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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion August 21, 2022 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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Epiphany 1 The Baptism of Christ January 9, 2022

Isaiah 43:1-7
Psalm 29
Acts 8:14-17
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

This past Thursday, on January 6, the Church celebrated the feast of the Epiphany. Wise men come from far away to bring gifts to this new king. The feast of the Epiphany proclaims that this new faith is for all people from all over the world. It is a feast of God’s love, light, and inclusiveness.

Today, we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our first reading is from the prophet we call the Second Isaiah. God is telling God’s people in exile in Babylon and is also telling us not to fear, for God has redeemed us. God has called us by name. We belong to God. When we passed through the waters of the Red sea to freedom, God was there. God will be with us through all our challenges and trials. We are precious in God’s sight. God will gather all the exiles from all over the world and bring them home.

Our second reading is from the Book of Acts. So much is happening. Just a little before this passage, the new faith has been growing so fast that the apostles find they cannot do the work of preaching, teaching, praying, and at the same time make sure that the widows and orphans and others in need are taken care of. The apostles call together this new and growing community of Jesus’ followers and ask them to choose “seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit, and  of wisdom,” to minister to the needs of the people at the margins.  These seven men, the first deacons, were Stephen, Phillip, Prochorus, Nicanor,  Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus of Antioch. The apostles pray and lay their hands on them. This is how the first deacons were chosen and ordained.

Soon after this, Stephen becomes the first Christian martyr. An angry crowd stones him to death. Saul, who will later become the apostle Paul, looks on and approves this murder. A severe persecution begins against the church in Jerusalem.

In the midst of all of this, God calls Philip to go to the city of Samaria, home of the Samaritans, who were despised by the Israelites because the Israelites felt the Samaritans had departed from the true faith. Philip shares the good news with the Samaritans and they want to become followers of Jesus. So Philip baptizes them. Word reaches the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem that many people in Samaria are flocking to the new faith. They have been baptized but they have not yet received the Holy Spirit.

The persecution that is going on does not stop the church in Jerusalem from sending Peter and John to Samaria to reach out to these new converts and support them. Peter and John lay their hands on these people and they receive the Holy Spirit. The church in Samaria could have been seen as different from and inferior to the church in Jerusalem. But this did not happen. God guided the Jerusalem church to reach out and welcome these new followers of Jesus in Samaria into full membership in this new community of faith and love.

We remember how Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan, who, after two respected religious leaders walk by on the other side of the road, goes to help the man who has been robbed and beaten and left at the side of the road, bleeding and half dead. In those days, Samaritans were looked upon as the worst of the worst, and Jesus tells us this is the one who is the good neighbor.

When Peter and John go to Samaria, they do not treat the new Samaritan followers of Jesus as the worst of the worst. They put all of that sad history behind them. We can imagine them recalling Jesus’ parable and reminding themselves that all people are beloved children of God. When Peter and John arrive in Samaria, they treat these new followers of Christ with love and respect and welcome them into the fold. As followers of Christ, we are called to heal divisions, to be “restorers of the breach,” as Isaiah said. We are called to turn brokenness into wholeness, division into unity.

In our gospel, Jesus is baptized. He is praying.  The heavens are opened and the Holy Spirit descends upon our Lord in the form of a dove, the sign of peace. And a voice from heaven says, “You are my Son, the beloved: with you I am well pleased.”

In this scene, Jesus, the Son of God; Jesus, God walking the face of the earth, is beginning his formal ministry among us. As we read the gospels, we will be absorbing everything he says and does so that we can follow him more and more faithfully.

Our readings today have some powerful themes. Isaiah reminds us that God brings us out of exile, all kinds of exile. The exile of illness. The exile of addiction. The exile of depression. The exile of pandemic. God brings us together to form Beloved Community. God loves us. God is with us in everything.

Our reading from the Book of Acts inspires us with the reality that, even in the face of persecution, the church in Jerusalem sees God at work in the midst of a formerly hated group of people in Samaria and sends Peter and John to lay hands upon them so that they, too can receive the Holy Spirit and be full members of the new community of faith. Division and brokenness are transformed into unity and strength.

In our gospel, Jesus begins his formal ministry here on earth.

Nothing, not even persecution, can stop God’s love. God loves us so much that God has come among us to be one of us. The season of Epiphany is a season of light and mission. We spread the light and love of Christ as we reach out to help those who need God’s love and care.

May we follow Jesus. May we walk the way of love and light, May we share his love and light with everyone we meet. Amen.

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