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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:…
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Pentecost 20 Proper 24A October 18, 2020

Exodus 33:12-23
Psalm 99
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Matthew 22:15-22

Last Sunday, in the words of my beloved mentor David Brown, God was about to “gunch” God’s people because they built the golden calf. This placed Moses in an extremely awkward situation.  God is about to rain fire down on the people Moses has led many miles into the wilderness. We can imagine that Moses found this a terrifying prospect. Remember that old saying, “Faith is fear that has said its prayers?” Moses has clearly devoted himself to mammoth amounts of prayer, thus replacing any fear with wholehearted faith. He convinces God that God should not consume God’s people with fire.

As we approach our reading for today, we remember that ancient people firmly believed that you could not see God and live. God was so powerful that being close to God or seeing the face of God would kill you.

At this point, God and Moses have had quite a long relationship and a rich dialogue. In our reading for today, Moses asks God to “show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight.” And God answers, “My presence will go with you and I will give you rest.” Then Moses tells God that if God will not go with the people, there is no sense in their going ahead on their journey. And God says that God will go with them.

And then Moses asks something that probably no human had ever asked. “Show me your glory, I pray,” Moses asks. And God says that God will go past a place in the rock and will put Moses in a cleft of the rock and will cover Moses with God’s hand while God passes by. This way, Moses will not see God’s face and will not die from seeing the sheer power of God.

In leading the people of God from slavery into freedom, Moses has had some powerful conversations with God. This faithful leader has actually convinced God to change God’s mind. In the process, Moses has gotten to know God better and better. And I’m going to say that Moses has come to love God. God listens to him and actually follows his advice! Because he loves God and wants to know God as fully as he can, Moses asks something that no one has ever asked before, He wants to see God’s glory. He knows very well that no one can see the face of God and live.

God listens to Moses, as God has listened even when Moses disagreed with God. It has been a long journey since Moses turned aside from watching and guarding the flock of Reuel his father-in-law and saw a bush which was burning but was not consumed. And heard the voice of God coming from that fire. Heard the voice of God calling him, Moses, just an ordinary human, to go back to Egypt and lead the people of God out of slavery.

In one of the most tender and touching passages in Scripture, God answers Yes to Moses’ request. Moses will be able to see God’s glory, but Moses will be protected by being in the cleft of the rock and being covered by God’s almighty and loving hand so that Moses will not die.

In contrast to being a force of destructive power, God is now developing a very close and loving relationship with God’s chosen leader of the people, Moses. In the Hebrew Scriptures, God often appears as a God who regularly gunches people when they go astray. Sodom and Gomorrah come to mind. But this tender moment between God and Moses is a little glimpse into our evolving human understanding of God as not only transcendent, a God mighty enough to create the universe and stand above and beyond the creation, far away and mighty in power, but also immanent, a God who is close to us, as close as our breath, as close as the beating of our hearts.

As Christians, we believe that God loves us beyond our ability to understand or imagine. Yes, loves us frail and fallible creatures who are anything but perfect—loves us so much that, as our loving God watched us make one disastrous choice after another and grow closer and closer to some cosmic brink, our loving God realized the only way to reach us was to become one of us.

And so, in a little place called Bethlehem, Jesus was born. And he was raised in another little town called Nazareth. A town much like Sheldon or Fletcher or Montgomery or Franklin or Fairfield or any other little town in Vermont. Nazareth was out of the way and it was a place where folks could think for themselves and not be so much under the sway of the occupying Roman Empire. Jesus is our gracious God choosing out of love to walk the face of the earth and live among us to show us the way to new life.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is being grilled by the Pharisees and the Herodians. Their question is, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?” Jesus is caught between the Devil and the deep  blue sea on this one. The Herodians are pro-Caesar and the Pharisees are anti-Caesar. Jesus asks for a coin, and he says, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s.”

As Christians, we know that everything we have is a gift from God. Even our very lives. Every breath. The energy to be able to help other people. The vision of a kingdom, a shalom of peace, love, and wholeness for the creation.

The Roman Empire occupied Palestine at that time. They were great engineers. The roads and aqueducts were great, but the government was ruthless. One whiff of  insurrection and they squashed it. Once again, we have David Brown’s very helpful distinction: what is the meaning of authority? The distinction is between auctoritas—authorship, creativity, flexibilility, freeing people to realize their God-given potential and imperium—tyranny, control, imprisoning people for the slightest infraction, squashing opposition, removing freedom, — a heavy boot coming down on the people and killing them.

For survival’s sake, we might pay our taxes to Rome so that we won’t be arrested or killed. Or we might try to rebel. But to God, we owe everything—God’s gifts of time, talent, and treasure, the gifts of faith, hope, and love and all that goes with those gifts. We offer our lives to God so that God can lead us and guide us into what God is calling us to do. God is a God of freedom, love, and creativity. Tyranny tries to annihilate all those gifts. 

And so, Moses and God deepen their partnership in leading the people to freedom. And our Lord calls us to offer our lives in gratitude to our loving God, our Holy One, who leads us into the freedom and grace of new life. Amen.

The Last Sunday after Epiphany 3/3/2019

Exodus 34:29-35
Psalm 99
2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2
Luke 9:28-36, (37-43)

Today is the Last Sunday after Epiphany. We move from the Epiphany season, the season of light and mission, into Lent, a time of penitence, self-examination, and prayer, a time for askesis, spiritual fitness, a time to confess our sins, ask God’s forgiveness, and grow closer to God. Today is also called Transfiguration Sunday because of our gospel reading.

Our first reading is from the Book of Exodus. The people of God have been enslaved in Egypt, and they are now on their journey to freedom. Moses, their leader, goes up Mount Sinai to receive the tablets of the law. The skin of Moses’ face is shining with the light of the presence of God. When Aaron and the people see Moses’ face, they are afraid to come near him. They are afraid of God, They believe the old saying that, if you see the face of God, you will die. So Moses covers his face with a veil when he returns from talking with God.

In our gospel, it is about eight days after the feeding of the five thousand and after the conversation in which Jesus asks his disciples who they think he is. Peter answers, “The Messiah of God.” Jesus takes his closest followers, Peter and James and John up to the mountain to pray.

And while he is praying, his entire person shows forth the the light of the presence of God. The two great prophets, Moses and Elijah, are there talking with Jesus, showing that he is in the line of the greatest prophets in history. Peter, dear Peter, says, “Master, it is good that we are here with you. Let’s make three shrines, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. He wants to make sure this moment will be forever preserved in history. He wants to build a monument.

Then a cloud comes over them, the same cloud that covered Moses on Mount Sinai, the cloud that shows God is present, and God speaks, “This is my Son, my chosen. Listen to him!”

If this had taken place in the time of Moses, Peter and James and John would never have been on the mountain. They would never have been in the presence of Jesus and God. If by some strange error they had been, they would have run down the mountain screaming in horror because they were afraid of the presence of God.

But none of that happened. Yes, they had been drowsy but they had stayed awake and they had seen the whole thing—Jesus with Moses and Elijah, and then God descending to the top of the mountain and telling them to listen to His Son. Yet they did not run away howling in terror.

Paul talks about this in his letter today. He writes, “All of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord, …are being transformed into the same image from one glory to another.” In other words, we are being transformed into Christ.

Peter and James and John had decided to follow Jesus. They had prayed with him, eaten meals with him, watched him heal people, listened to his teachings, helped him to feed five thousand people. They had observed how he treated each person with great care and respect. Peter had figured out that Jesus was the Savior whom they had all been expecting, they had all been hoping for.

And yet, when they were on that mountain, and the two great prophets were there and then God was also there, Peter and James and John were in awe for certain, but they were not afraid as God’ s people had been afraid in Moses’ time, a little over a thousand years before.

Why was that? What had happened? Why were these three close followers awe-struck but not running away in terror? Because God had come to live with them, to walk with them, to talk with them, to teach them, pray with them, heal them, lead them as their good shepherd, and be with them every day of their lives.

God had come to be close to them, to be with them, and what they felt most of all, was God’s love for them, a transforming love, and that is what St. Paul is trying to express in this portion of his Second Letter to the Corinthians.

Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. Jesus has come to be with us, to lead us and guide us. Here on Transfiguration Sunday, we see our Lord as he truly is—powerful, but not in a way that paralyzes us with terror. His is the power of love.

As we prepare for Ash Wednesday and for the season of Lent, and as we do honest self-examination and confession of our sins, our Lord calls us to remember that this is part of our ongoing process of transformation. We are becoming more like him. We are placing ourselves and our lives in the hands of our loving God.

He is in our midst, calling us to follow him, not out of fear but out of love.   Amen.

Pentecost 20 Proper 24A RCL October 22, 2017

Exodus 33:12-23
Psalm 99
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Matthew 22:15-22

In our first reading, we rejoin the people of God just after they have made the golden calf. God and Moses are doing the work of reconciliation after the people have broken their covenant with God. Moses is realizing something we all face many times during our lives: he and the people cannot continue on the journey unless God is with them.

God promises to go with Moses and the people, but Moses needs proof. God says that God will “make all [God’s] goodness pass before [Moses].” But Moses cannot look upon the face of God and live. Back in those times thousands of years ago, people believed that the glory of God was so great that they could not look at God and continue to live.

The thing that strikes me about this passage today is that, because of God’s love, which is so clear to us, God came among us. God lived a fully human life in Jesus, and we have beheld the face of God and lived.

There is a story of an old French peasant who came to church every day and just sat and stared silently at the crucifix behind the altar. Someone asked him what he was doing, and he said, “I just look at Him, and He looks at me.”

Our reading from Paul’s Letter to the Thessalonians is, first of all, the earliest writing in the New Testament, from the early 50s A.D. The Thessalonians had faced great opposition in beginning their community of faith; they had moved ahead with great determination; they had changed from worshipping the idols of their surrounding culture and now their faith is so renowned that everyone in Macedonia and Achaia knows about them. They are a shining example to their brothers and sisters in Christ.

In our gospel  for today, Jesus is in the temple. It is the Passover and people have come from all over the world. Whatever is going to happen is going to be seen by many, many people. Various factions who want to protect their power have gathered to trap Jesus. The Pharisees, who are anti-Roman, send some of their disciples to work with the Herodians, who are pro-Roman. They begin with flattery and then they ask if it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar.

Jesus asks them to show him a coin. He does not carry Roman coins, so he is not showing loyalty to the feared and hated Roman Empire. He asks whose head is on the coin. It is the head of Caesar and he is the emperor. And then Jesus says that enigmatic thing that leads us to truth: “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

As we know, everything belongs to God. Charles Cousar, Professor of New Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia points out that the word translated as “head” in this passage is the Greek eikon.  Cousar writes, “The coin of course bears Caesar’s eikon and  belongs to Caesar. Humans, on the other hand, bear the eikon of God. They may pay the infamous poll tax, but they do not belong to the emperor. They themselves belong to God.”

Cousar points out that this passage does not make God and Caesar equals. He adds, “nor are they symbolic names for separate realms. Humans bear God’s image, and wherever they live and operate—whether in the social, economic,  political or religious realm—they belong to God.”

Cousar concludes, “Furthermore, the text operates subversively in every context in which governments act as if citizens have no higher commitments than to the state. When the divine image is denied and persons are made by political circumstances to be less than human, then the text carries a revolutionary word, a word that has to be spoken to both oppressed and oppressor.” (Texts for Preaching, Year A, pp. 532-33.)

We have seen the face of God in Jesus. We have walked with him and talked with him. He has taught us. He has led us to the green pastures and the still waters where we can drink from the freshness of his divine grace.

He has shared with us the vision of his kingdom, his shalom, where all people belong to him just as we do, and where all people live in peace, have the basic needs of life such as food and shelter and clothing and medical care and good work to do.

Because we belong to God, because we are following Jesus, we are called to keep his vision of shalom clearly in mind in all that we do and to make choices that will help to build that shalom.

May we sense how deeply we belong to God and how much God loves us and all people. May we pray the prayer of Christ, seek the mind of Christ, and do the deeds of Christ. Amen.

Last Sunday after the Epiphany Year A RCL February 26, 2017

Exodus 24:12-18
Psalm 99
2 Peter 1:16-21
Matthew 17:1-9

The Epiphany season, the season of light and mission, is coming to a close. We are about to begin the journey of Lent. In our opening reading, God’s people have escaped their slavery in Egypt, but they are going to embark on their forty days of journeying in the wilderness.

God calls Moses to go up on Mount Sinai. Moses will receive the tablets of the law. This is a terrifying journey for Moses. Herbert O’Driscoll reminds us that Mt. Sinai at this time was an active volcano. Moses is a very smart man, He does not go into this terror alone. For the first part of the trip, in addition to his assistant Joshua, he takes the seventy elders plus Aaron and Hur. As he moves to the final ascent,  he leaves Aaron and Hur in charge of the assembly. They will help to resolve any conflicts that may arise.

Moses remains on the mountain for forty days. When he comes back down, the people have already grown impatient and have fashioned the golden calf.

In our gospel for today, Jesus has just told the disciples that he is going to have to go to Jerusalem, that the authorities are watching his every move, and that he is going to die. He has also asked them who they think he is, and Peter has made his passionate and forceful statement that Jesus is the Messiah.

Jesus takes his three closest disciples, Peter, James, and John, and leads them up the mountain. Jesus is transfigured. He becomes luminescent, dazzling white. Moses and Elijah appear with him. They even talk with him, reminding us that Jesus is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. It is an impressive, even scary, scene. Peter tries to capture the moment. offering to build three dwellings, one for each of the three revered figures. As we know, we cannot hold on to these moments. They are incredibly powerful and life-changing, but their meaning can be held only in the heart and mind.

Then God speaks and reminds us who Jesus really is. God also adds the wise command, “Listen to him.” With this, the disciples are totally overcome with fear. They fall to the ground. It is one thing to climb up a high mountain with your beloved teacher and Lord and see him utterly transformed.  It is quite another thing to hear the voice of God saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.”

They have lost their footing. They have perhaps even lost consciousness. In any case, they have fallen onto the ground. The text says, “They were overcome by  fear.” They are shaking in terror. They are beside themselves. They have no idea what to do.

They have seen Jesus as he truly is. Peter was already aware of this reality, and I think the others had realized it, too. But now the close relationship between Jesus and God is completely apparent. They may have thought they were climbing the mountain with their friend and teacher, Jesus, whom they loved and admired, but now it is clear that Jesus is the Son of God. Peter and James and John have now been in the presence of the living God. We have to remember that, even in the time of Jesus, people believed that you could not be in the presence of God and survive. And yet they have. They may be on the ground shaking with terror, but they are still alive.

Jesus has told them what is going to happen, and now, they may be wanting to run for their lives. Away from the turmoil and violence. Away from the horror of the cross. But they cannot do it. Their legs are like rubber and they are paralyzed with fear.

And then something amazing happens. Jesus comes and touches them. Maybe he puts a reassuring hand on their shoulder. In times of fear and lostness, a touch can heal as nothing else can. Not only does he touch them, he also says something that they will remember all their lives. He says, “Get up and do not be afraid.” “Get up and do not be afraid.”

How many times have we been paralyzed by fear, or helpless with fear and Jesus comes and calls to us to get up and not be afraid. How many times will Peter and James and John remember this moment and these words from our Lord as they go about their ministries?

They will remember these words and the love of Jesus as they mourn his death. They will remember these words and the love and healing and forgiveness of our Lord as they realize what has happened on the first Easter.

Every year we read the gospel of the Transfiguration on this Last Sunday after the Epiphany. I believe that we do this because we need to know who Jesus really is as we prepare for our Lenten journey. Jesus is the one who touches us, touches our places of fear and doubt, and calls us to get up, have faith, and follow him.

This year, our Bishop has given us the gift of the Lenten Program, “Living Life Marked as Christ’s Own.” As you follow this program though Lent, you can also subscribe to the video series 5marksoflove.org. You will receive a daily email, a video, and a question for reflection. Please see your booklet to find out more.

Lent is a time to grow closer to our Lord, as the old hymn says, “To see him more clearly, love him more dearly, and follow him more nearly. day by day.” May we follow him. Amen.

Last Sunday after the Epiphany Year C RCL February 7, 2016

Exodus 34:29-35
Psalm 99
2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2
Luke 9:28-36, (37-43)

We are ending the Epiphany season and getting ready to enter the season of Lent. In our opening reading from the Book of Exodus, Moses comes down from the mountain with the tablets of the Ten Commandments in his hand. The skin of his face is shining with the shekina, the light of the presence of God.

Moses is showing forth the glory of God because he has spent time in the presence of God receiving the Law. This makes him a holy person, a person to be revered and admired. It also makes him someone to be feared because people of that time believed that you could not see God and live. So Moses veils his face to protect the people from the light of God’s presence.

As we look at our reading from the Second Letter to the Corinthians, we remember that Paul was a Pharisee, a legal scholar, and an expert on the Law. He had studied the Law carefully all his life. Yet he is the one who said that the law convicts us. We do the things that we do not want to do, and we do not do the things that we know we should do, and we are caught in a tangle of sin, and we are paralyzed in that tangle and we lose hope of ever making any progress.

In this letter, Paul is contrasting the grace of the law and the grace that comes through Jesus. Moses had to put a veil over his face because people were scared of God. Now, we can see God face to face as we look into the face of Jesus, our Lord and Savior. And so, we are a people of hope. We are being transformed into the likeness of Christ.

In our gospel for today, we go up on the mountain with our Lord. Just before this, Jesus has asked the disciples who they think he is, and Peter has replied that Jesus is the messiah. We go up the mountain to pray with our Lord, and  with Peter and James and John. And Jesus shines forth with the presence and power of God. Then Moses and Elijah, the two great prophets, are talking with him, and they are shining with the light of God’s presence.

Peter and James and John are, the text says, “weighed down with sleep.” We know how that feels. They have been awake for a long time, They are tired, but they are awake and they see Jesus and Moses and Elijah.

Peter knows that this is a holy moment and he thinks it would be good to build a shrine so that they can come back and see Jesus and these two great prophets. But, like all mountaintop experiences, this one cannot be frozen in time.

And then the cloud, much like the cloud that often hung about Mt. Sinai when Moses was meeting with God, the cloud that signifies God’s presence, descends upon the mountain, and God tells them and us, “This is my Son, my Chosen. Listen to him!”

The next minute, the cloud is gone; Moses and Elijah are gone. Jesus stands alone.

We have all had those mountaintop experiences. There may have been moments on retreats when we have been aware of the closeness of our Lord. We realize that he has been leading and guiding us all the time, and we can sense the depth of his love for us.

Our mountaintop experience may have been time in worship when the beauty of the service touches us so deeply that we cannot even find words to express it. When I first began to attend the Episcopal Church, just those few words at the end of the Lord’s prayer, “For ever and ever,” meant so much to me. They gave me a sense of the everlasting and infinite nature of God. Ancient chants such as, “Let all mortal flesh keep silence” express so much about the power and holiness of God.

So often, these moments come right in the midst of ordinary life. Barbara Brown Taylor writes of feeling close to God as she was hanging laundry on the line in the warm sun and the fresh air. How often have we been deeply aware of God’s presence in a sunrise or a sunset, in a beautiful natural setting.

Many times, we sense God’s presence when we are with people we love. Their acceptance and understanding when we share something that is troubling us; their wise guidance when we are feeling overwhelmed; or their enthusiastic sharing of a triumphant moment in our lives all speak of God’s love.

Today, we are on the mountaintop with Jesus, and we see who he really is. We see the glory of God radiating from him, but we are not like the people of Moses’ time so many centuries ago. We are not afraid. We see who he really is, but we also experience his love. We remember all the sick people he has healed, all the children he has held in his arms, all the people who thought they were outcasts welcomed into his loving community. We remember all that he has done for us.

So, when we are commanded to listen to him, this is something we can do. We can listen to him and we can follow him, because he has taken away the old fear and replaced it with love. He has taken away the old paralysis in the face of the law and replaced it with hope, He has taken away the overwhelming weight of sin and replaced it with forgiveness and the grace to learn and do better.

We are on a journey with him to become more like him. We are on a journey of transformation. May we follow him.  Amen.

Last Sunday after the Epiphany March 2, 2014

Exodus 24:12-18

Psalm 99

2 Peter 1:16-21

Matthew 17:1-9

Our first lesson takes us back three thousand years. The people of God have arrived at Mount Sinai. God has called Moses to go to the top of the mountain to receive the tablets of the law. Herbert O’Driscoll reminds us that back in those days, people thought that gods lived on mountains because mountains are elevated, reaching to the heavens. He tells us that at that time Mount Sinai was an active volcano, so when we read of fire and smoke coming from the mountain, we have to imagine the active volcanoes we have seen in pictures or perhaps experienced.(O’Driscoll, The Word Today, Year A, Vol. 1, p. 120.)

Back in those days, people truly believed that you could not look on the face of God and live, You could not get close to God and live through it. What courage Moses shows in going to the top of the mountain to meet with God! The elders go part way up. He tells them to stay and wait. Then Moses and Joshua go to the top of the mountain. They stay for forty days and forty nights.

What a different experience we have of God because of Jesus coming to be with us.

Six days after Peter says that Jesus is the Savior, Jesus takes Peter and James and John and they go up the mountain. Scholars tell us that it was probably Mt. Hermon, near Caesarea Philippi. Jesus is transfigured. He becomes who he really is. Moses and Elijah are there, showing that Jesus is a great leader along with the spiritual giants of his people.

I can’t help but think of our favorite super heroes. Mild mannered Clark Kent ducks into a phone booth and emerges as Superman. Jesus has shared meals with the disciples, taught them, encouraged them, loved them. He has been one of them. He has been and is a fellow human being. Now they see that he is something much more than human. They see what they and we can become as spiritual beings.

Peter wants to capture the moment. Oh, how we want to save these mountaintop experiences for all time! But we can’t. Nor can we live at that level of heightened excitement all the time. We would die of heart attacks.

They see who he really is—the Son of God—and the voice of God confirms the fact. They are terrified. They still believe that you cannot be near God and live. But Jesus touches them and reassures them, He tells them not to be afraid. Everything has changed because of Jesus. We can now walk with God, We do not have to be afraid.

This is the scene we see on this last Sunday before the beginning of Lent. As we prepare to walk the way of the Cross, we see Jesus in his glory. This reminds us that, with Jesus, there is always light in the midst of darkness, wholeness in the midst of brokenness, life in the midst of death. It also reminds us that we are on a journey of transformation.

Our epistle from Peter talks about something very powerful. Think what it was for people to hear about Jesus from someone who had gone up the mountain with our Lord. Think what it must have been like to hear about Jesus from one of the people who had spent all that time with our Lord, someone who had walked and talked with Jesus, someone who knew Jesus as friend, mentor and teacher, someone who had seen Jesus transfigured on that day.

This is someone who can convey the very presence of Jesus to us, someone who can bring us into the presence of Jesus. By the time this letter was written, the Church was undergoing persecution. Peter writes, “You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”

The reality of Jesus, his love and his grace, his presence walking with us through the challenges of life, is a powerful thing. He is the light in the darkness. He brings a new day of hope, and faith rises again in our hearts.

This Wednesday we will gather to begin Lent. We will have ashes on our foreheads, which will remind us of our mortality and our frail humanity. We will begin to walk the Way of the Cross.

As we prepare for Lent, let us think about these two mountaintop experiences. In the first one, Moses and Joshua went up the mountain, and it was terrifying. God’s power was something to be feared. In the second experience, with Jesus and James and John, yes it was awe- inspiring and scary to hear the voice of God, but, when it was all over, Jesus was there alone before them. Yes, he is the Savior, and he walks down the mountain with us and keeps on walking with us just as he had before.

Jesus is one of us. Yet he is God walking the face of the earth. He is fully human and fully divine. And we are going to walk the Way of the Cross with him. And he is going to face the worst of what warped human power can do. And it is going to be awful. But, through it all, there is going to be that light shining in the very darkest places. The day will dawn, and the morning star will rise in our hearts.

Amen.

Pentecost 18 Proper 24, October 16, 2011

Pentecost 18 Proper 24A RCL  October 16, 2011

Exodus 33:12-23
Psalm 99
1 Thessalonians 1: 1-10
Matthew 22: 15-22

As we rejoin Moses and the people, we recall that the people have committed the sin of idolatry. They have made a golden calf.  The relationship between God and the people has been restored, and now God is calling Moses to continue to lead the people on their journey. Moses realizes how difficult this task is going to be, and he also senses that he is not going to be able to do this without God’s help. Moses and God have a very intimate dialogue, and God promises Moses that God will go with Moses and the people. The living God is very different from an inanimate golden calf.

In today’s gospel, the Pharisees are trying to trap Jesus. First, they flatter him. Then they ask him whether it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not. As we know, Palestine was under the control of an occupation government, the Roman Empire. People hated the Romans, and they hated the tax collectors who collected their money to support the mighty empire. Some people felt it was a terrible thing to even handle a Roman coin, let alone pay taxes to Rome. In the crowd here, there were people from all kinds of factions.  The Pharisees were anti-Roman and the Herodians were pro-Roman.  In today’s gospel, they are joining forces to trap Jesus. They are asking their questions during the Passover festival, when people have thronged to Jerusalem from all over. At this time, feelings always run high. These people are trying to get Jesus in trouble with both the Roman and Jewish authorities.

Jesus asks them for a coin. This implies that he does not carry such coins, which means that he is not going to offend any of the anti-Roman folks by whipping out a denarius. They give him the coin. He asks whose head is on it, and they answer, “The emperor’s.” Then he gives that paradoxical and puzzling response, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s.” This so completely defeats their purpose that they actually walk away.

He has avoided their trap. It is important for us to remember that Christians under the Roman Empire refused to worship the emperor and to fight in the Roman armies. For this, they were persecuted. Christians today face persecution all over the world because they do not bow to the wishes of tyrants.  

For us as Christians, God is at the center of everything. There isn’t a part of our lives that is devoted to government and politics and then another part of our lives that is devoted to God. When we consider important issues, we are called to consider them in the light of our faith. When we vote, we are called to vote for the people we think are going to work toward the goals of God’s kingdom. Our lives and decisions are not compartmentalized. Every realm belongs to God, and in every realm we are called to seek God’s will.

As we have said before, Paul was the Johnny Appleseed of church growth. He would plant a church, teach and preach and heal and build a community, and then leave the community under local leadership and move on to start yet another church.  We learn much about the Thessalonian church from the Book of Acts. The founding of the church was difficult. There was a great deal of opposition from the local Jewish community, so much opposition that Paul, Silas, and Timothy had to leave. Timothy has recently visited the church there, and has reported to Paul that things are going well. Timothy has let Paul know that the people are concerned because Paul has not returned to visit them. No doubt Paul has this in mind as he writes to them.

Paul tells them that he always gives thanks for them and prays for them, remembering their “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” He tells them that God has chosen them. He recalls that, even though they were persecuted, they received the word and their faith grew. He also says that his work of evangelism was not a one-way street. He shared the good news with them, but they also changed him. And the Holy Spirit worked mightily to make them a strong and vibrant community that is an example to Christians all around the area of Macedonia and Achaia.

Scholars tell us that this is Paul’s earliest letter. Thus, it is the earliest documentation of the Christian faith. That’s pretty exciting. We can imagine Paul going to this community, spending time with the people, probably talking to folks in his work as a tentmaker, stopping by workshops or speaking with people in small groups. The community of faith formed, and the people accepted the new faith not only in their minds but in their hearts and lives, It wasn’t just an intellectual thing. It was much deeper. Apparently they had also turned away from various idols into a deeper faith in the living God.

Because of their deep and living faith, they have become heroes of the faith to surrounding congregations. They have become famous, Paul doesn’t have to hold up their achievement, others already know about it.

What a wonderful letter, It sums up our other two lessons. These people have God at the center of their lives. They have given up their idols.  And they have become a holy example.  

So I would like to say to you this morning that I give thanks for you, and I keep you in my prayers. I thank God for your faith and devotion, for your resilience and humor in the face of challenges. I hope I have been able to bring the good news of God’s love and grace to you, and I can certainly say that you have deepened my faith and have shared God’s love and grace with me. We are in a lively dialogue of faith. This is definitely a mutual ministry. You are heroes of the faith to me.

So, thank you so much for the example of your faith, Thank you for all the wonderful ministry you do in your lives each day. Please keep me and each other in your prayers. Please keep up the good work, the humor, the faith, the steadiness, the steadfastness.

Reading this over, I realized that it may sound like a farewell sermon. So I just want to say that I have no plans to go anywhere. Every now and then it’s important to say certain things. Paul had especially deep love and admiration for the Philippians and the Thessalonians. I feel the same way about you.      Amen.