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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 8 Proper 12A July 26, 2020

Genesis 29:15-28
Psalm 105:1-11, 45b
Romans 8:26-39
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

In our first reading today, we continue the story of Jacob. He has gone to the home of his uncle, Laban, Rebekah’s brother. Jacob generously offers to work seven years in order to marry Rachel, whom he loves. The seven years pass, and, when Jacob asks for the hand of Rachel in marriage, Laban substitutes Leah for her sister.

When morning comes, it is clear that Laban, like Jacob, is a trickster and he has outsmarted Jacob. When Jacob questions this deception, Laban tells him that the local custom is to marry off the older daughter first. Jacob agrees to work another seven years in order to marry Rachel.

Why is Jacob, the trickster who usually wins, so agreeable about this arrangement? For one thing, he probably is not that eager to go home. After all, Esau has threatened to kill him. For another thing, he loves Rachel very much. If we look at this situation in its ancient context, he has been very fortunate. He has married within his mother’s family, as she had wished. As biblical scholar James Newsome puts it, “Not just any bedouin showing up at the oasis could hope to labor for the sheik’s daughter.” (Newsome Texts for Preaching Year A, p. 418.) 

Because of the family connections, Jacob will be able to marry the woman he loves. In his earlier years, we can imagine him trying to outsmart Laban in some way as he always did at home, but now, he quietly accepts and carries out the additional seven years of work. He is changing. He has been called by God, and he is beginning a process of transformation. One of the signs of this is that he will be persistent. He will complete those seven years.

In our gospel for today, we have several descriptions of the kingdom of heaven, It is like a mustard seed, the very smallest of seeds, You would think it would produce a tiny plant, but it grows into a large shrub where birds can nest. God’s kingdom can start small and grow into great power and beauty, Small is beautiful. This is a wonderful message for us here in Vermont. 

The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman mixed in with her flour and made delicious bread. The kingdom of heaven is often invisible, but it produces amazing results, like warm bread coming from the oven. The yeast transforms the flour and other ingredients.

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. You find it and it is so precious that you give everything you have in order to gain it.  Life in the shalom of God is so precious that we are willing to devote ourselves fully to being a part of it.

The shalom of God is a pearl of great price, something of great value, something to be cherished. It is like a net full of fish. It is a kingdom of abundance.

These are all glimpses into life in the shalom of God. It is a way of life that starts small and grows and grows. It is a life of transformation as we grow more and more into the likeness of our Lord. The shalom of God is something to which we can devote all our energies, helping our Lord to bring in his kingdom of peace and harmony, sharing his love and life with everyone. It is a life of abundance. God gives us all the gifts we need to  carry out our ministries and help to build God’s shalom if peace and love.

In our epistle for today, Paul tells us some wonderful things that can strengthen our faith. He reminds us that the Spirit prays for us when we cannot find the words to pray or cannot even formulate the thoughts to pray. God knows us so well and loves us so much that God prays on our behalf. As Paul writes, “The Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” What a comforting thought. God prays for us when we cannot, And they are deep prayers, “sighs too deep for words.” God is praying for us. 

Then, in the final portion of this reading, we have a passage of Scripture that rings down through the ages. “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life,  nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor heights nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

As we look out on our world, we see many people suffering and dying in this pandemic. We see people waiting in line for food. Waiting in line to be tested. We see a great deal of suffering.

And we may wonder, Where is God in all of this? Wherever love is being shown in this world, God is there. God is present in the skilled and loving service of doctors, nurses, EMTs, and other medical professionals who are risking their lives to help others. God is with the transport workers, grocery clerks, sanitation workers, child care workers, and so many others who are on the front lines every day helping all of us. God is present in the many acts of love and caring that we see every day. 

Nothing can stop the love of God. In the midst of everything that is going on, God is at work. Usually God works very quietly. No fanfare, no fuss. Just love at work. God is rooting for us, God is praying for us. And, if we listen for God’s still small voice in all the turmoil, God is leading us. If we listen carefully for the voice of Jesus, our Good Shepherd, he is guiding us. Amen.

May we always move in the direction of love. May we love God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, and may we love our neighbors as ourselves. Amen.

Pentecost 7 Proper 11A July 19, 2020

Genesis 28:10-19a
Psalm 139:1-11, 22-23
Romans 8:12-25
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

In our first reading, from the Book of Genesis, Jacob is on the run. Last week, we read about how he manipulated his older brother Esau into selling his birthright for a bowl of stew. This means that Esau will no longer be the head of the family when their father, Isaac, dies, Nor will Esau receive a double portion of the inheritance, which usually goes to the older son. Jacob has robbed his older brother of his birthright.

Meanwhile their father, Isaac, who is now blind, has realized that he will die soon. He wants to give Esau his blessing. He tells Esau to go out and kill some game, bring it in, prepare it, serve it to his father and then Isaac will give Esau his blessing.

Rebekah has listened in on Isaac’s conversation with Esau. Because she loves Jacob more than Esau, she hatches a plan for Jacob to get Isaac’s blessing instead of Esau. She kills two kids and makes them into a savory stew. Then she dresses Jacob in Esau’s clothes and covers his hands and neck with the skins of the kids so that, he, who has smooth skin, will seem as hairy as his older brother. Jacob pretends that he is Esau, serves his father the savory stew, and gets Isaac’s blessing, which cannot be revoked.

When Esau comes to see his father, offer Isaac his savory stew, and get his father’s blessing, he finds out what Jacob has done and vows to kill Jacob. Rebekah advises Jacob to go to their family in Haran, some 600 miles away in what is now Turkey.

Our reading takes place on the first night of Jacob’s journey. Jacob stops to rest. In Hebrew, Jacob’s name means “He supplants.” He has always thought of himself first, last, and always. He always wins. Now his older brother has vowed to find him and kill him.

Jacob takes a stone and uses it for a pillow, and he has the most amazing dream. There is a ladder between earth and heaven, and angels are going up and down the ladder which links heaven and earth. Herbert O’Driscoll says. “In some strange way, it is a dream of shalom, of unity, of connectedness.” (O’Driscoll, The Word Today Year A Volume 3, p.56.) This amazing vision is granted to Jacob, the cheat, the scoundrel.

And then God speaks to Jacob and renews the promise that God first made to Abraham. Jacob will have descendants as numerous as the dust of the earth. God says, “All the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring.” And God tells Jacob that God will be with him always and will keep him wherever he goes and will bring him back home.

To his credit, Jacob, the cheat, who would rob his own brother of the birthright and the blessing, seems to realize what is happening. He knows that God has spoken to him. “Surely the Lord is in this place,” he says,”and I did not know it!” 

He actually is afraid. He senses at last that there is someone more powerful than he is. He sets up a monument to God and names the place Bethel—Beth—house, El, the first part of the word “Elohim,” which means Lord or God.  Bethel—house of God.

This story, which oscillates between the sublime and the soap opera, tells us some very important things. God does not always choose perfect people to do God’s work. God often chooses frail, fallible, flawed humans to receive huge blessings and carry out important missions. Most of us are only too profoundly aware of our weaknesses and imperfections. The story of Jacob’s encounter with God assures us that we can help God build God’s shalom, too. Last Sunday we noted that great bumper sticker—“Be patient, God isn’t finished with me yet.” God is definitely not finished with Jacob. Thanks be to God, who has finally gotten through to Jacob, at least to some extent.

Our gospel for today is the famous story of the wheat and the weeds, in earlier translations called the tares. The point of this parable is that there are good and bad things happening in our world. In Matthew’s congregation, scholars tell us, there were some people who took their faith very seriously and lived their faith, and there were others who were quite lukewarm followers of Jesus. There may have been some folks who wanted to throw those nominal followers out. But the message is, let God be the judge.

If we see good things happening, such as our food shelf, let’s pitch in and help those good things in every way that we can. Let’s focus on the good things and help them all we can. If there are bad things, certainly we will not support them, but we will not focus on them and get discouraged. We will do all we can to help good things grow, and we will let God do the sorting. 

There are times when we do have to take action against evil. The rise of Hitler was such a time, and thank God for all those in the Greatest Generation who gathered together with profound courage and stopped him. But we have to be very careful about labeling things good and evil. Our own Civil War was a time when people on both sides quoted the Bible in defense of their positions. We are still working through the issue of racism.

If something shows the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, it is of the Spirit. If it does not show these qualities, God will guide us as to how to respond. Most of all, let us work on the side of the things of the Spirit.

In our epistle for today, we read that we are God’s own beloved children. We can call God “Abba.” “Abba” is an intimate familiar term for a father. We can call God Daddy or Dad, or Mom or Mama. St. Paul says that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains to bring forth God’s shalom of peace and harmony. He also says, “For in hope we were saved.”

We are a people of hope. We are a people of love. We are a people of faith. Amidst all the struggle and ambivalence and confusion in our world, we are a people of faith, hope, and love who are constantly working for the good things we see God doing in this world. And our loving God is saying the same thing God said to Jacob all those centuries ago: “I am with you and will keep you wherever you go.”  Amen.

Pentecost 5 Proper 9A July 5, 2020

Genesis 24: 34-38, 42-49, 58-67
Psalm 45:11-18
Romans 7:15-25a
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

In our first lesson, time has passed. Sarah has died, and Isaac has become a young man. Abraham has asked his servant to go to his home area and find a wife for Isaac among Abraham’s own people.

Scholars tell us that the servant is probably Abraham’s senior servant, Eliezer. 

Abraham has heard that a his brother, Nahor, has married Milcah, and that they have had a family. One of their sons, Bethuel, has become the father of a young woman named Rebekah. Abraham thinks that Rebekah would be the perfect wife for Isaac. The whole purpose of this venture is to be sure that God’s promise of descendants as numerous as the stars comes true.

Abraham makes this loyal and wise servant take an oath that he will find a wife for Isaac and bring her back to Isaac. There are two additional provisions. Eliezer is not to take Isaac back to their homeland. And, if the young woman whom Eliezer asks to marry Isaac does not want to come back with him, Abraham says the oath is broken. Eliezer is not to force the young woman to return with him.

Eliezer takes ten camels and many choice gifts and sets out for Abraham’s homeland.  His entire journey is rooted and grounded in prayer. He is carrying out his master’s command, and he knows that this is part of God’s promise. He prays to God that if he sees a young woman come to the well and asks, “Please give me a little water from your jar to drink,” she will give him a drink and water his camels as well. 

That is exactly what happens.The young woman extends the highest level of hospitality. This shows that she is a woman of great virtue. Our reading begins with Eliezer’s report of his meeting with Rebekah as he speaks with her family, asking for their permission for Rebekah to go back with him and marry Isaac. 

Back in those days her father could have told her to go and marry Isaac. Women were chattel, property, and their fathers could give them to anyone. In this family, Rebekah has a choice. This story first appeared in the lectionary in 2008, and one of the reasons is that it shows us an evolving understanding of women as persons, not property. Rebekah does want to marry Isaac, and, as she leaves with her maids and a retinue of camels and possessions, it is clear that she is a woman of substance. When she and Isaac finally meet, the text tells us that “he loved her.”  This will be a marriage based on mutual love and respect.

Our reading from the book of Romans is one of the most compelling passages in the Bible,  “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing that I hate.” When Paul talks about  “our mortal bodies,” or our “members,” scholars tell us  that he is referring to human faculties or abilities. On the human level, we may want power, wealth, possessions, fame, and fortune, but those wishes and values do not necessarily bring us closer to God. In fact, they often move us away from God. On our own, it is difficult if not impossible, to win the struggle with those seven root sins—pride, anger, envy, greed, gluttony, lust and sloth. But, with God’s grace, our focus shifts to what really matters, faith, hope, and love—loving God, and loving other people and the creation.

In our gospel, Jesus first comments on the fickle wishes of the crowd. John the Baptist lives an ascetic life and the people criticize him. Jesus eats with sinners and tax collectors and they call him a glutton and a drunkard. Then our Lord thanks God for revealing wisdom to the infants, meaning those who know how to keep things simple and look at things with open hearts and minds.

Then he says those words which have echoed down through the ages, especially when we humans are facing challenges which are making our hearts heavy: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble of heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” 

And here we want to remember that Jesus was a carpenter, and when a carpenter in those days made a yoke for a pair of oxen, he carefully shaped that yoke to fit the contours of the ox’s neck and shoulders so that the animal could bear the burden with a minimal amount of pain and discomfort.

As we make our way through this pandemic and watch the increasing number of cases and deaths tragically rise in many states, we can feel afraid, discouraged, even hopeless. This is a very powerful virus, and the experts tell us that it will be around for a long time. This is exactly what we do not want to hear.

And then comes the voice of our Lord, “Come to me all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens.” That is definitely us. And then our Lord says, “And I will give you rest.” That sounds good. Somehow, although we try to get a good night’s sleep, the pandemic sounds a dissonant chord under everything we do.  The nervous rasping of this pandemic is the discordant bass line for all our days. True rest, genuine peace would be a blessing.

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” What is really important? The love of God. Several of you are devoting time and energy to sharing the love of God by volunteering at the food shelf and giving food to those who so sorely need it. All of us can find ways to let God’s love seep into the depths of our spirits and then share that love with those around us.  Let us learn more and more every day how much God loves us and all people and let us share that love.

“For I am gentle and humble of heart and you will find rest for your souls.” Our Lord is “gentle and humble of heart.” That is what we are called to be—“gentle and humble of heart.” That is what his yoke is—for us to be “gentle and humble of heart” If we become that, many of the things we think are so important will be put in their proper perspective. What is important? God loves each of us with an unconditional love that nothing can destroy or stop or interfere with or erase. God calls us to love God back and to love others as ourselves. The important thing is to accept God’s love, thank God for this wonderful love and amazing grace and then share it in whatever ways we can. His yoke is easy—The Way of Love. Amen.

Pentecost 6 Proper 10A RCL July 16, 2017

Genesis 25:19-34
Psalm 119:105-112
Romans 8:1-11
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

In our first reading this morning, we continue the story of Isaac, Abraham’s son. Isaac is forty when he marries Rebekah, and it is a long time, twenty years, before she is able to have a child.

When she becomes pregnant, she is carrying twins, and the brothers struggle  so much that she cries out, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?” God tells her there are two nations within her, and that her older son will serve her younger son. This is not the way things usually happened in those days.

When the children are born, the first one comes out all red and hairy, and he is named Esau. He is associated with the nation of Edom, meaning red. His younger brother comes out grasping Esau’s ankle, and he is named Jacob, Jacob means, “he takes by the heel,” or “He supplants.”

Esau becomes a skillful hunter, someone who can bring home game for meals. Jacob is quiet and lives in a tent. Isaac loves Esau because he is fond of game. Rebekah loves Jacob. Biblical scholar Bruce Metzger tells us that the two boys represent the hunter and the shepherd, two opposing ways of life in those days.

I often remark that the Old Testament often has the makings of a great soap opera, Here we have the father preferring one son and the mother preferring the other, and we have two boys representing two ways of life. There will be conflict and drama in this story.  

One day, Jacob is cooking a stew—some translations call it a “mess of pottage;” others call it lentil stew. Esau comes in from hunting, and he is famished. He asks his brother for a bowl of stew. Here Jacob proves he is truly a heel and is trying to supplant his brother. Most people would give their brother a bowl of stew for nothing, but not Jacob. He makes Esau promise to give his birthright to Jacob. The is no small matter. The birthright is the ancestral privilege of the eldest son. It involves becoming the leader of the family when the father dies and also receiving a double inheritance. Esau is not exactly good at long-term planning. He wants the lentil stew and the wants it now. So he sells his birthright for a mess of pottage. Esau throws away his future for a bowl of stew.

Historically, Edom was a nation before Israel was. This story explains why Israel became more powerful than Edom. Much later, Jacob will wrestle with an angel and learn some things about the nature of God and his relationship with God. Now, he is a heel who is out for whatever he can get.

Our epistle, from Paul’s Letter to the Romans, talks about life in the flesh, that is life centered in the human faculties and abilities, and life in the Spirit, that is, life centered in God’s will. Jacob is obviously operating on the human level, the level of the flesh. Thanks be to God, we are living in the Spirit, and the Spirit dwells in us.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is in Galilee, a place that is comfortable for him, a place far away from the human power centers in Jerusalem. The crowd is so large that the people push him right to the shores of the lake, so he gets into a boat. He tells a parable.

A sower goes out to sow some seed. Back in those days, you sowed seed broadcast. You held it in your hand and spread it over the ground. After that, you plowed. In the parable, some seed falls on the path and the birds come and eat it up. Some falls on rocky ground, springs up quickly, but because there is no depth of soil, the seeds are scorched by the sun and wither away. Some seeds fall among thorns, which grow up and choke them. Others fall on good soil and bring forth grain.  Nowadays, the seed has a much better chance of growing well because we plow and harrow and make the soil ideal for growth before we plant the seed.

The bottom line on this parable is that, even with all the adverse conditions, the harvest is abundant. This parable is about the kingdom, the shalom of God. It is growing even now. The kingdom of peace, love, harmony throughout the whole creation is growing even now. In spite of everything, the shalom of God is growing.

But the parable is also dealing with an important question: why do some people hear the word of God, put it at the center of their lives, and bear much fruit, and why do others hear but then let various things get in the way? Matthew’s gospel was written around 70 A.D. in a time of persecution. The community had lost some members. People went into hiding. We can certainly understand why some people would leave the community when their lives and the lives of their family members were threatened. Various issues can get in the way of people’s hearing the Good News and following Jesus. Once again, the point is that, in spite of adversity, the harvest is abundant.

Two hundred and one years ago, a group of people got together here in Sheldon and formed what they called an Episcopal Society. Out of that grew Grace Church. Over all these decades, Grace Church has provided good soil for the Good News and good soil for the growth of the Kingdom of God.

I first came to Grace about thirty years ago, back in the nineteen eighties, and I felt as though I had received a great gift. Here was a community of folks who were living kingdom lives, shalom lives. I still feel that way. Thanks to the faith of people through the years and the grace of God, we are in a community where the Good News can grow, where the seed of God’s love can blossom and flourish. We can come and be nurtured and then go out into the world and share God’s love and caring for all people, from children to the elderly, and everyone in between.

Dear Lord, thank you for your many gifts, and especially for this community of faith which is now entering its third century. May we follow you faithfully.  Amen.

Pentecost 5 Proper 9A RCL July 9, 2017

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
Psalm 45:11-18
Romans 7:15-25a
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Our opening reading from the Book of Genesis is relatively new to the lectionary. The first time we encountered this lesson was back in 2011. Sarah has died, Abraham is growing older, and he sends his faithful servant to find a proper wife for Isaac, his beloved son.

The servant remains unnamed but many scholars think it is his beloved and trusted servant, Eliezer. Abraham has heard that his brother, Nahor, has married Milcah, and that have had a family. One of their sons, Bethuel, has become the father of a young woman named Rebekah. Abraham thinks Rebekah would be just the right wife for Isaac.

Eliezer goes back to the homeland of Abraham. Every step of his journey is steeped in prayer. He goes to the well, which is always the meeting place of the village, and Rebekah not only offers him a drink of water but also offers to water his camels. This is the height of hospitality, which is a great virtue.

In those days, women and children were considered as chattel, possessions like a chair or a good cow. A father could give his daughter to a man without even consulting her. But in Rebekah’s family, they actually ask the young woman’s opinion, and Rebekah says that she would like to marry Isaac. She has a choice in this important matter.  There is a celebration, and then Rebekah and her nurse and all her maids get on their camels, and the journey continues. Clearly, Rebekah is a woman of substance. They finally arrive in the Negeb. Isaac is out walking in the cool of the evening, looks up and sees the camels. Rebekah is very pleased to see Isaac, and they enter into a marriage based on mutual love and respect.

This story has at least two major themes. The first is that Eliezar’s journey on behalf of his master is rooted and grounded in God’s will and direction. The second is that, even in those days, Rebekah’s family asks Rebekah’s opinion, and they listen to her. Even though she is a mere woman, she has a voice. She is a capable and gracious woman of means and status, and that will be reflected in her marriage.

Our reading from Paul describes our own experience. We can want to do something, and will to do something, but sometimes, we do just the opposite. Or, we can make up our mind not to do something, but then we go ahead and do it anyway. At times, we humans can feel as though there is a war going on inside us.

When Paul talks about our “mortal bodies,” or our “members,” Biblical scholar Bruce Metzger tells us those terms can be translated as “all the faculties and functions of the person.” Left to our own human faculties and abilities, sometimes we do the opposite of what our best intentions call us to do.

If this continues, and we do things we know are destructive over and over again, that is one sign of addiction. We become powerless over alcohol, or drugs, or gambling, or spending, or eating, or electronic devices, or accumulating wealth and power, and on and on the list can go. Recently, I heard a report by an electronics expert on how our phones and iPads and computers are set up to make us addicts. We  become programmed so that we will need to check our phones or ipads more and more often to see if there is something new on Facebook or Twitter. We are constantly checking our devices. People looking intently at their phones have actually walked out into traffic.

Step Two of many recovery programs says, “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” Sanity comes from the root word sanus in Latin, meaning healthy. We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could return us to health (sanitas.)

Paul writes, “Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Our Lord can rescue us from this merry-go-round of brokenness.

Our gospel for today describes crowds who are never pleased. John the Baptist fasts and drinks only water, and the people don’t like him. Jesus eats and drinks wine, and they say he is a glutton and a drunkard. Jesus says that wisdom is given to infants, meaning that wisdom does not necessarily reside with those who have college degrees or important titles or great wealth and power but can be given to anyone, regardless of status, and is often given to those who have very little material wealth.

Then Jesus says those words which are among the gems of the Bible: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me: for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

The Pharisees burden people, especially, the poor, with over six hundred laws which they cannot possibly follow. The “infants”, the everyday people, do not have the leisure time to follow these rules. They have to spend most of their time working to support their families. The Pharisees and other teachers of the time ask people to follow a set of rules.

Jesus is asking us to follow him. He understands what it is to be human. He truly loves ordinary people like you and me. He is meek and gentle. He is also trained as a carpenter, and a good carpenter in those days would fashion a yoke to fit every lump and bump on the neck  and shoulders of an ox. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who knows us intimately and who can lead us into green pasture and beside still water. He can lead us into newness of life.

His yoke is easy and his burden is light. He frees us from the struggle that Paul so aptly describes.

May we follow him.  Amen.

Pentecost 4A RCL July 6, 2014

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
Psalm 45”11-18
Romans 7:15-25a
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Our first reading today is one we have seen only once before, in 2011. It is a new addition in the Revised Common Lectionary. Sarah has died. Isaac is now grown up. Abraham is getting old. Abraham wants Isaac to have a proper wife from their own extended family. So he sends his trusted servant on a special mission. Scholars think this is his beloved servant Eliezer, who has been with him for years.  God is going to guide every step of this journey, and, if Eliezer does not find a suitable wife for Isaac, he is to come home.

As it turns out, Eliezer goes to the well, the social center of the village, and he finds a wonderful young woman, Rebekah, who extends consummate hospitality. Not only does she give Eliezar a drink; she waters all of his camels. This is an outstanding virtue.

In those days, women and children were treated as chattel—objects, possessions. The father could hand over his daughter to be married. But this does not happen in our passage. Rebekah’s family asks her whether she wants to go and marry Isaac. She has a voice. Her opinion is respected. Her new husband, Isaac, does not treat her as an object. He truly loves her.

This story is a touching and human expression of at least two important themes: asking God for guidance and following that guidance, and showing respect for all human beings.

Our epistle shows Paul at his most human and compelling level. All of us can identify with this passage.  Paul writes, “I do not do what I want, but I do the thing I hate.” We are called to practice the life of prayer, to seek God’s will and, with God’s grace, do God’s will. But it is not always easy. We all fall short. No one is perfect. When we do something we know we shouldn’t do, or do not do something we know we should do, we can acknowledge these sins of commission and omission in our review of our life at the end of the day and ask God’s forgiveness. Usually, slowly but surely, we make progress.

But sometimes there are patterns that defeat us. No matter how hard we try and how devoutly we pray, we just keep doing the same thing over and over again. Addiction is indeed a disease. But it is my best example of sin as well. We know that we are drinking too much these days. We shouldn’t take that drink or that drug, but we do it over and over again. We have no power over it. We are powerless. It could be the sin of ira, wrath. We lose our temper. We pray for help, but we don’t have any control over it. It could be any one of those seven root sins—pride, wrath, greed, envy, lust, gluttony, and sloth.  We feel we don’t have enough money or things. We envy someone his or her success.  We fail to be grateful for the blessings God has bestowed on us. Whatever the sin is, when we realize that we have no control over it, we also realize that we are powerless. We need God’s help. We must ask for that help and depend totally upon God to get us out of this mire of sin. And, if we trust God, and Jesus, and the Spirit, we can be freed from that endless bondage of sin.

In our gospel, Jesus is commenting on the fickleness of human nature. Sometimes we are impossible to please. John the Baptist leads the life of an ascetic prophet, fasting and drinking only water, and people find fault with him. Jesus associates with all kinds of people, and eats and drinks and people think he is a drunkard and a glutton. Jesus seems a but frustrated with all of this, and this simply reminds us that he was fully human, and sometimes he had to learn things about us that were not easy to deal with, and sometimes he got frustrated.

Jesus says a little prayer thanking God for giving wisdom to those who try not to complicate things. And then he says that thing which has been such a comfort to us humans over the centuries: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Whenever I think about this passage, I remember that, back in Jesus’ time, a skilled woodworker would make the yoke for each ox. The woodworker would measure the ox’s neck and shoulders and chest and would note every lump and bump on those contours and would exactly mold that yoke to fit that animal. When we decide to follow Jesus—and we make that decision new every day, we ask him to lead us and guide us in every action we take and in everything we say. He knows us and he loves us. He knows all the lumps and bumps and contours of our spirits. And when the going gets tough, he gives us the grace we need to carry the load and to make the journey. As time goes by, and as we more and more naturally, through prayer and grace, follow his will and walk in his way, a task that used to seem impossible is actually pretty doable. Our spiritual muscles are strengthened. And, as unlikely as it may seem, when we are called upon to do something we would have thought impossible, with his help, it becomes as easy and natural as breathing, because he is now living in us. His grace is carrying us through.

“My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Dear Lord, thank you for your amazing grace.  Amen.

Pentecost 3 Proper 9 July 3, 2011

Pentecost 3 Proper 9A RCL July 3, 2011

Genesis 24: 34-38. 42-49. 58-67
Psalm 45: 11-18
Romans 7: 15-25a
Matthew 11: 16-19, 25-30

Our reading from the Hebrew scriptures today tells the story of how Abraham finds a wife for his beloved son, Isaac. The psalm is a song for a royal wedding. Our passage from Romans is Paul’s honest and insightful account of the struggles of the spiritual journey. We want to do God’s will, but, in spite of our best efforts, we do fail. Sometimes we get into recurring patterns of doing what we do not want to do and not doing what we know is right. At such times especially, God’s grace is the only thing that can break the chain and get us back on track. In our gospel, Jesus tells us that he is here to help us carry our burdens. It is a yoke for two oxen, a double yoke. We don’t have to do it alone.

This morning I want to try to shed some light on the first lesson. This passage has not appeared in our lectionary until the development of the Revised Common Lectionary which we adopted for use only in 2008.

If we read the part of Genesis which precedes this passage, and we look at the part right after God has spared Abraham from sacrificing Isaac we learn that Abraham has found out that, back in Haran, Abraham and Sarah’s home, Abraham’s brother, Nahor, has married a woman named Milcah, and they have had several children. One of these children, Bethuel, has become the father of a young woman named Rebekah.

Then Sarah dies, and Abraham arranges for her burial. Abraham is now old. God has richly blessed him, and he wants to be sure that God’s promise of descendants as numerous as the stars will come true.

So he asks his most trusted servant, who is not named but we think it is his servant Eliezer, to go back to Haran and pick a wife for Isaac from their home tribe and family. He does not want Isaac to marry one of the Canaanite women because they do not believe in Abraham’s God. Abraham also does not want Isaac to go back to Haran. He wants Isaac to stay in the promised land, so he tells Eliezer that an angel of the Lord will go with him and guide him on this mission. Abraham tells his servant that he should, with God’s guidance, pick out a woman to be Isaac’s wife, but, if the woman does not want to come back to Canaan with Eliezer, he should abort the mission. And he will be free from the oath he is about to take. Eliezer takes a solemn oath to carry out his master’s wishes.

So Eliezer takes ten of his master’s camels and all kinds of choice gifts from his master, and he sets out for the town of Nahor, which is near Haran. When he arrives, he makes the camels kneel outside the city near the well. It is toward evening, and the young women will come to draw water. Eliezer prays to God, and he says, “Let the girl to whom I shall say, ‘Please offer me your jar, so that I may drink,’ and she shall say,’Drink, and I shall water your camels’—let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac.”

Along comes Rebekah, with her water jar upon her shoulder, and the scripture says that she is very fair to look upon. She fills up her jar, and Eliezer asks her for a drink, and, sure enough, she offers him a drink and says she will water his camels, and the scripture says, Eliezer  “gazed upon her in silence to learn whether or not the Lord had made his journey successful.” (Gen. 24:21.)

As you can see from the passage which Lori has read, everything went according to plan, and we need to remember that Eliezer is trusting in God’s guidance every step of the way. This is the next step in carrying out God’s promise—to find the wife God intends for Isaac.

Rebekah has extended hospitality to Eliezer on behalf of her father, Bethuel, and now Eliezer has come to their home and is asking for Rebekah’s hand in marriage on behalf of his masters, Abraham and Isaac. Here we have to add a note about courtship in 1600 B.C. E. As one scholar puts it, the well is the singles bar in each town. The young men go to the well. The young women are drawing water.  The young man, of course, usually knows the young woman and what family she comes from; he asks her to marry him, gives her some appropriate gifts, and goes to her father’s house, whereupon the father would usually, if he feels this young man is a good match, just hand over his daughter to be married.

This is not the case in our story, Rebekah is given the privilege of choosing whether she wants to marry Isaac.  She is given a great deal of power in this account. She chooses to go to Canaan and sets out with her retinue.

They finally come upon Isaac in the Negeb. He is walking in the field in the cool of the evening. Rebekah sees him and asks who the man is. Eliezer says that it is his master. Isaac has become his master. The leadership is passing from one generation to the next. Isaac and Rebekah do not actually run across the field into each other’s arms, but they might well have done so. Eliezer tells Isaac the details of the journey, and all is well. Isaac brings Rebekah into his mother Sarah’s tent, and the rest, as they say, is history. And there is another very important point. This is not just another arranged marriage, as was the custom in those days. The text says of Isaac, “He loved her.”

As with the story of Abraham and Isaac, this story points out an increased level of understanding of several things. First, this marriage comes about as a result of God’s guidance. Eliezer, the faithful servant, is praying throughout the journey and seeking God’s will. Secondly, Rebekah is respected. Her father asks her what her wishes are. Her husband loves her.  She has a voice. She is a woman of substance.

But the major point is that every step in this story is taken with the guidance of God. What a wonderful example for us to follow. What a faithful servant of God and of his master Eliezer proves himself to be.

As Paul eloquently describes it, our journey is sometimes a struggle. Thanks be to God for the gift of grace. With God’s grace, following in the footsteps of our Lord can be, and often is, a journey of joy.

May we seek God’s guidance as faithfully as did Eliezer; may we seek and do God’s will with God’s grace. May we let our Lord Jesus be our partner in the shared yoke of obedience.

                            Amen