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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 5C RCL April 24, 2016

Acts 11:1-18
Psalm 148
Revelation 21:1-6
John 13:31-35

There are certain events which change the course of history. This is true of the story we read today in our opening lesson. Peter is a faithful Jew. He has followed the Law every day of his life. He has never eaten anything that the Law declares to be unclean.

One day, he goes up to the roof to pray. He is hungry and a meal is being prepared. He has a vision. A large sheet comes down from heaven. On it there are all kinds of foods, some of them forbidden by the dietary laws. A voice, which he takes to be the voice of God, tells him to “Kill and eat.” Three times he refuses, saying that nothing unclean has ever entered his mouth. This happens three times, and Peter refuses three times. But then God tells him that all these foods have been made clean. The sheet is pulled up into heaven.

Then three men come from Caesarea. They have been sent by an angel to go to Joppa, get Peter, and bring him to the home of Cornelius, a Roman citizen and an officer in the Roman army, a centurion, who is a man of faith, not Jewish, but a supporter of the synagogue in his city and a compassionate person who cares about his neighbors.

Cornelius had been praying and an angel came to him and told him to send to Joppa and have Peter come to his house, so Cornelius has sent messengers to fetch Peter. As Peter is finishing his time of prayer, and has just had this vision, the messengers arrive from Cornelius. Meanwhile, Cornelius has gathered all the members of his household, plus many neighbors, to hear Peter’s message.

The next day, Peter and his ministry team go with the messengers to Cornelius’ house. Peter begins to speak about his vision and how he has realized that God shows no partiality. God loves everyone. As he is preaching and teaching, the Holy Spirit falls on these Gentiles. They begin speaking in tongues and praising God, and they are baptized.

The news that these Gentiles have accepted Jesus, have received the Holy Spirit, and have been baptized, reaches the apostles and the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem.

The followers of Jesus up to this point have always assumed that they would continue to be a part of the Jewish faith. They would follow the law and all the observances of their faith but they would also be following Jesus. They assumed that this new faith was open only to Jews.

But now the Holy Spirit has filled these Gentiles and they have been baptized. The apostles and followers of Jesus in Jerusalem want to know how this could have happened. So, Peter is telling the story of how God opened the horizons of his faith. Peter is sharing how God has convinced him that God loves everyone and that faith in God is for everyone. And he says,”If God gave then the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” And the Jerusalem community responds, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”

A couple of chapters ago, in Chapter Nine of the Book of Acts, we have the story of Saul, meeting the risen Lord on the road to Damascus. He gets a new name, Paul, and a new identity. From persecuting the followers of Jesus, he is called to preach the Good News to the Gentiles.

God spoke to Peter and to Saul, and expanded their vision. If they had not responded as they did, the course of history would have been very different.

In our gospel for today, Judas has just left the room to go and betray Jesus. This is a tragic moment in history. Jesus must have had many feelings as he contemplated Judas going to the authorities and promising to lead them to our Lord. Jesus knows that he is going to the cross. What a horrible reality to face. And yet, he uses this moment to give the apostles and us the great commandment, that we love one another as he has loved us.

The encounters that Peter and Saul had with the Lord called them to love everyone as Jesus has loved us, and they responded faithfully to that call.

Herbert O’Driscoll writes, “For us, moving year by year into an increasingly multi-racial and multi-cultural society, this passage is eloquent. I would suggest that it asks us to live in this society as a Christian but to remain open to the ability of the Holy Spirit to work through men and women who do not share this tradition with us.”

God loves everyone. God showers gifts of the Spirit on everyone. When Pope Francis took several Muslim families home with him to the Vatican to embark on a new life, he was expressing that love.

May we do the same.  Amen.

Easter 4C RCL April 17, 2016

Acts 9:36-43
Psalm 23
Revelation 7:9-17
John 10:22-30

In our readings for the Easter season, the apostles are freed from prison to share the Good News, Jesus appears to his followers to assure them that he has conquered death of all kinds and is truly alive, many people are healed and forgiven; many decide to follow Jesus, and the new faith spreads far and wide.

In our opening reading, we meet Tabitha, a faithful disciple who sews clothing for widows, who were often very poor in those days. Her ministry has expanded to a group of widows who also make clothes for others and support them in many ways. Tabitha has died, and the community of faith calls Peter to come right away.

Peter goes to the  upstairs room where Tabitha is lying on the bed with all her fellow ministers weeping around her. Peter asks them to leave, not because he is trying to be unkind but because he wants to have quiet to let the Holy Spirit work.

He kneels down and prays. By this time, Peter has learned the power of healing that comes from the risen Lord and from the power of the Holy Spirit. He says, “Tabitha, get up.”  She opens her eyes and gets up. Peter calls the members of the community to come and see that Tabitha is alive.

Even today, our Lord rescues us from many kinds of death. I have been privileged to see situations which physicians have called “miracles.” Someone with kidney failure is prayed over and recovers. A tumor is there but it fades away on a subsequent cat scan or X ray. Millions of people have recovered from various kinds of addictions, and they consider that they have been saved from certain death and are walking miracles.

In our reading from the Book of Revelation, we have a vision of heaven, where people “Will hunger no more, and thirst no more,” and the “Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

In our gospel, the religious authorities are asking Jesus whether he is the messiah. Jesus has just been talking about how he is the Good Shepherd, that he knows his sheep and they know him and they follow his voice. But these people are trying to find out whether Jesus fits their definition of the messiah.

And our Lord says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.”

Jesus is speaking of a relationship between himself and us. This is not an intellectual concept or something to be defined. It is a close relationship which is based on his infinite love for us.

Each of us hears his voice, that loving voice calling us to follow him, to do the caring thing, to be people of compassion, to do what is ethical, to be honest, to work for the growth of his shalom.

Each of us has been called by him. Each of us knows him. Each of us has been led to the green pastures and the still waters where we can eat and drink and be renewed.

Each of us has been saved from deaths of various kinds and from dangerous thickets that could have caught us. Each of us has been rescued from following paths that would not have been right for us. We know his voice. We know him. We trust him.

He is always with us, even in the valley of the shadow of death. In situations that terrify us, in circumstances where we become lost and confused, he leads us.

When we are surrounded by those who would do us harm, he sets up a safe space and a banquet table. He anoints our heads with oil. He extends hospitality to us and he gives his healing to us. He protects us. He gives us abundance beyond measure.

He is the true bread from heaven. He is the way and the truth and the life. He is the vine and we are the branches. He is the living water.

But most of all, on this Good Shepherd Sunday, he is our Good Shepherd. If we listen to his voice, he will lead us. If we ask for his help, he is right beside us lending a hand.

There is no way to put him into a category. Our relationship with him goes beyond logic, beyond categories. He is our God who cares so much for us that he has come among us and he has triumphed over all the things that we fear most.

He is our Savior. He is our brother. He is our Good Shepherd. May we listen to his voice and follow him into newness of life.   Amen.

Easter 3C RCL April 10, 2016

Acts 9:1-6, (7-20)
Psalm 30
Revelation 5:11-14
John 21:1-19

During the fifty days of the Easter season, all of our readings are from the New Testament, or Greek Scriptures. This morning, our readings tell powerful stories of how God works with us human beings. God can see in us potential that we don’t always see in ourselves.

In our opening reading from the Book of Acts, we meet Saul of Tarsus, a devout Pharisee and Roman citizen who is totally consumed with the idea of killing followers of the Way. The beginning of the passage describes Saul as “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” He has gone to the high priest to get permission to go to Damascus and capture and tie up any followers of Jesus and bring them back to Jerusalem to be punished. He has already witnessed the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr.

But on the way to Damascus, something happens which transforms Saul. A light from heaven flashes around him and he falls to the ground. Jesus asks him that haunting question, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Jesus tells Saul to go into the city and he will receive further instructions. The men who are with Saul have heard the voice but they could not see Jesus. Saul gets up. His eyes are open but he cannot see. So they lead him by the hand into Damascus. What an image—this man who is destined to be a great saint being led by the hand into Damascus. There are times when we need to be led by the hand, too, times when we need the help of God and others to find the way.

Jesus calls a disciple named Ananias to go and lay hands upon Saul to help him regain his sight and to receive the Holy Spirit. Saul has been blinded by the light of Christ. When Ananias lays hands upon him, the text says that “something like scales fell from his eyes.” Saul is baptized. He stays and studies with the disciples in Damascus, and then he goes on his mission to the Gentiles. Later his name becomes Paul.

Some lines from “Amazing Grace” fit this situation. “I once was lost but now am found, was blind, but now I see.” Jesus took someone who hated him and was trying to kill his disciples and made him into a great theologian and evangelist. So often we see, but we do not see. Jesus can give us vision to see and understand things that we did not see before.

In our gospel for today, Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James, John, and two others go fishing. They catch nothing. Just before daybreak, Jesus is standing on the shore, but they do not recognize him. He asks if they have caught any fish. They have caught nothing. So he tells them to cast the net to the right side of the boat, and there are so many fish they can hardly haul in the net. That’s how our Lord is, Just when we think there is no hope, he comes along and shows us the way.

Suddenly, John says that it is Jesus on the shore. Peter quickly puts on some clothes, jumps into the water, and swims to shore. He can’t get there fast enough. The rest of them row the boat, laden with fish. Jesus gives them a breakfast of bread and fish.

Then comes the amazing scene of forgiveness and healing. Peter has denied Jesus three times. The number three is a symbol of completeness. Peter has denied Jesus completely. This is terrible. But Jesus asks him, “Peter, do you love me more than these?”And Peter answers, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus says to him, “Feed my lambs.” Jesus asks a second time, and Peter answers that he loves the Lord. And Jesus says, “Tend my sheep.” Jesus asks a third time, and Peter is hurt, He says, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” And Jesus says, “Feed my sheep.” Peter has done a complete denial of Jesus. But now, Jesus is granting Peter complete forgiveness and commissioning him to go out into the world and feed his people. Peter, who denied Jesus three time, becomes the leader of the apostles.

When we have done things we should not have done or not done things we should have done. In other words, when we have sinned, we usually feel terrible about it. But our Lord is calling us to accept his forgiveness and to do the ministries he calls us to do. Peter was well aware that he had denied Jesus at a crucial moment because he was afraid. He felt awful about this failure on his part. I think Peter confessed this to God in many times of prayer following the crucifixion, and I am sure that Jesus was well aware of Peter’s sincere regret and his determination to be as faithful a disciple as he could possibly be. This is how our Lord is with us. After this powerful dialogue and exchange of love and forgiveness, Jesus says to Peter and to us, “Follow me.”

As our psalm so beautifully reminds us, “Weeping may spend the night, but joy comes in the morning.”

At the center of our lessons is our reading from the Book of Revelation, the prayer of adoration to our Lord, who reigns in heaven. God takes the most unlikely people and calls them to ministry. Because of the experience he had in his own life, Paul could share the powerful story of how he had met Christ and how the risen Lord showed him that he needed to change his whole attitude and purpose in life. Peter was heartbroken about his denial of Jesus. But when he realized that it was the risen Lord standing on the beach preparing breakfast for them, he jumped into the water and swam ashore, so eager was he to clasp Jesus in a bear hug full of love, faith, true repentance, and courage to do whatever he was called to do in order to serve Christ.

Jesus has the power to give us courage we didn’t know we had. Jesus has the power to help us to see the world and other people in new ways. Jesus has the power to show us gifts we never knew we had. Jesus has the power to transform us so that we can transform the world.

Alleluia! The Lord is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia! Amen.

Easter 2 Year CRCL April 3, 2016

Acts 5:27-32
Psalm 150
Revelation 1:4-8
John 20:19-31

Our readings today tell us a powerful story about the early Church. Chronologically, the gospel comes first, and it begins with a sense of fear. The doors are shut for fear of the authorities. The women have gone to the tomb and have found it empty. The angel has told them that Jesus has risen. They have gone back and told Peter. He has gone to look for himself.

They gather in the upper room. They are afraid. After what happened to Jesus, who wouldn’t be afraid? They think the same thing might happen to them.

Jesus comes into their midst, past the locked doors and the walls of fear. He gives them his peace, his vision of shalom. He takes all their terror and confusion and gives them faith and clarity and hope. He breathes the Spirit into them and gives them the ministry of healing and reconciliation.

Thomas is not with them. When they tell him that the risen Lord has come to them, he says that he just has to see for himself. Thomas just has to touch Jesus’ wounds.

A week later, Jesus comes among them once more. Again, he gives them his peace, that calm faith that is like bedrock, that serene spirit that remains steady under all kinds of pressure, and that vision of shalom. This time, Thomas is with them. Jesus has come especially to make it possible for Thomas to know that he is truly alive. Jesus invites Thomas to touch his wounds, but Thomas does not even have to do that. He bursts forth in a prayer of adoration: “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus says to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Our reading from the Book of Acts happens a short time after Pentecost. The apostles have overcome their fear. They are out in Jerusalem teaching and preaching and healing. Their message is so powerful that people simply lay their loved ones out on mats or cots so that Peter’s shadow can fall on them and make them well.

More and more people are following the new faith, and the authorities are not pleased. They are trying to control this new faith. They have put Peter and the apostles in prison, but an angel has let them out and the Spirit has told them to go right back where they were and continue their ministry.

They are now being questioned by the high priest. They have been told to stop what they were doing, but Peter and the apostles answer, “We must obey God rather than any human authority.” This is a far cry from their original fear. They are almost fearless now. The Spirit is with them, and they feel compelled to carry out their ministry. Nothing is going to stop them.

Our middle reading is from the Book of Revelation. This was written some fifty years after that first Easter. This book is a series of letters to seven Christian communities in what we would now call Turkey.  Herbert O’Driscoll points out that, in this short period of time, there are now seven churches one thousand miles from Jerusalem in a time when the major means of transportation was walking. This is a huge amount of growth.

These communities are suffering persecution under the Roman Emperor Domitian, who had commanded that everyone address him as “Lord and God.” Christians refused to do that, and they were either killed or exiled. These letters were written to strengthen their faith during this time of persecution and to let them know that, no matter what the Roman Empire might do, Christ is our King, and he far surpasses any earthly ruler.

In our readings for today, we see that the new community of faith began with a group of very scared people who had gathered behind locked doors. They knew what could happen to them.

And yet, a short time later, we see Peter and the apostles healing people and preaching the good news and gaining more and more followers. No human rulers were going to stop them from doing this. Then, fifty years later, John was writing letters to encourage seven communities a thousand miles away.

We were not there in that upper room. We have not literally seen the risen Christ. We have not touched his wounds. But, because of the faith and courage of the apostles and all the saints during the past two thousand years, we have been in his presence and we have experienced his healing and forgiveness.

From that fearful beginning, our risen Lord gave the apostles the courage and the faith to share his presence, his love and healing, with everyone they met, and the new faith grew and grew.

Here we are, two thousand years later, and we are about to celebrate Grace’s two hundredth birthday. Christ is alive in us and we in him.

May we continue to share his peace his healing, and his forgiveness.