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

Lent 3B March 7, 2021

Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
John 2:13-22

Here is a slightly edited version of our opening reading from The Message by Eugene Peterson, a retired seminary professor and pastor.

I am God. your God, who  brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of a life of slavery. No other Gods, only me. No carved gods of any size, shape, or form of anything whatever, whether of things that fly or walk or swim. Don’t bow down to them and don’t serve them because I am God, your God, and I’m a most jealous God….

No using the name of God, your God, in curses or silly banter; God won’t put up with the irreverent use of his name. 

Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Work six days and do everything you need to do. But the seventh day is a sabbath to God, your God. Don’t do any work—not you, not your son, nor your daughter nor your servant, nor your maid, nor your animals, not even the foreign guest residing in your town.

Honor your father and your mother so that you’ll live a long time in the land that God, your God, is giving you. 

No murder. No adultery. No stealing. No lies about your neighbor. No lusting after your neighbor’s house—or wife or servant or maid or ox or donkey. Don’t set your heart on anything that is your neighbor’s. 

Sometimes reading something familiar in a new translation helps us to see the power and meaning even more clearly. God loves us and has brought us out of all kinds of slavery, whether it be addiction or any number of other things that can imprison us. God loves us and wants us to love God and each other. Our loving God knows us intimately because our God created us, and God knows our tendency to make idols. Nowadays, it probably wouldn’t be a golden calf. Today’s idols are things like money, power, and the acquisition of things to the point where we have trouble trying to figure out the difference between what we want and what we really need. 

Sometimes all of this makes it difficult for us to take sabbath time. There is so much we have to do. And, for many people, sabbath time is not an option, since they have to work two or three jobs to make ends meet. Lying, cheating, and stealing have become more and more common these days, even among our leaders. Coveting is really easy to fall into when our society promotes the drive to acquire more and more things and more and more power.

Some of us are doing the Social Justice Bible Challenge. We are going through the Bible and reading passages that relate to social justice. This week we have ben reading from Isaiah, who wrote, “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the  brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor….” (Isaiah 61:1-2.)

The prophets took the essence of the law given to God’s people and, with prayer and discernment, both deepened and expanded our understanding of the law.

Prophets such as Isaiah and Micah and Amos help us to understand that, if we truly follow God’s will, everyone will be able to live together and we will share the things we need so that everyone will have enough. Sister Mary Scullion and Will O’Brien write that this passage from Isaiah represents “a restoration of community, in which every one of us has what we need in a shared abundance, and therefore every person can more readily affirm each other’s dignity as a member of a community.” (The Social Justice Bible Challenge, p. 64.)

This passage from Isaiah is the one Jesus read when he went into the synagogue in Nazareth at the beginning of his ministry. In many ways, this passage about freedom, dignity, and justice describes his ministry. When he enters the temple at the time of the Passover, at the feast celebrating the freeing of God’s people from slavery, he might reasonably expect to see a proper atmosphere of reverence and worship.

But, in those days, you had to sacrifice an animal at the Passover. If you were wealthy, it would be a lamb, if you were poor, a pigeon. But to buy that pigeon,  you had to get the official temple coinage. And the moneychangers would charge a fee for their service. The rules of the temple worship put barriers between the people and God. And this made Jesus hopping mad. So he turned over their tables and spilled the coins on the floor. This is his message to us: do not put barriers between me and my beloved children. Let them come and worship. Extend hospitality to them. And then he talked about the temple of his body, which would rise in three days.

The Ten Commandments, the writings of the prophets, and the ministry of Jesus all offer us guidance on how to live our lives. Our mission is to help to build God’s shalom of peace and harmony. The building blocks are loving God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

In our reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul says, “We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” Jewish people thought that having a leader who was crucified was impossible because crucifixion was a punishment reserved for criminals, so that meant your leader was a criminal. Greek thinkers were concerned with gaining wisdom, and they felt that the cross was not relevant to that pursuit.

But we who are following Jesus know that his example of emptying himself and becoming a servant to all, his example of surrendering to God and letting God bring the life that only God can bring, is why our Lord said that he is the way and the truth and the life. In following Jesus, and in walking the Way of Love, we are set free from all that holds us in bondage. We grow more and more into his image, and we help him to build his shalom of peace, harmony, and justice. Amen.

Pentecost 18 Proper 22A October 4, 2020

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
Psalm 19
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46

Once again we are on the journey with the people of God. They have gone through many challenges. They have struggled; they have been hungry, thirsty, angry, discouraged. They have even wished they had stayed in their slavery in Egypt. Now, our loving God is giving them a great gift, the gift of the covenant that will enable them to love God and to love their neighbors.

The first four commandments describe our relationship with God. There is only one God, and that is the God we are called to worship.   Don’t make idols. Only one God can fill that place in our hearts and lives, yet there are so many idols, things like money, power, and possessions, and our culture seems to give high value to those idols.

Use the name of God with great care. Every mention of that holy Name should be in the context of prayer. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. For those who have to work on Sundays, it is important to observe sabbath time on another day if possible. We all need time to nourish our spirits and rest our bodies and minds from the stresses of work.

The remaining six commandments deal with our relationships with our neighbors. Honor our father and our mother. Family ties are important. No murder. This refers not only to physical murder but to speaking ill of others and sharing gossip. We are called to be faithful to our spouses. No stealing. No lying. No coveting of things that others own.These commandments are the glue that will hold the people together and govern their lives. Biblical scholar James Newsome writes, “The commandments of God are God’s gracious gift to the people, by which the people are provided with the means to respond to God’s love.” (Newsome, Texts for Preaching Year A, p. 507.

Newsome seems to be implying that, if we humans are not able to live together in some kind of order, with mutual respect and caring for

each other, we will not be able to respond in gratitude to God’s love. There is great truth in that comment. The gift of the commandments enables the people to move ahead in their communal life with guidelines that will help their life together to be heathy and caring.

Just prior to our reading from Philippians, Paul offers stern words to some people in the congregation who think that Gentiles joining the congregation should have to undergo circumcision. There was a great discussion in the early Church about whether new followers of Jesus should be required to follow the dietary laws and be circumcised.

Paul speaks from a powerful position. He is a member of the tribe of Benjamin, a Pharisee, an expert in the law, and a Roman citizen, These attributes give him many privileges. But all of these things are as rubbish to him compared with the gift of knowing and following Jesus. It is the gift of faith, given to us by God, which makes us able to follow our Lord, not adherence to the law.

And then Paul speaks of the journey of following our Lord. He wants to become more and more like Christ, just as we do. But he knows that he is not there yet. That is so true. In our journey with Christ, there is always more growing to do. We are not perfect, but, as long as we are trying to follow our Lord, that’s the important thing.

Paul writes, “Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own, but one thing I do: 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.”

Paul is giving us another metaphor for the Covid-19 journey we are traveling at this moment and will be traveling for several months if we are to believe experts like Dr. Fauci. As medical experts have said, the fact that our President and our First Lady have been diagnosed with this virus reminds us that Covid 19 can strike anyone and that we need to follow safety measures. We pray for all who have been diagnosed with this virus and wish them a speedy and full recovery. This journey is not a sprint. It ls a marathon. Paul is so devoted to Jesus. He is so close to our Lord, that he says that Christ has made Paul his own. In a sense, they have become one through God’s love. Therefore, on his marathon journey in and to newness of life, Paul receives the energy of Christ through the Holy Spirit. And that is what we are receiving through the love of God and the power of the Spirit— power and energy to do the wise thing and the loving thing as we make this journey. Our risen Lord is on this journey with us, and we can trust in him.

In our gospel for today, our Lord is teaching in the temple. The religious authorities are watching him closely. They will eventually kill him. All tyrants try to destroy those who speak the truth. Jesus tells a parable.  He has studied the wise and inspiring prophet Isaiah who thought of God’s world as a vineyard. When you let out a vineyard to tenants, you normally expect to get a portion of the produce as payment. The owner sends people to collect the payment and the tenants beat one, kill another, and stone another. This happens a second time. The landowner finally sends his son, and the tenants kill him.

God loves us so much that God came among us. Jesus is God walking the face of the earth. We have the Ten Commandments as our guidelines on how to live our lives, but we still tend to go astray, so, as Paul knew well, God came to show us the way. Now we have a fully divine and fully human life, the life of Jesus, as our model. 

But Paul knew from his own experience that we have even more than that. We are walking the journey one cloudy day and our patience is fraying and our anxiety is rising and our temper is not in the greatest of shape. And then we feel his presence, calming our nerves, giving us strength, renewing our faith. We can feel him walking beside us. Let’s be honest: we can feel him carrying us. And, because he is risen and we know what he has been through, we feel his love and his hope and his courage flowing into us. And we know we can do this. With his help and his loving presence, we can take the next step. And the next. And, one step at a time, we can run this marathon, no matter what it takes—with his presence and his grace. Amen.

Epiphany 3C RCL January 27, 2019

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Luke 4:14-21

It is so good to see you after two Sundays of having to cancel our services. I will try to be brief because we have Annual Meeting today.

Our first reading, from the Book of Nehemiah, is one of the most important passages in the Bible. The people have returned from exile and they are rebuilding the temple. The leaders gather all the people in the square, and they read passages from the law and interpret them so that everyone can understand. This reading takes an entire day. The people are so deeply moved that they weep when they hear the reading. They are hearing and understanding the guidelines that govern their life together. This is an inspiring moment in the life of God’s people.

In our reading from his First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul is telling the Corinthians and us that the Church is the Body of Christ. Each member is precious and necessary to the health of the whole Body. The Spirit bestows many gifts, and each gift is as valuable as every other gift. It is just as important to balance the books, sweep the floor, or paint the window trim as it is to preach an excellent sermon. Our Lord calls all of us to work together and to offer our gifts. We are so close that, as Paul says, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice with it.” We are all in this together, and what binds us together is the love of Christ.

In our gospel, Jesus is teaching and healing in Galilee. He goes to his hometown, Nazareth, and goes to the synagogue. When he stands up to read, the scroll of Isaiah is given to him.  Jesus reads,“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor…to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind…to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” That is a description of his ministry and of our ministry.

Today, with these inspiring readings in our minds and hearts, we hold our Annual Meeting. I suspect that most of us are not thrilled by administrative meetings. I know they aren’t my favorite thing.

There are many ways to think about the Church. We can think of it as an institution that has been around for two thousand years and has many structures and procedures and so on. Then we can think of ourselves as the community gathered. Yes, we have to deal with things like electing delegates to convention so that we can keep things running and this year elect a new bishop. Here at Grace, I think we try to take care of these things as efficiently as we can. And we also pray at every meeting we have, which is so important. We ask God’s guidance. We realize we are in the presence of God, that the risen Christ is here in our midst.

And we are gathered here today as a community of faith and as part of an institution that has been around for a long time. We love God. And, because we love God, we truly love and care about each other. We do see ourselves as the Body of Christ, called to carry out the ministries mentioned in the passage from Isaiah. We are here to bring good news and to share God’s love and healing and forgiveness with others.

Thank you for your faithfulness, for your generous offering of your many gifts, for your resilience and humor, and for your love for God, for each other, and for all people. These are precious gifts.

Risen Lord, thank you for being in our midst. Lead us and guide us, O Lord.  Amen.

 

Pentecost 17 Proper 19 B RCL September 16, 2018

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

In our first reading today, Wisdom calls the people to return to God, to respond to God’s call. Wisdom is always a female figure. Wisdom is considered to be a part of God, an aspect of God, who was present at the creation. Jesus is often thought of as being one with Wisdom. Herbert O’ Driscoll says, “ Wisdom expresses the mind of God.” (The Word Among Us, Year B, Vol 3, p. 102.) Wisdom practice is designed to help us attune our minds to the mind of God and to follow the will of God.

Our passage from the Letter of James is also considered to be wisdom literature. It gives guidance on how to live our lives in harmony with God’s will.  Much of today’s reading focuses on that very small but very powerful part of our body, the tongue. James tells us that it is easier to control the rudder of a ship that it is to control our tongues.

Biblical scholar Beverly Gaventa quotes that old adage that we all recited when we were children: “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” Gaventa writes, “The lines carry within themselves their own contradiction, for if words did not in fact have the power to do harm, the lines would not be necessary.”  (Gaventa, Texts for Preaching Year B, p. 509.)

With social media, we can send messages to hundreds and thousands of people. We are not saying something to just one or two people. The misuse of social media to send negative messages is particularly harmful to our children and youth. We have all read or heard accounts of young people actually committing suicide because of bullying that has occurred over social media. James points out that with our tongues we can either bless or curse, and we pray that, in everything we say, we will be extending blessings.

In our gospel, Jesus has been doing healings and touching many lives. He has realized that his ministry is to all people. He has also endured verbal attacks by the religious authorities who scold him for putting the needs of people before the traditions.

In today’s reading, Jesus asks his followers who he is. They report on the opinions others have been offering. Jesus asks them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter says, “You are the Messiah.” Then Jesus tells them what is going to happen. He is going to suffer, he is going to be rejected by the authorities, he is going to be killed, and then he is going to rise again.

Peter cannot bear this, He takes Jesus aside and begins to scold him, “Lord, this simply cannot happen.” In one way or another, all of our readings today are about how we respond to God’s call. Jesus knows what he is called to do. His revolution of the spirit is so frightening to the authorities that they are going to kill him. He is going to suffer.

I think Peter is responding to this on at least two levels. First, he loves Jesus. He has left everything and followed this man, and now Jesus has become like a big brother to him. He cannot bear the idea of Jesus suffering and dying.

Secondly, there are two strains of thought regarding the messiah. One is that the messiah will come as a conquering hero, defeat the oppressor—in this case, the Roman Empire—and establish a new kingdom, the reign of God. It’s one thing to be following a military hero who achieves a military victory. It is another thing to be following a leader who suffers and dies. Prophets such as Isaiah clearly present the concept of the suffering servant, and Peter knows this, but it is still very difficult to hear.

But let us consider how Jesus is feeling. He knows what he is called to do. But now his dear friend Peter, the one who will lead the apostles, is saying that this simply cannot happen. He loves Peter. He knows Peter is emotional and impulsive at times, but Peter is the one who has recognized Jesus as the Savior. When Peter tells Jesus that our Lord’s description of his death and resurrection can’t be true, it tempts Jesus to waver in his resolve. And that is why our Lord says, “Get behind me, Satan.” Peter is tempting Jesus to veer from the path he is called to walk. Peter is setting his mind on earthly things instead of heavenly things.

And then Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him. He calls us to lose our lives for his sake. That does not necessarily mean dying for his sake, but it does mean putting heavenly things above earthly things.

If we go back to the theme of Wisdom as expressing the mind of God, or the mind of Christ, following Jesus means that we are called to make our minds and hearts one with his mind and heart. This means that we are called to be people of love and compassion, to care about others as our Lord did.

As we pray our collect for today, we are asking that we nay follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit in all things. That is what it means to take up our cross and follow Jesus— to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit in all things. When we do that, we are following our Good Shepherd, who is leading us into new life,  Amen.

Lent 3B RCL March 4, 2018

Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
John 2:13-22

This is the Third Sunday in Lent, and our readings give us so much food for thought that we could go on for hours thinking about these words and how they apply to our lives. I’m happy to tell you that I am not going to preach for hours.

In our opening reading from the Book of Exodus, Moses brings the Ten Commandments to God’s people, who have escaped slavery and are on their journey to the promised land. Scholars tell us that this was really a worship service, a solemn ceremony in which the people accepted God’s covenant.

These commandments provided an ethical structure for God’s people, and they still do that for us. If we were to summarize these rules for living, we could say, 1). There is one God. 2).Don’t worship idols, These days, our idols are not Baal or Astarte. They are things like status, possessions, and power, but they can lure us far from what really matters. 3). Use the Name of God only in sincere prayer. Use the Name of God for good purposes. 4). Take time to rest and be with God on the Sabbath Day. These first four commandments are about our relationship with God.

The next six commandments are about our relationship with our family and others. 5) Honor your father and mother. Family is important, and those relationships are very special. Let us put God’s love in the spaces between us and our family members. 6). Don’t commit murder. That includes the kind of murder we can commit with our tongue, with a nasty comment or with malicious gossip, or posts, or tweets. 7). Don’t commit adultery. We are called to be faithful to our marriages and committed relationships and to honor the marriages and committed relationships of others. 8). Don’t steal. That includes other people’s ideas. We give credit for the thoughts of others which we quote. We pay royalties when they apply. We honor copyrights. 9). Don’t lie. As we look at the world around us, it would be so refreshing if we would all simply be honest in all our statements and in all our dealings with each other. 10). Don’t covet. In our society today, there is such a pressure to keep up with the Joneses, to have the right clothes, the right car, and on and on. That is not what is important to God. These commandments are as helpful and relevant today as they were over three thousand years ago when God first gave them to our ancestors.

As we think about our gospel for today, we need to keep in mind that Jesus knew these commandments very well, and it is because of his knowledge of what God is truly calling us to be and to do that he is as angry as we will ever see him when he looks over the travesty of the moneychangers in the temple.

I can still remember the tone of my beloved mentor, David Brown, when he was Rector of Christ Church, Montpelier. He talked about the cult of “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild” syrupy terms that were almost funny, except that this is such a serious issue. Jesus was not always meek and mild. He had a steely determination; he had fortitude and courage like no other. And in today’s gospel, he is enraged. He is angry beyond belief.

Why is he angry? It is the time of the Passover. At the Passover, everyone was supposed to offer a sacrifice at the temple. If you were rich, you would offer a lamb. If you were poor, you would offer something cheaper such as a dove. So, first of all, this offering was a burden on the poor. They had no money to spare for buying a dove to sacrifice. They were trying to feed their children.

But it gets worse. In order to buy these animals for sacrifice, you had to convert your Roman coins to the temple coinage. To do this, you had to go to the moneychangers. Scholars tell us that the moneychangers could charge any kind of fee they wanted to for this service. This placed a double burden on the poor.

So, when Jesus walked in to this place that was supposed to be a holy place, this place where people were supposed to be able to have an encounter with God and “worship God in the beauty of holiness,” he saw these moneychangers robbing the people, and he got so angry that he threw over their tables. If we had been there, we would have been deeply impressed by his attitude. Possibly, we would have been scared.

The temple officials challenged Jesus on his behavior, and he made a rather mysterious statement, “Destroy this temple, and in three days, I will raise it up.” He was talking about his body, because he knew that they were going to have him killed.

Jesus was angry because the religious leaders were putting barriers in the way of people who were trying to worship God, people who were trying to be faithful. These barriers were a great hardship especially for the poor. We need to remember that Jesus was the champion of the ordinary people. Like so many of our brothers and sisters today, they had to work night and day just to provide the necessities for their children. The religious leaders should have made it easier for them to worship, not harder. But they refused to hear what our Lord was saying. It is a tragic day when religious leaders cannot hear God’s truth being spoken to them.

Our Lord is calling us to honor the dignity of every person and to make worship accessible to everyone. By the time of Jesus, legal and religious scholars had expanded the ten commandments to over six hundred and thirty rules that one was supposed to follow. This was so difficult that only the leisured class had the time to follow these rules.

This kind of thing made Jesus angry.

Here at Grace, this is why we stop and make sure that everyone has the books and handouts we need for the service, and why we help each other find our places. Accessibility is so important.

Gracious and loving God, give us grace to hear what you have to say to us. Jesus, our Savior and brother, lead us and guide us so that we may follow you faithfully. In Your holy Name we pray. Amen.

Pentecost 18 Proper 22A RCL October 8, 2017

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
Psalm 19
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46

In our opening reading, the people of God have journeyed to the point where Moses receives the Ten Commandments. Herbert O’Driscoll remarks that some of us remember the time when almost everyone learned and recited these commandments. They were familiar to us. O’Driscoll also reminds us that there is great wisdom behind these guidelines for living. God knows us humans, and these commandments are a basic set of rules for our behavior.

We are called to worship God. We are called to avoid the worship of idols. These days, the idols are not Baal or Astarte. They might be Mercedes and Dow Jones. Use the Name of God with care. Keep the Sabbath. If we work an unusual schedule, the Sabbath may not be a Sunday, but the important thing is to take that Sabbath time to worship God, to thank God for all God’s blessings, and to refresh our body and spirit. Honor your father and your mother. Do not murder. Be faithful to your spouse or partner. Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.

God in God’s wisdom and love has given us these rules to live by.

In his inspiring letter to the congregation in Philippi, Paul, who usually comes across as one of the folks, a tentmaker who earns his own living, now lets us know that he has all the earmarks of high privilege. He is a Roman citizen, which gives him many advantages. He is a Jew. Like our Lord and every Jewish boy, he was circumcised on the eighth day of his life. More than that, he is a Pharisee, an expert in the law.  He also admits that he was a persecutor of the Church.

But one day, after witnessing the stoning of the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen, a deacon full of faith and love, and while rushing to help persecute more Christians, Paul met the risen Lord on the Road to Damascus. He was blinded by the light of Christ. He had to be led by the hand. But then he began to see. And he gave his entire life to Christ. And now he wants to know and love Christ as deeply as possible. He knows how difficult it is to follow the law. He is the one who said that he does the things he does not want to do and he does not do the things he knows he should do, and he asks God to free him from the body of that death. We can know the law, and on our own, we can follow the law to a point, but, for many of us, we get stuck. We need faith and grace to pull us through. And Paul has found that faith and grace in Christ and he is never going to let that go. To him, all his honors are as a pile of trash. All he wants to do is to follow Christ, to grow more and more like him in his love and compassion.

And he knows that he is not there yet, he says, “Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ has made me his own. Forgetting what lies behind and straining to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call in Christ Jesus.”

All we can say is may we do the same thing—press on toward the goal.

Our gospel for today is very powerful. Jesus is teaching in the temple in Jerusalem. He has read the scriptures. He has probably absorbed word for word the writings of the great prophet Isaiah, who described the people of God in various places as a vine or a vineyard. We all know the story. The workers in the vineyard kill the owner’s son.

Jesus is here addressing the religious leaders of his time, who are about to do just that—kill Jesus. The chief priests and the scribes realize that Jesus is speaking about them, but they are afraid to do anything because they know that, at the very least, he is a prophet. They will keep plotting, and our Lord will die a criminal’s death.

When leaders, whether religious or secular, get rid of people or try to diminish people because those people are telling God’s truth, those leaders are misusing their power. In Jesus’ time and in our own time, we need to be aware of those who are practicing imperium, tyranny and control, and those who are practicing auctoritas, true authority, leadership that encourages and empowers people

As Herbert O’Driscoll points out, one of the best things we can do with these readings is to reflect on the Ten Commandments, reflect on the Cardinal Virtues—prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude, and the Theological Virtues—faith, hope, and love, and renew our commitment to using them as the framework for our lives.

And we can also follow the example of St. Paul. He has such a profound commitment to Jesus. He devoted his life to killing Christians. Now he wants to help people follow Jesus. He wants to build communities of faith and love. He knows he is a work in progress, but he is following Jesus with all his energy.

This week, as we look out on our world, we see people in Mexico trying to recover from earthquakes, people in Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Puerto Rico, the Virgin islands. and so many of the Caribbean Islands, suffering from the effects of hurricanes.

And we look upon our brothers and sisters killed and hurt in Las Vegas. Our hearts go out to them and to their friends and families. Our Bishops have issued s statement on gun violence. Each of us and all of us are called to pray for all those who have died and for those who are suffering and grieving and to take action as our conscience leads us.

May the God of mercy lead us and guide us into the way of peace.

Amen.

Pentecost 16 Proper 19B RCL September 13, 2015

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

Our first reading today is from the Book of Proverbs. Wisdom is portrayed as a woman. Herbert O’Driscoll says that wisdom is “a part of God, an aspect of God. The figure of wisdom expresses the mind of God.” Wisdom, or Sophia in Greek, is often associated with our Lord. Wisdom is more than ordinary knowledge. O’Driscoll writes, “We are being asked to consider a relationship with God as the deepest and richest knowledge of all.”

In our gospel for today. Jesus and his disciples are in Caesarea Philippi. They have gone beyond Galilee into a major center of the Roman Empire where troops were brought for rest and recuperation.

Jesus asks the disciples a question. “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples tell Jesus what they have been hearing. Some people are saying that Jesus is John the Baptist come back to life; some are saying that he is the prophet Elijah, and some say that he is a prophet. Jesus is getting a report on what they have been hearing on the street.

But them he asks that searching question, “But who do you say that I am?” This changes the situation from giving a report to expressing our beliefs. Immediately, Peter says, “You are the messiah.”

At that time, most people believed that the messiah was going to be a great military leader like King David who would go out into battle, against the Roman Empire, defeat the Romans, and bring about a revolution in which the reign of God would begin on earth.  In one way or another, we can assume and imagine that the people following Jesus were beginning to think that this was what he was going to do.

So, when Jesus begins to say that he is gong to suffer and that he is going to be rejected by all the authorities, and he is going to be killed, this simply does not fit the expected scenario. We can imagine that the disciples were in shock. Here they thought they were going to be part of a triumphal military revolution, and now they are hearing that their leader is doomed. What if Winston Churchill had said he was gong to die and we were going to be defeated in World War Two?

We would have been shocked. Well, Peter was shocked, He took Jesus aside and tried to tell him, “Lord, you’re mistaken. This can’t happen!”

When you know that you are called to do something that is going to be very difficult and painful and will probably cost you your life, you need the support and understanding of those closest to you. In Isaiah and other prophets, there is another understanding of the messiah. The messiah is the servant who carries out a quiet but very powerful revolution that will change the world. It is a revolution of peace and harmony. It is God’s shalom. But Peter did not want to hear about that. And that hurt Jesus. It was difficult enough for him to walk the way of the cross, and he needed his friends to help him to do that, not to try to argue him out of it.

That is why Jesus told Peter to get behind him. Get out of the way. That is why he called him Satan, Adversary. Because Peter was like an attorney arguing Jesus out of the way he knew he was called to go. Peter had dreams of following a General Eisenhower or a General Colin Powell to victory and Jesus was talking about dying on a humiliating instrument of torture called the cross.

To be sure, Peter loved Jesus and he didn’t want his Lord to have to go through that. We want the best for those we love. We don’t want them to suffer. So Peter said what he said, and Jesus said what he said, and other things happened, and later the two of them reconciled all that.

But the bottom line is that our Lord is calling us to take up our cross and follow him. Sometimes that involves choices that the world thinks are crazy. Somebody has a great job and is making lots of money and moving up the career ladder and they feel a call to work with an NGO in Zimbabwe or work with adolescents in a juvenile correctional facility or teach kids in Thailand or go into the Peace Corps at a fraction of the salary. Yet when you see them, they have an unmistakeable serenity and joy. That’s what it means to take up our cross. People may scratch their heads and wonder what in the world we are doing, but we know it’s what our Lord is calling us to, and we find a deep joy in answering that call.

When we lose our life for Jesus’ sake, we are not jumping into a black hole of destruction or hurting ourselves. We are allowing him to free us from our limited ideas of what life is about. We are the little seed jumping into the fertile soil and growing into a field of wheat. We are a little creature clutching onto a rock and finally letting go and allowing ourselves to be part of a loving, flowing current. We are becoming part of his shalom.

We live in him. He lives in us. We become one with him. There is much joy in that. There is much peace in that.

If we are following our Lord, we will also be following wisdom, and our tongues will speak words of compassion because our hearts are filled with compassion and our lives are rooted and grounded in the love of Christ.

O God, because without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with  you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Pentecost 17 Proper 22A RCL October 5, 2014

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
Psalm 19
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46

In our beginning reading from the Book of Exodus, we are with God’s people at Mount Sinai, and God is giving them the Ten Commandments. The first four of these commandments have to do with our relationship with God, and the last six commandments deal with our relationship with each other. These commandments were the foundation of the life of the covenant community, and they can serve as an excellent framework for life together over three thousand years later.

In our epistle, Paul has been trying to counteract the efforts of opponents of his, some of whom have been trying to convince Gentiles who are joining the new community of faith that they have to follow the Jewish dietary laws. Paul lists his credentials. Like Jesus and John the Baptist, he was circumcised on the eighth day of his life. He is an Israelite of the tribe of Benjamin, a Pharisee, an expert on the law. On the secular level, he is a Roman citizen. Paul openly admits that he persecuted the Church. But when he met the risen Lord on the Road to Damascus, everything changed. His whole world was transformed.

All that Paul wants to do now is to grow closer to Christ. All of those previous privileges and honors and signs of status are as trash to him. Entrance into the kingdom of God has nothing to do with our past accomplishments. In fact, it has nothing to do with us. It is a gift. Coming from his own history and background as one who followed the law to the letter, Paul is now saying: Brothers and sisters, let us not make these new believers follow the law. That is not the point. The new life in Christ is a gift from God, Let us accept that gift. Of course, we will strive to carry out the commandments. But let us strive to surpass the law, to move from the letter to the spirit of the law.

Our gospel for today must be approached with great care. The gospel is an allegory. Jesus is in the temple and he is addressing the religious leaders of his time. The vineyard is an image used by Isaiah for the people of God. We could say it could also be an image for the kingdom, the shalom of God. The landowner is God. The slaves who were sent are the prophets, The son is Jesus. The tenants are the religious leaders.

Matthew’s gospel was written about 90 C. E.. Scholars tell us that Matthew’s community was a Jewish community which was incorporating new Gentile members. The new faith was being persecuted. This parable may have provided a ray of hope for Christians who were being oppressed.

But the point of this gospel is not to be anti-Semitic. It is to ask ourselves how we would receive the Son if he came to ask us how the vineyard is doing. Are we following the commandments? Are we bearing good fruit? Are we, like Paul, trying to align our lives with the life of our Lord? Are we trying to let him live in us? Are we trying to live in the light of his grace? Are we sharing his love with others?

This parable is asking us to look at religious leaders. The religious leaders of Jesus’ time were arguing with God. They were blind to the work that God was trying to do among them. Are we blind to the work of the Holy Spirit? Our Bishop has called us to engage in a year long process of discernment looking at what it means to be a missional Church. A couple of Saturdays ago some of us went to a Ministry Fair. In the context of Holy Eucharist, we went outside the walls of the cathedral to discover what God is doing in the neighborhood.

Several of the groups went to the Old North End, which is the less affluent part of Burlington. Many of our new Americans live there now, as well as in nearby Winooski. We found many signs of life, as some folks shared last Sunday—gardens, a solar installation. a Sustainability Academy, a compassionate veterinary practice, Pathway to Housing, an organization which provides houses for homeless people. We saw people sitting on their porches talking. We saw houses painted artistically in bright vibrant colors. There was a lot of life out there.

The religious leaders of his time were constantly challenging Jesus, Last Sunday they were asking him by what authority he healed and taught and forgave. Some people in Philippi wanted everyone to follow the dietary laws, Paul felt that was putting a stumbling block in the way of folks coming into the new faith. It is a sad thing when religious authorities or religious people get in God’s way.

One of the ideas we hear about when we discuss the missional church is that we need to go out into the world and see what God is doing. I would say, what the Holy Spirit is doing. That is because I define the Holy Spirit as God at work in us and in the world. Wherever peace grows, wherever healing happens, wherever someone is learning, there is the Holy Spirit. And we need to support those things. The Holy Spirit is at work in many ways and in many people. Some of those people do not believe in God. Some of those people cannot believe in God because religious leaders or religious people have put stumbling blocks in their path.

One of the reasons I went back to school and got my psychology degree is that I wanted to help people on their journeys toward wholeness. I also wanted to be helpful to people who would never darken the door of a church. All of you are out in the world living your faith and doing your ministries. You are able to touch the lives of people for whom our faith has become irrelevant or. worse, a negative force.

I think that is what our readings are talking about today: living our faith and being open to the work of the Holy Spirit out in the world as well as in the Church. The Shalom of God is growing every day. Loving God, help us to be open to your Spirit. Give us grace to help you build your Kingdom, your Shalom of healing and harmony and wholeness. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Epiphany 4C RCL January 27, 2013

Nehemiah 8:1-3,5-6.8-10
Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Luke 4:14-21

All of our lessons this morning are dramatic, moving, and full of significance for us today.

In our reading from the Book of Nehemiah, the people have just returned from exile in Babylon. During the exile, they have lost everything. The temple in Jerusalem has been leveled. This was the center of their worship and their life together. They are desolate, grief-stricken. So what do they do? Lose faith? Give up? No.

They study the scriptures and the law. The scholars and teachers go over and over the Law to learn its meaning and let that meaning sink deeply into their hearts and spirits. The law is the set of moral teachings that holds them together and gives order and meaning to their lives. They spend all those years in captivity, over fifty years, studying and researching and refining their understanding of the scriptures.

Finally, they are allowed to return home. When they arrive, the leaders of the people assemble all the people together. The leaders read tgen the law—for hours—from early morning until midday, and the teachers and leaders interpret the law to the people. They have just been through a time of great difficulty and challenge, a defeat by the mighty Babylonian Empire. They have been deported to a foreign land. But they have studied the scriptures, and prayed, and used this time of darkness and bondage to turn to the light of the Lord and to seek God’s guidance.

As the law is read, the people are so moved to hear the voice of God guiding them that they weep. Imagine this huge crowd of people weeping.  They share this moment of deep gratitude for God’s care for them and for their opportunity to return home and rebuild. They weep because they are so thankful for God’s presence with them all through this long journey.  Then they have a feast and we note that they are instructed to share this good food with those “for whom nothing is prepared.” No one is left out.

In our epistle for today, we have one of the basic texts for baptismal ministry. Paul is writing to a congregation that is torn by division. A self-appointed elite group is telling people that, if they do not have certain gifts, in this case, the gift of speaking in tongues,  they are not really members of the group, They are not true Christians. What if a congregation today were to say, if you don’t have perfect pitch and can’t sing perfectly at all times, you are not a Christian? That would certainly leave me out.

Paul is writing to these people as their founder and loving pastor. I can imagine how distressed he must have been to hear of the way in which this self-proclaimed group of leaders was tearing up the fabric of the community. Perhaps he might even have been quite angry. Where is the love in that kind of fracturing?

Paul offers them and us the compelling metaphor that a Christian community is like a human body and that the Church is the living Body of the Risen Christ.  Two thousand years ago he is saying that the Body is inclusive. Everyone belongs. Differences are a source of strength. We can learn from each other. And he says that those who are the weakest and most vulnerable deserve the highest respect. He is echoing our Lord, who said that the last shall be first.

As you may have guessed, this is one of my favorite chapters in all of the Bible. What a thought! We depend on each other just as much as the eyes and ears and nose and hands and feet and arms and legs and hearts and lungs of our bodies depend on each other to function. Everyone is necessary. This means that we are called to value each other, to respect each other’s gifts and to be tender and forgiving toward each other’s weaknesses.

All of this is summed up in our gospel. Jesus goes to his hometown. He goes to synagogue every Sabbath. He reads the powerful passage from Isaiah which sums up the ministry of the Suffering Servant, his ministry, our ministry. We are called to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Our ministry is to heal, to encourage, to help free people from whatever imprisons them. Each in your own way, with the gifts God has given you, is carrying out the ministry of our Lord in your life. This is what it’s all about.

And when we have a job to do here, each person joins in with his or her gifts. The result of this is that we have a good time when we are together, a time full of love and lightness. This past Sunday, we had our Annual Meeting. We carried out our business, but we also shared joy and laughter. To be able to laugh together is a sign of light, love, and health.

The shalom of Christ is not yet fully here. Like our ancestors who came out of the Exile with renewed faith and vision, let us continue in our ministries, Let us spread the light and love of Jesus with the gifts God has given us. And let us gather to allow our Lord to feed and renew us and to worship and learn together in the presence of God’s love and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Amen

Pentecost 16 Proper 22 October 2, 2011

Pentecost 16 Proper 22    October 2, 2011

 Exodus 20: 1-4, 7-9, 12-20
Psalm 19
Philippians 3: 4b-14
Matthew 21: 33-46

In our first lesson from the Hebrew scriptures, Moses and the people have made a long journey. They have reached Mt. Sinai. Moses receives the Ten Commandments from God. These commandments reflect the basic guidelines of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, as well as other religions and ethical human beings.

God is the only God. We should not worship idols, We should not take God’s name in vain or use God’s name lightly.   We are called to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. In these days of working all kinds of shifts and traveling through time zones, we are called to keep Sabbath time for prayer, rest, and renewal. We are called to honor our parents, although, if there has been abuse by our parents, we are called to take care of ourselves. (All of these commandments are assuming a community of love and respect.) Don’t murder. Be faithful to your spouse or partner. Don’t steal. Don’t lie about your neighbor. Don’t covet your neighbor’s possessions.

These commandments are the framework, the foundation, the glue that holds the community of faith, indeed, the human community, together.

In our epistle for today, Paul is making it clear that he is a person who can claim the highest privilege. He is a Jew, a Pharisee, a Roman citizen. Yet he sees all this as rubbish, trash, compared to the experience of knowing and experiencing and following Jesus. That’s what happens to all of us on this spiritual journey. Jesus becomes real to us as our model, our hero, and our leader, and everything else pales by comparison. Paul says, “Jesus has made me his own,” And then he continues with some of the most inspiring words in the Bible, “Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own, but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press onward toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

In today’s gospel, we hear a parable. Jesus is still in the temple being challenged and attacked by the religious leaders. A man plants a vineyard. He does everything possible to nurture this vineyard. Then he leases it to tenants and goes away. When he sends his slaves to collect the rent, the tenants beat one, kill one, and stone another. He sends other slaves and the tenants treat them in the same way. Finally, he sends his son, thinking the tenants will respect him. The tenants kill the son.

On one level, which we should be aware of just for historical reasons, this is a story about how God has sent prophets and finally God’s son, and the leaders of God’s people have killed the prophets and Jesus. Matthew’s gospel was written about 90 CE, about 60 years after Jesus’ ministry ended, and this parable comments on how the religious establishment of the time resisted the prophets and even Jesus. But we should never use this in an anti Semitic manner, as it has been used in the past. We are called to use this parable to ask ourselves, “How are we responding to God’s call, to God’s vision of shalom?” How are we responding to Jesus? How are we responding to the prophets in our midst—Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu, Bill McKibben? Are we caring for this planet? Are we treating other members of the human community with love and respect?

On a human level, we could understand why the landowner might come back and kill those tenants. But God does not do that. God is faithful and loving toward us.

We are called to produce the fruits of God’s shalom. In Galatians 5: 22, Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These qualities speak for themselves. They are the qualities which folks show in their lives when they are living the Ten Commandments and when they are centered in God, whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or followers of any other major spiritual path.

I was listening to the radio the other morning, and there was a discussion about the Euro Zone. One woman, a German, said how wonderful it was that, after all the wars that had been fought, Germans could be close to and care about French people,  and other Europeans, and the conflicts and divisions of centuries could turn into friendship and common purpose and human community. That’s God’s shalom.

Ultimately, that is what all these lessons are talking about, that we are all one as Jesus and the Father are one, that, if we take God’s love seriously, we will love our neighbors as ourselves. May we run the race; may we produce the fruits of God’s shalom.

Amen.