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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion December 11, 2022 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion December 18, 2022 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion December 25, 2022 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…

Epiphany 2B January 17, 2021

1 Samuel 3:1-20
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
John 1:43-51

Our opening reading this morning comes from the First Book of Samuel. Samuel is a faithful young man who has been serving God and learning from the priest Eli. The text gives us a very important sense of what was going on in those times. “The word of the Lord was rare in those days, and visions were not widespread.”

Eli is getting older. His eyesight has failed, and he cannot see. Eli is resting in his room, and Samuel is lying down in the temple of the Lord. Walter Brueggemann writes, “Eli is portrayed as a feeble old man, emblem of a failed priestly order that has exhausted its its authority and its credibility. Samuel is situated in this narrative as an apprentice to Eli. But he learns quickly and is shown to be more discerning and more responsive to God than is the family of Eli. Samuel is indeed the wave of God’s future.” (Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching Year B, p. 106.)

God calls to Samuel three times. Each time, Samuel runs to Eli for instruction and guidance. On the third occasion, Eli realizes that it is God calling this gifted young man, and he instructs Samuel on how to respond. Eli’s sons have done terrible things things that no priest should even consider, things which no person who is supposedly following God should do. They are corrupt and unfit to serve.

God calls Samuel a fourth time, and Samuel responds. What God says puts Samuel in an excruciatingly painful position. God is going to remove Eli’s family from their priestly duties and Samuel is going to replace them. Samuel has always shared everything with Eli. Now, what is he going to do? He loves and respects Eli, and Eli has been his teacher and guide.

The dreaded thing happens. Eli calls to Samuel. Herbert O’Driscoll describes this with unforgettable insight and power: Again, in Eli’s encounter with Samuel in the morning, we see the quality of this great human being. We know from elsewhere in scripture, as well as in this passage, that Eli has fallen on sad times. He has allowed himself to become obese. His sons have shamed and discredited him, and his name, and his high office. He must feel a terrible sense of personal failure. The last thing Samuel wants to do is to report to Eli the terrible things he now knows. But Eli insists, and at last when he hears what the Lord has said to Samuel, we again see the old man’s  greatness. There is not a hint of resentment, not a whisper of self-pity or self-justification.

O’Driscoll concludes, “I see a human being who even in his decline shows what once made him great, an elderly person who is open to the action of God in the present moment, who is totally devoid of jealousy and rancor, and who courageously accepts the consequences without flinching, Such an example must have helped to form the future greatness of Samuel.”  (O’Driscoll, The Word Today Year B Vol. 1, pp. 69-70.)

God is going to replace corrupt leaders, Eli’s sons, with the gifted and faithful leadership of Samuel. With deep faith and grace, Eli accepts the healing action of God which replaces brokenness with wholeness and makes it possible for God’s work to continue.

Our psalm for today beautifully and powerfully reminds us that God is our Creator and that God knows us intimately. God has a loving, healing, and creative purpose for us and for the world. God is at work building God’s shalom of peace harmony, and wholeness.

In today’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Church in Corinth, we are reminded that everything we do has an effect. The early Church was grappling with the Jewish dietary laws. People were coming into the new faith community from all kinds of backgrounds. Many of the Jewish converts felt it was necessary to continue to follow the dietary laws and wanted everyone else to do so. On the other end of the spectrum, some people had been worshippers of Zeus or Apollo and they felt they could eat anything. Paul constantly emphasized that, if we are following Christ, everything we do should be in accordance with our Lord’s teachings. If folks ate food that was sacrificed to idols, that might make their weaker brothers and sisters do something that would hurt their conscience, something they would later regret. Paul also emphasized that sexual activity is not to be taken lightly, that it is an act of deep intimacy that is best done only in the context of marriage, or a deep spiritual commitment if marriage is not possible.

In our gospel for today, Jesus calls Philip to follow him. Philip has read the scriptures and he knows very well that the Messiah is supposed to come from Bethlehem, so he asks that snarky question, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” And Philip says those wonderful words, “Come and see.” What an invitation! 

Then Jesus sees Nathanael, and calls him “an Israelite in whom there is no guile.” With Nathanael, what you see is what you get. He is honest, forthright, says it like it is. Nathanael asks Jesus how he got to know him, and Jesus says he saw Nathanael under the fig tree before Philip even called him. With Nathanael, as with so many people he met, Jesus clearly sees who a person truly is. He knows who we really are— no deceptions, just the truth. Nathanael acknowledges Jesus as the king of his life. And Jesus says something that makes us think of Jacob wrestling with the angel who is God and discovering his true identity. Jesus says,  “You will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” Someone has said that as we follow Jesus, we have one foot on earth and one foot in heaven. Jesus creates a thin place, where heaven and earth are very close. He connects us with all that is heavenly, all that is divine, because he is God walking the face of the earth.

We are living in a time of great stress. The stakes are high. We have decided to follow Jesus, as the old hymn says. This means that we are called to live by high ethical standards. We tell the truth, we see others as made in the image of God and we respect their dignity; we try to love others as God loves us, to treat others as we would like to be treated. 

Eli’s sons would normally have succeeded him. Because the sons of Eli were not following the law and were not morally capable of carrying out their duties, God called Samuel, a young man of impeccable moral character, deep faith, and courage to do God’s will in challenging and even dangerous circumstances. In this situation, three thousand years ago, God provided a just, ethical, and courageous leader for God’s people.

We are trying to follow Jesus and live the Way of Love. May our leaders on all levels, local, state, and national, follow the example of Samuel, and lead with ethical integrity, compassion, and justice for all. May we all continue to seek and do God’s will. Amen.

Pentecost 7 Proper 11A July 19, 2020

Genesis 28:10-19a
Psalm 139:1-11, 22-23
Romans 8:12-25
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

In our first reading, from the Book of Genesis, Jacob is on the run. Last week, we read about how he manipulated his older brother Esau into selling his birthright for a bowl of stew. This means that Esau will no longer be the head of the family when their father, Isaac, dies, Nor will Esau receive a double portion of the inheritance, which usually goes to the older son. Jacob has robbed his older brother of his birthright.

Meanwhile their father, Isaac, who is now blind, has realized that he will die soon. He wants to give Esau his blessing. He tells Esau to go out and kill some game, bring it in, prepare it, serve it to his father and then Isaac will give Esau his blessing.

Rebekah has listened in on Isaac’s conversation with Esau. Because she loves Jacob more than Esau, she hatches a plan for Jacob to get Isaac’s blessing instead of Esau. She kills two kids and makes them into a savory stew. Then she dresses Jacob in Esau’s clothes and covers his hands and neck with the skins of the kids so that, he, who has smooth skin, will seem as hairy as his older brother. Jacob pretends that he is Esau, serves his father the savory stew, and gets Isaac’s blessing, which cannot be revoked.

When Esau comes to see his father, offer Isaac his savory stew, and get his father’s blessing, he finds out what Jacob has done and vows to kill Jacob. Rebekah advises Jacob to go to their family in Haran, some 600 miles away in what is now Turkey.

Our reading takes place on the first night of Jacob’s journey. Jacob stops to rest. In Hebrew, Jacob’s name means “He supplants.” He has always thought of himself first, last, and always. He always wins. Now his older brother has vowed to find him and kill him.

Jacob takes a stone and uses it for a pillow, and he has the most amazing dream. There is a ladder between earth and heaven, and angels are going up and down the ladder which links heaven and earth. Herbert O’Driscoll says. “In some strange way, it is a dream of shalom, of unity, of connectedness.” (O’Driscoll, The Word Today Year A Volume 3, p.56.) This amazing vision is granted to Jacob, the cheat, the scoundrel.

And then God speaks to Jacob and renews the promise that God first made to Abraham. Jacob will have descendants as numerous as the dust of the earth. God says, “All the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring.” And God tells Jacob that God will be with him always and will keep him wherever he goes and will bring him back home.

To his credit, Jacob, the cheat, who would rob his own brother of the birthright and the blessing, seems to realize what is happening. He knows that God has spoken to him. “Surely the Lord is in this place,” he says,”and I did not know it!” 

He actually is afraid. He senses at last that there is someone more powerful than he is. He sets up a monument to God and names the place Bethel—Beth—house, El, the first part of the word “Elohim,” which means Lord or God.  Bethel—house of God.

This story, which oscillates between the sublime and the soap opera, tells us some very important things. God does not always choose perfect people to do God’s work. God often chooses frail, fallible, flawed humans to receive huge blessings and carry out important missions. Most of us are only too profoundly aware of our weaknesses and imperfections. The story of Jacob’s encounter with God assures us that we can help God build God’s shalom, too. Last Sunday we noted that great bumper sticker—“Be patient, God isn’t finished with me yet.” God is definitely not finished with Jacob. Thanks be to God, who has finally gotten through to Jacob, at least to some extent.

Our gospel for today is the famous story of the wheat and the weeds, in earlier translations called the tares. The point of this parable is that there are good and bad things happening in our world. In Matthew’s congregation, scholars tell us, there were some people who took their faith very seriously and lived their faith, and there were others who were quite lukewarm followers of Jesus. There may have been some folks who wanted to throw those nominal followers out. But the message is, let God be the judge.

If we see good things happening, such as our food shelf, let’s pitch in and help those good things in every way that we can. Let’s focus on the good things and help them all we can. If there are bad things, certainly we will not support them, but we will not focus on them and get discouraged. We will do all we can to help good things grow, and we will let God do the sorting. 

There are times when we do have to take action against evil. The rise of Hitler was such a time, and thank God for all those in the Greatest Generation who gathered together with profound courage and stopped him. But we have to be very careful about labeling things good and evil. Our own Civil War was a time when people on both sides quoted the Bible in defense of their positions. We are still working through the issue of racism.

If something shows the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, it is of the Spirit. If it does not show these qualities, God will guide us as to how to respond. Most of all, let us work on the side of the things of the Spirit.

In our epistle for today, we read that we are God’s own beloved children. We can call God “Abba.” “Abba” is an intimate familiar term for a father. We can call God Daddy or Dad, or Mom or Mama. St. Paul says that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains to bring forth God’s shalom of peace and harmony. He also says, “For in hope we were saved.”

We are a people of hope. We are a people of love. We are a people of faith. Amidst all the struggle and ambivalence and confusion in our world, we are a people of faith, hope, and love who are constantly working for the good things we see God doing in this world. And our loving God is saying the same thing God said to Jacob all those centuries ago: “I am with you and will keep you wherever you go.”  Amen.

Pentecost 2 Proper 4B RCL June 3, 2018

1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20)
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17
2 Corinthians 4:5-12
Mark 2:23-3:6

Our first reading this morning gives us the privilege of looking into the temple at Shiloh. Samuel is being trained by the elderly priest Eli. The lamp of God has not yet gone out. It is the middle of the night. The text tells us that the word of the Lord was rare in those days. Visions were not widespread. Eli’s sons have committed blasphemy. Eli has not been able to stop them from doing this. Eli is almost blind. He is slipping a bit in his duties. Samuel is sleeping in the temple. Eli is sleeping in his room. As Eli’s sons have been sinking into sin, Samuel has been growing in spiritual depth.

At this moment, a voice calls, “Samuel! Samuel!” The young man immediately responds and runs to Eli, thinking Eli has called him. This happens three times. In spite of all that has happened to his sons, and in spite of his own disappointment, Eli realizes what is happening. He tells Samuel that God is calling him and instructs Samuel on what to do. When God calls again, Samuel responds.

God now tells Samuel that God is bringing in a new order. Eli’s family will no longer hold their priestly offices. Samuel lies awake until morning. How would we feel if we had to tell our long-time mentor and guide that God was going to remove him and his sons from their ministries? A prophet’s job is never easy.

Morning comes, and Eli asks Samuel about his talk with God. Samuel has the courage to tell the whole truth. Eli does not retaliate against Samuel. He does not lose his temper. He has the grace and humility to accept that this is the will of God and even prays that God will “do what seems good to him.”

God is doing a new thing.

In our gospel for today, Jesus and his disciples are walking through a field on the sabbath and his disciples pluck off heads of grain and eat them. The Pharisees immediately challenge this behavior. Under the law, the disciples are harvesting on the sabbath. Jesus counters with the example that David and his companions ate the bread of the presence in the house of God. Our Lord comments that the sabbath is made for human beings and not human beings for the Sabbath.

Then Jesus goes into the synagogue and sees a man with a withered hand. Jesus asks, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life, or to kill?” The Pharisees say nothing. Jesus heals the man. The Pharisees go out and immediately begin to conspire with the Herodians to kill Jesus.

In the ministry of Jesus, God’s love and healing overrule the law. For centuries, the law had been the structure that bound the people together. Now, it is becoming a burden that interferes with the loving and healing work of God.

St. Paul will later write about how his sincere efforts to follow the law made him feel as though he was in prison. Paul writes eloquently about the power of love and grace. That is what we are witnessing in these two vignettes from the gospel.

What is more important, to save life, or to kill?  Jesus is bringing in a new order. He sees a man with an injured hand in God’s house, the synagogue. He heals the man. This power, the power of God’s love and healing, is a threat to the existing structures.

In both our Old Testament reading and our Gospel for today, God is bringing light into darkness and giving birth to new things. In our epistle for today, Paul writes, “For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”  Paul speaks of all the challenges he has faced in carrying the good news “so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.”

Eli’s sons are not able to be spiritual leaders for the people, so God calls Samuel. In our gospel, old structures are getting in the way of God’s healing and saving work, so God comes among us to show us the way to newness of life. Over and over again, when the light is failing or when old structures are no longer able to nourish our spirits, God comes and brings light and life.

May we listen for God’s call. May we respond with faith and courage.      Amen.

 

Our first reading this morning gives us the privilege of looking in on God’s call to Samuel. Samuel is a young man who is being trained by Eli, the priest at Shiloh. The text tells us that “the word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” Biblical scholar James Newsome notes that the fact that Eli’s eyesight has begun to grow dim may be more than a comment on his physical health. Newsome writes, “The implication is that the absence of visions concerning Yehweh’s will among the people does not arise out of a withholding by Yahweh of the truth,  but that the people, because of the blindness of their leader, and thus of themselves, are unresponsive to Yahweh’s overtures. Eli’s blindness is emblematic of the blindness of the people.” (Newsome, Texts for Preaching Year B, p. 364.)

 

Eli’s sons have committed blasphemy. While the sons of Eli have been sinking further and further into sinfulness, the young Samuel has been growing in spiritual depth, and God is now going to call Samuel to be a prophet. But when God calls him, Samuel thinks that it is Eli calling. This happens three times until Eli realizes that the call is from God and instructs Samuel on how to respond. Samuel receives the message from God. Eli and his sons will be removed from their duties because of the blasphemy of the sons and the failure of Eli to stop them and correct their behavior.

 

Eli senses that something is afoot, and he asks Samuel to tell him what God said. Imagine how it wild feel if you had this message to give to an older man whom you loved, a man who had taught you everything you know. Samuel has the courage to tell the truth to this man who has been his mentor and guide for many years, and Eli has the faith and humility to see this as the will of God.

Epiphany 2 Year B RCL January 14, 2018

1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20)
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
John 1:43-51

In our first reading today, the young man Samuel is receiving instruction from Eli, the priest at the temple in Shiloh. God calls Samuel, but Samuel does not yet know the Lord and thinks it is his teacher, Eli, calling him. Three times Samuel goes to Eli, and finally Eli realizes what is happening. He tells Samuel that it is God calling and tells Samuel how to respond.

Then a tragic story unfolds. Eli’s sons have engaged in all kinds of unethical behavior. Eli has tried to correct their behavior, but to no avail. God is going to remove Eli and his sons from functioning as the priests at Shiloh. Unfortunately, Samuel is the one God has chosen to tell Eli about this.

Morning comes. Samuel opens the doors of the temple. Eli calls to him and insists that Samuel tell him what God has said. Samuel tells the truth, and Eli accepts God’s judgment. Eli has been a faithful teacher to Samuel and has helped Samuel discern his call. But Samuel’s first task is to share this terrible news.

Our reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians begins with some quotes from some of the other teachers who have spent time with the community. One has said, “All things are lawful.” Another has said that “Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food.” Some of these teachers have convinced some of the people that they can do anything they want to do, that they no longer have to follow the Jewish law. Others are saying that the material world and the spiritual world are separate. Neither of these things is true. As Christians, we give all of ourselves to God.

Promiscuous behavior was prevalent in the first century Roman Empire. Paul says this is not acceptable. As Christians, we commit our whole selves to our Lord. Christ came to fulfill the law, and, for us, that means that we are called to obey not only the letter but the spirit of the law.

In our Gospel, Jesus is calling his disciples. He finds Philip and says those words which change lives, “Follow me.” Philip finds Nathanael and tells him that he has found the Messiah. But Nathanael is dubious. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” he asks. The prophets said the Messiah was to come from Bethlehem.

Then Jesus sees Nathanael and says, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” Scholars tell us that this is a reference to Jacob, who was full of scheming and deceit before he underwent a transformation and became Israel. Jesus is able to look into the heart of a person. He knows that Nathanael is straightforward and tells the truth. Nathanael wonders how Jesus could get to know him so quickly. In their brief dialogue, Nathanael realizes that Jesus is indeed the Messiah.

Jesus tells his followers that they will see great things. They “will see the heavens opened and angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” That is a reference to Jacob’s experience of seeing the angels ascending and descending on the ladder between earth and heaven, an experience that opened Jacob’s mind to the presence of God.

Nathanael is also known as Bartholomew. When Philip first asked him to meet Jesus, he was full of questions, perhaps even scorn. But, when he actually talked with Jesus and intuitively sensed that Jesus had the ability to look into his heart and to love him, he wanted to follow our Lord.

All of these readings are about being called by God and responding in faith. We have not held services for the past two Sundays because of the record-breaking cold weather and snowfall. During this time, one of our beloved members has had a close call. Thanks be to God, Bryan, and many skilled medical folks, she is with us.

Our readings today speak to us in many ways.  We are all called by God to love and serve others. We all try to carry out our ministries faithfully with God’s help. But events like this remind all of us that each moment is precious, each person is precious, and we are all vulnerable. We are not invincible.

Our psalm today speaks to this awareness. God has made us. God knows us. There is no place we can go where God is not, God is everywhere. At every point in our lives, God has been there, loving us and sustaining us. Sometimes, God has carried us.

We are vulnerable. yes. But God is faithful and loving to us. I would suggest that we read this psalm, 139, this week and meditate on it. The love of God is present in every word of this psalm.

God is holding you in the palm of God’s hand.  Amen.

Pentecost 7 Proper 11A RCL July 23, 2017

Genesis 28:10-19a
Psalm 139
Romans 8:12-25
Matthew 13:24-30. 36-43

In our first lesson today, we are continuing the story of Jacob. Last Sunday, we looked on as Jacob cheated his brother Esau out of his birthright, that is, Esau’s right to be the leader of the family and to receive a double inheritance. When Esau came in from hunting, Jacob got him to give up his birthright for a bowl of lentil stew.

Between that point and our reading for today, much more has happened. Isaac, the father of Jacob and Esau, realizes that he is going to die very soon. So he sends Esau out to hunt for game and bring it home and prepare it in Isaac’s favorite way so that Isaac can have this festive meal and give Esau his blessing, another right of the eldest son, before Isaac dies.

Rebekah, who loves Jacob more than Esau, cooks up a scheme with Jacob. She gets him to kill “two choice kids” for her to cook, and she dresses Jacob in Esau’s clothes, which are hanging right in the closet, Because Esau is a hairy man, Rebekah puts the skins of the calves on Jacob’s arms and hands. Before Esau gets home, Jacob goes into his father’s room, pretends to be Esau, and receives Isaac’s blessing.

When Esau gets home with the game for his mother to cook, he finds out what Jacob has done. He vows that he will hunt down Jacob and kill him.

In today’s reading, Jacob is running for his life. He is on his way to Haran, his father’s home, where he hopes to find shelter and support. But night is coming. He takes a desert rock, puts it under his head, and has an amazing dream. There is a ladder connecting earth and heaven, and there are angels ascending and descending on it. God stands beside him and renews the promise God made to Abraham many years ago.

Herbert O’Driscoll says of this dream, “In some strange way it is a dream of shalom, of unity, of connectedness. It shows Jacob a much bigger reality than our Western culture has seen in the last few centuries. In Jacob’s dream there is a door between realities. Humanity is no longer a prisoner of the world.” (O Driscoll, The Word Today Year A, Vol. 3, p 56.)

Jacob wakes up and he knows that God is real and that God has chosen Jacob to carry on the blessing God gave to Abraham. God has also told Jacob that God will be with Jacob always. For the first time in his life, Jacob realizes that he is not the center of the world. He has met God. He sets up a  monument to this moment and he names the place Bethel—beth-el—house of God.

God uses the most unlikely people to carry out God’s plans. Here is Jacob, the supplanter, the heel, the cheat, the schemer. He has fallen into the hands of the living God. God has chosen him.

Our psalm for today, number 139, tells us that there is nowhere we can go, that will take us away from God. God is everywhere, and God’s love and grace will follow us everywhere we go.

In our epistle today, a reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans, Paul is continuing his thoughts about life in the flesh, life based entirely on humans goals and needs and visions, and life in the Spirit, life rooted and grounded is the love, joy, peace, grace, and power of God. Life in the Spirit is a life based in hope.

One of the most powerful parts of this reading is the sheer fact that, thanks to our Lord Jesus, we are children of God. This relationship is so close and so intimate that we can now call God Abba. Abba is a term of endearment and intimacy. It can be translated “Daddy,” or  “Papa,” or “Dad,” or, in more inclusive language, “Mama,”  or “Mom.” We are that close to God. We are God’s beloved children.

In our gospel, Jesus tells another parable. Someone sows good seed, but in the depths of night, someone comes in and plants weeds. When the grain appears, the weeds grow up along with it.  The point of the parable is that we are going to have to let the grain and the weeds grow together.  If we try to pull the weeds, the tender little wheat plants will come up with them. When harvest time comes, the wheat plants will be sturdy. We can come along and pull the weeds and then harvest the wheat. The interpretation of the parable and the furnace of fire are not something our Lord would have said, They are later editorial additions. We recall that Matthew’s gospel was written around 70 A D. in a time of persecution and great fear and turmoil.

This parable is saying that we have to let the weeds and the wheat grow together. So often, in the Church and in the world, we want to do the sorting ourselves. We want to root out this bad thing or that bad thing.  But in God’s garden, often we need to have patience. In time, it will become clear which are the weeds and which are the wheat. Sometimes, we are a bit confused as to which is which. If something bears the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, it is of God. God is the ultimate judge.

I think of the Civil War and the issue of slavery. There were good people on both sides. Church people argued on both sides of this issue. When I was much younger, there was great turmoil and suffering over simply allowing people of color to go to a bathroom, use a drinking fountain, or be served at a lunch counter. We are still working on that issue.

Tragically, we humans have a tendency to think that we have the right to exclude some people. We find excuses to do this. We say that people of color are inferior. or women are inferior or gay people are inferior or Muslims are inferior—the list goes on and on—and then we try to shut these people out. And God says, “You are all my people, and you are all my beloved. Live together in my love.”  Amen.

Pentecost 16 Proper 18C RCL September 4, 2016

Jeremiah 18:1-11
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17
Philemon 1-21
Luke 14:25-33

Our readings for today are thought-provoking, to say the least. Our opening lesson is from the prophet Jeremiah. God is the potter. We are the clay.  In our reading, God is calling the people of Judah to follow God’s will. More than fifteen hundred years later, God is calling us to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves, to be people of justice and compassion.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is attracting huge crowds. He is continuing to point out how difficult it is to be a disciple of his. He is not telling us to hate our families. He calling us to have discipleship as a high priority. Choosing to follow Jesus in the early days of the new faith could mean being disowned by one’s family. Persecution of Christians has occurred over the centuries and is occurring even now. Following Christ is a decision not to be made lightly.

Our epistle is from the Letter of Paul to Philemon. This is an extraordinary letter. First, it is the shortest epistle in the Bible. We have read the entire letter today. Secondly, it is not addressed to a congregation but to a person. Third, there are many mysteries about this letter.

We really do not know where it was written. Paul was in prison, but scholars are still trying to figure out where Paul was when he wrote this letter. Some scholars think Paul was in Caesarea. Others think he was in Ephesus, which was a major city near Colossae, where Philemon’s congregation was located. Other scholars, including Herbert O’Driscoll,  think the letter was written when Paul was in prison in Rome.

Here is Paul in prison, not for the first time. Let’s just suppose that he is under house arrest in Rome. There is a Roman guard keeping watch, but Paul is allowed to write letters and even to have visitors. Somehow, Onesimus, an escaped slave, shows up at Paul’s door.

Paul welcomes this young man into his quarters. According to Roman law, Paul could be killed for harboring an escaped slave. As a follower of Christ, Paul obeys a higher law, the law of love and hospitality.

Onesimus has escaped from the household of Philemon, a wealthy man from Colossae. Philemon is the man who has made his house available so that the followers of Jesus can meet and worship. This is how the early Church began, in the houses of generous people who had the space to offer a place for worship and learning. Church buildings did not happen until centuries later.

We do not know why Onesimus has run away. We do not know why he goes to Paul. Perhaps he has heard Paul’s name mentioned in his home community and has sought him out. If Onesimus has had a problem in the house of Philemon, he might he coming to Paul in order to ask Paul to help him resolve this problem with Philemon.  The law provided for such mediation. If he is seeking this kind of help, Onesimus will not legally be considered a runaway.

As time goes on, Paul begins teaching Onesimus about the new faith. Eventually, Onesimus is baptized. Paul grows to love Onesimus very deeply. He writes that he has become the spiritual father of this young man, and he calls Onesimus “my own heart.”

But now, Paul is sending Onesimus back to Philemon. And here, we have another very important piece of the puzzle. Paul is Philemon’s father in the faith. Years ago, he instructed Philemon. They were very close, and we can tell from the letter that Paul is grateful to Philemon for nourishing the faith of so many other people. There is a great deal of love between Paul and Philemon.

Now we need to keep in mind that Paul has written, “In Christ, there is no slave or free, no Jew or Greek, no male or female, but we are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:22.)

Paul is saying that in Christ new relationships are formed between and among people. Once we come to believe in Christ, we do become brothers and sisters. Onesimus has become his son, his heart. Philemon is also his son in the faith, although Paul is careful not to ask any privileges because of that fact.

Paul is saying that the love of Christ which binds us together makes us equals, and he is asking  Philemon to grant Onesimus freedom to come back to Paul and help him. Onesimus actually means “useful,” and it is apparent that Onesimus had become extremely useful to Paul as a secretary and an assistant in carrying out his ministry, for that is what Paul is doing, even from prison. He is exercising a vibrant ministry of correspondence and receiving visitors.

As members of the Body of Christ, we are equals. We do not lord it over each other. We certainly do not own each other. Paul does not ask for the freedom of Onesimus in so many words, but he trusts that Philemon will read between the lines.

The risen Christ is in the space between us and among us. A new kind of relationship has been forged between and among us. We are equals. We are the infinitely precious children of God, and some of us are mothers and fathers to our younger folks in the faith, but we are also equals.

Beverly Gaventa writes, “By virtue of his conversion, Onesimus has become a brother in Christ, which necessitates that he be treated as brother. …One who is a brother in the Lord can scarcely be a slave in the flesh.” (Texts for Preaching Year C, pp. 503-504.) Paul writes, “If you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.”

“In Christ, there is no slave or free no Jew or Greek, no male or female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.” Amen.

Epiphany 2 Year B RCL January 18, 2015

1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20)
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
John 1:43-51

This sermon will be brief because we have Annual Meeting today.

One of the themes running through our readings today is the idea of vocation.

In our first reading, God is calling the young man Samuel to be a prophet. Samuel thinks Eli, his teacher and mentor, is calling him. Finally, Eli realizes that God is calling, and he instructs Samuel to respond to God and obey this call.

Eli serves as a faithful spiritual guide to Samuel and accurately discerns what is going on even though Samuel is going to have the difficult job of pronouncing God’s judgment on Eli’s sons, who have fallen far away from where they should be. Eli has not been able to control them, and now there is going to be a tragic outcome.

In the midst of his own personal tragedy, Eli remains faithful and helps Samuel to respond to God’s call. Samuel grows to become one of God’s most courageous prophets.

In our gospel, Jesus calls Philip, and Philip immediately goes and tells his friend Nathanael that he has found the Savior, Nathanael is a bit dubious but Philip says, “Come and see,” What a wonderful invitation. Nathanael meets the Lord and immediately recognizes who he is. Jesus tells them and us that we will see even greater things. But what can be greater than people meeting Jesus and responding to our Lord’s call to follow him?

Our psalm tells us that, everywhere we go, God is there. Everywhere we go, Jesus is with us. We are here because we know that. We have decided to follow Jesus and help him to build his kingdom of peace and harmony.

Every day of our lives, we wake anew and we make that choice to follow Jesus. Sometimes it is not easy. The world seems to be marching to a different drummer. Sometimes it seems as though it would be a good idea to just take the easy way out. That’s what some of the folks in Corinth were doing. They were not thinking about how their selfish behavior affected other people. Paul calls the Corinthians to remember God’s love for us and to seek and do God’s will.

Thank you for answering the call of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thank you for waking up each day and making that decision to follow him, to serve him, and to serve others in his name. Thank you for your faithfulness, and for your deep life of prayer. It makes a huge difference. Thank you for carrying our your vocations as members of the Body of Christ, bringing his love and healing to others.

You are following in the footsteps of Eli and Samuel and Philip and Nathanael. You are following in the footsteps of our Lord. It is a privilege and a joy to share the journey with you.

Amen.

Pentecost 6 Proper 11A RCL July 20. 2014

Genesis 28:10-19a
Psalm 139:1-11, 22-23
Romans 8:12-25
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

In our first reading today, Jacob is running for his life. He has cheated his older brother, Esau, out of his father’s blessing and his birthright. Esau is following him, and when he finds Jacob, he will kill him. Jacob is heading for his father’s hometown of Haran.

He stops for the night, takes a stone, and places it under his head for a pillow. During the night, he has a dream or a vision of a ladder coming down from heaven with angels going up and down the ladder.

Jacob’s name means “The Supplanter.” He is crafty and deceitful. He clothed himself in animal skins to fool his father, Isaac, into thinking Jacob was the oldest son, Esau, and that is how he got Isaac to give him his blessing. When Esau came in from hunting and was ravenous, Jacob had some lentil stew simmering on the fire and Esau sold Jacob his birthright for that lentil stew. In older translations, this delectable meal was called a “mess of pottage.”

All his life, Jacob has been scheming to get ahead. Jacob has been thinking about no one but Jacob. But now he has an encounter with God. When he wakes up, he knows that angels are real and that there is Someone much bigger than he is. He builds a monument and names the place Beth El—House of the Lord. Beth means house in Hebrew and El is the first syllable of Elohim, meaning, “The Lord.” Jacob is now aware of God’s presence in his life. He is beginning a process of transformation.

Psalm 139 reinforces Jacob’s experience. No matter where we go, God is there. God is always present in our lives. Every place is Beth El, God’s house.

In our epistle, St. Paul has been talking about life in the flesh and life in the spirit. Paul reminds us of the amazing fact that we are children of God. Because of the love of our Lord Jesus Christ, we can call the God who made the heavens and the earth “Abba.” As you know, “Abba” is an intimate term. It means “Daddy” or “Dad” or “Mom” or “Mama.” God is our loving parent. Paul tells us that there are many sufferings in our world, but that there is reason for hope because God is building God’s shalom, God’s kingdom of peace, harmony and wholeness.

In our gospel for today, we have Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares. A man sows good seed in his field. During the night an enemy comes and plants weeds. The servants want to go right out and pull those weeds, but the Master tells them not to do that. They should let the wheat and the weeds grow together, and at the harvest they will be separated.

In our world, there are good things going on and there are bad things going on. In each of us, there are parts of us which are great and there is room for growth. We have only to look at Jacob, the main character in our first lesson. He is a cheat and a liar. But God has chosen him. God is going to work with him. Jacob will grow in faith and he will become a different and better person. We all have our flaws. Yet God loves us and asks us to be the bearers of the Good News.

In our world, and sometimes in the Church, we can be like the servants who want to go right out there and tear out those weeds. In the early Church, there was a big argument about whether only Jews could follow Jesus. Because of Peter’s vision, the Church realized that the faith was for all people. In our country, it took a painful and costly struggle and Civil War for us to realize that slavery was wrong, One person cannot own another. Then we went through a struggle to allow women to go to college and to vote. Fifty years ago, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. It is not enough to free the slaves. We must treat all people as human beings worthy of respect. Every person can vote; ride busses, trains, planes; go to restaurants, use bathrooms. We humans have a tendency to want to exclude some people, and that is not part of God’s shalom.

So we have to be careful before we tear out what we think are weeds. We have to listen for God’s voice. We are called to be builders, not destroyers. We need to remember that God is the ultimate judge.

Everything comes back to God. I would like to go back to Jacob’s encounter with God, and I want to share with you a song based on that experience. It can also apply to our present experience. I am just going to read you the words.

Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place

I can feel His mighty power and His grace.\I can hear the brush of angels’ wings; I see glory on each face.

Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.

 

In the midst of His children, the Lord said He would be.

It doesn’t take very many. It can be just two or three.

And I feel that same sweet spirit that I’ve felt oft times before,

Surely I can say that I’ve been with the Lord.

 

Chorus

 

There’s a holy hush around us as God’s glory fills this place.

I’ve touched the hem of His garment; I can almost feel His face;

And my heart is overflowing with the fullness of His joy;

I know without a doubt that I’ve been with the Lord.

 

Chorus

 

May we take God’s presence with us wherever we go.  May we seek and do God’s will. Amen.

Pentecost 5 Proper 11 July 17, 2011

Pentecost 5 Proper 11A RCL July 17, 2011

Genesis 28:10-19a
Psalm 139: 1-11, 22-23
Romans 8: 12-25
Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-41

In various ways, all our readings today tell us something about our relationship with God.

First, we meet Jacob once again. He has cheated his older brother Esau out of his birthright and his father’s blessing. Esau is trying to kill him. Jacob is on the run, headed back to his father’s home town of Haran. He stops for this night, takes a desert stone and places it under his head as a pillow, and has a dream or a vision of a ladder connecting earth and heaven with angels going up and down the ladder.

God renews God’s promise, first made to Abraham. And God tells Jacob that all the peoples of the earth will be blessed and that God will be with Jacob. This is a vision of shalom. God’s peace and blessing over the whole earth.

Jacob wakes up. We can safely say that, until this point in his life, Jacob has been putting Jacob first, not God. But now Jacob knows that God is present. He builds a monument and names the place Beth El—Beth—house and El-Lord–Elohim—House of the Lord, place where God dwells. Jacob is still Jacob, the cheater, the guy who takes care of Number One, but he is now aware of God’s presence in his life, and his relationship with God will grow closer.

Psalm 139 eloquently tells us that, no matter where we go, God is always with us.

In our epistle, Paul has been talking about life in the flesh and life in the Spirit, two very different paths. Paul tells us that we are children of God and we can call God Abba—Dad, Papa, or in inclusive terms, Mom or Mama. We are that close. Paul describes the world in terms we can identify with. There is much struggle. People are suffering from hunger, poverty, war, and oppression. The world is not as God would have it. But something is coming to birth, and that is the kingdom, the shalom of God in which all will be made whole.

In today’s gospel, the kingdom of God is compared to a man who sows good seed in his field, but an enemy comes in the night and sows weeds, darnel.  The servants want to fix this right away, pull the weeds, clear this up. But if they pull the weeds, they will uproot the wheat. The landowner tells them that they will have to wait until the harvest. Then they can separate the wheat from the weeds.

This parable appears only in Matthew and some scholars think that it applies to Matthew’s community. As we have noted earlier, some people were falling away because of the challenges of living the faith in a hostile world.  There may also have been some folks in Matthew’s community stirring up strife and conflict.

Sometimes in the Church we have people who say, “We have to get rid of these people or those people.” This has been happening from the earliest days of the Church. These people are in. These people are out.
These people are right. These people are wrong.

The point of this parable is that God is the judge. We are not. Look at Jacob. He has done some awful things. Yet God has chosen him. Jacob is now aware of God’s presence. God will work with him. Yes, Jacob will still be flawed and fallible, just as you and I are, but God will make his life a blessing. Jacob will grow in faith, and he will become a better and better person. We all have our flaws and failings, yet God loves and cherishes us as God’s beloved children.

Theologian Richard Pervo writes, “God has invited us to gather rather than to judge, to get together and learn to live with one another, weeds and wheat alike. There is wheat within each of us as well as those all-too-visible weeds. From this patchy crop, God can fashion a miraculous bread, transforming each of us by the pure wheat of this holy offering, making us into beings shaped by hope.” (New Proclamation 2011, p. 99.)

Gracious God, thank you for seeing in us potential we cannot always see. Thank you for loving us and walking with us wherever we go. Thank you for never giving up on us. Help us to feel your presence in this and every place. Help us to sense your love. Help us to let the wheat and tares grow together and trust in you for the harvest.

                        Amen.