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

Easter 6A  May 17, 2020

Acts 17:22-31
Psalm 66:7-18
1 Peter 3:13-22
John 14:15-21

In our opening reading from the Book of Acts, a year has passed since last Sunday’s reading. Saul has met our Lord on the road to Damascus, and he has been completely transformed from a person who wanted to kill all the followers of Jesus into an outstanding and gifted teacher and preacher. So profound is his transformation that he has a new name—Paul.

He has preached and taught many people in Asia Minor, which today we call Turkey, and now he has crossed over into Greece. He has endured many hardships. He has spent time in prison; he has been driven out of towns for preaching the good news, and now he is in one of the great cultural centers of the world, Athens.

Just before this passage begins, in verse 16, Luke tells us that Paul “was very distressed to see that the city was full of idols.” Yet, when Paul stands in front of the Areopagus, a place where philosophers presented and discussed their ideas, he frames that observation in a different way. He says, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way.” Paul notes that they have even dedicated a monument to an unknown God, and then he quotes the Greek poet Epimenides, who wrote that in God, “We live and move and have our being.” In a spirit of knowledge of and respect for their traditions and scholarship, Paul preaches about God and Jesus. When he is finished, some of his listeners scoff, some say that they want to hear more, and some follow him. One of Paul’s great gifts was the ability to approach his listeners where they were, to listen to them, to learn about and respect their culture. As we try to share the good news in our culture, we need to follow Paul’s example.

Once again, in our epistle, Peter is addressing new Christians who are experiencing persecution. Peter is encouraging these people to continue to do good rather than retaliate with evil, and to show the hope that is in them and conduct their lives with gentleness and reverence. One note. The text says to do all these things, “if suffering should be God’s will.” Suffering is never God’s will. God’s kingdom is one in which everyone has a safe place to live, nourishing food, clothing, medical care, and good work to do. Suffering is not something that God inflicts on us. It is something we inflict on each other. God wants us to live in peace and harmony with each other.

But there is suffering on this earth, and in the midst of this pandemic, we see that very clearly. Some of our brothers and sisters are suffering and dying in disproportionate numbers during this time. God is calling us to bring justice to this situation.

In our gospel, our Lord says, If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” He says that he will send the Holy Spirit to energize us to spread his love around the whole wide earth. He says, “This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.” This led me to meditate on how important it is to seek truth and to listen to those who speak the truth in love. 

One of our truth tellers is Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has served as the Director of the Institute of National Allergy and Infectious Diseases since November 2, 1984, through the presidencies of Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump. This past week, in the face of great pressure to open up the country and get back to business as usual, Dr. Fauci called all of us to move carefully and follow the science.

Much closer to home, we have another truth teller, our own Governor, Phil Scott. He has been calling us to follow the science all along as Dr. Fauci has, and he has called upon Dr. Mark Levine, our Commissioner of Health, to give us the facts we need in order to act wisely and save lives. This past Wednesday, Governor Scott also spoke truth on a different issue. There had been an encounter in Hartford, Vermont which involved verbal abuse with racial overtones. Governor Scott addressed this issue and said, “This virus cannot be used as an excuse for hatred, division, or bigotry.” Dr. Fauci, Governor Scott, Dr. Levine, and so many others are speaking the truth in a time when we deeply need to hear the truth.

Our Lord says of the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit: “You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” In other words, we can recognize when God’s Holy Spirit is at work in a person or in a situation. We can recognize when people are calling us to live in God’s love. As our Presiding bishop has said, “It’s all about God’s love.” God’s love calls away from hatred division, and bigotry and toward compassion, unity, and understanding of others.

We in Vermont are fortunate to have leaders who respect scientific findings and reliable data abut pandemics and about the Corona virus. Please continue to follow the guidance of Governor Scott,  Dr. Levine, and our other leaders. And please continue to listen to Dr. Fauci and others on the national level who are speaking the truth.

Our Lord has gone to be with God. He is no longer here with us. We are his risen, living body here on earth. As he said, he has not left us orphaned. He has not left us comfortless. He said, “You will see me; because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

In this pandemic, as our beloved Presiding Bishop has said, love is about taking care of each other. At this time, love is abut continuing with social distancing, wearing masks when we are around others, and all the other things our truthful leaders are telling us. God gave us minds and calls us to use them. In these very strange times, God’s love is about listening to people who are telling the truth. May God continue to bless and protect Dr. Anthony Fauci, Governor Scott, Dr. Levine, and all truth tellers.   And may God lead us and guide us in the way of love. Amen.

Pentecost 18 Proper 23C October 13, 2019

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
Psalm 66:1-11
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Luke 17:11-19

Our first reading today comes from the prophet Jeremiah. It is sometime between the fall of Jerusalem in 597 B.C.E.  and the total destruction of the city in 587 B.C.E. The leaders of Judah and many of the people have been deported to Babylon. This was a deeply tragic time in the history of God’s people. Yet biblical scholar James D. Newsome makes a crucial point. He reminds us that the exiles did survive, and he contrasts this with the situation when the Northern Kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrian Empire in 722 B.C.E. Those people were taken into captivity as well, but, as Newsome writes, “they disappeared from history.” Only those who were left at home survived, and they were later called Samaritans. (Newsome, Texts for Preaching Year C, pp. 546-47.)

Jeremiah writes this letter to the leaders of the exiles because false prophets had told the people that the exile would be short and they would return home soon. Jeremiah tells them them that the exile is going to last seventy years. And then he tells them that God is calling them to settle in Babylon, plant gardens, build houses, get married, have families, and prepare for the long haul.  

In 538 B.C.E., King Cyrus of Persia conquered the Babylonians and allowed the exiles to return home. Fifty-nine years had passed. Because they had nurtured their family life, studied and prayed together, and deepened their faith individually and corporately, they remained a cohesive community and were able to return home and rebuild.

Our next reading is from the Second Letter to Timothy, and I confess that I’m now subscribing to the view that this was written by Paul. He is near the end of his life. He is in prison in Rome. He is in chains. But then he bursts forth with the good news, “The word of God is not chained!” As the moments go on, though he has died with Christ in baptism, as we all have, he is dying again in the sense that he is becoming more and more one with Christ. He is becoming less Paul and more Christ. And, through everything, Paul shares his deep sense that, though we humans may be faithless, Christ is always faithful. Jesus carries us when we cannot walk.

Apparently the congregation which Timothy is serving is having some arguments, and Paul tells his mentee Timothy to warn the people that they need to stop “wrangling over words.” How many times in the Church have we gotten into that “wrangling over words.,” whether it’s passing the Peace or revising the prayer book or the hymnal or all the many other issues we have debated. The word of truth is that God’s love can lead us to find harmony in the midst of all these discussions.

In our gospel, Jesus is going toward Jerusalem, and he is now in the region between Samaria and Galilee. He is going toward a village and ten lepers approach him. Lepers are considered to be ritually unclean. They are supposed to shout out and warn people of their presence. Imagine having to do such a thing. This is designed to be sure that no one ever gets near them, They are outcasts. In those times, lepers lived together in little communities. In this way, they were able to offer support to each other.

These ten lepers do not shout, “Unclean! Unclean!” as they are supposed to. They stay at a distance, but they call out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” We can surmise that they have heard about Jesus. They have heard that he welcomes everyone, he respects everyone, from the most humble to the most powerful and everybody in between, and he has healing power like no one has ever seen.

Jesus looks at them with love and says, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” He has seen that they are lepers and he is advising them to go to the priests, who will certify that they are healed and can go back home to their families and resume their lives. On the way, they are healed.

One of them looks at his arm and sees that he is healed. He praises God with a shout of joy. “Hallelujah! And he turns around, goes back to Jesus, prostrates himself at Jesus’ feet. and thanks him. This man is a Samaritan. He’s a double outcast, a leper and a hated Samaritan. And he is the only one who thanks Jesus. So often in the gospels, it is the outcast who is the holy example.

Jesus notes that there were ten and only this one has come back to give thanks. And this one is a foreigner. Not one of us. And then he tells the man, Get up and go on your way, back home, back to your friends and family. You’re finished with your exile. And he says, “Your faith has made you well.”

Our faith can help us to get well and stay well in challenging times. It can give us that spirit of a sound mind and spirit of discipline that we heard about last Sunday. Our relationship with God and Jesus and the Spirit can help us to stay on course, to follow the one who loves us beyond our ability to understand. Our faith can help us to keep our sanity and hold our ground in times of exile.

And there’s one more thing—gratitude. Someone once said, and I do not know who—I heard it second or third hand. But whoever it was said: “As Christians, we know Whom to thank.” We know where all good things come from. We know that there is an inexhaustible supply of love, and it comes from God. And we can thank God for all the many blessings God showers on us. Like those exiles so many centuries ago, we can spend time with God in prayer, individually and corporately, and we can count on God to lead us and guide us in every moment and season and challenge of our lives.

Loving God, Jesus, our Good Shepherd, Spirit of truth, thank you for your unfailing love and for all the blessings you bestow on us. Help us to seek and do your will. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Easter 6A RCL    May 21, 2017

Acts 17:22-31
Psalm 66:7-18
1 Peter 3:13-22
John 14: 15-21

As we think about our first reading today, we remember that last Sunday, Saul was witnessing the stoning of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr. At that point in his life, Saul was a major persecutor of the followers of Jesus. Soon, Saul would be walking on the road to Damascus and would have an encounter with the risen Lord that would change his life. So profound was this transformation that Saul received a new name—Paul.

Since we last saw him, Paul has been spreading the Good News among Gentile people. His ministry has taken him to such places as Philippi and Thessalonica. Now, he is in Athens, a cosmopolitan city, a center of learning, and a city with temples and monuments to the many Greek gods.

Paul is well educated. He is familiar with Greek writers and scholars and with Greek philosophy. In his sermon, he quotes two Greek writers, Epimenides, who wrote that “In God we live and move and have our being,” and Aratus, who said that we are all God’s offspring. (Carl Holladay, Preaching through the Christian Year A, p.277.)

Paul is delivering his sermon at a kind of speaker’s corner in front of the Areopagus, a place where people representing many points of view were welcome to give speeches to the gathered crowds. Paul honors the knowledge and traditions of the Greeks. He tells the people that their tomb dedicated to an unknown god actually is a monument to the Creator of the world, the God of all peoples. This is an excellent example of Paul’s evangelistic approach: he honored the culture of the people to whom he was speaking; he approached them on terms that were familiar to them. This is one reason why he was able to share the new faith in a way that reached people of all classes and levels of education. This gave him the ability to start new communities of faith wherever he went.

As we look at our reading from the First Letter of Peter, we remember that this letter, which was addressed to household slaves and aliens living in Asia Minor, was designed to help these faithful followers of Jesus to survive during a time of persecution.

God does not want anyone to suffer persecution of any kind. God does not want us to suffer. We live in an imperfect world that is not operating according to God’s vision of shalom. But these people were indeed suffering under persecution, not only from the Roman Empire, but also from their own masters and others on a more local basis. The main theme of this letter is that, whenever we are going through times of suffering, we can remember that our Lord suffered the worst that tyrants and despots can do, and he came through it all. Most importantly, he is alive and present among us right now to give us the gift of newness of life, life in a different and richer dimension.

Our gospel for today directly follows last week’s gospel, in which Jesus tells us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, Believe in God, Believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” This is one of the most comforting and encouraging and strengthening passages in the Bible. In God’s house, there is room for everyone who sincerely wants to be there.

Now, in the following text, our Lord is getting even more deeply to the heart of the Good News. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” If we love him, we will love our neighbor as ourselves. We will love and serve others as he did when he was here on earth.  Jesus will be with us. He says he will not leave us orphaned. We will not be alone.

He is going to send the Holy Spirit to be with us. And he says, “Because I live you also will live.”  He says, “You will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” St. Paul knew exactly what Jesus was talking about. He said. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

Through the presence of the Holy Spirit, we are made fully alive in Christ. We are given the grace and power to do his work in the world. And we are connected with our Lord with bonds of love that nothing can break.

There is a beautiful canticle for the Easter season in the Book of Common Prayer, and I would like us to say this together as a prayer of joy and faith. It is on Page 83.

Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us;
   therefore let us keep the feast,
Not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil,
   but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Alleluia.

Christ being raised from the dead will never die again;
death no longer has dominion over him.
The death that he died, he died to sin once for all;
   but the life he lives, he lives to God.

So also consider yourselves dead to sin,
  and alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Alleluia.
Christ has been raised from the dead,
   the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

For since by a man came death,
  by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die,
 so also in Christ shall all be made alive. Alleluia.


Pentecost 21 Proper 23C RCL October 9, 2016

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
Psalm 66:1-1
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Luke 17:11-19

In our first reading, the Babylonians have captured Jerusalem, leveled the temple, and sent the leaders and many of the people into exile in Babylon. Imagine what it would be like to be conquered by an enemy and then forced to move to the country of your conquerors. It would be devastating and demoralizing.

In this darkest hour for God’s people, the prophet Jeremiah writes a  letter to the exiles. He tells them to “build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce,” he advises them to get married and raise families. And he tells them to pray for the people of Babylon because in the welfare of Babylon is the welfare of God’s people.

Biblical scholar James D. Newsome says that this advice from Jeremiah is what allowed the people not only to survive, but to thrive in their captivity and then to return home and rebuild.

What amazing advice. In the midst of disaster and exile, pursue your life and flourish. Pray for your captives.

Many scholars tell us that the Church in America is in exile. It is not “the thing to do” to attend church. People do not really care what the church has to say. The church has become irrelevant. So often our values are different from the values of our surrounding culture, It is easy for us to complain that people do not come to church, that the culture is materialistic, and so on. Yet we are called to reach out to our neighbors, love our neighbors,  and serve our neighbors rather than mourn and weep about the fact that they don’t join us for services on Sunday.

The exiles worshipped God, asked for God’s help, studied the scriptures, and strengthened their sense of community. After fifty or so years, they would return home with deeper faith and a stronger community that they had ever had.

Our epistle for today is the Second Letter to Timothy. This is a profoundly personal letter which expresses Paul’s theology in a powerful way, and it shows a deep sense of love and care for Timothy. We can imagine Paul in prison in Rome in 64 C.E., in the last months or even weeks of his life before he was martyred. Paul is in chains, but the gospel is not chained. He is passing on the legacy of faith and congregational leadership with every ounce of his energy and all the grace that God can give him. Christ loves us with every ounce of his energy. He has died for us. If we have died to our old lives in baptism, we are now rising with him into newness of life. It’s that simple. And that new life is happening in our lives right now.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is heading to Jerusalem, going through the area between Samaria and Galilee. He is on the outskirts of the village. This is where the outcasts such as lepers live. The law requires them to stay away from people. They live together in groups because no one else will associate with them.

But as Jesus enters the village, ten lepers approach him. This is very unusual. They do not call out, “Unclean!” as the law requires. They know Jesus is different. He is approachable. He is loving. He is a healer. Instead of yelling out “Unclean,” they cry out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

He looks at them with love and healing in his eyes and heart and he tells them to go and show themselves to the priests. That was the law. You had to go  to the temple and show yourself to the priests and they would certify that you were healed. Then you could go back home and be with your friends and family again.

The ten lepers have complete faith in what Jesus has said and done. They immediately head out to the temple to see the priests.  But one of them happens to look at his hand or his arm and realizes that he is already healed. He turns around, praising God with all his might and prostrates himself at Jesus’ feet in worship and thanks him.

Then we get another piece of information. This man is not a member of the orthodox faith. He is a Samaritan. He is a double outcast—a leper and a Samaritan. Just as in the parable of the Good Samaritan, the outcast is the holy example. He is the only one who gives thanks. The other nine report to the priests, get a clean bill of health and go back to their former lives.

There is so much power is stopping and thanking God for all the blessings God bestows on us. If we take the time each day to thank God for the many gifts God gives us,  it puts a different light on our day, a different light in our hearts and lives.

Even as we thank God for so many blessings, I ask your prayers for our brothers and sisters who are dealing with the destruction wrought by Hurricane Matthew in the Caribbean and along our East Coast  and for all those who are helping with rescue and recovery. We can be thankful for all the planning and preparation which reduced injuries and deaths, but many are still suffering, especially in Haiti.

Episcopal Relief and Development is asking our support for the Hurricane Matthew Response Fund, and I’ll be asking your thoughts on that at the Peace and at coffee hour.

As we journey through this bicentennial year of Grace Church, and as I reflect on gratitude, I think that our ancestors were sincerely thankful to God, and that gratitude was reflected in their outreach to people here and around the world.  We can all be thankful that we are a part of this community which is so deeply rooted in faith, gratitude, and generosity.

Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Easter 6A RCL May 25, 2014

Acts 17:22-31

Psalm 66:7-18

1 Peter 3:13-22

John 14:15-21

In our opening lesson, or, we might say, scene, Paul is in Athens addressing a group of people. Paul is well educated. He knows a considerable amount about Greek philosophy. He is trying to share the good news about Jesus im terms the Greek people can understand.

Paul has found that the Greeks have a statue dedicated “to an unknown God,” and he is telling the people that they can come to know God.

Biblical scholar Carl Holladay tells us that Paul is using quotations from the Greek poets Epimenides, who wrote that “God is the one ‘in whom we live and move and have our being.” And from the Greek writer Aratus, who wrote that humans are “the offspring of God.” (Preachimg through the Christian Year-A, p. 277.) Paul is following a basic principle of evangelism—meet people where they are and speak in a language they understand. By doing this, he will lead these people to Christ.

In our passage from the first letter of Peter, we read advice to people who are suffering. Scholars tell us that this letter was addressed to a Christian community in Asia Minor. These people had adopted the new faith, but they were surrounded by non-Christians who were often hostile to them. He advises them to persevere in doing good, to do what they know is right, and to look to our Lord, who suffered, and, through that suffering, leads us into new life.

These new followers of Jesus were swimming against the stream. Their lives and their values were very different from those of the people living around them. As we all know, to be different can sometimes be threatening to people.  Recently, we have been learning a considerable amount about bullying, which often happens because someone is different. Persecution often happens for the same reasons

As more and more people joined the new faith community and became followers of Jesus, all kinds of situations developed. If you were a business person, for example, some people would no longer do business with you if you became a follower of Jesus. People looked askance at this new faith. So in addition to persecution from the Roman Empire, there were all kinds of smaller and more local and personal kinds of pressures and difficulties which could happen to those who chose to follow Jesus.

There is one part of this passage that I want to comment on just briefly. The epistle reads, It is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than suffering for doing evil.” It is never God’s will that someone should suffer. God’s shalom is a realm of peace, love, and respect for every person. But God has given human beings free will. We all have choices about how to behave. And some people choose to inflict suffering on other people. This is not in harmony with God’s will.

We still have no news of the young women who were abducted in Nigeria, and our own Titus Presler was beaten in Pakistan. Thank God he is now home. Hostility toward Christians is not just a thing of the past.  Bullying and persecution of any kind grieve the heart of God.

In our gospel, Jesus tells us, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” We reveal our faith in our attitudes and in our actions.

Our Lord tells the apostles that he is going to send the Holy Spirit to be with them and us forever. This is the Spirit of truth, but not truth in a black and white sense or in a narrow sense.  The Spirit of truth embodies the kind of truth that is reflected in the life of our Lord, a truth that involves peace, harmony, love, healing, and forgiveness.

Jesus tells the apostles and us that we already know the Spirit, because the Spirit is already with them and us.  That is because we and they have spent time with Jesus. We have walked with him and talked with him. We have learned from him. We have watched how he handles situations and how he treats people. The Spirit abides with us because of our life spent with our Lord. Abides is a key word in John’s gospel. It means staying with, but in a very active and lively sense. The Spirit abides with us in an active and alive way.

Jesus tells the disciples that he is going to leave them. He is going to ascend to the Father. The world will no longer see him, but we will see him because he is in us and we are in him. We are one with him and one in him. He ends by putting the action first. Those who keep his commandments are those who love him.

Our reading from Acts gives us Paul’s excellent example. If we are trying to share our faith, it is good to start where other people are and relate faith to their experiences and needs.

Our epistle addresses the issue of suffering, and specifically suffering for the faith.  As Christians, we can often feel as though we are marching to a different drummer or swimming against the stream of our culture. We are not being actively persecuted here in the United States, but we are often misunderstood. What some people define as “Christian” may not be what we are about. But it still a joyful thing to follow our Lord.

He is with us and we can feel his presence. His Spirit is with us to guide us.  May we love our Lord with all our hearts and mind and soul and strength, and may that love be evident in our actions.  Amen.

Pentecost 21 Proper 23C RCL October 13, 2013

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7

Psalm 66:1-11

2 Timothy 2:8-15

Luke 17:11-19

In our opening reading from Jeremiah, the worst has happened. King Nebuchadnezzar has conquered Jerusalem and the leaders have been deported to Babylon.

This was a devastating event. Think of being conquered, which is bad enough, but then having all your leaders taken away to a far country. Think of being the secular and religious leaders and being torn up by the roots and taken to a foreign land. This was a demoralizing policy.

Those who were living in Babylon were living among people who worshipped other gods, not their God, not our God. The society was different. The culture was alien to them. These are the thoughts and feelings expressed in Psalm  137: “By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, when we remembered you, O Zion. As for our harps, we hung them up on the trees in the midst of that land. For those who led us away captive asked us for a song, and our oppressors called for mirth: ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion.’ How shall we sing the Lord’s song upon an alien land?”

Jeremiah has stayed in Jerusalem. He is trying to hold the people together, trying to encourage them to seek and do God’s will. He writes a letter to the leaders. He encourages them to build houses, plant gardens, get married, have families. In other words, he encourages them to prepare for the long haul in exile, not just a few months or a few years, but generations. He also calls the people to see the hand of God in this, to know that God is with them. Jeremiah tells the people to seek the well-being of Babylon and to pray to the Lord for the well-bring of Babylon and its people, because their lives are now knitted together.

The revered scholar and preacher Herbert O’Driscoll has some excellent observations on this letter of Jeremiah to the leaders in exile. He writes, “They are the very people who have made life difficult—even dangerous—for Jeremiah over the last few years. They have thoroughly vilified him, calling him everything from coward to subversive to traitor. Now they are in captivity a thousand miles away, and everything he predicted has come true. Yet, in this letter, there is not a trace of the aggravating phrase, ‘I told you so!’ This says much about the graciousness and decency of Jeremiah.” (O’Driscoll, The Word among Us, Year C, Volume 3, p 131.)

Jeremiah is giving such sound advice. Even when we think the worst has happened, we need to remember that God is with us. God is at work in the situation. We have to keep on keeping on. We have to keep on living—build homes, fill those homes with life and love and laughter. And God will bring us through it all.

The other thing that Jeremiah says is to work and pray for the welfare of the people and the city of Babylon. O’Driscoll and other scholars say that now, in this post-Christendom era, we, the Church, are in exile. We are in the midst of a land of many gods. This is no longer a Christian country. We are on the margins. We are on the outside. In a very real sense. The Church is in exile.

O’Driscoll and others suggest that, rather than looking sadly around us, we need to work for the well-being of those around us, because God loves all of us and we are all in this together.

O’Driscoll writes, “We in our own time are wrestling with the position of Christian faith in Western culture. This is a time of exile, of marginalization. It is tempting to lash out at the culture, to list its faults, to blame it for all sorts of ills. There may be good reason to do so, but such behavior achieves little. In stead, we are to seek the welfare of the city where God has sent us.” He adds that this includes participation in governance and in prayers for our communities, our state, our nation, and the world.

I was deeply moved to hear the Imam and the people of the Islamic Society of Vermont say very clearly and strongly that they oppose the violence being carried out by Muslim extremists. These are our brothers and sisters in the family of God. We have much in common. We are called to work for the good of all.

In the history of God’s people, this time of exile turned out to be highly productive. They studied the scriptures, intensified their prayer life,  and grew into a much clearer awareness of what it means to live as the people of God. This is often true of times of darkness in our individual and community life. We are forced to learn things that we would never learn without the challenges.

In our epistle for today, St, Paul reminds us that he has suffered all kinds of hardships in his ministry, but he is much like Jeremiah. He is resilient. He gets up and forges ahead and that is because, if we have died with Christ, we live with Christ. We are in new life.

As we turn to our gospel, we remember that being a leper in Jesus’ time was like being in exile among other people. You were unclean. People were not supposed to touch you, or they would become ritually unclean. You had to warn people that you were approaching so they could stay away from you. Yet these lepers somehow sense Jesus’ compassion and ask him for help. He tells them to go to the priests because the priests are the ones who can pronounce people to be clean. On the way, they are healed.

Only one comes back to thank Jesus, and that one is a Samaritan. Samaritans were cultural and religious lepers. They were the lowest of the low, beyond the pale, outcasts. So this man is a double leper. Yet he has a huge amount of faith and his faith has made him whole.

Jesus has no problem working for the well-being of these lepers. Like Jesus, Paul works for the well-being of everyone. May we do the same.

Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.