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The Day of Pentecost May 31, 2020

Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:25-35, 37b
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
John 20:19-23

Last week, we read that Jesus ascended to heaven and the disciples returned to the upper room in Jerusalem to pray and wait expectantly for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

In Jewish tradition, Pentecost, or the feast of Weeks, came fifty days after the first day of Passover. James D. Newsome tells us that the Jewish feast of  Pentecost marked the end of the celebration of the spring harvest. This is why there were devout Jews gathered in Jerusalem from all over the known world—to celebrate the feast of Pentecost or Weeks.

But this feast was also the beginning of another season, which lasted until the feast of booths or tabernacles. On that feast, the people offered the first fruits of the fields to God. 

Newsome writes, “Pentecost/Weeks is thus a pregnant moment in the life of the people of God and in the relationship between the people and God. Or to put the matter more graphically, but also more accurately, Pentecost is the moment when gestation ceases and birthing occurs. Thus, it is both an end and a beginning, the leaving behind of that which is past, the launching forth into that which is only now beginning to be. Pentecost therefore is not a time of completion. It is moving forward into new dimensions of being, whose basic forms are clear but whose fulfillment has yet to be realized.”  (Newsome, Texts for Preaching Year A, p. 329.

The disciples are gathered. Jesus has told them that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them. A rushing wind sweeps in, the desert wind, the ruach, symbolizing the power of the Spirit. Flames of fire dance over the heads of the disciples, and they speak in all the languages of the known world. They are filled with the gifts of the Spirit.

We say that the feast of Pentecost is the birthday of the Church. The Spirit comes upon the disciples to shower gifts upon them and set their hearts on fire, and from that point, the new faith spreads over the known world.

In our reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, we read his stirring description of the Church as the Body of Christ, with each member given different gifts, all of the gifts empowered by the same Spirit. All the members of the body are one, as Jesus and the  Father and the Spirit are one. We have all been baptized in the Spirit—everyone, no matter what our nationality or previous religion or gender or status in life, or race, or any of the other things we use to divide ourselves. All these distinctions are  gone—we are all one in Christ. Each person is precious in the sight of God. All members are equal as the Body builds itself up in love.

Newsome’s comment that Pentecost is a moment of birthing, a leaving behind of what is past, and a launching forth into something new which is just beginning, rings forth with the truth of the Holy Spirit.

“Peace be with you,” our Lord says in that first evening of the first Easter day. Shalom is the word he uses. He walks through walls of fear to say that word.

Here are some glimpses of shalom. Isaiah 11:6-8a “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, ad the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall feed; their young shall lie down together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.”

Walter Brueggemann: “That persistent vision of joy, well being, and prosperity is not captured in any single word or idea in the Bible, and a cluster of words is required to express its many dimensions and subtle nuances: love, loyalty, truth, grace, salvation, justice, blessing, righteousness…It bears tremendous freight, the freight of a dream of God that resists all our tendencies to division, hostility, fear, … and misery. Shalom is the substance of the biblical vision of one community embracing all creation.  (Brueggemann,  Living Toward a Vision, p. 16.)

Retired Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori: “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.)

This past Friday, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and other faith leaders called us to a service of lament and mourning for the more than 100,000. Americans who have died of Covid 19. We will also be mourning the death of George Floyd, who was killed this past Monday by a police officer in Minneapolis.  On May 24, Dr. Matthew W. Hughey, a member of the Department of Sociology at the University of Connecticut, had an article in the Hartford Courant entitled “There’s another pandemic besides the corona virus that we must fight: racism.”  Ever since white people brought African people to America in 1619 to sell them as slaves, we have unsuccessfully grappled with what Jim Wallis of the Sojourners community calls “America’s Original Sin.” The full title of his 2017 book is “America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America.” 

There is much to mourn and lament, so many lives lost to both pandemics. Dr. Martin Luther King has said, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.”

If James Newsome is right about Pentecost being a time for birth,—and I think he is right—maybe, just maybe, with God’s grace, we can all come together and begin to listen to each other and learn from each other and find that bridge, or those many bridges, that Wallis is talking about. I pray that we can. I pray that we can live in peace as brothers and sisters. Because that is the vision our loving and healing God is calling us to fulfill. May we lean on the everlasting arms of God. May we trust in the power of God. May we bring all of God’s gifts of love and wisdom to heal both these pandemics.

May we now pray the Prayer for the Power of the Holy Spirit.

Easter 4A   May 3, 2020

Acts 2:42-47
Psalm 23, p. 476
1 Peter 2:19-25
John 10:1-10

Today is one of my favorite Sundays in the Church year, and I hope it is one of yours, too. This is Good Shepherd Sunday, the Fourth Sunday after Easter. Our opening reading, continuing the study of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, tells us something about the community life of the early followers of Jesus.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of head and the prayers, just as we have promised to do in our baptismal vows. They shared their resources. The scripture says they “had all things in common.” They helped those who were in need. They celebrated the breaking of the bread. They were grateful for all of God’s gifts to them, and they were generous. And their number kept growing.

Our psalm for today is one of the most powerful and beloved psalms in the Bible. This psalm guided the followers of Jesus in England during World War II as they fought valiantly to keep Adolph Hitler from invading Britain. This psalm reminds us that our Good Shepherd leads us to the green pastures and the still waters. Our Lord sets the table with a feast even in the presence of our enemies and nourishes and sustains us so that we can persevere in the face of every threat. He calms our fears and strengthens our faith. 

Our reading from the First Letter of Peter to those who are suffering persecution reminds us that our Lord has gone through everything that we may have to endure. 

Our gospel tells us in a powerful and compelling way that Jesus is our Good Shepherd. He knows each of us, warts and all, and he loves each of us, and he loves the entire flock. When he calls, we follow him.

Back in Biblical times, the shepherds would lead their flocks out to the country to find good pasture. At night they would bring the sheep into the village where there was a communal sheepfold, The sheep would be placed there to stay safe through the night. 

In the morning, each shepherd would come to the sheepfold. Each one had a unique call. When each shepherd called, the sheep of his flock would follow him. When the next shepherd came to the fold, his sheep would follow him. That is how our relationship is with Jesus, We know his voice. We know he will lead us to good nourishment and we know he will lead us to that place where we can be still and know that he is God.

Our Good Shepherd protects us. If lions or bears come to attack, he will fend them off. Yes, in the time of Jesus there were lions and bears in the Holy Land. Our Good Shepherd will give his life for us. That is how much he loves each one of us and all of us together. Our relationship with him is extremely close. We depend on him for everything. We trust him because we know how much he loves us and how determined he is to protect us.

The biblical shepherd went out in front of the sheep. He walked the path ahead of the flock. He found the good water holes. He kept them out of the brambles. He led them away from poisonous plants or anything else that might harm them. This image of the Biblical shepherd tells us that our Lord has been through anything and everything that we might encounter, even death itself.

In this portion of Chapter 10, Jesus says, “I am the gate for the sheep. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture, I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Later on in John’s gospel. Jesus says,” I am the way and the truth and the life,” Our Good Shepherd is the way, the path, the one who leads us to newness of life, eternal life, life in a deeper dimension that begins right now, We are already in the new life, the kingdom, the shalom of Christ.

Like our brothers and sisters in England in World War II, we can receive strength and renewal from Psalm 23 and from the knowledge that Jesus is our Good Shepherd. We have never experienced what we are going through with this pandemic. We have never had to stay home like prisoners in our own homes. We have never been unable to gather and celebrate Holy Eucharist together.

Because he is our Good Shepherd and is out in front leading us, we can take comfort in the fact that our Lord has walked this way before us. We can hear his loving voice calling us to have faith that he will bring us through this. We can hear him reminding us not to panic and rush out to resume our normal lives before he has guided us to use our heads, trust the advice of our expert medical and scientific guides, and create the conditions necessary to make each step toward a new normal as safe as possible.

And he is also calling us to love others as he loves us, to help those who are hurting so badly because of being unemployed through no fault of their own, to support those who are on the front lines working in dangerous conditions and becoming so tired they can hardly stand up. He is calling us to help each other just as he helps us.

And he is calling us to love each other, to stay connected, to be a strong flock relying on him for strength and guidance.

Lord Jesus, our loving Good Shepherd, help us to listen for your voice; help us to follow you; help us to love each other as you love us, and give us the grace to share your love and care with others. In your holy Name we pray. Amen. 

Easter 3A April 26, 2020

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

Our opening reading today is a continuation of Peter’s sermon on Pentecost. Peter shares the good news abut Jesus in such a powerful way that three thousand people are baptized.

Our second reading is from the First Letter of Peter. This letter was written to followers of Jesus who were being persecuted. Peter calls them to “live in reverent fear during the time of your exile.” The word “fear” in this passage can be described as awe at God’s ability to carry us though difficult experiences, indeed God’s ability to bring life out of death. (Beverly Gaventa, Texts for Preaching Year B, p. 278.) 

As we have noted previously, and as Bishop Shannon has said, we who are living in this era of Covid 19, can feel as though we are in exile. We can identify with God’s people who were exiled in Babylon and we can also identify with the followers of Jesus who had to hide from the Roman authorities during times of persecution. Peter tells them and us, “Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew…..”

Our gospel for today is one of the most beloved inspiring, and moving passages in the Bible, the account of the journey of two followers of Jesus on the road to Emmaus. It is later in the day on the first Easter. Two followers of our Lord are walking on the road, talking about everything that has happened. They are sad and confused.

Suddenly, there is someone walking with them. They do not recognize him. They go on talking intensely, trying to figure out what has happened. They know that Jesus has died. There are rumors of something else, but they are not sure what to make of them. The stranger walks with them. Finally he asks them what they are talking about. They stop walking, and the profound sadness and grief shows on their faces. They can’t believe that this man is asking them what they are discussing.

Finally, Cleopas says, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He is a follower of Jesus and he is calling Jesus a stranger. We see this in all the accounts of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. Jesus somehow looks different. People do not recognize him.

Jesus asks, “What things?” Cleopas answers and gives Jesus a summary of the whole story. Then he goes to the root of the issue. “Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive.” And Cleopas reports that some of the others went to the tomb, but they did not see Jesus.

Then Jesus, still not revealing his identity, recounts the whole teaching of the prophets abut the messiah. They still do not realize who he is.

They come near to their home and he begins to walk ahead as if to continue his journey, but they urge him to come in. They still do not recognize him, but they are extending hospitality to this stranger.

When they are finally sitting at the table and he takes the bread and blesses it, they finally realize who he is. Then they become aware that, as he taught them, their hearts burned within them. For those who had seen the horror of the cross, it was so difficult to recognize the risen Jesus when he appeared to them. 

Right away, these two followers of Jesus rush back to Jerusalem as fast as their legs can carry them. They go to the house where the apostles are staying. When they go into the room, they hear the others saying that Jesus is alive and he has appeared to Peter. They tell the others about their encounter with the risen Lord. He is appearing to folks here and there. The word is spreading. Jesus is alive! He has been through the worst that anyone could have to endure, and he has come out the other side. He has defeated death in all its forms. 

This powerful encounter of two faithful and devastated followers of Jesus with their risen Lord gives us hope. Have you ever been walking along your journey, perhaps in a time of great defeat, disappointment, and sadness, and felt Jesus silently falling into step with you and helping you along the way? Have you ever felt the presence of Jesus when you were struggling with a problem that seemed too complicated to solve? I think many of us have felt his presence in many different kinds of moments. His loving presence, leading and guiding us.

There is a bittersweet side to this beautiful gospel story for us in this time of social distancing. The way he gave us to call him into our midst, the way we have to celebrate his presence with us most clearly and powerfully is the Eucharist, meaning Thanksgiving. And we cannot gather and celebrate Holy Eucharist at this time.

Here, in the midst of the Great Fifty Days of Easter, this is a sad fact that we have to deal with. When we get back to Grace Church and share our first Eucharist, that will be a happy day indeed. 

Meanwhile, we need to remember that, although the Holy Eucharist is a wonderful and special way to celebrate the presence of Jesus among us, it is by no means the only way. We must remember that he said, “When two or three are gathered in my name, I am in the midst of them.” He is with us now. He is with each of us in every moment of our lives.

Like the faithful people whom Peter was addressing in his letter, we are called to “love one another deeply from the heart.” We are also called to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Let us continue to follow the science. Let us work and pray for accurate and widely distributed testing for both they disease and the antibodies. Let us also pray for continuing development of contact tracing, effective treatments and vaccines. In the words of our collect, let us pray “that we may behold [our Lord] in all his redeeming work,” especially in the work of our medical folks, scientists, essential workers, first responders, food shelf volunteers, and all who are showing forth his love in this time when his love is so profoundly needed. Amen.

Easter 2A April 19, 2020

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

This is the Second Sunday of Easter. The Easter season goes from Easter Sunday until the Day of Pentecost. We often call this period the Great Fifty Days of Easter, to remind ourselves that this is a long season full of joy and culminating in the coming of the Holy Spirit.

During the Easter season, all  of our readings are from the Greek Scriptures, the New Testament. This is another way to remind ourselves that we are an Easter people. And we say Alleluia! often during this season.

Our first reading today is Peter’s sermon on the first Pentecost. Peter proclaims the Good News of Jesus to the crowd which has just witnessed the flames dancing over the heads of the apostles as they share the love of Jesus in all the known languages of the world. Our  second reading, from the First Letter of Peter, is a song of praise to God, “who has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Peter writes, “Although you have not seen him, you love him, and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him.”

And then we have our gospel. Every year, on the Second Sunday of Easter, we read this wonderful lesson from the gospel of John. The disciples have not yet left for Galilee. They are in the room where they had been staying. Only Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” have actually seen Jesus. Peter and John have gone to the empty tomb, but they have not seen the risen Lord.

It is the evening of that first Easter. They have locked the doors for fear of the authorities. We can understand why they have done this, They are terrified. They remember the rigged trial, the whipping, the crown of thorns, the taunts, the mob yelling for him to be crucified, and the horror of the crucifixion itself. Only Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” have actually seen the risen Jesus. The disciples know what the Roman Empire can do, They know what the religious authorities can do. They have heard that Jesus is risen, but only two of them have actually seen him. There is every reason to fear.

Suddenly, silently, he is in their midst. He walks through the walls and locks that fear has put in place. “Peace be with you,” he says. He brings them his shalom, the peace of his kingdom. He shows them his wounds. Jesus lovingly moves through all the barriers we humans create. Now he appears in this room filled with terrified disciples and fills the space with his peace, his love, his healing, his forgiveness. And he gives his followers the ministry of reconciliation. Peace, shalom, he says, and calls us to build his kingdom of love and harmony. He fills their hearts and minds with his presence, Now they realize what has happened. He is alive!

Thomas is not there that first time. The disciples tell him, “We have seen the Lord!” Thomas needs to see the risen Lord for himself. As Herbert O’Driscoll points out, Thomas has given his heart and life to Jesus, and now all he knows is that Jesus is dead. 

A week later, Jesus comes a second time to convince Thomas of the truth. Thomas does not even have to touch our Lord’s wounds. He bursts out in a hymn of praise, “My Lord and my God!”

Now, over two thousand years later, we are gathered, not in a room or a church building, but in our own homes and on Zoom. Last Sunday, Andy rang the bell at Grace Church, and Deb Peloubet let us know that indeed the bell had rung to proclaim our Easter joy. Now, we have gathered again. As the old song says, “We are one in the Spirit; we are one in the Lord.”

During this pandemic, we are no strangers to fear. Fear is all around us. Death and disease are all around us. In a profound way, this pandemic is almost more scary than the Roman Empire. It has moved across the earth in only a few months, infected 2.25 million people and killed 158,000 people.

It would not take much for us to be filled with fear in the way that Jesus’ followers were as they locked themselves in that room. We can understand Thomas. He wanted the facts. So do we. We want to follow the science. We want to be sure to develop adequate testing both for the presence of this powerful virus and for the antibodies which it leaves once a person recovers. And we want to find treatments. And we want to discover a vaccine that will protect people against this New Corona Virus, Covid 19. We are very much like Thomas.

We know we cannot give way to fear. We also know that we cannot take this virus lightly. We have seen too many people congregate on the beaches during Spring Break and carry the virus all over the country. We have seen what happens in states that wait too long to “Stay Home, Stay Safe.” So, we respect this virus. 

And we grieve. We grieve over the deaths of courageous and dedicated doctors, nurses, and other health workers who have given their lives to save others. And we grieve over the deaths of elderly folks in nursing homes and senior housing facilities where the virus has spread so quickly and taken so many lives. We grieve for all who have lost their lives in this pandemic.

We remember the angel who told Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, “Do not be afraid.” And we remember that Jesus told them, “Do not be afraid.” And we look at the risen Jesus through the eyes of Thomas, who would not believe it from others but had to see for himself, and we say, “My Lord and my God!” 

And we remember the words of Peter, the leader of the apostles, the man Jesus named as the rock on whom he would build his Church, the faithful follower of Christ who wrote a letter to inspire the followers of our Lord in the midst of persecution: “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. Although you have not seen him, you love him, and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him.”

And finally, we remember the words of our Lord, “Peace be with you.”

A peace so deep and so strong that it goes to the roots of our souls and draws up his living water to sustain us and to make the world new. For the peace which he is giving us is his shalom, his kingdom, his reign of love and wholeness and harmony over the whole wide earth. His kingdom will come. And we are helping him to build that kingdom. Amen.

The Day of Pentecost  May 20, 2018

Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:25-35, 37b
Romans 8:22-27
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Today we are celebrating the Feast of Pentecost. The followers of Jesus are waiting and praying. Their community has survived the betrayal of Judas. Under God’s guidance, they have chosen Matthias to complete the company of the apostles. They are all together in the house where they have been gathering, and suddenly there is a sound like the rushing wind as the Holy Spirit fills the house and flames of fire dance over their heads and they burst forth in all the languages of the known world the world around the Mediterranean Sea.

God is bringing forth a new thing, God is giving birth to a new community, God’s big family, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu puts it. The apostles are empowered by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the Good News of God’s love so that each person there hears this wonderful news in his or her native tongue.

And just to make sure that everyone understands, Peter completes this extraordinary event with a sermon. God is fulfilling the prophecy of Joel, that the people will see visions and dream dreams, and God will pour out God’s Spirit on all people.

In our gospel for today, Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit will come, and will lead us into all truth. The Spirit is still leading us into the truth about the depth of God’s love for us and the call of our Lord to help him to build his shalom of peace and love.

In our epistle for today, Paul talks about this birth process of a new thing, a new vision for life, the vision rooted and grounded in God’s gifts of faith, hope, and love.

God’s love is so great that when we cannot find words to pray, the Spirit prays for us “with sighs too deep for words.” When we become wordless, God hears our prayer and voices it for us.

We say that the Day of Pentecost is the birthday of the Church. The apostles could have become swamped by sorrow and anger at the betrayal by Judas, but they did not. They asked God’s guidance and, with prayer and care they chose Matthias to complete God’s team called to spread the good news.

Today, we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, giving the followers of Jesus the gift to be able to share the truth about Jesus. He came among us to share his love, healing, and forgiveness, his vision of peace and harmony and wholeness for all people and for the creation. And on Pentecost, the apostles received the gift to share that Good News with everyone who had come to Jerusalem from all over the world—to share that good news heart to heart—not just on an intellectual level, but in a way that could be received by the heart, the center of will and intention as well as thought, emotion, and intuition.

The Spirit continues to lead us into all the truth. Not just emotionally, not just intellectually, but on every level. What did our Lord mean when he called us to love each other as he and God love each other? As we answer this question for ourselves and walk that journey, we find that  barriers come down and we move closer and closer to his shalom, God’s deep peace and harmony over the whole wide earth and the entire creation.

As we go out into the world today, let us remember that the Holy Spirit has touched our minds and hearts and will and intention and understanding on every level and has called us to share God’s love on a deep level—heart to heart. Often we will share God’s love by actions rather than by words.  To paraphrase an old saying, “Share the good news of God’s love. Use words if necessary.” Amen.

Day of Pentecost Year A June 4, 2017

Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:25-35, 37b
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
John 20:19-23

Today is the Day of Pentecost, a very special day in the Church calendar. This day is sometimes called the Birthday of the Church because, on that day, two two thousand years ago, the gifts of the Holy Spirit energized and transformed the first followers of Jesus into an effective mission team spreading the Good News all over the known world at that time.

Our readings for today are among the most important and inspiring lessons in our entire lectionary. Chronologically, they are in a rather unusual order. The gospel reading comes first in time; the reading from Acts is the second; and the amazing text from the First Letter to the Corinthians is the third reading in chronological order.

Let’s take them in order so that we can re-trace our spiritual history. Our gospel for today is the same gospel which we read every year on the Second Sunday of Easter. It is the evening of the first Easter. The followers of Jesus know that he is risen. Mary Magdalene has gone to the tomb and found it empty. She has called Peter and John, and they, too, have examined the empty tomb. Then the risen Jesus has appeared to Mary and has told her to let the disciples know that he is going to the Father.

Jesus’ closest followers are gathered in the home where they had been staying. They are terrified. They have locked the doors because they are afraid of the authorities, both religious and secular. Jesus walks right through the walls of their fear and says those words we will never forget: “Peace be with you.” God’s shalom be with all of us. God’s vision of peace at every level— total absence of hostility.  God’s harmony filling the whole creation. Everyone has enough to eat, clothes to wear, a place to live, good work to do, medical care, the basic things needed for life. God’s shalom. We are all one. The creation is one. All is moving toward wholeness and fullness of life. The followers of Jesus all know of God’s vision of shalom. They have read about it in Isaiah and  the other prophets.

But now Jesus does something else. He breathes the Holy Spirit into them. He is giving them the ability to forgive sins, to exercise the ministry of reconciliation. After this,  the risen Lord begins appearing to people so that they can see that he is alive.  He appears to Thomas, to the two disciples walking to Emmaus, to Peter and the others on the beach where they share a meal of bread and fish, and to others. And he tells them to stay together and pray.

That is what they have been doing when we meet them again in our first reading today. They have been gathered at the house in Jerusalem praying and preparing for the coming of the Spirit. Devout Jews from all over the known world are also in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost, fifty days after the Passover. This is a harvest festival something like our Thanksgiving.

A violent wind hits the house, the ruach, the wind that molds and shapes the desert sands, the wind of the Spirit. And flames dance over the apostles’ heads. Then they begin to speak in all the languages of the known world, and the writer of Acts takes the time to mention all these many countries. These simple Galileans, who have never taken a course in foreign languages, are somehow able to speak all of these languages so that all of these worldwide visitors can understand them.

Some people think the apostles are drunk, but Peter reassures them that this is not the case. The vision of the prophet Joel is happening. God is pouring out God’s Spirit on everyone. All people, old and young, will dream dreams and have visions of God’s shalom, God’s kingdom of peace and harmony.

Our epistle for today, from chapter 12 of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, is the latest of our readings in chronological time. Scholars tell us that Paul wrote this inspiring passage in 53 or 54 A.D., approximately twenty years after the resurrection of our Lord. Chapter 12 of this letter is one of the most important and essential statements of the theology of the Body of Christ. Paul says, “There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.” We each do different ministries, but God activates all of these ministries. Paul mentions some of the gifts, “the utterance of wisdom”, “the utterance of knowledge,” “faith,” “gifts of healing,” and we could add, playing the organ, paying the bills, keeping the building in shape, mowing the lawn, shoveling snow, helping young people, visiting elders, caring for animals, helping people recover from addiction, working for sustainability and accessibility, mentoring, gardening, and on and on the list goes. All of these are gifts of the Spirit.

No gift is superior to another. No person is superior to another. We are all one in Christ. As St. Paul says, “We are all baptized into one Body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free.” In other words, the Body of Christ is inclusive. People of all races and nations, male and female, gay and straight, tall and short, old and young, “and in-between”, as Al Smith used to say, people of all colors, all classes, all levels of education, all kinds of jobs, from CEOs to janitors, we are all included. We are one, as Jesus and the Father are one.

Like the apostles, so many years ago at that first Pentecost, we are called to spread the Good News of God’s love and healing and forgiveness. To carry out that mission, we receive the gifts of the Spirit just as they did.

Following in the footsteps of those first faithful followers of Jesus so many centuries ago, may we, here in the Vermont branch of the Jesus Movement, go forth in the power of the Spirit, and may we share God’s love, healing, and forgiveness with everyone we meet. Amen.

Easter 4A RCL May 7, 2017

Acts 2:42-47
Psalm 23
1 Peter 2:19-25
John 10:1-10

Our opening reading from the Book of Acts gives us a dynamic snapshot of the early Church. “The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” They studied together. They reflected on what the apostles had taught them.

They still went to the Temple each day because they still considered themselves part of the Jewish community. But they also met in each others’ homes to pray together and to share in the breaking of the bread. Their whole mission was to share the love of Christ with each other and with everyone they met. That love caused them to share everything in common. They took care of each other. If someone had a need, that need was met. And because of the depth of their love and faith, new members joined them every day.

As we continue to read the Book of Acts, we will see that controversies came up early in the Church’s history, and they have continued into the present time. But that quality of love and caring, centered on the presence of the risen Christ at the center of the
community, has held the Jesus movement together for over two thousand years.

Our psalm today is one of the most beloved psalms in the Bible. Each of us has turned to this inspiring song of praise many times in our lives.

As we have said earlier, the First Letter of Peter was addressed to Christians suffering persecution under the Roman Empire in Asia Minor, or what is now called Turkey. Scholars tell us that the letter was especially addressed to slaves and aliens. This section of the letter actually begins, “Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle, but also those who are harsh.” Today, we know that slavery is wrong. Two thousand years ago, these words were written to give encouragement to people who had no power and were suffering because of their faith. They were encouraged to remember how Christ suffered on the cross and
to follow his example of courage. We can imagine that this message could have given hope to those who suffered in slavery here in our own country. But I believe that our Lord would also want us to say that no one should be enslaved in any way. We are called to help free those who are the victims of domestic violence or human trafficking
or any other form of slavery.

The Fourth Sunday of Easter is always Good Shepherd Sunday, and our gospel comes from the tenth chapter of John’s gospel. Jesus has just healed the blind man, and the Pharisees are investigating the healing and challenging Jesus at every turn. Jesus has just told them that they are spiritually blind leaders.

Jesus presents us with a typical scene from the Middle East. There is a large sheepfold in the village, surrounded by a stone wall. In the wall there is a gate. There is even a gatekeeper, so this must be quite a large village. The sheep go into the fold to spend the night in a protected place. In the morning, the shepherds come to get their sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for the shepherd, and the shepherd goes into the fold, calls to his sheep, and leads them out. The sheep know the voice of their shepherd. They will not follow anyone else.

His listeners do not seem to understand what he is saying, so Jesus tells them, “I am the gate for the sheep.” He has implied that he is the Good Shepherd, in contrast to the thieves and robbers who might come to harm the sheep, but now he says that he is the gate into the safety of the fold. Jesus is our good shepherd, and he is also “the
way, the truth and the life.” By following him, we go into the safety of the fold and we are under his care and protection.

And he tells us, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Following him brings us into another and different kind of life. We call it eternal life, life in his kingdom. It is life in another and deeper dimension. As we follow him and spend time with him and learn from him and pray with him, we are changed.

Let’s review the context of our gospel this morning. Jesus has just healed a blind man on the sabbath. The Pharisees are upset because Jesus is not following the law. Our Lord’s description of himself as the Good Shepherd is his response to the Pharisees, some of whom have abused their power and have become wealthy as a result. For example, some Pharisees would become spiritual advisors to widows and, in the process, take all of the widows’ savings.

Jesus puts the needs of people before everything else. In Matthew’s gospel, he makes this very clear when he says, “…for I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me….Truly I tell you, just as you did it to the least of these, who are members my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25: 35-36, 40b) His care for us, his flock, translates into our care for others in his Name.

Each of knows his voice. Each of us knows when our Good Shepherd is calling us. Each of us is trying, with his help, to follow him faithfully. He knows each of us, our strengths and our weaknesses, our gifts and our flaws, and he loves us with a love that nothing can

As we reflect on our readings today, we can remember that our brothers and sisters in congregations two thousand years ago were following him, and our brothers and sisters in Asia Minor, living as aliens and slaves, found hope and strength in him. Our brothers and sisters in the Coptic Church in Egypt and in Syria, and Yemen, and Iran, and Pakistan. and many other places, remain faithful in the midst of persecution.

May each of us listen for his voice. May all of us together listen for his voice.P And may we follow him with faith and hope and love. Amen.

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.

The Day of Pentecost Year C RCL May 15, 2016

Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:25-35, 37b
Romans 8:14-17
John 14:8-17, (25-27)

On that first Pentecost, people were gathered in Jerusalem from all over the known world. It was the Jewish feast of Pentecost, a festival much like our Thanksgiving. But scholars tell us that there were many Gentiles there as well.

Jesus had gone to be with God. He had told the apostles that he would not leave them comfortless, that he would send the Holy Spirit. They stayed together and prayed. They chose Matthias to replace Judas Iscariot so that the company of the apostles would be whole and ready to do ministry.

They were together in a house somewhere in Jerusalem when it happened. There was a sound like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled the house. Tongues of fire rested over each of their heads. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in all of the known languages of that time.

Some people thought they were drunk, but Peter explained that the prophecy of Joel was being fulfilled, that God would pour out God’s spirit on everyone.

Pentecost is the birthday of the Church. From this moment on, the apostles will be traveling around the Mediterranean basin planting communities of followers of Jesus wherever they go.

Our epistle for today is brief but powerful. We have received a spirit of adoption. We are children of God. Because of the life and ministry of our Lord, we have been brought so close to God that we can call God Daddy or Dad or Mama or Mom. Because of our Lord, we have an intimate relationship with the creator of the universe.

Our gospel is part of Jesus’ last teaching session with the apostles. Philip says to Jesus, “Show us the Father and we will be satisfied,” And Jesus tells Philip and us that, in seeing him, we have seen God. Jesus is God living a human life. Jesus is God walking the face of the earth. The almost unbelievable quality of love which Jesus shows to all people is God’s love. Jesus and God are one.

Then Jesus tells us that “the one who believes in me will do the works that I do.” In other words, the fact that we bier in Jesus means that we are called to carry on his ministry here on earth. We are called to reach out in love to others; we are called to feed the hungry and to give clothes and shelter to those who need them. We are called to follow Jesus as our model, to live as he lived.

Jesus tells the apostles that he will send the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to be with us, to lead and guide and energize us .

After this teaching time with the apostles, called his Last Discourse, Jesus was crucified. We know that one of the apostles, John, was there at the foot of the cross. We do not know where the others were. It was the saddest day in the history of the world.

But then people began seeing the risen Christ. Two of them walking to Emmaus saw him. He appeared to Peter and the others on the beach. He came through the locked doors of the upper room. Gradually they realized that he was alive. And they gathered as he had told them to do, and they waited together, and they prayed.

It must have been very strange for them to realize that he was alive. More and more people had encounters with him. And then he ascended to be with God. He told them that he had to do this so that the Spirit could come to them.

It is one of the mysteries of our faith that, because of the Presence of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is alive in every corner of the creation at all times. Jesus is here with us now, and he is with people all over the world.

When the Holy Spirit filled the apostles, they were able to share the Good News in every language. They were able to speak of God’s love in such a way that their message reached deep into the hearts of all the people gathered there.

That message has come down to us over the centuries. God loves us so much that God has adopted us as God’s children. God loves the whole big human family.

I would like to ask you to help me end this sermon by singing together an ancient chant. The words date back to a Latin text from the 9th century. The tune was written by John Henry Hopkins Jr. and was published in 1865. John Henry Hopkins Jr was the son of our first Bishop, John Henry Hopkins. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Vermont in 1839 and his master’s degree from UVM in 1845. He taught music at General Theological Seminary from 1855-57, was rector of Trinity Church in Plattsburgh, New York from 1872-1876 and of Christ Episcopal Church in Williamsport, Pennsylvania from 1876 to 1887. He delivered the eulogy at the funeral of President Ulysses S, Grant in 1845.

This beautiful hymn calls on the Holy Spirit to come to us and fill us with the gifts of the spirit.

May the Holy Spirit fill us this day and always.  Amen.