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

Easter 3A RCL April 30, 2017

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

Our opening reading is a continuation from last Sunday’s passage. Peter tells the gathered crowd that Jesus is Lord and Messiah. The people are “cut to the heart” because of the death of Jesus, and they ask Peter what they can do? He tells them that they can repent, that is, confess to God that they are truly sorry and that they want to change their lives; they want to follow Jesus. The end result is that three thousand people are baptized on that Pentecost. Because of the powerful faith and witness of Peter and the other apostles, scenes like this continued to happen, and they are described in the Book of Acts.

In our second reading, from the First Letter of Peter, we remember that he is addressing people who are living under persecution. They are in exile because they are following different values and living different lives from those around them. Their lives have been transformed through meeting Jesus. Peter reminds them and us that we are now trusting in God and that our faith and hope are set on God. Peter calls them and us to love one another deeply from our hearts because we have been born anew.

Our gospel today is from Luke. As in last week’s gospel, it is the first Easter. This is one of the most beloved gospel stories, the Walk to Emmaus. Two followers of Jesus are going along the seven mile journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They know that Jesus has been crucified. That is a fact. Some of the women have been to Jesus’ tomb, have found it empty, and have had a vision of angels telling them that Jesus has risen. Some others in the group have gone to the tomb and found it empty.

We know that one of the men is named Cleopas. The other remains unnamed. We do not know for sure where they are from, but I think they probably live in Emmaus and are heading home. When we have been following a great leader and spiritual guide and he is brutally killed, sometimes our instinct is to head home, where we can be with people we love, and regroup.

They are walking along, grieving over Jesus’ death and wondering: has he really risen from the dead? They are in deep grief because they know he died on the cross. But they are also having glimmers of hope. Could it be true? Could he have risen? They did not go to see the empty tomb themselves, but people they knew and trusted saw that reality and experienced the vision of the angels. Could they trust all of that? Could they allow themselves to hope? They are talking about all these things.

Suddenly a stranger is walking along with him. They do not recognize him. In all of these post-resurrection accounts, this happens over and over again. There is something different about Jesus. He looks like himself, but he also has changed. Also, people know that he has died, and that is the reality they are dealing with.

The stranger asks them what they have been talking about and they tell him what has happened. They go over the whole story. I imagine they may be shocked when he tells them how foolish they are not to believe what the prophets have said. Then he gives them a short course in the scriptures. They still do not recognize him.

As they near the village of Emmaus, Jesus walks on as if to continue his journey. They offer hospitality to him because night is coming. He goes in to stay with them. When they sit down to eat and he breaks the bread, they recognize him. But then he vanishes.

Then they are able to tell each other how he set their hearts on fire when he was talking about the scriptures and how their eyes and hearts were opened to the truth.

They get up and head back to Jerusalem, where they find the eleven apostles and their close friends gathered. The apostles tell the two men that the Lord is risen and has appeared to Peter. The two men, in turn, share their encounter with the risen Lord on the Road to Emmaus. As time goes on, the risen Lord will appear to different people here and there until they all realize that he is alive.

When we have seen or experienced something terrible, as these two men and all of Jesus’ followers had experienced his crucifixion, the horror of the thing is so dark and overwhelming that it is almost impossible to hope. We feel paralyzed. Often after a tragic experience such as that, we feel nothing. We are numb. That is a protective mechanism the body has in order to help us keep going. It is called psychic numbing.

As time goes on, we are afraid to feel anything. Like these two men, we find it difficult to hope again. I think that is part of the reason why they don’t recognize the living Lord. They know for certain that he is dead. And they do not dare to hope for anything else.

But there he is, a stranger on the road. There he is, walking with us, asking us what is going on in our lives and we are telling him about these horrible things that have happened, things he knows all about because he has endured them—he is with us in all our sufferings—and then we realize. There he is. He has come through it all and is leading us. Like the biblical Good Shepherd that he is, he is out ahead of the flock, helping us to stay away from the bad water holes and leading us to good pasture, telling us that there is always hope and leading us into his vision of shalom—peace, love, and wholeness for each of us and for the entire creation. New life.

And always, always, he makes himself known to us in the breaking of the bread.  Always, no matter what, he is with us. Amen.

Easter 2A RCL April 23, 2017

Acts 2:14a, 22-32
Psalm 16
1 Peter 1:3-9
John 20:19-31

On most of the Sundays of the Church year, our first reading is taken from the Hebrew scriptures, also called the Old Testament. During the Great Fifty Days of Easter, our first reading comes from the Greek scriptures, or New Testament. This helps us to focus on the fact that we are an Easter people.

Our opening lesson takes place on the Day of Pentecost. Just prior to our reading from today, the Holy Spirit has filled the disciples with the gift of being able to speak the languages of the known world at that time. All the people who have come for the feast of Pentecost are able to hear the Good News in their native languages.

Our reading for today is Peter’s sermon preached to the people who had just experienced this amazing event. They were wondering what all of this could mean. Peter links the ministry of Jesus to the reign of  the great King David, the most beloved and revered king of the Jewish people. That is to say, Peter does what any good preacher does. He presents his message in a context  that the people will understand. He ends with some words which sum up the  Good News, “This Jesus God raised up, and of this we are all witnesses.”

Our epistle comes much later in Peter’s life. Some scholars think that Peter dictated this letter to Silvanus just before he died in Rome. The letter is addressed to Christians who are suffering persecution in Asia Minor, what we would now call Turkey. The Church has grown. There are now congregations all around the Mediterranean Sea. But the Church is being persecuted because it believes in Jesus and refuses to worship earthly rulers. Answering Jesus’ call to be peacemakers, the early Christians refused to fight in the military. They also shared all things in common. For these and other reasons, the Church was  considered by those in power to be subversive.

Peter once again focuses on the core of our belief in a beautiful hymn of praise. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.”

What a gift, the wondrous gift of new life in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Every year, our gospel for the Second Sunday of Easter is this inspiring and moving passage from the Gospel of John. Of our three readings, this is historically the earliest one.

It is the evening of the first Easter. Mary has gone to the tomb and found it empty. She has seen the risen Lord and has told the others. The first thing to keep clearly in mind is that they are full of fear. They are hiding behind locked doors for fear of the authorities. The powers that be were quick to clamp down on any insurgent movements. They had already killed Jesus. What would they do now?

Jesus comes right through the walls of their fear. He brings peace, not only peace in the usual sense, but also his vision of shalom, a peace that begins in our hearts and lives and spreads over the whole wide earth, a harmony that not only brings the end of war but unites all people and the whole creation in a way that brings well being to everyone. And our Lord confers on his followers, including us, the ministry of reconciliation.

Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary says that to reconcile is to “restore to friendship or harmony.” (p. 984). Because of their encounters with the risen Christ and the power of his love and healing,  the followers of Jesus were able, with God’s grace, to create communities which lived these values. People were welcomed, no matter what their economic status or education, and they experienced our Lord’s love and healing through the faith and life of the community.

All of this began in that room where the disciples were gathered in fear. That changed when our Lord came to let them know that they had no reason to fear. He called them to go out into the world, go beyond those locked doors, and share his love with everyone they met.

Fear was transformed into faith, and that faith spread the Good News all around the Mediterranean and gave thousands and thousands of people new hope and a new purpose in life.

That is why we are here today. Because that faith means everything to us. It is our beacon in challenging times. We know that the love of God in Christ is the most powerful force in the world. It changes people’s lives. It has changed our lives.

Now, over two thousand years after that first Easter and that first Pentecost, we are called to carry out our Lord’s ministry of reconciliation, to help to build his shalom of peace and harmony.

Grace Church has been doing this for over two hundred years, Thanks be to God.

Gracious God, give us, we pray, the grace to be channels of your peace, your love, your joy, and your healing.  Amen.

Easter Day Year A April 16, 2017

Acts 10:34-43
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Colossians 3:1-4
John 20:1-18

Alleluia. Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.

During the fifty days of the Easter season, all three of our readings will be from the Greek scriptures, or the New Testament. Christ is risen, and we take time during this special festive season to devote all three readings to events that happened during and after his ministry here on earth.

Our first reading is from the Book of Acts, which traces the very early history of the new faith. Peter had always believed that followers of the new faith in Jesus would have to follow the Jewish dietary laws and other parts of the law. But he had a vision of all kinds of food which were forbidden by the law and he heard the voice of God telling him it was all right to eat these foods. Peter also got to know some Gentiles, among them Cornelius the Centurion, and God still caused the Holy Spirit to fill these people.

Our opening reading is Peter’s proclamation that God does not show partiality. God loves everyone, and God gives the Holy Spirit to everyone who believes. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “God has a big family,” and it includes everyone.

Our reading from the Letter to the Colossians reminds us that we have been welcomed into new life in Christ, and we are called to live in him and allow him to live in us.

In our gospel, Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb while it is still dark.  As she walks to that tomb, she is expecting to find the dead body of Jesus. Instead, she finds the tomb empty. She runs to tell Peter and John what has happened, and, after they leave, she goes in and sees the two angels guarding the place where Jesus’ body had been placed. She thinks someone has taken Jesus’ dead body away.

Even when she turns around and sees the risen Lord, she still does not recognize him. She is still thinking of him as dead. She thinks he is the gardener. It is only when he calls her name that she realizes who he is. She is then able to go and tell the others that she has seen the risen Lord.

Jesus takes death, brokenness, and suffering and transforms it into life wholeness, and joy. Jesus takes death and transforms it into newness of life, life in a deeper dimension for everyone. That is the meaning of Easter. After he appears to Mary, two of his disciples see him on the road to Emmaus. Peter meets him on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Three times, Jesus asks him, “Peter, do you love me?” and three times Peter answers, “Yes, Lord. I love you. And Jesus says, “Feed my lambs. Feed my sheep.”

As Jesus called Mary Magdalene and Peter and so many others, our risen Lord is calling us. Centuries after Jesus walked with us here on earth, one of his most faithful followers wrote a prayer which describes what Jesus is calling us to do and to be. It is the Prayer of St. Francis, found on page 833 of the prayer book. Let us pray this together.

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy;. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.  Amen.

Alleluia. Christ is risen!

The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Good Friday Year A April 14, 2017

What can we say on this terrible, tragic day? We look upon the horror of the cross and we become wordless. Jesus could have called in legions of angels. He could have destroyed that hate-filled mob. But he did not. He suffered, he took in all that hate, and he answered it with one thing, the most powerful force in the world—love.

Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “Christianity is the only world religion that confesses a God who suffers. It is not that popular an idea, even among Christians. We prefer a God who prevents suffering, only that is not the God we have got. What the cross teaches us is that God’s power is not the power to force human choices and end human pain. It is, instead, the power to pick up the shattered pieces and make something holy out of them—not from a distance but from right close up.”

Taylor continues, “By entering into the experience of the cross, God took the manmade wreckage of the world inside himself and labored with it—a long labor—almost three days— and he did not let go of it until he could transform it and return it to us as life. That is the power of a suffering God, not to prevent pain, but to redeem it, by going through it with us.” (God in Pain, p. 118.)

I have shared this passage before but I wanted us to reflect upon it again. Our loving God suffers with us, takes in all that pain and suffering and makes new life out of it. When we humans suffer, God is there with us in that suffering.

God moves through our darkest times with us, not only as individuals but as the entire human race. God takes our times of greatest weakness and brokenness, and transforms them into life on a new level. May we walk the Way of the Cross, the Way that leads to life. Amen.

Palm Sunday Year A  April 9, 2017

Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 31:9-16
Philippians 2:5-11
Matthew 26:14-27:66

Palm Sunday is such a heart wrenching day. We welcome our king, casting palms in his path to honor him, and then we look on in horror as, step by step, he walks the Way of the Cross.

This Holy Week, we will be walking the Way with him as we gather on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

Hymn 84 begins with the words, “Love came down at Christmas.” That is true. “Love came down at Christmas,” and now Love is going to pour itself out on the cross. Love is going to take all sin and darkness and brokenness and wrestle with it and labor with it and transform it into new life. He will wash our feet and share a meal with us, a meal which he will give us as a sign of his presence among us. And then, we will stand with his mother Mary at the foot of the cross.

As we walk with our Lord and spend time with him and learn from him and pray with him, we become closer to him. Our diocesan mission statement calls us to “Pray the prayer of Christ, learn the mind Christ, and do the deeds of Christ.” Our reading from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, calls us to “Let the same mind be in [us] that was in Christ Jesus.”

Significant events have happened in the past few days and are continuing to happen. For six years, Syria has been in a humanitarian crisis, and this tragic situation is connected with and surrounded by a web of political alliances and power dynamics. As we walk the Way of the Cross with our Lord this week, I hope and pray that we will seek the mind and will of Christ and that we will follow our Lord as faithfully as we possibly can. Dear Lord, help us to follow where you lead. Help us to seek and do your will.  Amen.

Lent 5A  April 2, 2017

Ezekiel 37:1-14
Psalm 130
Romans 8:6-11
John 11:1-45

Our first reading, which comes from the Book of Ezekiel, is one of the most compelling passages in the Bible. Ezekiel was a priest and a prophet who lived with the exiles in Babylon. His ministry took place from 593 to 563 B.C.

The people of God spent fifty years in exile. As time went on, they began to feel that their whole nation, the whole of Israel, was dead. After all, they were in captivity in an alien land. A foreign power was occupying their homeland. The temple in Jerusalem, the center of their worship, lay in ruins. They had little or no hope of ever returning. They might as well be dead. They had no future. They were prisoners in a foreign land.

Our reading this morning is Ezekiel’s God-given vision of the nation of Israel, the people of God lying dead in the valley of dry bones, and God raising these dry bones back to life.  God asks Ezekiel, “Mortal, can these bones live?” Ezekiel humbly answers, “O Lord God, you know.”  Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann writes, “Only God can answer. This is not a question permitting human response, because the power for life is held only by God. Only God knows, not because God has ‘information,’ but because only God has the power to make life happen.” (Texts for Preaching Year A, p. 219.)

This passage tells us that God brings life, not only for individuals but for nations, especially oppressed nations and groups. God takes these dry bones and puts muscles and flesh on them and covers them with skin and puts breath (ruach) into them. Last Sunday we made an offering to help the nation of South Sudan. God can bring life to our brothers and sisters in South Sudan, and in Haiti and Zimbabwe and El Salvador and all the other places where death is stalking the people. Brueggemann calls us to “…trust the stunning freedom and power of the God who gives life.” (Texts for Preaching Year A, p. 221.)

No situation is hopeless. God brings life. God is going to bring the exiles home.

In our gospel for today, we have another powerful account from Jesus’ ministry. As we look at this story, we remember that Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are Jesus’ closest friends. They live in Bethany, which is about two miles outside of Jerusalem. Jesus has spent many hours at their home, which is a kind of sanctuary for him. It is a relatively safe place for him in the midst of all the intrigue and power politics of Jerusalem.

Lazarus falls ill. Mary and Martha send a message to Jesus to come as quickly as he can. Jesus waits another two days. By this time, Jerusalem is an extremely dangerous place for him to visit. But Jesus also says that he is waiting so that God’s glory may be fully revealed. Finally he tells the disciples that they are going to Judea. He says that Lazarus has fallen asleep and he is going to awaken him. Going to Jerusalem is dangerous. Thomas even says, “Let us go, that we may die with him.”

When Jesus and the disciples arrive, Martha meets them. She gently rebukes Jesus, saying that, if he had been there, Lazarus would never have died, Jesus could have healed him. Jesus tells her that Lazarus will rise again. And he says those words which are at the center of our faith, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Martha says that she believes this.

Mary comes to Jesus, kneels at his feet, and, weeping, tells Jesus that if he had come earlier, Lazarus would never have died. All of their friends who have been mourning with Mary and Martha are crying as well. Jesus himself is in tears at this point. Our Lord is fully human as well as fully divine, and this is a terrible loss. One of his best friends has died. Some of the mourners again point out that, if Jesus had arrived sooner, he could have prevented this tragedy.

Then Jesus commands them to take away the stone. The down-to-earth Martha points out that Lazarus has been dead for four days and there is going to be a smell. This is real death. But Jesus is focusing on the fact that God brings life. Yes, a beloved friend has died. This is real. But God brings life.  Into every situation, no matter how seemingly hopeless, God brings life.

They take away the stone. Jesus prays, thanking God for the miracle that is about to come. Lazarus staggers out into the light, the cloths in which he had been wrapped unwinding as he propels himself out of the dark cave. Jesus says, “Unbind him and let him go!” Lazarus is alive and free.

Whenever we feel hopeless, whenever we encounter death of any kind, the death of slavery or of addiction or of oppression, God brings life. In the face of all death and brokenness, God brings life.

In the words of Walter Brueggemann, may we “trust the stunning power and freedom of the God who gives life.”  Amen.