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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:…
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Christmas Eve   December 24, 2019

Isaiah 9:2-7
Psalm 96
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)

This year, I have been thinking of the word Emmanuel—God with us.

What does that mean? In what way or ways is God with us?

In one of the gospels appointed for Christmas, which is also the gospel we read on the First Sunday after Christmas, we read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

The Word is the One who called the whole creation into being, the One who has the power to create galaxies, the One who created the universe.

And today, we read of how the eternal Word, God, came to be with us. God didn’t skip any of the steps in being human. God was a little embryo inside his mother, Mary, just as we were inside our mothers.  Because his conception date was before his parents’ wedding date, and people could count, and perhaps some tongues could wag, he was born under a shadow of illegitimacy.

From the first, his family faced challenges. It was a long and extremely uncomfortable journey to Bethlehem for a pregnant woman. And after his birth, Herod decided to kill all the baby boys under the age of two, and the family became refugees, fleeing to Egypt for safety. The Eternal Word, coming to be with us, did not have a life of privilege.

After a while, the family returned to Nazareth, and we can picture Jesus learning the carpenter’s trade. His birth took place in a small town. and his life was lived in another small village. The first witnesses to this birth were the shepherds. For most of us, who live in small towns in Vermont, it is not a huge leap to picture angels calling our neighbor Vermont farmers to come to Fairfield or Montgomery or Fletcher or Franklin or Sheldon to welcome this new king who has been born in somebody’s stable.

God with us. A God who loves us that much. A God who gives us free will and, as we misuse that gift and get into more and more trouble,  comes to join us, to be one of us. That’s why we call Jesus our Good Shepherd. He loves us; he knows each of us, and he, like any biblical shepherd, goes out in front of us and leads us—leads us to the good water holes, the most nourishing pastures, leads us away from briars and poisonous plants, and risks his life protecting us from lions and bears. There actually were lions and bears in Israel in the time of Jesus.

He was just an ordinary guy, working with his Dad in the carpenter shop. By the time he was old enough to do that, his family had faced major challenges that could have killed them. Then he went out into the world to share his message of love—love God, love each other, love everyone because everyone is a child of God just as we are. And he healed and welcomed and loved and taught everyone who came to him

And for that he was killed by people who had turf they wanted to protect. Even religious leaders. And, as Barbara Brown Taylor has told us, on that cross he took all that death and brokenness and hate and worked with it for three days and gave it back to us as life and love.

He was and is truly one of us—completely human and ordinary. He and Joseph could have helped us with the construction of our new interfaith food shelf building. And because he is one of us, and because he gives us his grace, we can follow him— follow his way of love. We can love people, feed them when they are hungry, give those who are thirsty something to drink, welcome people, give clothing to those who have nothing to wear, care for people when thy are sick, go and visit those are in prison, whether there are locks and bars or not.

His is a kingdom of peace, love, healing, and wholeness. If we follow him, if we become more and more like him, we will be helping him to build his kingdom, his shalom, “and the earth will be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.”

Come let us adore him. Come, let us follow him.  Amen.

Christmas Eve 2018

Isaiah 9:2-7
Psalm 96
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-14

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…” “The grace of God has appeared.” On this day, in the darkest time of year, the light is coming into the world.

The Roman Empire has decided to do a census, and Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem, not an easy thing for a young woman who is about to have her first child. But Mary and Joseph are people of profound faith, wisdom, endurance, and courage.

The baby is born in a cave used as a stable. There is no room at the inn. The first people to hear the good news are shepherds out in the fields protecting their flocks, not kings and emperors. The shepherds are the first to go and worship this new king.

We have heard this story many times, and yet it always brings new light and hope into our lives. Our King has come among us as one of us, as a vulnerable baby. He comes into the world just as we did. The angels proclaim this birth to ordinary people, people like us. The shepherds are living their lives, doing their work, and suddenly the sky is filled with light and the angels are telling them something that will change their lives.

At this darkest time of year, the light of Christ comes into our lives. We approach this baby once again, knowing that he is our Savior, and that he will walk the human journey with us, that he will understand our struggles, that he will know our frailties and still love us, that he will give us courage and grace.

As the hymn says, “Love came down at Christmas.” Thank you, Jesus, for your wondrous gift of yourself.  Amen.

Pentecost 2 Proper 4C RCL May 29, 2016

1 Kings 18:20-21. (22-29), 30-39
Psalm 96
Galatians 1:1-12
Luke 7:1-10

We are now in what the liturgical calendar calls “ordinary time.” Our vestments turn to green, the color of spring and summer growth, and we settle in for that long season until the coming of Advent.

Our first reading is a dramatic turning point in the history of God’s people.  King Ahab of the northern kingdom of Israel is married to the famous Queen Jezebel, who is a princess of Sidon, a coastal city on the Mediterranean Sea. James D. Newsome of Columbia Theological Seminary, tells us that a rich merchant class who had close ties with people in the cities of Tyre and Sidon formed a kind of oligarchy over the northern kingdom of Israel and “enriched itself off the produce of the land. often at the expense of the northern Israel peasantry.”  (Texts for Preaching, Year C, p. 362.)

Newsome points out that these people modeled themselves after their coastal friends in Phoenicia and worshipped Baal, a fertility god of Canaan and Phoenicia.The royal court and the upper classes were greedy and corrupt, and as usual, those at the bottom suffered most.

Scholars tell us that it is around 970 B.C. E. Morality and religious life have declined so much that there is only one prophet of God remaining, the great prophet Elijah, and there are four hundred fifty prophets of Baal.  Elijah is trying to call people back to the worship of God.

He proposes that he and the prophets of Baal will each be given a bull. He allows the prophets of Baal to choose which bull they will have, and they set up their sacrifice very carefully and call upon Baal, but nothing happens. Then Elijah sets up his sacrifice with great reverence and care. After he has prepared the sacrifice, he orders that  it be drenched in water to the point of overflowing. This insures that it will be difficult for God to set this sacrifice on fire. But, when Elijah calls on God, the fire consumes the entire sacrifice even to the point of tongues of fire licking at the water in the trench.

This makes a good story, but it is far more than that. As Newsome points out, the prophets Elijah and Elisha are concerned about two important issues—faithfulness and justice. Elijah is the only prophet of God left in the world. What courage it took for Elijah to engage in this showdown with the prophets of Baal. But Elijah has such deep faith in God that he takes this step. As Newsome writes, “Elijah risks everything, and God responds to that risk.”

Newsome writes that the essence of this text “is to be found in the prophets’ commitment to the God of Israel as the true Lord of life, in their dedication to justice, and in their compassion and intention to help people who did not have the means to help themselves.” (Texts for Preaching, Year C, p. 363.) Immediately after this event, Elijah has to flee for his life.

In today’s reading from his Letter to the Galatians, Paul is responding to a crisis in the life of the Galatian congregations. Some new Christians or perhaps new teachers have come into the communities of faith in Asia Minor, what we would call Turkey, and they are insisting that, as Christians, people must follow the Law of Moses, or at least, must adhere to the practice of circumcision.

Paul states that his authority comes from God, not from human authorities. He reminds them and us that our Lord gave his life to set us free. And then he tells the people how  surprised and shocked he is that they are deserting the gospel. They are allowing humans to draw them away from the good news in Christ to obedience to the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law.

He calls them to return to the true gospel. He reminds them that Christ did not call them to follow the letter of the law, but to follow the spirit of the law of love.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is coming into Capernaum. There is a centurion, a Roman military officer, who has a slave who is ill and close to death. Now this centurion is a powerful and wealthy officer in the Roman occupation army. But he is also someone who cares about his neighbors and supports the local synagogue. He asks some of the Jewish elders to appeal to Jesus to heal his beloved slave.

Jesus goes with them, but then the centurion sends a message to Jesus not to come. “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. But speak the word only, and my servant will be healed.” He has heard about Jesus, and he has sensed Jesus’ authority. Herbert O’Driscoll points out another aspect of the centurion’s reasoning, and that is that, for Jesus as a Jew to enter the centurion’s Gentile home would make Jesus ritually unclean. But the centurion does not mention this awkward issue. He simply and humbly states his own unworthiness to have Jesus as a visitor.

The centurion knows about worldly power. He is at the top of the corporate military structure. He knows about command and obedience. And he realizes that Jesus has a spiritual power beyond anything he has ever experienced. In essence, this centurion has become a follower of Jesus even as he is asking Jesus not to visit his home.

Jesus recognizes the faith of this man, and, when the messengers reach the centurion’s home, the servant has already been healed.

Our readings today remind us that ours is a God of justice and love who cares about all people. Because of the life and ministry of Jesus, we are called to go beyond the letter to the spirit of the law. Most of all, we have three powerful examples of people of faith: Elijah, who as the last living prophet calls on God with total faith and receives God’s powerful response; Paul, who roots himself deeply in faith in Christ and calls us to follow the law of love; and this centurion, with his combination of privilege, compassion, humility, spiritual intuition, and deep faith, who calls upon Jesus to heal his servant. May we follow their example of faith. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Pentecost 2 Proper 4C RCL June 2, 2013

1 Kings 18:20-
Psalm 96
Galatians 1:1-12
Luke 7:7-10

Our first reading this morning is a crucial moment in the history of God’s people. We are in the Northern Kingdom of Israel about the year 970 B. C.  Many of the people of God have turned to the worship of the fertility god, Baal. Many of the practices of Baal worship we would consider to be immoral.. At this point, Baal has 450 prophets, and the Lord God has one prophet, the faithful and courageous Elijah.

In order to show which one is the true God, Elijah proposes that two burnt offerings be set up, but no fire kindled on either offering. He generously offers to the prophets of Baal that they go first, calling on their god to set fire to the offering. Nothing happens.

Then Elijah calls the people closer to him. First, he repairs the altar of God which had been torn down. Then Elijah builds a new altar. This is so important. Elijah puts God first.

Elijah makes a trench around the altar. Then he builds the burnt offering.

Now the offering is prepared. What does Elijah do? He has the people fill huge jars with water and drench the offering. The water is flowing into the moat around the altar. The odds against this offering ever bursting into flame are extremely high.  Then Elijah prays to God.  God is God and Elijah is God’s servant doing God’s will.  All of this is to call the people back to God. The fire falls and consumes not only the offering, but all the water. And the people see that God is indeed God.

In our epistle, we see that Paul is the midst of conflict. The first problem is that some people feel that, in order to join the community, people had to follow the law, which meant that they had to be circumcised.

The second issue is whether Paul is a true apostle. There are many voices,  many teachers. Then as now, there were teachers who tended to tell people what they wanted to hear.  Paul starts out by telling the people that he is “….sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities but through Jesus Christ and God the Father.” Paul reminds us that God raised Jesus from the dead, in other words, that Paul is preaching from the power of the resurrection, and he is surrounded by members of a community of faith.

Paul gives his usual greeting, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” but then he adds a profound thought, “and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age.” What does this mean? Is everything about our present age evil? No. There are many goods things happening. But there are some things that don’t fit with centering our lives in God and Christ and the Spirit.  There are many things in our culture which can distract us from following Jesus. By his life, death, and rising again, he has freed us to follow him and given us the grace to walk that journey in faith. One thing from which he has freed us is being bound by the Mosaic law in a literal way.

Paul tells us that he is not interested in pleasing people, but in pleasing God. People pleasing can be a big distraction.  Paul is not into building an empire for himself. He is not trying to keep everyone happy; he is trying to be a faithful servant of Christ. Sometimes we have to make decisions that may not bring us great wealth or great popularity,  or great power, but those are not the values by which we are called to live.

Today’s gospel is a wonderful story of healing that tells us so much about  Jesus and about this centurion.  Herbert O’Driscoll tells us that those who served in the Roman military could be sent to a far away outpost and spend their whole lives there, reporting to a headquarters at a great distance. When this happened, they often made friends where they were serving and became part of the community. This centurion has done exactly that. His slave becomes deathly ill. Probably this slave is a highly educated Greek person who teaches the centurion’s children. The slave is a beloved member of the family. The centurion and his slave are both Gentiles.

O’Driscoll points out that the centurion knows that Jesus has just come into Capernaum and that Jesus is a healer and a Jew. If the centurion asks Jesus to help his beloved slave, this could cause problems for Jesus. Helping the slave of an occupier of the country could alienate the Jewish community. So the centurion  calls upon some of his Jewish friends to ask for Jesus’ help. They “appeal to Jesus earnestly.” They tell Jesus what a good person the centurion is.

Jesus goes with them. But now, O’Driscoll tells us, the centurion, “shows his decency and his sensitivity.  He knows that it is technically a defilement for a Jew to come under his foreign Gentile roof. So the message comes to Jesus. It avoids the ugly truth about defilement. Instead it pays a compliment. It says, very graciously, “I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you.’ Then in a single sentence, it expresses what the Roman has sensed in Jesus of Nazareth—an immense natural authority:  ‘Only speak the word and let my servant be healed.’”

“In all this, Jesus had missed nothing. He had become aware of the special kind of human being he was dealing with. The trust shown in him by this man astonished our Lord, and so perhaps he was moved to say a potentially dangerous thing: ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.’ The fact that those who surrounded him were friends of the centurion probably prevented an angry reaction. It is quite possible, however, that someone in the crowd duly noted what Jesus had said, and subsequently quietly reported it to those who were interested in gathering evidence about this man from Nazareth. This danger was never far away.”

O’Driscoll illuminates the deep connection between  Jesus and this centurion. Both were under authority, Jesus under the authority of God and the centurion under the authority of the emperor of Rome. Barriers are broken and the slave is healed.

Elijah is one prophet against 450 false prophets. Paul calls us to follow the spirit rather than the letter of the law. Jesus and the centurion break through barriers to heal this beloved slave. Following the way of God and Jesus and the Spirit is not always  easy. It can be lonely, as it was for Elijah. It can be unpopular, as it was for Paul, It can be extremely complicated and dangerous as it was for all our heroes today. But the clarity, the rootedness, the grace, the healing, and the joy are there for us to see and for us to experience in our own lives.  May we follow these holy examples in our own lives. Amen.