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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion June 4, 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:…
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The Day of Pentecost May 27, 2012

Acts 2: 1-21
Psalm 104: 24-34, 35b
Romans 8: 22-27
John 15: 26-27, 16: 4b-15

Today is the feast of Pentecost. This is the culmination of the Great Fifty Days of Easter. Easter is not just one day. It is a whole season of the Church year, a season during which we light the Paschal candle to symbolize the presence of the risen Christ and our new life in and with him.

During the Easter season, all of our lessons each Sunday have been from the New Testament, or Greek Scriptures. We have been with the disciples as the risen Christ has appeared to them. We have been with our Lord as he has told us that he is our Good Shepherd and that he is the Vine and we are the branches.  In our readings from the Book of Acts, we have seen how the early Church proclaimed the Good News of new life in Christ and how Peter and the others realized that this new faith was for everyone.

In our Gospel for today, Jesus is telling his followers that he has to go to the Father. They are devastated. What will they do without him? He tells them that it is to their advantage that he is going, because, if he does not go away, the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will not be able to come to them. He says that he has many things to say to them, but they cannot bear them now. He tells them that, when the Spirit of truth comes, the Spirit will guide them into all the truth.

Our Lord has ascended. He is no longer physically here. But he has sent the Holy Spirit to guide us into all the truth. We are his Body here on earth.

As St. Teresa of Avila wrote,

 “Christ has no body now but yours.
No hands, no feet, on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which He looks compassion on the world.
Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good.
Yours are the hands with which He blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are His body.”

The Spirit is the life-energy in the Body of Christ. The Spirit is like the life-giving sap in the vine. It’s the electrochemical energy of life in the Body. The Spirit strengthens us to pray the prayer of Christ, learn the mind of Christ, and do the deeds of Christ. The Spirit guides us into all the truth, but it is not a black and white, narrow truth; it is a multifaceted, rich, deep, broad, inclusive truth grounded in love and compassion.

In our reading from the Book of Acts, Chapter 2, we experience again the inspiring account of the coming of the Spirit. The Day of Pentecost is a Jewish feast. The faithful have come from all over the world to celebrate. The disciples are in the house where they have been living and praying together. The Spirit descends with a great wind, like the desert ruach, and flames dance over the heads of the disciples. There is a great noise. People gather. And this little band of Galileans speak in languages that people from all over the world can understand. Jesus’ Followers are able to speak the love of God to all these people, heart to heart.

In our epistle from the Letter to the Romans, Paul says that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains. The creation is trying to give birth to the shalom of God, the kingdom of peace, harmony, and wholeness. We groan, too, as we see people killing each other, people starving, people with no shelter, injustice of various kinds, instead of God’s reign of peace.

But we have hope because we know God’s vision for the world and we work and wait with patience because we know that God’s Spirit is at work in us and in the world. The Spirit helps us at all times. The Spirit even helps us when we do not know how to pray, as the text says,  “interceding for us with sighs too deep for words.”

Jesus has called us his friends, and he has sent the Holy Spirit to give us hope and strength. Because of his love, we are as close to God, and Jesus, and the Spirit, as we are to our own breath.

“Christ has no body now but yours.”

 Just as truly as 2,000 years ago, the Spirit is with us now, pouring out gifts so that we can share the Good News just as the apostles did, so that we can help  to bring in God’s shalom and speak God’s love heart to heart with everyone we meet. 


Seventh Sunday of Easter Year B RCL May 20, 2012

Acts 1: 15-17, 21-26
Psalm 1
1 John 5: 9-15
John 17: 6-19

In our reading from the Book of Acts, Jesus has ascended into heaven. Peter tells the community of Jesus’ followers that one of the men who have been with Jesus through all his earthly ministry must be chosen to replace Judas, who has betrayed Jesus. Whoever is chosen must be someone who has been with Jesus since his baptism and has endured  all the challenges, including the horror of the crucifixion and the joy of the resurrection. It has to be someone who has had the courage and the faith to abide–to hang in there through it all.

They pray, and Matthias is chosen. What does this tell us, here in the twenty-first century? It tells us that the work and ministry of Jesus will always continue, even in the face of a betrayal by one of his closest associates.

It also tells us something else. We never hear another word about Matthias or Justus, the other candidate. We had not heard their names before this moment, Yet they had both faithfully followed Jesus everywhere he went. They had learned from him, eaten meals with him, and, we assume, they had gone out when he sent his disciples out to teach and heal in his name. Like so many of us, they were faithful but quiet followers. There are so many people who go about their ministries in Jesus’ name, faithfully sharing his love and healing, and don’t make a big fuss about it.  All of you are such people, and I thank God for all the quiet faithful folk who love to do Jesus’ will.

Our epistle today says so much in so few words. One of the things it says is that the fact of knowing Jesus, of being numbered by him as among his friends, is the greatest gift we will ever receive. Knowing him changes our lives, places our lives on a new plane. Herbert O’Driscoll writes, “[John] and other Christians are utterly convinced that their relationship with Jesus Christ has given them a quality of being alive that puts them in touch with ultimate reality. They express this experience in the phrase eternal life. This quality of being alive is so deep, so all-embracing, that once they possess it, they cannot conceive of it being available from any other source. “The Word Today, Year B, Vol. 3, p. 93.

In our Gospel for today, Jesus is praying for the disciples. I believe he is also praying for us, and I suggest that we read this prayer as though it is for us. Jesus has made known to us the nature of God, the love, the forgiveness, the high standards of conduct which God calls us to live up to.

Jesus prays to God to protect us as he, the Good Shepherd, guarded us.

He prays to God that his joy may be made complete in us.  We so often forget that joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit, and that Jesus wants us to be people of joy. This doesn’t mean that we have to walk around with fake smiles pasted on our faces. It means that, no matter how challenging life gets, no matter how many reasons there might be to become cynical and give up, we remain people of hope, joy, and faith.

Jesus is saying that we are his. We belong to him.

L. P. Jones, Pastor of Mt. Washington Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, has a story about this.  “As a young teenager, I had the privilege of being pitcher on our Pony League baseball team. I could throw reasonably hard and accurately, but often lacked confidence.

When I arrived at the park at the beginning of one season, our coach, Coach Crump, handed me a ball and told me I was pitching against last year’s championship team. I evidently did not respond enthusiastically, because Coach Crump looked at me and asked, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ What followed was not my proudest moment. I whined, ‘We lost to them three times last year. I’m not sure I’m good enough.’ Coach Crump placed his hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye, and said, ‘You let me worry about them. You’re on my team and I want you to pitch.’ Then he told me again to warm up and walked away.

“Playing for Coach Crump was not a small thing. At the end of the previous year, as we took infield practice before a game, our third baseman made a throw to me at first base that I missed. The ball slammed into Coach Crump’s head and he crumpled to the ground. He was hospitalized for several days. Yet, when the new season began, Coach Crump returned to the team. I never wanted to pitch well as much as that evening when he told me I was his and handed me the ball. Forget about self-confidence. I was pitching for Coach Crump.

 “Unless we consider baptism and other calls to ministry as solely human acts, they confirm that we belong to God and that Jesus commissions us for ministry.” (L. P. Jones, New Proclamation Year B 2012, p. 60.)

Jesus is alive, and he commissions us for ministry. He calls us to use our gifts. Combined with his grace, our gifts can go far. We have all the gifts we need in order to do the ministry we are called to do. That is one basic tenet of baptismal ministry, We don’t have to be flashy or dramatic. Think of Matthias and Justus. They were quiet and faithful. That’s a fine model for us to follow.

We belong to Jesus. He is putting his hand on our shoulder and asking us to minister in his name.                                     


Sixth Sunday of Easter Year B RCL May 13, 2012

Acts 10: 44-48
Psalm 98
1 John 5: 1-6
John 15: 9-17

There is quite an action-packed story leading up to our reading from the Book of Acts for today. First, an angel has appeared in a vision and has given some instructions to Cornelius, a Roman centurion, that is, a military man in command of 100 men. The text tells us that Cornelius is a devout man who worships God and gives alms to the poor, but he has not joined the Jewish faith. Cornelius lives in Caesarea. The angel has told Cornelius to send a messenger to Peter, who is staying in Joppa with a man named Simon the Tanner.

Then Peter, miles away in Joppa, falls into a trance while praying and has his life-changing vision of a sheet coming down from heaven The voice of God says, “Get up, Peter, and eat.” But Peter tells God that he would never eat anything unclean. Three times the voice says to Peter, “What God has made clean, you shall not call profane.” The sheet rises up to heaven.

Peter is “greatly puzzled” about this vision. After all, God is telling him that the dietary laws are no longer necessary. As he is trying to figure all this out, the men sent by Cornelius arrive. Peter can hear them asking for the house of Simon the Tanner and, once they arrive at the house, he can hear them asking for him. Meanwhile, the Spirit tells Peter that these men are searching for him and that Peter should go with them because the Spirit has sent them. So Peter goes and talks with the men, and the next morning Peter and some of the other  followers of Jesus from Joppa go along as well. The next day, they arrive at  the home of Cornelius, who has assembled quite a large group of people to hear what Peter has to say.  Like the Ethiopian man, Cornelius is a seeker, and he has been praying to God to sent him guidance.

Peter tells the people that he has learned that nothing is unclean to God. All his life Peter, as a Jew, has felt that he should not associate with Gentiles, but, because of this powerful vision which he experienced, he knows that those barriers are coming down. He goes on to preach his wonderful sermon which begins, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality…” And then explain the meaning of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

While Peter is still speaking, the Holy Spirit falls on the people–Jews and Gentiles alike. They begin to speak in tongues, showing forth one of the gifts of the Spirit. Peter echoes the thoughts of the Ethiopian man who asked, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” Peter says, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit as we have?”

The early followers of Jesus had assumed that they were a part of the Jewish faith. The early Church had arguments about whether to follow the Jewish dietary laws and whether they still had to observe the Law of Moses. This experience of Peter and the friends and family of Cornelius makes it clear that the new faith is for everyone.

L. P. Jones, Pastor of Mount Washington Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, writes, “Peter’s experience warns members of the faith community not to use indelible ink with any dividing lines we draw. The Holy Spirit moves at will, falling on whomever the Spirit chooses. When the gifts of the Spirit appear, the faithful look for ways to affirm and participate, even if that challenges our carefully drawn and sometimes cherished boundaries.  Easter focuses on what God alone can do. God alone decides who receives the gifts of the Spirit.  God calls and challenges us to recognize and give thanks for those gifts no matter where or on whom they appear.” Jones, New Proclamation 2012, p. 46.

Jones’ words and the message of this text seem especially relevant in this post-Christendom era. The Holy Spirit is at work bringing in the shalom of Christ. But the Spirit knows no bounds and is not enclosed within the walls of the Church. In fact, many thinkers are saying that the Church, or some churches, will need to die in order to bring the new life. The Holy Spirit is at work wherever the fruits of the Spirit grow—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

The Spirit is at work as a Peace Corps volunteer, who would never darken the door of a church, helps African villagers to dig wells so that they can have clean drinking water and better sanitation. The Spirit is at work as a Muslim physician gives excellent care to her patients in an inner-city clinic in Detroit. The Spirit is at work as Jan tends to a child who has wet the bed, as Frank takes a discouraged young man out fishing, listens to what he has to say, and helps him get his mind of those nagging problems for a few hours.

Jesus is telling us to abide in his love. He has assured us of his love, and he does that constantly. And he tells us that he has come among us so that his joy may be in us, and so that our joy may be complete. He has given us one key commandment, to love one another as he has loved us. We are blessed; we are fortunate. We know how much God loves us. That gives us faith and joy and hope. But faith is, after all, a gift, and we should never get smug or feel superior because we are aware of this gift.

Jesus today gives us an inexpressibly special gift: he calls us his friends, not his servants, or his followers, or his disciples, but his friends. That is a great gift. And he calls us to bear fruit, fruit that lasts. And, most of all, he calls us to love one another. These words are addressed to his followers, to us. As we get to know each other more deeply, as we become aware of our differences, we are to continue to love each other because his love is what has drawn us together.

Last Sunday we had our first Confirmation/Baptismal Ministry gathering. I found it very moving to hear everyone share his or her journey. I believe that sharing of that kind brings us closer together. I already had deep love for everyone in the group, but that love became stronger as a result of our sharing. Thanks to all who took the time to be together and share. This is the foundation for our ministry beyond Grace Church. From here, we go out to share the love of Christ. Many times, in our ministries, we show the love of God and Jesus and the Spirit without saying that’s what we are doing. Many times the ethics of our professions or our workplaces and even the law of the land require that we avoid discussing our faith. I believe that the Spirit works through our actions in those situations. Every day, in the things you do for others, you are showing forth the love of Christ. Every day, in your ministries, the Spirit is at work.


Easter 5B RCL May 6, 2012

Acts 8: 26-40
Psalm 22: 24-30
1 John 4: 7-21
John 15: 1-8

The Book of Acts tells the story of the earliest followers of Jesus. It is an exciting and dramatic story. In today’s episode, an angel tells Philip, one of the first deacons, to go to the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. This is a wilderness road and could be dangerous.

There, riding in a chariot, is an Ethiopian eunuch, a man in charge of the treasury of the Queen of Ethiopia. He had come to the temple in Jerusalem to worship and was now headed home. Scholars tell us that eunuchs were not allowed in the temple, so this man was not able to enter and worship. But he has not given up his search for God. He is reading aloud from the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah.

The Spirit tells Philip to go to the chariot. Every step Philip takes is guided by God. Philip runs to the chariot and hears the man reading. Philip asks the man whether he knows what he is reading. The man says, “How can I know unless someone guides me?” How true. Over the years, we have found that the scriptures are best read and understood in community.

Philip joins the man in the chariot. The passage is about the sheep being led to the slaughter. Philip tells the man the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus. They come to some water. The man asks, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” Philip goes into the water with the man and baptizes him. Then Philip is whisked away to proclaim the good news. The Ethiopian man, newly baptized, continues on his journey, but he will never be the same. May we, like Philip, listen for the leadings of the Spirit and follow them. May we, like the Ethiopian man, study the scriptures and seek deeper and deeper faith in God. Imagine! The good news is already spreading to Ethiopia.

Our epistle today continues the discussion of love. Love is from God. We are called to love one another. God loved us and sent his Son to be with us. God is the source of all love. If we love God, we will love our brothers and sisters.

The word meno, translated live, abide, dwell, last, and endure, is a key word in John’s writings. God’s love abides with us, endures with us through everything.

In our gospel we have John’s very powerful image of the relationship between Jesus and each of us and the relationship among all of us. Jesus is the Vine. We are the branches. The branches cannot exist without the Vine. The Vine is full of God’s energy, love, and healing. Through baptism, we are grafted onto the Vine. The sap, the life-force, the love, the healing, all flow from him to us. Those energies flow throughout all the branches This includes all who have gone before us— people like Laura, whose 100th birthday we celebrated last week. It also includes all the people who are here now. And all the people who are yet to be born.

That sap, energy, life, love, and healing flow to us so that we can bear fruit. The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Notice that love comes first. These are the marks of Christ’s community of faith. Our main calling is to love each other. From this community of love, we go out into the world to share the good news. Like Philip, we listen for the guidance of the Spirit and go where God leads us.

Today we will have the first of our Confirmation/Baptismal Ministry gatherings. We will share our spiritual journeys. How did we learn about Jesus and how did we decide we want to follow him? What has led us to this point? Who have been our guides, as Philip was a guide for this Ethiopian seeker?

Even if you are already confirmed, I invite you to join us for these gatherings. Sharing our journeys and learning together are important ways to strengthen our connections to the Vine and each other. These classes are designed to strengthen our faith and equip us for our ministries out in the world.

Christ is the Vine. We are the branches. We are the body of the risen Lord, doing his work in the world. We are beloved of God. May we abide in that love and share that love with others.  Amen.

Easter 4B RCL

Acts 4: 5-12
Psalm 23
1 John 3: 16-24
John 10: 11-18

Our reading from the Book of Acts has a story behind it.  It is the account of the first healing reported in the Book of Acts. Peter and John had been on their way to pray at the temple in Jerusalem. On their way, they saw some people carrying a lame man and placing him beside the Beautiful Gate so that he could beg for money.

The man asks Peter and John for alms. He has been lame from birth and this is how he earns his living. Peter tells him that he does not have money. Peter says that his gift to this man is to say to him, “In the Name of Jesus of Nazareth, stand up and walk,” Peter takes the man’s hand and helps him to stand, and the text says that, while this was happening, “his feet and ankles were made strong.” The man enters the temple with Peter and John, “walking and leaping and praising God.”

For years people have known this man who has lain by the Beautiful Gate asking for alms. Now they see him leaping into the air and praising God. They think Peter is a miracle worker. In our passage for last Sunday, Peter was making it clear that this healing is the work of God. Peter preaches the good news of Christ and calls the people to repent.

The religious authorities don’t like this new teaching, so they have Peter and John arrested. Our reading today is Peter’s response.  He and John are being questioned because of a good deed done to someone who was sick. The healing was done in the Name of Jesus, the chief cornerstone who was rejected by the authorities.

One scholar says, “The authorities have the power to place in custody those who did a good deed to a lame man, but they do not have access to the power that healed the man.” As St. Francis pointed out, we are channels for God’s peace, love, and healing.

In today’s psalm and gospel, we have the beloved image of our Lord as the Good Shepherd. In all of our readings for today, we are looking at two opposing concepts of power. One is what we would call imperium, or tyranny, the kind of power that arrests people for doing healings outside the established structure in order to protect its own turf, and the other is the true authority of Christ, the kind of power that heals, that places love and compassion first, and leads people into new life, the kind of power in vulnerability that gives its own life in order to pour the love and energy of that life into us.

Today’s gospel follows Jesus’ healing of the man born blind. Remember, Jesus made a little poultice of saliva and dirt, put it on the man’s eyes, told him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam, and, amazingly, the man could see. The authorities didn’t like that, either. They questioned the man over and over. And finally they confronted Jesus. After a short discussion of blindness and light and seeing, we get the distinct idea that the spiritual leaders are quite blind in a spiritual sense. Whenever we see Jesus pointing out the errors of the spiritual leaders of his time, that is our reminder to work very hard and pray very hard to avoid falling into the same mistakes.

When Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd, he is contrasting himself with the kinds of leaders who punish people for acts of healing and compassion. As we carry out our baptismal ministry, this image of the good shepherd is one of our major blueprints. So let’s look at it carefully.

First, the biblical shepherd is out in front of the flock. There are no border collies doing the herding. The shepherd is out in front, spotting any possible dangers. He or she leads the flock to good pasture, to pure water, to safety. The reality we need to get from this is that Jesus has gone ahead of us through anything we might experience. Success, failure, loss, disappointment, confusion, illness, injury, everything. He has gone through it. No matter what we may experience, he has been there and he is there with us as we go through it.

Second, the biblical shepherd takes risks in order to protect the sheep. Unlike to religious leaders who were questioning Peter and John and Jesus and the blind man, the shepherd is not out to protect his turf, keep himself or herself safe, and accumulate more and more power. The shepherd is there to nurture the sheep. See how this resonates with those two views of power in the readings.

In biblical times and even today in the Middle East, the sheep know the shepherd’s voice and they follow their own shepherd. Various scholars write about this. Sometimes the shepherds will bring the sheep in to the village for the night and there is a safe place for the sheep. Sometimes it will have a high wall and a thick gate guarded by someone overnight. Sometimes it will be a fenced in area or even a cave. Several shepherds will place their flocks there together. In the morning, the shepherds will come to get their sheep. As each shepherd gives his unique call, his flock will follow. Each shepherd knows his sheep. The sheep are often named. This is a very intimate relationship.

Our Good Shepherd knows us in and out and loves us, warts and all. He calls us to follow him. He knows all the good water holes and the plants to avoid. He has ways of fending off wolves. He is our leader on this journey.

The journey is not about protecting our position and power. It’s not about making sure that nobody heals anybody without our approval. It’s not about accumulating wealth and power and prestige and being able to control people. Jesus is constantly wanting to share his ministry with us so that more people will be healed, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Jesus does not hold on to power. He shares it. He calls us to be channels for his love and healing.

May we listen for the call of our Good Shepherd. May we love and serve others in his name.


Easter 3B RCL April 22, 2012

Acts 3: 12-19
Psalm 4
1 John 3: 1-7
Luke 24: 36b-48

In the portion of the Book of Acts which precedes our first reading this morning, Peter and John had been on their way to the temple for the hour of prayer at three o’clock when they saw a man lame from birth being carried in. People would carry this man in and put him near the place called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask people for money in order to survive.

The text tells us that this man asks Peter and John for alms. Peter looks intently at the man and asks the man to look at him. They make eye contact. The man looks at Peter expecting to receive money.  Peter says he has no money to give the man, but he says his gift to the man is to say to him, “In the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” Peter then takes the man by the hand, and the text says that, as he stands up, “his feet and ankles [are] made strong.” The man enters the temple with Peter and John “walking and leaping and praising God.”

For years, people have known this man who lies by the Beautiful Gate and begs for a living. Now they see him leaping into the air and praising God. They think Peter is a miracle worker. In our passage for today, Peter is making clear that this healing is the work of God. A wise person once said that one of the wonderful things about being  Christians is that, when good things happen, we know whom to thank. Peter is emphasizing this point.

Our reading from the First Letter of John reminds us that we are all children of God.

Today’s gospel comes just after the risen Jesus has appeared to two of his followers on the road to Emmaus.  At first, the two disciples don’t realize that the stranger walking with them is Jesus. But, when he joins them for supper, they recognize him in the breaking of the bread. These two disciples have rushed back to Jerusalem to tell the apostles that the Lord is risen. When they enter the room where the apostles are gathered, the apostles and their companions are jumping for joy and shouting, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Adding to the joy, the two disciples tell what happened on the road and how they recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread.

Then, once again, Jesus appears. “Peace be with you, “ he says. But they are terrified, They think he is a ghost. He points out his hands and his feet to make it clear that it is he and that he is truly alive. He invites them to touch him. They are afraid.. He looks different.They are still having a hard time believing it, but joy is beginning to bubble up. Then he asks a question—a simple, homey, human question. A question that probably made them smile. “Do you have anything to eat?” He is actually hungry. Dead people don’t have much of an appetite. Asking for something to eat is a sure sign of being alive. It finally sinks in. He is alive! They give him a piece of broiled fish and he eats it with gusto.

Then he teaches them that everything that has happened is fulfilling the scriptures. He has died and risen again. They and we are to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations. In other words, we are called to share the good news of transformation and newness of life with everyone.

He is alive. He is risen and we are his body. Each of us has met the risen Christ or we wouldn’t be here now. Some of us have had our own agonizing night in the garden of our own Gethsemane wrestling with a decision whether to be our true self or not, to do the difficult right thing or the easy wrong thing.  Some of us have walked in the pre-dawn darkness to the tomb where our dreams lie dead and buried only to find our risen Lord leading us in a totally new and unimagined life-giving and transforming direction. Some of us have walked down that road thinking that all is lost. There was real hope for creating a world that is based on compassion and makes sense, and now all is lost. And then he comes and shows us the way to hope and life and meaning.

In one way or another, we all know that he is alive, and that we are alive in him. Every time we share the meal he has given us, he becomes known to us in the breaking of the bread. Our hearts are warmed by his presence and his teaching and his love and wisdom.

All through the Great Fifty Days of Easter, until the Feast of Pentecost, we will be experiencing these encounters with the risen Lord.  We will get to know him better and better, and we will be more and more empowered to share his healing, loving, and transforming presence with others.

Risen Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the bread.


Easter 2B RCL April 15, 2012

Acts 4: 32-35
Psalm 133
1 John 1: 1-2:2
John 20: 19-31

In our collect for today, we pray, “Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in our lives what we profess by our faith. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

 Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines “to reconcile” as “to restore to friendship or harmony.” Our ministry of reconciliation widens this meaning to include the vision of God’s shalom, in which the whole creation is in harmony. There is no war, only peace. Everyone’s basic needs are met. No one goes hungry. All are clothed. All receive basic medical care. Everyone has constructive work to do. Our planet is cherished and cared for. A tall order.

In today’s gospel, Mary Magdalene has told the apostles, “I have seen the Lord.” But they don’t quite believe that Jesus could be alive. Jesus comes through walls of fear and doubt. They see him and believe. They tell Thomas that he is risen, but Thomas can’t quite believe. He says he has to touch the wounds of Jesus before he will believe. Jesus returns. He is always more than willing to help us to increase our faith. Thomas doesn’t even have to touch the wounds. His prayer of recognition and adoration, “My Lord and my God,  says it all.

 Jesus breathes on them the spirit of his shalom, his kingdom of harmony and wholeness. That is the spirit they and we are called to share with others.

In our reading from the Book of Acts, we see an awe-inspiring picture of the early church community in Jerusalem. “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul.” We can assume that they did not agree on everything, but they “were of one heart and soul.” That is, they were together because they wanted to follow Jesus. Following him was the thing that brought them together. It was their main focal point. The text tells us that they did not own anything as individuals. They shared everything. Right after this passage, in Acts 4: 36-37, Barnabas sells a field and places the proceeds at the feet of the apostles to distribute among the members of the community. No one among them is needy. They are of one heart and soul, and that is the heart and soul of Christ. This spiritual focus governs their actions. They take care of each other.

Theologian Ira Brent Driggers writes, “Our conviction that we have new life in the risen Jesus does not eliminate our differences, but it outshines them. As that conviction shapes and guides us, we open ourselves to the ‘great grace’ of unity of heart and soul.” (New Proclamation 2012, p. 23.)

Our reading from the First Letter of John builds on these thoughts. We are called to walk in the light. Yes, we are going to make mistakes; yes, we are going to sin. Then we confess our faults and errors, and, with God’s grace, we get back on track. The beautiful hymn, “I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light” expresses this so well.

Jesus breathes on the apostles and on us and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” This is reminiscent of God’s breathing the breath of life into Adam at the creation. Jesus is breathing his Spirit, his life, and his heart and soul into us. He is calling us to follow him, not just intellectually, but in our hearts and spirits. He is calling us to carry his vision of shalom within us and to live into and out of that vision.

When we walk in the light, there is a certain lightness about us in the sense of illumination and in the sense of inner joy. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. No darkness can conquer that light. Nothing can discourage us. Nothing can keep us from caring for each other and extending that care to all we meet. Our Lord has breathed it into us.

That is the energy that animated the community we read about today, and I believe that is still a good model for us to follow. With Mary Magdalene and Thomas and the others, we have seen the Lord. He is risen, and we are here because we feel called to follow him.

May he bless and guide us every step of the way.   Amen.

Easter Sunday April 8, 2012

Acts 10: 34-43
Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24
1 Corinthians 15: 1-11
John 20: 1-18

We have walked the Way of the Cross with him. We have welcomed him as our King. We have shared the meal with him, the meal which he transformed from a Passover or fellowship meal into a way to call him into our midst, a way to allow him to feed and strengthen us. He washed our feet. Peter was so shocked he did not want the Lord to do a servant’s work, but, when Jesus said that we had to let him serve and help us and we had to be servants of each other, we all understood. Still, it was shocking, to have the Son of God washing our feet.

And then we went to the garden, and he prayed and struggled, and Judas pointed him out to the soldiers, and the road to the horror began. Peter denied him. He felt terrible about that until they were reconciled later. When Jesus asked him to feed his sheep. But that’s another story.

 There was the trial. You could tell that Pilate thought Jesus was innocent. The religious leaders said that they had no king but the emperor. That was the worst denial. And then there was the crucifixion. Hanging there in agony, he spoke to his mother and to John. He told John that Mary was now his mother, and he told Mary that John was now her son. Later, we realized that he was creating a whole new, big family of God’s beloved children.

According to religious law, the bodies had to be taken down before sundown. A stunning thing happened. Two courageous men, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, both of whom were members of the Sanhedrin, the religious ruling council, had been secret followers of Jesus—secret because they were afraid they would lose their positions and their lives.  Joseph asked for permission to take Jesus’ body. He and Nicodemus reverently wrapped Jesus’ beloved body in spices, and placed the body in a tomb. They rolled a huge boulder over the opening to the tomb.

So it was all over. All our hopes, all our dreams of a new and different world, his kingdom. We went to the room where we had been gathering and wept and prayed. 

The next day, before dawn, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb. When she arrived, she saw that the stone had been removed. She ran and found Peter and John. They raced to the tomb. They saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head in a separate place, neatly rolled up. They did not say anything to anyone else, but quietly went to their homes.

Mary Magdalene stayed at the tomb, weeping. She thought someone had taken the body of Jesus away. When she saw Jesus, she thought he was the gardener. He asked her why she was weeping, and she still did not realize who he was.  This happened to other people, too. We didn’t always realize who he was. He looked different. But when he called our name, or said to touch his hand or his side, or cooked us a fish breakfast on the shore, or broke bread with us, suddenly, we knew who he was.  She didn’t recognize him until he called her name, and then she was able to see and answer, Rabbi, Teacher. He told her to go and tell his followers that she had seen him. And so she went and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” And we have seen the risen Lord, too.

This year we have been thinking carefully and deeply about the nature of God. We have been looking at the reality that we don’t worship a God who controls and manages and fixes things for us. We worship a God who suffers. We worship a God who has actually given up power in order to let us have the gift of free will. We worship a God who loves us and calls us to love God back.

If we have ever suffered, if we have lost a child, been diagnosed with something serious, lost a job, felt betrayed by a friend, or sunk into the bottomless pit of addiction, we have walked many of the steps which those first followers walked with Jesus, and we walk those steps every year during Lent and Holy Week.

Jesus has gone through everything we have gone through and will go through. He has been there. That’s what the cross means. And, when we suffer, he is right there with us. He cannot fix it all because he does not have control over everything, but he is with us. And, if he can go though every kind of death, and he has risen and is with us at every moment, we can meet every challenge with grace and courage.

He is alive, and we are alive in him. We are his body. As Paul says, “It is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” We have just walked with him though his life, starting with his baptism and his wilderness struggle, which defined who he is and how he was going to carry out his ministry. We have been with him as he taught and loved, and healed,  and we have been with him as he died and rose again. This is the blueprint for our ministry– the love, healing, and compassion of Christ.

May we be his hands reaching out to heal, his eyes seeing with compassion, his voice speaking hope and love. May we be the risen Christ.           Amen

Good Friday—April 6, 2012

Good Friday—April 6, 2012

 From “May He Not Rest in Peace,” by Barbara Brown Taylor

 “…It is an old, old, story. Love comes into the world like a little child, fresh from God. When love grows up, love feeds people, love heals people, love turns things upside down. This does not sit well with the people in charge. They warn love to leave well enough alone. Love meets hate, meets politics, meets fear. Love goes on loving, which gets love killed—not by villains in black hats, but by people like us: clergy, patriots, God-fearing folk. What brought them together was their rage at him, for being less than they wanted him to be—or for being more than they wanted him to be—but, in any case, for not being who they wanted him to be, and they killed him for it.”

“He was a good man. Perhaps that is the first thing to say about him. He resisted the temptation to be more than a man, although it was clearly within his power to do so. On the whole, he limited himself to what anyone made out of flesh and blood could do, obeying the laws of gravity and mortality just like the rest of us so we could not discount our kinship with him, He did not come to put us to shame with his divinity. He came to call us into the fullness of our humanity, which was divine enough for him.”

Then she talks about leaders of world religions who lived to ripe old age—Buddha, Confucius, Mohammed. And she continues, “Jesus was not so lucky. But if he had been luckier, what would he have had  to offer all those others who died too soon—abandoned—who suffer for things they did not do, who are punished for the capital offense of loving too much, without proper respect for the authorities? His hard luck makes him our best company when we run into our own. He knows, He has been there. There is nothing that hurts us that he does not know about. On the whole, his love was not the sweet kind. It may have been sweet when he was holding a child in his arms or washing his friends’ feet. But more often it was the fierce kind of love he was known for—love that would not put up with any kind of tyranny, that would not stand by and watch a leper shunned or a widow go hungry—love that turned over tables and cracked homemade whips before it would allow God to be made into one more commodity.”

 “What else? He was a king, whether Pilate could get him to say it or not, only his kingdom was not of this world. It broke into this world from time to time—it still does—and this world could use a whole lot more of it, but we are also afraid of it. Our world is built on knowing who is up and who is down, who is in and who is out, who is last and who is first. His world turns all that upside down, and we simply cannot function like that. So we run this world our way and we make noises about wanting to do it his way. But we do not really mean it or we would.”

“There is this one thing that keeps getting in our way—this fear thing, this greed thing, this broken me-me-me thing. It is not all there is to us, but it is strong stuff, and yet according to him, it is finished. It has no more dominion over us because his death killed it once and for all. You figure it out, We have been set free. His death saved us, and while no one can explain that any better than anyone can explain how he was all human and all God, it would be a terrible thing to deny. It would be like pounding in more nails. Into him. Into us.”

“Besides, the point is not what sense we can make of the cross but what sense the cross makes of us. We have everything to do with his death. He has everything to do with our life. God help us, Good Friday is the day for pondering these things, while Easter is still a rumor. If we are not shocked by his killing, let us at least be silenced by it. By what we have done, by what he has done, while there is still time.”

 “May he not rest in peace. May he stay busy with us, who are in grievous need of him.    Amen.”

Maundy Thursday April 5, 2012

Maundy Thursday  April 5, 2012

 Jesus said, “I am among you as one who serves.” He called us to be servants of all as he was.

 In Jesus’ time, people walked. Many people did not have shoes. Some people had sandals.  As you walked, your feet became covered in dust and dirt. When you arrived at the house of someone who had means, a servant would come and wash your feet. This was part of extending warm hospitality. This evening, Jesus washes the apostles’ feet. He truly does the work of a slave, a servant.

He tells the apostles and us to treat each other in this way, to be servants of each other, and to serve others whom we meet. This is a far cry from the way our culture encourages us to climb the ladder of success, accumulate all the things and all the power we can. But the Way of Jesus is the way to the shalom of God, the way to abundant and eternal life in a new dimension.

Jesus also gave the apostles and us the Eucharist. He took the bread which was part of the  Passover meal and part of the usual fellowship meal, and said the blessing over the bread, “Blessed are you , O God, for you create the fruits of the earth…” and then he said, “This is my Body. Do this for the remembrance of me.” Literally, do this for the anamnesis of me. Amnesia is forgetting, Anamnesis—un-amnesia—is the un–forgetting of me, the remembrance of me, the calling of me into your midst. And he took the cup of wine, which he had shared with them so many times before, and said the traditional blessing.  But then he said, “This is my blood of the new covenant…” He took a meal which they had shared many times and made it into the way we can call him to be with us, a way that he can nourish us with his own energy, his own presence, his own life.

The Son of God has come to serve us. He has called us to serve each other and others whom we meet. As he washes our feet, and as we wash each others’ feet, we become vulnerable, we open up to his grace and love.

May we continue to walk with him the way of the cross, the way of love and servanthood.   Amen.