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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion October 2, 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 October 9, 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 October 16, 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:…

Easter 6B and Rogation Sunday May 9, 2021

Acts 10:44-48
Psalm 98
1 John 5:1-6
John 15:9-17

Today is the Sixth Sunday of Easter, and it is also Rogation Sunday. On Rogation Sunday, we pray God’s blessing on those who work in agriculture and industry.

Our opening reading from the Book of Acts comes at the end of a chain of events that almost boggle the mind. In Chapter 9, Paul has his encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, and he is transformed. Jesus asks him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” and Saul feels the love of Jesus in a way that changes him forever.

Peter undergoes a similar transformation which results in today’s events. Several days before the events in today’s reading, a man named Cornelius has been praying. Cornelius is a centurion in the Roman army. A centurion commanded one hundred soldiers.

In addition to being a respected commander, Cornelius is a wonderful person. He is not a Jew, but he gives generously to the synagogue in town and also gives generously to the poor. He is well known as someone who cares about others and helps them.

One day, as he is praying, an angel of the Lord comes to him in a vision and tells Cornelius to send a message to a man called Peter, who is staying at the home of Simon the Tanner in Joppa.

Meanwhile, miles away in Joppa, Peter is up on the roof praying and falls into a trance. He has a vision of all kinds of unlawful foods coming down on a sheet and God telling him to eat these things. Peter tells God that he has never in his life eaten anything unclean, and God answers, “What God has made clean, you shall not call  profane.” God has just wiped out the dietary laws which Peter has followed all his life.

While Peter is trying to grasp this revolutionary thought sent from God, the messengers from Cornelius arrive. The Spirit tells Peter to welcome them and to go with them. So Peter welcomes the men in for the night and the next day they leave for Caesarea. Some of the followers of Jesus from Joppa go with Peter and  Cornelius’ messengers. 

Meanwhile, Cornelius has gathered his household and many guests to hear what Peter has to say. When Peter, the messengers, and Peter’s friends reach the home of Cornelius, Cornelius falls on his knees and worships Peter. Peter tells Cornelius to get up and makes it clear that he, Peter, is a mere mortal. Then Peter realizes that there is a large group of people in Cornelius’ house. He tells them, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.” Peter asks Cornelius why he has summoned him. And Cornelius tells Peter that an angel instructed him to send for Peter and to listen to what Peter had to say.

Then Peter preaches his sermon which is the opening reading for Easter Sunday. It begins, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality….”Peter tells the people that he has learned that anyone who loves God is acceptable to God. And then he tells these people the story of Jesus life, death, and resurrection, and how all people receive forgiveness of sins through Jesus’ name.

This is where today’s reading begins. While Peter is still speaking, the Holy Spirit falls on everyone in the crowd. Everyone begins praising God. And then Peter baptizes them, realizing that the gifts of the Spirit are available to everyone. God loves all people, and all are welcome to follow Jesus.

Peter was one of our Lord’s apostles, and now he is simply practicing what Jesus told his closest followers: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love…..This is my commandment, that you love one another.” Jesus also says to his apostles and to us, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” And he tells us that we are his friends, not servants but friends, and he has chosen us to bear much fruit, the fruit of the Spirit—love joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

As we contemplate these readings today, stirring passages that show us the power of God’s love to change people and situations, we can remember that in the early Church, some folks felt that all members of the Church should follow the dietary laws. As a result of his experience with God dissolving the boundaries, Peter was able to tell the assembly that the new faith was open to all people.

Governor Scott has told us that we are in the final laps of this race against Covid. Vermont is number one in the nation in vaccinations. We also rate highly in testing and contact tracing. Things are  beginning to open up. And, once again, I haven’t said it every Sunday, but I think we all have thought it: thank God for Governor Scott, Dr. Levine, and Dr. Kelso, and all our leaders for sticking with the science.

As you know, our country has been deeply divided for several years now. Tragically, we are even divided over whether to get vaccinated or not. Experts are saying that because of people’s hesitation and/or opposition to getting the vaccine, we may not reach herd immunity. 

Saul began as a persecutor of the Church and was so profoundly transformed that he got a new name—St. Paul, a Pharisee who became the apostle to the Gentiles. Peter thought it was absolutely necessary to follow the law, and God spoke to him and told him no food and no person was unclean. God’s love has the power to change lives. What would we have done without Saints Peter and Paul leading us to realize that God’s love breaks all barriers and makes us into the big family which is God’s vision for all of us? Let us pray that God’s healing love will touch the hearts of enough of us so that we can vaccinate enough people to protect all of God’s beloved children. May God surround us all with love and fill us with grace so that we can run these final laps. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

The Second Sunday after Christmas January 3, 2021

Jeremiah 31:7-14
Psalm 84
Ephesians1:3-6, 15-19a
Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

This is our first Sunday in the year 2021, and I know most of us are happy to see 2020 go. This is also the Second Sunday of Christmas, a day we do not always have in our calendar. I actually counted back to 2012. Out of those eight years, we have celebrated the Second Sunday after Christmas only four times.

Our Collect for this day begins, “O God, who wonderfully created and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

In our opening reading from the prophet Jeremiah, God’s people are going to come home from exile. We have spoken of how our experience with Covid-19 has been like an exile.  We can’t travel; we can’t even get together with neighbors. We have to wear masks when we go out. It feels as though we are living in a foreign land.

This passage from Jeremiah is God speaking to God’s people, including us. God will become as a shepherd to us. God will be our father, guiding us home. God will answer our weeping with consolation. God will “Turn [our] mourning into joy, God will comfort [us], God will give [us] gladness for sorrow.” Things will be getting back to normal. It will take time, but it will happen. We can help this process by continuing to follow the guidance of our medical experts.

In our gospel for today, the Wise Men have been warned in a dream not to go back to King Herod. They have gone home by another road. And now the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream and tells him to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt because Herod is searching for Jesus in order to kill him. Guided by an angel of God, Joseph takes Mary and the baby to Egypt. Herod never finds Jesus, but, in order to preserve his power, he kills all the baby boys under two years old. Tyrants will stop at nothing to hold on to their control. When Herod finally dies, an angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream and tells him that it is safe to go home. Joseph is in constant contact with God and follows the divine guidance immediately. Finding that Herod’s son is now ruling Judea, Joseph does not want to risk going there. Guided by God in a dream, he travels to Galilee, a place far from the centers of power, and settles in Nazareth.

When God chose a man and woman to raise God’s Son, God chose two ordinary working people, Mary and Joseph. They were people of profound faith who had strong prayer lives, close communication with God, wisdom, accurate intuition, extraordinary courage, determination, and self-discipline. But they did not have worldly power.

Mary became pregnant before they were married, so Jesus was born under the shadow of illegitimacy. Jesus was born when they were homeless. A kind inn keeper gave them lodging in a stable. Then they became refugees. They had to escape into Egypt. They were seeking asylum, some degree of safety.

In his sermon on the First Sunday after Christmas on December 29, 2013, Pope Francis said, “And today, the gospel presents to us the Holy Family on the sorrowful road of exile, seeking refuge in Egypt. Joseph, Mary and Jesus experienced the tragic fate of refugees, which is marked by fear, uncertainty and unease.” In his address for the 106th World Day of Migrants and Refugees on September 27, 2020,  Pope Francis called us to respond to the suffering of the many people who are becoming displaced persons and refugees as a result of the Covid pandemic.

In our Collect, we call on our loving God, who has “wonderfully created and yet more wonderfully restored the dignity of human nature.” We ask God to “Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity.” 

In our reading from Ephesians, Paul writes, “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may come to know the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu says, “God has a big family,” and our own Presiding Bishop Michael Curry calls us to walk the Way of Love.

In his sermon on December 29, 2013, Pope Francis said, “Jesus wanted to belong to a family  who experienced these hardships, so that no one would feel excluded from the loving closeness of God.”

As we walk with the Holy Family today, experiencing with them the terror of having to escape from a despot who is trying to kill their child, may we commit ourselves to helping displaced people and refugees know the loving presence of God. May we work for a world in which no one has to be a migrant or a homeless person or a refugee.

When God came among us as a baby, Jesus and his mother and foster father suffered homelessness, and were forced to flee as migrants and refugees. Yet, at every crisis and point of decision, Mary and Joseph asked for God’s guidance and followed God’s will. As we look out on our country and our world, can we see our homeless people and migrant people as the Holy Family? Can we see these people through God’s eyes? Can we have the faith and hope to tackle issues of race, class, and income inequality so that we can help God restore the dignity of every human being?

Borrowing from Paul, with “the eyes of our hearts enlightened,” may we know the hope to which you have called us, O Lord, the hope of your shalom, and may we use the power of your grace to see others with your eyes and help you restore the dignity of every human being. Amen.

Advent 1 Year B November 29. 2020

Isaiah 64:1-9
Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:24-37

In our opening reading from Isaiah, we are with Isaiah and God’s people at a crucial moment in their history. They are returning from exile in Babylon. They have been in exile for some fifty years, studying the scriptures, praying, keeping the community together and hoping for the day when they would be able to return. They have thought it would be a time of great joy.

When they arrive, they find that the temple has been destroyed. The city walls have been torn down. Foreign people are living as squatters in the ruins of the temple. For decades, they had hoped and prayed that they would be able to return. That was the hope that kept them together. But now that they are in Jerusalem and, seeing that their beloved temple and city are little more than a huge pile of rubble, they are realizing the enormity of the task that lies before them.

In the face of the enormity of the task, Isaiah and the people are overwhelmed. They are at the point of despair. How will they begin the mammoth task of rebuilding? Where will they begin? Isaiah calls out to God, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence…” 

Isaiah is recalling the time centuries before when God came down from heaven at Mount Sinai to give the people the law and lead them out of slavery.  God was with them every step of the way. It seems to Isaiah that God has withdrawn from the people, and so they have sinned. Isaiah confesses on behalf of all the people and then he tells God, “You are our Father and we are your people.” 

All these centuries later, we are not being called to rebuild Jerusalem, but we are facing a very difficult task. We are facing a time that is usually full of joy—Thanksgiving and Christmas—a time when we love to be with our families. This year, we cannot do that. Our own governor’s staff has predicted that if we aren’t careful, we could have 3,800 people come down with Covid and 40 to 50 people in the hospital, These figures are staggering, far higher than we have experienced at any time during this wilderness journey, this exile from our church building, this long fast from the Eucharist.

In his press briefing this past Tuesday, Governor Scott said that he knows he can’t make us do the things that will defeat the virus—have Thanksgiving dinner only with the people who live under our roof, don’t travel, and continue to do the things we have been doing—six foot spaces, masks on faces, avoid crowded places—but he is asking us to do these things. Our Presiding Bishop is calling us to walk the Way of Love—doing all of these things out of love for each other so everyone can be safe. And our governor says often that he knows this is hard. We all have Pandemic Fatigue. We’re tired of this and we just want to go back to normal. Experts tell us that we’re experiencing quite a bit of depression and anxiety these days.

We might pray, “O, loving God, please come down here and help us. This virus is getting ahead of us.” Rather similar to Isaiah’s prayer.

But then we stop and think. God has come to be with us. That was the first Advent. A little baby was born in Bethlehem, a little, out of the way place like Sheldon or Montgomery or Fletcher or Fairfield or Franklin. Why did God come among us? Because God loves us more than we could possibly understand or imagine.

Jesus lived a human life, grew up helping his foster father in his carpenter shop, and then he called twelve people together and went all around healing, forgiving, and teaching people about God’s kingdom of love and peace, God’s shalom. And he invited everyone to be a part of his family—a very big family—and to help him build his shalom.

We have all answered his call to follow him and help him build his kingdom, his shalom. Right now, people are really hurting with this pandemic, and we are feeding them at our food shelf. And we are trying to do all we can to help our brothers and sisters because he has told us that if we help them, we are helping him. The more peace and love and compassion we can share, the closer his kingdom comes. So he doesn’t have to tear down the heavens and come down. He is already here in our midst. What our governor and all good leaders are calling us to do, our risen and present Lord is leading and guiding us to do.

He has told us he will come again to complete his kingdom, to bring in fully his shalom of peace, compassion, and justice. We do not know exactly when that is going to happen. And in many parts of the gospel he tells us not to try to figure that out. Only God knows when that will happen.

In today’s gospel, He says, “Keep awake.” This does not mean that we have to stay up all night. He wants us to be healthy, especially in these stressful times, so we need to get at least seven hours of sleep a night. But he wants us to be ready to receive his kingdom. He wants us to be prepared for his kingdom. When he comes, he wants us to be ready to meet him, welcome him with great joy, and help him complete his work of creation.

And he wants us to live like kingdom people, to feed the hungry and give clothing to those who need it and love people and help people as if they were Christ himself. We are in that in-between time between his first coming as a baby and his second coming as our King, and he wants us to be about the work of building his shalom now.

Like God’s people coming home from the exile, we are facing a major challenge. We are called to do what is necessary to beat this virus, and we are called to build, not a temple, but the shalom of God.

Lord Jesus, thank you for being in our midst. Thank you for calling us to help you build your kingdom. Give us the grace to follow you, to walk the Way of Love, and to be ready to follow where you lead us. In your holy Name. Amen.

Christ the King Year A November 22, 2020

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Psalm 100
Ephesians 1:15-23
Matthew 25:31-46

Our opening reading today takes us back to the time of the Babylonian Exile. Twenty-six hundred years ago (597 B.C.E.) the powerful Babylonian Empire conquered Jerusalem and sent God’s people into exile in Babylon. Eleven years later, (586 B.C.E), the Babylonians returned, destroyed the temple, and leveled many of the surrounding buildings.

Ezekiel, a priest, had been in Babylon with the people for about eleven years. The destruction of the temple was one of the most tragic points in the history of God’s people. It was heartbreaking.

We have often reflected on how the history of God’s people as revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures reflects on and parallels our own history. As we read about this low point in their life together, we here in Vermont are losing our battle with Covid-19. Once again I thank God for Governor Scott and Dr. Levine, who had to stand before us this week and let us know that the positivity rate is up to two percent, hospitalizations are rising, and we need to reverse this trend. The reason these numbers are rising is that folks are getting together socially, eating, drinking, and enjoying each others’ company without wearing masks or social distancing. Our governor said that he hasn’t seen his mother in a year. As a good leader, he understands how we all feel. As he encouraged us to wear masks and do all the other things that we know stop the virus from spreading, Governor Scott acknowledged that he cannot make people follow the guidance from our medical experts.

He spoke with courage and sincerity to those who refuse to follow the guidance, and I quote him. Don’t call it patriotic. Don’t pretend it’s about freedom. Because real patriots serve and sacrifice for all, whether they agree with them or not. Patriots also stand up and fight when our nation’s health and security is threatened. And right now, our country and way of life is being attacked by this virus, not by the  protections we put in place.” (Gov. Phil Scott, Press Briefing, Tuesday, November 17, 2020.)

This Corona Virus is killing as many people as an invading army. We heard this week that we have exceeded the number of deaths we suffered in World War II. In may ways, we can identify with our spiritual ancestors in Babylon. The Babylonian Exile is an excellent metaphor for this pandemic. In this dark moment, in this time of utter discouragement, God puts God’s words in the mouth of Ezekiel. God is going to be a good shepherd to God’s people. God is going to feed them and take care of them. God is going to  bring God’s people back together and bring them home. And God has a special word for leaders who have been abusive to the people. God will stop them from misusing their power. God directly addresses those who “pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted all the weak animals with [their] horns.” God will feed them with justice. God will set things right. God will bring the people a wise and compassionate leader like King David. As Christians, we immediately think of our King, Jesus. In these dark days of increasing positivity rates, we have  compassionate leaders in Governor Scott and his team. May we all follow their directions.

In our gospel for today, we have the blueprint for why we all gathered together and built a new building for the food shelf and why our wonderful volunteers gather six days a week to minister to our neighbors who are suffering from this pandemic. People have lost their jobs. Unemployment benefits have run out.  Extensions have expired, and there is no help forthcoming. People who have never been to the food shelf find that they have to come for help.

Our Lord tells us that when we give food to those who are hungry, we are feeding him. When we give water to the thirsty, or welcome to the stranger, or clothing to those who need it, we give those things to Jesus. When we take care of those who are sick or visit those who are in prison, we are doing that to him. We are the hands of Christ reaching out in love to help others. And every person we meet is an alter Christus, an other Christ. There is a spark of the divine in every person. Our Lord is telling us to see every person we meet as Himself, as Christ.

Christ is our King, but a very different kind of king. He eats with the lowest of the low. He loves the people nobody loves. In his kingdom, everybody is infinitely precious. Everybody is loved. This is God’s shalom.

Our retired Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori writes: 

That word “shalom” is usually translated as “peace,’ but it’s a far richer and deeper understanding of peace than we usually recognize. …It isn’t just telling two arguers to get over their differences.

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.)

Today we celebrate Christ the King and we also celebrate Thanksgiving. Paul writes to the Ephesians, “I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.” He prays for them and us that  “eyes of our hearts may be enlightened.” What a great metaphor, Paul is praying that the light of Christ’s love may come into our hearts and lives and lift our hearts and spirits so that our hearts and lives may become full of light and love, and that we may be filled with hope. I think that lifting of our hearts is like the hope that came to God’s people 2,500 years ago as they faced the destruction of their beloved temple, the center of their worship. They believed that God dwelled in the temple, and they came to realize that God was in their midst. God gave them the hope and determination to return and rebuild.

We have so much to be thankful for, The attitude of gratitude is a very powerful thing. It is a power for good. In these dark days of Covid, our own exile from Holy Eucharist, our Exile from our beloved church building, our Good Shepherd is here in our midst. We thank you for your presence, O Lord, and we thank you for leading us and guiding us. We will celebrate Thanksgiving, with your help. We will help and feed our neighbors. We will, with your grace, help you build your shalom.

Here, in these darkest days of the pandemic, give us the grace to get back on track. Our own governor has had to remind us that not wearing a mask is not patriotic. Send your love among us, O Lord, that we may love you and love each other, that we may take care of each other, as you our Good Shepherd, take care of your flock. Amen.

Pentecost 23 Proper 27A November 8, 2020

Joshua 24:1-3A,14-25
Psalm 78:1-7
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 25:1-13

Today we have the opportunity to be present at a crucial moment in the history of God’s people. Joshua calls all the people together and reviews their history. He reminds them of how God called their ancestor Abraham to go from Ur of the Chaldeans into the land of Canaan. and how God gave Abraham many descendants, just as God had promised. He reminds them of how God led the people out of Egypt and protected them every step of the way on their journey from slavery into freedom.

Now the people have left behind their time of suffering and slavery in Egypt. They are ready to settle in the land God has promised them. And Joshua calls them to do a very important thing. As they leave their life as a nomadic people and settle down, their leader is calling them to think carefully about their values. How will they conduct their life together? How will they treat each other? Whom will they serve?

Joshua is calling them to let go of all the gods they met in the land beyond the great river Euphrates, the gods they met when they were in Egypt, the gods of the Amorites, all of those other gods. And Joshua is calling them to serve the one, holy, and living God. And, like all good leaders, Joshua is setting an example, He tells the people, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

We are already settled here in Vermont, and in Florida and New York and Virginia, but we are in the middle of another kind of journey, our journey with Covid-19. And we are dealing with our recent election. And our economy, which has been deeply affected by the pandemic. And how to help the people who are suffering because they have lost their jobs and their unemployment insurance has run out, and the people who  have lost loved ones to Covid, and the issues of injustice in our society. 

Whom will we serve? Will we serve God? If we do, we have a clear path defined in the summary of the law—“Love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” If we follow that path we will follow the Way of Love and our path will be relatively clear. It begins and ends with God’s gifts of faith, hope, and  love. It bears the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,  gentleness, and self-control. If we follow those other gods, fear, despair, hate, violence, division, ruthlessness, selfishness, greed, those will lead us down quite a different path. Here, in the midst of our Covid journey, we can renew our promise to serve God and walk the Way of Love. And I know you are doing that.

Our epistle and our gospel both address the question, “How do we deal with times of uncertainty?” In our epistle, the Thessalonians are asking what has happened to those who have died. And Paul tells them that, when our Lord comes to bring in his shalom, his kingdom, the dead will be raised. and the living will follow them into paradise.

There are many new people coming into the congregation, and Paul is giving them strong teaching in the center of hope in the Christian faith—that, as John Donne wrote, “Death has no more dominion.” Christ has risen from the dead and has conquered death forever, and Paul is letting the Thessalonians know that they will be together with their loved ones who have gone before them in the communion of saints.

Paul is giving the gift of hope to these people who are wondering what will happen to their loved ones. Will they ever see them again? Yes, they will. Hope is such an important gift from God in these times. With hope, we can go on. We can take the next step. And the next.

In our gospel, we have the familiar parable of the ten wise bridesmaids and the ten not so wise bridesmaids. Everyone in those days knew what the bridesmaids were supposed to do. They were supposed to have their lamps lighted to escort the bridegroom into the feast. If you were a bridesmaid, there was one thing to remember— take a good supply of oil. Some of our young women did that; some did not. The bridegroom is delayed. Jesus was here 2,000 years ago. He said he would return. What do we do until then? Carl R. Holladay, Professor of New Testament at Candler School of Theology, Emory University in Atlanta, has a very interesting point about this parable. He writes, “The issue is preparedness in the face of uncertainty.” Holladay, Preaching through the Christian Year A, p. 507. The gospel is really about what we will do when our Lord comes to complete the work of creation and bring in his Shalom of peace, harmony and wholeness. Will we be prepared?

Will we be prepared to meet him even in this time of Covid, which is filled with uncertainty? Can we, with God’s grace, keep our faith in this time when there are so many questions and very few answers? Are we ready to meet him? Are we ready to help him complete his kingdom? Do we love God? Do we love our neighbors? 

Someone recently said, maybe instead of having what we call the ASA, Average Sunday Attendance, which, for us, has been ranging between 11 and 17,  we should write in our register how many people we meet in a week. If we did that, our food shelf volunteers could put down all those numbers of people who receive good food to keep them going. We do that because our Lord called us to feed those who are hungry.

When, not if, but when, Summer Music at Grace resumes, the people who attend may not realize it but they are coming into a place that is filled with the presence of God. In a secular society they talk about Grace’s amazing acoustics and how there is a special feel abut the place. I believe they are encountering God’s love and the love of God expressed through the joy of music.

Whom will we serve? Are we prepared? Are we ready to help Jesus build his shalom of peace and love? Are we now building his shalom by sharing his love with others?  Or, on a lighter note—Sign seen in  church office. Jesus is coming: look busy.

Thank you, loving God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, for your gifts of faith, hope, and love. Thank you, God, for creating us. Thank you, Our Good Shepherd, Jesus, for leading us and guiding us. Thank you, Holy Spirit, for energizing us to walk the Way of Love. May we walk in that Way, every day of our lives, and may we be prepared for your coming again. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Pent 13 Proper 17A RCL August 30, 2020

Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26. 45c
Exodus 3:1-15
Romans 12:9-21
Matthew 16:21-28

Last week, we read the inspiring story of the birth of Moses. The new Pharaoh was a cruel tyrant, but Moses’ parents, his sister, the midwives, and the princess all showed profound courage, and Moses’ life was saved. When he grew older, he was adopted by the princess and went to the palace to live.

Much has happened between last Sunday’s reading and our lesson for today. To summarize, the young man Moses leaves the palace and sees the sufferings of the Hebrew people. Though he is a prince, he still identifies with his own people. He sees an Egyptian trying to kill a Hebrew man, and he kills the Egyptian and buries him in the sand. His sense of justice calls him to defend his fellow Israelite.

A short time later, he goes out again, but this time he sees two Hebrew men fighting each other. He confronts the man who is at fault and tells them not to fight. He is trying to teach his people to work together, not against each other. But the man who is at fault confronts Moses and asks him whether Moses is going to kill him the way he killed the Egyptian. Soon, Moses realizes the king is looking for him. He escapes and goes to Midian.

He stops by a well and meets the seven daughters of Reuel, the priest of Midian. Some shepherds harass the young women. Moses defends Reuel’s daughters and waters their flock. Once again, he is defending and protecting those who are vulnerable. Moses fights for justice everywhere he goes. The young women see him as an Egyptian, but he sees himself as an Israelite.

The young women arrive home early and their father asks them how they watered the flock so quickly. They tell him about the Egyptian young man who protected them from the shepherds and watered the flock in record time. Reuel realizes that this is an extraordinary young man and welcomes Moses to visit the family. Eventually, Moses marries Reuel’s daughter Zippporah and becomes a shepherd.

These events have a deep connection with Grace Church because Keith’s ancestor, Reuel Keith, founder of Virginia Theological Seminary, was named after Reuel, the priest of Midian, who welcomed Moses into his family and thus became a mentor and protector to the man who would lead God’s people out of slavery in Egypt.

This brings us to today’s reading. God has heard the cries of God’s captive people in Egypt. Moses is faithfully going about his daily work as a shepherd. He is alert.  He pays attention to the world around him. And he notices a most unusual thing— a bush that is on fire but is not consumed. He goes to investigate. And God calls to him. Moses realizes he is on holy ground. He is in the presence of God, and God is calling him to lead God’s people out of slavery.

Like so many people called by God over the ages, Moses does not feel up to the task.  And God tells Moses something very important.  God assures Moses that God will be with Moses every step of the way. God does not call us to do difficult things and them leave us alone. God walks with us, God leads us and guides us.

God helps Moses understand who God is—“I am who I am.” And the wonderful thing about Hebrew verbs is that they are all tenses at once—I am who I am; I was who I was; I will be who I will be. God is dynamic and eternal. God will guide Moses as he leads the people out of slavery into freedom. God has chosen a leader who sees the suffering of God’s people, defends his own people, protects those who are vulnerable, and tries to bring justice in every situation. As we know from reading the Scriptures, leading God’s people to the promised land was not easy, but God was with Moses on the journey.

In our gospel, Peter cannot bear to think of Jesus suffering. In his effort to banish this thought, he gets in the way of our Lord’s accepting his own cross, and Jesus admonishes him and tells him to get out of the way. He even calls him Satan because he is so upset that Peter, in showing compassion for our Lord’s suffering, is actually deflecting our Lord from his vocation. Each of us has our own cross to bear. Each of us will suffer in one way or another as we try to follow our Lord and be faithful. We may have rifts with family members. We may lose friends. We may not achieve success in the world’s terms. But in the end these crosses also lead us into life in a new dimension.

Our epistle for today is addressed to a community which is suffering persecution. “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor….Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer….Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly…Live peaceably with all….If your enemies are hungry, feed them.” This is the vision of God’s shalom which Jesus expresses in the beatitudes and which his mother, Mary, sings about in the Magnificat.

What are these readings saying to us in this time of Covid 19? Moses was the person God chose to lead God’s people out of slavery. He did not feel that he was up to the job. When God calls us, most of us do not feel adequate to the task. We are part of a long line of people, a “great cloud of witnesses,” who say Yes in spite of all our misgivings and, with the grace of God, do our ministries to the best of our ability, depending solely on the grace of God.

Jesus came to show us what a life centered in God’s love looks like. Paul, born a Pharisee, a persecutor of the Church, met our Lord on the road to Damascus and was blinded for three days by the light of that love. In our epistle for today Paul offers us a poetic blueprint of living the life in Christ and being ministers of reconciliation.

Jesus has called us to live the Way of Love, and I’m pretty sure that not one of us feels that we are up to the task. But we are in very good company. Moses, Jeremiah, Isaiah. and so many heroes and heroines of the faith felt inadequate, too. Nowadays, sharing God’s love with others involves being careful not to spread Covid 19. It has been difficult to do all the things the medical experts are telling us to do. but here in Vermont we have the lowest statistics in the country, and, as our Presiding Bishop reminds us, keeping people safe and saving lives is our first priority. 

This means that we will not be able to hug each other, or share Communion, or sing together, or have a coffee hour with actual food—for a while. We don’t know for how long. In the meanwhile, “Let love be genuine, love one another with mutual affection, rejoice in hope.” Live the Way of Love. Amen.

Pentecost 10 Proper 14 August 9, 2020

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

Our first reading today is one of the most famous in the Bible and in Christian education classes—the story of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph was his father’s favorite, and Jacob made his beloved son a coat with long sleeves, what we have come to call Joseph’s “coat of many colors”, or Joseph’s “Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

Joseph did have dreams, which he shared with his brothers, and this did not help the situation, One dream that particularly got their goat was that they were in the field binding sheaves when Joseph’s sheaf 

rose above his brothers’ sheaves, and the sheaves of his brothers worshipped his sheaf.

In our reading, Israel sends Joseph out to find his brothers. When Joseph finally finds them after some investigation, his brothers conspire to kill him. Reuben arrives just in time to stop them from actually killing Joseph and they decide to throw him into a pit. When Joseph arrives, they strip him of his clothes and throw him into the pit. It is dry, so at least he will not drown.

Then some traders come by, and Judah convinces his brothers to sell Joseph to the Ishmaelite traders for twenty pieces of silver. As Christians, we can’t help but think of the thirty pieces of silver which Judas received for betraying Jesus. The Ishmaelite traders take Joseph to Egypt. 

The Bible is a library of books written over centuries of time, and between its pages we can find all kinds of stories about things we humans can think and do. Together with the birth of Jacob and Esau, with Jacob hanging on to Esau’s heel, this story is one of the classic examples of sibling rivalry. What does it take for brothers to decide to kill their own sibling? Will Joseph seek revenge? Will he forgive his brothers? Joseph has an amazing, God-given gift for interpreting dreams, and we will see what happens.

In our gospel for today, Jesus has just fed over five thousand people. He tells the disciples to go across the Sea of Galilee while he dismisses the crowd. After the crowd leaves, Jesus goes to the mountain to pray. This is something that he did often. He took time apart to be with God. This is his wonderful example to us—to take time away in quiet to ask God for guidance. By the time he comes back to the shore of the lake, night is falling.

The disciples are out in the boat, but the wind has come up and the boat is far from the land. Large waves are battering the boat. The wind has blown them far out on the lake. With the howling of the wind and the size of the waves, they are afraid.

Jesus comes walking toward them on the water— right through the waves, the wind, and the chaos. They see him, but they do not recognize him. They are terrified. They cry out, “It is a ghost!” They are gripped in icy fear.

But then, Jesus speaks to them, and let us remember these words when we are sailing stormy seas with high waves and winds that threaten to swamp us: “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” 

Peter immediately responds to the presence of his Lord. “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” And Jesus says, “Come.” So Peter starts walking toward him. But when he notices exactly how strong the wind is, fear rises in his heart  and he begins to sink. He calls out to Jesus, “Lord. save me!” And Jesus reaches out his hand to Peter and saves him. They get into the boat; the wind stops, and Peter says, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

How many times have we been afraid, stricken with pure terror, and we ask our Lord for help, and he stretches out his hand and saves us? We all know that fear can paralyze us. Our Lord can calm any storm. Our Lord can save us from the storms of life. He is reaching out his hand to us right now to steady us, lift us from the chaos of fear, and bring us to a safe place.

In our epistle for today, Paul says many wonderful things. He says, “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart.” Jesus, the eternal Word who brought  the worlds into being, is near us. We can reach out our hands and touch him.

And the other thing that I think is very important for us to remember is that Paul writes here and in other letters, “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek.” In his Letter to the Galatians,  he writes, “There is no longer Jew or Greek. there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28.)

Two thousand years ago, Saint Paul was telling us that there are no distinctions between human beings. God loves us all, infinitely and equally. Any distinctions of race, gender, class, social status and all the other things we humans have used to divide us are created by human beings, not by God. We’re all in the same boat. We’re all in this together.

Here we are, sailing in the high winds and choppy seas of Covid-19, and our Lord is saying, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” As we look out on the rest of our country and see that the rates of illness and death are rising in places where there have been large parties and other gatherings where folks were close together and not wearing masks, we might imagine to ourselves that our Lord might be telling us, “Do not be afraid, but do not be cocky. This is a powerful virus.Take care of yourselves, and take care of each other. I love you.”

When Jesus reaches out his hand to take us into the boat and bring us to safety, his hand is not only a hand of rescue, but it is a hand of guidance. He gave us minds so that we could do research and determine exactly what we are facing, and then take the actions we need to in order to stay safe and keep our brothers and sisters safe from illness and death. The Way of Love is to help everyone stay safe and stay healthy. May we continue to walk in the Way of Love. Amen.

Easter 7A, May 24, 2020

Acts 1:6-14
Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36
1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
John 17:1-11

Our opening reading today describes what happened on the feast day the Church celebrated this past Thursday, the Ascension of our Lord into heaven. He has been telling the disciples that he has to go to the Father and that he will send the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth. 

There he is with them on Mount Olivet. They ask him if he is going to bring in his kingdom. He tells them that it is not for them to know the timing, but then he assures them that they will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon them and that they will be his witnesses “to the ends of the earth.”

Let us take a few moments and think about this. Jesus has been telling them that he will go to be with God and will send the Holy Spirit, but there is a huge difference between hearing him say these things and standing there watching him rise into heaven, leaving them alone and grief-stricken. 

We can imagine that the apostles felt completely lost as they watched him ascend. He said he would not leave them comfortless, but I think they felt sad and lost as they gazed up into the heavens and saw him disappear behind that cloud.

Two angels appear and ask them why they are staring up to heaven. These angels obviously are not very sympathetic. Then the angels tell them that Jesus will come to them again. This seems to help. They recall that he had told them that he would come again.

Sometimes the Bible leaves things out. We can imagine what a shock it was for the apostles to see Jesus disappear. They had spent every waking moment with him for somewhere between eighteen months and three years, depending on which gospel we are reading. In any case, it was a long time. They had shared meals; they had prayed together; he had taught them; when they had questions, there he was to answer those questions. When they wondered what was the best course of action,  he was there to guide them. Now, he was gone. What would they do? Who would be their leader? We can imagine that perhaps they wept. Perhaps they felt abandoned. They could have felt a whole flood of emotions.

But the scripture does not address that. It simply says, “Then they returned to Jerusalem.” When they got there, they went to that familiar upper room. And Luke tells us who was there—Peter and John, James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James, son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. Also Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and the other women who had been there through it all. And Jesus’ brothers. And we are told that they constantly devoted themselves to prayer. He had told them to wait and pray, and the Spirit would come to them, and that is what they did.

We were not physically there when all of this happened, but this story is our story. We did not have the great joy of spending several years with Jesus in a literal sense, but we do have the privilege of knowing him because we have spent time in community together with each other and with him. We have felt his love. He has taught us as we have read the scriptures together. He has led us as we have sought his guidance in prayer together and individually. We have shared the Eucharist, the meal at which he is our host. We have talked to him and listened to him, individually and corporately.

We have not literally stood and watched him ascend, yet we have gazed in awe at the beautiful window over the altar at Grace. As we have looked at that window, we have joined the apostles in watching Jesus ascend, and we have tried to figure out which apostle is whom.

We have not experienced in a literal sense the shock of watching our beloved Lord ascend into heaven, which may be a great blessing, because we have not experienced the sense of loss they must have felt. But we have experienced his presence with us.

That is the important thing. We have experienced his presence. We are his sheep. He is our good shepherd.

Our gospel for today is our Lord’s prayer to God for us.  Jesus says to God, “All mine are yours, and yours are mine.” At other times he has said that he and God are one. I have no doubt that the apostles felt that, as they were walking and talking with Jesus, they were walking and talking with their loving God. As Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.”

At the end of our gospel, Jesus prays, “And now I am no longer in the world, but they ( meaning his followers, us) are in the world.”  And then Jesus prays, “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one as we are one.”

As we stand and watch out Lord ascend to be with the Father, and as we realize on deeper and deeper levels that Jesus is God walking the face of the earth, and as we think of all the time we have spent with our Lord, sharing Eucharist with him and learning from him, and as we realize more and more profoundly that Jesus, God, and the Spirit are one, and as we pray, we may be able to get a sense of what was happening with the apostles all those years ago as they stayed together and prayed, as he had told them to do, and waited actively, expectantly, faithfully, for the coming of the Spirit just as we will do this week as we prepare for the feast of Pentecost.

Jesus asked God to protect us, his followers, so that we may be one as Jesus and God are one. Our Lord was praying in a world where a ruthless empire could kill you for no reason, just as Covid-19 can snuff us out. Our Lord prayed for protection for his followers, and I am hoping and praying that each of us can feel that protection coming from God so that we can feel as close to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as Jesus did to his heavenly Father. And I hope and pray that this sense of closeness with and protection by our Loving God will bring you a deep peace, even in the midst of this most distressing pandemic. Our loving God is as close as our breath. Our loving Shepherd. Jesus, is leading us. May we wait and pray for the gifts of the Spirit at Pentecost. 

May we pray together the Collect for Ascension Day, p. 226.

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that he  fill all things: Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in gory everlasting.  Amen.

Easter 5A May 10, 2020

Acts 7:55-60
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
John 14:1-14

In our very short first reading from the Book of Acts, the community of followers of Jesus has been growing by leaps and bounds. As we learned last Sunday, the community takes care of its members. In the portion of Acts that precedes today’s reading, the apostles have gotten so busy trying to teach people and preach the Good News, that they ask the community of faith to appoint seven men of good repute to take on the ministry of distributing food to the poor. This is a ministry of servanthood, diaconia, and these men are the first deacons in the Church.

Among these seven men is Stephen, a man full of the Holy Spirit and the love of God. In our passage for today, Stephen has been preaching about the history of God’s people and the death and resurrection of Jesus. Some of the people listening to Stephen accuse him of blasphemy. In the portion we read today, Stephen is stoned to death by an angry mob. As he is dying, Stephen asks God to forgive these people who are killing him. Stephen is the first Christian martyr, and we celebrate his feast day on December 26, the day after Christmas.

There is a brief mention in this passage of a man named Saul, who witnesses this horrible event. People leave their coats with him. Saul of Tarsus is on a personal campaign to wipe out the followers of Jesus. Very soon, on the road to Damascus, he will meet the risen Lord and his life mission will change from hate to love.

In our epistle from the First Letter of Peter, we read that Jesus is the living stone, the foundation of the Church. To paraphrase the scripture, Jesus calls us out of darkness into his marvelous light. Stephen shows forth that light in his life and ministry, and in his death as well.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is aware that he is going to the cross. He is trying to be sure that his closest followers understand everything that they are going to need to know about him so that they can carry on his ministry.

First, our Lord tells his disciples and us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God,  believe also in me.” He is telling them and us that he is going to die, and he wants to make our faith as strong as possible.

So he talks about heaven, and he says some unforgettable words that have comforted people over all the centuries since he first said them. “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places,” he says. I like the King James version, too. “In my father’s house are many mansions.” It gives us such a sense of the expansive, inclusive nature of heaven. It also makes us think twice. In my father’s house are many dwelling places, or many mansions. A house is a dwelling pace, A house could be a mansion. But how does a house contain many mansions or many dwelling places? What he is trying to tell us is that heaven is big. There is plenty of room for everyone. God’s love includes everyone. As Archbishop Tutu says, “God has a big family.” So, if we or the disciples are worried about getting into heaven, the point is that God wants us to be there. God is not trying to shut people out. God is trying to welcome people in. Some people think that there are a lot of rules and regulations about getting into heaven. But, as someone has said, God is a lover, not a lawyer. Everyone is welcome in heaven.

And then Jesus says, “You know the place where I am going.” And Thomas says, “Lord, we do not know where you are going.” And that is when Jesus says to him and to us,”I am the way and the truth and the life.” The conversation goes on, The disciples are trying to grasp some very difficult concepts about God.

Finally Jesus says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” Later on, he will say, “I and the Father are one.” Jesus is telling his disciples and us that if we have seen him, we have seen God. In the entire history of God’ s people, God was seen as very scary. People were taught that they could not see God and live. 

Now Jesus is telling us that by seeing him and walking with him and learning from him about the power of love, we have seen God. And then he says something that blows all the circuit breakers in our minds. He says, “Very truly, I tell you. 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.”

Our Lord says that we will do greater things than he has done because he is going to the Father. He is going to send the Holy Spirit, and is commissioning us to carry on his ministry. Stephen heard that commissioning loudly and clearly, So did Saul, after our Lord straightened out his thinking. Of course, we know him as St. Paul.

What are these readings saying to us in this time of pandemic? We have the account of Stephen’s martyrdom. He was a deacon. He was given a ministry of servanthood. May we serve others in the Name of Christ. Thank you Lord, for the ministry of our food shelf servants, several of whom are among us, and their number is growing.

At the beginning of this Covid 19 journey, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry was asked about social distancing, or maybe we should call it physical distancing. He said that this distancing is all about God’s love. God wants people to be safe. We are doing this out of love for our brothers and sisters. We are wearing masks for the same reason—to keep from giving the virus to others. It’s about love. 

Like Stephen and the other deacons, we are called to be servants. These days, we are especially called to serve and help those who cannot work from home and are risking their lives to do everything from ministering to the sick to stocking shelves in grocery stores. We are also called to help those who have lost their jobs. We are going to have to extend financial and other help to them so that they can feed their families. We are going to have to think as the early Church thought. God calls us to take care of each other.

I also ask your prayers for our brothers and sisters in areas where folks are opening shops and restaurants and trying to return to normal when the numbers of new cases and deaths are still rising. We pray that they may decide to stay safe.

It’s all about love. God is calling us to use our minds and our hearts. God is calling us to seek and to do God’s will. May we seek the mind of Christ. May we seek the love of God. May we seek the wisdom of the Spirit. 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.