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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion March 26, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion April 2, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion April 9, 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:…

Easter 5, May 22, 2011

Easter 5A RCL May 22, 2011

Acts 7:55-60
Psalm 31: 1-5; 15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
John 14; 1-14

In our reading from the Book of Acts, Stephen, one of the first seven deacons of the Church, has preached a sermon tracing the history of God’s people from Abraham to Solomon. In his sermon, Stephen has emphasized God’s care and faithfulness, but he has also pointed out the long history of human failure to follow God’s guidance. This enrages the religious authorities. Stephen is subjected to a hearing before the council of elders and then he is stoned to death, becoming the first Christian martyr. Stephen’s prayer for his persecutors echoes the prayer of Jesus on the cross.

Our epistle is addressed to churches in Asia Minor. These communities were composed of gentiles who were resident aliens and household slaves. In other words, they were at the bottom of the social scale and suffered various forms of persecution. The writer encourages them and us by saying that as a community of faith we are one in Jesus and we share in his ministry.

Our gospel for today is part of Jesus’ final discourse and prayer. He and the disciples have shared the last supper; he has told them he is going to die, and, of course, they are feeling awful because he will no longer be with them.

He tells them not to be troubled. He says that he will make a place for them. “In my father’s house there are many dwelling places.” Heaven is an inclusive place. There is room for everyone.

He says “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” The revered biblical scholar William Barclay has a great analogy about this. He asks us to imagine ourselves in a strange town. We ask directions. The person we have asked says go here, turn right there, turn left there, and on and on with very specific directions. We are lost before we get halfway there. Barclay says, “But suppose the person we ask says, ‘Come on, I’ll take you there.’” Barclay says that that’s what Jesus does for us. Barclay writes, “He not only gives us advice and directions. He takes us by the hand and leads us. He strengthens and guides us personally every day. He does not tell us about the Way. He is the Way.”

Jesus is the truth. Jesus’ whole life conveys the truth he came to teach.
A careful reading of the gospels teaches us what the life in Christ is about. When Jesus says that he is the truth, he does not mean a narrow truth; he means the deep, almost unfathomable truth of the love and transforming power of God. In his book Saving Jesus from the Church,
Robin Myers, a pastor in the United Church of Christ and a professor of Philosophy at Oklahoma City University, writes: “The truth of which Jesus speaks is wisdom incarnate, not intellectual assent to cogent arguments made on behalf of God. Indeed, a quick glance around this broken world makes it painfully obvious that we don’t need more arguments on behalf of God, we need more people who live as if they are in covenant with Unconditional Love, which is our best definition of God.” (p. 21.)

Does this passage mean that Jesus is the only way to God? Scholars tell us that John’s community was a Jewish Christian community that had been expelled from the synagogue because they were following Jesus. There was a theological battle going on. The way I would interpret these words for today is to say that we have experienced a deep and transforming relationship with Jesus. He is changing our lives. Come and join us in this new life. When Jesus says that he is the life, he means life in and with that loving God. The call to follow Jesus is inclusive, not exclusive. He welcomes everyone.

To see Jesus is to see what God is like. He did not come as a king, although he could have. No. he came as a vulnerable baby. He underwent the entire process of gestation and birth. We could say he took no shortcuts. He was the son of a carpenter and learned the carpenter’s trade. He knows what it is like to put in a hard day’s work, to have customers who are hard to please. He had struggles—the temptation in the wilderness, the agony in the garden, the death of Lazarus. He cared intensely about people. He touched lepers; he reached out to those who were held in low esteem. This spoke volumes to those resident aliens and slaves addressed in First Peter. With Jesus, everyone was respected. He called everyone to become his or her best self. With unswerving courage he went to a deeper level of truth, the level of the spirit rather than the letter. He broke the rules. He got into trouble with those who had worldly power and he hung on a cross, a punishment reserved for the lowest of the low, common criminals.

In Jesus we see God living a human life. There is something incredibly compelling about the life and teaching and person of Jesus. How blessed we are to have this living example of love and courage and integrity and all the other qualities we would hope to have—as the blueprint for our own lives. Jesus is the Word, the logos, the plan, the model for our lives. he has gone before us in the way that the shepherd goes before the flock, opening the path, making the way for us. He knows what life is. He knows what death is. In a way that we will never be able to understand, he has risen and is with us. We cannot understand it on a logical level but we can experience him and his love and his power—here, now, in this banquet at which he is the host, in close moments of sharing with others, in the presence of God as revealed in nature, and in many other ways, he is with us, still leading and guiding us.

Look around you. Each face is the face of your risen Lord. Every person is an alter Christus—an other Christ. When you look into the mirror, there you will see the face of God. And as you look around at these very ordinary and very extraordinary people, you will see in others and in yourself, theotokos, God bearers, members of Jesus’ living body.


Easter 4, May 15, 2011

Easter 4A RCL v.2 May 15, 2011

Acts 2: 42-47
Psalm 23
1 Peter 2: 19-25
John 10: 1-10

During the Easter season, we are doing a continuous reading of the Book of Acts. Last week, Peter concluded his powerful sermon explaining the identity and ministry of Christ. Three thousand people were baptized. This week, we look in on the life of the early Christian community.

Our passage says, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Scholars tell us that this means that they probably gathered on a daily basis; they engaged in education, what we would call Christian formation, they talked about what they had learned from the apostles. They shared fellowship, discussing their insights and realizations regarding the Faith. And they shared in the breaking of the bread and the prayers. Scholars think this means that they ate together and they shared Eucharist together on a daily basis. They also shared all their resources in common. And they went daily to the temple because they still considered themselves to be Jewish. It was only later that they split off from Judaism. Finally, their community grew and wonderful, almost miraculous things happened.

Our gospel for today is the beginning of Chapter 10 of John’s gospel. Later, Jesus will tell us that he is the Good Shepherd. Today, he says that he is the gate for the sheep. This passage follows the story of the healing of the blind man, in which the Pharisees question the healing and also question Jesus’ authority to heal.

Scholars tell us that, in describing himself as the Good Shepherd, Jesus is sharing his concept of leadership. This contrasts the leadership of the Pharisees. The Good Shepherd knows each member of the flock, and each member of the flock recognizes the shepherd’s voice and follows the shepherd.

These passages led me to think about Anthony Robinson’s book, Changing the Conversation. Several of us have been reading this book, in preparation for our special convention on June 4, when Anthony Robinson will be making a presentation.

For the first three centuries of its life, the Church was a minority that was often persecuted and always marginalized. When Emperor Constantine took steps to make Christianity the state religion in the fourth century A.D., things changed in a huge way. Over time, the Church became part of the political power structure.

This is what Robinson calls the Christendom Church. The Church had a great deal of power; it was where you met all the movers and shakers; it was fashionable to go to church. Now, in the post-Christendom era, the Church is no longer the center of the community, the Church no longer has the influence it once had, and church attendance is no longer a social requirement. In many ways, Christianity is seen by many as irrelevant.

Along with many other writers, Robinson is encouraging us to look at the Book of Acts and the epistles of the New Testament to find our best models for how to be the Church. He talks about the idea that the church needs to shift from a culture of membership to a culture of discipleship, that we as the church are called to deepen our discipleship so that we can go out into the world and help others to become disciples of Jesus.

Robinson says that we need to focus on Christian formation for all ages. This would include learning about about the life and ministry of Christ, the basics of the Faith, Church history, liturgy, Scripture, ethics, and other topics we need to know about. Robinson says that clergy need to be not only pastors but also “preachers and teachers who build up the church on a theological basis.” (p. 85.)

He says that one way of doing this all ages formation is to have a two hour service each Sunday with the first hour being the all ages Christian formation time and the second hour being Holy Eucharist. He encourages us to take time to reflect on what approach would work for us. While I think most of us would find two hours of programming each Sunday to be a bit much, I think maybe we could consider one Sunday a month to do something like this. Actually, this is a goal we had set earlier in our mutual ministry reviews—to have an all-ages Christian formation session once a month. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this topic.

I think Robinson is saying that true leadership involves helping congregations to be articulate Christians out in the world and to do ministry in the world around us. He points out that for the post- Christendom Church, our mission field is our surrounding communities, not far off countries.

He also says that we need to identify our purpose—“Why are we here?’ and then ask God’s help in shaping our vision—“What is God calling us to do in the next three to five to ten years?” (p. 121.) Obviously, this needs to be done in a thoughtful and prayerful way. One ministry I am quite certain Grace will continue in the coming years is Summer Music at Grace. The Public Value of this ministry is $74,955.84. A community value of almost $75,000. Amazing.

I hope we will have a chance to discuss Robinson’s book and some of his ideas. Robinson talks about a leadership team in each congregation, large and small. For us, that would be all of us. I think his ideas are in very much in harmony with the concepts of baptismal ministry, which is something we are trying to live out in our journey together. I hope that we can continue to build our leadership team here at Grace, so that we can continue to grow in our ability to exercise our ministries out in the world.

One of the most important things about Jesus’ leadership was and is that he calls all of us to share in his ministry. The whole idea of baptismal ministry, team ministry, and mutual ministry comes from him.

Lord Jesus,
Thank you for being our Good Shepherd. Thank you for knowing us so well and for loving us so deeply. Thank you for making us part of your risen and living body. Help us to listen for your voice, answer your call, follow where you lead, and share your love with others. In your name we pray. Amen

Easter 3, May 8, 2011

Easter 3A RCL May 8, 2011

Acts 2: 14a, 36-41
Psalm 116: 1-3, 10-17
1 Peter 1: 17-23
Luke 24: 13-35

Peter’s sermon which we read today takes place after the Holy Spirit descends in tongues of fire at the Feast of Pentecost. Peter calls upon the people to be baptized and become followers of the risen Lord, and three thousand persons respond. Peter very clearly tells them that the Jesus who was crucified and the one who has risen are the same person.

Peter, or more likely, a disciple of Peter, expands on this theme in the epistle He tells us that through Christ we have come to trust in God, who raised Jesus from the dead. He calls upon us to “Love one another deeply from the heart.” He tells us that we have been “born anew, through the living and enduring word of God.”

In our gospel for today, it is evening on the first Easter day. Two of Jesus’ followers are going from Jerusalem to Emmaus, talking about all the things which have happened. Jesus joins them and walks along, but they do not recognize him. He asks them what they are discussing and they are astounded. “Are you the only one who doesn’t know what has happened?” they ask. And then they explain step by step about how the authorities had Jesus condemned and killed and how the women went to the tomb early that morning and found it empty and how they had seen angels who told them that he was alive, and how they came back and told the others, and the others went and saw the tomb empty but did not see Jesus. And then Jesus speaks to them and tells them about how the prophets had foretold the messiah.

Then they reach the village of Emmaus and he acts as if he is going to go on, but they urge him to stay with them, for the night is coming. They extend hospitality to him, still not knowing who he is.

And then he takes the bread, blesses the bread, and breaks it and gives it to them just as he did with the apostles at the Last Supper. This is the basic action of the Eucharist: to take, bless, break, and give. Even though they have invited him into their home, he is the host at this feast of his presence, and they recognize him. Then he vanishes, and they reflect on this wonderful experience. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was taking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

Then they get up and go back to Jerusalem and they find the eleven and their companions still gathered together. Still praying, still a community of faith. And the eleven are saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” As they share with each other, they are echoing each other’s experiences of his presence.

In these post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, there is something different about him. He is the same person, but he has been transformed, so that his followers do not always recognize him. In this case, though, the breaking of the bread conveys the reality of his presence. They know who he is, and then they are able to go back in their minds and reflect on how he has affected them, how he has helped them to understand so clearly what the scriptures say about the messiah and his ministry.

As we move on through the Easter season, we will experience more of these encounters that people have with Jesus, people who thought it was all over, that he was dead and gone, and that his vision and his ministry would die with him. And then, more and more people see him and the word spreads: he is risen!

If he came and joined us as we were walking somewhere, would we recognize him? Would he look somehow different from what we expected? Would we be so discouraged that our perception might be a bit blinded? But the whole point is that he always manages to do whatever is necessary to allow these discouraged followers to realize that it is he, that he has come through it all, and that he is with them, to teach them, to give them hope, to welcome them into newness of life, here and now.

He is walking with us right now. And I believe that we are here because, in some sense, we know that, and we want to be with him, to learn from him and follow him and do his work, and build a world that is in harmony with his ministry and his teachings and his life and the life that he shares with us.

Though he walked this earth a long time ago, two thousand years ago, and though we have not literally seen him, we have indeed seen him and we have walked with him, and we believe in him, and we want to continue to be close to him. He is present with us in the breaking of the bread; he is the host and we are his guests at the best thanksgiving feast ever. Eucharist means thanksgiving in Greek.

Our hearts can still be set on fire with his love all these years after his earthly ministry. Millions of people gather with him on a daily basis all over the face of the earth. Millions of lives are buoyed up with faith and hope as a result of his birth, death, and resurrection. Because he has faced death in all its forms and come through on the other side, risen and transformed, we can experience life in an entirely new way, and we are in a process of transformation.

Risen Lord, be known to us on the breaking of the bread. Open the eyes of our faith that we may see you, listen to you, and follow you.