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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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Advent 3C RCL December 16, 2018

Zephaniah 3:14-20
Canticle 9, p. 86
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:7-18

This is the third Sunday in Advent, called Rejoice Sunday from the Latin Gaudete, meaning “rejoice” because of the call to rejoice in our epistle for today. We light the third candle on the Advent wreath, the rose colored candle, which symbolizes joy.

Our opening reading is from the prophet Zephaniah. Zephaniah’s ministry took place in Judah during the time of King Josiah (640-609 B.C.E.) The first two books of Zephaniah’s book are full of doom and gloom. This was a dark time when Judah was under oppression by the Assyrians.

Scholars tell us that our reading for today, the last part of Zephaniah’s book, was added by other writers long after Zephaniah’s ministry, probably during the time of the Exile, or during the period when the exiles were returning home.

So, if we were to read the entire book, we would have two chapters of suffering and hopelessness and disaster, and then we would read this passage, which is full of deep joy and proclaims that God is in our midst. The passage tells us that God gives victory, that God deals with oppressors, saves the lame and the outcast, changes our shame into praise, and brings us home. It is fascinating to me that a scholar from the time of the Exile added this section to Zephaniah’s book, as if to say, “Don’t give up.  We speak to you from one of the darkest times in our history as God’s people. And we tell you that, with God, there is always hope.” As we know, the exiles returned home, rebuilt the temple, the city of Jerusalem, and their lives. Without this passage, Zephaniah’s book would be dark indeed.

Our canticle from Isaiah repeats this theme of hope and joy. “Surely it is God who saves me; I will trust in God and not be afraid.”

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul is writing from prison. And what does he say? “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say. Rejoice!” He is in prison and he is saying this to them and to us. What quality is he emphasizing? Gentleness. “Let your gentleness be known to everyone,” Paul writes. What an idea. Imagine a headline: “The Church in Philippi is known for its gentleness.” Or “Grace Church is marked by a spirit of gentleness.” Which is true, by the way.  What a great headline.

Then Paul says the thing which made our liturgical scholars choose this reading for the third Sunday in Advent: “The Lord is near.” This can have several meanings. One is that Jesus is as near as our breath. The risen Lord is with us now, among us, leading us.  

Another meaning is that our Lord is near in the sense that he will come to complete the creation. He is building his shalom and we are a part of that process. A third meaning is that, when he came to be with us, he came as one of us. He is like us, He understands us. He is fully human as well as fully divine. He knows what it is to be human, with all our struggles, and he is with us in our dilemmas and challenges.

The Paul says something that may make us burst out in laughter: “Do not worry about anything,” he says. And he is writing from prison! We spend a lot of time worrying. And Paul is asking us to take that time and pray, with thanksgiving. To let our needs be known to God with thanksgiving. We all know that a spirit of thanksgiving, the attitude of gratitude, can cause a big shift in our outlook. If we do all this, “the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.” Thanking God, trusting God to give us what we need, does bring that peace which is beyond our understanding.

And then, in our gospel, we meet John the Baptist. Crowds are coming out from the city into the wilderness to meet him. He is calling them to grow closer to God, and they ask, “What shall we do?” And he answers, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none.” God calls us to share some of what we have with those who have less than we do.

Tax collectors came, and he said, “Collect no more than what is prescribed,” Tax collectors would add a bonus for themselves. That was wrong. Soldiers came to John and he told them not to extort money from people. They were misusing their power to get money from  people. They should be satisfied with their wages. Through John, God is calling the people to live lives of compassion and justice. And that is what God is calling us to do today.

What are these readings saying to us? Our first reading, from Zephaniah, is calling us to be a people of hope, even in times of darkness and challenge. Our reading from Paul is a resounding call to rejoice, to give thanks, to turn our worries into prayers, and to abide in the peace of God. Our gospel calls us to repent, to turn fully toward God, to get back on track, make a course correction, get rooted and grounded in God, and be people of generosity, justice, and compassion.

John says, “Bear fruits worthy of repentance,” and once again, we think of Paul’s list of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22): love joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness. and self-control.

Once again, in this season of Advent, we are in a time of self-examination and discernment. We are letting go of things that are not life-giving. We are turning toward the light and love of Christ. We are getting things in order, updating our wills, doing advanced directives, getting rid of clutter whether it be spiritual or physical, lightening our load so that we can be ready when he appears. We are choosing to grow closer and closer to God, Jesus, and the Spirit.

“The Lord is near.” We are on our way to Bethlehem. We are on our way to meet him. Let us make room for him in the inn of our hearts. Amen.

Advent 3C RCL December 13, 2015

Zephaniah 3:14-20
Canticle 9
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:7-18

Our opening reading today is from the prophet Zephaniah. Scholars tell us that he was probably a descendant of King Hezekiah, who was one of the most highly respected kings of Judah. Zephaniah’s ministry took place during the reign of King Josiah, from 640 B. C. to 609 B. C.

Josiah was another one of Judah’s great kings. In 621 B.C., a book of the law was found in the temple, and Josiah led the people in great reforms. The period preceding his reign had been marked by corruption in public and private life, and by the worship of false gods.

Josiah brought the people back to following God’s law.

The theme of our reading is that God will bring comfort to those who repent and make the changes necessary to serve God faithfully.

Our epistle today is short but powerful.  Paul is writing from prison. He is writing to a beloved congregation which is suffering persecution. Yet he can encourage us to “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice!”

That is why this Sunday is called Laudate Sunday. Laudate is the Latin for “rejoice!” We also have lighted the rose candle today. This candle symbolizes joy and also reminds us of Mary, the mother of Christ.

So here is St. Paul, writing from prison, encouraging us to rejoice. Epaphroditus, a man from the congregation in Philippi, has just made a visit to Paul, a visit during which Epaphroditus fell ill. Now he is well and is returning to his home congregation. He has brought gifts and support from the Philippians to Paul. Even as they are facing persecution, they reach out to him and support him. Even as he is in prison, he tells them to rejoice. He has been through every trial that one could imagine, including arrest and threats to his life. From that cauldron of challenge and threat and adversity he writes to share his God-given strength and faith with them. What does he say?  Here they are facing adversity, possibly death. And Paul says, “Let your gentleness be known to everyone.” Gentleness is not weakness. Gentleness does not mean that we are wimpy. It does not mean that we fail to take care of ourselves. Compassion is the true strength. One observer of the early Church said, “See these Christians, how they love one another.”

Paul says, “The Lord is near.” This can mean at least two things. One, Christ is coming to complete and heal the creation and make it whole. Two, Christ is right beside you. Christ is in our midst. Do not worry about anything. Someone has said that ninety-nine percent of the things we worry about never happen. Whenever we begin to worry, we need to stop that thought and begin to pray. Let us tell God what we are concerned about and thank God for being near so that we can ask for help. And the peace from God will guard us and keep us in a state of faith and hope and cooperation with God. This is a wonderful passage.

In our gospel, once again we encounter John the Baptist. He is telling us that we all need to examine our consciences and make the changes that are necessary to bring us into harmony with God. John is not vague. People ask him what they should do, and he tells us. Share with others, Help those who have little or nothing. Be honest. Live your lives with integrity. Don’t abuse power. Don’t be a bully.

But then he says the thing that makes him such a towering example. John is such a holy example that people think he is the Messiah. So he tells them, “Someone is coming, and I am not worthy to untie his shoe. I baptize with water to help you cleanse yourselves and prepare, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

John knows exactly who he is. He is not the messiah. He is very famous and he draws huge crowds, but he is not the messiah. And he knows that. He is not tempted to go for the fame and glory and power. He is not going to try to compete with Jesus. He is going to prepare the way.

Part of the work of Advent is for us to realize exactly who we are. We are all children of God, and this is one of the reasons that we can rejoice.

How can Paul write from prison to a congregation facing persecution and tell them to rejoice, let their gentleness be known to everyone, and not to worry? Because “The peace of Christ, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Because we have our Good Shepherd leading us into his peace and his victory, and because we are following him, we can actually stop worrying, trust him, and abide in his peace. In other words, we can turn our worrying into praying and trust that God is working to make all things right.

There is much to be concerned about in our world today, and each of us has personal concerns for family members and other people we love. We all have many things that we can worry about. I am not suggesting that we should all become complacent. What I am suggesting is that, when we begin to worry or fret, that we immediately pray about that matter, whatever it may be, and put it into God’s hands. If we start to worry about it again, we give it to God again. We may have to do this hundreds of times a day. But gradually God will work with that issue and we will be changed.

One way to do this is to say something like, “Dear Lord, I’m worrying about that again. It’s too big for me to handle. I offer it to you, I put it in your hands. Your will be done. Amen.

That is how Paul can say, “Do not worry about anything.” Because God calls us to turn our worries into prayers. May we trust God in all things. May our prayers increase our trust and faith in God.  Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice.  Amen.