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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:…
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Advent 3B December 13, 2020

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Psalm 126
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8,19-28

In our opening reading this morning, God’s people have returned home from exile in Babylon. As Herbert O’Driscoll points out, this is the passage that our Lord reads in the synagogue in Nazareth as he begins his ministry.

What a powerful message this is for us as we deal with this pandemic. God is calling us “to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.”

God will be leading the people as they rebuild the temple and the city, but God is also calling for a reordering of the society. Walter Brueggemann says that the workers who will be rebuilding the ruins “are the oppressed, the broken-hearted, the captives, the prisoners, those who mourn.” Brueggemann says that these people “have been defeated, marginalized, and rendered powerless, either by the economic pressures within the community or by the economic policies of foreign powers.” He says that these workers “are the ones who have ended up in bondage… because they have debts they cannot pay. The pressures of economic paralysis have led to hopelessness, powerlessness, and finally despair.” Brueggemann continues, “For all time to come these will be the blessed of God.” (Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching, pp. 22-23.)

We cannot help but notice the striking parallels between these workers 25 centuries ago and our  workers, who are unemployed through no fault of their own. Their unemployment benefits are running out. Protections against foreclosure and eviction are also expiring, and millions of people could become homeless. In the midst of this suffering, God is calling us to take care of each other and to build a just society.

This passage has deep meaning for all of us, We are all feeling brokenhearted. We are all feeling like prisoners. God will give us “the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.” It is no accident that Jesus read this passage when he went to the synagogue in Nazareth.This text is calling us to help our Lord build his shalom.

Our reading today from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is full of gems for our spiritual lives. “Rejoice always,” Paul advises us. How can he say that when we’re in the middle of a pandemic? Here we must keep in mind that Paul’s life was not easy. He was in prison several times. He endured shipwrecks, beatings, personal attacks, and all kinds of opposition and adversity. Yet in the midst of everything, Paul was able to rejoice, and he encourages us to do the same. Underneath everything, upholding everything, is the joy of knowing Jesus our Savior.

“Pray without ceasing.”Over the centuries, people have tried to do this. We have the Jesus prayer that is sometimes said as we breathe. Breathe in—“Lord Jesus, Son of God.” Breathe out, “Have mercy on me, a sinner.” Or, breathe in, “Jesus,” breathe out, “Mercy.” We breathe in the healing and forgiving presence of our Lord and we exhale our sins while remembering his mercy. So that eventually with every breath we are thinking of our Lord and his love.

“Give thanks in all circumstances.” We could say, “Saint Paul, you are really asking a lot of us right now. Thousands of people are sick and dying; there are long lines at food shelves all over the country. Things are very bad. This is terrible.” And that is true. And—we can always find things to be thankful for. We can thank God for helping our doctors and nurses and truck drivers and grocery store workers and teachers and school staff and all the essential and medical workers who are valiantly doing their jobs. We can thank the researchers and others who are working on discovering vaccines, and we can give special thanks that the process of distributing a vaccine has begun and that, in Great Britain and other places, people have already received a vaccine. We can thank everyone who practices the safety guidelines our medical experts are giving us. I thank each and every one of you for your faith and your service to others during  this time. And for your strength of spirit and your sense of humor and your spiritual balance. Yes, we can “rejoice always,” “pray without ceasing,” and “give thanks in all circumstances.”

In today’s gospel, once again, we meet John the Baptist. He quotes Isaiah, saying he is “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘make straight the way of the Lord.’” John the Baptist “was not the light but that he came to testify to the light.” Although huge crowds came out to see him and followed him, he knew that he was not the Savior.

John the Evangelist says that John the Baptist “came to testify to the light.” If we think about Isaiah’s time, a time of great economic injustice and suffering when God was calling the people to rebuild the temple and their lives and their society; or if we think about the time of John the Baptist when the people of God were oppressed by the Roman Empire, those were very difficult times. And this time of Covid is also a time filled with suffering. People are dying alone without their families. Doctors and nurses are becoming more and more exhausted.

And yet. The light is coming into the world. The darkness has not overcome that light. At the Easter Vigil, we carry the paschal candle into the dark church and we process down the aisle to the altar, chanting “The light of Christ,” and the people answer, “Thanks be to God.” New life is coming into the world. The shalom of God is growing, like the shoot that sprouts from the stump of Jesse. Thanks be to God for that light. That hope. That love which sustains all of us. Let us kindle that hope and cherish it. Let us continue to walk the Way of Love. Amen.

Lent 5C RCL April 7, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lent 5C RCL March 13, 2016

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

Our first reading today is addressed to the people of God exiled in Babylon. They have been there for about fifty years. Elders have died, babies have been born. Hope is almost gone. The prophet we call the Second Isaiah speaks the word of God to the people and to us.

The opening portion of the text is reminding us of how God’s people escaped slavery in Egypt. God parted the waters; the people ran with all their might; the chariots of their captors tried to follow but sank in the mud. The people escaped. And God is saying that God is going to do a new thing that is even greater than freeing the people from that slavery.

God is going to make rivers in the desert. God is going to make a path in the desert for the people to follow.  There will be plenty of water and the desert will bloom.  The people are going home.

Our gospel for today is also found in the three other gospel accounts. In Matthew and Mark, the woman who anoints Jesus’ feet is not named. In Luke, she is described as a sinner, and, in one of the greatest misinterpretations of Scripture that has ever occurred, an ancient writer said that this sinner was Mary Magdalene. Nowhere does the text say that.

In John’s gospel, the woman is one we know well—Mary, the sister of Martha. Mary is the one who sits at the feet of Jesus to learn from him. She thus becomes one of the disciples.

It is six days before the Passover. Jesus comes to the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in Bethany, just a little way outside Jerusalem. Some time ago ago, he had raised Lazarus from the dead. This home in Bethany is one of the few places where Jesus can feel safe. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are good friends and staunch supporters. He can talk with them and seek advice from them. He can relax with them.

After dinner, Mary brings a pound of pure nard, very expensive because it comes from the Himalayan Mountains. She anoints Jesus’ feet just as he will soon wash the feet of his disciples. She wipes his feet with her hair. Judas raises a point about the expense. Couldn’t that money have been used for the poor? This is the height of hypocrisy on his part. We know that he took money from their common purse. He was an embezzler in addition to being a traitor.

Jesus defends this faithful woman disciple. Mary is actually anointing Jesus for burial. She knows the price that he is going to pay, and she honors him with her love and loyalty. She will be there until the end.

In our passage from his Letter to the Philippians, St. Paul says so much. He has many reasons to be confident according to the world’s values. He holds a very high status. He is a Pharisee and a Roman citizen. But it is as nothing to him. He calls it “rubbish.” All his former prestige is worthless to him. It’s actually a loss on his books because of the “surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord,” he writes.

Because of Jesus, Paul is now in right relationship with God, and he says that he wants to get to know our Lord more and more and he wants to become like our Lord in his death so that he can know the power of his resurrection. In other words, we have to give up all the old worldly stuff as Jesus gave up everything. We have to give up the idea of our power and prestige and empty ourselves of all that so that we can live in Christ and he can live in us.

And then Paul says something that gives us great hope, He says that he has not fully arrived. He has not reached the goal, but “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Here on the fifth Sunday in Lent, we are looking forward to one week from now, Palm Sunday, when we will be witnesses at the crucifixion of our Lord. We know that we are not 100 percent living in Christ and allowing him to live in us. We are on the road, but we are not fully there. What a comfort it is to hear that Paul is not fully there either. But then he gives us a powerful example. We are runners in a race. We are spiritual athletes.

There is a great deal of the past that we need to forget. Yes, learn from it and remember those learnings so that we do not make the same mistakes again, but then let it go. Let it go because our Lord has taken care of it. We are forgiven. And then put our energies into living in Christ and letting him live in us. No, we are not fully there, but let us let go of the pain and failure of the past, ask our Lord for help, and move firmly, one step at a time, into the future with him.

We are partners with Christ in this journey. We are called to do our part. He has made a great sacrifice. He did it out of love for us. But he can’t run the race for us. We have to do it in partnership with him. That is what Paul is talking about today.

When Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with that priceless nard, she was giving all she had to honor our Lord. We are being called to follow her example. Will we commit ourselves to walking with him? Will we press on toward the goal, counting on his grace but also giving it all we have?

May we follow him with all our heart and soul and mind and strength that we may live in him and he in us.   Amen.