• Content

  • Pages

  • Upcoming Events

    • 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:…

Advent 1 Year B November 29. 2020

Isaiah 64:1-9
Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:24-37

In our opening reading from Isaiah, we are with Isaiah and God’s people at a crucial moment in their history. They are returning from exile in Babylon. They have been in exile for some fifty years, studying the scriptures, praying, keeping the community together and hoping for the day when they would be able to return. They have thought it would be a time of great joy.

When they arrive, they find that the temple has been destroyed. The city walls have been torn down. Foreign people are living as squatters in the ruins of the temple. For decades, they had hoped and prayed that they would be able to return. That was the hope that kept them together. But now that they are in Jerusalem and, seeing that their beloved temple and city are little more than a huge pile of rubble, they are realizing the enormity of the task that lies before them.

In the face of the enormity of the task, Isaiah and the people are overwhelmed. They are at the point of despair. How will they begin the mammoth task of rebuilding? Where will they begin? Isaiah calls out to God, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence…” 

Isaiah is recalling the time centuries before when God came down from heaven at Mount Sinai to give the people the law and lead them out of slavery.  God was with them every step of the way. It seems to Isaiah that God has withdrawn from the people, and so they have sinned. Isaiah confesses on behalf of all the people and then he tells God, “You are our Father and we are your people.” 

All these centuries later, we are not being called to rebuild Jerusalem, but we are facing a very difficult task. We are facing a time that is usually full of joy—Thanksgiving and Christmas—a time when we love to be with our families. This year, we cannot do that. Our own governor’s staff has predicted that if we aren’t careful, we could have 3,800 people come down with Covid and 40 to 50 people in the hospital, These figures are staggering, far higher than we have experienced at any time during this wilderness journey, this exile from our church building, this long fast from the Eucharist.

In his press briefing this past Tuesday, Governor Scott said that he knows he can’t make us do the things that will defeat the virus—have Thanksgiving dinner only with the people who live under our roof, don’t travel, and continue to do the things we have been doing—six foot spaces, masks on faces, avoid crowded places—but he is asking us to do these things. Our Presiding Bishop is calling us to walk the Way of Love—doing all of these things out of love for each other so everyone can be safe. And our governor says often that he knows this is hard. We all have Pandemic Fatigue. We’re tired of this and we just want to go back to normal. Experts tell us that we’re experiencing quite a bit of depression and anxiety these days.

We might pray, “O, loving God, please come down here and help us. This virus is getting ahead of us.” Rather similar to Isaiah’s prayer.

But then we stop and think. God has come to be with us. That was the first Advent. A little baby was born in Bethlehem, a little, out of the way place like Sheldon or Montgomery or Fletcher or Fairfield or Franklin. Why did God come among us? Because God loves us more than we could possibly understand or imagine.

Jesus lived a human life, grew up helping his foster father in his carpenter shop, and then he called twelve people together and went all around healing, forgiving, and teaching people about God’s kingdom of love and peace, God’s shalom. And he invited everyone to be a part of his family—a very big family—and to help him build his shalom.

We have all answered his call to follow him and help him build his kingdom, his shalom. Right now, people are really hurting with this pandemic, and we are feeding them at our food shelf. And we are trying to do all we can to help our brothers and sisters because he has told us that if we help them, we are helping him. The more peace and love and compassion we can share, the closer his kingdom comes. So he doesn’t have to tear down the heavens and come down. He is already here in our midst. What our governor and all good leaders are calling us to do, our risen and present Lord is leading and guiding us to do.

He has told us he will come again to complete his kingdom, to bring in fully his shalom of peace, compassion, and justice. We do not know exactly when that is going to happen. And in many parts of the gospel he tells us not to try to figure that out. Only God knows when that will happen.

In today’s gospel, He says, “Keep awake.” This does not mean that we have to stay up all night. He wants us to be healthy, especially in these stressful times, so we need to get at least seven hours of sleep a night. But he wants us to be ready to receive his kingdom. He wants us to be prepared for his kingdom. When he comes, he wants us to be ready to meet him, welcome him with great joy, and help him complete his work of creation.

And he wants us to live like kingdom people, to feed the hungry and give clothing to those who need it and love people and help people as if they were Christ himself. We are in that in-between time between his first coming as a baby and his second coming as our King, and he wants us to be about the work of building his shalom now.

Like God’s people coming home from the exile, we are facing a major challenge. We are called to do what is necessary to beat this virus, and we are called to build, not a temple, but the shalom of God.

Lord Jesus, thank you for being in our midst. Thank you for calling us to help you build your kingdom. Give us the grace to follow you, to walk the Way of Love, and to be ready to follow where you lead us. In your holy Name. Amen.

Pentecost 10 Proper 15C August 18, 2019

Isaiah 5:1-7
Psalm 80:1-2. 8-18
Hebrews 11:29-12:2
Luke 12:49-56

In our opening reading from the prophet Isaiah, God is lovingly building a vineyard. The vineyard is on a fertile hill. God carefully digs it out, removes the stones, plants it with choice vines, builds a watchtower, and hews out a wine vat. All is ready. God expects the vineyard to produce excellent grapes, but it produces sour grapes. The vineyard is a metaphor for the people of God, in this case, the people of Isaiah’s time two thousand seven hundred years ago.

Unfortunately, the vineyard yields sour grapes. The rich and powerful are buying up more and more land, creating huge farms managed by absentee landowners and literally robbing the peasants of their land and livelihood. But the poor cannot get justice. The rich have only to bribe the judges. Corruption is everywhere and the vulnerable suffer. War with the Assyrian Empire will soon follow. God’s word is not being followed.  The vineyard will be destroyed.

In our reading from Hebrews, we begin with God leading the people out of slavery in Egypt and go down through the list of all the people of faith who lived the kind of lives that inspire us. We can all think of our favorite saints, heroes and heroines of the faith who shine as beacons for us to follow as we move through the challenges of life.

Indeed, we are “surrounded by a great  cloud of witnesses.” as we run this race. Because of their holy example, we can hang in there. We can “cast off every weight and sin that clings so closely and look to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter our faith.”  We can see him out there ahead of us, leading us, encouraging us, and, thanks to his grace, we can follow him faithfully and complete the race.

What a wonderful thing—we are not alone. It is a blessing that we have the loving power of this “cloud of witnesses” in our minds and hearts as we meditate on the incredibly difficult and challenging gospel for today. We so love our Lord, who is the Prince of Peace. Why does he say such things as he is saying today?

We have to remember that he is heading toward Jerusalem and he knows exactly what he will be facing there. God is a God of love, mercy and justice, and the leaders of our Lord’s time, both religious and secular, were not loving God with all their mind and heart and soul and strength or their neighbors as themselves. The ministry of Jesus turned the world upside down and threatened their power, so they killed him.

Our Lord is telling us that, before his shalom is fully here, there will be strife and division. For me, the most profound and immediate example of this is our own Civil War. With hindsight, we know that slavery is wrong. We know that one human being cannot and should not presume to own another human being. This is treating a fellow human being as an object to be bought, like a horse or a cow. If we think of our Baptismal Covenant, this is not respecting the dignity of every human being.

Yet back in the 1850’s and 1860’s. you could go into churches and hear sermons on both sides of this question. Respected people took stands on both sides of this issue. The Holy Spirit was “guiding us into all truth,” but oh, what a terrible struggle. This is the best example I can think of of Jesus bringing, not peace, but a sword. We are still working on this issue. And there are many other examples we could cite.

There was a time when women could not vote in this country and we realized that they should be granted this right. There was a time when there were signs in the windows of stores and business that read, “No Irish need apply.” There was a time when we put Japanese people who were American citizens in internment camps.There was a time when we failed to think of making buildings and other places accessible to all people. We humans have an innate tendency to lord it over each other, to exclude each other for certain reasons, whether it be race, gender, class, educational level, and on and on it goes. 

As Archbishop Tutu and Bishop Curry remind us, “God has a big family,” but how difficult it has been for us over the centuries to accept that fact.

Jesus calls us to choose his vision of the world, his shalom, his kingdom, his reign. The values of that kingdom are very far from the values we see in much of the world today, so, yes, we have to make choices. When I’m talking with people, and I’m sure this is true for you as well, many folks will say something like, “Thanksgiving dinner is hard for my family. Some us think one way, and the others think exactly the opposite.” I think that’s what our Lord meant by this gospel passage. 

What are we called to do in this situation? What I would suggest is that we focus on the gospels, that we read responsibly, paying attention to the context, and that we try to absorb as much of the life and ministry and spirit of Jesus as we possibly can, that we pray for his guidance, and ask for grace to follow him.

God does indeed have a big family, and Jesus is calling us to help him build his shalom, and the Spirit is guiding us into all the truth, but it is a difficult birth process. May we remember that he is the Prince of Peace calling us to help build his shalom. May we look for him, the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith,” who is out in front leading us, and may we run the race with him and for him surrounded by that great cloud of witnesses. Amen.

Advent 1B RCL December 3, 2017

Isaiah 64:1-9
Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:24-37

Advent is here. This is the New Year’s season of the Church. We change from Lectionary A to B. For Morning and Evening Prayer, we change from Lectionary 1 to 2. From the green of the Pentecost season and the white for Christ the King this past Sunday, we move to purple, symbolizing penitence and also the royalty of Christ our King.

Advent is that paradoxical time of penitence, preparation, and joy. We look back to the first coming of our Lord as a baby, and at the same time we look forward to his coming again to complete the work of creation and bring in his kingdom of peace, harmony, and wholeness.

His kingdom has begun but it is not yet complete. As we look around our world, we can see clear evidence of that sad fact. Walter Brueggemann writes, “Contrary to the manner in which it is often celebrated in the churches, Advent begins not on a note of joy, but of despair. Humankind has reached the end of its rope. All our schemes for self-improvement, for extricating ourselves from the traps we have set for ourselves, have come to nothing. We have now realized at the deepest level of our being that we cannot save ourselves and that, apart from the intervention of God, we are totally and irretrievably lost.” (Texts for Preaching Year A, p. 1.)

Our opening reading from Isaiah sounds that note of despair. How often do we wish that God would come down from the heavens and help us set things right, clean up the messes we make. Scholars tell us that this passage was probably written when Isaiah and the other exiles returned from Babylon. They had prayed for the coming of this day. Yet, when they arrived home and found the temple completely destroyed and so much work to do, they began to lose hope.

At this low point, Isaiah wishes that God would tear open the heavens and come down to earth. Isaiah praises God for all the ways in which God has guided and helped the people. Then he confesses that he and all God’s people have sinned. They felt God was hiding from them when the Babylonian Empire conquered Jerusalem, and they drifted farther and farther away from God. In fact, some of the people felt that the military conquest by Babylon was a punishment for their lack of faith.

It is important to note that many of the people kept the faith during the Exile. They studied the scriptures; they increased their sense of worship and community. Isaiah is one of those people, and he is addressing God as a member of that community of the faithful.

Following the confession, Isaiah prays to God as the father of the people. He says that we humans are the clay and God is the potter. He asks God to have mercy on the people. Following this process of acknowledging God’s care for the people, then confessing his and their sinfulness, Isaiah is able to realize that God still cares and that God is a God of mercy.

Most of us have had low points like this in life. There just seem to be too many challenges. We feel as though God is far away. But we know that we really need God’s help. As we look around our world and see all the brokenness, the wholeness of God’s shalom seems impossibly far away. This makes us doubly aware that we need to turn to God.

As someone once said, when we fall far away from God, we need to ask, who moved? Not God. God has been right here all the time. Back in the time of Isaiah, the people realized that God was faithful, God had never left them. They began the mammoth task of rebuilding, but they also focused on rebuilding their sense of community and deepening their faith.

In our epistle for today, Paul thanks God for the life of the congregation in Corinth. God has given them many gifts, and they will be exercising those gifts as they wait for Christ to come again.

In our gospel, Jesus is describing the day of judgment as it is pictured by some of the prophets. But his main message is, “Stay awake. Be ready.”

Walter Brueggemann’s comments strike a wonderful Advent note. As we proceed with self-examination, we come to a screeching halt and realize that indeed, as he puts it, “all our schemes for self improvement… have come to nothing.” Without the intervention of God, all is lost.

Isaiah wanted God to “open the heavens and come down.” As Christians we know that God has done exactly that. God has come to be with us. After his baptism in the River Jordan, Jesus began building his Kingdom. We see it in every event in his ministry. He showed us how to do it. Love God and love people.

During Advent, we are called especially to make room for Jesus in our hearts and lives. This is a season for giving generously to organizations such as UTO and ERD, and other groups which help people in so many ways. It is also a time to take stock of our spiritual lives, to make or update wills, to set things in order.

But, most of all, it is a season to make even more room for Jesus. For each of us that may look different. For some of us, it means taking more quiet time. For others of us, it might mean more time with family and friends. For many of us, it is a both-and.

God did respond to Isaiah, and the rebuilding happened. How blessed and fortunate we are that God has come to be with us. We can walk with the risen Christ. How blessed that we can go and visit him in the manger. How blessed that we can be with him here and every day because he is among us. God has come to be with us, and God’s kingdom is growing even now. And God invites us every day and every moment to help to build that kingdom, that shalom. And he calls us to be ready to meet him again when he comes to complete the creation. Amen.

Advent 4 A RCL December 18, 2016

Isaiah 7: 10-16
Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18
Romans 1:1-7
Matthew 1:18-25

In our opening reading today, King Ahaz of the Southern Kingdom, Judah, is facing an extremely difficult and dangerous situation. The year is 734 B.C. The powerful Assyrian Empire is threatening to conquer Syria and the Northern Kingdom of Israel. The kings of Syria and Israel want King Ahaz to join with them in an alliance against the Assyrians.

Isaiah has been trying to encourage Ahaz to remain neutral. Ahaz doesn’t want to listen. Now God is directly addressing King Ahaz, God is going to give a sign. But Ahaz does not want to hear about this sign. His excuse for the fact that he does not want to listen to God is that he does not want to put God to the test.

But God tells him about the sign anyway. A young woman is going to have a baby, and that baby is going to be named Immanuel, God with us. By the time this baby is old enough to choose the good over the evil, the Assyrian Empire will be a thing of the past.

God is saying that God will be with King Ahaz and all the people. King Ahaz chooses not to listen to God or to Isaiah. He decides to form an alliance with the Assyrians and they end up invading Jerusalem. Ahaz is an example of someone who likes to do things his own way. He does not listen to guidance from wise people like Isaiah. He does not even listen to God.

In our gospel for today, we have an example of someone very different from King Ahaz, Joseph of Nazareth. Joseph is betrothed to a young woman named Mary. This is a wonderful thing. But something has happened which has cast a shadow over Joseph’s life. Mary is going to have a baby, and Joseph knows that he is not the father of this baby.

He had thought that Mary was someone who took commitments very seriously. She had seemed honest and full of sincerity and integrity. You and I know that Mary does take commitments seriously. She follows her son to the foot of the cross and stays there until the bitter end.

But Joseph, who is usually calm and level-headed, is upset, There is only one explanation for this, on the earthly level, and so he makes a decision to divorce Mary quietly to spare her feelings and her reputation. We need to remember that, in those days, being betrothed was like being married. Under the circumstances, it appears that she has committed adultery, and, in that culture and that time, we know that women were stoned to death for that crime. We also remember that Jesus as he encountered a crowd about to throw stones at a woman caught in adultery, said, “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone,” and they put down their stones and walked away.

But to get back to our gospel, Joseph has resolved to divorce Mary quietly and try to preserve her reputation.

Now we need to remember that Joseph is a man of prayer. He is close to God. Unlike King Ahaz, he listens for God’s guidance. That night, an angel appears to him in a dream. This often happened back then, God would speak to people in their dreams. It actually happens today as well. The angel tells Joseph the truth about this baby. The angel even tells Joseph what to name the baby, Jesus. This baby is going to be God with us, Immanuel.

Joseph is a man of deep faith. He listens to every word the angel says to him. He knows this is a message from God. Quietly, faithfully, Joseph accepts God’s call to be the foster father of Jesus.  We know that Joseph will protect Mary as they travel to Bethlehem. We know that King Herod is going to try to have all the baby boys under the age of two killed, and that Joseph will take Mary and Jesus to Egypt so that they will be safe. We can imagine Joseph teaching Jesus in his carpenter shop when Jesus gets old enough. This wise, patient, gentle, courageous, faithful man is saying Yes to an extraordinary vocation—bringing up the child of God as a foster father. Jesus could have been born under the shadow of illegitimacy. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were refugees when they fled into Egypt. Always, Joseph was there to protect Jesus and Mary and to seek and accept God’s guidance.

What a contrast there is between Joseph and King Ahaz. I don’t know about you but I have actually met people who, when offered wise guidance, have said, in so many words, “I like to do things my own way.” That’s the Ahaz approach to life.

Joseph kept listening to God and followed every direction. He devoted his life to taking care of Mary and Jesus. What a wonderful holy example for us today. Do we realize that God is as close as our breath? Do we listen for the guidance of God as Joseph did?

Emmanuel. God with us. Our God who loves us so much is coming to live among us, full of grace and truth. May we make room for him in our hearts and lives. Amen.

Pentecost 13 Proper 15C RCL August 14, 2016

Isaiah 5:1-7
Psalm 80:1-2. 8-18
Hebrews 11:29-12:2
Luke 12:49-56

In our opening reading, the prophet Isaiah tells us a moving story of God’s love. God has a vineyard. With utmost care, God plants the best vines, builds a watchtower, and makes a wine vat. God expects this vineyard to yield grapes, but, as scholar James D. Newsome translates literally, the vineyard produces “stinkers.” (Texts for Preaching Year C, p. 470.)

The Southern Kingdom of Judah is enjoying great prosperity, but there is no justice. As in our society, the rich are becoming richer, but the poor are losing ground. There will be invasions by foreign powers—first Assyria and then Babylonia.

In our second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, the new converts are reminded of the powerful history of faith from the time of the Exodus onward. God frees God’s people. God leads us out of all forms of slavery. God brings us safely home.

And then the reading moves into that stirring call to faith and action which we read on the feast of All Saints: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”

The journey of faith is envisioned as a race. We are spiritual athletes practicing askesis, spiritual discipline. Sin is like ankle weights that have been fastened to our legs, slowing us down, deflecting us from the goal. We are called to put aside the weight of sin, focus our eyes upon Jesus, and run with all the energy we can muster. Jesus is our goal. Living in him and allowing him to live in us is the source of the meaning and purpose of our lives.

But then we reach today’s troubling gospel. It makes us stop short. Our Lord, the Prince of Peace, is talking about strife and conflict. Not only that, he is describing deep conflict between members of families—father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, on and on.

Following Jesus is not easy. Our Lord is talking about what  Bonhoeffer called “The Cost of Discipleship.” It is important that we remember that he is on his way to Jerusalem, and he is well aware that the authorities are already keeping a close eye on him. He is attracting huge crowds. The authorities do not like this because they perceive a threat to their rule and control. Indeed, they have every reason to be threatened because the values of his shalom are the opposite of their values. They use violence to control their own people, and they will eventually kill Jesus.

When faced with this passage, I always think of our own Civil War. I think of families in the South, people who owned plantations, who treated their slaves well, and I think of the growing awareness that owning another person is not acceptable. Last Sunday Jesus said that when we wait for the master to arrive, he will sit down and serve us!

Even though slavery was accepted and practiced in Biblical times, it is not acceptable. But think of the pain and turmoil those families in the South endured. Some members of the family still felt that slavery was scriptural and permissible. Others were beginning to see the high standards which are set by the gospel.

During the nineteen fifties and sixties, we grappled in earnest with the issue of racial equality, and that struggle continues into the present.

It is so difficult for us to realize that, in God’s eyes, everyone is infinitely beloved.

In every age, following Christ can cause division. A father wants his son to carry on the family business. The son feels a deep vocation to the ordained ministry.

The son tries to fight this call. He does not want to hurt his father. Finally he sits down with his Dad and shares his vocation. The father is hurt and angry. They make a decision to pray about it and to keep talking together. Finally, the father works his way, with God’s help, to a place of acceptance.

Or, it goes the other way. The father simply does not understand his son’s selfish, willful lack of respect for the family business. This creates a chasm between the father and the son, an abyss of grief and anguish, and suffering for all the family members.

The values of God’s shalom are not the values of this world. God is still calling us to work toward that shalom, but we are not there yet. We can see the conflict, the birth pangs of God’s shalom everywhere.

How can we faithfully follow Christ in the midst of all this conflict? How can we possibly choose the values of his shalom in the midst of all this turmoil? Well, we can,  as our diocesan mission statement says, and as St. Augustine said many years ago, “Pray the prayer of Christ, learn the mind of Christ, and do the deeds of Christ.” In other words, we can root and ground our lives in prayer; meditate on and study and absorb the life of Jesus; and make his life the model for our lives.

Lisa W. Davison, Professor of Religious Studies at Lynchburg College in Virginia writes, “The good news is that Jesus has already run the race, marked the course, and provided a role model for us to follow.”

(Davison, New Proclamation Year C 2010, p. 183.

Let us run the race; let us follow him with all our heart and with all the grace he can give us. In his holy Name we pray. Amen.

 

Advent 1B November 30, 2014

Isaiah 64:1-9
Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:24-37

 This Sunday, we begin the season of Advent. This is the New Year of the church. We change from lectionary A to lectionary B. We change from the green vestments of the season after Pentecost to purple to denote the coming of our King and also a time of penitential preparation. We begin lighting the candles on the Advent wreath and opening the doors on our Advent calendars to count the days. Advent means coming,and we are looking forward to the coming of our Lord to complete the creation. We are also looking back to his first coming among us as a baby, 

When Jesus was here with us on earth, he began to build his kingdom. But that kingdom is not complete. The world is not a place of peace harmony, and wholeness. As our Presiding Bishop, Katherine Jeffers Schori writes, Shalom is a vision of the city of God on earth, a community where people are at peace with each other because each one has enough to eat, adequate shelter, medical care, and meaningful work. Shalom is a city where justice is the rule of the day, where prejudice has vanished,where the diverse gifts with which we have been so abundantly blessed are equally valued.(A Wing and a Prayer, p. 33.) 

The prophet Isaiah was one of the people who described Gods vision of shalom. Our reading from the Book of Isaiah dates back to the time of the Exile in Babylon, the time after the temple in Jerusalem was reduced to a pile of rubble, the time before the temple was finally rebuilt. Herbert ODriscoll imagines that the prophet has returned from Babylon and is gazing on the rubble that was once the great temple, the center of worship.

Isaiah asks God to tear open the heavens and come downto be with the people. He looks back to the time when God was close to the people and led them out of slavery into freedom. But the people have not called upon God. They have gone about their own ways. Isaiah confesses the sins of the people and asks God to grant mercy. He gives us that powerful image: God is the potter and we are the clay. We need to ask Gods help often so that we can grow into the persons God calls us to be.

For Isaiah and the rest of Gods people, life had been reduced to a pile of rubble. They felt that they had strayed far away from God, and they believed that this had something to do with the fact that they had been conquered by the Babylonian Empire. I think we all understand those points in life when we have tried our best and worked hard and everything falls apart. Everything is in ruins. Thats where Isaiah and the people were. Especially at times like this, we realize that we cant do it alone. We need Gods help.

In our epistle this morning, Paul is writing to the congregation in Corinth. He starts out with his typical greeting. Grace be to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind.

This is a positive thing. But there is an undercurrent. We know that the congregation in Corinth has been blessed with many gifts, but they also have been arguing about which gifts are the greatest. Paul is going to address this in the letter. Also, some of the older members of the community have been telling the newer members that they arent quite as good because they are still new at the faith. I would say that they are bullying the newer members. Paul is building the foundation for telling them us that we need to thank God for all the gifts we receive and we need to value all gifts and all people equally. That is the direction in which we need to be moving in order to prepare for Jesuscoming again.

In our Gospel, Jesus is once again telling us not to spend any time trying to predict when he will come again. He tells us to put our energy into being ready to welcome him with joy when he comes to bring in his kingdom. 

Well, how do we get ready? First, we can take time to be as close to God as possible. Time for prayer. Time for quiet. Time to examine our lives, to take stock. We make wills or update wills. We straighten out our finances and get our lives in shape to be ready when he appears.

As we look ahead to the coming of our Lord, we recall his first advent, when he came among among us as one of us, as a little baby.

In his anguish, Isaiah was asking God to tear the heavens and come and help us, but that was five hundred years before the birth of our Lord. God has already come to be with us, and this sheer, loving fact gives us a way to think about preparing for him this Advent. Through prayer, through taking time to think about how much God must love us, that God would come to be with us, we make room in our hearts and lives for Jesus to be born anew in us. As so many of the mystics have said, we must allow and invite Jesus to be born in our lives over and over again. We must make room in the inns of our hearts so that Jesus can come into our lives and share his love and healing and transform us so that we can transform the world.

God did not tear the heavens to come to be with us. God came to be with us as one of us. If we look back on the life and ministry of Jesus and we model our lives after that life, we will grow more and more like him, and his shalom will be even closer to its completion.

Dear Lord, thank you for your love. Thank you for coming to be one of us. Help us to make room for you in our lives. Help us to become more and more like you, so that, together, we may build you shalom.

Amen.

Advent 4 Year A RCL December 22, 2013

Isaiah 7: 1-16
Psalm 80: 1-7, 17-19
Romans 1: 1-7
Matthew 1: 18-25

In our opening lesson, the prophet Isaiah is speaking to King Ahaz of Judah. The year is about 734 or 735 B.C.  The powerful Assyrian Empire is threatening the Northern Kingdom of Israel, Syria, and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Israel and Syria want King Ahaz to join with them in a coalition against the Assyrian Empire.

This is a situation in which it is easy to be completely overwhelmed by fear. Isaiah is encouraging Ahaz to remain neutral in this conflict and to trust God to lead him and the people through this crisis.

Isaiah points out a young woman. Some scholars think this woman might actually be Isaiah’s wife. The woman is pregnant. She is going to bear a son named Immanuel, God with us. Isaiah is trying to help King Ahaz see that, even among the machinations of enemies and empires, faith is the most important thing. As it turned out, Ahaz did not follow Isaiah’s guidance. He actually made an alliance with the Assyrian Empire, which was even bigger than Syria and the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and the Assyrian Empire eventually invaded Jerusalem.

As Christians, we think of this passage as foretelling the birth of Jesus, our Emmanuel, God with us. What does it mean to realize that God is always with us, leading and guiding us?

In his Letter to the Romans, Paul writes that God promised through the prophets, to send God’s Son, who opens new life to us and gives us grace to minister in his Name.

And then we have Matthew’s story of the birth of Jesus. This story focuses on a most courageous and faithful and wise man, Joseph.

Joseph finds out that Mary is pregnant, but he knows that the child is not his. Back in those days, women were routinely stoned to death for such offenses. We recall what Jesus told some folks who were about to do just that. He said that those who were without sin should cast the first stone, and they all walked away.

Joseph makes up his mind not to make a public spectacle of Mary. In such a situation, the law says that the proper thing is to divorce the woman, but Joseph plans to do this quietly. He wants to spare her disgrace. Even in this very awkward situation, he is very respectful toward Mary.

But then Joseph has a dream, and in that dream an angel of the Lord appears to him and tells him that the child is indeed from the Holy Spirit. The angel tells Joseph that he should name the child Jesus, and this means that Joseph is in effect adopting Jesus. Some commentators point out that, on a purely human level, Jesus was an illegitimate child. Joseph adopted him, but, until then, he did not have an earthly father. Scholars point out that there may have been talk around Nazareth about this situation, that, among the many difficult things Jesus went through was the experience of having questionable parentage. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus also experienced what it meant to be refugees when they fled into Egypt.

The text says that Joseph is a righteous man. “Righteous” means that he had a right relationship with God. Righteous does not mean holier than thou or rigid in theology. It means that Joseph was close to God, He turned to God for help and guidance and insight and inspiration. As we follow the role of Joseph in Jesus and Mary’s lives, it becomes clear that he was always open to God’s direction.

Just think for a moment: what if Joseph had not been the person he was? Anyone who knew Mary would know that she would never be unfaithful, She kept her commitments, She followed Jesus to the foot of the cross. But a lesser man might have just taken a look at the superficial appearances and made a different decision. Not Joseph. Even before he received that direct communication from God he had made the most loving decision he could have made under the law.

They made the trip to Bethlehem so that Jesus could be born in David’s city. That was a grueling journey. Always, always, Joseph was the protector. Afterward, when Herod decided to murder all the baby boys, Joseph took Mary and the baby into Egypt. Always, he was there to take care of them. Always, he was respectful toward Mary and this precious little baby. He took major risks in order to care for his adopted son. This is a wonderful role model for fathers in all ages and places.

We are now very close to that wonderful time when we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us.

And so, I go back to that question: what does it mean to realize that God is with us? It means that we realize that God loves us enough to come and live among us. And when we think of God as being with us, we also remember that we need to be with God. We need to seek God’s guidance and help. We need to be more like Joseph and less like King Ahaz, who just ignored Isaiah and God and went off and did his own thing.

Joseph is someone who knew that God was as near as his breath. He turned to God. Back in those days, people often received guidance from God in their dreams. Even when Joseph was asleep he was open to God’s leading. Do we seek God’s direction? Do we, like Joseph, know that God is as close as our own breath? Would we have the courage that Joseph had? Courage that only God can give? Would we step beyond our comfort zone and into the growing kingdom of God as Joseph did? Would we assist at this birth of a new thing? A new order? A new world?

Emmanuel, God with us.  May we prepare for his birth in us and in the world he made.  Amen.