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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion June 4, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.comTime:  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 June 11, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.comTime:  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 June 18, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.comTime:  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 7C May 29

Acts 16:16-34
Psalm 97
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
John 17: 20-26

Our first reading today continues the story of Paul and his team. They are on the way to the place of prayer when they meet a young woman who is a slave. She is possessed by a spirit of divination, and her owners make a great deal of money by owning her and using this gift of hers.

This young woman follows Paul and his team crying out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” The text tells us that she did this for many days.

Paul becomes annoyed with this, and he orders the spirit to come out of her, It comes out. The healing is complete. The spirit is gone. The young woman no longer has the gift which produced a good income for her owners. Mary Donovan Turner notes that the young woman’s owners were what we would call human traffickers. (New Proclamation Year C 2013, p. 53.) 

In those days, the law said that people could own other people. The woman’s owners take hold of Paul and Silas and drag them to the authorities. The owners say that Paul and his team are “advocating customs that are not lawful for us Romans to adopt or observe.” The crowd agrees with the owners. Paul and Silas are stripped bare and beaten with rods. This passage certainly makes it clear that spreading the good news isn’t always easy!

Then Paul and Silas are given a severe flogging and put in prison. The jailer puts them in the innermost cell and fastens their feet in the stocks.

About midnight Paul and Silas are praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners are listening to them. Can we imagine this? Paul and Silas are as bare as the day they were born. They have been beaten at least twice. Their feet are fastened in the stocks and they are singing! And the other prisoners are listening!

Suddenly there is an earthquake. The foundations of the prison are shaking.The doors are open; the chains are unfastened. The jailer wakes up. He sees that the prison doors are open. He thinks that all of the prisoners have escaped, so he takes out his sword to kill himself because he is quite certain that his career, and his life are over.

But Paul cries out in a loud voice. “Don’t hurt yourself. We’re all right here.” The jailer calls for torches, and, sure enough, the prisoners are there. The jailer falls on his knees and asks, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” In addressing Paul and Silas as “sirs,” I think the jailer is concluding that these prisoners are closely associated with a higher power.

Paul and Silas tell him that he needs to believe in the Lord Jesus and they teach him and his household about what that means. And this jailer whose world has just been turned upside down follows the Way of Love, and washes their wounds. He and his family are baptized. He brings them up into his house and sets a meal before them. He extends the gift of hospitality to his new brothers in Christ.

What a beautiful and powerful story! Paul and Silas, prisoners for Christ, set a jailer free to live a new life.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is giving last instructions to his disciples. Much of his Last Discourse is a prayer. “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they (meaning the disciples and us, followers of Jesus) also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me….so that  they may be one as we are one. I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you loved me. And Jesus goes on to say that his whole purpose in his prayer is to ask that “…the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

Jesus is in us and we are in him. He is the vine, we are the branches. We are so close with him and with each other that we are one.

This story about Paul and Silas is so inspiring! it lets us know that sometimes God calls us to do hard things, challenging things, things we think we cannot do. Paul and Silas have been beaten and stripped to the status of nothing. They are totally vulnerable. Yet, when God sends the miracles and everyone is free, they stay in their cells and wait to extend God’s love to the jailer and free him and his family from their bondage and lead them into newness of life.

The faith and love of Paul and Silas speaks so powerfully to the jailer that his life and the lives of his family members are transformed. The foundations of the jail are shaken, the doors are open, and Paul and Silas just sit there and wait.They save the jailer from being fired and probably executed. They save the jailer from suicide.

Jesus is in us. and we are in him, He is that close. We are that close to him and to each other, as close as the members of a body. As close and as strongly connected as the vine and the branch.

Paul and Silas taught that truth to the jailer through their actions. They invited the jailer into the closeness and safety of God’s love by showing God’s love to this poor jailer whose prisoners had been freed by an earthquake.

May we follow the example of Paul and Silas. May we share God’s love with others, even when it is difficult. If we are called to do something, and if it’s about love, God will give us the grace to do what ever ministry God is calling us to do, even if it is to sit there and wait for the jailer after the prison foundations have shaken and the doors are open and all the other prisoners have left. God will always remind us that the jailer is going to need the grace of Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Easter 6C May 22, 2022

Acts 16:9-15
Psalm 67
Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5
John 14:23-29

Our opening reading today is from the Book of Acts. Paul is having a vision. A man from Macedonia is pleading with Paul saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Immediately, Paul and his team set sail from Troas, a city on the northwest tip of Asia Minor, which we now call Turkey. They land in Philippi, a city in northwestern Greece. They have just sailed from Asia to Europe.

Philippi is a major city in that area of the Roman Empire. Paul and his team stay in Philippi for several days and on the sabbath they go to what the text describes as a “place of prayer” by the river. Scholars tell us that this “place of prayer” by the river is probably a synagogue. 

There they find a group of women, and Paul and his team speak to them. Among these women is Lydia, a woman of means who deals in purple cloth. She is a business woman and the head of a household, which was very unusual in those days. After listening to Paul and his team, Lydia and her household are baptized.

Then Lydia invites Paul and his team to stay at her home. They make her house their base of operations  and later the community starts a house church in her home. Her entry in Lesser Feasts and Fasts says that Lydia is recognized as a saint“ in a wide range of Christian traditions, including the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, and many Protestant traditions. In the Orthodox Church she is given the title ‘Equal to the Apostles’ for her role in spreading the Christian faith.” Lydia’s feast day was yesterday, May 21.

This is a very important moment in the history of the Church. The faith which began in Asia is now in Europe.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is telling his disciples and us that he will be going to be with God. He will no longer be here on earth. This Thursday the Church observes Ascension Day. The window above the altar at Grace beautifully and movingly depicts our Lord’s Ascension.

We can only begin to imagine how shocked and saddened the disciples were to hear that Jesus would be leaving them to return to the Father. Their leader, teacher, mentor, and friend would no longer be with them in the flesh.

With Jesus among them, they could always turn to him and ask a question or seek his guidance in a difficult situation. But now he would be gone There would be a terrible hole in their hearts, in their lives.

But Jesus says some things that answer their grief and fear. First, he says the most amazing thing. He says that he and God will come and make their home with us. If we love Jesus and God, they will come and make their home with us. Jesus and God will live in our hearts. And we know that is true. We all have had times when we were confused or grieving or at our wits’ end, and there God was, or Jesus, or the Spirit, comforting us. Now our Lord is telling us that he and God and the Spirit have made their home with us.

Then Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will “teach [us] everything, and remind [us] of all that [Jesus] has said to [us].” In another place, Jesus says that the Spirit is within us. and in another place, our Lord says that the Spirit will lead us into all truth. Nowadays, there is a lot of misinformation and disinformation. The Holy Spirit is within us and will help us sort out the truth. And the truth is always about love.

And then Jesus says that wonderful thing: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

Jesus is giving us his peace, his shalom. In her book, A Wing and a Prayer, retired Presiding Bishop  Katharine Jefferts  Schori writes, “Shalom is a vision of the city of God on earth, a community where people are at peace with each other because each one has enough to eat, adequate shelter, medical care and meaningful work. Shalom is a city where justice is the rule of the day, where prejudice has vanished, where the diverse gifts with which we have been so abundantly blessed are equally valued.” (Jefferts Schori. A Wing and a Prayer, p. 33.)

Jesus is with us. Jesus, God, and the Spirit have made their home with us. And he tells us that we should not be afraid. So many things that are happening in our world are because people are afraid. Love casts out fear. Faith is fear that has said its prayers. Let us live lives of faith, not fear.

Bishop Schori continues, “Each one of us has the potential to be a partner in God’s government, to be a co-creator of a good and whole and peaceful community.” She goes on to say that we are called
“to use every resource at hand  to build the reign of God—to use the gifts we have, the ones we think we might have, and the ones we haven’t discovered yet, to be willing to speak about our vision of peace, whether in the newspaper or in the halls of Congress, and to dedicate our lives to making that vision come alive, to give our hearts to it, to believe in it, with every fiber of our being.”  

And she concludes, “Building the reign of God is a great and bold adventure, and it is the only route to being fully alive. If we don’t set out to change the world, who will?” (ibid., pp. 34-35.)

Jesus is with us, He and Isaiah and others have given us a vision, a vision based on living lives of faith, hope, and love, and honoring the dignity of every human being. We are already engaged in helping Jesus to build his shalom. We are already committed to walking the Way of Love. Jesus has made his home with us. We have made our home with him, and we are walking and working together. Thanks be to God! Alleluia!

Easter 5C May 15, 2022

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

In our gospel for today, Jesus has gathered with his disciples for the last supper. He has washed their feet. He has told them that they and we are called to be servants. He has said that he will be going to be with God, and that one of them will betray him. At this point in the narrative, Judas has left, and Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

Biblical scholar Charles B. Cousar writes, “A new and unparalleled model for love has been given the disciples….In Jesus the disciples have a concrete, living expression of what love is. Love can no longer be trivialized or reduced to an emotion or debated over as if it were a philosophical virtue under scrutiny. Jesus now becomes the distinctive definition of love.”

Cousar says that this “new commandment” of Jesus also means that eternal life is not something to be realized in the future. It begins now. He writes, “At the center of the new era is the community established by Jesus, the intimate though at times unfaithful family, whom he affectionately addresses as ‘little children.’ What holds the family together and makes it stand above all the rest is the love members have for one another—dramatic, persistent love like the love Jesus has for them.” (Cousar, Texts for preaching, p. 311.

A short time after Jesus has given this new commandment and sealed it with his death, resurrection, and the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we catch up with Peter. He has been called to meet with some believers in Jerusalem because they are upset that he is ministering to Gentiles.

And Peter tells his amazing story. He was in Joppa. He went up on the roof to pray, and he had a vision of all kinds of food, clean and unclean, being lowered from heaven as on a sheet. Then the voice of God said, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” Peter objected strenuously. “Lord, I have always followed the dietary laws. I would never eat anything that was unclean!” The voice of God came a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” 

God has just thrown the dietary laws out the window. This happens three times. We recall that the number three signifies completeness. The dietary laws are now gone. Peter has lived his life by these laws, and now they are erased.

But the Holy Spirit is not finished. Peter has no time to think this over. Three men from Caesarea arrive. The Spirit tells Peter to go with them without question and to make no distinction between himself and them. Walls are tumbling down all over the place. Six brothers are with him, and they accompany him to Caesarea. 

When they reach Caesarea, they go into the home of a man named Cornelius. He is a centurion in the Roman army, a devout man who loves God and gives generously to the people. An angel has told Cornelius to call Peter to come to see him.

As Peter begins to speak, the Holy Spirit falls on everyone gathered in Cornelius’ house, and Peter remembers how Jesus said, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Peter concludes that the Holy Spirit can be given to everyone. He says, “If then God  gave the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” When the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem hear this, they are silenced.

Jesus’ commandment to love one another as he loves us has created a new community, and in the Book of Acts we see that community growing by leaps and bounds. Walls come down, barriers are broken, lives are transformed. Love is spreading faster than they can keep up with it. The Holy Spirit is at work.

Two thousand years later, we are that community. Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, is leading us in living and walking the Way of Love. He says “If it’s about love, it’s about God. If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.”

To return to the story of Peter, once the Gentiles in Cornelius’ home have received the holy Spirit, Peter asks, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he orders the people to be baptized. Then he and the brothers with him stay at the home of Cornelius for several days. They will be spending time together sharing their faith and building a larger and stronger community of believers.

We are called to help God to create God’s Beloved Community, a community where all people are accepted as precious and equal. When Peter was having his vision of God up on the roof, walls came down and divisions between people were erased. When the people in Cornelius’ home received the Holy Spirit, Peter realized that they should be baptized. As Paul said so many years ago. “In Christ, there is no slave nor free, no Jew nor Greek, no male nor female. We are all one in Christ Jesus.” 

Lord Jesus, our Good Shepherd, help us to love each other and all others as you have loved us. In your holy Name. Amen. Alleluia!

Easter 4C   May 10, 2022

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

The Fourth Sunday of Easter is always Good Shepherd Sunday, and it is one of my favorite Sundays of the year. The Collect is powerfully simple: “O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

If we ask folks what their favorite psalm is, many say Psalm 23. “The Lord is my shepherd…he makes me to lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside the still waters.” The shepherd takes care of the sheep, The shepherd gives his life for the sheep. Back in Jesus’ day, there were still lions and bears in Palestine, and shepherds had to fight them off.

Psalm 23 says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”

Back in Biblical times and still now, the shepherds would bring their flocks into the village where there was a sheepfold, a safe, enclosed area with a gate. Only a trusted person could open the gate. Each shepherd would bring his sheep in for the night and put them within that protected area. In the morning, each shepherd would call his sheep. The sheep knew their shepherd’s voice. Only the sheep belonging to that flock would follow the shepherd. That’s how close the relationship is. We know when it is the voice of Jesus.

Another thing about the Biblical shepherd is that he goes out ahead of the flock. The gifted preacher and teacher Barbara Brown Taylor learned from a friend who grew up on a sheep farm, who told her that sheep are very different from cattle. As we all know from watching westerns, you can herd cattle from behind. But, concerning sheep, Taylor writes, “Stand behind them making loud noises and all they will do is run around behind you because they prefer to be led…They will not go anywhere that someone else does not go first—namely, their shepherd—who goes ahead of them to show them that everything is all right.” (Taylor,The Preaching Life, p. 140-141.)

Taylor continues, “Sheep tend to grow fond of their shepherds, my friend went on to say. It never ceased to amaze him, growing up, that he could walk through a  sleeping flock, while a stranger could not step foot in the fold without causing pandemonium. Sheep seem to consider their shepherds part of their family, and the relationship that exists between the two is quite exclusive….A good shepherd learns to distinguish a bleat of pain from one of pleasure, while the sheep learn that a click of the tongue means food while a two-note song means that it is time to go home.” (Ibid., p. 141.)

Jesus is our good shepherd. We are his flock. He is with us always. We have nothing to fear. He will not lose one of us. We follow him. If he goes ahead of us, we know that all is well. Our good shepherd goes ahead of us through everything, even death itself. He has been through the worst of the worst. if we are following him, no matter what happens, he has walked that way before us. It may not be easy, It may be extremely challenging, but he has gone ahead of us, and it will be okay.

As we listen for his voice, as we ask him for guidance, we can hear his call. We can sense his leading. He knows us. He knows everything there is to know about us. And he loves us. And we love him. He is out in front leading us. We are not alone.

Right now our good shepherd is walking through the sheepfold. He is here. We can feel secure in his presence. He is taking care of us.  He knows and loves us. We know and love him.

All through our journey with Covid and all its variants, our Good Shepherd has been with us, encouraging us, guiding us to the green pastures and the still waters. It’s not over, and it will be an endemic, but we’ve made it thus far. Our Good Shepherd is out ahead of us. He goes before us. Everything we may face is something he has already overcome.

In our gospel for today, it is the feast of the Dedication, a feast we know as Hanukkah. The religious authorities gather around Jesus. They are trying to get him to say that he is the Messiah so that they can arrest and kill him. But he will not do that, because they will not be able to hear his voice.  

At the end of this passage, Jesus says, “The Father and I are one.” When we look at the life of our Lord, when we read about his ministry in the gospels, this is God walking the face of the earth. This is how God, who created the universe, would live a human life. By reading and studying the gospels, we can grow closer and closer to God and Jesus and the Spirit. We can have a real living blueprint for living our lives. This is what John means when he says in his gospel that Jesus is the Word, the logos, the plan for how to live a human life. He is our example of how to live, and he is not just someone who lived centuries ago and can inspire us from a distance. He is with us now.

Decades ago, when Adolph Hitler had conquered all of Europe and had reached the English Channel, the 23rd psalm became a rallying anthem for the British people. Night after night, the Nazi bombers would level building after building. Among many treasures lost was Coventry Cathedral.

Now, another tyrant is doing a similar thing. President Putin is trying to take over Ukraine, leveling buildings and killing innocent people,  even children. Most of the countries of the world are working together to try to bring peace and save lives. Once again, we look to our Good Shepherd for strength and guidance. May we follow where he leads. Amen.

Easter 3C May 1, 2022

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

During the Easter season, all of our readings come from the New Testament, the Greek scriptures. Chronologically our gospel comes first. The disciples have gone to Galilee. Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James and John, the sons of Zebedee are at the Sea of Galilee, together with some others.

Peter decides to go fishing and the others go with him. They fish all night and catch nothing. At dawn, Jesus is on the bank. They do not recognize him. Jesus advises them to cast their net to the right of the boat. They follow his guidance, and the net is full to the breaking point, but it holds.

John tells Peter, “It is the Lord!” Peter throws on some clothes and swims to shore. The others follow with the huge catch. When they arrive, there is a charcoal fire with fish on it, and bread. They have breakfast, a kind of eucharistic meal.

When they have finished, Jesus asks Peter, “Simon, son of John. do you love me more than these?” And Peter answers, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” And Jesus says, “Feed my lambs.” Three times Jesus asks Peter this question, and Jesus tells him, “Feed my sheep. Tend my sheep.”  The number three signifies completeness. Peter betrayed Jesus three times. Jesus asks the question three times, “Do you love me?” And Peter answers three times, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” 

Complete betrayal by Peter. Complete forgiveness by our Lord. And Jesus commissions Peter to take care of the flock that God has given them.  Jesus predicts Peter’s martyrdom. And then he says, “Follow me.” And Peter does just that.

This is such a powerful and moving scene. Jesus forgives Peter for his betrayal and makes him the leader of the apostles.

A little over thirty years later, the events in our reading from the Book of Acts take place. Saul has witnessed the killing of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. He asks the high priest for authority to go to Damascus and find followers of Jesus so that he can arrest them, tie them up, and bring them to Jerusalem to put them in jail.

On the road to Damascus, he has an encounter that changes his life. A light from heaven flashes around him. He falls to the ground and hears a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

Saul asks, “Who are you Lord?” And the answer comes, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Go into the city and you will be told what to do.” The men who are with Saul are speechless. They heard the voice but they didn’t see anything. Saul gets up from the ground. His eyes are open, but he cannot see. So they lead him by the hand into Damascus. 

For three days Saul cannot see, and he eats and drinks nothing. There is a follower of Jesus in Damascus named Ananias. He has a vision in which our Lord calls him to go and find Saul in a certain place. But Ananias argues with Jesus, “Lord, you can’t call this man to serve you. He has done very bad things to your saints in Jerusalem.”And our Lord says to Ananias, “Yes I know, but this is the person I have chosen to take the good news to the Gentiles.” 

Ananias goes to the house where Saul is, lays his hands on him and says, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me to you so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Something like scales fall from Saul’s eyes. He gets up, is baptized, eats some food, begins to regain his strength, stays with them for a while, and begins to proclaim the good news.

Jesus takes a man who betrayed him three times and makes him the leader of the apostles. Jesus takes a man who watched with glee while Stephen was stoned to death and makes him the apostle to the Gentiles. 

Peter made a mistake. Three big mistakes. Yet, after Jesus was crucified, he was there with the others. He went into the tomb and found it empty. He stayed with the others and they went back to Galilee. There, he expressed his love for Jesus and Jesus forgave him.

Saul was out to arrest followers of Jesus and put them in prison. He witnessed the martyrdom of Stephen. He saw Jesus and his followers as a threat to his faith. And then he met the risen Lord on the road to Damascus. In spite of all that had happened, Jesus knew that Saul was the one to spread the good news to people who were totally unlike Saul, who was a Pharisee, an expert on the law. Saul became a new person, Paul. He realized that, for him, the law was bondage, and Christ had set him free to live life in a new and deeper and more joyful way. Christ transformed Saul, and Saul got a new name: Paul. Paul would later write, “It is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20.)

Easter is a season of newness of life. It’s a season when we realize that God can turn death into life. God can free us from any kind of bondage. God can make old things new. God takes a persecutor of the church and makes him into a gifted theologian and evangelist. Jesus takes someone who has betrayed him in a time of terror, and, knowing that Peter truly loves him and can be a great leader, forgives Peter and places his trust in Peter.

None of us is perfect. We have all made mistakes. The stories of Peter and Paul make very clear that God can see beyond our errors and flaws. God sees our gifts and our strengths. Jesus calls us each by name. The Spirit gives us the strength and power to answer Yes to that call to love and serve God and to love and serve others in God’s Name. Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia! Amen.