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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion June 11, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.comTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion June 18, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.comTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion June 25, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.comTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…

Christmas 2 Year C  January 2, 2022

Jeremiah 31:7-14
Psalm 84:1-8
Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19a
Luke 2:41-52

Our first reading today is extraordinary. The people of God have been conquered by the Babylonian Empire. Their leaders and thousands of the people have been deported to Babylon. Some people are left in Jerusalem, including the prophet Jeremiah, but he is in an awkward position, to say the least. Herbert O’Driscoll observes, “His warnings about foolish political decisions by the rulers of his nation [have] made it possible for them to label Jeremiah as an enemy of  his own people,” (O’Driscoll, The Word among Us, p. 53.)

Of this passage, Walter Brueggemann writes,
“The exile of Israel smells of defeat, despair, and abandonment. Moreover, it is a place of deadly silence. All the voices of possibility have been crushed and nullified. …The deadliness of exile is the context into which Jesus is born and in which Christmas is celebrated. Christmas is an act against exile.” (Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching,  p, 76.)

Into this situation of hopelessness and despair, God calls Jeremiah to  powerful words of hope. God is going to bring the people home, those who are strong and those who are weak, even those who are in labor, bringing new life into the world as they journey toward home. God is going to free the people and they will come home and they will “sing aloud” and “be radiant over the goodness of the Lord.” The people and the land will be full of new life and abundance.

In our world, twenty-six hundred years later, the Covid numbers are rising again. Flights are being cancelled because pilots and crew members are sick. Hospitals are being overwhelmed. And at the same time, God is calling us to be a people of hope. God is going to continue to guide us on this journey, and God is going to take care of us.

In our reading from the letter of the Ephesians, God reminds us that God is our divine parent. God holds us close in God’s loving arms.

The lectionary offers us three choices for gospel readings. One is the story of the wise men coming to pay homage to Jesus. The second is the flight into Egypt, and the third is the account of the twelve year old Jesus in the temple.

Mary and Joseph were faithful Jews. Every year they would go to the temple in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, the feast that marks God’s freeing of the people from slavery in Egypt. They traveled to Jerusalem with their extended family caravan. We do not know the exact number of people making the journey, but it was a sizable group.

They went and worshipped, and then they headed home. At the end of the first day of the journey homeward, Mary and Joseph realized that Jesus was not with the family group. We may think this was unusual, but young people would often walk with one relative or another, an uncle they liked to talk to, or an aunt who made good snacks, and the family took care of each other’s children. But when they stopped for the night and took attendance, so to speak, they discovered Jesus was missing.

Mary and Joseph rushed back to Jerusalem to find him. It took them three days, searching high and low, probably going back to the inn where they had stayed and trying to trace his whereabouts and asking people whether they had seen Jesus. As time went by, Mary and Joseph became more and more worried. We can all understand that.

Finally, they went back to the temple, and there he was, talking with the teachers, listening, asking questions, gaining knowledge, and demonstrating exceptional wisdom. Mary was angry. “Why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been worried sick about you.”

Jesus responds,”Why have you been worried about me? Don’t you know that I have to be in my Father’s house?” On some quite profound levels, Mary knew that she was Jesus’ biological mother and Joseph knew that he was the foster father of the son of God. But to hear him say this must have struck their hearts very deeply. The text says that they did not understand what he was saying.

What if we were Mary or Joseph? Would we understand such a thing? The text tells us that “Mary treasured these things in her heart.” It took her a lifetime to absorb the meaning of this. Jesus went home and was obedient to them, and he grew in his understanding of what his heavenly Father was calling him to do.

Once again, I am struck by the humanness of Jesus’ coming among us. Things are not going well in our world. The pandemic is rearing its head. And God sends hope. God, fully human and fully divine, comes quietly into the world and lives in a family in Nazareth with a faithful mother and father and goes to the temple for Passover and stays and learns from the teachers. He doesn’t understand that his earthly parents would be worried because he is doing what he is called to do. Kids can be like that sometimes.

But he goes home with them and works in his foster father’s shop and studies with the local rabbi and listens for the guidance of his heavenly Father. In eighteen years he will begin his public ministry.

In our collect we ask God to give us the grace to “share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity.” He has come to be with us to show us the way of hope in the midst of the exile of pandemic life, to show us the way of love in a world that needs so much love. And in our gospel for today, we see him at a session of what in our tradition might be confirmation class! 

May we continue to learn from him. May we continue to grow closer to him. May we share his hope and love in our community of faith and in the world. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Pentecost 18 Proper 21B September 26, 2021

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22
Psalm 124
James 5:13-20
Mark 9:38-50

Our opening reading from the Book of Esther explains the Jewish feast of Purim, which is a joyous celebration of the freeing of God’s people from a holocaust. The next celebration of this festive holiday will be on March 16 and 17, 2022. It is set in the time of King Xerxes of Persia, who reigned from 485 to 404 BCE. In our passage, he is called King Ahasuerus.

Esther is the heroine of this story. Her ancestors were captured by the Babylonian Empire and taken to Babylon, which has now been conquered by the Persian Empire. She lives with her cousin Mordecai, who has adopted her because her parents have died.  Esther and Mordecai are Jewish. Esther has always kept silent about that fact.

Haman, the king’s right hand man, is extremely anti-Semitic. He has cooked up a plot to have all the Jews killed in all parts of the Persian Empire. By an improbable series of events, Esther has become queen. She has invited the king and Haman to a feast at which she will make a request to the king. Mordecai has kept her updated on Haman’s hateful plans, and Esther has quietly steeled herself to be the person of the hour. Although God is never mentioned in the story, it is clear that God has called her, as God called Moses centuries before, to free her people. 

In our passage for today, Esther tells the truth about Haman’s plans and asks the king to save her people. Her request is granted. Esther goes from a quiet young woman hiding her identity to a courageous leader fighting for the lives of her people.

In our gospel for today, John reports that the disciples saw someone healing in Jesus name, and they tried to stop him because he was not one of their group. Herbert O’Driscoll notes that John does not get credit for “diligently protecting the teacher’s territory.” (O’Driscoll, The Word among Us, p. 117.) What Jesus is saying here is so important. He says, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” If people are doing things to help people and care for people, they are doing God’s work.

O’Driscoll notes that Jesus does not thank John for trying to protect his turf. He writes, ”Instead, there is a gracious but firm correction, suggesting a different way to look at this moment. There is a generosity in these words, an openness to cooperation, a readiness to trust before all the evidence is in. It is a statement about opening doors rather than building walls.” (O’Driscoll, p 117.)

When Jesus talks about “little ones,” sometimes he is talking about children, whom he calls us to love and care for, and sometimes he is speaking about his followers who are not powerful or famous or influential but just ordinary people such as we are. He is calling us to help each other and support each other as we move ahead in building his kingdom.

And then, in pointed language, he calls on us to deal with any obstacles in ourselves which get in the way of following him and helping him build his shalom. And then he calls us to be salt that has not lost its saltiness.  He calls unto be people who are full of life and love, willing to serve others and build his kingdom of peace and harmony.

Our reading from the Letter of James calls us to be a loving and supportive community, to pray for healing for those who are sick, to share our challenges, to support each other on our journeys, to care for each other, and to love each other.

One of the main themes in this passage is the power of prayer. It means so much that we pray for each other. James reminds us of the great prophet Elijah, and how powerful his prayers were. And, finally, James reminds us that we can all help to keep each other on the path, so that we are all walking the Way of Love.

Scholars tell us that our psalm today is a song of pilgrimage. People would sing this song on their way to festivals and observances in Jerusalem. Walter Brueggemann writes, “In this psalm, Israel voices its astonishment and gratitude for God’s wondrous deliverance.” (Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching year B, p, 525.)

“Blessed be the Lord! He has not given us over to be a prey for their teeth. We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowler; the snare is broken, and we have escaped. Our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”

“Blessed be the Lord! He has not given us over to be a prey for their teeth. We have escape

Esther and Moses and Elijah save their people. Our lord calls us to be open and inclusive rather than clinging to our turf. James calls us to build a community of love and healing.

Perhaps the greatest message for today is how thankful we can be to our loving God, who has saved us all and has brought us together. May we accept with joy the fullness of God’s grace. May we run the race. Loving God, thank you for all your many blessings. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Pentecost 8 Proper 11B July 18, 2021

2 Samuel 7:1-14a
Psalm 89: 20-37
Ephesians 2:11-22
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Biblical scholars Walter Brueggemann, James Newsome, and colleagues write, “Something new begins when God’s powerful love and loving power are acted out.” They are especially referring to what they call “the radical newness that is worked in Israel with the appearance of David.” (Brueggemann, Newsome, et al Texts for Preaching, p. 428.)

As we know, David was able to draw all the tribes together and create a united Israel. God had called David to be the king. In our first reading for today, David has built a house, and he wants to build a house for the ark of the covenant. He shares this idea with Nathan the prophet, who appears for the first time in the passage. Nathan encourages David to go ahead with the project, but that night, the Lord tells Nathan that God will build a house for David. God has a special relationship with the family of David. One of David’s descendants, Solomon, will build the temple to the Lord in Jerusalem. The Messiah will come from the house of David.

In our epistle for today, part of the Letter to the Ephesians, a kind of circular letter written to the churches in Asia Minor, now called Turkey, by a faithful disciple of Paul, the theme of God’s love creating a new thing is continued.

All kinds of people were coming into the community of faith. Some of them were Jewish, and some were Gentiles, non-Jews, people who might be worshipping one of the Greek or Roman gods, or who might not have any religious connections. Many of the new converts were Gentiles, and the writer realizes that these people might have felt like second-class citizens in the community. They were not familiar with the Hebrew scriptures or the law or the tradition. And he tells these people, “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups [Jews and Gentiles] into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law…that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.”

Brueggemann, Newsome and colleagues write, “Clearly Jesus, according to this text, runs well beyond David in envisioning and enacting a new, single community of humanity, which overrides our deepest divisions.”  (Brueggemann, Newsome, et al, Texts for Preaching, p. 428.)

Our Lord is creating a new community in which “God’s powerful love”and “God’s loving power” are being acted out.

In today’s gospel reading, we remember that Jesus has just heard of the death of his cousin, John the Baptist. I think Jesus and John were quite close. They were members of a large extended family, and they were kindred spirits and faithful servants of God. So, when he heard of the death of John, I think Jesus was very sad. But he did not let that stop his work of creating loving community, teaching, and healing people. As our reading opens, he has sent the apostles out to teach and heal. Now they are coming back and reporting all they have done. 

We can imagine that they have much to share with him and with each other. They have gone out two by two, and they have shared the good news and taught, and healed people. After this debriefing, Jesus calls them to go away to a quiet place to rest and, undoubtedly, to pray. We can imagine that both he and they are exhausted from all their work. They get into a boat and go to the other side of the lake. 

But a crowd of people arrives there ahead of them. And the text says, “he had compassion on them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he began to teach them many things.” Jesus cares about people.  No matter how tired he is, his compassion seems to be almost endless. This is an example for us. We are human, and our compassion is not endless. But our Lord is calling us to try, with his grace, to be compassionate to everyone we meet. 

Then Jesus and his disciples cross back to the other side of the lake. People recognize him and bring sick people from far and wide to be healed. Wherever he goes, people bring sick friends and relatives to be made whole again. Even touching the hem of his garment heals people. The healing power of our Lord goes beyond our understanding. We, too, are called to extend the healing power of his love.

“Something new begins when God’s powerful love and loving power are acted out.” Each and every one of you is sharing the power of God’s love with others, some in ministry with elders, some with animal rescue, some at the food shelf, some with Meals on Wheels, some with young people, the list goes on and on. You are all doing ministry, caring for people, animals, and God’s creation. This week, thanks to jan, our friends at the food shelf, and our brothers and sisters at First Congregational Church in St. Albans, we are beginning to serve families in our new Welcome Home Initiative for people transitioning from temporary to permanent housing. These kinds of ministries break down barriers and bring people together. They help God to create God’s big family.

“Something new begins when God’s powerful love and loving power are acted out.” Gracious and loving God, thank you for your powerful love and your loving power. Thank you for calling us to be together to share life in you. Thank you for all the ministries you give us to do. May we minister to each other and to our brothers and sisters out in the world with your powerful love and your loving power. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Lent 1 Year B February 21, 2021

Genesis 9:8-17
Psalm 25:1-9
1 Peter 3:18-22
Mark 1:9-15

We all remember the story of the Flood which precedes our reading for today from the Book of Genesis. That story, which comes from an ancient Babylonian epic, says that people were becoming so sinful that there were only eight good people on earth, Noah and his family. God told Noah to build an ark and fill it with two of every animal, and then God made a flood that covered the earth and drowned everyone except Noah and his family.

Scholars tell us that the first part of the Noah story was written by a different person or persons than the part we are reading today. These learned people tell us that the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch or Torah, were written by four different people, or groups of people, at four different times in history. The first writer is called J, the Jahwist, because he or she called God Jahweh. J was working around 900-950 B.C.E. The second writer is known as E, the Elohist,  because this writer called God Elohim, meaning Lord. The third, called D or the Deuteronomist, worked around 620 B.C.E. during the reign of King Josiah, and the fourth writer was called P or the Priestly writer. This person or group of people was at work during and after the exile, around 587-539 B.C.E.

The Jahwist writer, J, writing around three thousand years ago, gave us an anthropomorphic view of God. God was like a human being. In the view of the Jahwist writer, people are sinning, God gets angry, God causes a flood and drowns all the sinners and saves the eight people who are good.

Our passage today was written by the PrIestly writer, who has a far less primitive understanding of who God is. Walter Brueggemann tells us that the bow which God hangs in the sky is the bow used for warfare. God is hanging up this weapon and declaring that God will protect the creation and all that is in it. Brueggemann writes, “That the bow is suspended in the sky means that God has made a gesture of disarmament, has hung up the primary weapon, and now has no intention of being an aggressor or adversary. That is, the demobilized weapon of God is a  gesture of peace and reconciliation. God intends to be ‘at peace’ with God’s world, recalcitrant though it has been.”

(Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching Year B, p. 193. 

Brueggemann tells us that this view of God’s compassion comes from the experience of the exile, and that this text was first written and read during the exile. He says that the exile “was the quintessential disruption in the life of ancient Israel. “ He continues, “Thus it is plausible to see that the exile is the historical experience of chaos narrated through the Flood.” (Brueggemann, Ibid,. p. 192.) Writing 500 years after the Jahwist writer, the Priestly writer and his community have a much deeper sense of the compassion of God.

In our gospel, Jesus comes to be baptized by John in the river Jordan and the voice of God comes from heaven, saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Jesus then goes into the wilderness to be tempted, and the angels take care of him. John is arrested, but that does not deter Jesus. He goes through Galilee proclaiming the good news and telling the people, “The kingdom of God has come near.” In some translations, he says, “The kingdom of God is within you.”

Over the centuries, our understanding of God has grown. The Jahwist writer portrays God as someone who would flood the earth to kill sinners. About five hundred years later, the Priestly writer has realized that God wants to protect us and the creation. Jesus, God walking the face of the earth, comes to be with us, tells us that his shalom is within us, goes through forty days of struggle with the forces of darkness, and emerges faithful to God and the Way of Love, showing us that we can do the same. God has become one of us.

Sometime during this pandemic, with my Covid brain I don’t know exactly when, I was driving home. I have been driving as little as possible, so it was some form of essential trip. The important thing is that I saw a rainbow, It wasn’t the most dramatic rainbow I have ever seen, but there it was, in the midst of this pandemic, shining forth the promise of God’s shalom. Usually, when a rainbow appears, especially on the Interstate,  everybody pulls over to the side of the road. I think we all know what it means, no matter what our religion or lack thereof. This wasn’t the aInterstate and there was not enough space to pull over, so I kept on going, and the rainbow faded quite quickly. But however brief it was, I saw it as a clear sign of blessing and peace from our loving God.

It was that experience with the gift of the rainbow that drew me to focus on the reading from Genesis about God’s promise to Noah and to all of us.

But our dear brother in Christ, the highly respected, even revered scholar of the Hebrew Scriptures, Walter Brueggemann, has opened up for us a connection we should not ignore. Twenty-five hundred years ago, the Priestly writer or group, having lived through the exile, could tell us that God made a covenant with all of us that God would never again flood the earth, that God is a God of peace, God loves us and the creation, and God is calling us to cherish the creation and  each other.

And to top it all off, our gospel tells us that Jesus, the One we are following, God walking the face of the earth, was tempted as we are and fought and prayed and asked God for help just as we do, and gave us a living example and experience of our God who loves us and the whole creation and everyone and everything in it. God hangs up the bow as a reminder that our loving God calls us be people of peace and reconciliation. And God will die on a cross to make that call as clear as possible.

God’s people learned all this through their exile in Babylon. May our awareness of God’s compassion grow deeper and stronger during our Lenten exile in the wilderness of Covid-19.  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.

Advent 3B December 13, 2020

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Psalm 126
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8,19-28

In our opening reading this morning, God’s people have returned home from exile in Babylon. As Herbert O’Driscoll points out, this is the passage that our Lord reads in the synagogue in Nazareth as he begins his ministry.

What a powerful message this is for us as we deal with this pandemic. God is calling us “to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.”

God will be leading the people as they rebuild the temple and the city, but God is also calling for a reordering of the society. Walter Brueggemann says that the workers who will be rebuilding the ruins “are the oppressed, the broken-hearted, the captives, the prisoners, those who mourn.” Brueggemann says that these people “have been defeated, marginalized, and rendered powerless, either by the economic pressures within the community or by the economic policies of foreign powers.” He says that these workers “are the ones who have ended up in bondage… because they have debts they cannot pay. The pressures of economic paralysis have led to hopelessness, powerlessness, and finally despair.” Brueggemann continues, “For all time to come these will be the blessed of God.” (Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching, pp. 22-23.)

We cannot help but notice the striking parallels between these workers 25 centuries ago and our  workers, who are unemployed through no fault of their own. Their unemployment benefits are running out. Protections against foreclosure and eviction are also expiring, and millions of people could become homeless. In the midst of this suffering, God is calling us to take care of each other and to build a just society.

This passage has deep meaning for all of us, We are all feeling brokenhearted. We are all feeling like prisoners. God will give us “the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.” It is no accident that Jesus read this passage when he went to the synagogue in Nazareth.This text is calling us to help our Lord build his shalom.

Our reading today from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is full of gems for our spiritual lives. “Rejoice always,” Paul advises us. How can he say that when we’re in the middle of a pandemic? Here we must keep in mind that Paul’s life was not easy. He was in prison several times. He endured shipwrecks, beatings, personal attacks, and all kinds of opposition and adversity. Yet in the midst of everything, Paul was able to rejoice, and he encourages us to do the same. Underneath everything, upholding everything, is the joy of knowing Jesus our Savior.

“Pray without ceasing.”Over the centuries, people have tried to do this. We have the Jesus prayer that is sometimes said as we breathe. Breathe in—“Lord Jesus, Son of God.” Breathe out, “Have mercy on me, a sinner.” Or, breathe in, “Jesus,” breathe out, “Mercy.” We breathe in the healing and forgiving presence of our Lord and we exhale our sins while remembering his mercy. So that eventually with every breath we are thinking of our Lord and his love.

“Give thanks in all circumstances.” We could say, “Saint Paul, you are really asking a lot of us right now. Thousands of people are sick and dying; there are long lines at food shelves all over the country. Things are very bad. This is terrible.” And that is true. And—we can always find things to be thankful for. We can thank God for helping our doctors and nurses and truck drivers and grocery store workers and teachers and school staff and all the essential and medical workers who are valiantly doing their jobs. We can thank the researchers and others who are working on discovering vaccines, and we can give special thanks that the process of distributing a vaccine has begun and that, in Great Britain and other places, people have already received a vaccine. We can thank everyone who practices the safety guidelines our medical experts are giving us. I thank each and every one of you for your faith and your service to others during  this time. And for your strength of spirit and your sense of humor and your spiritual balance. Yes, we can “rejoice always,” “pray without ceasing,” and “give thanks in all circumstances.”

In today’s gospel, once again, we meet John the Baptist. He quotes Isaiah, saying he is “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘make straight the way of the Lord.’” John the Baptist “was not the light but that he came to testify to the light.” Although huge crowds came out to see him and followed him, he knew that he was not the Savior.

John the Evangelist says that John the Baptist “came to testify to the light.” If we think about Isaiah’s time, a time of great economic injustice and suffering when God was calling the people to rebuild the temple and their lives and their society; or if we think about the time of John the Baptist when the people of God were oppressed by the Roman Empire, those were very difficult times. And this time of Covid is also a time filled with suffering. People are dying alone without their families. Doctors and nurses are becoming more and more exhausted.

And yet. The light is coming into the world. The darkness has not overcome that light. At the Easter Vigil, we carry the paschal candle into the dark church and we process down the aisle to the altar, chanting “The light of Christ,” and the people answer, “Thanks be to God.” New life is coming into the world. The shalom of God is growing, like the shoot that sprouts from the stump of Jesse. Thanks be to God for that light. That hope. That love which sustains all of us. Let us kindle that hope and cherish it. Let us continue to walk 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.

The Day of Pentecost May 31, 2020

Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:25-35, 37b
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
John 20:19-23

Last week, we read that Jesus ascended to heaven and the disciples returned to the upper room in Jerusalem to pray and wait expectantly for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

In Jewish tradition, Pentecost, or the feast of Weeks, came fifty days after the first day of Passover. James D. Newsome tells us that the Jewish feast of  Pentecost marked the end of the celebration of the spring harvest. This is why there were devout Jews gathered in Jerusalem from all over the known world—to celebrate the feast of Pentecost or Weeks.

But this feast was also the beginning of another season, which lasted until the feast of booths or tabernacles. On that feast, the people offered the first fruits of the fields to God. 

Newsome writes, “Pentecost/Weeks is thus a pregnant moment in the life of the people of God and in the relationship between the people and God. Or to put the matter more graphically, but also more accurately, Pentecost is the moment when gestation ceases and birthing occurs. Thus, it is both an end and a beginning, the leaving behind of that which is past, the launching forth into that which is only now beginning to be. Pentecost therefore is not a time of completion. It is moving forward into new dimensions of being, whose basic forms are clear but whose fulfillment has yet to be realized.”  (Newsome, Texts for Preaching Year A, p. 329.

The disciples are gathered. Jesus has told them that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them. A rushing wind sweeps in, the desert wind, the ruach, symbolizing the power of the Spirit. Flames of fire dance over the heads of the disciples, and they speak in all the languages of the known world. They are filled with the gifts of the Spirit.

We say that the feast of Pentecost is the birthday of the Church. The Spirit comes upon the disciples to shower gifts upon them and set their hearts on fire, and from that point, the new faith spreads over the known world.

In our reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, we read his stirring description of the Church as the Body of Christ, with each member given different gifts, all of the gifts empowered by the same Spirit. All the members of the body are one, as Jesus and the  Father and the Spirit are one. We have all been baptized in the Spirit—everyone, no matter what our nationality or previous religion or gender or status in life, or race, or any of the other things we use to divide ourselves. All these distinctions are  gone—we are all one in Christ. Each person is precious in the sight of God. All members are equal as the Body builds itself up in love.

Newsome’s comment that Pentecost is a moment of birthing, a leaving behind of what is past, and a launching forth into something new which is just beginning, rings forth with the truth of the Holy Spirit.

“Peace be with you,” our Lord says in that first evening of the first Easter day. Shalom is the word he uses. He walks through walls of fear to say that word.

Here are some glimpses of shalom. Isaiah 11:6-8a “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, ad the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall feed; their young shall lie down together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.”

Walter Brueggemann: “That persistent vision of joy, well being, and prosperity is not captured in any single word or idea in the Bible, and a cluster of words is required to express its many dimensions and subtle nuances: love, loyalty, truth, grace, salvation, justice, blessing, righteousness…It bears tremendous freight, the freight of a dream of God that resists all our tendencies to division, hostility, fear, … and misery. Shalom is the substance of the biblical vision of one community embracing all creation.  (Brueggemann,  Living Toward a Vision, p. 16.)

Retired Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori: “Shalom is a vision of the city of God on earth, a community where people are at peace with each other because each one has enough to eat, adequate shelter, medical care, and meaningful work. Shalom is a city where justice is the rule of the day, where prejudice has vanished, where the diverse gifts with which we have been so abundantly blessed are equally valued.” (Jefferts Schori, A Wing and a Prayer, p. 33.)

This past Friday, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and other faith leaders called us to a service of lament and mourning for the more than 100,000. Americans who have died of Covid 19. We will also be mourning the death of George Floyd, who was killed this past Monday by a police officer in Minneapolis.  On May 24, Dr. Matthew W. Hughey, a member of the Department of Sociology at the University of Connecticut, had an article in the Hartford Courant entitled “There’s another pandemic besides the corona virus that we must fight: racism.”  Ever since white people brought African people to America in 1619 to sell them as slaves, we have unsuccessfully grappled with what Jim Wallis of the Sojourners community calls “America’s Original Sin.” The full title of his 2017 book is “America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America.” 

There is much to mourn and lament, so many lives lost to both pandemics. Dr. Martin Luther King has said, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.”

If James Newsome is right about Pentecost being a time for birth,—and I think he is right—maybe, just maybe, with God’s grace, we can all come together and begin to listen to each other and learn from each other and find that bridge, or those many bridges, that Wallis is talking about. I pray that we can. I pray that we can live in peace as brothers and sisters. Because that is the vision our loving and healing God is calling us to fulfill. May we lean on the everlasting arms of God. May we trust in the power of God. May we bring all of God’s gifts of love and wisdom to heal both these pandemics.

May we now pray the Prayer for the Power of the Holy Spirit.

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.

Epiphany 5A February 9, 2020

Isaiah 58:1-9a, (9b-12)
Psalm 112:1-9
1 Corinthians 2:1-12, (13-16)
Matthew 5:13-20

Our first reading, from the prophet known as Third Isaiah, dates back to the time when God’s people were finally able to return home to Jerusalem after the Babylonian Exile. At this stage, the temple has not  yet been rebuilt. 

Services are taking place, however, and God has called the prophet Isaiah to point out some major problems in the way the people are conducting their worship and leading their lives. The people are worshiping and fasting, but their lives do not reflect the attitudes that God expects us to have when we worship, pray, and fast.

 God calls Isaiah to tell the people that they fast, but then they pursue their own interests and oppress their workers. They go through the outward motions of worship, but their worship is not reflected in their lives. 

Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann writes of this passage, “There is no doubt that the ‘bonds of injustice’ alludes to the systemic practice of dehumanization.” The appropriate answer to this dehumanization is, in Brueggemann’s words, “the concrete response of caring people.” Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching year A, p. 129.

God then describes the fast that God expects of God’s people: “To loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free…to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them…” Scholars tell us that, when Isaiah speaks of the yoke, this refers to the burdens that poverty places on people.

Then Isaiah describes what happens when our worship and our lives are congruent and in harmony with God’s vision of shalom. “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn and your healing shall spring up quickly. The glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.”

The people have been complaining that they fast but God does not seem to hear them. This passage tells us that, if our worship is truly centered on God and if we are trying to do God’s will, “[we] shall call and God shall answer. [We] shall cry for help, and God will say, ‘Here I am.’” Closeness to God has to do with the sincerity of our worship. Prayer and worship are not empty rituals. They transform us.

Our gospel for today immediately follows the beatitudes. We missed reading those last Sunday because we were celebrating the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the temple.

Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Blessed are those who know they need God’s help and ask for God’s help and guidance. Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for a right relationship with God. Blessed are the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers.” One scholar says that in the Beatitudes, Jesus is blessing all the things we don’t want to be. God’s reign is very different from human kingdoms.

Our Lord is saying the same thing Isaiah is teaching us today. When our worship and our lives are congruent with God’s vision of shalom, then our light shines. Then the light of Christ shines forth from us. Then, he tells us, we are the salt of the earth. We are the light of the world.

Salt is tangy. It preserves things, It adds flavor. Light helps us to see. When we are following Jesus, when we are loving God and loving others, the light of Christ shines in everything we do.

In our passage from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul is dealing with the same kind of situation that Isaiah is facing in our first reading. There are some folks in the congregation who think they have a secret wisdom. They are called Gnostics, from the Greek word  gnosis, which means knowing. 

There is nothing wrong with knowing things and learning things. Learning is essential. But these people, tragically, are using their so-called secret knowledge to lord it over others in the congregation. They are also criticizing Paul, who, although he is an expert in rhetoric, the art of public speaking, does not use his knowledge of rhetoric in preaching and teaching. He preaches and teaches from his heart. We could say that Paul’s teaching, preaching, and worship are the opposite of what is going on in Jerusalem in our first reading. The worship and fasting in the temple is all an elaborate show. It is not coming from the heart.

Paul says,”My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom but on the power of God. Yet among the mature, we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age.”

Paul is saying that when we pray the prayer of Christ, learn the mind of Christ, and do the deeds of Christ, we grow into maturity in Christ. We grow into the wisdom given by God. And that wisdom helps us to, in Paul’s words,“understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.” To put it another way, true wisdom comes from God and leads us to an appreciation of all the gifts given us by God. It does not lead us to lord it over our brothers and sisters.

May we show forth the light and love of our Lord in our lives. May we follow Jesus with all our heart and soul and mind and strength and  may we love our neighbors as ourselves. Amen.