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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion February 5, 2023 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 February 12, 2023 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 February 19, 2023 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:…

Lent 3B March 7, 2021

Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
John 2:13-22

Here is a slightly edited version of our opening reading from The Message by Eugene Peterson, a retired seminary professor and pastor.

I am God. your God, who  brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of a life of slavery. No other Gods, only me. No carved gods of any size, shape, or form of anything whatever, whether of things that fly or walk or swim. Don’t bow down to them and don’t serve them because I am God, your God, and I’m a most jealous God….

No using the name of God, your God, in curses or silly banter; God won’t put up with the irreverent use of his name. 

Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Work six days and do everything you need to do. But the seventh day is a sabbath to God, your God. Don’t do any work—not you, not your son, nor your daughter nor your servant, nor your maid, nor your animals, not even the foreign guest residing in your town.

Honor your father and your mother so that you’ll live a long time in the land that God, your God, is giving you. 

No murder. No adultery. No stealing. No lies about your neighbor. No lusting after your neighbor’s house—or wife or servant or maid or ox or donkey. Don’t set your heart on anything that is your neighbor’s. 

Sometimes reading something familiar in a new translation helps us to see the power and meaning even more clearly. God loves us and has brought us out of all kinds of slavery, whether it be addiction or any number of other things that can imprison us. God loves us and wants us to love God and each other. Our loving God knows us intimately because our God created us, and God knows our tendency to make idols. Nowadays, it probably wouldn’t be a golden calf. Today’s idols are things like money, power, and the acquisition of things to the point where we have trouble trying to figure out the difference between what we want and what we really need. 

Sometimes all of this makes it difficult for us to take sabbath time. There is so much we have to do. And, for many people, sabbath time is not an option, since they have to work two or three jobs to make ends meet. Lying, cheating, and stealing have become more and more common these days, even among our leaders. Coveting is really easy to fall into when our society promotes the drive to acquire more and more things and more and more power.

Some of us are doing the Social Justice Bible Challenge. We are going through the Bible and reading passages that relate to social justice. This week we have ben reading from Isaiah, who wrote, “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the  brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor….” (Isaiah 61:1-2.)

The prophets took the essence of the law given to God’s people and, with prayer and discernment, both deepened and expanded our understanding of the law.

Prophets such as Isaiah and Micah and Amos help us to understand that, if we truly follow God’s will, everyone will be able to live together and we will share the things we need so that everyone will have enough. Sister Mary Scullion and Will O’Brien write that this passage from Isaiah represents “a restoration of community, in which every one of us has what we need in a shared abundance, and therefore every person can more readily affirm each other’s dignity as a member of a community.” (The Social Justice Bible Challenge, p. 64.)

This passage from Isaiah is the one Jesus read when he went into the synagogue in Nazareth at the beginning of his ministry. In many ways, this passage about freedom, dignity, and justice describes his ministry. When he enters the temple at the time of the Passover, at the feast celebrating the freeing of God’s people from slavery, he might reasonably expect to see a proper atmosphere of reverence and worship.

But, in those days, you had to sacrifice an animal at the Passover. If you were wealthy, it would be a lamb, if you were poor, a pigeon. But to buy that pigeon,  you had to get the official temple coinage. And the moneychangers would charge a fee for their service. The rules of the temple worship put barriers between the people and God. And this made Jesus hopping mad. So he turned over their tables and spilled the coins on the floor. This is his message to us: do not put barriers between me and my beloved children. Let them come and worship. Extend hospitality to them. And then he talked about the temple of his body, which would rise in three days.

The Ten Commandments, the writings of the prophets, and the ministry of Jesus all offer us guidance on how to live our lives. Our mission is to help to build God’s shalom of peace and harmony. The building blocks are loving God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

In our reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul says, “We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” Jewish people thought that having a leader who was crucified was impossible because crucifixion was a punishment reserved for criminals, so that meant your leader was a criminal. Greek thinkers were concerned with gaining wisdom, and they felt that the cross was not relevant to that pursuit.

But we who are following Jesus know that his example of emptying himself and becoming a servant to all, his example of surrendering to God and letting God bring the life that only God can bring, is why our Lord said that he is the way and the truth and the life. In following Jesus, and in walking the Way of Love, we are set free from all that holds us in bondage. We grow more and more into his image, and we help him to build his shalom of peace, harmony, and justice. Amen.

Lent 1A March 1, 2020

Genesis 2:15-17
Psalm 32
Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11

Our first reading today is the story of Adam and Eve. God put them in a beautiful garden. Their job was to be good stewards of the garden, “to till it and keep it.” They could eat the fruit of any tree in the garden except one—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

God gives us the whole creation and calls us to be stewards of that creation. But then there is that snake. When we are told that there is one thing we cannot do, there is something that makes us want to do that very thing.

We are all familiar with the Ten Commandments and we will be reciting them every Sunday in Advent, but I want to refresh our memories about some other guidelines that I find very helpful, and Christopher Martin mentions some of these in his book “The Restoration Project,” which some of us are reading this Lent.

 On the positive side, we have the cardinal virtues—Prudence, which the great moral theologian Kenneth Kirk defines as “the habit of referring all questions to God”;  justice, treating all persons fairly, honoring the dignity of every person; temperance—balance, flexibility, humor. The quality that comes from going through fire and ice and coming out the other side stronger for the experience. Fortitude—the ability to hang in there for the long haul. Prudence, justice, temperance, fortitude. The cardinal virtues. 

Then we have the theological virtues—faith, complete trust in God; hope, the ability to look at a situation in all of its complexity and brokenness and sin and to see the possibility of wholeness through the grace of God. And love. One of my beloved mentors, David Brown, defines love as “taking God and other persons seriously,”

On the other side the ledger, we have the famous seven root sins sometimes called the Seven Deadly Sins. Pride—not referring all questions to God, but rather the attitude of,”I’m going to do this my own way.” Leaving no room for God. Wrath, ira, not healthy anger which tells us that something is wrong in a situation but nursing hurts until they fester inside us and get in the way of compassion. Envy, the inability to rejoice in the good fortune or the blessings of others. Greed—wanting more than we need.  Gluttony—taking more than we need. Lust—using other people as objects. Sloth—acedie—giving in to despair, losing hope. This is not the same as clinical depression which is a serious illness, not a sin.

Adam and Eve miss the boat on the first of the virtues—prudence—the habit of referring all questions to God. They totally forget about God, and the snake leads them down the garden path, so to speak. The snake could be a representative of the forces of brokenness in the world or, if we want to be more psychological about it, the snake could represent our ability to be extremely creative in our rationalizations when we want to lead ourselves down the garden path. All of us humans have the tendency to want to do things our way—pride —and to throw prudence out the window and neglect to ask God’s guidance. This is one way to define sin—doing it our way and leaving God out of the picture.

God loves us unconditionally. Nothing can get in the way of that love. And God wants us to return that love. But God does an extraordinary thing. Rather than making us puppets who will always do God’s will,  God gives us free will, the capacity to choose our own course of action.

In our gospel for today, our Lord gives us an example of how to deal with temptation and how to practice prudence—the habit of referring all questions to God. Jesus is constantly seeking God’s guidance in clarifying his vocation. He is hungry. Of course, he is entirely capable of making a loaf of bread and satisfying his very real physical hunger, Or he can start the world’s biggest bakery and soup kitchen and feed everybody. After all, God calls us to feed the hungry. But that isn’t what our Lord is called to do. He is here to help us with our spiritual hunger. He has come to help us to learn how to listen to every word that comes from the mouth of God—that is, to practice prudence—referring all questions to God. Asking God, what are you calling me to do and be in this moment?

Then the devil takes him to the pinnacle of the temple and asks him to jump off and have the angels come and rescue him. That would prove that he was the Son of God, all right. But Jesus is not called to create a public relations spectacle to prove who he is.

And then, the most ironic and prideful test. The devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and offers to give them to Jesus! Jesus is the eternal Word who called the world into being. How presumptuous to offer him the centers of earthly human power! At this point, Jesus commands Satan to leave him and makes the central point: “Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.”

Our first reading is about sin. Our gospel about the temptation of our Lord in the wilderness is about grace. Everything Jesus does in this gospel is rooted in his choice to seek and do God’s will. Grace is the God-given gift to seek and do the divine will. The attitude and actions of our Lord in this gospel are an example of grace lived out in his life. We can follow his example because of God’s gift of grace to all of us. We can follow his example because he is here with us to give us his grace. He is alive. He is leading us. He is showing us the way that God would have us go.

Walter Brueggemann writes of  our first reading, “Lent is a time to sort out the voice of of life and the counter voices of death. The serpent has no real gift to give and no real acts to perform.” (Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching Year A, p. 185.)

May we listen carefully for the voice of life, the voice of  Jesus. He is our Good Shepherd, who knows us and calls each of us by name. May we listen for his voice, May we listen to the voice of life. May we follow him. Amen.

Lent 3B RCL March 4, 2018

Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
John 2:13-22

This is the Third Sunday in Lent, and our readings give us so much food for thought that we could go on for hours thinking about these words and how they apply to our lives. I’m happy to tell you that I am not going to preach for hours.

In our opening reading from the Book of Exodus, Moses brings the Ten Commandments to God’s people, who have escaped slavery and are on their journey to the promised land. Scholars tell us that this was really a worship service, a solemn ceremony in which the people accepted God’s covenant.

These commandments provided an ethical structure for God’s people, and they still do that for us. If we were to summarize these rules for living, we could say, 1). There is one God. 2).Don’t worship idols, These days, our idols are not Baal or Astarte. They are things like status, possessions, and power, but they can lure us far from what really matters. 3). Use the Name of God only in sincere prayer. Use the Name of God for good purposes. 4). Take time to rest and be with God on the Sabbath Day. These first four commandments are about our relationship with God.

The next six commandments are about our relationship with our family and others. 5) Honor your father and mother. Family is important, and those relationships are very special. Let us put God’s love in the spaces between us and our family members. 6). Don’t commit murder. That includes the kind of murder we can commit with our tongue, with a nasty comment or with malicious gossip, or posts, or tweets. 7). Don’t commit adultery. We are called to be faithful to our marriages and committed relationships and to honor the marriages and committed relationships of others. 8). Don’t steal. That includes other people’s ideas. We give credit for the thoughts of others which we quote. We pay royalties when they apply. We honor copyrights. 9). Don’t lie. As we look at the world around us, it would be so refreshing if we would all simply be honest in all our statements and in all our dealings with each other. 10). Don’t covet. In our society today, there is such a pressure to keep up with the Joneses, to have the right clothes, the right car, and on and on. That is not what is important to God. These commandments are as helpful and relevant today as they were over three thousand years ago when God first gave them to our ancestors.

As we think about our gospel for today, we need to keep in mind that Jesus knew these commandments very well, and it is because of his knowledge of what God is truly calling us to be and to do that he is as angry as we will ever see him when he looks over the travesty of the moneychangers in the temple.

I can still remember the tone of my beloved mentor, David Brown, when he was Rector of Christ Church, Montpelier. He talked about the cult of “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild” syrupy terms that were almost funny, except that this is such a serious issue. Jesus was not always meek and mild. He had a steely determination; he had fortitude and courage like no other. And in today’s gospel, he is enraged. He is angry beyond belief.

Why is he angry? It is the time of the Passover. At the Passover, everyone was supposed to offer a sacrifice at the temple. If you were rich, you would offer a lamb. If you were poor, you would offer something cheaper such as a dove. So, first of all, this offering was a burden on the poor. They had no money to spare for buying a dove to sacrifice. They were trying to feed their children.

But it gets worse. In order to buy these animals for sacrifice, you had to convert your Roman coins to the temple coinage. To do this, you had to go to the moneychangers. Scholars tell us that the moneychangers could charge any kind of fee they wanted to for this service. This placed a double burden on the poor.

So, when Jesus walked in to this place that was supposed to be a holy place, this place where people were supposed to be able to have an encounter with God and “worship God in the beauty of holiness,” he saw these moneychangers robbing the people, and he got so angry that he threw over their tables. If we had been there, we would have been deeply impressed by his attitude. Possibly, we would have been scared.

The temple officials challenged Jesus on his behavior, and he made a rather mysterious statement, “Destroy this temple, and in three days, I will raise it up.” He was talking about his body, because he knew that they were going to have him killed.

Jesus was angry because the religious leaders were putting barriers in the way of people who were trying to worship God, people who were trying to be faithful. These barriers were a great hardship especially for the poor. We need to remember that Jesus was the champion of the ordinary people. Like so many of our brothers and sisters today, they had to work night and day just to provide the necessities for their children. The religious leaders should have made it easier for them to worship, not harder. But they refused to hear what our Lord was saying. It is a tragic day when religious leaders cannot hear God’s truth being spoken to them.

Our Lord is calling us to honor the dignity of every person and to make worship accessible to everyone. By the time of Jesus, legal and religious scholars had expanded the ten commandments to over six hundred and thirty rules that one was supposed to follow. This was so difficult that only the leisured class had the time to follow these rules.

This kind of thing made Jesus angry.

Here at Grace, this is why we stop and make sure that everyone has the books and handouts we need for the service, and why we help each other find our places. Accessibility is so important.

Gracious and loving God, give us grace to hear what you have to say to us. Jesus, our Savior and brother, lead us and guide us so that we may follow you faithfully. In Your holy Name we pray. Amen.

Pentecost 18 Proper 22A RCL October 8, 2017

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

In our opening reading, the people of God have journeyed to the point where Moses receives the Ten Commandments. Herbert O’Driscoll remarks that some of us remember the time when almost everyone learned and recited these commandments. They were familiar to us. O’Driscoll also reminds us that there is great wisdom behind these guidelines for living. God knows us humans, and these commandments are a basic set of rules for our behavior.

We are called to worship God. We are called to avoid the worship of idols. These days, the idols are not Baal or Astarte. They might be Mercedes and Dow Jones. Use the Name of God with care. Keep the Sabbath. If we work an unusual schedule, the Sabbath may not be a Sunday, but the important thing is to take that Sabbath time to worship God, to thank God for all God’s blessings, and to refresh our body and spirit. Honor your father and your mother. Do not murder. Be faithful to your spouse or partner. Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.

God in God’s wisdom and love has given us these rules to live by.

In his inspiring letter to the congregation in Philippi, Paul, who usually comes across as one of the folks, a tentmaker who earns his own living, now lets us know that he has all the earmarks of high privilege. He is a Roman citizen, which gives him many advantages. He is a Jew. Like our Lord and every Jewish boy, he was circumcised on the eighth day of his life. More than that, he is a Pharisee, an expert in the law.  He also admits that he was a persecutor of the Church.

But one day, after witnessing the stoning of the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen, a deacon full of faith and love, and while rushing to help persecute more Christians, Paul met the risen Lord on the Road to Damascus. He was blinded by the light of Christ. He had to be led by the hand. But then he began to see. And he gave his entire life to Christ. And now he wants to know and love Christ as deeply as possible. He knows how difficult it is to follow the law. He is the one who said that he does the things he does not want to do and he does not do the things he knows he should do, and he asks God to free him from the body of that death. We can know the law, and on our own, we can follow the law to a point, but, for many of us, we get stuck. We need faith and grace to pull us through. And Paul has found that faith and grace in Christ and he is never going to let that go. To him, all his honors are as a pile of trash. All he wants to do is to follow Christ, to grow more and more like him in his love and compassion.

And he knows that he is not there yet, he says, “Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ has made me his own. Forgetting what lies behind and straining to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call in Christ Jesus.”

All we can say is may we do the same thing—press on toward the goal.

Our gospel for today is very powerful. Jesus is teaching in the temple in Jerusalem. He has read the scriptures. He has probably absorbed word for word the writings of the great prophet Isaiah, who described the people of God in various places as a vine or a vineyard. We all know the story. The workers in the vineyard kill the owner’s son.

Jesus is here addressing the religious leaders of his time, who are about to do just that—kill Jesus. The chief priests and the scribes realize that Jesus is speaking about them, but they are afraid to do anything because they know that, at the very least, he is a prophet. They will keep plotting, and our Lord will die a criminal’s death.

When leaders, whether religious or secular, get rid of people or try to diminish people because those people are telling God’s truth, those leaders are misusing their power. In Jesus’ time and in our own time, we need to be aware of those who are practicing imperium, tyranny and control, and those who are practicing auctoritas, true authority, leadership that encourages and empowers people

As Herbert O’Driscoll points out, one of the best things we can do with these readings is to reflect on the Ten Commandments, reflect on the Cardinal Virtues—prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude, and the Theological Virtues—faith, hope, and love, and renew our commitment to using them as the framework for our lives.

And we can also follow the example of St. Paul. He has such a profound commitment to Jesus. He devoted his life to killing Christians. Now he wants to help people follow Jesus. He wants to build communities of faith and love. He knows he is a work in progress, but he is following Jesus with all his energy.

This week, as we look out on our world, we see people in Mexico trying to recover from earthquakes, people in Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Puerto Rico, the Virgin islands. and so many of the Caribbean Islands, suffering from the effects of hurricanes.

And we look upon our brothers and sisters killed and hurt in Las Vegas. Our hearts go out to them and to their friends and families. Our Bishops have issued s statement on gun violence. Each of us and all of us are called to pray for all those who have died and for those who are suffering and grieving and to take action as our conscience leads us.

May the God of mercy lead us and guide us into the way of peace.

Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pentecost 16 Proper 22 October 2, 2011

Pentecost 16 Proper 22    October 2, 2011

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

In our first lesson from the Hebrew scriptures, Moses and the people have made a long journey. They have reached Mt. Sinai. Moses receives the Ten Commandments from God. These commandments reflect the basic guidelines of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, as well as other religions and ethical human beings.

God is the only God. We should not worship idols, We should not take God’s name in vain or use God’s name lightly.   We are called to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. In these days of working all kinds of shifts and traveling through time zones, we are called to keep Sabbath time for prayer, rest, and renewal. We are called to honor our parents, although, if there has been abuse by our parents, we are called to take care of ourselves. (All of these commandments are assuming a community of love and respect.) Don’t murder. Be faithful to your spouse or partner. Don’t steal. Don’t lie about your neighbor. Don’t covet your neighbor’s possessions.

These commandments are the framework, the foundation, the glue that holds the community of faith, indeed, the human community, together.

In our epistle for today, Paul is making it clear that he is a person who can claim the highest privilege. He is a Jew, a Pharisee, a Roman citizen. Yet he sees all this as rubbish, trash, compared to the experience of knowing and experiencing and following Jesus. That’s what happens to all of us on this spiritual journey. Jesus becomes real to us as our model, our hero, and our leader, and everything else pales by comparison. Paul says, “Jesus has made me his own,” And then he continues with some of the most inspiring words in the Bible, “Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own, but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press onward toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

In today’s gospel, we hear a parable. Jesus is still in the temple being challenged and attacked by the religious leaders. A man plants a vineyard. He does everything possible to nurture this vineyard. Then he leases it to tenants and goes away. When he sends his slaves to collect the rent, the tenants beat one, kill one, and stone another. He sends other slaves and the tenants treat them in the same way. Finally, he sends his son, thinking the tenants will respect him. The tenants kill the son.

On one level, which we should be aware of just for historical reasons, this is a story about how God has sent prophets and finally God’s son, and the leaders of God’s people have killed the prophets and Jesus. Matthew’s gospel was written about 90 CE, about 60 years after Jesus’ ministry ended, and this parable comments on how the religious establishment of the time resisted the prophets and even Jesus. But we should never use this in an anti Semitic manner, as it has been used in the past. We are called to use this parable to ask ourselves, “How are we responding to God’s call, to God’s vision of shalom?” How are we responding to Jesus? How are we responding to the prophets in our midst—Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu, Bill McKibben? Are we caring for this planet? Are we treating other members of the human community with love and respect?

On a human level, we could understand why the landowner might come back and kill those tenants. But God does not do that. God is faithful and loving toward us.

We are called to produce the fruits of God’s shalom. In Galatians 5: 22, Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These qualities speak for themselves. They are the qualities which folks show in their lives when they are living the Ten Commandments and when they are centered in God, whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or followers of any other major spiritual path.

I was listening to the radio the other morning, and there was a discussion about the Euro Zone. One woman, a German, said how wonderful it was that, after all the wars that had been fought, Germans could be close to and care about French people,  and other Europeans, and the conflicts and divisions of centuries could turn into friendship and common purpose and human community. That’s God’s shalom.

Ultimately, that is what all these lessons are talking about, that we are all one as Jesus and the Father are one, that, if we take God’s love seriously, we will love our neighbors as ourselves. May we run the race; may we produce the fruits of God’s shalom.

Amen.