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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion June 4, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.comTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion June 11, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.comTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion June 18, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.comTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…

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 6 Proper 10A July 12, 2020

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

In our opening reading, we have the continuation of the story of Abraham and Sarah. We discover that their only son, Isaac, was forty years old when he married Rebekah. Like her mother-in-law, Sarah, Rebekah was barren. Isaac prayed to God, and, at last, Rebekah became pregnant.

But there were two children within her and they struggled, so much that Rebekah wondered, if this was going to be such a struggle, why was she alive at all. When she asked God about this, she was told that there were two nations inside her, and that the older would serve the younger. Usually. the oldest son became the head of the family, so the idea of the older serving the younger was highly unusual.

When the two boys are born, Esau emerges first, but his brother Jacob is born holding onto his brother’s heel. As it turns out, Jacob definitely behaves like a heel. Esau grows up to be a hunter and a “man of the field,” while Jacob is quiet and lives in tents. These are the traits of the nations they represent. The Edomites were hunters and the Israelites were a people who live in tents. There is a further twist in the family dynamics: Isaac loves Esau because he likes game. And Rebekah loves Jacob best.

The boys are now grown up, and Esau comes in from hunting to find Jacob cooking a lentil stew. Esau is famished. He asks Jacob for a helping of stew. Most brothers would gladly share the meal, but not Jacob. Here’s where the heel aspect comes in. He demands that Esau sell him his birthright in exchange for the stew. 

This is no small matter. The son with the birthright becomes the leader of the family, and he also gets a double portion of the inheritance. We could say that Esau is a master of living in the moment, a skilled practitioner of mindfulness. Or we could say that he wasn’t exactly great at taking the long view or planning ahead. He answers Jacob, “I’m so hungry that I’m about to die, so who cares about a silly old birthright?” But Jacob the heel won’t give Esau the bowl of stew until Esau swears to him that he will keep this agreement. That’s the story of how two brothers struggled from the beginning and Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage.

But let us remind ourselves of that bumper sticker from some time ago: “Be patient with me—God isn’t finished with me yet.” These words could well apply to Jacob. He started out as a cheater and a scoundrel, but God kept working with him.

In our epistle for today, Paul offers us a contrast between life in the spirit and life on the human, worldly level. The world calls us to get to the top of the ladder as fast as we can, achieve power and prestige, accumulate money and possessions, compete with others and win, no matter how ruthless we have to be.

Life with God, life in the Spirit, calls us to love God and love others as we love ourselves. In Galatians 5:22, Paul lists the fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Paul tells us that, “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” Here the flesh means worldly, self-centered values. Paul tells us, “The Spirit of God dwells in you.” We are following Jesus, and following Jesus leads to life in a new dimension, life in the Spirit, fullness of life now.

In today’s gospel, Jesus tells the parable of the sower. Back in his time, you did not plow and harrow first; you scattered the seed over the field in an arcing motion. Some would fall on rocks, or thorns, some on the path, and others on good soil. In spite of these poor odds, Jesus says, there is a bountiful crop, a hundredfold, sixtyfold, thirtyfold. He is talking about his kingdom. No matter what challenges there are, the kingdom of God is growing. 

Scholars tell us that Jesus did not interpret his parables. The explanation was added by later writers. Matthew’s gospel was written about 70 years after the birth of Christ, in a time of persecution. The path, the rocky ground, and the thorns all describe things that could make people leave the community of faith. But the ultimate point is that, despite the obstacles, the harvest is huge. Scholars tell us that back in those days a sevenfold to tenfold harvest was average and here we have thirty to sixty to a hundredfold. (Cousar, Texts for Preaching, p. 404._ Our final hymn, “God is working his purpose out,” reminds us that the shalom of God is growing all the time.

In our Collect for today, we pray that we may “know and understand what things we ought to do,” and also “may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them.”

We look out upon a country where many states have opened up too quickly and now are having to go back several steps. We see infection and death rates skyrocketing in those areas. Meanwhile, Vermont is moving ahead, a quarter-turn at a time, and Governor Scott has consistently said that he is following medical advice and going slowly precisely to avoid having to go backward. We are learning new things about mini aerosols, tiny droplets that can stay in the air for days, far longer than the virus survives on paper goods. We are learning that masks definitely help to control the spread of the virus. Though our governor chose never to mandate masks, most Vermonters are wearing them as a matter of choice. Our food shelf volunteers continue to distribute food to those who need it.

We are called to follow the way of the Spirit. We are following Jesus, and, as we ask him for direction, he will lead us to do the things he calls us to do. I thank God that here in Vermont, we are remembering that we need to take care of and protect each other. May we continue to love God and love each other. We are nearing the two hundred and fourth birthday of Grace Church, and I thank God for the faithful, loving people who went before us. May we continue to follow Jesus and may we continue to help him to build his kingdom of peace. love, and harmony. Amen.

Trinity Sunday Year B RCL May 27, 2018

Isaiah 6:1-8
Psalm 29
Romans 8:12-17
John 3:1-17

Today we celebrate Trinity Sunday. The doctrine of the Trinity expresses our human experience of God in three persons—God the  Creator, God the Redeemer, and God the Sanctifier.

God the Creator. God created the world, from the tiniest subatomic particles to the galaxies; from the most delicate, tiny flower to the planet Jupiter. As theologian Mary Daly has noted, when we create anything—whether it be a safe haven for a child or a refugee or a rescue pet; whether it be a symphony, or a book, or a cathedral or a painting, or peace between two countries or two members of a family—when we create, we become co-creators with God.

God the Redeemer. Jesus who has come among us to save us from our brokenness and make us whole. Jesus is God incarnate, God embodied, God enfleshed. God walking the face of the earth, teaching us and healing us and making us whole, helping us to be born again into a new life based on love of God and love of others.

God the Holy Spirit. As David Brown has said, the Holy Spirit is God at work in us and in the world. Wherever conflict becomes peace, the Spirit is at work. Wherever creative work is done, it is done with the energy of the Spirit. So we see that God the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier are constantly working together to make us whole and to heal a broken world.

Theologian John Macquarrie talked about Being and about God calling things into being. He wrote that in any big project, such as the writing of a book or the creation of a building, there is the vision, the plan, and the realization of the plan. We have the vision of the building; we draw the plans in very careful detail; and then we carry out that plan.

God has a vision for the world— a world full of peace and harmony. Jesus is the plan. The Greek word logos means plan, model, pattern, blueprint. Jesus is the pattern for human life. The Spirit is the energy who carries out the plan. The Spirit is at work in us and in the world to realize God’s plan of peace and harmony.

Theologian Robert Farrar Capon, a favorite of David Walters, David Brown, and many of us, writes about creation in his wonderful book, The Third Peacock. Capon makes it clear that each created thing is an object of God’s infinite love, and that God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit rejoice in the work of creation. Thus, in the creation of, say, chicken number thirty-four thousand eight hundred forty-two, all three persons of the Trinity are cheering each other on, laughing and joyfully celebrating the wonder of creation. God’s love in bringing this wonderful, unique, beloved creature, chicken number 34,842, into being.

In our first reading for today, Isaiah has a vision of God, whose power and glory are almost terrifying. Stricken by his sinfulness, Isaiah confesses, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.” Then, doing for Isaiah what Christ would later do for all of us, God cleanses Isaiah from his sin. When God calls, Isaiah is able to respond to that call.

In our reading from the Letter to the Romans, Paul is reminding us that, because of the love of God, Jesus, and the Spirit, we have become as close to God as a child is to his or her mother or father. In fact, we are so close to God that we can call God Abba, “Dad” or “Daddy,” “Mom”, or “Mama”. We have received a spirit of adoption, and we are God’s children in the closest way possible. If we think back to the reading from Isaiah, with the angels flying about in the temple, the glory of God shining forth, the smoke and the sheer power of the transcendent God, our becoming God’s beloved children in this intimate way is almost mind-boggling.

In our reading from John’s gospel, Nicodemus, who is a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling council, goes to Jesus by night. He is risking his position in visiting our Lord, and he may well be risking his life. But he wants to know more. Jesus tells Nicodemus that “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus takes this literally and wonders how someone can enter his mother’s womb, so Jesus tries again, telling him that “No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.”

God the Creator has the vision for God’s shalom. Jesus is standing there in front of Nicodemus proclaiming the Kingdom and telling him that we enter that Kingdom through the water of baptism and the power of the Spirit because of the love of God expressed in all three persons. God has created the vision of God’s shalom of peace and harmony. Jesus, the living example of that vision, is inviting Nicodemus to join God’s shalom.

Nicodemus may seem quite flustered and overwhelmed at this point, but we know that the Holy Spirit is leading him into all truth. John’s gospel tells us two important things.  First, when the Council, the Sanhedrin, becomes more and more suspicious of Jesus and begins building its case against our Lord, Nicodemus reminds them that the law says that Jesus or any person being accused of an offense is entitled to a hearing.  Secondly, after Jesus is crucified, Nicodemus helps Joseph of Arimathea take down the Body of our Lord from the cross and give that beloved body a respectful burial. Both Nicodemus and Jospeh of Arimathea have developed such a devotion to our Lord that they risk their honored positions and their lives in taking care of Jesus’ body.

God in three persons, blessed Trinity.

God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit—Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier. God who loves each of us as the apple of God’s eye. God who loves the whole creation and is working to bring the creation into harmony. God who is calling us to help in that work and who is cheering us on and energizing us with God’s Spirit as we do that work.  Thanks be to God. Amen.

The Day of Pentecost  May 20, 2018

Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:25-35, 37b
Romans 8:22-27
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Today we are celebrating the Feast of Pentecost. The followers of Jesus are waiting and praying. Their community has survived the betrayal of Judas. Under God’s guidance, they have chosen Matthias to complete the company of the apostles. They are all together in the house where they have been gathering, and suddenly there is a sound like the rushing wind as the Holy Spirit fills the house and flames of fire dance over their heads and they burst forth in all the languages of the known world the world around the Mediterranean Sea.

God is bringing forth a new thing, God is giving birth to a new community, God’s big family, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu puts it. The apostles are empowered by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the Good News of God’s love so that each person there hears this wonderful news in his or her native tongue.

And just to make sure that everyone understands, Peter completes this extraordinary event with a sermon. God is fulfilling the prophecy of Joel, that the people will see visions and dream dreams, and God will pour out God’s Spirit on all people.

In our gospel for today, Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit will come, and will lead us into all truth. The Spirit is still leading us into the truth about the depth of God’s love for us and the call of our Lord to help him to build his shalom of peace and love.

In our epistle for today, Paul talks about this birth process of a new thing, a new vision for life, the vision rooted and grounded in God’s gifts of faith, hope, and love.

God’s love is so great that when we cannot find words to pray, the Spirit prays for us “with sighs too deep for words.” When we become wordless, God hears our prayer and voices it for us.

We say that the Day of Pentecost is the birthday of the Church. The apostles could have become swamped by sorrow and anger at the betrayal by Judas, but they did not. They asked God’s guidance and, with prayer and care they chose Matthias to complete God’s team called to spread the good news.

Today, we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, giving the followers of Jesus the gift to be able to share the truth about Jesus. He came among us to share his love, healing, and forgiveness, his vision of peace and harmony and wholeness for all people and for the creation. And on Pentecost, the apostles received the gift to share that Good News with everyone who had come to Jerusalem from all over the world—to share that good news heart to heart—not just on an intellectual level, but in a way that could be received by the heart, the center of will and intention as well as thought, emotion, and intuition.

The Spirit continues to lead us into all the truth. Not just emotionally, not just intellectually, but on every level. What did our Lord mean when he called us to love each other as he and God love each other? As we answer this question for ourselves and walk that journey, we find that  barriers come down and we move closer and closer to his shalom, God’s deep peace and harmony over the whole wide earth and the entire creation.

As we go out into the world today, let us remember that the Holy Spirit has touched our minds and hearts and will and intention and understanding on every level and has called us to share God’s love on a deep level—heart to heart. Often we will share God’s love by actions rather than by words.  To paraphrase an old saying, “Share the good news of God’s love. Use words if necessary.” Amen.

Pentecost 7 Proper 11A RCL July 23, 2017

Genesis 28:10-19a
Psalm 139
Romans 8:12-25
Matthew 13:24-30. 36-43

In our first lesson today, we are continuing the story of Jacob. Last Sunday, we looked on as Jacob cheated his brother Esau out of his birthright, that is, Esau’s right to be the leader of the family and to receive a double inheritance. When Esau came in from hunting, Jacob got him to give up his birthright for a bowl of lentil stew.

Between that point and our reading for today, much more has happened. Isaac, the father of Jacob and Esau, realizes that he is going to die very soon. So he sends Esau out to hunt for game and bring it home and prepare it in Isaac’s favorite way so that Isaac can have this festive meal and give Esau his blessing, another right of the eldest son, before Isaac dies.

Rebekah, who loves Jacob more than Esau, cooks up a scheme with Jacob. She gets him to kill “two choice kids” for her to cook, and she dresses Jacob in Esau’s clothes, which are hanging right in the closet, Because Esau is a hairy man, Rebekah puts the skins of the calves on Jacob’s arms and hands. Before Esau gets home, Jacob goes into his father’s room, pretends to be Esau, and receives Isaac’s blessing.

When Esau gets home with the game for his mother to cook, he finds out what Jacob has done. He vows that he will hunt down Jacob and kill him.

In today’s reading, Jacob is running for his life. He is on his way to Haran, his father’s home, where he hopes to find shelter and support. But night is coming. He takes a desert rock, puts it under his head, and has an amazing dream. There is a ladder connecting earth and heaven, and there are angels ascending and descending on it. God stands beside him and renews the promise God made to Abraham many years ago.

Herbert O’Driscoll says of this dream, “In some strange way it is a dream of shalom, of unity, of connectedness. It shows Jacob a much bigger reality than our Western culture has seen in the last few centuries. In Jacob’s dream there is a door between realities. Humanity is no longer a prisoner of the world.” (O Driscoll, The Word Today Year A, Vol. 3, p 56.)

Jacob wakes up and he knows that God is real and that God has chosen Jacob to carry on the blessing God gave to Abraham. God has also told Jacob that God will be with Jacob always. For the first time in his life, Jacob realizes that he is not the center of the world. He has met God. He sets up a  monument to this moment and he names the place Bethel—beth-el—house of God.

God uses the most unlikely people to carry out God’s plans. Here is Jacob, the supplanter, the heel, the cheat, the schemer. He has fallen into the hands of the living God. God has chosen him.

Our psalm for today, number 139, tells us that there is nowhere we can go, that will take us away from God. God is everywhere, and God’s love and grace will follow us everywhere we go.

In our epistle today, a reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans, Paul is continuing his thoughts about life in the flesh, life based entirely on humans goals and needs and visions, and life in the Spirit, life rooted and grounded is the love, joy, peace, grace, and power of God. Life in the Spirit is a life based in hope.

One of the most powerful parts of this reading is the sheer fact that, thanks to our Lord Jesus, we are children of God. This relationship is so close and so intimate that we can now call God Abba. Abba is a term of endearment and intimacy. It can be translated “Daddy,” or  “Papa,” or “Dad,” or, in more inclusive language, “Mama,”  or “Mom.” We are that close to God. We are God’s beloved children.

In our gospel, Jesus tells another parable. Someone sows good seed, but in the depths of night, someone comes in and plants weeds. When the grain appears, the weeds grow up along with it.  The point of the parable is that we are going to have to let the grain and the weeds grow together.  If we try to pull the weeds, the tender little wheat plants will come up with them. When harvest time comes, the wheat plants will be sturdy. We can come along and pull the weeds and then harvest the wheat. The interpretation of the parable and the furnace of fire are not something our Lord would have said, They are later editorial additions. We recall that Matthew’s gospel was written around 70 A D. in a time of persecution and great fear and turmoil.

This parable is saying that we have to let the weeds and the wheat grow together. So often, in the Church and in the world, we want to do the sorting ourselves. We want to root out this bad thing or that bad thing.  But in God’s garden, often we need to have patience. In time, it will become clear which are the weeds and which are the wheat. Sometimes, we are a bit confused as to which is which. If something bears the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, it is of God. God is the ultimate judge.

I think of the Civil War and the issue of slavery. There were good people on both sides. Church people argued on both sides of this issue. When I was much younger, there was great turmoil and suffering over simply allowing people of color to go to a bathroom, use a drinking fountain, or be served at a lunch counter. We are still working on that issue.

Tragically, we humans have a tendency to think that we have the right to exclude some people. We find excuses to do this. We say that people of color are inferior. or women are inferior or gay people are inferior or Muslims are inferior—the list goes on and on—and then we try to shut these people out. And God says, “You are all my people, and you are all my beloved. Live together in my 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.

Lent 5A  April 2, 2017

Ezekiel 37:1-14
Psalm 130
Romans 8:6-11
John 11:1-45

Our first reading, which comes from the Book of Ezekiel, is one of the most compelling passages in the Bible. Ezekiel was a priest and a prophet who lived with the exiles in Babylon. His ministry took place from 593 to 563 B.C.

The people of God spent fifty years in exile. As time went on, they began to feel that their whole nation, the whole of Israel, was dead. After all, they were in captivity in an alien land. A foreign power was occupying their homeland. The temple in Jerusalem, the center of their worship, lay in ruins. They had little or no hope of ever returning. They might as well be dead. They had no future. They were prisoners in a foreign land.

Our reading this morning is Ezekiel’s God-given vision of the nation of Israel, the people of God lying dead in the valley of dry bones, and God raising these dry bones back to life.  God asks Ezekiel, “Mortal, can these bones live?” Ezekiel humbly answers, “O Lord God, you know.”  Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann writes, “Only God can answer. This is not a question permitting human response, because the power for life is held only by God. Only God knows, not because God has ‘information,’ but because only God has the power to make life happen.” (Texts for Preaching Year A, p. 219.)

This passage tells us that God brings life, not only for individuals but for nations, especially oppressed nations and groups. God takes these dry bones and puts muscles and flesh on them and covers them with skin and puts breath (ruach) into them. Last Sunday we made an offering to help the nation of South Sudan. God can bring life to our brothers and sisters in South Sudan, and in Haiti and Zimbabwe and El Salvador and all the other places where death is stalking the people. Brueggemann calls us to “…trust the stunning freedom and power of the God who gives life.” (Texts for Preaching Year A, p. 221.)

No situation is hopeless. God brings life. God is going to bring the exiles home.

In our gospel for today, we have another powerful account from Jesus’ ministry. As we look at this story, we remember that Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are Jesus’ closest friends. They live in Bethany, which is about two miles outside of Jerusalem. Jesus has spent many hours at their home, which is a kind of sanctuary for him. It is a relatively safe place for him in the midst of all the intrigue and power politics of Jerusalem.

Lazarus falls ill. Mary and Martha send a message to Jesus to come as quickly as he can. Jesus waits another two days. By this time, Jerusalem is an extremely dangerous place for him to visit. But Jesus also says that he is waiting so that God’s glory may be fully revealed. Finally he tells the disciples that they are going to Judea. He says that Lazarus has fallen asleep and he is going to awaken him. Going to Jerusalem is dangerous. Thomas even says, “Let us go, that we may die with him.”

When Jesus and the disciples arrive, Martha meets them. She gently rebukes Jesus, saying that, if he had been there, Lazarus would never have died, Jesus could have healed him. Jesus tells her that Lazarus will rise again. And he says those words which are at the center of our faith, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Martha says that she believes this.

Mary comes to Jesus, kneels at his feet, and, weeping, tells Jesus that if he had come earlier, Lazarus would never have died. All of their friends who have been mourning with Mary and Martha are crying as well. Jesus himself is in tears at this point. Our Lord is fully human as well as fully divine, and this is a terrible loss. One of his best friends has died. Some of the mourners again point out that, if Jesus had arrived sooner, he could have prevented this tragedy.

Then Jesus commands them to take away the stone. The down-to-earth Martha points out that Lazarus has been dead for four days and there is going to be a smell. This is real death. But Jesus is focusing on the fact that God brings life. Yes, a beloved friend has died. This is real. But God brings life.  Into every situation, no matter how seemingly hopeless, God brings life.

They take away the stone. Jesus prays, thanking God for the miracle that is about to come. Lazarus staggers out into the light, the cloths in which he had been wrapped unwinding as he propels himself out of the dark cave. Jesus says, “Unbind him and let him go!” Lazarus is alive and free.

Whenever we feel hopeless, whenever we encounter death of any kind, the death of slavery or of addiction or of oppression, God brings life. In the face of all death and brokenness, God brings life.

In the words of Walter Brueggemann, may we “trust the stunning power and freedom of the God who gives life.”  Amen.

The Day of Pentecost Year C RCL May 15, 2016

Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:25-35, 37b
Romans 8:14-17
John 14:8-17, (25-27)

On that first Pentecost, people were gathered in Jerusalem from all over the known world. It was the Jewish feast of Pentecost, a festival much like our Thanksgiving. But scholars tell us that there were many Gentiles there as well.

Jesus had gone to be with God. He had told the apostles that he would not leave them comfortless, that he would send the Holy Spirit. They stayed together and prayed. They chose Matthias to replace Judas Iscariot so that the company of the apostles would be whole and ready to do ministry.

They were together in a house somewhere in Jerusalem when it happened. There was a sound like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled the house. Tongues of fire rested over each of their heads. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in all of the known languages of that time.

Some people thought they were drunk, but Peter explained that the prophecy of Joel was being fulfilled, that God would pour out God’s spirit on everyone.

Pentecost is the birthday of the Church. From this moment on, the apostles will be traveling around the Mediterranean basin planting communities of followers of Jesus wherever they go.

Our epistle for today is brief but powerful. We have received a spirit of adoption. We are children of God. Because of the life and ministry of our Lord, we have been brought so close to God that we can call God Daddy or Dad or Mama or Mom. Because of our Lord, we have an intimate relationship with the creator of the universe.

Our gospel is part of Jesus’ last teaching session with the apostles. Philip says to Jesus, “Show us the Father and we will be satisfied,” And Jesus tells Philip and us that, in seeing him, we have seen God. Jesus is God living a human life. Jesus is God walking the face of the earth. The almost unbelievable quality of love which Jesus shows to all people is God’s love. Jesus and God are one.

Then Jesus tells us that “the one who believes in me will do the works that I do.” In other words, the fact that we bier in Jesus means that we are called to carry on his ministry here on earth. We are called to reach out in love to others; we are called to feed the hungry and to give clothes and shelter to those who need them. We are called to follow Jesus as our model, to live as he lived.

Jesus tells the apostles that he will send the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to be with us, to lead and guide and energize us .

After this teaching time with the apostles, called his Last Discourse, Jesus was crucified. We know that one of the apostles, John, was there at the foot of the cross. We do not know where the others were. It was the saddest day in the history of the world.

But then people began seeing the risen Christ. Two of them walking to Emmaus saw him. He appeared to Peter and the others on the beach. He came through the locked doors of the upper room. Gradually they realized that he was alive. And they gathered as he had told them to do, and they waited together, and they prayed.

It must have been very strange for them to realize that he was alive. More and more people had encounters with him. And then he ascended to be with God. He told them that he had to do this so that the Spirit could come to them.

It is one of the mysteries of our faith that, because of the Presence of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is alive in every corner of the creation at all times. Jesus is here with us now, and he is with people all over the world.

When the Holy Spirit filled the apostles, they were able to share the Good News in every language. They were able to speak of God’s love in such a way that their message reached deep into the hearts of all the people gathered there.

That message has come down to us over the centuries. God loves us so much that God has adopted us as God’s children. God loves the whole big human family.

I would like to ask you to help me end this sermon by singing together an ancient chant. The words date back to a Latin text from the 9th century. The tune was written by John Henry Hopkins Jr. and was published in 1865. John Henry Hopkins Jr was the son of our first Bishop, John Henry Hopkins. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Vermont in 1839 and his master’s degree from UVM in 1845. He taught music at General Theological Seminary from 1855-57, was rector of Trinity Church in Plattsburgh, New York from 1872-1876 and of Christ Episcopal Church in Williamsport, Pennsylvania from 1876 to 1887. He delivered the eulogy at the funeral of President Ulysses S, Grant in 1845.

This beautiful hymn calls on the Holy Spirit to come to us and fill us with the gifts of the spirit.

May the Holy Spirit fill us this day and always.  Amen.

The Day of Pentecost  Year B RCL May 24, 2015

Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:25-35, 37b
Romans 8:22-27
John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

Today is the end of the Great Fifty Days of Easter. This is the Feast of Pentecost, the day when the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles, giving them the gift to share the good news about Jesus in a way that could be understood by people from all over the known world. The power of this event is almost overwhelming. So, let us take a look backward and approach it with prayer and thought.

In today’s gospel, Jesus is talking with the apostles. He is trying to tell them everything they will ever need to know in order to carry on his mission. He has told them that he is the Vine and they are the branches,  and that his commandment is that they love one another. He has also talked about how he and they will be persecuted. Now he is telling them that he is going to the Father, and that he will send the Holy Spirit. Jesus says that the Spirit “will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.” Charles Cousar writes of this passage,”The world has its own judgments of sin, justice, and judgment. It constantly rewards those who measure up to its standards and norms and punishes those who transgress them. Jesus defied the reigning structures and ended up as one of those punished. The Spirit will expose the world’s ways of doing things.”

Jesus tells us that the Spirit will lead us into all truth. This is not a black-and-white truth, but a truth deeply rooted in God’s compassion and justice. As Christians, we seek to know God’s truth in the context of community, prayer, and responsible scholarship.

Jesus tells the disciples and us that he has to go away in order that the Spirit may come to us. When he ascends to be with the Father, the disciples feel abandoned and confused. He has told them to stay together and to pray, and they faithfully follow his direction. But that time was a crisis for the Church. If they had not kept the faith and remained together in prayer in the face of Jesus’ departure, we would not be here.

This is something that is important for us to remember in this post-Christendom era. Christianity is not the center of people’s lives at this point in history. Attendance is dwindling in all the major denominations. In the past, we would look for programs to bring people in. Now we are called to be missional, to go out into the world to do mission, to meet people where they are. Like the original disciples, we are called to be faithful in our time.

In our brief passage from his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul tells us that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains up to this point and that everyone who is trying to follow Christ has also been struggling to give birth to something new. We and the creation are struggling toward the time when we will reach our full identity in Christ and the time when our Lord’s shalom will be complete.

Meanwhile, we gather as the disciples did so many years ago, and we try to “Pray the prayer of Christ, learn the mind of Christ, and do the deeds of Christ.” We try to live as our Lord wants us to live. This takes a great deal of prayer, and it requires grace from God. And here, St. Paul gives us one of the greatest gifts in the Bible.

Have you ever gotten to the point where you could not find the words to pray? The point where you did not know what to pray for? I certainly have.  St. Paul tells us that, when we get to that point, the Spirit prays for us. He says, “The Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.”  So, when we reach those points when we just can’t find words to pray, we can let the Spirit take over and pray for us.

Now we arrive at Pentecost. All the people are gathered in Jerusalem because this is fifty days after Passover. It is the feast of weeks, the end of the celebration of the spring harvest. The followers of Jesus are all together in one place. They have hung together. They are praying. They have no idea what will happen. Jesus said that he would send the Spirit, but the disciples are not at all sure what that means. Some of them are still in profound grief because Jesus has left them. I think that some of them had their doubts about what would happen next. The important thing is that they were doing what he had asked them to do, no matter how they felt, no matter how grief-stricken they were, no matter how much fear they were feeling about the future. They were together, and they were praying.

What happens is far beyond anything they could have imagined.  There is a violent wind. Tongues of fire dance over their heads. They are filled with the Spirit and they speak in all the known languages of the world. Something new is coming to birth in the world. They had been gathered in that house, probably with quite a bit of fear and apprehension. Now, they are empowered by the Spirit and sent out into the world to tell everyone about Jesus.

Some people think the disciples are drunk. But Peter tells them, No, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning. This is a new dawn. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

We call this the birthday of the Church because the Spirit has come to give the followers of Jesus the power to speak of Jesus’ love and healing in a way that can be deeply understood, heart to heart, by every person on earth.

Jesus is not physically present in the way that he was when he was walking the face of the earth with his followers. Because he has sent the Holy Spirit, he can now be everywhere in the creation. All around the world, faithful people are his hands reaching out to heal, his lips speaking forgiveness, his eyes seeing into the depths of people’s needs. We are his Body, and we are empowered by the Spirit just as his disciples were two thousand years ago.

May we go forth in the power of the Spirit to share Christ’s love, healing, and forgiveness with the people we meet every day, and to build the shalom of Christ.  Amen.