said that this habit, recollection, going into the presence of God and reordering our hearts and lives, is the practice of the presence of God, and he said that recollection is “the habit of referring all questions to God.” That is what Jesus did so often, and that is what he is doing at the beginning of this gospel. He is so deep in prayer that by the time he comes back to what we are pleased to call reality, the boat is way out in the lake, the waves are high, and the boat is being battered by wind and waves.

Early in the morning, Jesus comes walking across the water, and they think he is a ghost. You know how the mist can sit on the water early in the morning. Everything can seem quite other-worldly, ghostly. They cry out in fear.

And he says those words that we can carry like treasure in our hearts: “Take heart; it is I; do not be afraid.”

Dear impetuous Peter imposes a bit of a test,”Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus says, “Come.” So Peter jumps out of the boat into the water and he is doing just great until he notices how very strong that wind really is, and, just like that, he sinks like a rock. But he calls out to Jesus and Jesus reaches out his hand and grips him in that strong loving handclasp, asking him why he doubts. And they all know who Jesus really is.

This gospel has at least two very powerful messages for us. The first is that we need to spend time with God. We need to make time in our busy days to “be still and know that God is God.” We need to bask in God’s presence and let God’s love and healing seep into the depths of our being.

The other message is about fear. It is important to remember that fear is not always a bad thing. If we start to climb up a sheer mountainside with sharp drops on all sides and we feel afraid, that could be a helpful message that perhaps we are not quite up to that level of mountain climbing. So, on the positive side, sometimes the feeling of fear can be a helpful warning on behalf of our self-care.  

Then there is the other aspect of fear, and that is that fear can get in the way of our faith. Wise people have said that faith is the other side of the coin of fear and that faith is fear that has said its prayers. For me this means that sometimes we forget the message of our epistle and gospel today. We forget how close God is. All we have to do is reach out and the loving and steadying hand of Jesus will be there.

There are many scary things in this life and in this world, but we can’t let them stop us in our tracks. We are here to help God build God’s shalom, and we have to be about that work. Sometimes it can feel like a storm with ten foot waves and winds of fifty miles an hour out on the lake. But God is always with us. Amen.

Pentecost 15 Proper 20 A RCL September 21, 2014

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

In our first reading, we join God’s people on their journey. We’ve all been on journeys of one kind or another, perhaps a road trip or a hike, or a bike trip. Or we have begun a journey of another kind. We have gone into
therapy, or we have made a decision to recover from an addiction.

At first, it’s exciting and every day is an adventure, but gradually, it becomes a struggle. If we are on a hike, the mountain seems as though it’s straight up at a ninety-degree angle. If we are on a car trip, we wonder when we are going to get there. If we are doing hard internal spiritual work as in therapy or recovery, the first thrill of excitement is long gone and the work gets very difficult and we want to quit. Our brothers and sisters out in the wilderness are looking with fond nostalgia at their former life as slaves!

The journey of life, the journey with and toward God, can be a struggle at times. We complain. And God feeds us and gives us water and gives us strength to keep journeying. God is always there to help us.

In our epistle for today, Paul is writing to his beloved congregation at Philippi. Paul is in prison. He is suffering. His letter is so honest. He can’t travel around to visit all the congregations he has founded and wants to nurture. He writes, “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.” With the suffering he is enduring, the idea of dying is attractive to Paul. He would like to “depart and be with Christ.” But he feels deeply called to continue to stay alive in order to be with these beloved people and support them. He writes, “I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel.” Paul says that he knows that the people of the congregation are not intimidated by their opponents. We do not know exactly whom he meant, but these were times of persecution. Paul actually says that it is a privilege to suffer for Christ. In our own time, Christians are being persecuted. Paul is in a challenging time on his journey and he chooses to remain alive to continue his work of nurturing all the congregations he has planted around the Mediterranean Sea.

Our gospel for today is not about how to manage a business. It is about the kingdom, the shalom, of God.

Here is the context of this parable. Matthew’s congregation was growing. New people were coming in. Some had been there from the beginning. Some of the old-timers viewed the newcomers as second class citizens. How come these new people are greeted with all of God’s grace and love when I’ve been here slaving away for so long?

We are all familiar with this parable. The landowner goes out to hire workers for the vineyard. He goes out at six o’clock and hires a group of folks and agrees to pay them the usual wage for a day’s work. Then he goes out at nine and at noon at three and at five o’clock, he says he will pay those workers what is right.

The day ends, and the manager begins with those who were hired at five. That’s rather unusual. Something is different here. He gives these latecomers a full day’s wage. If I am back in line and I have worked since dawn, and I am sweaty and tired and hungry and ready to faint in the heat, and I see this, I can begin to think, Wow! He paid that guy a whole day’s wage. The pay scale has taken a leap! He’s going to pay me more. Maybe seven or eight or twelve times more. That guy started at 5 PM and I started at 6 AM. But when I get there, the manager pays me a day’s wage, too. Maybe I am a bit upset. The pay scale has not changed. The manager paid the latecomers a full wage. But he also paid me what we had agreed upon—also a full day’s wage. The owner has been fair to me and very generous to those who arrived late in the day.

If I can identify with the person who was hired at five PM, if I can think of a time when I couldn’t find a job or if I can think of the hundreds of kids today who have gone to college and can’t find a job in their field, so they are waiting on tables or bar tending or working some other minimum wage job and still living at home, if I can identify with the vulnerable side of myself, the part of me who is out there in the market place every day and has sent out hundreds of resumes and can’t even get a response, let alone an interview, then I am beginning to understand this parable.

Jesus is always looking for workers in his vineyard. And if you are there in the village square, if you show up, it doesn’t matter whether you have a Ph.D or a high school diploma or a third grade education, if you are willing to go out there and share his love with others, he has a job for you. If you are a little older and have a few aches and pains, if you can’t see as well as you once did, if you have a disability, he sees that as a strength. All you have to do is show up. He will welcome you with all the love and respect that he would give to any one of the twelve apostles. They were there at the beginning. We have joined the community two thousand years later.

That’s how his kingdom is, That’s his shalom of peace and harmony and wholeness and healing. Everyone is treated in the same way, with the infinite love and respect that our Lord has for every one of his children. No one is losing anything. It’s just that those who are more vulnerable, those who, for one reason or another didn’t get the good news as soon as some of the rest of us, get the same embrace with wide open arms of love that Jesus gives to Peter and James and John and Mary Magdalene and Martha and Mary and Lazarus and all those who were there at the very start of it all.

Before he tells this parable, Jesus tells us that the last will be first and the first will be last. He also says this at the end of the parable. And he is on his way to Jerusalem, so all of these discussions of grace and forgiveness are in the context of the cross.

May we hold fast to those things that shall endure—God’s grace and love, and the fellowship of the Body of Christ. Amen.

Pentecost 9 Proper 14A RCL August 10, 2014

Genesis 37:1-4,12-28
Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

In our first reading, we are continuing the story of Jacob, who has become Israel. Israel now has twelve sons. His beloved wife, Rachel, the mother of Joseph and of Benjamin, their youngest son, has died. Joseph is Israel’s favorite son. He helps his brothers to tend the flocks, and he has just given Israel some negative feedback on the work and behavior of his brothers.

Joseph is a dreamer. He also has visions. Some of those visions indicate that he is going to be more powerful than his brothers. As we can imagine, this does not exactly make him popular among them. On top of that, Joseph has been given what a later musical called his “amazing technicolor dream coat.” His brothers do not like that at all.

Israel sends Joseph out to see how things are going with his brothers, and, as they say, the rest is history. They want to kill him, but Ruben prevents that. Finally, they throw him into a pit and sell him to some traders. They dip his wonderful coat of many colors in goat’s blood and tell their father that Joseph is dead. The traders take Joseph to Egypt, where he reaches the highest position in the land. He becomes the chief assistant to the pharaoh. We will pick up the story next Sunday.

These stories, which go back so far in history, are fascinating because we know about these family dynamics, and they are timeless. Younger brother takes on airs and ambitions, seems to want to lord it over older brothers. Older brothers get mad and do something awful to him. Sibling rivalry is alive and well, and people don’t always behave the way God wants us to. We will tune in next Sunday for the amazing way in which Joseph deals with his brothers.

In our gospel, Jesus has just fed the five thousand. He makes the disciples get into the boat and go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which, as we know, is a big fresh water lake. We can think of Lake Champlain or maybe Missisquoi Bay. When the winds and storms come up, the Sea of Galilee, like Lake Champlain, can be a terrifying and treacherous place.

Jesus dismisses the crowds and goes up the mountain to pray. What a wonderful model for us. He has been working hard. He has been ministering to these people, healing them, feeding them. Loving them. He knows that he needs to spend time with God. He needs to renew his energy. As the song implies, we cannot be a light to others unless we keep putting oil in our lamp. Jesus constantly turns to God in prayer.

Meanwhile, out on the lake, the wind has come up, and the boat is being battered by the waves. They are far from the land and the wind is against them. Jesus comes walking on the water. What is their response? They are so scared that they do not even recognize him. Have you ever been so afraid that you couldn’t even recognize God, or recognize the help that was coming to you? Sometimes, when a person is drowning and a rescuer comes to save the person, he or she will flail about and fight the rescuer. As strange as it may seem, sometimes we do not recognize God’s presence and God’s willingness to help us. They actually think Jesus is a ghost. They scream in fear.

And then Jesus speaks those words, the words we so need to hear: “Take heart; it is I; do not be afraid.” How many times have we gotten caught in heavy seas and called upon Jesus to rescue us? How many times have we felt overwhelmed with problems and scared out of our wits. We struggle and struggle and finally we remember to pray. Always that strong arm is there. Always that loving face is there. Our Lord is always with us to help us.

That is the point of our epistle today. God is always near us. On our lips and in our hearts. God is Lord of all. If we feel that the boat is sinking, Jesus is right there with us, calming the storm.

Today’s readings are a call to renewed faith, especially in the face of things that we know are beyond our control, things that are terrifying. Like the situations in the Middle East and in Ukraine, the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, the suffering of so many people around the world, and the pain and suffering of those close to us. We can pray, and there is help. Our loving God does care about these situations and these people.

Loving God, help us to remember that we are all in the same boat, and you are in the boat with us. Give us the grace to pray, to recognize you, to seek your will, and to help you to build your shalom of peace and
harmony. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Pentecost 7 Proper 12A RCL July 27, 2014

Genesis 29:15-28
Psalm 105:1-11, 45b
Romans 8: 26-39
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

In our first reading, Jacob has cheated his older brother, Esau, out of their father’s blessing and Esau’s birthright as the elder son. He has fled to Haran in Mesopotamia, where his ancestor Abraham had lived before he followed God’s guidance and journeyed to the land of Canaan.

Jacob’s kinsman, Laban, graciously says that Jacob should not have to work for nothing and offers to pay him. Jacob has fallen in love with Rachel and offers to work for seven years in order to earn Rachel’s hand in marriage.

The seven years pass and Jacob asks to marry Rachel. Laban appears to be keeping his agreement, but he tricks Jacob and gives Leah in marriage. In those days and in that culture, there was a great feast for the wedding, the bride was clothed in layers of veils, and she went into the bridal tent in the dark of night. When morning dawns, Jacob realizes that he has married Leah instead of Rachel.  

Laban now explains that it is their custom to give the elder daughter in marriage first, but he generously offers that, if Jacob will work seven more years, he can have Rachel, and that marriage can take place in a week.

This is a culture in which women were viewed as possessions to be given away by their fathers, and the patriarchs held absolute power. But it is a part of the history of God’s people. The story also involves a reversal for Jacob, the Supplanter, the crafty cheater.  He is outsmarted by Laban. On the other hand, he is not eager to return home, where Esau is still hunting him to kill him. He is happy to spend fourteen years accumulating wives and livestock.

In our passage from the Letter to the Romans, Paul reaches the height of his theological and literary powers. We can all identify with what he is talking about. How many times have we tried to find words to pray in the face of events and situations which make us speechless? When we think of children risking their lives to get from El Salvador or Guatemala or Honduras to the borders of the United States, riding “The Beast,” the train that can carry them to new hope but from which they can fall to a horrible death; or when we think of an airplane being shot down over Eastern Ukraine and innocent people dying; or when we think of people being killed in the struggle between Israel and Hamas; all of these things can and do overwhelm us. Then, when we add personal situations in which people are struggling with illness or tragedy, we simply cannot find words.

Paul tells us that God is so close to us, God’s Holy Spirit is so much with us, that the Spirit “intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.” Paul also reminds us that “All things work together for good for those who love God.” Sometimes there seem to be so many bad things happening that we find it almost impossible to see the good.  In our own lives, we can look back on an event that seemed so full of brokenness that we wondered how good could come out of it, but we find that it has made us stronger. It has deepened and tempered our faith and made us better people. Indeed, “All things work for good for those who love God.”

And, finally, Paul assures us so powerfully that nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate us from the love of Christ. These words are so central to our faith that they are placed in the burial service. This passage is one of the scriptures we can chose for the burial of a loved one. These words give us so much hope in the face of so much brokenness in our world.

We end with some wonderful parables of Jesus. We could spend hours on these parables alone. The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. It is the smallest of seeds and yet it can grow into a bush, a shrub, that is as high as the eye of a horse. That is a pretty impressive shrub. Big things and good things can start very small.  I have no doubt that Jesus would agree that small is beautiful.

The kingdom is like yeast. It is hidden. You cannot see it. Yet it turns a lump of flour into delicious and nourishing bread. The shalom of God is like treasure hidden in a field or like a pearl of great price. When you find it, it is so precious that you will give everything you have in order to get it. The image of the net takes us back to the wheat and the tares growing together. God will sort it out at the end. Our job is to leave the sorting to God and just follow the good every step of the way.

What are these lessons telling us? Well, Jacob is on a learning curve. He isn’t the only shrewd guy around. He is learning patience. He is learning love. He is growing. He is being transformed, slowly but surely.

Paul is telling us that we have nothing to fear. God is with us. God helps us at every turn. God loves us with a love that goes beyond our understanding.

The kingdom of God, the shalom of God, is growing all the time. It is not splashy. It does not take out big ads. It does not do a lot of self-promotion. Wherever people are given a drink of water, wherever and whenever people are valued and cared for, whenever someone chooses honesty over trickery, integrity over shiftiness, compassion over tyranny, the shalom of God is advanced. It almost happens without our noticing. Good news does not usually hit the front page.

Slowly and often silently, the shalom of God is growing and transforming the world, like a mustard seed, like yeast.  Let’s do everything we can to help God build that shalom. Amen.