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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:…

Epiphany 3A January 26, 2020

Isaiah 9:1-4
Psalm 27:1, 5-13
1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Matthew 4:12-23

Our first reading, this powerful and moving passage from Isaiah, is also our first reading on Christmas Day. Scholars tell us that this text dates back to around 725 B.C.E. The Assyrian Empire has defeated the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and the Southern Kingdom, Judah, has been living in deep fear and anguish. They have been terrified that the Assyrians will defeat them, too.

A new king has been born, and God is telling the people that they are moving from the darkness of that fear into the light. God has freed them from the oppressor. There will be a new kingdom of justice and compassion. As Christians, we immediately think of the reign of our King, Jesus, who comes among us to break every yoke/

Our psalm describes what life is like in the light, the presence of God. Yes, life has many challenges, but we do not live in fear. We sense the presence and protection of God. Both our reading from Isaiah and our psalm for today are filled with the  joy of being in the presence of God.

Last week, our reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians focused on the gifts which God has given them—and us— so that they and we, can follow Christ and be a loving community. In today’s passage, Paul is beginning to address some of the major problems that are affecting the community in Corinth.

There are some people in the Corinthian community who feel that their gifts are superior to the gifts of other people. For example, some of the people feel that the gift of speaking in tongues is the highest gift of all, and, if you don’t have that gift, you are inferior. In Chapter 13 of this letter, Paul tells us in no uncertain terms that the greatest gift is love.

 In today’s text, Paul is pointing out that the members of the community have divided up into factions. Some are following a man named Apollos, a charismatic teacher who had come through town and attracted followers in the congregation. Others are following Paul, others Peter, and so on. The question is, who are we supposed to be following? The answer is, not Paul, nor Peter, not Apollos, but Jesus. 

Herbert O’Driscoll talks about “the indignant claim to being right or superior or more genuine than others….a putting down of someone else, an excluding of them from some real or imagined charmed circle of orthodoxy or shared spiritual experience. The message—rarely put into words—is, ‘I am of Christ, and you are not!’” (O’Driscoll, The Word Today Year A Vol. 1, p. 81.)

We can tell from reading this passage that Paul is deeply troubled by these divisions. Christ was crucified for us, not Paul. We were baptized in the name of Christ, and he is the head of the Church. One of the great strengths of Grace Church is that you keep these truths constantly in mind. You remember that you are following Christ, and that he calls you to be a community of love.

In our gospel for today, Jesus learns that John the Baptist has been put in prison. This is ominous news. Jesus had gone South to be baptized by John the Baptist. This brought him closer to Jerusalem, where Herod Antipas ruled. Now he moves north to Galilee, where there is more distance from the center of Herod’s ruthless and unjust tyranny.

And what does our Lord do? He can see that Herod is asserting his deadly control, ready to extinguish any flickering flame of justice or compassion. He could have allowed fear to deflect him from his mission. He could have run away. He could have tried to hide. 

But he does not run away or hide. He knows that it is time for him to form a community. He knows that he is not going to spread the good news of the light and love of God alone. He knows what Isaiah has written. He knows that it is time for the light to shine. Walking by the Sea of Galilee, he sees Peter and Andrew, two fishermen, casting their nets, and he says those words we will never forget: “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately, they leave their nets and follow him. A little further along, he sees James and John, the sons of Zebedee, on the boat with their father, and he calls them. They leave the boat and their father, and follow him.

And then, very simply, Matthew tells us that Jesus went all around Galilee, teaching in the synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. We can imagine that, as he and Peter and Andrew and James and John went from place to place, others joined them.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” We have seen that light. Our darkness has been enlightened by the light and love of our Lord. We are following him. With his grace, we are sharing his love.

In our Collect for today, we pray that God will give us the grace to answer “the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the good news of his salvation…”

This past Tuesday, the clients of the food shelf gathered in the new building. There, Nancy and Debbie welcomed the people and signed them up to receive food. Some folks shared their needs and illnesses and challenges. We prayed with them. And then we prayed together for all the folks who come for help. Meanwhile, our volunteers were at work in the church undercroft packing and distributing the food. It was a very cold day, but they  cheerfully helped the clients carry their food to their vehicles.

Our volunteers did a lot of hard work in that extremely cold weather, but there was no complaining. Our clients had to wait for a long period of time but there was no complaining. There was a lot of laughter, and love, and light. In this and many other ways, we are receiving the grace to answer the call of our Lord and to share the good news of his salvation. Thanks be to God for all of God’s many gifts. Amen. 

Lent 2C   March 17. 2019

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
Psalm 27
Philippians 3:17-4:1
Luke 13:31-35

In our opening reading for today, we meet those shining examples of faith, Abraham and Sarah. At this point, their names are still Abram and Sarai. God has called them to leave their comfortable life in Mesopotamia and journey to Canaan.

Abram and Sarai have no children, and God has promised them that they would have many descendants. They have been through trials and tribulations and challenges too numerous to describe, and, although they are humans like us, they have stayed on the path and kept the faith as well as anyone could  under the circumstances. Yet, they are still childless.

Back in those days, around 1600 years before the birth of Christ, having children was everything. If you had children, you had a future, If you had no children, you had no future. If you had children, you could leave your land and flocks and herds and fields to them and they would take care of you. If not, it was easy to feel that you had nothing to live for.

By this time in their lives, Abram and Sarai are very old, way beyond the childbearing years. Yet God has made a covenant with them, and now Abram is asking God, when are you going to keep your end of this bargain? God takes Abram outside and shows him the night sky. See that? That’s how many descendants you will have.

Abram still needs more proof, so God actually tells Abram to carry out a liturgical offering, a sacrifice. Then Abram falls asleep and has a dream in which God confirms that the promise will come true.  

Have you ever thought you didn’t have a future? Have you ever thought God had broken a promise? Has your faith ever wavered? Here we have Abraham, that great icon of the faithful person, needing reassurance from God. And God responds.

In today’s gospel, the Pharisees warn Jesus that Herod is trying to kill him.  Jesus has little patience with the machinations of worldly leaders. His response is terse, “Go tell that fox that I’m going to keep on healing people and helping people and on the third day I finish my work.”

Jesus knows exactly what is going on. These days we would say he is streetwise. He knows that Herod is a fox who is ready to raid the hen house and eat the chickens. He is totally focused on his mission, and he knows that he has to go to Jerusalem. Yet he tells us a tragic truth. Jerusalem, the city where the temple is located, the city which is supposed to be listening for the voice of God and following God’s leading, is a city in which the leaders, both sacred and secular, do not hear the voice of God. Beverly Gaventa writes, “Ironically, tragically, the city that houses God’s Temple also houses a persistent refusal to hear God’s word.”  (Gaventa, Texts for Preaching Year C, p, 207.

Because of this, Jesus wants to protect his little chicks. Like a mother hen, he wants to gather us under his wings and protect us from the likes of Herod and other foxes. But he cannot do this. The powers that be in Jerusalem are not going to permit it. He is called to go to Jerusalem, and he will go, but he will not be permitted to offer healing and comfort and protection to the people. The earthly powers will stand in the way. They will kill him. Jesus knows exactly what a fox is, because he has the vantage point of a mother hen, or maybe even a chick.

How easy it is for us humans, when we acquire a great deal of money and a great deal of fame and power, to lose our bearings. The recent scandal involving very rich people paying money to insure that their children get into the best colleges and other people running a business that facilitates these transactions is a glaring example of this.

What would we do if we had that amount of money and power? What would we do without our faith? What would we do without God and Jesus and the Spirit guiding us and giving us grace?

In his letter to his beloved Philippians, Paul reminds us that, ultimately, we are not citizens of this world. Yes, we are called to stay informed and participate in our government and exercise our vote, but, as Paul writes, “Our citizenship is in heaven.” We are following Jesus, “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith”. We are waiting for him to come and complete his work of creation. And we are not waiting passively. We are doing all we can to help him build his reign of peace, harmony, and wholeness.

Sometimes, on this journey, we wonder, where is God in all of this? Sometimes we may feel that God is far away. Abram felt that way, even though he was a person of deep faith. He called out to God and God answered him.

In today’s gospel, we stand beside our Lord as he shares his profound grief, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it. How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” Even  before we call out to him, our Lord is ready to help us.

And yet, our Lord knows that he will not be allowed to offer that comfort and protection to Jerusalem. He will be killed.

But we are listening, and we know that, at this very moment and always, Jesus is offering us his presence, his grace and strength and guidance. He is with us right now, doing just that. We don’t even have to ask him, We don’t have to call on him. He is here.

May we accept his gracious gift of himself.  Amen.

Lent 2C RCL February 21, 2016

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
Psalm 27
Philippians 3:17-4:1
Luke 13:31-35

Our opening reading from the Book of Genesis is full of insight for us on our journey through Lent. It shows one of the great heroes of the faith, Abraham, in a state of fear. Our lesson opens with God telling Abraham not to be afraid. Here is the great example of faith, Abraham, who has journeyed from Ur of the Chaldeans to a new land, and now he is wondering whether he has made a huge mistake.

As we can see, God is with him, encouraging him. And Abraham asks God the real question that is bothering him. Abraham asks God, “Are you going to give me children as you promised? Am I going to have a future, or has all my journeying been for nothing?” God tries to reassure Abraham, telling him that he is going to have children. But that does not seem to make the point strongly enough

So God takes Abraham out into the night. “Look up into the heavens and count the stars. That is how numerous your descendants will be.”

When we go out at night and look up at the sky, the vastness of it speaks of God’s immense power and glory. It is impossible to count the stars. There are far too many of them.

Somehow, the immensity of God’s creation speaks to the heart and mind of Abraham, as it also speaks to us. If God can create all this and if God is telling me that I am going to have this many descendants, I have to believe it,” Abraham says to himself.

But then he needs a sign. We could say that he needs a liturgical sign. So God instructs Abraham to make a sacrifice. And Abraham does that. A deep sleep falls on him, and when he wakes up, the fire of God comes and burns the sacrifice. This is the sign of the convenient between God and Abraham.

Abraham and Sara had left a prosperous life in Ur of the Chaldeans, had packed up their possessions and their animals, and all they had, and had gone to a new land. God called them to do this, and they responded to that call.

But now Abraham comes to a point where he is doubting or questioning what he has done. Has God really called me to do this? Will God help me to take the next steps? Will God keep his promise to give us children, even though we are old? Is God really going to help me establish my home in this new and unknown land?

Even this great holy example of the faithful person, Abraham, had times of fear and doubt. That can be very reassuring to us. Sometimes we need to ask God to reassure us. Especially when we have made major decisions, even if we have felt that God is calling us to these choices, sometimes we need support and reassurance from God and trusted friends in the faith. Even Abraham needed this reassurance from God.

Questions and doubts are not the opposite of faith. They are part of our human journey of faith.

In our gospel for today, the Pharisees are trying to help Jesus. They warn our Lord that Herod wants to kill him. Jesus responds with some blunt comments. He is healing people and doing his ministry and on the third day he will finish his work. On the third day he will rise and lead us into new life. He has to keep moving because Jerusalem, even though it is the site of the temple, is dangerous. That is where those in power, such as Herod, exercise total control over everything. That is where the prophets are killed. That is where those who want to keep complete control over everything that happens exterminate everyone who threatens their power.

And then Jesus says something that is so much from his heart that it brings tears to our eyes: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

Jesus wanted so much to share his ministry of love and healing with this most holy city, and it was impossible because the earthly rulers shut him out. All they wanted to do was to kill him. They are so blind and so caught up in their own power that they could not be open to Jesus in any way.

That is something that can happen to us humans. We can actually shut God out from our lives. Jesus is expressing the sorrow of God when people attain so much power that they can prevent an entire city from having access to God.

Jesus tells the Pharisees that they will not see him until what we call Palm Sunday, the day when he will enter Jerusalem and be honored, the beginning of the week when he will die.

In his Letter to his beloved Philippians, Paul is calling them and us to keep following our Lord. By that time in the Roman Empire, moral values were beginning to slip.  As Paul says, “ Our citizenship is in heaven.” The values that Jesus calls us to, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, are not the values of this world.

What are these readings telling us today? First, even Abraham became scared and anxious. When we feel that way, we need to follow Abraham’s example. We need to talk to God about it and ask for help. We can also ask for human help from friends in the faith.

Our other two readings are also reminding us to ask God for help. Jesus would have loved to gather the people together and teach them and help them, But the religious and secular leaders prevented that.

On our Lenten journey and every day, may we ask our Lord for help. May we listen to his guidance. May we follow him in faith. And, when we are scared, may we let him gather us under his wings and protect us. Amen.

Epiphany 3 RCL January 26, 2014

Annual Meeting

Isaiah 9:1-4
Psalm 27:1, 5-13
1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Matthew 4: 12-23

What inspiring reading we have for this Sunday of Annual Meeting.

Our opening lesson from Isaiah is one of the readings appointed for Christmas. Scholars tell us that this passage is announcing the birth of a king from David’s line and that it may refer to King Hezekiah of Judah. For us as Christians, it refers to our Lord Jesus Christ. He brings us out of darkness into light. He frees us from all that oppresses us. What a wonderful reading this is for the week in which we have celebrated Martin Luther King’s legacy.

In our epistle, Paul is addressing the serious problems of division in the congregation in Corinth. This is a community which Paul had founded and shepherded for eighteen months. Now they are dividing into factions and being mean to each other. We can tell how anguished Paul is over these behaviors.  We can hear it in his voice as he asks,  “Has Christ been divided?  Was Paul crucified for you?” Paul calls us to be one in Christ and to be loving and respectful toward each other and to all who come to be with us.

In our gospel, Jesus hears that John the Baptist has been arrested. This is not good. Now John is in the awful prison of Herod Antipas, a ruthless ruler who will stop at nothing. Jesus has been in the south near Jerusalem, dangerous territory. He moves from Nazareth to Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee., the “land of Zebulon, land of Naphtali” mentioned in our first lesson.

Jesus is now going to move forward with his ministry. He is going to form a community. We can imagine him getting to know these strong, sturdy, hardworking fishermen. He calls people to repent, to turn to God and let God transform their lives. And he calls Peter and Andrew, James and John. He tells them and us, “I will make you fish for people.”

Capernaum was much like Sheldon. It was a small town where people worked hard. Jesus chose these people to form the core of his community.

Today, as we gather for our Annual Meeting, we can celebrate many gifts that we have received. Jesus is the light of our lives. We are no longer stumbling around in the darkness. He leads us and guides us. All we have to do is ask for his direction.

We are not divided into factions who follow Apollos or Paul or Cephas. We are all one in Christ. We are a community built on mutual love and respect. These are precious gifts which our Lord has given us.

This morning, Jesus is calling each of us and all of us together to follow him. He is calling us to spread the good news of his love and healing. Just as he called Peter and Andrew, just as he called James and John, so he is calling us to live as a community which shows forth his vision of transformation for the world.

May we answer his call. May we be one in him.  Amen.

Lent 2C RCL 2/24/13

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
Psalm 27
Philippians 3:7-4:1
Luke 13:31-35

Our first reading today, from the Book of Genesis, shows us Abram, later to become Abraham, in an encounter with God. But here we see Abram in an unusual light. Abraham is the major Biblical example of a person of faith. Yet, as Herbert O’Driscoll puts it, “Here we see Abram, the seemingly towering founding figure of a future people, nervous and insecure! We hear the voice of God making effort to reassure Abram. “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great. The words could be said to a fearful child and not be out of place. Interestingly, they do not have the slightest effect in calming Abram’s fears. Yet this is the person who has come down in history as the wonderful example of a person who trusts God!”

God continues to try to reassure Abram, but Abram remains full of doubt. So God asks Abram to make an offering and God gives Abram a dramatic sign and makes a covenant with him.

This lesson can speak deeply to our hearts. Even Abram, the great icon of faith, had times of wavering, times when he needed reassurance. Doubt is not the opposite of faith. We all have times of doubt, times of questioning. God has given us minds with which to think. When we have times of questioning, this does not mean that we have lost our faith. It means that we are continuing our journey of faith.

In our gospel for today, an unusual thing happens. The Pharisees get a bad press in the gospels, but today, they warn Jesus that Herod wants to kill him. In contrast to Abram, Jesus is not wavering. He is courageous, resolute. He tells the Pharisees to go and tell that fox that Jesus is doing his ministry. He is making people whole.  In using the word “fox,” Jesus shows that he is not naïve, that he sees exactly the kind of person Herod is. He is as crafty as a fox. He is wily. He will do anything he needs to do in order to preserve his power.

Jesus says that he will finish his work on the third day. This is a reference to the resurrection. He says, in a sad and ironic tone, that it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside Jerusalem. The holy city is a dangerous place for truth-tellers. The powers that be will mow them down.

And then he says those words, which are so moving and poignant: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”  Jesus offers his tender, nurturing love to Jerusalem, but that love will not be accepted. Instead. He will be killed. But first, he will be hailed and welcomed with the words, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” God gave us the gift of free will, and sometimes we humans use that gift to reject the love of God.

Our epistle today is from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. Philippi was a city in Macedonia on one of the main east-west roads in the Roman Empire. The Church in Philippi was the first Christian Community which Paul founded in Europe. This community was subject to all the influences of the Roman Empire, and scholars tell us that the Empire was beginning to sink into decadence.

We don’t know exactly what was going on in Philippi, but we all know what a preoccupation with what Paul would call “earthly things” can do to people. Paul calls the people to imitate him. This is not an arrogant gesture. In those days, you would choose a moral teacher and you would imitate the life and practice of that teacher. If course, we know that Paul is really calling us to imitate Christ. Paul tells us that our citizenship is in heaven. Our Savior Jesus Christ is at this moment transforming us as we grow closer and closer to him.

In my daily AA meditation book, entitled, “Twenty-four hours a Day, ” the message for April 20 reminds me of our epistle for today. It reads, “There are two paths, one up and one down. We have been given free will to choose either path. We are captains of our souls to this extent only.  We can choose either the good or the bad. Once we have chosen the wrong path, we go down and down, eventually to death. But if we choose the right path, we go up and up until we come to the resurrection day. On the wrong path, we have no power for good because we do not choose to ask for it. But on the right path we are on the side of good and we have all the power of God’s spirit behind us.”

The prayer that goes with the meditation says, “I pray that I may be in the stream of goodness. I pray that I may be on the right side,  on the side of all good in the universe.”

Like the Philippians, we have a choice. Every day we have many choices. Will we follow where our Lord is leading? Here we are, a week and a half into Lent. Maybe we are like Abram. Maybe we need to ask God for some help, some reassurance.

Some commentators think that the Pharisees told Jesus that Herod was out to get him in order to scare Jesus and make him turn away from his ministry. If so, it didn’t work.  Jesus walked courageously toward Jerusalem and his death. Think how much he loved the people of Jerusalem. Think how much he loved everyone. Think how much he loves you and me. He even loved Herod. But Herod’s mind and heart were so focussed on protecting his power that he couldn’t let God into his life. Herod is a perfect example of what Paul is calling us to avoid.

Jesus knows exactly whom he is dealing with. He knows what people will do when they are preserving their power at all costs. Yet he goes ahead. That is the model of courage we are called to follow. That is the model of love we are called to follow.  This could be quite daunting if we had to walk alone, on our frail human level.

But we are not walking alone. That is the whole point. And we have made our choice. And we are making our daily and hourly choices to follow Jesus, to be citizens of his realm.

“Our citizenship is in heaven.” What a thought. Not that we are other-worldly. No, we are quite down-to-earth, as Jesus was, and we have chosen to follow Him, because he is gathering the whole world together in loving and healing arms and making everyone and everything whole.

May we be in the stream of goodness.  May we be on the side of all good in the universe.            Amen.