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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion October 2, 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 October 9, 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 October 16, 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:…

Easter Day April 17, 2022

Acts 10:34-43
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
1 Corinthians 15:19-26
Luke 24:1-12

We were there in the crowd, and they shouted “Crucify him!” It was terrifying. We stood at the foot of the cross with his mother and prayed for him. We could hardly bear it. I don’t know how Mary did it. She has such courage! And he died, a horrible death.

We heard that Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the ruling council, objected to what the council was doing. The council didn’t listen to him. But after Jesus died, Joseph went to Pilate and asked permission to take his body and bury him in his own tomb. Another member of the Council, Nicodemus, had gone to meet Jesus at night. He brought spices and helped Joseph to bury Jesus. They could have been killed for that. They were both faithful followers of Jesus, but we never knew.

The sun is just rising now, and we are going to the tomb to make sure his body is properly taken care of. We’re so exhausted and so devastated we can hardly walk. When we get there, the stone is rolled away. We walk in, and there is no body. We’re trying to figure out what has happened when two men in dazzling clothes are suddenly standing beside us. I think they are angels. We bow to the ground. The angels ask us why we are looking for the living among the dead.  Then they tell us Jesus has risen. And we remember that Jesus has told us about this. He said he was going to be crucified but he would rise again. Our hearts are racing. Maybe he is really alive! We run back to Peter and the others. They don’t seem to be taking it very seriously. Then Peter runs to the tomb and sees that it is empty. 

That evening, we hear that two others see him on the road to Emmaus. They don’t even recognize him until they invite him in for supper. Later, he appears to Peter and the others and gives him a breakfast of fish on the shore of the lake. He appears to more and more people. And we realize that he is alive! He has risen just as he said he would. And he has touched so many lives.

That is why we are here, over two thousand years later. Because of Jesus. He has transformed our lives. Here we are. Able to celebrate our first Easter together in person in two years. He has led us through the pandemic, and, while that’s not over, we have at least learned some things about how to cope with it. It has been two years of death and exile. Whether we have been worshipping on Zoom or in person, He has been right in the midst of us, guiding us.

And then Russia invaded Ukraine for no reason and more innocent people are suffering. President Zelenskyy and his people have shown profound courage and resistance, and most of the world is rallying in support. But there is still much death and suffering. It would be easy to lose hope.

But we will not lose hope. Because of the life and ministry of Jesus, we are a people of hope. Brokenness, shadow, hatred, cruelty, and even death have all been defeated. Love, hope, faith, unity, wholeness, life, and peace will prevail. Christ has won the victory.

Love is stronger that any power on earth. stronger that the forces of brokenness and death. May we continue to follow our Lord in the Way of Love. May we continue to help him to build his shalom of peace and harmony. 

Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia! Amen.

Pentecost 23 Proper 26B October 31, 2021

Ruth 1:1-18
Psalm 146
Hebrews 9:11-14
Mark 12:28-34

Our first reading today is from the book of Ruth. In the time of the judges, a famine comes to the land. Elimelech, who is from Bethlehem in Judah, his wife Naomi, and their sons Mahlon and Chilion leave Judah and go to the land of Moab to find food. 

They remain in Moab for a time and then Elimelech dies. Naomi’s sons marry two Moab women. One  is named Ruth and the other is named Orpah. After about ten years, Naomi’s sons, Mahlon and Chilion, die. Naomi has lost her husband and both of her sons. Orpah and Ruth have lost their husbands.

This leaves Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah in a terrible situation, Without a male relative, they have no identity in that society. They are not someone’s wife or mother or daughter. And they have no one to protect them and no way to earn a living. 

Ruth has heard that there is now food in Judah. The famine is over. She decides to head home. Ruth and Orpah go with her.

Naomi sees how vulnerable Ruth and Orpah are, and she encourages them to go home to their families so that they can have a roof over their heads and a male relative to protect them. Although she has lost her husband and both her sons, she has a love and a depth of spirit that enable her to go beyond her own grief and try to do what is best for her daughters-in-law. The three women, all in the most vulnerable of circumstances, argue and weep together as they try to discern the best course of action for each of them.

Finally, Orpah decides to go back to her family.

Naomi has no future in Moab. She has no family there. She feels she must return to Judah. She tries to say goodbye to Ruth and send her home to her family. But Ruth is adamant. “Where you go I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people; and your God my God. Where you die, I will die—there will I be buried.”

The power of Ruth’s love and loyalty has inspired countless people over the ages. Scholars tell us that Moab and Judah weren’t exactly enemies, but relations could be a bit testy at times. Because she loves her mother-in-law, Ruth is going into a land that is foreign to her, a land where she will know no one except Naomi.

In these times when famine and violence and oppression and weather events are causing so many people to become refugees, this story speaks so deeply of the power of God’s love for us and our love for each other.

In our gospel for today, the Sadducees are arguing and asking Jesus questions. A scribe, a religious official, comes along and asks Jesus, “Which commandment is the first of all?” And Jesus answers word for word that the first commandment is “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” And he adds, “The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Our Lord is giving the standard answer. He is not arguing any points or elaborating in any way.

And the scribe does a very strange thing. He says, “You are right, Teacher.” He does not attack. He does not quibble or taunt or try to trap Jesus. Scholars tell us that the scribe was a a minor official but he was still part of the  official religious structure. He could still have given Jesus a hard time. Here we have a religious official who has an open heart and an open mind. He and Jesus are on the same page. This is a rare moment in the gospels. 

The scribe says something further. He says that to love God with all our hearts and to love our neighbor as ourselves…”This is much more important than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”  

And Jesus says, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

The book of Hebrews says that the sacrifice of our Lord has transcended all of the temple sacrifices. This scribe is saying the same thing. The life and ministry of Jesus have changed everything. God’s love changes everything.

Herbert O’Driscoll writes, “The common thread in these readings is the insight that the greatest gift we can give is the gift of ourselves. In the first reading, Ruth gives herself to her mother-in-law, In the psalm, God gives fully. In the second reading, our Lord gives himself fully and freely. In the gospel passage, Jesus is overjoyed to meet someone who realizes that self-giving is greater than any exterior sacrifice.” (O’Driscoll, The Word among us, p. 136.

Our loving God calls us to give of ourselves, and all of you do that every day. You care about people; you listen to people; you help others; you work at the food shelf, or at the Historical Society. You deliver Meals on Wheels. You rescue animals. You are always doing something to spread God’s love and to make the world a better place. Thank you for giving the gift of yourselves. This is what walking the Way of Love is all about. May our loving God continue to give us the grace to offer ourselves in service to others. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Pentecost 17 Proper 20B September 19, 2021

Proverbs 31:10-31
Psalm 1
James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
Mark 9:30-37

Our opening reading is the ending of the book of Proverbs. Scholars tell us that this passage was written in the period following the Babylonian Exile, some twenty-six hundred years ago. Some scholars tell us that it is best to ignore this passage because it was written so long ago, in a time when women and children were thought of as chattel, property, objects to be owned.

As we look at this passage, it is quite contemporary. Neil Elliott notes that this woman, “runs a household (v. 15), conducts her own real estate transactions( v.16), works out  (v.17), makes charitable contributions (v. 20), holds her own in public discourse, (v. 26), maintains a healthy relationship with integrity (vv. 11, 29), and even gets the credit for her husband’s rising status (v. 26)! (Elliott, New Proclamation Year B, 2000, p. 72.)

Gene M. Tucker writes, “Above all, she is by no means limited to traditional roles within the family, for she has significant public and economic roles. She is a capable merchant (v. 14) and businesswoman (vv. 18-29, 24), both producing and selling goods. She invests in real estate and improves it (v. 16). In short, virtually the only significant role she does not fulfill in her society is to sit with the elders in the gate (v. 23). (Tucker, Preaching through the Christian Year B, p. 414.)

The revised Common Lectionary was created in order to include in our readings passages about women and other marginalized people. Often these passages show us that progress toward seeing and respecting the dignity of every human being was being made, even in those long ago centuries.

Our reading from James is full of gems. We are called to act with “gentleness born of wisdom.” We are called to stay away from “bitter envy and selfish ambition,” James says these qualities are “earthly, unspiritual, and devilish.” We know that envy and ambition can lead to ruthless competition and conflict. James says they can even lead to murder.

But James tells us that the “wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, then gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits,” What a different world we live in when we have these qualities of peace, gentleness, willingness to talk and work with each other for the common good. James advises, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” The qualities James is calling us to live by are the values of God’s shalom, God’s peaceable kingdom.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is teaching his disciples about what is going to happen to him. He is going to be betrayed and killed, and he is going to rise from the dead. They had no idea what he was taking about, and the text says that they were “afraid to ask him.” This may remind us of times when we’ve been in a class and were totally confused but were even more afraid of letting the teacher know how confused we actually were, so we just stayed silent.

They arrive in Capernaum and go into the house, and he asks them what they were arguing about while they were walking along. We discover that they were arguing about who was going to be the greatest. This gives us a clue that perhaps they were thinking of the messiah in one of the ways that was common in those days: as an earthly king who would gather an army and defeat the Roman Empire and bring in a new kingdom. It would make sense to wonder who would be sitting next to this earthly king when he was on his throne.

But there was another concept of who the messiah is, and that is the messiah as a servant.  Some call him the suffering servant as portrayed in Isaiah.

Jesus tells the apostles and us that if we want to follow him, we have to be the servants of all and last of all. We can’t be trying to figure out who is the greatest. We can’t be competing for power. We are called to be servants. We are called to walk the Way of Love.

And then he gently, lovingly picks up a little child and holds the little one in his arms. As we look in on this scene, we need to remember that in our Lord’s time, children, like women, were seen as chattel, possessions, something you owned. They were not highly valued.

And Jesus is saying that we need to welcome these little ones; we need to welcome the vulnerable ones who have no power, no wealth, no influence, no voice, those whom folks see as less than fully human. And he is saying that, if we welcome these people, we welcome Jesus and we also are welcoming God.

Thank you for all the ministries you are all doing which involve helping other people in so many ways, whether it is at the food shelf or in other ministries of servanthood. When we are helping others, showing love and care to others, we are  showing that love to our Lord. That is what he is telling us today. May our loving God bless you in all your ministries. Amen.

Pentecost 4 Proper 7B June 20, 2021

1 Samuel 17: (1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49
Psalm 9:9-20
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Mark 4:35-41

Last Sunday, we read the story of how God sent Samuel to the home of Jesse to anoint David as King of Israel. We remember that Saul, who is still king, has been a great disappointment to both God and Samuel. He was not a good leader.

Very few people know that David has been anointed as King. The young man has been dividing his time between tending the sheep and going to the palace to play his lyre for King Saul, who has developed a very upsetting illness which can be relieved only by the presence of David playing his lyre.

David’s older brothers have been serving in the army, and David has been sent to the front lines to bring supplies to them. As he arrives, David hears Goliath, a giant of a man, hurling insults at the God of Israel and challenging God’s people to send a man to fight him. Just to give us an idea of his size, scholars tell us that six cubits and a span means that Goliath is ten feet tall. Goliath is a bully on steroids. He has no use for God and he relies only on his brute strength and his capacity for endless bragging and threatening.

David delivers the supplies for his brothers and hears the words of Goliath. He offers to go and fight Goliath. Saul is concerned for David’s safety, David assures Saul that he has killed lions and bears in order to defend his flock. Scholars tell us that there indeed were lions and bears in Palestine at that time. Saul is a bit dubious, but David says, “The Lord who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will save me from this Philistine.”  Goliath trusts in his own brute strength. David trusts completely in God. Saul tries to help David by giving the young man his armor, but the weight of the physical armor paralyzes David. He takes his shepherd’s staff, five smooth stones, and his sling. 

Goliath curses and ridicules David. David responds, “You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts…” David runs to the battle line, takes one of those smooth stones, hurls it at Goliath, and kills him.

This story is the classic tale of the victory of the underdog, but it is also a profound statement about the power of faith. Biblical scholar James Newsome writes, “The God of justice is committed to the preservation of faithful people and to the defense of those who cannot defend themselves….The point of the whole narrative is that Goliath is a predator, and as God’s agent of justice David will deal with him as such….The death of Goliath signals that Israel’s new king, this shepherd like no other, will defend his people against their oppressors. But more than that, it reaffirms that the God of Israel will never permit injustice to prevail.” (Newsome, Texts for Preaching Year B, pp. 393-394.)

As he addresses Goliath and prepares for battle, David has a depth of calmness and faith. This theme is carried into our gospel for today. Jesus suggests that he and his team take the boat to the other side of the lake. They have been surrounded by people and they need some time apart. As they head for the other side, a squall comes up. The wind and waves are threatening to swamp the boat. His companions are terrified. Jesus is asleep. In ancient times, the sea was equated with chaos. God’s work of creation brought order and beauty to the chaos. In this gospel passage, the sea becomes chaotic to the point of being deadly, and Jesus sleeps through it. Chaos does not terrify  him because of his deep faith.

All of this made me think of something our presiding Bishop has spoken about recently. He says we have a choice between community and chaos, and, of course, Bishop Curry offers the Way of Love as the basis for community.

To me, Goliath is a symbol of chaos—threatening people, throwing insults, even at God, pushing people around, even killing people. David is a symbol of the kind of deep faith that builds community instead of chaos. Because of his faith, David was able to protect his people that day. He became one of the great kings of Israel. He created community. He even brought the two kingdoms of Israel together.

Jesus is able to still the storms that terrify us. He wakes up and calms the storm. He is able to sleep because of his complete faith in God.

David steps up and offers to fight Goliath because of his deep faith in God and his determination to prevent his people from being enslaved. The life and ministry of our Lord free us from every bondage and set us free to help others.

New Testament scholar Ira Brent Driggers writes, “The world scoffs with Goliath at the prospect of defeating the seemingly unbeatable giant with a single smooth stone, just as it scoffs at the proposition of defeating sin and death through a singular, incarnate love. The Christian story here is not one of violence and bloodshed but trusting that God works within the creation (and in unexpected ways through a shepherd boy and a carpenter’s son) to realize the divine will for creation.” Driggers, New Proclamation Year B 2012, p. 92.)

Bishop Curry writes, “I am a follower of Jesus of Nazareth because I believe that his way of love and his way of life is the way of life for us all. I believe that unselfish, sacrificial love, love that seeks the good and the welfare and the well-being of others, as well as the self, that this is the way that can lead us and guide us to do what is just, to do what is right, to do what is merciful. It is the way that can lead us beyond the chaos to community.”

The faith of a young shepherd enables him to calm the chaos caused by a predatory bully. The faith of our Lord allows him to sleep through a tempest and then awaken to calm the storm. Our faith enables us to walk the Way of Love and to help God build God’s shalom of peace and love. Amen.

Epiphany 2B January 17, 2021

1 Samuel 3:1-20
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
John 1:43-51

Our opening reading this morning comes from the First Book of Samuel. Samuel is a faithful young man who has been serving God and learning from the priest Eli. The text gives us a very important sense of what was going on in those times. “The word of the Lord was rare in those days, and visions were not widespread.”

Eli is getting older. His eyesight has failed, and he cannot see. Eli is resting in his room, and Samuel is lying down in the temple of the Lord. Walter Brueggemann writes, “Eli is portrayed as a feeble old man, emblem of a failed priestly order that has exhausted its its authority and its credibility. Samuel is situated in this narrative as an apprentice to Eli. But he learns quickly and is shown to be more discerning and more responsive to God than is the family of Eli. Samuel is indeed the wave of God’s future.” (Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching Year B, p. 106.)

God calls to Samuel three times. Each time, Samuel runs to Eli for instruction and guidance. On the third occasion, Eli realizes that it is God calling this gifted young man, and he instructs Samuel on how to respond. Eli’s sons have done terrible things things that no priest should even consider, things which no person who is supposedly following God should do. They are corrupt and unfit to serve.

God calls Samuel a fourth time, and Samuel responds. What God says puts Samuel in an excruciatingly painful position. God is going to remove Eli’s family from their priestly duties and Samuel is going to replace them. Samuel has always shared everything with Eli. Now, what is he going to do? He loves and respects Eli, and Eli has been his teacher and guide.

The dreaded thing happens. Eli calls to Samuel. Herbert O’Driscoll describes this with unforgettable insight and power: Again, in Eli’s encounter with Samuel in the morning, we see the quality of this great human being. We know from elsewhere in scripture, as well as in this passage, that Eli has fallen on sad times. He has allowed himself to become obese. His sons have shamed and discredited him, and his name, and his high office. He must feel a terrible sense of personal failure. The last thing Samuel wants to do is to report to Eli the terrible things he now knows. But Eli insists, and at last when he hears what the Lord has said to Samuel, we again see the old man’s  greatness. There is not a hint of resentment, not a whisper of self-pity or self-justification.

O’Driscoll concludes, “I see a human being who even in his decline shows what once made him great, an elderly person who is open to the action of God in the present moment, who is totally devoid of jealousy and rancor, and who courageously accepts the consequences without flinching, Such an example must have helped to form the future greatness of Samuel.”  (O’Driscoll, The Word Today Year B Vol. 1, pp. 69-70.)

God is going to replace corrupt leaders, Eli’s sons, with the gifted and faithful leadership of Samuel. With deep faith and grace, Eli accepts the healing action of God which replaces brokenness with wholeness and makes it possible for God’s work to continue.

Our psalm for today beautifully and powerfully reminds us that God is our Creator and that God knows us intimately. God has a loving, healing, and creative purpose for us and for the world. God is at work building God’s shalom of peace harmony, and wholeness.

In today’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Church in Corinth, we are reminded that everything we do has an effect. The early Church was grappling with the Jewish dietary laws. People were coming into the new faith community from all kinds of backgrounds. Many of the Jewish converts felt it was necessary to continue to follow the dietary laws and wanted everyone else to do so. On the other end of the spectrum, some people had been worshippers of Zeus or Apollo and they felt they could eat anything. Paul constantly emphasized that, if we are following Christ, everything we do should be in accordance with our Lord’s teachings. If folks ate food that was sacrificed to idols, that might make their weaker brothers and sisters do something that would hurt their conscience, something they would later regret. Paul also emphasized that sexual activity is not to be taken lightly, that it is an act of deep intimacy that is best done only in the context of marriage, or a deep spiritual commitment if marriage is not possible.

In our gospel for today, Jesus calls Philip to follow him. Philip has read the scriptures and he knows very well that the Messiah is supposed to come from Bethlehem, so he asks that snarky question, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” And Philip says those wonderful words, “Come and see.” What an invitation! 

Then Jesus sees Nathanael, and calls him “an Israelite in whom there is no guile.” With Nathanael, what you see is what you get. He is honest, forthright, says it like it is. Nathanael asks Jesus how he got to know him, and Jesus says he saw Nathanael under the fig tree before Philip even called him. With Nathanael, as with so many people he met, Jesus clearly sees who a person truly is. He knows who we really are— no deceptions, just the truth. Nathanael acknowledges Jesus as the king of his life. And Jesus says something that makes us think of Jacob wrestling with the angel who is God and discovering his true identity. Jesus says,  “You will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” Someone has said that as we follow Jesus, we have one foot on earth and one foot in heaven. Jesus creates a thin place, where heaven and earth are very close. He connects us with all that is heavenly, all that is divine, because he is God walking the face of the earth.

We are living in a time of great stress. The stakes are high. We have decided to follow Jesus, as the old hymn says. This means that we are called to live by high ethical standards. We tell the truth, we see others as made in the image of God and we respect their dignity; we try to love others as God loves us, to treat others as we would like to be treated. 

Eli’s sons would normally have succeeded him. Because the sons of Eli were not following the law and were not morally capable of carrying out their duties, God called Samuel, a young man of impeccable moral character, deep faith, and courage to do God’s will in challenging and even dangerous circumstances. In this situation, three thousand years ago, God provided a just, ethical, and courageous leader for God’s people.

We are trying to follow Jesus and live the Way of Love. May our leaders on all levels, local, state, and national, follow the example of Samuel, and lead with ethical integrity, compassion, and justice for all. May we all continue to seek and do God’s will. Amen.

The First Sunday after Epiphany January 10, 2021

Genesis  1:1-5
Psalm 29
Acts 19:1-7
Mark 1:4-11

Today is the First Sunday after Epiphany, This is the day we celebrate the baptism of our Lord.

Our opening reading sets the stage for this Sunday, and our opening hymn has echoed this passage. God is creating the world. The earth is a “formless void,” and God is making something out of this void and transforming the void into a creation of beauty and variety and order.

God says that there will be light, and this is very important because we are entering the season of Epiphany, the season of light and mission. God’s light is coming into the world. As we read the story of the Creation in Genesis, after each work of creation there is a refrain: “And God saw that it was good.” The creation is good. At the end of this brief passage, God has brought the creation into being, and it is the end of the first day.

Our second reading is from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. This  book is like a good news action film. The apostles go from place to place spreading the Good News about Jesus.

In this passage, Paul goes from Corinth to Ephesus. And, amazingly, he finds some disciples there. He asks them whether they received the Holy Spirit when they were baptized, and they say that did not. They have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.

These disciples had been taught by Apollos, a Jewish man from Alexandria in Egypt who was a disciple of John the Baptist. Apollos had studied the scriptures and was an eloquent speaker, but he believed and taught a baptism of repentance as John the Baptist had.

Paul does not criticize the teachings of Apollos to these disciples. He simply tells them about the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and they ask for that baptism. About twelve people receive the Holy Spirit that day.

Paul meets these disciples where they are, asks questions about where they are on their journey, and then opens up to them a deeper understanding of Christ and of the Holy Spirit. This is how he welcomed thousands of people into this new faith.

In our gospel for today, we have the privilege of being present at the baptism of our Lord. John the Baptist, or Baptizer, was a cousin of Jesus. When Mary went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, the baby John the Baptist leaped inside Elizabeth as he recognized the presence of his Savior, who was also his cousin. From the very beginning, John knew who Jesus was.

If we stop and meditate for just a moment, Mary and Joseph were not a king and queen or a prince and princess. They were ordinary people, but they were extraordinary in the depth of their wisdom and their spiritual understanding. The baby Jesus, our Savior, was born into the midst of a wise, courageous, deeply spiritual extended family.

Joseph was from King David’s royal line but he had no worldly power.

Elizabeth and Zechariah were past childbearing age. Zechariah was a priest in the temple in Jerusalem. They were the couple God chose to raise the one who was to prepare the way for the Messiah. Even when John was in the womb, he knew that Jesus was the Savior. And as he prepared the way, he made it very clear that he was not the Savior.

But John also knew that he was the forerunner, the messenger sent to call the people to repentance, and he carried out his ministry so well that people flocked to him from near and far. He had thousands of followers who hung on his every word.

In our gospel for today, John baptizes his cousin Jesus, and, when Jesus comes up out of the water, God says, “You are my Son, the Beloved. With you I am well pleased.”

This is the beginning of our Lord’s formal ministry. As we meditate on this passage, we can wonder what John was feeling in those moments and what Jesus was feeling. Perhaps the main thing they were feeling was the overwhelming presence and love of God.

Herbert O’Driscoll reminds us that, when God speaks of Jesus as God’s Beloved, God is also speaking to us. God’s entire work of creation is filled with love, and we will never be able fully to grasp the depth of the love God has for each and every one of us and all of us together. God has made us part of God’s Beloved Community, and for that, we are grateful beyond words.

Today, we will be renewing our baptismal vows. We renew our promise to  “Continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers;” we promise to resist evil and, when we fall, repent and return to God;” we promise to proclaim  “the good news of God in Christ;” We promise to “seek and serve Christ in all persons;” and we promise to “strive for peace and  justice among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.”

This past week, on the feast of the Epiphany, an act of insurrection was committed against our capitol. This was not a peaceful demonstration.  Crimes were committed, and the proper authorities are working to hold people accountable.

We are called to walk the Way of Love, and we are called to help God  build God’s shalom on earth. We are called to be part of God’s Beloved Community. Part of living the Way of Love is calling all of us to be responsible for our behavior. Violence is not acceptable. Breaking the law is not acceptable. All of us as citizens are called to treat each other with respect and to obey the law. As our Presiding Bishop has said, we are called to choose community over chaos.  People need to be called to account for their actions. All people need to be able to feel safe. There is much work to do. For the next few weeks, I am asking that we pray the Prayer for the Human Family on page 315 of the prayer book. Today, we will renew our vows to follow Jesus in the Way of Love. Amen.

Advent 2 Year B December 6, 2020

Isaiah 40:1-11
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
2 Peter 3:6-15a
Mark 1:1-8

“Comfort, O Comfort my people,” says your God.” In our opening reading, the prophet Isaiah speaks God’s word to God’s people who are still in exile in Babylon. It is important to remember that the word “comfort” comes from the Latin “con” meaning “with” and “fortis” meaning “strength.” Comfort—with strength.

The revered Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann writes of this passage, “In Chapter 40, at long last, when all seemed lost, now speaks the Holy One of Israel. This oracle is the voice of Yahweh, who breaks the silence of exile and by utterance transforms the fortunes of Judah. This speech breaks both the despair of Judah and the power of Babylon; it penetrates the emptiness of exile and fills the world of Judaism with possibilities….”  Brueggemann continues, “We may understand ‘comfort’ as transformative solidarity; that is, not simply an offer of solace, but a powerful intervention that creates new possibilities.” (Brueggemann, Isaiah 40-66, Westminster Bible Companion, p.16.)

As we hear these words read, we naturally bring to mind and heart the powerful and beautiful music of Handel’s Messiah, and this reaches into our minds and hearts and gives us hope in our own Covid-19 exile. God is telling us that, in the midst of exile there is hope. Not only that, there are new possibilities.

Brueggemann speaks of “transformative solidarity.” In the midst of this pandemic, we are being called to transform our world and our societies. We are realizing that this pandemic is hitting people of color and poor people harder than it is impacting people of means and white people. This reminds us of our Lord’s call to feed the hungry and give clothes, shelter, and other necessities to our brothers and sisters. But these differences in levels of suffering are also calling us to build into our planning for the future equal access to health care, more justice in wages and benefits, and other ways of insuring fairness in our nation and our world so that we all bear equally the burdens of challenges like this pandemic. In the midst of all this suffering, God is speaking a message of profound light and hope. “Every valley shall be lifted up and every mountain and hill laid low.” Things are evened out in God’s kingdom. People share.

And then we hear that a voice is crying out in the wilderness, and this takes us to our gospel. John the Baptizer is that figure, that forerunner named by the prophets, among them Isaiah. John calls out, “Prepare the way of the Lord. and make his paths straight.” John calls the people to a baptism of repentance. They confess their sins, and they ask God’s help in transforming their lives, and so do we.

The gospel tells us that John was “clothed with camels hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.” Perhaps, if John the Baptizer were to appear on our Zoom screens, we might be quite shocked at his wardrobe. Very few people, even then, wore clothes of camel’s hair. John was not concerned about clothing or fashion. He had one mission: to prepare people for the appearance of the Messiah.

People thronged to him. He was the Biblical equivalent of a pop star. He didn’t center his ministry in Jerusalem where the people were. He was out in the wilderness and the people came to him. John had a huge number of followers.

John said, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Today, on the Second Sunday of Advent 2020, John the Baptizer is calling us to examine our selves and our lives, confess our sins to God or to a priest by phone or Zoom if we wish, and ask God’s help to get our lives fully on course. In that way, Advent is a kind of briefer Lent. It is a time for self-examination and metanoia, transformation.

John is a wonderful example for us. He is totally focussed, not on himself, but on the One who is to come. He is a shining example of single-mindedness, humility, awareness of who he is, and who God is. Even when he was a baby, John leapt in the womb of his mother Elizabeth when her cousin, Mary, who was pregnant with Jesus, came to visit. Even then, the baby John recognized his Lord, who was also his cousin. Even then John was that aware and that faithful.

And this takes us back to our first lesson from Isaiah. The herald is lifting up his voice to shout good tidings. “See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him…He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.” Here is the might of our Savior, and here also is his tender gentleness.

Here, in the tenth month of our exile, our loving God is giving us a powerful message of hope and transformation. He is calling us to walk the Way of Love in this time. He is calling us to take care of ourselves and each other so that we can walk together through this exile and follow him.

We can do this, with his help. Peter writes, “The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting you to perish…But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.”

Even now, he is building his kingdom, his shalom, and we are helping him by loving him and our neighbors. Now, as the days are getting shorter and the darkness is increasing, we can remember how John the Evangelist in his gospel reminds us that “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” We can let our good shepherd lead us and carry us as we continue to walk the Way of Love. 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 21 Proper 25A October 25, 2020

Deuteronomy  34:1-12
Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
Matthew 22:34-46

In our opening reading today, we have the opportunity to share a special moment in the life of Moses and the life of God’s people. God takes Moses to the summit of Mount Pisgah and shows Moses the promised land— the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees. The land is beautiful. We can imagine all the feelings rising in the heart of Moses as he looks out on this amazing gift from God. We can imagine that Moses felt enormous gratitude that God had led them all this way and taken care of them, given them food when they were hungry and water when the were thirsty. God has given Moses and Aaron the wisdom, strength and sheer perseverance to stay with the people and lead them when their knees were feeling weak, their hearts were faint, and their courage waning. Moses could think to himself, “We made it, against all odds.” This was a great accomplishment.

God allows Moses the gift of seeing the land that God has given the people, but Moses will not cross into that land. Moses will die in that place. He dies at the height of his powers. His vision is still good and he remains strong. But he will not enter the promised land. Moses is one of the great leaders of God’s people, and God has provided an excellent leader to follow Moses: Joshua, the son of Nun. Moses has laid his hands on this new leader. The Spirit is within Joshua. But the passage clearly states, “Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt….and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.”

Our second reading is from Paul’s letter to his beloved Thessalonians. Thessalonica was a Roman city in Macedonia, a city where the authorities could keep an eye on what was happening with the new faith in Jesus. Paul has come there after being imprisoned in Philippi. There are many competing teachers in Thessalonica, and some of them are wrongly accusing Paul of all  kinds of things Paul is not doing. Paul emphasizes that his ministry is not based on deceit or tricks but on the truth that he has received from God and from knowing our Lord. We remember that he met the risen Lord on the road to Damascus and his life was transformed. He is sharing the power of that transformation with everyone he meets, and it comes from deep in his heart.

Paul tries to make it clear that he is not trying to impress human beings; he is trying to please God. He does not flatter people. He does not want their money. He tells them that he has been gentle among them, as a nurse gently cares for children. He tells the people how much he loves them and how deeply he wants to share himself with them.

Paul is completely sincere. All he wants to do is to share the love of Jesus with these people whom he loves. As he shares his thoughts and feelings, he makes himself vulnerable to the people. And this reminds us of a great truth, that the love God has shared with us, we share with each other. We become vulnerable with each other. We share our stories. We share our challenges. We pray for each other. And as we do that, we come to love each other more and more deeply.

Paul’s ministry is a ministry of honesty, openness, and caring, He is not trying to fool anyone. He has been filled with the love of Christ, and all he wants to do is share that love.

In today’s gospel, Jesus has silenced the Sadducees, and now the Pharisees step up to try to test him. They ask him which commandment is the greatest, He gives the summary of the law found in Deuteronomy and Leviticus. “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Then Jesus asks them, “What do you think pf the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They cannot see who Jesus is.

Paul was able to see who Jesus is. He met our Lord while he was fuming with anger and going to Damascus to persecute followers of our LordS. And the risen Lord came to him and asked, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Paul was blinded by the light streaming from our Lord. He had to be led by the hand. 

But he felt the love radiating from our Lord. And that love changed him from someone who was trying to put Jesus’ followers into prison, someone who watched as people stoned Stephen, the first Christian martyr to death, into someone who devoted his life to sharing the love of our Lord with everyone he met. He planted churches the way Johnny Appleseed planted apple trees. And in our reading today, we see his gentleness and his vulnerability. just as we see the gentleness and vulnerability of our Lord on the cross.

Love is what it’s all about. Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, talks about and lives the Way of Love. All of us are called to live that Way. Love is what will heal our world. Love is what will make us one. Love calls us to look at what we have in common and work together. Love is what calls us to free each other from those things that imprison us. As Moses led the people from slavery into freedom and as our Lord frees us from all bonds.

This week, may we meditate on Moses’ leadership which freed the people. May we meditate on Paul’s gentleness and honesty and vulnerability and sheer love for the people he served. What a great model of leadership. And may we meditate on our Lord, who calls us to love God and each other, who washes the feet of his disciples and calls us to serve each other and all our brothers and sisters. Love is the greatest power on earth. Stronger than hate, stronger than fear and division. This week, let us renew our commitment to live the Way of Love.  Amen.