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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:…
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Pentecost 9 Proper 12B July 25, 2021

2 Samuel 11:1-15
Psalm 14
Ephesians 3:14-21
John 6:1-21

David was a great king who brought together all the tribes of Israel and united the northern and southern kingdoms. He was a valiant warrior. His people knew him and and loved him. And David was a person of deep faith. Even as a young boy, he attributed his victory over Goliath as the work of God on behalf of God’s people. And God loved him, called him to be king, called him to be the shepherd of God’s people.  The Messiah would later come from the house of David.

In our opening reading for today, we have the account of David’s fall into the depths of depravity. He is not leading the troops into battle. He looks out from the roof of the king’s house in Jerusalem, sees a beautiful woman, inquires about her, and finds out that she is the wife of Uriah the Hittite, one of his most trusted officers. This should make David stop and think, but it does not. 

David commits the sin of adultery, finds out that Bathsheba is pregnant, calls Uriah in from the  battle, asks about the progress of the war, and tries to get Uriah to go home and spend the night with his wife so that it will appear that the baby is Uriah’s child. 

Uriah must have wondered about the behavior of his beloved commander. It was unusual to call officers home from the front. As a loyal officer, Uriah is not going to go home and see his wife while the army is at war. He sleeps with the servants at the entrance of the king’s house. Even when David gets Uriah drunk, the faithful officer shows his loyalty to his king, does his duty as an officer, and stays at the king’s house. Now David sinks even lower. Knowing that the faithful officer Uriah would never open an official communication, David gives him a letter to deliver to his general, Joab. The letter orders Joab to put Uriah in the front lines and then fall back and leave him to be killed by the enemy. Uriah is carrying his death sentence.

As David said in his lament at the death of Saul and Jonathan, “How the mighty have fallen.” Uriah’s loyalty and integrity are such a contrast to David’s shocking behavior.

In our gospel for today, we have John’s account of the feeding of the five thousand. It is near the time of the Passover. Jesus asks Philip where they will buy food for the crowd, knowing what he is going to do. But Andrew, who has apparently been getting acquainted with the people, has already found a boy who has five barley loaves and two fish.

Jesus tells the discipes to make the people sit down. When we are in a big crowd and we sit down on the grass and we are in the presence of Jesus, suddenly there is a sense of order, a sense of quiet, a sense of purpose. As Julian said centuries later, “All will be well.” Jesus takes the loaves, blesses them, breaks them and distributes them. It is a eucharistic action. They gather up the leftovers and there are twelve baskets. The people begin to realize who Jesus is.

Evening comes, and the disciples get into a boat to cross the sea of Galilee. Now it is dark, the wind comes up, the waves grow higher, and there Jesus is, coming to them on the water. They are terrified. And he says those crucial words. “It is I; do not be afraid.”

What are these readings saying to us? First, David was a great leader in many ways. Yet he went far astray. We are all sinners. We all misuse God’s gift of free will at various times in our lives. The Bible does not mince words concerning this truth. Thanks be to God that we can reach out and grasp the hand of our risen Lord. Thanks be to God that we can follow our Good Shepherd.

And then the feeding of five thousand people. Andrew has found a boy with five barley loaves and two fish. We are called to look around us, find out what gifts God is giving us, and use those gifts. Jesus takes, gives thanks, breaks and shares those loaves and fishes. Five thousand people are fed. We have the gifts we need to be Christ’s risen body and share his love with others. Thanks be to God  and our faithful volunteers for our food shelf, which is feeding so many people.

Once David misuses his power and begins his downward slide, many of his decisions are governed by fear. Our Lord says, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Again, we can reach out and touch our risen Lord and be calm and regain our faith and get back on track.

Our epistle gives us some wonderful food for meditation. Paul’s disciple prays that we “may be strengthened in [our] inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in [our] hearts through faith, as [we] are being rooted and grounded in love,” And then this faithful disciple prays “that [we] may know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that [we] may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Perhaps that is what happened to that crowd of five thousand people, sitting on the grass by the shores of the Sea of Galilee, which is really a fresh water lake, so we can imagine being near Fairfield Pond or maybe Lake Champlain, being seated near the water and eating this meal which Jesus has prepared for us. Or we can think of ourselves, here at Grace Church. We will soon share this Eucharist, this thanksgiving feast at which Jesus is the host.  We will soon share this meal which fills us with the fullness of God. May we always remember that Jesus told us his kingdom is within us. He is with us always, around us and within us. 

Verse six of hymn 370, St. Patrick’s breastplate says, “Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me. Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me. Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.”

And our epistle ends with this benediction: “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish far more than we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.” 

Pentecost 12 Proper 14B RCL August 12, 2018

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33
Psalm 130
Ephesians 4:25-5:2
John 6:35, 41-51

In our first reading this morning, King David is at a deeply tragic point in his life. As we recall from last Sunday, the prophet Nathan had told David that, because of his adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband, Uriah the Hittite, David will face conflict from within his own family.

Here is a brief summary of the tragic events. The time is three thousand years ago, and King David has several wives. David’s eldest son, Amnon, rapes Absalom’s sister, Tamar. After appealing to David who does nothing, Absalom murders Amnon. David is devastated and outraged at Absalom’s murder of his half-brother. Absalom asks Joab, King David’s faithful military leader and friend, to help patch things up, but Joab refuses. Absalom then burns Joab’s field. Absalom finally has to flee to another kingdom.

Now Absalom has returned, and he is leading a revolution against his father. Absalom is handsome and vain and proud. He is especially proud of his hair, which he grows long. Absalom is also quite charismatic, and many people are attracted to him. These people have joined his army. Absalom’s revolt has been so successful that David and his court have had to leave Jerusalem.

On the eve of the battle, David is so distressed that he actually asks his military leaders to “deal gently” with Absalom. David’s troops win the battle. The text says that the forest claims more victims than the sword, and of course, one of those is Absalom, who becomes stuck in the thick branches of an oak tree. His mule runs away, leaving him hanging by his hair. The text omits verses 10 through 14, in which some of David’s soldiers see Absalom hanging from the tree. One of them reports this to Joab, who asks him why he did not kill Absalom. The soldier says he wanted to honor David’s request for gentleness. The text tells us that Joab “thrusts three spears into the heart of Absalom.”

The Bible offers us many accounts of human nature. Some of them remind us of how noble we humans can be, and others reveal the complicated and dark depths of human depravity and the conflicts and tragedies that can arise from that darkness. The story of King David and his family has both. Few biblical accounts are as heart-wrenching as this one. When he hears of Absalom’s death, David cries out, “ O my son Absalom, my son, my son. Would I have died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

Vermont theologian Frederick Buechner writes, “He meant it, of course. If he could have done the boy’s dying for him, he would have done it. If he could have paid the price for the boy’s betrayal of him, he would have paid it. If he could have given his own life to make the boy alive again, he would have given it. But even a king can’t do things like that. As later history was to prove, it takes a God.” (Buechner, Peculiar Treasures, p. 6.)

“As later history was to prove, it takes a God.”

Our gospel for today calls to mind this passage written by Frederick Buechner. The five thousand have been fed, Jesus is telling us that he is the bread of life. These words in today’s gospel are echoed in our offertory chant from the Taizé community: “Eat this bread, Drink this cup. Come to me and never be hungry. Eat this bread, Drink this cup. Trust in me and you will not thirst.”

Jesus is with us, and following him gives us a deeper dimension of life. This is what he calls eternal life, and that life has already begun in us because of his presence. We are not alone. We do not have to trust only in ourselves. He is our Good Shepherd and he is leading us. He gives us his grace and love and healing and guidance. He feeds our deepest hunger. He leads us beside the still waters and fills us with the gifts of faith and trust in him, He gives us new life, life on a new level.

And he gives us the gift of community, of life together in him as members of his Body. Our epistle describes the qualities of that life together. We are called to be honest. We are called to deal with anger in a responsible way, not to nurse it and let it fester. We are called to work so that we will have something to share with those in need. We are called to be kind to one another, tenderhearted, and forgiving. Whatever we do or say should build up the body of Christ. We are called to “live in love,” because we are following the One who “Loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and sacrifice to God.”

As we read the tragic story of David and his family and then read our epistle and gospel for today; and as we think about the words of Frederick Buechner,  we realize again and perhaps on an even more profound level that it takes a God to bring life out of death and wholeness out of brokenness.

Blessed Lord, thank you for being with us in every moment of our lives and for feeding us with the food of your presence, your love, your forgiveness, and the gift of new life in you. Thank you for calling us to follow you and to help you build your shalom. Thank you for the gift of community rooted and grounded in your love. Give us your grace, we pray, that we may seek and do your will. Amen.

Pentecost 6 Proper 8B RCL July 1, 2018

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27
Psalm 130
2 Corinthians 8:7-15
Mark 5: 21-43

In our opening reading, Saul and his son Jonathan have been killed in battle. During the reign of Saul, David had spent a great deal of time at the court. As Saul became more and more ill and had trouble sleeping, David used to play the harp and sing to the king. David and  Jonathan were close friends.

As time went on, Saul became more and more afraid of losing power as king. He thought David was plotting to take the throne and tried to kill David. David had at least one opportunity that we know of to kill Saul, but he spared Saul’s life. When David had to escape out into the wilderness to hide from Saul, Jonathan continued to remain a loyal friend, bringing David food and warning him when Saul was searching for him. Even though Jonathan was Saul’s heir, he remained a good friend to David. He put friendship ahead of his own place as the one next in line to be king.

Of course, we know that God had sent Samuel to anoint David as king. David had many flaws. He gave orders that Uriah be sent to the front lines to die in battle so that he could marry Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. At the same time, David had qualities that endeared him to his people. His poem of praise to both Saul and Jonathan is a beautiful elegy for these two men, and it is also a lament on the waste of war. “How the mighty have fallen” is a phrase that has come into our language. David praises both Saul, who tried to kill him and Jonathan, his loyal friend, calling them “beloved and lovely!” David was able to look beyond the complex and tragic personal aspects of the situation and to pay tribute to Saul, who helped Israel begin the transition from a collection of tribes into a nation-state.

Psalm 130 is a powerful song of faith and hope with which all of us can identify. How many times have we been awake in the night watches agonizing over a situation and praying for God’s help for ourselves and others.

This assurance of God’s love and power is what enables two people to reach out to Jesus for help in our gospel for today.

Jesus is back on the busy side of the Sea of Galilee. The crowds are around him. Jairus, one of the leaders of the synagogue, is so desperate that he comes to this teacher whom the authorities are watching closely. “My daughter is at the point of death, Come lay your hands on her and heal her.” Immediately Jesus follows him to his house.

Things are so hectic and needs are so great that a woman, someone on the other end of the social spectrum, is able to come up and touch the hem of Jesus’ garment, certain that just the power from that contact will heal her of hemorrhages that she has had for twelve years. She has gone to doctors but they have not been able to help. Because of this illness, she is marked by the law as unclean, She is supposed to stay away from people, No rabbi is supposed to be near to or touch someone who is unclean. But somehow she knows that Jesus will not be angry at her. She knows that he will care as much for her as he does for an official of the synagogue. So she reaches out over the abyss of social standing and religious laws and touches his cloak.

Jesus feels energy leaving his body. Herbert O’Driscoll says something very important about this, He notes that healing work has a cost. Every one in this congregation does healing work of one kind or another, and it does have a cost. I want to thank you for carrying out these ministries and for paying the emotional and physical price  for your healing work.

Jesus asks, “Who touched me?” We will never know how much that woman might have been tempted to run away, or to melt into the crowd and hide. She had just broken the religious law. But there was something about Jesus. His love and his caring had given her the courage to reach out and touch his garment in the first place, and now she falls on her knees before him just as Jairus had done earlier. Knowing that she had been healed, she told him everything. That’s how Jesus is: we can tell him everything. And he says, “Daughter, your faith has made you well.” He has just made her a part of his big family.

As he is still speaking, people come from Jairus’ house and tell him, “Your daughter is dead. Don’t bother the rabbi any more.” And Jesus says, “Do not fear, only believe.”  He takes with him only Peter, James. and John. He firmly escorts all the weeping and wailing people out of the house and takes the girl’s mother and father into her room.

Jesus knows the difference between life and death, between despair and hope. He takes the girl by the hand and says, “Little girl, get up!” As she walks around the room, he tells them to get her something to eat.

“Do not fear, only believe.” There are things happening in our own lives and in the world which can make us worried and afraid.  Our Lord is speaking to us and to our fears and worries today when he says, “Do not fear, only believe.” He is calling us to do what he did with these two people. He was not afraid when a religious authority asked his help even when other authorities were watching his every move. He was not afraid when a woman labeled unclean touched his cloak. He was always looking beyond these rules and labels and always moving in faith to bring healing, love and wholeness into the lives of people.

That is what we are called to do—to move beyond the fear and believe that, with God’s help and grace, we can bring love and healing into the world.    And that is what you are doing every day. Amen.

Pentecost 9 Proper 12B RCL July 26, 2015

2 Samuel 11:1-15
Psalm 14
Ephesians 3:14-21
John 6:1-21

Our opening reading is almost shocking in its stark portrayal of human sin. Here is King David, who loves God and has performed many courageous and noble acts and is much loved by his people, sinking so low that it almost takes our breath away.

First of all, he is not doing what a king is supposed to be doing. He is not leading the troops in battle. He has put Joab in command of the army. David looks down from his rooftop quarters and sees Bathsheba bathing. He finds out that she is the wife wife of one of his most outstanding commanders, Uriah the Hittite. This information should bring him to his senses. It should be a warning. There are precious webs of relationship here which should not be torn apart.

But he has lost his moral compass. He has Bathsheba brought to him and uses his power as king to commit adultery with her. Some time later, she tells David she is pregnant, and he calls Uriah back from the field of battle. When David tells Uriah to go home and be with his wife so that people will think the child is Uriah’s, his faithful officer sleeps outside. Uriah’s loyalty to God, his country, and his fellow soldiers who are sleeping outside makes him continue to observe military discipline. Then David gets Uriah drunk. Uriah will not enjoy the comforts of home when his men are fighting. So David sends Uriah back into battle with a letter ordering Joab to set up Uriah’s death.

Uriah’s self-discipline, loyalty, and integrity provide such a stark contrast to David’s selfishness, depravity, and duplicity that we are forced to face our own potential for darkness. This is a low point on David’s journey. How could someone with so much courage and so many gifts sink that far?

Our own dark times are probably not quite as dramatic as this one, but this story reminds us that we are all sinners.

Our reading from Ephesians is a prayer of adoration to the only One who can lift us out of those depths and save us from our own weakness and sinfulness. A little paraphrase. We bow our knees before God, who is the father and mother of all of us. God is the One who strengthens us in our inmost selves through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is God working in us and in the world. Christ dwells in our hearts through faith, as we are rooted and grounded in love. Because of God’s grace, we are able to accept and in some mysterious way understand the depth of the love God has for us. We are filled with the fullness of God. And we give glory to God who can do these things.

Like our ancestor and brother, David, we are sinners.  And yet, at the very same time we are filled with the fullness of God. And this is all reflected in our gospel.  Last week we read the parts in Mark which go before and after the feeding of the five thousand. Now, we read that wonderful story in John’s gospel. The crowd is following but now Jesus and the disciples go up the mountain and sit there together praying. They are in the presence of God. They are fed by that presence.

But the crowd follows them. More than five thousand people, if you count the women and children. Jesus asks Philip, “Where are we going to get food for these people? And Philip answers, “It would take six months’ wages to buy food for them, and then that wouldn’t be enough.” Uh-oh, we’re in trouble. We don’t have enough. Now here is Andrew. “There is a boy here with five little barley loaves and two fish.” But then Andrew goes into that scarcity model: “What is that when we have so many people?”

Jesus asks them to make the people sit down. It is a grassy place. Green. Refreshing. He leads us to the green pastures. We sit down with our extended family group. We feel cherished and safe and taken care of. He takes the loaves, thanks God, and breaks them, and they are shared with all the people, He takes, blesses, breaks, and distributes. A Eucharistic action and it is the time of the passover. Here is the heavenly food of his presence and power and love.  Here is the food that leads us out of slavery to sin.They and we are “filled with the fullness of God.”

There are twelve baskets left over. With Jesus we always have enough, There is always a way to feed folks and care for them. The people try to make Jesus king. This gospel provides a contrast to the story of David which we just read. Jesus does’t want to be an earthly king. He goes up to the mountain to pray and be with God.

The disciples get into the boat and start across the sea to Capernaum. A storm comes up. The wind is blowing so hard you can hear it whistling in your ears, and the waves are several feet high.  They row three or four miles in the wind and waves. That is hard work. He comes walking to them on the sea and they are petrified. And what does he say? “It is I; do not be afraid.” Right away, they reach their destination.

We are sinners. We get lost. We are weak. Thanks be to God, we are not alone. God loves us. We are fed with the fullness of God. We do not have to be afraid. Every day and several times a day, we can go up  toward the mountain to that grassy place and be with our Lord and be fed by him. Every week we can gather at the altar and be fed with his life-giving presence.

Today, we see two different kinds of kings. David was a great military commander who loved God and danced in joy before the Ark of the Covenant. David was also a human being who made some bad choices in our story today.

Centuries after King David came another King, who was of the house of David. Like David, he was a shepherd, our Good Shepherd.

May we follow him and be the people he calls us to be.  Amen.