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    • 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:…
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Pentecost 6 Proper 8C RCL June 30, 2013

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Luke 9:51-62

In our first reading, the great prophet Elijah is about to die. Elisha is called to be his successor. Herbert O’Driscoll notes that our reading this morning shows how Elisha grows into maturity so that he can take up the mantle and ministry of Elijah.

We all have had wise mentors and guides who have helped and advised us. We all have to grow into maturity and carry out our ministries. The Church itself constantly has to accept challenges and grow to meet the needs of new times and new situations, always staying true to the gospel.

In our gospel, Jesus is setting his face toward Jerusalem. He has to go. He may not want to go, but he has to. Bishop Butterfield once said that to be called means that we are compelled by God to follow a certain course of action.

Jesus sends messengers ahead to let people know he is coming. He is in Samaria.  The people do not make Jesus welcome. Scholars tell us that this might be because the Samaritans are offended that Jesus is going to Jerusalem because the Samaritans worship on Mount Gerizim in Samaria rather than at the temple in Jerusalem. Fred Craddock writes that this event “testifies to the racial tension between Samaritans and Jews.”  The disciples further illustrate this tension by offering to rain fire down on the Samaritans.  Please make a mental note of this scene. We will come back to this in a couple of weeks.

In the rest of the reading,  Jesus has encounters with three people. The first person says, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus points out to this person that following him does not offer security. Jesus is homeless at this point in his ministry. Jesus calls the second person to follow him, but the person says he has to go home to bury his father. The third says he needs to say goodbye to his family. In his responses to these people, Jesus is not telling us that we should fail to pay our respects to family members who die, nor is he telling us that we should abandon our families. He is making it clear that, in following him, we have to set our priorities very carefully. Following Jesus requires the highest level of loyalty.

Paul writes these ringing words, “For freedom Christ has set us free.” Does this mean that we can do anything we want to? No. As we have said on other occasions. Freedom is not license. Paul is walking a careful balance between freedom and license. Freedom is less an individual matter and more a community matter. Freedom does not mean unlimited autonomy for me or for you. Christ has set us free so that we can live in community, so that we can love and support each other in the life in Christ.

Here, in Galatians 5:22, Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit. Where the Spirit is, these fruits abide. Paul writes, “The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness. and self-control.” These are the qualities that we see in a healthy community whose members are living in the freedom which our Lord has given us, a freedom rooted in the love and grace of God.

Love. One of my mentors, David Brown, former rector of Christ Church, Montpelier, says, “Love is taking God and other people seriously.” Love is more about what we do than what we feel. Treating others with compassion and respect is not a touchy-feely thing. It takes prayer and discipline to be people of compassion.

Joy is something that goes beyond mere happiness or contentment. It is rooted in God’s love. There is true joy in knowing and realizing God’s love and responding to that love and sharing that love as we do in Christian community.

Peace, God’s shalom of health and wholeness, lives deeply and strongly within every person who is living in the Spirit. Within such a person is a deep serenity, an unruffled deep well of peace.

Another fruit of the Spirit is patience. We take life one day at a time one moment at a time. We are here in this moment. We do not have to rush about frantically. We can wait upon God. Yes, we have to do our part, but we have the patience born of peace.

Kindness. We follow the Golden Rule. We treat others as we would like to be treated. We treat everyone as a child of God.

Generosity is also a fruit of the Spirit. When we are following God to the best of our ability, we feel deeply blessed and loved by God. We grow more and more grateful for God’s blessings and love. Out of that gratitude flows generosity in sharing the gifts which God has given to us.

Faithfulness. We know that God is present in every moment. We know that God wants the best for us. We are living a new life in Christ. We are following Jesus with complete faith in his leading.

Gentleness. We who have died with Christ, we who have shared in the suffering of Christ, we who have experienced the compassion of Christ, are careful not to hurt others.

And, finally, self-control, the ninth fruit of the Spirit which St, Paul mentions in this letter. We are rooted and grounded in God. We do not need to fly off the handle. We remain in balance. With God’s grace, we try to do and say only that which God calls us to do and say.

The fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness gentleness, and self-control. These are the fruits that grow in a Christian community. Beverly Gaventa writes of these gifts of the Spirit, “They reflect…a mind-set that is informed by the Spirit of God and the real freedom that comes in Jesus Christ.” Gaventa adds, “Paul holds that these gifts of the Spirit come about, not as the accomplishments of human knowledge or wisdom, but as gifts of the Spirit….”(Texts for Preaching, Year C, p. 408.)

I thank God that the fruits of the Spirit are so evident here at Grace Church. They are precious gifts from God which make our life together rich and full of love and joy and faith and peace. Thanks be to God for these wonderful gifts and thanks to you for nurturing and sharing them.



Pentecost 4 Proper 6C RCL June 16, 2013

1 Kings 21:1-10, (11-14), 15-21a
Psalm 5:1-8
Galatians 2:15-21
Luke 7:36-8:3

Our opening reading today is a shocking story, yet scholars tell us that it is one of the most important accounts in the scriptures. Why is such an account placed in the Bible? Because it clearly contrasts the blatant misuse of power by Ahab and Jezebel with the faithfulness of Naboth. Many of these accounts of the ministries of Elijah and Elisha are crucial reminders to us of God’s call to all of us, especially those in power, to remain faithful to God’s values of respect for others, justice for all, compassion toward the vulnerable, and humility.

We should keep in mind that Ahab and Jezebel were terrible rulers. They lived in luxury while the poor and vulnerable scrabbled for a meager living. And, as we see from this story, their selfishness is beyond limits and they will stop at nothing in order to achieve their goals.

Naboth the Jezreelite has a vineyard which is right beside King Ahab’s palace. A vineyard in Jezreel was a prized possession.  These were the best vineyards in the land.

King Ahab comes to Naboth. He asks Naboth to give him his vineyard so that Ahab can use it for a vegetable garden. This is disrespectful and downright rude. You didn’t just tear down a vineyard and make it into a vegetable garden. Even worse, Ahab is asking Naboth to sell his inheritance. In the law, in the Book of Leviticus, people were told it was illegal to sell your family property to anyone except a member of your family. Ahab knew the law, and it was despicable of him to ask Naboth to sell the vineyard. So Naboth, who is a prime example of the faithful person, refuses to sell.

Ahab whines to his wife, Jezebel. I won’t review the details, but she sinks to the depths in her scheming to murder Naboth and get the land for Ahab. Ahab goes to claim the land, and there is Elijah to hold up God’s ethical standards and declare Ahab’s behavior as unacceptable.

Does this mean that God is vindictive and out to get people? No. This story points out that, when we act as Ahab and Jezebel act in this account, there are consequences. Those in power cannot treat people in this way and maintain any kind of spiritual health.

God calls us to treat everyone with respect, whether they are rich or poor, no matter what race or gender they are, no matter who they are. Everyone is a child of God.

Our gospel for today is on the same topic. Simon the Pharisee invites Jesus to his home for dinner. In comes a woman. She is referred to as a sinner. Her sin is not named.  She is not named. There is nothing in the account to suggest that she is a prostitute, as many writers have described her, and there is nothing to indicate that the woman is Mary Magdalene, who is mentioned later in the story as one of Jesus’ supporters.

In some way, this woman has gotten the label of “sinner,” and this means that, no matter who she is underneath that label, she is treated with zero respect. She has heard that Jesus is in the house, she comes in and anoints his feet with oil, weeps on his feet, and dries his feet with her hair. Maybe she has already had an encounter with Jesus in which she has experienced healing and forgiveness. Or maybe she has just heard from others about how he accepts people and heals them.

Simon is scandalized. How terrible that this sinner should do this to the teacher. But Jesus tells Simon that this woman has extended hospitality to him when Simon didn’t. And then he tells a story about a debt.  If we owe someone a lot of money and we have no way to repay and they forgive that debt. We will be grateful and love them. Or, when we feel lower than the lowest form of life and someone shows us respect, and caring, we are grateful to them and love them in return. This woman has experienced Jesus’ love and forgiveness, and she loves him back.

Simon, on the other hand, is at the top of the social scale. That is a dangerous place to be, because it is so easy to become arrogant, to think that one is better than others, especially some like this sinner woman.  Arrogance can shut out God’s love, Jesus’ love. Simon will never be able to let God’s love into his heart because pride and arrogance shut out the love of God.

Paul is writing to the church in Galatia, in Asia Minor, what we would now call Turkey. He founded the church. But now others are coming in and saying that you have to follow the law, you have to be circumcised, before you can follow Christ. It’s amazing how we humans cling to structures that can get in the way of God’s work if they are not viewed in the correct light.

Paul is trying to find a way to get through to these people. I think he is speaking very much as the woman in today’s gospel might speak. I have met Christ, Paul is saying. I have been crucified with Christ. He now lives in me, and I live in him. My whole life is steeped in his presence and power. External laws are not a part of this equation. He himself has told us that he has come to fulfill the law. The life I live I live by faith in Jesus, not by a set of rules, although this faith includes and goes beyond that set of rules.

Here we go back to our gospel, and we see this woman, who is carrying a label and has been treated with scorn for years, exemplifying  God’s love far more deeply and clearly than the arrogant Simon will ever do unless he somehow opens up to God’s grace, which is quite unlikely, since he has everything well in hand and under control, and everything will be done his way rather than God’s way.

“Pride stands sentinel at the door of the heart and shuts out the love of God. God can only dwell with the humble and the obedient. Obedience to God’s will is the key unlocking the door to God’s kingdom. You cannot obey God to the best of your ability without in time realizing God’s love and responding to that love. The rough stone steps of obedience lead up to where the mosaic floor of love and joy is laid. Where God’s spirit is, there is your home, There is heaven for you.” So reads the meditation for April 10 in a book called Twenty-Four Hours a Day.

Dear Lord, thank you for your love. Save us from arrogance. Help us to stay humble. Give us the grace to open ourselves to your love, and to love everyone as you love us.  Amen.

Easter 2C RCL April 7, 2013

 Acts 5:27-32

Psalm 150

Revelation 1:4-8

John 20:19-31

In our first reading, Peter and the other apostles are at work in Jerusalem spreading the Good News. They have been ordered by the authorities to stop teaching in the name of Jesus, but, of course, they have continued because, as Peter says, “We must obey God rather than any human authority.”

Herbert O’Driscoll points out that this encounter shows us a law of human affairs. He says, “ Any new force acting in a society or an institution will meet resistance from forces already entrenched.” The High Priest is trying to contain this threat.

The Book of Revelation was written thirty or forty years after our first scene from the Book of Acts. Already there are seven churches in Asia. The new faith is growing and spreading over a larger and larger geographical area. John writes that our Lord, who loves us has “made us a kingdom, priests  serving his God and Father.” We are called to offer ourselves to God in every way that we can so that God can use us in the work of spreading the Good News.

Now we move to the gospel for this day. It is the Day of Resurrection. It is that first Sunday. Jesus has just risen from the dead. The Church has not yet begun to spread.  Jesus’ followers are gathered in the house in Jerusalem where they had stayed whenever they were in the city. It is the evening of that first day of new life.  Mary Magdalene has gone to the tomb and has seen the risen Lord, but the reality has not yet sunk in. John tells us that the doors were locked for fear. They are afraid. Terrible things have happened. Some of them have seen Jesus die on the cross. They are afraid of the authorities with good reason.Jesus moves right through the doors, the walls of fear. What does he say? “Peace be with you,” Shalom be with you, Shalom, the wholeness and harmony, the peace which passes all understanding, Shalom, the restoration of all the whole creation be with you.  Then he shows them his hands and his side, He shows the wounds so that they will know it is he. And they are so happy to see him and to recognize him.  He has come through it all. And he says again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And he breathes the Holy Spirit into them. When Jesus was here among us he told us that the Holy Spirit is within us.

And he gives them and us the ministry of reconciliation. Traditionally, this is the beginning of the ministry through which priests confer absolution when people make private confessions. Now, as we understand baptismal ministry and the ministry of all believers, we know that all of us as Christians are called to listen to the confessions of our brothers and sisters who share the things they have done which have hurt themselves and others and for which they seek God’s forgiveness. All of us hear confessions all the time and all of us can assure others of God’s mercy and forgiveness. There are some times when people are in great pain and remorse over their sins and should seek the sacrament of Reconciliation of a Penitent, or private confession to a priest. Oftentimes, folks can receive the assurance of God’s forgiveness from a lay person.

Thomas was not with them when the risen Christ appeared. They tell him that they have seen the Lord. But he has to see for himself. He cannot believe at a second or third hand level. Just imagine Jesus’ love. Two weeks later, they are there in the house and he comes back again. Our Lord does whatever it takes to help us to have faith. “Put your finger here and see my hands,” he tells Thomas. Thomas falls on his knees in pure adoration. “My Lord and my God!” he whispers in awe.

And then Jesus says something which is a blessing to you and to me. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have  come to believe.”

We weren’t there in that room with the apostles. We were not there on the Road to Emmaus or on the beach when Jesus welcomed them to a breakfast of fish and bread. We weren’t there on the Road to Damascus when Paul was blinded by the light. Yet we have seen the risen Christ. We have felt his presence. We have experienced his forgiveness and healing. And we believe in him. And we are blessed every day by his presence and power in our lives.

The Easter season lasts for fifty days, until the Feast of Pentecost. During this time, we will continue to hear about the work of the early Church in spreading the Good News and we will be with the disciples as our Risen Lord appears to them and to us.

If any of you speak a foreign language, please let me know so that we can use those languages in our Pentecost celebration. During the Great Fifty Days of Easter, our readings are all from the New Testament or Greek Scriptures. We are especially celebrating the presence of our Risen Lord and our mission to spread the Good news of his victory over death and brokenness.

May we share in his victory and in his ministry of healing and reconciliation.


Pentecost 3 Proper 5C RCL June 9, 2013

1 Kings 17:8-16, (17-24)
Psalm 146
Galatians 1:11-24
Luke 7:11-17

Last week, we watched a dramatic battle in which God rained down fire on a burnt offering in response to the prayer of Elijah. This week, we are actually at an earlier point in the ministry of Elijah.

God calls Elijah to go to Zarephath, which is in the region of Sidon, now the coast of Lebanon, on the Mediterranean Sea, This is the home country of Queen Jezebel, who has married King Ahab of Samaria, the northern kingdom of Israel. Scholars tell us that Queen Jezebel was an ardent supporter of Baal and that her father may have been a priest of Baal. Elijah is going into the center of Baal worship. God tells Elijah that God has commanded a widow there to feed him. Let us keep in mind that widows were among the most vulnerable members of society. Without a husband or a son, they had no means of earning a livelihood and no social protection.

When Elijah arrives, the widow and her son are going to have their last meal. There has been no rain, and there is a famine. The woman says, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar and a little oil in a jug.”  The phrase “As the Lord your God lives” indicates that she is a follower of Baal.

But Elijah asks her to feed him and he assures her that God will keep providing meal and oil until rain comes. By the way, scholars tell us that Baal was supposed to be in charge of sending rain. Even though she and Elijah are of different religions, she does as he asks, and God supplies meal and oil to sustain her and her son. She is completely vulnerable, yet she has no other hope of surviving. But in sheltering Elijah, a prophet of God, she is putting herself in danger.

Then the worst happens. The son dies. Elijah asks her to give him her son. Amazingly, she does. What other hope does she have? Elijah pours out his heart to God. Why have you allowed this to happen to this poor widow? He stretches himself our over the little boy’s body and begs God to give him life. We can imagine Elijah trying to breathe breath back into this boy’s body. The boy comes back to life, but scholars tell us that the restoration of her son gives the woman new life as well.  She also grows into a new faith, faith in God rather than Baal.

We have a similar story in the gospel. Jesus and his disciples and a large crowd are going into the town of Nain. Perhaps they are talking and discussing the good news that Jesus is sharing. But they meet a very sad procession. The only son of a widow is being carried to be buried. The widow does not even try to ask Jesus for help. Perhaps she is overcome by grief, Perhaps she has had many experiences of being unheard and expecting nothing and having no hope. Her life is now effectively over. Without her son’s presence and help, she has no future.

Jesus immediately sees her situation. He reaches out and touches the bier. By touching a dead person he has now become defiled. But he has come to fulfill the law and to go beyond the law to the spirit. “Young man, I say to you, arise!” The young man is made whole and alive. Once again, his mother also has a new life.

God cares about the least among us. God cares about us when we feel helpless, when we are helpless. God calls us to take care of our brothers and sisters who have no means of help and no one to speak on their behalf. God’s prophet, Elijah, and God’s Son, Jesus, reach out beyond all kinds of barriers in these readings. They reach out beyond barriers of class, religion, gender, and tradition to help and to bring healing and wholeness. No situation is hopeless. No person is beyond hope.

Paul tells his story today. He is trying to find some way to get through to these people who think he is a false teacher. He was a persecutor of the Church. He was advanced in knowledge of his native faith. He was at the top of the social ladder, being a Roman citizen. But he was devoting all his energies to killing the followers of Jesus.

And then just imagine the scene. He is on the road to Damascus. He is bent on persecuting those who love Jesus. And he meets that very Jesus on the road. There is a brilliant light that makes Saul go blind. And Jesus is asking him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” It’s like the widow of Zarephath having to extend hospitality to a prophet of the God she does not worship, only much more immediate. Saul is blinded by the light yet he is blessed with new vision. He sees the horror of what he has been doing. His heart and life are totally transformed.

He doesn’t go to confer with the apostles, He goes to Arabia. And then, after three years, he goes to Jerusalem to confer with Peter and James, and then his ministry begins, a ministry to the Gentiles, to those who are beyond the pale, just as widows are beyond the pale, the lowest of the low.

God is turning the world upside down. Everybody matters. Everybody is loved. No one is beyond the pale.

Have you ever felt as though you didn’t matter? That’s how these widows felt. That’s what their culture told them. You don’t matter. And God and Jesus told them, Yes, you do matter. Have you ever felt as though there was absolutely no hope? Today, God and Jesus and the Spirit are telling us, there is always hope.  Have you ever felt broken beyond healing? Have you ever felt as though you might as well be dead?

God is saying, You are my beloved child, You matter to me. I need you to be with me and to my work. I will make you whole, I will give you new life, I am giving you new life. That’s what all these stories are about.

Dear God, thank you for your love, Thank you for new life in you. Thank you for hope, Thank you for making all of us beloved. Thank you for calling all of us to belong to you and to belong in your family.


Pentecost 2 Proper 4C RCL June 2, 2013

1 Kings 18:20-
Psalm 96
Galatians 1:1-12
Luke 7:7-10

Our first reading this morning is a crucial moment in the history of God’s people. We are in the Northern Kingdom of Israel about the year 970 B. C.  Many of the people of God have turned to the worship of the fertility god, Baal. Many of the practices of Baal worship we would consider to be immoral.. At this point, Baal has 450 prophets, and the Lord God has one prophet, the faithful and courageous Elijah.

In order to show which one is the true God, Elijah proposes that two burnt offerings be set up, but no fire kindled on either offering. He generously offers to the prophets of Baal that they go first, calling on their god to set fire to the offering. Nothing happens.

Then Elijah calls the people closer to him. First, he repairs the altar of God which had been torn down. Then Elijah builds a new altar. This is so important. Elijah puts God first.

Elijah makes a trench around the altar. Then he builds the burnt offering.

Now the offering is prepared. What does Elijah do? He has the people fill huge jars with water and drench the offering. The water is flowing into the moat around the altar. The odds against this offering ever bursting into flame are extremely high.  Then Elijah prays to God.  God is God and Elijah is God’s servant doing God’s will.  All of this is to call the people back to God. The fire falls and consumes not only the offering, but all the water. And the people see that God is indeed God.

In our epistle, we see that Paul is the midst of conflict. The first problem is that some people feel that, in order to join the community, people had to follow the law, which meant that they had to be circumcised.

The second issue is whether Paul is a true apostle. There are many voices,  many teachers. Then as now, there were teachers who tended to tell people what they wanted to hear.  Paul starts out by telling the people that he is “….sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities but through Jesus Christ and God the Father.” Paul reminds us that God raised Jesus from the dead, in other words, that Paul is preaching from the power of the resurrection, and he is surrounded by members of a community of faith.

Paul gives his usual greeting, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” but then he adds a profound thought, “and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age.” What does this mean? Is everything about our present age evil? No. There are many goods things happening. But there are some things that don’t fit with centering our lives in God and Christ and the Spirit.  There are many things in our culture which can distract us from following Jesus. By his life, death, and rising again, he has freed us to follow him and given us the grace to walk that journey in faith. One thing from which he has freed us is being bound by the Mosaic law in a literal way.

Paul tells us that he is not interested in pleasing people, but in pleasing God. People pleasing can be a big distraction.  Paul is not into building an empire for himself. He is not trying to keep everyone happy; he is trying to be a faithful servant of Christ. Sometimes we have to make decisions that may not bring us great wealth or great popularity,  or great power, but those are not the values by which we are called to live.

Today’s gospel is a wonderful story of healing that tells us so much about  Jesus and about this centurion.  Herbert O’Driscoll tells us that those who served in the Roman military could be sent to a far away outpost and spend their whole lives there, reporting to a headquarters at a great distance. When this happened, they often made friends where they were serving and became part of the community. This centurion has done exactly that. His slave becomes deathly ill. Probably this slave is a highly educated Greek person who teaches the centurion’s children. The slave is a beloved member of the family. The centurion and his slave are both Gentiles.

O’Driscoll points out that the centurion knows that Jesus has just come into Capernaum and that Jesus is a healer and a Jew. If the centurion asks Jesus to help his beloved slave, this could cause problems for Jesus. Helping the slave of an occupier of the country could alienate the Jewish community. So the centurion  calls upon some of his Jewish friends to ask for Jesus’ help. They “appeal to Jesus earnestly.” They tell Jesus what a good person the centurion is.

Jesus goes with them. But now, O’Driscoll tells us, the centurion, “shows his decency and his sensitivity.  He knows that it is technically a defilement for a Jew to come under his foreign Gentile roof. So the message comes to Jesus. It avoids the ugly truth about defilement. Instead it pays a compliment. It says, very graciously, “I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you.’ Then in a single sentence, it expresses what the Roman has sensed in Jesus of Nazareth—an immense natural authority:  ‘Only speak the word and let my servant be healed.’”

“In all this, Jesus had missed nothing. He had become aware of the special kind of human being he was dealing with. The trust shown in him by this man astonished our Lord, and so perhaps he was moved to say a potentially dangerous thing: ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.’ The fact that those who surrounded him were friends of the centurion probably prevented an angry reaction. It is quite possible, however, that someone in the crowd duly noted what Jesus had said, and subsequently quietly reported it to those who were interested in gathering evidence about this man from Nazareth. This danger was never far away.”

O’Driscoll illuminates the deep connection between  Jesus and this centurion. Both were under authority, Jesus under the authority of God and the centurion under the authority of the emperor of Rome. Barriers are broken and the slave is healed.

Elijah is one prophet against 450 false prophets. Paul calls us to follow the spirit rather than the letter of the law. Jesus and the centurion break through barriers to heal this beloved slave. Following the way of God and Jesus and the Spirit is not always  easy. It can be lonely, as it was for Elijah. It can be unpopular, as it was for Paul, It can be extremely complicated and dangerous as it was for all our heroes today. But the clarity, the rootedness, the grace, the healing, and the joy are there for us to see and for us to experience in our own lives.  May we follow these holy examples in our own lives. Amen.