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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:…
    • 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:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion April 16, 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 6A RCL May 25, 2014

Acts 17:22-31

Psalm 66:7-18

1 Peter 3:13-22

John 14:15-21

In our opening lesson, or, we might say, scene, Paul is in Athens addressing a group of people. Paul is well educated. He knows a considerable amount about Greek philosophy. He is trying to share the good news about Jesus im terms the Greek people can understand.

Paul has found that the Greeks have a statue dedicated “to an unknown God,” and he is telling the people that they can come to know God.

Biblical scholar Carl Holladay tells us that Paul is using quotations from the Greek poets Epimenides, who wrote that “God is the one ‘in whom we live and move and have our being.” And from the Greek writer Aratus, who wrote that humans are “the offspring of God.” (Preachimg through the Christian Year-A, p. 277.) Paul is following a basic principle of evangelism—meet people where they are and speak in a language they understand. By doing this, he will lead these people to Christ.

In our passage from the first letter of Peter, we read advice to people who are suffering. Scholars tell us that this letter was addressed to a Christian community in Asia Minor. These people had adopted the new faith, but they were surrounded by non-Christians who were often hostile to them. He advises them to persevere in doing good, to do what they know is right, and to look to our Lord, who suffered, and, through that suffering, leads us into new life.

These new followers of Jesus were swimming against the stream. Their lives and their values were very different from those of the people living around them. As we all know, to be different can sometimes be threatening to people.  Recently, we have been learning a considerable amount about bullying, which often happens because someone is different. Persecution often happens for the same reasons

As more and more people joined the new faith community and became followers of Jesus, all kinds of situations developed. If you were a business person, for example, some people would no longer do business with you if you became a follower of Jesus. People looked askance at this new faith. So in addition to persecution from the Roman Empire, there were all kinds of smaller and more local and personal kinds of pressures and difficulties which could happen to those who chose to follow Jesus.

There is one part of this passage that I want to comment on just briefly. The epistle reads, It is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than suffering for doing evil.” It is never God’s will that someone should suffer. God’s shalom is a realm of peace, love, and respect for every person. But God has given human beings free will. We all have choices about how to behave. And some people choose to inflict suffering on other people. This is not in harmony with God’s will.

We still have no news of the young women who were abducted in Nigeria, and our own Titus Presler was beaten in Pakistan. Thank God he is now home. Hostility toward Christians is not just a thing of the past.  Bullying and persecution of any kind grieve the heart of God.

In our gospel, Jesus tells us, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” We reveal our faith in our attitudes and in our actions.

Our Lord tells the apostles that he is going to send the Holy Spirit to be with them and us forever. This is the Spirit of truth, but not truth in a black and white sense or in a narrow sense.  The Spirit of truth embodies the kind of truth that is reflected in the life of our Lord, a truth that involves peace, harmony, love, healing, and forgiveness.

Jesus tells the apostles and us that we already know the Spirit, because the Spirit is already with them and us.  That is because we and they have spent time with Jesus. We have walked with him and talked with him. We have learned from him. We have watched how he handles situations and how he treats people. The Spirit abides with us because of our life spent with our Lord. Abides is a key word in John’s gospel. It means staying with, but in a very active and lively sense. The Spirit abides with us in an active and alive way.

Jesus tells the disciples that he is going to leave them. He is going to ascend to the Father. The world will no longer see him, but we will see him because he is in us and we are in him. We are one with him and one in him. He ends by putting the action first. Those who keep his commandments are those who love him.

Our reading from Acts gives us Paul’s excellent example. If we are trying to share our faith, it is good to start where other people are and relate faith to their experiences and needs.

Our epistle addresses the issue of suffering, and specifically suffering for the faith.  As Christians, we can often feel as though we are marching to a different drummer or swimming against the stream of our culture. We are not being actively persecuted here in the United States, but we are often misunderstood. What some people define as “Christian” may not be what we are about. But it still a joyful thing to follow our Lord.

He is with us and we can feel his presence. His Spirit is with us to guide us.  May we love our Lord with all our hearts and mind and soul and strength, and may that love be evident in our actions.  Amen.

Michele Fay band returns to Summer Music at Grace June 20, 2014

The Michele Fay band will perform on Friday, June 20, 7 p.m. at Grace Church.

Easter 5 A RCL May 18, 2014

Acts 7:55-60

Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16

1 Peter 2:2-10

John 14:1-14

Just before our first lesson, in chapter 6 of the Book of Acts, we read that, as the number of believers grew, the apostles could not keep up with preaching and teaching plus taking care of the widows and orphans, so they called together the community of faith—it was not yet called the Church—and asked the people to select seven men to be the first deacons. As you know, it is the ministry of deacons to care for the poor and vulnerable. One of those men was Stephen.

The new faith was attracting many people, but opposition was also growing. Because of his faith, Stephen was arrested, and today we read of his being stoned to death by an angry crowd.

In a manner which reminds us of our Lord, Stephen asks Jesus to forgive the people who are killing him. And then we read a short statement, “…and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.” In the verses that follow, we read that Saul actually went into the houses of followers of Jesus and had them put into prison. And then we read of his encounter with the risen Lord and his journey from being a persecutor of the Church to being an apostle of Christ.

Saul was in the crowd watching Stephen become the first Christian martyr. He was a leader in the persecution. He thought he was doing the right thing. The risen Jesus convinced him that he needed to change his life completely. He needed to undergo metanoia, conversion. Saul thought he was doing God’s will. Christ, in his infinite mercy and love, asked him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” As a result of that encounter and that dialogue, Saul became Paul.

Our reading from Peter is also addressed to a community which is experiencing persecution. Peter emphasizes that they and we are not just individuals standing alone. We are part of a community. We are members of the Body of Christ. We are called “to proclaim the mighty acts of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

In our gospel for today, Jesus is sitting at supper with his disciples, and he is teaching them. He is trying to tell them that they and we will follow him to heaven and that he is going to prepare a place for us.

Thomas insists that we do not know the way. But then Jesus says those words that ring down through the centuries:  “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” If we just follow our Good  Shepherd down the path where he is leading us, we will be with him.

Then Philip asks Jesus to show them the Father. And Jesus says that those who spend time with him are in the presence of the Father. Jesus is really saying that he and God are one. If we are in the presence of Jesus, we are in the presence of God. Jesus is God walking the face of the earth.

What are these lessons telling us today? First, Christians are still being persecuted today. The young women abducted in Nigeria were captured because of their faith. We still do not know what has happened to them.

Secondly, Jesus meets us humans wherever we are. Jesus could look deep into Saul and see Saul’s potential. In his love and mercy, he called out to Saul so that Saul could follow Jesus and turn the energy of all that hate into love. Jesus is still calling people today.  He is calling us to share his love and healing with others.

Our epistle reminds us that, contrary to what many believe today, life is not about being a group of disconnected individuals. Life is about community. We are living stone that build the house of God. We are members of the Body of Christ. Jesus has called us out of darkness into light. We are called to spread his light and love. He is with us now, and we will be with him forever.

“In my father’s house are many dwelling places.” our Lord says. There is room in heaven for all who want to be in the presence of God. Jesus has gone to prepare a place for everyone. Just think—Jesus has gone to prepare a place for you! Jesus has prepared a place for all our loved ones who have gone before us.

For us as Christians, this is our reality, that Jesus is our Good Shepherd, that he is the way, the truth, and the life, that he calls us into loving and healing community, that we are not alone, that he is in us and we are in him, that he is risen and alive and that we are members of his living Body, the Church.

May we listen for his voice. May we follow him faithfully.  Amen.

Easter 4A RCL May 11, 2014

Acts 2:42-47

Psalm 23

1 Peter 2:19-25

John 10:1-10

In our opening lesson this morning, we have an opportunity to look into the life of the early Church. Gene M. Tucker of Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta lists the qualities of the early Christian communities. He writes, “First, they are absorbed in religious teachings to which they are committed.” Tucker notes that they were building on the teachings of the apostles themselves.

“Second,” he writes,  “they have regular fellowship in both social and religious settings. The word for fellowship is koinonia and is best rendered in a dynamic… form—sharing.” Tucker notes that this can also involve the sharing of material possessions and financial resources. He notes that the people engage in what he calls “active care for one another” and that they have a “spirit of oneness.” When we care deeply about one another and listen to teach other and help each other, we do develop a spirit of oneness. The Holy Spirit is with us in that caring.

Tucker continues, “Third, they continue steadfast in prayer.” When a community spends time in prayer, the members of that community grow closer to each other and to God.

Tucker adds, “Fourth, they exhibited a proper sense of awe before God.” What a wonderful way to say it—“a proper sense of awe before God.” Do we feel that sense of awe? I hope so. God is very close to us and very loving, and God is also awesome in the best sense of the word, God is immanent, near us, and God is transcendent—powerful and all-encompassing.

Tucker writes, “Fifth, they grew and flourished.” Because of their love of God and each other, their “spirit of oneness,” their caring and sharing in every way, these communities attracted new believers every day. These qualities are good examples for us to follow all these centuries later.

Our epistle is addressed to slaves who are suffering at the hands of their masters. Although we do not condone slavery, and we are not slaves, this lesson can still be helpful to us. We can gain strength from our Lord in our own sufferings. We are indeed in the care of our Lord, the “shepherd and guardian of our souls.”

In our gospel, Jesus has just healed the blind man and he is being attacked by the authorities. He is commenting on the qualities of  a good shepherd, a good leader.

In Jesus’ time, and still now in parts of the Middle East, shepherds and their flocks will come into the village and the sheep will be put into one sheepfold, one protected area for protection during the night.  In the morning, the shepherds will come. Each shepherd has a different call for his sheep, and, as each shepherd calls, his sheep will separate from the larger flock and follow him.

There is a level of trust and intimacy between sheep and shepherd which is amazing.  The sheep know who their shepherd is. They will not follow anyone else. If we think of our psalm for today, and we imagine being with our shepherd day in and day out, we can begin to get a sense of that intimacy.  Our shepherd leads us beside the still waters where we can drink, He leads us to the green pastures where we can eat. Even when we have to go through dark and scary places, he guides us with his rod and pulls us back from danger with his staff.

After we have gone mile after mile with him and he has protected us from lions and wolves and has rescued us from bramble bushes and thickets, we really get to trusting him. We know his call. We would not go with anyone else. He is our shepherd.

And, of course, we need always to remember that the biblical shepherd goes out ahead of the sheep. There are no border collies here, much as we might admire and love border collies. There is only our Good Shepherd and a host of dangers from wild animals, bad water or no water in a desert environment, lack of good pasture, cliffs to careen over, mountain paths to trip and fall on, and on and on the dangers go.

Our Good Shepherd leads us to all the good things, even to a feast in the face of our enemies. No matter how bad things get, he is there to guide us, and we get through those bad times.

I think the early Christians had a sense of all this. I think they had lived through their own challenges. Their Good Shepherd and ours had gone through the worst of the worst, death itself, and had come out on the other side, looking different enough so that they didn’t always recognize him at first, but gradually, in the breaking of the bread or in prayer or in the study of the scriptures or in a breakfast of fish on the beach, they realized who he was, somehow different but even more himself than he had been before, and they knew that his goodness and mercy would follow them for the rest of their lives and they would dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  Amen.

Easter 3A RCL May 4, 2014

Acts 2:14a. 36-41

Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17

1 Peter 1:17-23

Luke 24:13-35

The Easter season lasts for fifty days, until the feast of Pentecost. During this time, alleluias ring through our hymns and liturgies. We do not say the Confession because we focus on the fact that our sins have been forgiven and, through baptism, we are in new life. The paschal candle, symbol of that new life, burns throughout the season. And, each Sunday, we experience encounters with the risen Lord.

In our first lesson today, Peter continues his sermon to the people gathered, and, when they ask how they can respond to what has happened to Jesus,  three thousand people are baptized.

In our epistle, Peter reminds us that we have been born anew and calls us to love one another.

In our powerful and beautiful gospel from Luke, we have the unforgettable walk to Emmaus. It is the evening of the first Easter. Two followers of Jesus are going from Jerusalem to Emmaus. We don’t know exactly why. Perhaps one of them lives in Emmaus. After Jesus had been crucified, and people thought all their hopes were gone, many of them, following a very human instinct, went back home. That’s where we often go,  when everything is falling apart.

At any rate, these two people, one of whom is named Cleopas, are talking about everything that has happened. They can’t think about anything else. Jesus has been crucified, He has really died. They are completely devastated. They are probably wondering what they will do now that these terrible things have happened.  They had planned to devote their whole lives to following Jesus and now he is gone.

Jesus comes along and walks with them, but they do not recognize him. This happens often in these encounters with the risen Lord. Something about the risen Jesus is different enough so that people do not realize at first who he is. Mary Magdalene thinks he is the gardener. These two followers do not see that he is Jesus. We could wonder and speculate about what it is that has changed, but we can never know for sure.

Jesus asks an open ended question: what are they discussing. Cleopas gets a little irritated with Jesus. “Don’t you know what has been happening? Where have you been?” Jesus asks them what has been happening. And so they tell him his own story. They say that some women had been at the tomb early that morning and had seen a vision of angels who told them Jesus was alive.

This lets us know that they are wondering whether this could be true. Is Jesus indeed alive? They are hoping against hope. There he is, standing right in front of them, and they still do not recognize him.

Jesus reviews the teachings of the prophets. They reach the village and Jesus looks as though he is just going to keep walking. But, honoring the tradition of hospitality, they invite him to have supper with them.  When he takes the bread and blesses and breaks it, they finally recognize him in the breaking of the bread. He vanishes.

Then they remember how their hearts were on fire as he discussed the scriptures with them. They rush back to Jerusalem to be with the community of faith.

What a wonderful story, one of my favorites and I think one of yours as well. So often we do not recognize the risen Christ when he is standing right next to us. And how challenging it is to hold on to a realistic and hopeful stance in life. How challenging it is to hold onto faith.

We live in what is often called a scientific age. I was trained in the scientific approach through my undergraduate education, and that approach is supposed to be open to discovery through research. Much of what some people call the “scientific approach” is really just concrete thinking that rules out the spiritual. Many eminent scientists have come to faith simply because of the beauty of God’s creation, whether it be in the immensity of galaxies or the minuteness of subatomic particles.

We humans are not as logical as we sometimes think we are. We see Jesus crucified and we think that has to be the end. Then that colors our vision when he stands right before our eyes!

Jesus is alive. Jesus is continuing his ministry of love and healing every time someone gives a cup of water to a thirsty person or digs a well in a developing country.  Jesus is continuing to build his shalom through the power of the Spirit, and the Spirit is very much at work in the Church and in the world. The Spirit is not limited by walls or beliefs or prejudices.

Jesus is alive and at work whenever people love each other and treat each other with respect, wherever and whenever people build inclusive, loving communities, whenever people make peace instead of war.

Jesus is alive. May we recognize him in the breaking of the bread, in his love extended to all people, in the building of his shalom. May we recognize him in each other and in our midst. Amen.