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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:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion December 25, 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:…

Advent 2C December 5, 2021

Baruch 5:1-9
Canticle 16, p. 92
Philippians 1:3-11
Luke 3:1-6

Our first reading today is from a book of the Bible attributed to Jeremiah’s secretary, Baruch. Scholars tell us that Baruch was not the author, and we really do not know who wrote this beautiful passage. Scholars tell us that it was written well after the lifetime of Baruch by someone who was very familiar with the work of Isaiah.  

“Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God.” The book is addressed to people who have been in exile, and God is telling them that they will return home. Jerusalem is pictured as standing on a high spot, looking out on all her children returning from the four corners of the earth.

In an echo of Isaiah, the mountains and hills are made low, and the valleys are filled up so that the path toward the holy city is level. The journey home is easy. There are no climbs or descents.The text tells us, “God will lead Israel with joy, in the light of his glory, with the mercy and righteousness that come from him.”

For this second Sunday in Advent, we have a choice between two readings from the Hebrew scriptures, and I chose this one because it gives us such a vivid and moving picture of our own return home to God in this holy time of Advent. It is a return full of joy, and God makes it much easier by leveling the ground! 

This image of the mountains being made low and the valleys filled is also symbolic of the shalom of God. In God’s shalom, there will be a level playing field. Justice will prevail.

Our Canticle for today, the Benedictus, is the song of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, celebrating the birth of this very special child who was called to be the forerunner of the Messiah. “In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.” We are walking the way of God’s shalom.

Our epistle is from the letter of Paul to his beloved community in Philippi. Paul begins with gratitude: “I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of your because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” Paul is reminding us that we are living in that in-between time. The kingdom of God has begun but is not yet complete, That will happen when Jesus comes. Paul reminds the Philippians and us that God has begun this good work and God will complete the work of creation.

Paul says that the community in Philippi “holds [him] in [their] heart” because they all share in God’s grace.  This means that we, here in Sheldon two thousand years later, hold each other in our hearts because of God’s grace, and God holds all of us in God’s heart. Paul prays that their and our “love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help [us] determine what is best,” so that when our Lord comes to complete the creation, we will have borne good fruit in helping to build his shalom. There is work to do, and there are moral and ethical decisions we will need to make, and Paul is telling us that God will be with us every step of the way to help us stay on the path of shalom.

In our gospel, we meet that great Advent figure, John the Baptist. Notice that Luke carefully places John’s ministry in its historical context. It’s the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius; Pontius Pilate is the governor of Judea, and Herod is ruler of Galilee. All the rulers are named. The word of God comes to John, the son of Zechariah, the priest in the Jerusalem temple. In the words of Isaiah, John is “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord.” Everything is made level. Everything is being straightened out. Everything is being set right. All is being made clear. We are going to see the salvation of God. We are going to meet the Messiah face to face. God’s loving and merciful and just reign is going to prevail.

John is preaching a repentance, a changing of our life and priorities, a metanoia, a transformation, a forgiveness of sins, a course correction, a possibility of freedom and release. No wonder people flocked to see and hear him. After all those years of doing things that were destructive and not doing things that were creative and life-giving, at long last there is help. There is hope.

In this year 2021, our readings today are filled with hope. The hope of returning home after an exile. The hope of living lives based on love for each other and for all people. The hope of love overflowing more and more. The hope of creating a world in which the shalom of God is more fully realized. That is a hope we can have because of the abundance of God’s grace, and the fact that God is with us. God has given us a vision, and God is helping us to fulfill that vision of shalom.

At this time of the year, when the days are so short, the light is overcoming the shadows. God is calling to us in love and joy. Our King is coming. May our hearts be filled with light and joy. May we keep each other in our hearts. May we remember that we are being held in the loving heart of God. Amen.

The Second Sunday after Christmas January 3, 2021

Jeremiah 31:7-14
Psalm 84
Ephesians1:3-6, 15-19a
Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

This is our first Sunday in the year 2021, and I know most of us are happy to see 2020 go. This is also the Second Sunday of Christmas, a day we do not always have in our calendar. I actually counted back to 2012. Out of those eight years, we have celebrated the Second Sunday after Christmas only four times.

Our Collect for this day begins, “O God, who wonderfully created and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

In our opening reading from the prophet Jeremiah, God’s people are going to come home from exile. We have spoken of how our experience with Covid-19 has been like an exile.  We can’t travel; we can’t even get together with neighbors. We have to wear masks when we go out. It feels as though we are living in a foreign land.

This passage from Jeremiah is God speaking to God’s people, including us. God will become as a shepherd to us. God will be our father, guiding us home. God will answer our weeping with consolation. God will “Turn [our] mourning into joy, God will comfort [us], God will give [us] gladness for sorrow.” Things will be getting back to normal. It will take time, but it will happen. We can help this process by continuing to follow the guidance of our medical experts.

In our gospel for today, the Wise Men have been warned in a dream not to go back to King Herod. They have gone home by another road. And now the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream and tells him to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt because Herod is searching for Jesus in order to kill him. Guided by an angel of God, Joseph takes Mary and the baby to Egypt. Herod never finds Jesus, but, in order to preserve his power, he kills all the baby boys under two years old. Tyrants will stop at nothing to hold on to their control. When Herod finally dies, an angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream and tells him that it is safe to go home. Joseph is in constant contact with God and follows the divine guidance immediately. Finding that Herod’s son is now ruling Judea, Joseph does not want to risk going there. Guided by God in a dream, he travels to Galilee, a place far from the centers of power, and settles in Nazareth.

When God chose a man and woman to raise God’s Son, God chose two ordinary working people, Mary and Joseph. They were people of profound faith who had strong prayer lives, close communication with God, wisdom, accurate intuition, extraordinary courage, determination, and self-discipline. But they did not have worldly power.

Mary became pregnant before they were married, so Jesus was born under the shadow of illegitimacy. Jesus was born when they were homeless. A kind inn keeper gave them lodging in a stable. Then they became refugees. They had to escape into Egypt. They were seeking asylum, some degree of safety.

In his sermon on the First Sunday after Christmas on December 29, 2013, Pope Francis said, “And today, the gospel presents to us the Holy Family on the sorrowful road of exile, seeking refuge in Egypt. Joseph, Mary and Jesus experienced the tragic fate of refugees, which is marked by fear, uncertainty and unease.” In his address for the 106th World Day of Migrants and Refugees on September 27, 2020,  Pope Francis called us to respond to the suffering of the many people who are becoming displaced persons and refugees as a result of the Covid pandemic.

In our Collect, we call on our loving God, who has “wonderfully created and yet more wonderfully restored the dignity of human nature.” We ask God to “Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity.” 

In our reading from Ephesians, Paul writes, “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may come to know the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu says, “God has a big family,” and our own Presiding Bishop Michael Curry calls us to walk the Way of Love.

In his sermon on December 29, 2013, Pope Francis said, “Jesus wanted to belong to a family  who experienced these hardships, so that no one would feel excluded from the loving closeness of God.”

As we walk with the Holy Family today, experiencing with them the terror of having to escape from a despot who is trying to kill their child, may we commit ourselves to helping displaced people and refugees know the loving presence of God. May we work for a world in which no one has to be a migrant or a homeless person or a refugee.

When God came among us as a baby, Jesus and his mother and foster father suffered homelessness, and were forced to flee as migrants and refugees. Yet, at every crisis and point of decision, Mary and Joseph asked for God’s guidance and followed God’s will. As we look out on our country and our world, can we see our homeless people and migrant people as the Holy Family? Can we see these people through God’s eyes? Can we have the faith and hope to tackle issues of race, class, and income inequality so that we can help God restore the dignity of every human being?

Borrowing from Paul, with “the eyes of our hearts enlightened,” may we know the hope to which you have called us, O Lord, the hope of your shalom, and may we use the power of your grace to see others with your eyes and help you restore the dignity of every human being. Amen.

First Sunday after Christmas December 27, 2020

Isaiah 61:10-62:3
Psalm 147
Galatians 3:23-25, 4:4-7
John 1:1-18

“Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your  incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus  Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.” This is our powerful collect for today, the First Sunday after Christmas.

And then, our reading from John’s gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” We can picture in our minds the creation of the world. Christ ,the eternal Word, was there with God, and as God brought forth God’s vision of the creation, Christ, the Word, called the creation into being. Christ, the Word, the Logos, the plan for creation, the model for human life.

And then, in the next phrases of this amazing and inspiring gospel, the light is coming into the world. John the Baptist is testifying to the light. And then the true light, which enlightens everyone, is coming into the world. Jesus, the light of the world, brings light and hope to everyone in the world. We can envision a world of darkness lighting up with the light and love of Christ, We can understand that the light of Christ, the love and hope of Christ, can turn our lives from darkness and despair to light and hope. We can almost picture the whole dark world illuminated by the light of Christ, the dawn of a new day a new year, a new life for everyone.

But then,  our gospel says, “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him,” That led ultimately to the Cross. And yet, even out of that, he brought new life.  But to all who were open to him and welcomed him into their lives, “he gave power to become children of God.” When we open our lives to his love, he brings us as close to God as children are to their own loving parents.

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us…full of grace and truth.” God loves us so much that God came among us as one of us, born as a little baby, just as we were born.

He did not come as a conquering warrior, though he could have. He did not come among us as an earthly king, though he could have done that too. He came into human life just as we do,  He was born in a little place called Bethlehem, in a cave used as a stable. He was born before Mary and Joseph were married, so some tongues wagged, and some folks considered him to be an illegitimate child. And then, King Herod, who  had heard from the wise men about the new king, killed all the baby boys to stamp out that  threat. Joseph, a very protective and courageous foster father, and Mary, as protective and courageous as her husband, had to take Jesus into Egypt. This meant that they were refugees, migrants. seeking asylum. Jesus knows what it is to be human and he also knows what it is to be persecuted, marginalized, and demeaned. 

When things became safer, the holy family moved back to Nazareth, where Joseph was a carpenter. Jesus grew up learning the carpenter’s trade and studied the scriptures and eventually began his earthly ministry by being baptized by his cousin John in the Jordan River.

After that, he spent somewhere between one and three years, depending on whose account we read, going from place to place telling people how much God loves us and how much God wants us to love each other. In a patriarchal culture, he had high respect for women; in a culture that saw children and women as chattel, possessions, he instructed his disciples to let the children come to him so that he could hold them in his arms. He made it crystal clear that God’s love knows no barriers. This was a threat to people who wanted to preserve their power, and he ended up dying on that horrible instrument of torture called the cross. 

And then, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and found that it was empty. He was not there. She saw a man and thought he was the gardener, but he called her name, and she knew that it was Jesus. He had risen. She ran to tell the others. And then people began seeing him. He appeared to two of them on the road to Emmaus, but they didn’t even recognize him until they invited him in for supper and he interpreted the scriptures in a way that set their hearts on fire. Peter and the disciples were out fishing and, when they came ashore there he was, cooking fish and bread over a fire. He appeared to the disciples in the locked upper room and said, “Peace be with you.” And he called us to build his peace, his shalom, over the whole earth. And that’s what we are trying to do, with his grace. 

He is alive, He is in our midst, and he is calling us to walk the Way of Love. Let us follow him, our Emmanuel, God with us. Amen.

Advent 1 Year B November 29. 2020

Isaiah 64:1-9
Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:24-37

In our opening reading from Isaiah, we are with Isaiah and God’s people at a crucial moment in their history. They are returning from exile in Babylon. They have been in exile for some fifty years, studying the scriptures, praying, keeping the community together and hoping for the day when they would be able to return. They have thought it would be a time of great joy.

When they arrive, they find that the temple has been destroyed. The city walls have been torn down. Foreign people are living as squatters in the ruins of the temple. For decades, they had hoped and prayed that they would be able to return. That was the hope that kept them together. But now that they are in Jerusalem and, seeing that their beloved temple and city are little more than a huge pile of rubble, they are realizing the enormity of the task that lies before them.

In the face of the enormity of the task, Isaiah and the people are overwhelmed. They are at the point of despair. How will they begin the mammoth task of rebuilding? Where will they begin? Isaiah calls out to God, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence…” 

Isaiah is recalling the time centuries before when God came down from heaven at Mount Sinai to give the people the law and lead them out of slavery.  God was with them every step of the way. It seems to Isaiah that God has withdrawn from the people, and so they have sinned. Isaiah confesses on behalf of all the people and then he tells God, “You are our Father and we are your people.” 

All these centuries later, we are not being called to rebuild Jerusalem, but we are facing a very difficult task. We are facing a time that is usually full of joy—Thanksgiving and Christmas—a time when we love to be with our families. This year, we cannot do that. Our own governor’s staff has predicted that if we aren’t careful, we could have 3,800 people come down with Covid and 40 to 50 people in the hospital, These figures are staggering, far higher than we have experienced at any time during this wilderness journey, this exile from our church building, this long fast from the Eucharist.

In his press briefing this past Tuesday, Governor Scott said that he knows he can’t make us do the things that will defeat the virus—have Thanksgiving dinner only with the people who live under our roof, don’t travel, and continue to do the things we have been doing—six foot spaces, masks on faces, avoid crowded places—but he is asking us to do these things. Our Presiding Bishop is calling us to walk the Way of Love—doing all of these things out of love for each other so everyone can be safe. And our governor says often that he knows this is hard. We all have Pandemic Fatigue. We’re tired of this and we just want to go back to normal. Experts tell us that we’re experiencing quite a bit of depression and anxiety these days.

We might pray, “O, loving God, please come down here and help us. This virus is getting ahead of us.” Rather similar to Isaiah’s prayer.

But then we stop and think. God has come to be with us. That was the first Advent. A little baby was born in Bethlehem, a little, out of the way place like Sheldon or Montgomery or Fletcher or Fairfield or Franklin. Why did God come among us? Because God loves us more than we could possibly understand or imagine.

Jesus lived a human life, grew up helping his foster father in his carpenter shop, and then he called twelve people together and went all around healing, forgiving, and teaching people about God’s kingdom of love and peace, God’s shalom. And he invited everyone to be a part of his family—a very big family—and to help him build his shalom.

We have all answered his call to follow him and help him build his kingdom, his shalom. Right now, people are really hurting with this pandemic, and we are feeding them at our food shelf. And we are trying to do all we can to help our brothers and sisters because he has told us that if we help them, we are helping him. The more peace and love and compassion we can share, the closer his kingdom comes. So he doesn’t have to tear down the heavens and come down. He is already here in our midst. What our governor and all good leaders are calling us to do, our risen and present Lord is leading and guiding us to do.

He has told us he will come again to complete his kingdom, to bring in fully his shalom of peace, compassion, and justice. We do not know exactly when that is going to happen. And in many parts of the gospel he tells us not to try to figure that out. Only God knows when that will happen.

In today’s gospel, He says, “Keep awake.” This does not mean that we have to stay up all night. He wants us to be healthy, especially in these stressful times, so we need to get at least seven hours of sleep a night. But he wants us to be ready to receive his kingdom. He wants us to be prepared for his kingdom. When he comes, he wants us to be ready to meet him, welcome him with great joy, and help him complete his work of creation.

And he wants us to live like kingdom people, to feed the hungry and give clothing to those who need it and love people and help people as if they were Christ himself. We are in that in-between time between his first coming as a baby and his second coming as our King, and he wants us to be about the work of building his shalom now.

Like God’s people coming home from the exile, we are facing a major challenge. We are called to do what is necessary to beat this virus, and we are called to build, not a temple, but the shalom of God.

Lord Jesus, thank you for being in our midst. Thank you for calling us to help you build your kingdom. Give us the grace to follow you, to walk the Way of Love, and to be ready to follow where you lead us. In your holy Name. Amen.

Pentecost 20 Proper 24A October 18, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pentecost 2 Proper 6A   June 14, 2020

Genesis 18:1-15, 21:1-7
Psalm 116:1, 10-17
Romans 5:1-8
Matthew 9:35-10:8

In our opening reading, Abraham is taking a siesta in his tent under the oaks of Mamre, near Hebron. It is a very hot day. As he rests and perhaps dozes a little, three men appear. This is not unusual. Travelers often came by.

In the Middle East, a desert culture, the rules of hospitality dictate that you should welcome strangers, feed them, give them water, and offer lodging if they need it. So Abraham jumps up, has his servants wash the visitors’ feet, gives them a snack of bread, and prepares a feast.

But these visitors are no ordinary people, They are God and two assistants. When they are eating the meal that has been prepared, they do a very unusual thing. They ask Abraham how his wife Sarah is doing. There is no way that a traveler would know the name of Abraham’s wife.

Now, we need to stop and remind ourselves of a few things about Abraham and Sarah. Abraham is now one hundred years old. When he was a mere seventy-five, God called him and Sarah to go from their comfortable home and life in Ur of the Chaldees, pack up everything they had, and begin a journey to a land they did not know. Ur was a town in what we would call southern Iraq. By this point in the story,  Abraham and Sarah have traveled hundreds and hundreds of miles.

Abraham is one hundred years old and Sarah is not far behind.

When God called them to make this journey, God told them that they would have descendants as numerous as the stars or as the number of grains on the beach. So far, there are no descendants.

Sarah is listening in on Abraham’s conversation with God and the two assistants. And God says to Abraham, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.”

At last? After twenty-five years of wandering and enduring one challenge after another and and no word of good news, no hope? After all this, God is going to give us a son? Sarah, listening behind the tent flap, bursts into laughter. She howls with mirth. Oh, how she laughs.  She rolls on the ground. 

Later on she tries to deny it. But she did laugh. And once the divine visitors leave, Abraham has a good long laugh, too. And, in due course, Isaac is born. We can imagine the joy of Abraham and Sarah. After all their journeying, all their suffering along the way, they have a son. The name Isaac, means “laughter.”

Abraham and Sarah are the great icons of faith. Along the way they would sometimes remind God, “Lord, you know that promise about all those descendants? It hasn’t happened yet.” And God replies, “Be patient, It will happen.”

When we have a hope or a dream that means a great deal to us, sometimes when it happens, we laugh. The joy just spills over. We have wondered whether it would ever happen, and, when it finally does, we burst out in good deep, joyful laughter. Maybe quite a bit of it is relief, too, that we did not hope in vain and that God’s grace finally prevailed.

So, this week, I hope we will all think of Sarah, listening inside the tent and bursting out in laughter. I hope we will think of how she and Abraham kept the faith, never stopped hoping. And I hope that we may actually have a few moments of laughter over something this week. This laughter scene is like a precious gem in the Scriptures, something we can carry with us forever,

Another gem is from Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Like Abraham and Sarah, we have faith. And because of the love of God and the reconciling work of our Lord and the power of the Holy Spirit, we have peace, through everything. These are challenging times. But Paul tells us that we can “Boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” 

When we suffer through difficult times, and keep the faith, that builds our endurance, so that we can remain strong through other challenging times. And that endurance produces character. It strengthens our ability to follow Christ, to be the kind of person he calls us to be. And character produces hope. As we grow stronger and stronger in Christ and become more like him. we are more and more open to the hope that he gives us every day, every moment, together with his gifts of faith and love. Individually and together, we are a people of hope. 

And a third gem in our gospel for today: Our Lord is sending his apostles out to spread the good news. He is sending us, too. And he says, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Because he is with them, his kingdom has come near. Other scholars say that the translation is also, “The kingdom of God is within you.” We have been created with the divine spark of God within each of us, We are children of God and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven. We are co- builders, with Christ, of his kingdom, His shalom.

Three gems from Scripture. Abraham and Sarah burst out into joyful laughter! God does keep God’s promises! 

Paul’s wise teaching: suffering builds endurance builds character. builds hope.

And our Lord’s assurance: the kingdom of God is near you; the kingdom of God is within you. Our loving God gives us the faith and the strength and the grace we need to get through challenging times. Our Good Shepherd is leading us. God is as close as our breath. God is within us. Amen.

Trinity Sunday Year A June 7, 2020

Genesis 1:1-2:4a
Psalm 8
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Matthew 28:16-20

Today is Trinity Sunday. Over centuries of time, the Christian community has experienced “God in three persons, blessed Trinity,” as the beloved hymn states. We experience God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, or, in gender-neutral language, as Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.

Our opening reading today is a wonderful description of the creation. It dates back 2500 years. As we read or listen to this passage, we can visualize how God called the creation into being. At every stage, there is that wonderful refrain, “And God saw that it was good.” God the Creator.

The second person of the trinity is Christ, our Redeemer. As time went on, and it did not take a great deal of time, we humans began to go astray. Cain kills Abel very early in the story. And God loves us so much that God’s heart breaks to see what we are doing to each other.

So God, who is powerful enough to call the universe into being, God, who loves us beyond our ability to grasp the depth of that love, comes among us. He is born to Mary and Joseph, people of deep faith, and great courage, and he grows up in a little out of the way place called Nazareth and learns the carpenter’s trade.

When he becomes an adult, he begins his ministry, choosing twelve close followers we call the apostles. His message is clear “love one another as I have loved you.” Then, as now, some people in high places are threatened by the power of God’s love, and our Lord is assassinated on a cross, a form of punishment reserved for the lowest of the low.

He dies a terrible death, and two members of the ruling Council ask Pontius Pilate for permission to take his body and give it a reverent, loving burial. They risk death to do that. We do not know what happens to them after that point.

The Apostles’ Creed says that Jesus descended to the dead. He loves us so much that he wants to touch every heart and life with that love, even those who have died and gone to the underworld. On that first Easter morning, when the women go to anoint his body, the tomb is empty.  He is risen. Mary Magdalene sees him, then he appears to the others. And then, fifty days later, on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descends on all of them with the wind of the Spirit the ruach, and sets their hearts on fire so that they can speak of God’s love heart to heart with people from all over the known world. 

In today’s gospel, our Lord sends the disciples and us out to baptize others and welcome them into the community of love that he is building. In our reading from Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, after reminding them of all the ways we live together as a loving community, he calls us once again to “live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.” And Paul ends with one of the earliest threefold blessings, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion, the koinonia of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”

Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three Persons who are different, yet are One. Three expressions of the one God: Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. Every time there is a positive act of creation, whether it is writing a novel, baking a pie, planting a garden, creating a vaccine that prevents people from getting s disease, or developing a treatment for a dreadful disease, God is present in that process. God the Creator.

Whenever people come together and listen to each other and make peace with each other and work to make life better for everyone, God the Redeemer and Reconciler, is there.

God the Holy Spirit is God working in us and in the world to bring about God’s shalom of peace, love, and justice.. Whenever and wherever people work together to bring peace, love, and justice, God is there. 

Jesus tells us that he has come among us as one who serves. He calls us to be servants in his name. Our Commissioner of Public Safety, Michael Schirling, who served for many years as Chief of Police in Burlington, said recently that police officers are called to serve their communities. To paraphrase, he said that, if a police officer is not in it to serve, he or she should consider another vocation.

There are two key words in connection with this thought of service, and here I am indebted to the teaching of one of my beloved mentors, the Rev. David W. Brown, who served as Rector of Christ Church, Montpelier. We speak of people who have authority. The word “authority” is derived from the Latin root auctoritas, meaning authorship, creativity, calling new things into being as God does at the Creation, bringing freedom, as God did at the Exodus.

Too often, when we think of authority, we make the error of confusing it with imperium, the Latin root for tyranny. Tyranny does not seek to create. It seeks to control, intimidate, and imprison. It does not bring freedom. As David used to say, tyranny is the boot of the dictator coming down on the people and crushing them.

This distinction between auctoritas  and imperium is crucial to the nature of God and to the ideal of leadership in God’s kingdom, God’s shalom.The nature of God is auctoritas, not imperium. The nature of God is to be creative, to free people from bondage of any kind, to bring love, harmony, justice, freedom, and life rather than hate, fear, division, bondage, and death. The boot of the tyrant coming down on the ordinary people is not true authority, not consistent with God’s shalom. The use of power in any way that is not creative, freeing, serving, unifying, and healing is not true authority and is not consistent with God’s shalom.

As the beloved hymn says, “God in three persons, blessed Trinity.” Our God is a God of creativity, freedom, love, reconciliation, healing, servanthood, unity, and wholeness. As we continue to work to heal ourselves of the Corona Virus and of our tragic and destructive heritage of racism, may we seek the values of God and may we dedicate ourselves to continuing the work of building God’s shalom of love, harmony, and  justice. Amen.

 

Easter 2A April 19, 2020

Acts 2:14a, 22-32
Psalm 16
1 Peter 1:3-9
John 20:19-31

This is the Second Sunday of Easter. The Easter season goes from Easter Sunday until the Day of Pentecost. We often call this period the Great Fifty Days of Easter, to remind ourselves that this is a long season full of joy and culminating in the coming of the Holy Spirit.

During the Easter season, all  of our readings are from the Greek Scriptures, the New Testament. This is another way to remind ourselves that we are an Easter people. And we say Alleluia! often during this season.

Our first reading today is Peter’s sermon on the first Pentecost. Peter proclaims the Good News of Jesus to the crowd which has just witnessed the flames dancing over the heads of the apostles as they share the love of Jesus in all the known languages of the world. Our  second reading, from the First Letter of Peter, is a song of praise to God, “who has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Peter writes, “Although you have not seen him, you love him, and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him.”

And then we have our gospel. Every year, on the Second Sunday of Easter, we read this wonderful lesson from the gospel of John. The disciples have not yet left for Galilee. They are in the room where they had been staying. Only Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” have actually seen Jesus. Peter and John have gone to the empty tomb, but they have not seen the risen Lord.

It is the evening of that first Easter. They have locked the doors for fear of the authorities. We can understand why they have done this, They are terrified. They remember the rigged trial, the whipping, the crown of thorns, the taunts, the mob yelling for him to be crucified, and the horror of the crucifixion itself. Only Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” have actually seen the risen Jesus. The disciples know what the Roman Empire can do, They know what the religious authorities can do. They have heard that Jesus is risen, but only two of them have actually seen him. There is every reason to fear.

Suddenly, silently, he is in their midst. He walks through the walls and locks that fear has put in place. “Peace be with you,” he says. He brings them his shalom, the peace of his kingdom. He shows them his wounds. Jesus lovingly moves through all the barriers we humans create. Now he appears in this room filled with terrified disciples and fills the space with his peace, his love, his healing, his forgiveness. And he gives his followers the ministry of reconciliation. Peace, shalom, he says, and calls us to build his kingdom of love and harmony. He fills their hearts and minds with his presence, Now they realize what has happened. He is alive!

Thomas is not there that first time. The disciples tell him, “We have seen the Lord!” Thomas needs to see the risen Lord for himself. As Herbert O’Driscoll points out, Thomas has given his heart and life to Jesus, and now all he knows is that Jesus is dead. 

A week later, Jesus comes a second time to convince Thomas of the truth. Thomas does not even have to touch our Lord’s wounds. He bursts out in a hymn of praise, “My Lord and my God!”

Now, over two thousand years later, we are gathered, not in a room or a church building, but in our own homes and on Zoom. Last Sunday, Andy rang the bell at Grace Church, and Deb Peloubet let us know that indeed the bell had rung to proclaim our Easter joy. Now, we have gathered again. As the old song says, “We are one in the Spirit; we are one in the Lord.”

During this pandemic, we are no strangers to fear. Fear is all around us. Death and disease are all around us. In a profound way, this pandemic is almost more scary than the Roman Empire. It has moved across the earth in only a few months, infected 2.25 million people and killed 158,000 people.

It would not take much for us to be filled with fear in the way that Jesus’ followers were as they locked themselves in that room. We can understand Thomas. He wanted the facts. So do we. We want to follow the science. We want to be sure to develop adequate testing both for the presence of this powerful virus and for the antibodies which it leaves once a person recovers. And we want to find treatments. And we want to discover a vaccine that will protect people against this New Corona Virus, Covid 19. We are very much like Thomas.

We know we cannot give way to fear. We also know that we cannot take this virus lightly. We have seen too many people congregate on the beaches during Spring Break and carry the virus all over the country. We have seen what happens in states that wait too long to “Stay Home, Stay Safe.” So, we respect this virus. 

And we grieve. We grieve over the deaths of courageous and dedicated doctors, nurses, and other health workers who have given their lives to save others. And we grieve over the deaths of elderly folks in nursing homes and senior housing facilities where the virus has spread so quickly and taken so many lives. We grieve for all who have lost their lives in this pandemic.

We remember the angel who told Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, “Do not be afraid.” And we remember that Jesus told them, “Do not be afraid.” And we look at the risen Jesus through the eyes of Thomas, who would not believe it from others but had to see for himself, and we say, “My Lord and my God!” 

And we remember the words of Peter, the leader of the apostles, the man Jesus named as the rock on whom he would build his Church, the faithful follower of Christ who wrote a letter to inspire the followers of our Lord in the midst of persecution: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Although you have not seen him, you love him, and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him.”

And finally, we remember the words of our Lord, “Peace be with you.”

A peace so deep and so strong that it goes to the roots of our souls and draws up his living water to sustain us and to make the world new. For the peace which he is giving us is his shalom, his kingdom, his reign of love and wholeness and harmony over the whole wide earth. His kingdom will come. And we are helping him to build that kingdom. Amen.

Advent 1A    December 1, 2019

Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 122
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:36-44

Advent is the New Year’s season of the Church. Our vestments turn from the green of the post-Pentecost season to purple, which symbolizes royalty. Our King is coming. Purple also symbolizes penitence, sorrow for our sins. Advent is a time of self-examination, a season in which we take stock of ourselves and ask God to help us to get on track. 

We change from Lectionary Year C to year A. During the three years of the lectionary cycle, which is shared by all the major Christian denominations, we cover all the key passages in the scriptures.

We are preparing for the second coming of Christ our King. Our Lord will come to complete his work of creation and establish his kingdom. Since the ways of this world are very different from the values of his kingdom, we take this time to realign ourselves with our Lord’s vision of how the world should be.

Our opening reading from Isaiah reminds us of these values. We are called to beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks. We are called to turn from war and violence to peace and the nurturing of people and the creation. If we make our swords into plowshares, we are investing in raising food, and feeding people instead of killing people. We are putting our energy into taking care of people and all creatures instead of hurting them. We are moving toward life rather than death. Isaiah calls us to “Walk in the light of the Lord.”

Our psalm shows us a beautiful and powerful picture of people flocking to the Holy City of Jerusalem. Indeed, many people make pilgrimages to this city, which is the center of three great faiths, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. God is calling us to prepare for the day when people of all faiths will work to bring peace, not only in Jerusalem and in the Holy Land, but across the whole wide earth.

In our epistle for today, Paul wakes us up. “You know what time it is,” he writes. He tells us that “Now is the moment for [us] to wake from sleep. Advent is a time for us to pay attention, to be alert, to be present to every moment. This is a good season for cleaning out things that we no longer need, a time for lightening our load, focusing on what is essential. It is a time for making or revising wills, filling out advanced directives, telling our families about what we want done when the end of our lives comes near. In other words it is a time for getting things in order. 

We pray the  powerful words of Paul in our collect for today: “Let us lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” And Paul calls us to “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” We are called to put on Christ as we would a garment. We are called to grow up into  Christ, to become more and more like him. That is the process of metanoia, transformation.

And in our gospel, our Lord tells us something he wants to make very clear. When he comes, it will be sudden. There will be no time to prepare. That is why we need to prepare for that moment all of our lives. When we look into his eyes, we will see the One Who loves us beyond all telling, and he will say, “Servant, well done.”

The shalom of God has begun, but it is not yet complete. Isaiah makes the vision very clear—a kingdom of peace, compassion, harmony, and wholeness where everyone has food and clothing and shelter and medical care, and good work to do. Even amidst all the brokenness we see on earth, there are signs of light, signs of wholeness. Each of us is doing our little bit to build that kingdom, that shalom. One little sign of that is our food shelf, and there are many others.

We have just celebrated Thanksgiving, that wonderful holiday when we get together with family and friends to give thanks for the many blessings God showers on us and to eat all our favorite holiday foods. We are also continuing to collect our United Thank Offering, which helps people all over the world. Another light, another ministry of love.

Advent is a paradoxical in-between time. We are looking back to the time when he came among us as a little baby, and ahead to the time when he will come aa our King. Now, at the darkest time of year, the light is shining, the light that nothing can or will extinguish. And we are walking in that light and love.

Here is a meditation by an anonymous writer: “I pray that I may lose my limitations in the immensity of God’s love. I pray that my spirit may be in harmony with God’s spirit.  Amen. (Twenty-Four Hours a Day, November 30.)

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.