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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 18 Proper 22A October 4, 2020

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
Psalm 19
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46

Once again we are on the journey with the people of God. They have gone through many challenges. They have struggled; they have been hungry, thirsty, angry, discouraged. They have even wished they had stayed in their slavery in Egypt. Now, our loving God is giving them a great gift, the gift of the covenant that will enable them to love God and to love their neighbors.

The first four commandments describe our relationship with God. There is only one God, and that is the God we are called to worship.   Don’t make idols. Only one God can fill that place in our hearts and lives, yet there are so many idols, things like money, power, and possessions, and our culture seems to give high value to those idols.

Use the name of God with great care. Every mention of that holy Name should be in the context of prayer. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. For those who have to work on Sundays, it is important to observe sabbath time on another day if possible. We all need time to nourish our spirits and rest our bodies and minds from the stresses of work.

The remaining six commandments deal with our relationships with our neighbors. Honor our father and our mother. Family ties are important. No murder. This refers not only to physical murder but to speaking ill of others and sharing gossip. We are called to be faithful to our spouses. No stealing. No lying. No coveting of things that others own.These commandments are the glue that will hold the people together and govern their lives. Biblical scholar James Newsome writes, “The commandments of God are God’s gracious gift to the people, by which the people are provided with the means to respond to God’s love.” (Newsome, Texts for Preaching Year A, p. 507.

Newsome seems to be implying that, if we humans are not able to live together in some kind of order, with mutual respect and caring for

each other, we will not be able to respond in gratitude to God’s love. There is great truth in that comment. The gift of the commandments enables the people to move ahead in their communal life with guidelines that will help their life together to be heathy and caring.

Just prior to our reading from Philippians, Paul offers stern words to some people in the congregation who think that Gentiles joining the congregation should have to undergo circumcision. There was a great discussion in the early Church about whether new followers of Jesus should be required to follow the dietary laws and be circumcised.

Paul speaks from a powerful position. He is a member of the tribe of Benjamin, a Pharisee, an expert in the law, and a Roman citizen, These attributes give him many privileges. But all of these things are as rubbish to him compared with the gift of knowing and following Jesus. It is the gift of faith, given to us by God, which makes us able to follow our Lord, not adherence to the law.

And then Paul speaks of the journey of following our Lord. He wants to become more and more like Christ, just as we do. But he knows that he is not there yet. That is so true. In our journey with Christ, there is always more growing to do. We are not perfect, but, as long as we are trying to follow our Lord, that’s the important thing.

Paul writes, “Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own, but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Paul is giving us another metaphor for the Covid-19 journey we are traveling at this moment and will be traveling for several months if we are to believe experts like Dr. Fauci. As medical experts have said, the fact that our President and our First Lady have been diagnosed with this virus reminds us that Covid 19 can strike anyone and that we need to follow safety measures. We pray for all who have been diagnosed with this virus and wish them a speedy and full recovery. This journey is not a sprint. It ls a marathon. Paul is so devoted to Jesus. He is so close to our Lord, that he says that Christ has made Paul his own. In a sense, they have become one through God’s love. Therefore, on his marathon journey in and to newness of life, Paul receives the energy of Christ through the Holy Spirit. And that is what we are receiving through the love of God and the power of the Spirit— power and energy to do the wise thing and the loving thing as we make this journey. Our risen Lord is on this journey with us, and we can trust in him.

In our gospel for today, our Lord is teaching in the temple. The religious authorities are watching him closely. They will eventually kill him. All tyrants try to destroy those who speak the truth. Jesus tells a parable.  He has studied the wise and inspiring prophet Isaiah who thought of God’s world as a vineyard. When you let out a vineyard to tenants, you normally expect to get a portion of the produce as payment. The owner sends people to collect the payment and the tenants beat one, kill another, and stone another. This happens a second time. The landowner finally sends his son, and the tenants kill him.

God loves us so much that God came among us. Jesus is God walking the face of the earth. We have the Ten Commandments as our guidelines on how to live our lives, but we still tend to go astray, so, as Paul knew well, God came to show us the way. Now we have a fully divine and fully human life, the life of Jesus, as our model. 

But Paul knew from his own experience that we have even more than that. We are walking the journey one cloudy day and our patience is fraying and our anxiety is rising and our temper is not in the greatest of shape. And then we feel his presence, calming our nerves, giving us strength, renewing our faith. We can feel him walking beside us. Let’s be honest: we can feel him carrying us. And, because he is risen and we know what he has been through, we feel his love and his hope and his courage flowing into us. And we know we can do this. With his help and his loving presence, we can take the next step. And the next. And, one step at a time, we can run this marathon, no matter what it takes—with his presence and his grace. Amen.

Pentecost 17 Proper 21A September 27, 2020

Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

In our opening reading, we join the people of God on their long journey in the wilderness. Like us in our journey with Covid-19, they are filled with uncertainty. They seem to confront one problem after another. Last week they had no food. This week, they are thirsty.

They ask Moses for water. He asks them why they are quarreling with him and why they are testing God. They complain more loudly. “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”

Moses cries out to God. “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me?” God is right there to help. He tells Moses to take the staff which he used to part the waters of the Red Sea. And God does something very wise. God instructs Moses to take some of the elders with him. Moses is carrying a heavy burden of responsibility, and God wants Moses to share that burden and responsibility of leadership with others. God goes before them and is waiting when they arrive. So often, on our journeys, God is there to help before we even realize we need help. God tells Moses to strike the rock of Horeb with the staff and water pours out. Moses calls the place Massah and Meribah, meaning “test,” the place where the people tested God, and “quarrel.” the place where the people quarreled with God and Moses.

God is always present with us. God gives the people and livestock the water they need to survive. The journey from slavery into freedom is not easy. Without God’s  help, the people might have turned back.

In our second reading, Paul is writing from prison to his beloved Philippians. This is not a new congregation. Paul has had a caring mutual relationship with them over several years. Scholars tell us that some conflicts have arisen within the congregation, and they are also facing challenges from outside. Just as with God’s people in the wilderness, there are challenges.

Paul calls the people to”be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.”

He calls us to focus not on our own interests but on the interests of others. This is so contrary to the values we see in our world, where so many people think only of themselves and their needs. But we as Christians as called to love others as we love ourselves, and to treat others as we want to be treated.

Paul calls us to have the same mind as Jesus had. This reminds us of our diocesan mission statement which says that we are called to “Pray the prayer of Christ, learn the mind of Christ, and do the deeds of Christ.” We are called to be one with Christ. We are called to be as much like our Lord as we possibly can, with God’s help.

In our gospel for today, Jesus has come into Jerusalem and he has cleansed the temple. The religious authorities are asking him by whose authority he is teaching and preaching and healing people. The inability of these leaders to realize that our Lord was doing God’s work is tragic. They simply cannot recognize spiritual authority when they see it.  Jesus asks them a question, “Did the baptism of John come from heaven or was it of human origin?” The leaders are caught in a political bind. So they say they do not know.

Then Jesus tells the parable about the two sons. The father asks the first one to go and work in the vineyard. The son says he won’t do it  but then he changes his mind and goes to work.  The other son says “Yes, Sir, I’ll go,” but then he doesn’t go and work in the vineyard.

Jesus asks the leaders which one did the will of his father. They answer, the first. And Jesus says that the tax collectors and prostitutes will go into the kingdom of heaven before these leaders.

The tax collectors and prostitutes can see who Jesus really is. They are not the powerful or highly respected members of society, but they are following him. They are trying to lead lives of compassion.

Jesus has such a powerful message to share. He talks about the last being first and the first being last. The religious leaders do not recognize who he is. They have no understanding of what he is about. But the folks whom people despise and look down on have no problem seeing that Jesus is God walking the face of the earth. And his message makes so much sense to them that they follow wherever he leads and they try to model their lives on his teaching.

What are these readings telling us? The journey to freedom and wholeness is not easy. Sometimes it is all we can do to put one foot in front of the other. This is definitely true during this Covid journey. God is with us, God hears us, and God takes care of us.

Our reading from Paul is calling us to be one in Christ, to be on the journey of growing more and more into the likeness of Christ, both individually and corporately, so that his love and forgiveness and healing are with us always, leading us to be a community of hope and reconciliation. 

Our gospel reading echoes that old saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” We can hear people say flowery things which sound good, but, if the actions don’t match the words, we need to look at the actions, and they tell us the truth of the situation. And we are called to be congruent people. Our actions need to reflect our beliefs. As we know, this is possible only with the gift of God’s grace. 

All of our readings today call us to remember that God loves us and is with us. No matter how challenging our journey is, we can trust in God to lead us and help us, and we can have genuine hope that with God’s help, we can and will be God’s loving, faithful, hopeful people, sharing God’s caring and compassion with each other and with our neighbors.

O God, you declare your mighty power chiefly by showing mercy and pity. Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever,  Amen.

Pentecost 16 Proper 20A September 20, 2020

Exodus 16:2-15
Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16

Last Sunday, we read the inspiring account of how God led the people out of slavery into freedom. This Sunday, we are on the journey with God’s people. Sometimes journeys are exciting. Going to new places can be interesting, educational, and a lot of fun. Sometimes journeys are more challenging, like hiking the Long Trail or the Appalachian Trail or even climbing Camel’s Hump on a late autumn day when the higher you got the icier it gets. Sometimes journeys are inward exploration, like therapy or recovery from addiction. In the beginning there can be a sense of excitement, and there are also times when you just want that drink or drug or when it’s so hard to move away from old habits of thinking or doing that you just want to quit.

Today, God’s people just want to give up, turn around  and go back to Egypt because they are really hungry and the food was very good there. In other parts of the scripture, the text actually mentions their favorite foods, the melons and the leeks. So they complain to Moses and Aaron. And God hears their complaint and feeds them with quails in the evening and manna in the morning. God hears them. God feeds them. God’s mercy and care are always with us.

The Scriptures tell us that God’s people wandered in the wilderness for forty years. We have  been wandering in the wilderness of this Covid desert for six months, and we are getting very tired of the whole thing. We have not shared Holy Eucharist for all these months; we cannot gather in our beautiful church building which symbolizes God’s love to us and which reminds us of the great cloud of witnesses, the faithful people who have worshipped and absorbed God’s word and tried to do God’s will over two centuries. This building is a holy place for us. It wraps us in God’s love. And we cannot go in.

And we are feeling sad and frustrated. And maybe a bit angry as well.

I think we can identify with the people of God on their journey through the wilderness. We may not be physically hungry but we have had it  with this pandemic, and we have a lot to complain about.

This past Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci joined Governor Scott’s press briefing for the first half hour. He gave Vermont high marks for our work so far. He even said that Vermont can be an example for the nation. He noted that we have not achieved this because we have a small population. He said that we have achieved our low numbers because of wearing masks, social distancing at least six feet, washing our hands as often as possible, avoiding crowds, and being outdoors as much as possible. If more populated areas followed the same guidelines, he said, they would have the low positivity rates and other great statistics that we have.

In other interviews, Dr. Fauci has warned that the fall and winter will be a challenge and that we need to be careful to continue to follow the guidelines. On Tuesday he advised us to “Be prudent,” and to be careful regarding our interactions in the community. He said he does not think a second wave is  inevitable if we continue to follow the health measures we have been doing.

We want to get back to normal. We want to go back into our church building, share Holy Eucharist, not wear masks, sing, and have coffee hour. Unfortunately, that is not going to be happening for a while. 

On May 18, delegates from all our parishes gathered in the Cathedral Church of Saint Paul. Our delegates were Beth, Lori, Jean, and me. We had three outstanding priests who felt called to be our Bishop. We had had opportunities to meet and talk with these people at the walkabouts. In an atmosphere of love and with a framework of meditation and prayer, and, with a profound sense of our oneness in Christ, we elected our Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Dr. Shannon MacVean-Brown, on the first ballot. An election on the first ballot is very rare.

The Episcopal Church goes back to the earliest roots of the Church in claiming the apostolic succession. We can trace our bishops back to the apostles.  The word “Episcopal” means “having bishops.” In the service of ordination of a bishop, we read that a bishop is called “to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church.” St. Paul addresses this when he writes to his beloved Philippians, “Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that…I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel.”

In her meeting with the clergy this past Wednesday, Bishop Shannon told us that the House of Bishops had recently met with Dr. Fauci.  In that meeting, Dr. Fauci encouraged everyone “Not to let [our] guard down.” He said that “cold and dry air helps the virus to thrive.” He told the bishops that fifty percent of transmissions of the disease come from people who have no symptoms. The  bottom line is that in-person worship indoors will not be happening soon. This is not just in Vermont but in Episcopal churches around the nation. These decisions are based on science.

This is extremely difficult news to hear. I think it’s easy for us to identify with God’s people in the wilderness. Why do we have to be going through this?

Our gospel for today can be shocking. Biblical scholar Thomas Troeger writes, “The story is about something greater than employment practices.” Referring to Matthew’s community, Troeger writes,  “People have made enormous sacrifices to follow Jesus, and now there are newcomers, including Gentiles. …This is what the kingdom of heaven is like. God, without breaking agreements with the friends who came early to the cause, will be generous to all, including the latecomers.” (Troeger, New Proclamation Series A 1999, p. 224.

God’s love and grace go far beyond our expectations. We are all beloved workers in God’s vineyard, whether we have been working faithfully for years or months or weeks or days. God’s love and grace are given to all of us in equal and generous amounts. 

We have called Bishop Shannon to be our leader. Her guidance to us is coming, not from a place of fear, but from a place of wisdom and love. God has called us together. Some of us have been here at Grace for a long time. Others have joined us more recently. I know we all love each other, and those of us who have been here awhile are very happy to welcome our new bothers and sisters. 

This time in the life of the Church and in our life together is extremely challenging. And it is one of those times when we really need to focus on being one with God and each other just as Jesus and the Father and the Spirit are one.

To paraphrase our reading from Paul and our gospel, let us all stand firm in the unity of the Spirit, thanking God for God’s outpouring of love and grace. And let us work together in God’s vineyard to share God’s love and grace with everyone we meet. With God’s unfailing help, we will get through this time, and we will be stronger for it. Amen.