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

Pentecost 11 Proper 16  August 25, 2019

Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-6
Hebrews 12:18-29
Luke 13:10-17

In our opening reading, we encounter the prophet Jeremiah at a crucial point in his life. God is calling this young man to be God’s prophet. Scholars tell us that Jeremiah was about eighteen years old at this time. 

Like many people before and after him, Jeremiah was terrified at the prospect of answering a call from God. Most folks know that God’s prophets are not usually the most popular people, especially with kings and others in authority, and that many of God’s prophets have been put in prison. beaten, and even killed.

So Jeremiah responds to God’s call with a statement of truth, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do to know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” God has already reminded Jeremiah that God knew Jeremiah even before Jeremiah was formed in the womb, and God had called Jeremiah before he was born. Now God reaches out and touches Jeremiah’s mouth and tells Jeremiah that God has put God’s words in the mouth of this young prophet. The rest of the story, as we know, is that Jeremiah was one of God’s most faithful and courageous prophets.

What God is saying to Jeremiah, God is also saying to us all these thousands of years later. God loved each of us from before the beginning of time. God created us, and God called us to do our ministries and to live our lives to the glory of God. From before time began, God knew and loved each of us with a love that nothing can destroy and God called us to love and serve God and to share God’s love and care with every one we meet.

Each of you responds to God’s call every day of your life. Sometimes, God calls us to a ministry that scares us. A friend receives a diagnosis of stage four cancer and shares this terrifying information with us. Or a colleague shares a complicated personal problem and asks us for advice. Or a member of our family confesses a long-held secret.

There we are, sitting listening to this beloved person. We might not pray out loud to God, but we are certainly praying silently for God’s grace and help. And when we send that silent prayer to God, a prayer that we can boil down to that famous and very brief prayer, “Help!” we can think of this description of God’s call to Jeremiah and we can remember that God is saying those words to us as well: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.” 

God may not literally touch our lips and put God’s words in our mouth, but God will be with us and God will guide us to share with this other person God’s loving and healing presence. And we all have had experiences when the Holy Spirit gave us the words to say in such challenging situations. Suddenly, with the love of God deeply present, we have been given words that did not come from us but from God.

In our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, we remember that the writer is addressing this powerful and beautiful message to Jewish people who have felt called to follow Jesus. These people are facing discrimination and persecution.

The writer first recalls a scene from their history. Moses is going up the mountain to receive the ten Commandments, and it is a very scary scene. Herbert O’Driscoll reminds us that Mount Sinai was then an active volcano. God was seen as a terrifying deity, and people believed that you could not see God and live.

But we are not with Moses on Mount Sinai with fire and thunder and terror. We are at Mount Zion. We are at the feast of Christ with all the saints and angels. God has come among us as one of us and we have become God’s children. There is no longer fear but faith. Our Lord is among us and leading us.

In our gospel, Jesus is teaching in a synagogue on the sabbath. We do not know where. All we know is that he is on his way to Jerusalem. A woman suddenly comes into the congregation in the midst of Jesus’ teaching. She does not call to him; she does not ask for help. Yet Jesus, though he must be concentrating on what he is teaching, immediately notices this woman. Jesus stops right in the middle of his lesson and calls her over. And he says, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” He lays his hands on her and right away she stands up straight for the first time in eighteen years and praises God.

The leader of the synagogue objects to Jesus’ healing on the sabbath.  But Jesus points out that everyone unties their ox or donkey and leads the animal to where the ox or donkey can get a drink of water. If we can do that for our animals, certainly this woman deserves to be freed from her illness and restored to full membership in her community.

Our loving God is constantly freeing us from things that hold us down. Healing and freeing God’s people is always in season. Yes, we need our sabbath time to rest and refresh our bodies and spirits and worship God, and at the same time, if someone needs God’s help, God is always ready and willing.

Today we have three powerful readings that remind us of how much God loves us, how God calls us to serve God and others, and how God gives us the grace and the gifts to offer that service. The human understanding of God has evolved over the centuries. At one point in our historic journey, we humans were terrified of God’s power. 

Now we humans realize that God loves us so much that God has actually come among us as one of us, and that has helped us to understand the depth of God’s love and to respond to God’s call to love God and our neighbor.

God has come among us as one of us, and that has transformed our fear into faith. We can feel our Lord in our midst; we can see him out ahead of us, leading us. We can feel his grace empowering us to follow him.  Amen.

Epiphany 4C  February 3, 2019

Jeremiah 1:4-13
Psalm 71:1-6
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Luke 4:21-30

Once again, our readings tell us God’s truth. God tells Jeremiah and us that God knew and loved us before God formed us in the womb, and God has put God’s words in our mouths. God has given us everything we need to carry out our ministry. In our gospel, our Lord tells us that God reaches out to those who are outside the household of faith. Our epistle tells the quarreling and competitive Corinthians and us that the greatest gift of all is love.

St. Paul traveled around the Mediterranean basin preaching the good news to people who were outside his original household of faith. He was called to share the love of God in Christ to the Gentiles. He planted congregations and then left them to spread the good news on their own with God’s help and Paul’s support through letters and visits.

The ministry methods of St. Paul are the foundation for what we now call Local Ministry Support Teams or mutual ministry or baptismal ministry or total ministry. Paul’s approach was the subject of an article by Roland Allen called “Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours?” Roland Allen was born in England in 1868 and served as a missionary in China from 1895-1900 and then again for a short period ending in 1902. From his studies of St. Paul’s ministry, he pioneered the idea of indigenous ministry.

Back in the nineteen sixties and seventies, some of us here in Vermont had the joy and privilege of watching a film about a more contemporary example of indigenous ministry. The Rt. Rev. William Gordon, who served as Bishop of Alaska from 1948 until 1974, would fly his own plane all over that huge diocese to remote mission stations that could be reached only by air. Members of each congregation would be called to serve as local priests, deacons, members of pastoral teams, parish administrators, liturgical planners, financial teams, and any other ministries needed to carry on the ministry of Christ in that place.

Here in Vermont, the Rev. David Brown, Rector of Christ Church, Montpelier and Canon Missioner to the Northeast Kingdom Regional Ministry, helped congregations put these principles into practice.

The basic premise of a Local Ministry Support Team is that the local parish has all the gifts it needs to be the Body of Christ in that place. The members gather and prayerfully discern what ministries are needed in order carry on their congregational life and support the members of the parish. These ministries might be worship, pastoral care, administration, Christian formation (education). Then the team prayerfully discerns what roles are needed in each ministry area and  the competencies needed for these ministries.

Keeping in mind the competencies needed for each ministry, the individual members of the team discern who is called to be a priest (This person is a sacramentalist who presides at the Eucharist but does not do all he duties of a traditional priest); who is called to be a deacon, who is called to plan worship (Often this is done as a group); who is called to administrative/financial ministry, who is called to offer pastoral care. In a small parish like ours, each person may be called to several ministries. This is done by giving each person a piece of paper with the different ministries listed and each person, with prayer and thought, writing the name of the member or members they feel are called to that ministry.

The training for members of a Local Ministry Support Team takes place in their local church. Usually there is an Itinerant Priest who serves as a link between the parish and the Bishop. Currently, that function is served by the diocesan Companions.

We have one person here who has already participated in the Diocesan Study Program, which, unfortunately, was discontinued. But that gives a good start. I have a list of books which folks have read in order to educate themselves in the areas of The Holy Scriptures, Church History, Christian Theology, Christian Ethics, Contemporary Issues, Liturgy and Church Music, and Theory and Practice of Ministry. Most of you love to read, and I think if we went over the list of suggested books. many of you have already read a goodly number of those books. Many times at coffee hour, your discussions have been excellent formation.

At this point, we on the Commission on Ministry and Discernment are thinking that there are parishes that do not have to start from scratch in this process. These are parishes where there are people who are voracious readers who have already done a significant amount of formation. There are also parishes, such as Grace, where the members have the personal qualities and competencies needed for ministry.

Many of the congregations who have chosen Local Ministry Support Teams have experienced growth in numbers. New people have come in and have taken up their own ministries. The key thing it that is is a team. The members support each other.

We are at the point in the Episcopal Church in Vermont where we are  developing ways to meet parishes where they are and to form teams with the least possible numbers of hoops to jump through and the greatest respect for the learning and experience which folks already have.

I asked Shelie Richardson to come to be with us in May, thinking that weather conditions will be improving by then. She has offered May 5 and 19. May 12 is Mother’s Day. Please let me know your thoughts. I have also brought several of the Books on the current reading list for you to look at. I think Grace Church is already a Local Ministry Support Team, with each person offering his or her gifts to share God’s love inside the community of faith and beyond. May God continue to lead us and guide us. Amen.

Pentecost 14 Proper 16C RCL August 21, 2016

Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-6
Hebrews 12:18-29
Luke 13:10-17

Our reading from the book of Jeremiah is one of my favorite passages in the Bible, and I hope it might be one of yours, too. God is calling this young man—scholars tell us he was about eighteen—to a prophetic ministry that was going to be extraordinarily difficult. At various times, Jeremiah would be put in prison, thrown into a cistern, which, fortunately, had no water in it, and finally exiled to Egypt when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem.

Even though Jeremiah did not know exactly what was going to happen, he did know that the ministry of a prophet is never easy. In all sincerity, he told God that he was simply too young to accept such a vocation.

God told Jeremiah two very important things, and God is also telling us these same things. First, God has known each of us forever. God has loved each of us forever. Before the galaxies leaped into being God had each of us in mind, and each of us was the apple of God’s eye. God loves you and has loved you since before time began.

Secondly, God told Jeremiah that God would put God’s words in Jeremiah’s mouth, and God tells us that God will do whatever is needed so that we can do what God calls us to do. God will put God’s words in our mouth when we can find no words to speak. God will give us the strength and compassion to sit with someone who has just lost a child. God will give us the love and power to comfort someone who has a terminal illness. God will give us whatever we need to show God’s love and caring to our brothers and sisters on this beautiful blue/green earth. God will give us the will and the way to preserve this beautiful planet, this jewel of the universe which God has given us to tend. God loves us and will give us the gifts we need to carry out our ministries, individual and corporate.

In our epistle from the Letter to the Hebrews, we trace the history of our understanding of God. Long ago, even at the time of the Exodus, a little over three thousand years ago, God was scary. If you went up the mountain and you saw the face of God, you would die. People were deeply aware of the raw, huge power of God.

Over time, as God told people like Jeremiah that God had known them even before they were in the womb and that God cared about them and would help them, our human view of God began to change.

But we still didn’t really get it. So, finally, God came among us. He came just the way we did, as a little baby. He didn’t come as one of the rich and famous. He came to this wonderful couple, Mary and Joseph, faithful good people who lived in a little out of the way place called Galilee, in a little town called Nazareth. Joseph was a carpenter, and you can’t do better than that. He wasn’t a hedge fund manager or  a king or a general, but he was a descendant of the greatest king Israel ever had.

Everything Jesus did breathed forth God’s love. When you were with him, you  knew that God’s spirit was within you, and he would tell you that very thing. “The Holy Spirit is within you,” he would say. In the presence of Jesus, people found new hope, new strength. Jesus was God walking the face of the earth, and Jesus is risen and with us this very moment and every moment.

And so we come to our gospel for today. Jesus is teaching in the synagogues on the sabbath. He sees a woman who has been crippled for eighteen years. She is bent over and she is unable to stand up straight.

She does not have to ask Jesus to help her. He notices her. He calls her over. He does not ask her any questions. What is wrong? How did you get this ailment? Do you follow the law of Moses? Do you say your prayers every day?

He does not do any of that. There is no examination. There is no test to pass. He simply says, “Woman, you are free from your ailment.”

We should remember that this woman is considered unclean on two counts. First, she is a woman, and second, she is sick. Rabbis were not supposed to associate with women, and being around sick people could make you unclean, too. But Jesus is not focusing on the law, which is so preoccupied with keeping ritually clean.

God wants all of us to be whole and healthy, and Jesus is here to make sure that we understand that.

The woman stands up straight for the first time in eighteen years and begins praising God.

The leader of the synagogue is upset because Jesus has cured on the sabbath. Here, we need to be careful. We do not want to be anti-Semitic. If we look at ourselves as the Church, we can recall many times when we became quite legalistic. Think of the furor over the “new” prayer book (1979), the passing of the Peace, the “new” hymnal (1982), the ordination of women, and I could go on and on.

Jesus does the classic argument from the lesser to the greater. We feed and water our oxen and our donkeys and our cows and horses and chickens on the sabbath. Don’t you realize that God wants us to take care of our brother and sister humans as well?

Yes, the sabbath is important. We need time to rest and refresh our bodies and spirits. We need time to worship and to thank God for God’s many blessings to us. And Jesus has come to free us and to heal us. Making people whole is a good thing to do at any time or season.

What are our readings telling us today? First, God has loved each of us forever. Second, God gives us what we need to do our ministries. Third, Jesus wants us to join him in healing and freeing our brothers and sisters. Grace Church has been joining Christ in his ministry of healing and freeing people for two hundred years. May God richly bless you as you go out into the world this week to share God’s love and power and healing and compassion. Amen.

Epiphany 4C RCL January 31, 2016

Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-6
I Corinthians 13: 1-13
Luke 4:21-30

Our first reading today is from the Book of Jeremiah. God called Jeremiah to be a prophet when Jeremiah was only about eighteen years old. Jeremiah did not want to be a prophet. He was probably well aware that the life and ministry of a prophet is not easy or happy and it can sometimes be downright dangerous.

Have you ever been called to do something you just didn’t want to do? Have you ever felt that God was asking you to do something that was just beyond you? I think most of us have. I know I have felt that way at times.

But then, as we are telling God about all the reasons why we just can’t do whatever it is, God tells us that God has known us and loved us since before we were born and God is going to give us the gifts we need to do this challenging thing. And, though we may be reluctant, or even scared, we say Yes to God. The Bible and the lives of the saints are full of the stories of people who felt they were not good enough or strong enough or eloquent enough or wise enough, but who said yes because God promised to go with them and help them every step of the way.

Our epistle for today is First Corinthians, Chapter 13, verses one through thirteen. Paul is speaking to those people in the congregation in Corinth who thought they knew everything and thought they had gifts that were greater than the gifts of others, especially the gift of speaking in tongues, and he is saying that, if we do not have love, we have nothing. I wonder how some of those arrogant people felt when they heard this letter. I wonder if Paul got through to them. He certainly expressed it clearly. “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful. It bears all things, believes all things. hopes all things, endures all things.”

What Paul is describing is the form of love called in Greek agape. This is the kind of unconditional love which God gives to us. It is the kind of love we aim for and will never reach. But it is a wonderful goal for our lives. It is an excellent model, and I know that all of us try to follow that model.

There are some situations in which this model is not to be followed. These are cases of extreme danger and we have to follow different models. One of those is war and the other is situations of abuse or domestic violence. In situations of abuse, for example, we are not called to endure all things. We are called to protect ourselves, to escape, and to save our lives.

Our gospel continues from last Sunday when Jesus read the words of Isaiah which describe his and our ministry to free people from anything that imprisons them. After he finishes reading, Jesus says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” The people speak well of him.

Herbert O’Driscoll speculates that Jesus may have heard some adverse comments in the streets of Nazareth. O Driscoll writes, “Have people already said things to him on this visit home that we have not overheard? It sounds as if he has been hurt to some extent and feels resentful.” (O’Driscoll, The Word Among Us Year C Volume 1, p. 93.)

Jesus points out,” No prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town.” And then he gives examples of two times when God called prophets to minister to people outside the faith community. Elijah was sent to help the widow of Zarephath, who was a Gentile, and Elisha was called to heal Naaman, who was also a Gentile.

Jesus is making it clear that God’s love is for all people, and this makes the people listening to him so angry that they try to throw him over a cliff.

God loves everyone, and some of the people in Jesus’ hometown did not take kindly to that idea. Some time ago, theologian J. B. Phillips wrote a book called Your God Is Too Small. Some folks got quite upset at that title, but it helps us to realize that we humans tend to try to limit God.

O’Driscoll comments, “Today, this passage warns against our having a limited vision of God. Our Lord pledges his utter commitment to the work of liberating human lives.”

Perhaps the most powerful example of someone who started out with a limited idea of God and had his life transformed by our Lord is Saint Paul. This past Monday, we celebrated the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. Saul, a Pharisee and a Roman citizen, thought he was serving God by persecuting followers of Jesus. On once occasion, Saul watched an angry crowd stone a man to death. This man was a faithful deacon  named Stephen, and he became the first Christian martyr.

Paul was on his way to Damascus to continue his mission of persecution when a blinding light shone all-around him and Jesus asked him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

Saul did a complete one-eighty and followed Jesus with faith and courage until he died as a martyr in Rome in 64 A.D. We can understand how close he was to our Lord by reading and meditating on the passage in our epistle for today. He was beaten, thrown in prison numerous times, suffered shipwrecks. You name it; he went through it. Yet Paul is the one who wrote, “It is not I who lives but Christ who lives in me.”

What are these readings telling us? It is not always easy to answer God’s call. It is not always easy to follow Jesus. But our Lord is always right here with us, leading and guiding us. St. Paul gives us a description of agape. Jesus brings that description to life. God’s love is limitless. It includes everyone. May we accept God’s love for us. Amen.