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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion June 11, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.comTime:  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:…
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Advent 2 Year B December 6, 2020

Isaiah 40:1-11
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
2 Peter 3:6-15a
Mark 1:1-8

“Comfort, O Comfort my people,” says your God.” In our opening reading, the prophet Isaiah speaks God’s word to God’s people who are still in exile in Babylon. It is important to remember that the word “comfort” comes from the Latin “con” meaning “with” and “fortis” meaning “strength.” Comfort—with strength.

The revered Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann writes of this passage, “In Chapter 40, at long last, when all seemed lost, now speaks the Holy One of Israel. This oracle is the voice of Yahweh, who breaks the silence of exile and by utterance transforms the fortunes of Judah. This speech breaks both the despair of Judah and the power of Babylon; it penetrates the emptiness of exile and fills the world of Judaism with possibilities….”  Brueggemann continues, “We may understand ‘comfort’ as transformative solidarity; that is, not simply an offer of solace, but a powerful intervention that creates new possibilities.” (Brueggemann, Isaiah 40-66, Westminster Bible Companion, p.16.)

As we hear these words read, we naturally bring to mind and heart the powerful and beautiful music of Handel’s Messiah, and this reaches into our minds and hearts and gives us hope in our own Covid-19 exile. God is telling us that, in the midst of exile there is hope. Not only that, there are new possibilities.

Brueggemann speaks of “transformative solidarity.” In the midst of this pandemic, we are being called to transform our world and our societies. We are realizing that this pandemic is hitting people of color and poor people harder than it is impacting people of means and white people. This reminds us of our Lord’s call to feed the hungry and give clothes, shelter, and other necessities to our brothers and sisters. But these differences in levels of suffering are also calling us to build into our planning for the future equal access to health care, more justice in wages and benefits, and other ways of insuring fairness in our nation and our world so that we all bear equally the burdens of challenges like this pandemic. In the midst of all this suffering, God is speaking a message of profound light and hope. “Every valley shall be lifted up and every mountain and hill laid low.” Things are evened out in God’s kingdom. People share.

And then we hear that a voice is crying out in the wilderness, and this takes us to our gospel. John the Baptizer is that figure, that forerunner named by the prophets, among them Isaiah. John calls out, “Prepare the way of the Lord. and make his paths straight.” John calls the people to a baptism of repentance. They confess their sins, and they ask God’s help in transforming their lives, and so do we.

The gospel tells us that John was “clothed with camels hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.” Perhaps, if John the Baptizer were to appear on our Zoom screens, we might be quite shocked at his wardrobe. Very few people, even then, wore clothes of camel’s hair. John was not concerned about clothing or fashion. He had one mission: to prepare people for the appearance of the Messiah.

People thronged to him. He was the Biblical equivalent of a pop star. He didn’t center his ministry in Jerusalem where the people were. He was out in the wilderness and the people came to him. John had a huge number of followers.

John said, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Today, on the Second Sunday of Advent 2020, John the Baptizer is calling us to examine our selves and our lives, confess our sins to God or to a priest by phone or Zoom if we wish, and ask God’s help to get our lives fully on course. In that way, Advent is a kind of briefer Lent. It is a time for self-examination and metanoia, transformation.

John is a wonderful example for us. He is totally focussed, not on himself, but on the One who is to come. He is a shining example of single-mindedness, humility, awareness of who he is, and who God is. Even when he was a baby, John leapt in the womb of his mother Elizabeth when her cousin, Mary, who was pregnant with Jesus, came to visit. Even then, the baby John recognized his Lord, who was also his cousin. Even then John was that aware and that faithful.

And this takes us back to our first lesson from Isaiah. The herald is lifting up his voice to shout good tidings. “See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him…He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.” Here is the might of our Savior, and here also is his tender gentleness.

Here, in the tenth month of our exile, our loving God is giving us a powerful message of hope and transformation. He is calling us to walk the Way of Love in this time. He is calling us to take care of ourselves and each other so that we can walk together through this exile and follow him.

We can do this, with his help. Peter writes, “The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting you to perish…But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.”

Even now, he is building his kingdom, his shalom, and we are helping him by loving him and our neighbors. Now, as the days are getting shorter and the darkness is increasing, we can remember how John the Evangelist in his gospel reminds us that “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” We can let our good shepherd lead us and carry us as we continue to walk the Way of Love. Amen.

Pentecost 7 Proper 12C July 28, 2019

Hosea 1:2-10
Psalm 85
Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19)
Luke 11:1-13

In our opening reading, we meet the prophet Hosea, whose ministry in the Northern Kingdom followed that of Amos. Hosea was married to a woman who was unfaithful. We do not know the details of how this happened. What we do know is that Hosea compared his experience of living with an unfaithful spouse to God’s experience with the unfaithful people of the Northern kingdom.

United Methodist Bishop William Willimon writes, “…Hosea—through vivid, striking, even offensive metaphors—reveals the heart of a God who passionately loves, forgives, seeks, finds, wants, pleads, and saves.” (Willimon, Feasting on the Word, Year C, vol. 3, p. 272.)

Hosea makes it clear that God cares deeply about us; God is not a distant observer. God is deeply involved in our lives and wants us to have lives of wholeness rather than brokenness. 

In our reading from the Letter to the Colossians, we read that we are part of the Body of Christ, that we are knit together, we are intimately connected,  with our Lord and with each other. Because of this we are called to “abound in thanksgiving.” Gratitude is a powerful force for good. We have so much to be thankful for. This passage tells us that in Christ. “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” This means that we can look at the life and ministry of our Lord and see what God would do if God were to come to earth.

Jesus is God walking the face of the earth. As we look at his life, we have a living example of how to conduct our lives. The text says that our Lord has “made us alive together with him.” Jesus has given us new life, life rooted and grounded in a fullness and joy which we could not know without him. Our Lord has made us one with him and with each other. He has made us a part of himself. We are members of his living Body, the Church.

In our gospel, Jesus and the disciples are on their way to Jerusalem. They have just ended their visit with Mary and Martha. As he so often did, Jesus has been praying, and one of the disciples, we do not know which one, asks, “Lord, teach us to pray.” 

Jesus says, “Father, hallowed be your name.” The word he uses is  the Aramaic word “Abba,” an intimate term for the word “Father.” He is asking us to call God “Dad” or” Daddy” or “Mom” or “Mama.” Because of God’s deep and abiding love, God has made us God’s children. We are as close to God as Jesus is, and Jesus is instructing and inviting us to address God in the most intimate, loving, family terms just as he addresses his Father in heaven.

This almost goes beyond our ability to understand. The power and depth of God’s love is beyond our imagining. It is a gift given to us and to all people. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu says, “God has a big family.”

God’s Name is holy. We pray for the coming of God’s kingdom of peace, harmony, and wholeness, God’s shalom in which, as our retired Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori has said, everyone has “enough to eat,  adequate shelter, healthcare, and meaningful work.” And, in following Jesus, we are offering ourselves to help to bring in that kingdom. In praying this prayer, we are also praying that God will forgive our sins as we forgive others when they hurt us. As God has extended compassion and forgiveness to us, so God calls us to extend that compassion to others.

“And save us from the time of trial.” Scholars tell us that the “time of trial” is a challenge beyond the temptations of daily life. Matthew Skinner writes, “Jesus asks for protection from circumstances that test or imperil faith, especially from the threat of persecution.” (Skinner, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol, 3, p. 289.)

Then our Lord tells a parable. A man has had an unexpected visitor, and he must feed his guest and give him lodging. He goes to his neighbor and asks for three loaves of bread. All of Jesus’ listeners know the rules of middle eastern hospitality. If someone knocks at your door, you have to feed them and give them lodging. If you do not have enough bread, you ask a neighbor for some bread,  and he has to give it to you. This particular neighbor at first delays but then finally gets up and gives his neighbor the bread.

God’s response to our prayers is very different from the response of this reluctant neighbor. God is always ready to respond and give us what we need. Later in Luke’s gospel, we will read of the father who is waiting in the driveway when his wayward son finally comes home. God is always there waiting for us.

In one way or another, all of these readings remind us of how much we need God. They reassure us of God’s unfailing love for us, and they invite us to remember that we are not alone. We have a loving divine parent. And we have each other. And we have that “great cloud of witnesses,” the communion of saints, members of the Body of Christ who have gone before us. They are praying for us even as we remember them and miss them and pray for them.

In this age of technology, it is easy to forget how much we need God.  It is tempting to feel that we are totally in charge and we have everything in control. In prayer, we acknowledge God’s love, grace, and forgiveness. We admit that we need God’s help, and we sincerely seek God’s guidance. Today’s readings remind us that God is always ready to listen and to respond. 

Loving God, thank you for your love, mercy, healing, and forgiveness. As we pass through things temporal, help us not to lose those things which are eternal. Lead us and guide us, O Lord. Amen.

Advent 2B RCL December 10, 2017

Isaiah 40:1-11
Psalm 85:1-2,8-13
2 Peter 3:8-15a
Mark 1:1-8

Our first reading for today comes from a point in history when the exiles were still in Babylon.They have been trying to go on with their lives, deepen their understanding of the scriptures, continue their prayer life as a community of faith. They have been in captivity for almost fifty years.

And now, they are receiving the news they have been hoping and praying to hear. At last, they will be going home. “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” It is difficult for us to grasp how they must have felt to hear those words.

As we listen to these words, we cannot help calling to mind the beautiful music of Handel’s Messiah. The people are going home! It seems almost impossible, but it is true. Yes, we humans are like grass, here today, gone tomorrow, bending with every breeze. But God’s word will stand forever.  “He will feed his flock like a shepherd;  he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.”

The power and gentleness of this passage touch our hearts so deeply. This is the love of our God. No, we are not living in exile in Babylon as God’s people did fifteen hundred years ago, but we are living in difficult times, times of division and hatred and violence that seem very far from God’s shalom. In this passage, we are reminded that God is eternal and faithful, and God will lead us into God’s kingdom of peace and harmony.

In our reading from the Second Letter of Peter, the theme of God’s eternal presence is sounded again.  In God’s sight, a thousand years are like one day. God is patient with us, and God is building God’s shalom and calling us to help in that work. Christ will come again to complete the work of creation. The letter calls us to remain faithful to our Lord and to be ready for his coming again.

Our gospel for today focuses on John the Baptist, who appears in the wilderness calling us to “Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.” John offered a baptism of repentance. He called people to sincerely ask God’s forgiveness for their sins and turn their lives around. He invites us to turn to God and ask God’s help in our process of transformation, in Greek, metanoia.

John definitely did not follow the current fashion. He had a coat of camel’s hair, lived very simply, and when he said something, you knew he meant it. He was a great prophet and religious leader, but he did not base his ministry in the city of Jerusalem where all the power was centered. His home base was the wilderness, where there is no sky glow. Out there, you can see God’s stars and planets very clearly and gain a divine perspective on things. It is also quiet out there—no distractions, no human power struggles, just you and God.

For all these reasons, John had a completely clear idea of who he was and what he was about. He knew he was the messenger foretold in the prophets who had gone before him. He knew he was called to let people know that they needed to prepare for the Savior.

Thousands of people were attracted to John. He was the equivalent of a rock star in his time. People followed him everywhere. They left the big city to go out into the wilderness and be with him, so powerful was his message. But it never went to his head. He knew exactly who he was. He said, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

John is a shining example of singleness of heart, the ability to focus on Jesus with every part of his being—spirit, heart, mind, intuition, everything. This Advent and every day, we can learn so much from John the Baptist.

Here we are, on the Second Sunday in Advent, in the year of our Lord 2017. What are these readings telling us?

Among many other things, our lesson from Isaiah tells us there is always hope. Just when we think it’s over, those little flickering fingers of a new dawn appear and the thing we had hoped and prayed for finally comes to be. And God will shepherd us every step of the way on the journey home, or closer to God, or wherever it is that God is calling us to be.

One thing our epistle tells us is that God is patient with us and with everything else, which is a great blessing because we can all can try God’s patience at times. And God is eternal. God takes the long view. But when the time finally arrives, God is going to build new heavens and a new earth. The creation will be made whole.

And our gospel? It tells us more than we can absorb. But we can say this. Here is this fellow, dressed as the great prophet Elijah was dressed, out in the wilderness attracting hordes of people. But there is no glitz, there are no lights or cameras. There is just this man, John, who absolutely tells the truth straight from God and who is here to lead us to the One we have waited for all our lives, the One who loves us so much that we are willing to follow him on the hard and joyful journey of transformation, the journey to his shalom.  Amen.

Pentecost 10 Proper 12C RCL July 24, 2016

Hosea 1:2-10
Psalm 85
Colossians 2:6-15,  (16-19)
Luke 11:1-13

Our opening reading today comes from the first of the so called Minor Prophets, Hosea. His ministry in the Northern Kingdom took place from 743 BCE to 722 BCE  and closely followed the ministry of Amos

Hosea was married to a woman who was unfaithful to him. Obviously, this was a terribly painful experience for him. Through all this suffering, Hosea never lost his love for his wife. His own experience helped him realize that God will never stop loving us, no matter what.

We do not know exactly what problems were troubling the congregation in Colossae, but scholars look at the text and find evidence that some teachers were telling the people that they had to follow the Jewish law, meaning that they had to be circumcised and they had to follow the dietary laws. Others were introducing beliefs which were not in harmony with Christian belief. Paul writes, “See to it that no one makes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition.” Then, as now, there were all kinds of philosophies circulating, and Paul is encouraging the Colossians and us to remain “Rooted and built up in [Christ] just as you were taught.”

He tells the people that they received a “spiritual circumcision,” that they have been made new in Christ and they do not have to receive a physical circumcision. At that point in the Church’s history, some people believed that a person had to literally become  a Jew before they could become a follower of Christ, and Paul is trying to help them to understand that life in Christ is a spiritual transformation, not a physical one. He says that our Lord nailed the law to the cross because he is trying to help us to understand that it is not the letter of the law but the spirit of the law and the work of the Holy Spirit that is important.

Then, as now, there were various spiritual practices which are not appropriate for the life in Christ. Some people were engaging in harsh practices of self-denial and others appeared to be engaging in having visions which were used to, as Paul says, “puff up” their egos. He ends the passage with a powerful description of our relationship with Christ. We need to remember that each of us and all of us are part of the Body of Christ. We are bound together by ligaments and muscles and arteries and veins and nerves, and we are united to each other and to our Lord.

In today’s gospel, Jesus and the disciples have left the home of Mary and Martha, where Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, learning and absorbing his presence. As they had traveled with our Lord, they had seen him go apart time after time to pray. And now, one of them asks him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” And he teaches us.

The first thing is that God is our Divine Parent. We address God as Father, or Mother, or even Dad or Mom. We have an intimate relationship with God. God is as close as our breath. God is as close to each of us as our neighbor in the pew. “Hallowed be your name.” The Name of God is holy, We approach God with reverence. “Your kingdom come.” We pray that God’s shalom will come to be here on earth. “Give us each day our daily bread.” And this is a prayer, not only for us, but for the whole world, because we have just prayed “Thy kingdom come.” So we are praying, and we are committing ourselves to work for the day when everyone will have his or her  daily bread, and shelter, and clothing, and the basics of a good and fruitful life. We pray that God will forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. The attitude of forgiveness is crucial to life in Christ. But it assumes that members of a Christian community are committed to treating each other with respect and caring.

We need to make it clear that, in cases of domestic violence and terrorism and war, people need to get to a safe place and stay there, and there are times when, if someone has been abusive but does not have the capacity or the awareness to make amends, true forgiveness is not possible. The one who has escaped must preserve her or his own safety and leave the matter of forgiveness between God and the abuser.

“Do not bring us to the time of trial.” Life is full of joys and also full of challenges, some of which stretch us to the limits of our faith and endurance. Scholars tell us that the “time of trial” probably refers to an occasion of severe struggle with the forces of darkness. We pray that God will be with us and will protect us if such a time comes in our lives.

And then Jesus tells us a wonderful parable. In the world of ancient middle eastern hospitality, if a stranger comes to your door at midnight and says that someone has arrived at his house and asks for a loaf of bread, everyone in Jesus’ audience, certainly every one of the disciples, would have assumed that of course you would get up and give them a loaf of bread.

So, if all of us frail humans would get up and give our neighbor what he needs, think how much more willing God is to give us what we need. “Ask, and it will be given you. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened.”

Our Lord is reminding us how much we are loved and how willing God is to give us what we need for the journey. At a time when most of us are praying fervently, Jesus is encouraging us to pray even more. Our Lord is reminding us how much we are loved and how much God wants to give us help and strength.

So, please, continue to pray as you are led by the Spirit.  Prayers are powerful. They can transform us, and they can transform the world, especially if we link them with action. “If you know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” So, let’s keep those prayers going.  Amen.