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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion December 11, 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:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion December 18, 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:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion December 25, 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:…

The Day of Pentecost Year C June 5, 2022

Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:25-35, 37b
Romans 8:14-17

Our gospel for today is part of Jesus’ last talk with his disciples, his so-called Last Discourse. In this portion of the discourse, Jesus says that those who see him have seen God. Jesus also says, “The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do, and in fact will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.”

Jesus also says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the father and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you,” And then Jesus gives them his peace. his shalom.

After this, Jesus is crucified, rises from the dead, appears to various disciples—He walks with two of them on the road to Emmaus. He appears to Peter and the others on the shore of the lake for a fish and bread breakfast. Twice, he moves past the locked doors and comes to them as they wait in fear of the authorities.

Forty days later, he ascends to heaven to be with God. Before he leaves, he tells them to go into Jerusalem, stay together, pray, and wait for the coming of the Spirit. That is exactly what they do. They miss him terribly. They wonder what they are going to do without him, and they keep remembering that he has told them that in seeing him they have seen God, that they are to love each other and they are to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth.

Our reading from Acts describes the coming of the Holy Spirit. They are together. They are waiting. They are grieving. missing him terribly, and wondering how they are going to do all the things he has asked them to do. It is the day of Pentecost, fifty days after the Passover. In their calendar this is a feast at the end of the wheat harvest. People have come to Jerusalem from all over the Mediterranean basin to celebrate this feast of Weeks.

A huge wind comes up, the ruach that molds and shapes the desert sands. Flames of fire dance over their heads. And suddenly, these uneducated folk who have never studied foreign languages, burst forth in all the known languages of the world. They proclaim God’s love heart to heart in all the languages of the known world. People from all of the regions surrounding the Mediterranean Sea hear about the love of God in a way that deeply touches their hearts.

People think the disciples are drunk, but Peter assures them that is not the case. God has given this group of people who are devastated at the loss of their leader the gift to share God’s love heart to heart. All barriers are dissolved. This little group of simple Galileans is going to turn the world upside down. Pentecost is the birthday of the Church, and we are here, two thousand years later, to continue to share God’s love heart to heart with everyone we meet.

In his last discourse with them, Jesus said that he would send the Spirit. And here we have a profound paradox. Jesus is not here in a physical, bodily sense. We cannot literally see him or hear him, but we can sense his call. We can feel his leading, especially when we take time to be quiet with him in prayer and ask for his direction .

Because Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit to lead us into all the truth of his love, he can do something he could not do when he was physically here. He can be everywhere at once. He can be with devastated families and loved ones in Uvalde, Texas and Buffalo, New York and Laguna Woods, California, Sandy Hook, Connecticut and Parkland, Florida, people huddling in a cellar under a hospital in Ukraine because their houses have been bombed, and Ukrainian soldiers fighting valiantly to preserve their country. He can be with all people who are trying to live the Way of Love all over the world.

He is here with us now. The Rev. Michael Marsh, the Rector at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Uvalde, Texas, has said that, as we contemplate the events of the past few weeks, there are two things. There is sorrow and there is love. There is indeed great sorrow. We are all grieving as the disciples grieved after Jesus left them. This grief has been almost unbearable. We pray for those we have died or have been injured and for their families and loved ones. We pray that the Holy Spirit will lead us into the truth of how to make lasting change. And, as we pray, we reach deep down into that everlasting and immeasurable well of God’s love. Come, Holy Spirit. Come in the wind and the fire of your cleansing energy. Help us to speak your love heart to heart. Come, Holy Spirit. Give us your healing. Give us and our legislators the courage to make the changes we need to make in order to keep children safe in their schools, to allow people of all races and creeds and classes and identities to shop for groceries, gather in their houses of worship, and be safe in their streets and neighborhoods. Come, Holy Spirit. Help us to build the shalom of God. Amen.

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. 

Easter 2C April 24, 2022

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

It is the evening of the first Easter. The disciples are gathered in the house where they have been meeting. The doors are locked for fear of the authorities who killed Jesus. The disciples have every reason to be afraid. The authorities see Jesus as a threat because crowds of people have been following him, and who knows what those crowds of people might do to undermine the power of those in charge? So the authorities attempted to annihilate that threat.

There is one thing on the minds of the disciples. They watched Jesus die, some standing right at the foot of the cross and others in the crowd. A few of them have seen him risen—Mary Magdalene and the other women. Peter and some others have seen the empty tomb.

Could it be possible? Could he have risen? Could he have conquered death itself? Will the authorities come and find us and kill us? For many good reasons, the doors are locked.

Through the walls of fear, he comes to them, he comes to us. “Peace be with you,” he says. “Shalom be with  you, that peace that passes all understanding. That peace that calms our fears.  He shows them his hands and his side. It really is Jesus. He really is alive! “Peace be with you,” he says. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

He breathes on them. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he says. Spirit is the Latin word for breath. To receive the Holy Spirit is to receive the breath of life itself. He gives them the power to forgive sins, to mend suffering hearts and lives. He gives them the ministry of reconciliation. He gives them the power to bring people together and to bring all of us into loving relationship with each other and with God.

One of them, Thomas, who is often called Doubting Thomas, was not there for this momentous encounter. They  tell him “We have seen the Lord.” And Thomas tells them he is going to have to see the marks of the nails in Jesus hands and even put his fingers in those marks and put his hand in Jesus’ side, or he will not believe. I wouldn’t say Thomas is a doubter as much as he is a scientific kind of person. He needs to see the facts, the evidence.

He is definitely a person of courage and deep faith, because when Jesus decided to go to Jerusalem, where he knew he would be killed, Thomas was the first to offer to go with him. But he felt he would really need proof before he could believe Jesus had risen.

Even when we’re not actually praying, Jesus hears our needs, knows what we need. And in his infinite love and kindness, he answers our needs. A week later, he comes to them again through the closed doors, moving through all the obstacles and reservations and questions and fears. “Peace be with you,” he says. Then he invites Thomas to touch the wounds, the scars of his battle with death and brokenness. But Thomas does not need to touch those wounds. He can see that it is Jesus. He bursts out in a prayer of adoration: “My Lord and my God!”

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

We were not in that room all those centuries ago. We may not have seen him then. But we have seen him in our own ways all these centuries later. We have seen him in the eyes of a friend comforting us in a time of grief. We have seen him as we gaze in wonder at a newborn baby. 

We have felt his calming and healing presence in times of profound fear. We have felt his presence when we are gathered to celebrate Holy Eucharist. We have felt his strong arm guiding us over challenging terrain in our spiritual journeys. And we have felt him carrying us when the going got too tough for us.

He has given us the ministry of reconciliation. He` has given us his love. In our reading from the Book of Acts, which occurs some time after the resurrection, Peter and the apostles tell the authorities, “We must obey God rather than any human authority.”

They have been given the gift of sharing the good news about new life in Christ, and they are compelled to share that good news. 

We have seen him, too, and we have felt his presence. He is in our midst right now.

May we continue to share the good news. May we continue to share his love with everyone we meet. May we continue to walk the Way of Love. Amen.

Easter Day April 17, 2022

Acts 10:34-43
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
1 Corinthians 15:19-26
Luke 24:1-12

We were there in the crowd, and they shouted “Crucify him!” It was terrifying. We stood at the foot of the cross with his mother and prayed for him. We could hardly bear it. I don’t know how Mary did it. She has such courage! And he died, a horrible death.

We heard that Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the ruling council, objected to what the council was doing. The council didn’t listen to him. But after Jesus died, Joseph went to Pilate and asked permission to take his body and bury him in his own tomb. Another member of the Council, Nicodemus, had gone to meet Jesus at night. He brought spices and helped Joseph to bury Jesus. They could have been killed for that. They were both faithful followers of Jesus, but we never knew.

The sun is just rising now, and we are going to the tomb to make sure his body is properly taken care of. We’re so exhausted and so devastated we can hardly walk. When we get there, the stone is rolled away. We walk in, and there is no body. We’re trying to figure out what has happened when two men in dazzling clothes are suddenly standing beside us. I think they are angels. We bow to the ground. The angels ask us why we are looking for the living among the dead.  Then they tell us Jesus has risen. And we remember that Jesus has told us about this. He said he was going to be crucified but he would rise again. Our hearts are racing. Maybe he is really alive! We run back to Peter and the others. They don’t seem to be taking it very seriously. Then Peter runs to the tomb and sees that it is empty. 

That evening, we hear that two others see him on the road to Emmaus. They don’t even recognize him until they invite him in for supper. Later, he appears to Peter and the others and gives him a breakfast of fish on the shore of the lake. He appears to more and more people. And we realize that he is alive! He has risen just as he said he would. And he has touched so many lives.

That is why we are here, over two thousand years later. Because of Jesus. He has transformed our lives. Here we are. Able to celebrate our first Easter together in person in two years. He has led us through the pandemic, and, while that’s not over, we have at least learned some things about how to cope with it. It has been two years of death and exile. Whether we have been worshipping on Zoom or in person, He has been right in the midst of us, guiding us.

And then Russia invaded Ukraine for no reason and more innocent people are suffering. President Zelenskyy and his people have shown profound courage and resistance, and most of the world is rallying in support. But there is still much death and suffering. It would be easy to lose hope.

But we will not lose hope. Because of the life and ministry of Jesus, we are a people of hope. Brokenness, shadow, hatred, cruelty, and even death have all been defeated. Love, hope, faith, unity, wholeness, life, and peace will prevail. Christ has won the victory.

Love is stronger that any power on earth. stronger that the forces of brokenness and death. May we continue to follow our Lord in the Way of Love. May we continue to help him to build his shalom of peace and harmony. 

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

Epiphany 2 Year C January 16, 2022

Isaiah 62:1-5
Psalm 36:5-10
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
John 2:1-11

Our first reading today is from the prophet we call the Third Isaiah. The people have returned from their exile in Babylon. They have begun rebuilding the temple and the city of Jerusalem.

It has been difficult to go through the exile, but they have kept the faith and maintained their community and now King Cyrus of Persia has conquered the Babylonian Empire and allowed them to return home.

When they arrive back in Jerusalem and begin the rebuilding, they find that it is a challenging task. The Jerusalem temple is one of the largest and most elaborate buildings of its time. The people begin to argue about how to proceed. Tempers flare. Factions develop. We can imagine that they might have thought God had forsaken them.

God reassures them that they are not forsaken. The whole world is going to see their glory. They will be a “crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord.” God has not forsaken them, God has been with them through it all and will now help them and guide them as they rebuild, not only the temple and the city, but the fabric of their life together as God’s beloved community. 

Our psalm for today continues the themes of light and love. “Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, and your faithfulness to the clouds….How priceless is your love, O God! Your people take refuge under the shadow of your wings….For with you is the well of life, and in your light we see light.”

Our reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians is one of the most important and inspiring passages in the Bible. “There are varieties of gifts but the same spirit. and there are varieties of services but the same Lord, and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates them in everyone.” Paul envisions the Church as the living, caring, ministering Body of Christ. We all have different gifts, but we are all one in Christ, who gives us these gifts.

We are all ministers by virtue of our baptism. We are here to serve others and share the light and love of Christ. The  Corinthians tended to compare too much. Some of them thought certain gifts were better than others, so Paul is telling them and us that all these gifts and ministries are equally valuable and essential. Gifts of preaching, paying the bills, vacuuming the floors, teaching, plowing the snow in winter and mowing the lawn in summer, working at the food shelf, rescuing dogs, reading lessons, playing the organ, pulling weeds. all of these gifts and ministries are equally valuable and important to the life of the body of Christ, the Church. All of these gifts are gifts of the Spirit, and we need them all. We work together and share our gifts, Paul writes that we do this“for the common good.” God gives us these gifts, not for ourselves, but for the strengthening of the entire community, the body of Christ, and for service outside the community of faith.

In our gospel for today, Jesus performs his first miracle. He and  his mother are at a wedding. Mary notices that they have run out of wine and points this out to Jesus, thinking he can probably solve this problem. Jesus isn’t that enthusiastic about this role, but he tells them to fill the six very large jars with water, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. This water is there for the rites of purification, in other words to wash the dishes, a humble task. Without fanfare, somewhere between 120 and 130 gallons of wine reach the chief steward, who praises the bridegroom for saving the best for last.

Obviously, Jesus knows that his mission is not to go around to weddings and provide amazingly good wine, but, at his mother’s gentle urging, quietly, anonymously, he contributes to the joy and abundance of a feast. 

At the strong recommendation of the Covid Response Team, we are  returning to online services. As the Team points out, this is valid worship.

Our situation may be similar to the exiles returning home. We had some weeks of worshipping together. That felt wonderful, but now we’re facing a challenge just as God’s people did when they faced the monumental task of rebuilding. God gave them powerful reassurance of God’s love. 

The Corinthians were dividing into factions and Paul reminded them that everybody matters. We need the gifts and ministries of everyone. And in our gospel, we see Jesus and his mother at a wedding.  The wine runs out. Spirits begin to sag. What a disappointment! Suddenly, no one knows how, the best wine of all is being served.

That’s how Jesus is. When the going gets tough; when we encounter times of challenge, there he is, giving us the gifts we need. As we navigate through this time, may we realize that he has saved the best for this time— gifts of deep faith, hope, love, and joy. May he give us the grace to grow even stronger as a community of faith, love, and light, for he is the light of the world. Amen.

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.