• Content

  • Pages

  • Upcoming Events

    • Sunday service - Holy Communion April 2, 2023 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 April 9, 2023 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 April 16, 2023 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 RCL    May 10, 2015

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

Our first reading today is so short that we may miss its significance. It comes after a whirlwind of events powered by the Holy Spirit. Cornelius, a Centurion in the Roman army, lives in Caesaria, gives money to the people and prays constantly, but he is a Gentile. An angel comes to Cornelius and tells him to send for Peter, who is in Joppa. So he sends some men to Joppa.

Peter is praying and has his vision of a sheet with all kinds of foods on it. God tells Peter to “Get up and eat,” and Peter, who has followed the dietary laws faithfully all his life, realizes that no foods are unclean.

Peter is trying to figure out the meaning of all this when Cornelius’ men arrive looking for him. The Spirit tells Peter to go with these strangers, so, the next morning, Peter and other followers of Jesus travel to Caesaria. When they arrive at the home of Cornelius, they find that he has gathered a group of people to hear what Peter has to say. Peter preaches his wonderful sermon which begins, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality…” Then Peter goes on to preach about the ministry of Jesus. Peter has realized that the family of God includes everyone.

Our reading today comes as Peter is still speaking about God’s big family. The Holy Spirit fills the people listening and they speak in tongues. With the gifts of the Spirit pouring out on these people, Peter realizes that they should be baptized. And so it happens. The Spirit is moving, touching and transforming peoples’ lives. Everyone is welcome in this new faith.

And what is at the center of our faith? Love. Last Sunday, we read that Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. We could say that the love of God and Jesus and the Spirit is the energy in the vine. God loved us first. We are called to love God and to share God’s love with everyone we meet. When we do that, we become people of joy. And our Lord makes us his friends.  Jesus tells us, “You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to bear fruit, fruit that will last….” In his Letter to the Galatians, Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness. and self-control. Those are the fruits of close loving communities such as Grace Church, and those are the fruits that we bear as we go out into the world to bring the love, forgiveness, and healing of Christ to people who need it so much.

Last Sunday, Bishop Tom made his visitation to Grace Church. He offered us some of the real fruit of the vine, delicious grapes, and we reflected together on what it means that Jesus is the Vine and we are the branches. We are connected with him and with each other so closely that our lives are interdependent and intertwined. His energy, his love, flows into us and nourishes us to do our ministries in the world.

Some of you shared deeply and honestly in a profoundly powerful way about your journeys with Christ and your ministries in his name. What you shared was authentic and moving. God has called us together from far and wide, and yes, we have responded. We have chosen to be here, to be together in Christ and in the Spirit,

The reflections which you shared spoke of a depth of community that only God could create. And I know that our Bishop was listening. And I was listening, too. You are such quiet people that I know it took a lot to do that sharing. You don’t blow your own horn. Perhaps to our detriment, we don’t call the newspaper every time we do something.

But the truth is that every day, you go out into the world and live your faith, and that is the fruit that lasts because that is what is building the shalom of God.

We have been given a great gift—three years of work together with annual reviews, and it wasn’t limited to three years, so who knows?

We have a time frame that is a bit longer than just a year, and I am very happy about that. Bishop Tom has been generous with us, and I believe that is because of the depth of your faith and your ministries out in the world. God is the center of our lives, and we and God have built a community of faith that supports each of us to strengthen our faith and minister in the name of Christ.

Thanks be to God for each of you and for this community! Well done, good and faithful servants, or, as Jesus has said in today’s gospel, “Well done, good and faithful friends!   Amen.

Second Sunday of Easter April 12, 2015

Acts 4:32-35
Psalm 133
1 John 1:1-2:2
John 20:19-31

Today’s gospel takes us back to the beginnings of our faith. It is the evening of the resurrection day. Mary Magdalene has run back and told the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!”  But they have not yet seen him.

The doors are locked because they have watched Jesus die and they are afraid of what the authorities might do. Suddenly, Jesus is with them. “Peace be with you.” he says. He shows them his wounds so that they will know that is it really Jesus. They are beside themselves with joy.

Then he breathes the Holy Spirit into them and he gives them the ministry of reconciliation. Here they are, locked in the room because of their fear which is entirely justified, and now he is sending them out into the world again to bring his healing, to build his shalom, his kingdom of peace and harmony in which everyone is safe and can have a good and useful life.

But Thomas has not been there to see this. Many people have called him “Doubting Thomas,” but I am not sure that is accurate. I have always thought of him as a practical, rather scientific person. He has to have proof. He has to see it to believe it. Not that he is necessarily a doubter.

One of my favorite scholars and preachers, Herbert O’Driscoll, has an interesting view of Thomas which I think could well be true. O’Driscoll does not see Thomas as a doubter but as the kind of person who, “when he makes a commitment  to someone or something, makes a total commitment.”

O’Driscoll continues, “Now his heart is broken by the ghastly death of  Jesus, his world is collapsed, and he is determined never to give his heart to anything again, never to trust life again, never to give his love again. But when our Lord stands in front of him, Thomas gives himself totally once more.”

There is so much truth in this. When something devastates us, it is natural to try to protect ourselves. All of the disciples are hiding behind locked doors. Yet Jesus  walks through the walls of our fear and calls us to go out into the world and knit that broken world back together again. That is what the ministry of reconciliation is all about.

Our other two lessons deal with how that is happening in the early Christian communities. In our reading from the Book of Acts, the community is of one mind and heart and soul in Christ. They share everything in common. They take care of each other.  No one goes hungry. Everyone has what he or she needs. This is a wonderful vision for all of us.

In our reading from the First Letter of John, we are hearing from someone who has been in the presence of Jesus. Think how that must have been in the early Church. The apostles traveled around to teach and preach and heal. Think what it was to meet someone who had actually sat with Jesus and shared meals with him. and learned from him. Someone who might have had his feet washed by Jesus. Someone who had touched Jesus.

John is calling us to walk in the light of Christ, which means that we are called to be loving individuals and a loving community. We can picture communities of followers of Jesus springing up all over during the first century.  From those little shoots, the Church has grown. And here we are, all these centuries later.

May we walk as children of the Light.  Amen.

Easter 3A RCL May 4, 2014

Acts 2:14a. 36-41

Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17

1 Peter 1:17-23

Luke 24:13-35

The Easter season lasts for fifty days, until the feast of Pentecost. During this time, alleluias ring through our hymns and liturgies. We do not say the Confession because we focus on the fact that our sins have been forgiven and, through baptism, we are in new life. The paschal candle, symbol of that new life, burns throughout the season. And, each Sunday, we experience encounters with the risen Lord.

In our first lesson today, Peter continues his sermon to the people gathered, and, when they ask how they can respond to what has happened to Jesus,  three thousand people are baptized.

In our epistle, Peter reminds us that we have been born anew and calls us to love one another.

In our powerful and beautiful gospel from Luke, we have the unforgettable walk to Emmaus. It is the evening of the first Easter. Two followers of Jesus are going from Jerusalem to Emmaus. We don’t know exactly why. Perhaps one of them lives in Emmaus. After Jesus had been crucified, and people thought all their hopes were gone, many of them, following a very human instinct, went back home. That’s where we often go,  when everything is falling apart.

At any rate, these two people, one of whom is named Cleopas, are talking about everything that has happened. They can’t think about anything else. Jesus has been crucified, He has really died. They are completely devastated. They are probably wondering what they will do now that these terrible things have happened.  They had planned to devote their whole lives to following Jesus and now he is gone.

Jesus comes along and walks with them, but they do not recognize him. This happens often in these encounters with the risen Lord. Something about the risen Jesus is different enough so that people do not realize at first who he is. Mary Magdalene thinks he is the gardener. These two followers do not see that he is Jesus. We could wonder and speculate about what it is that has changed, but we can never know for sure.

Jesus asks an open ended question: what are they discussing. Cleopas gets a little irritated with Jesus. “Don’t you know what has been happening? Where have you been?” Jesus asks them what has been happening. And so they tell him his own story. They say that some women had been at the tomb early that morning and had seen a vision of angels who told them Jesus was alive.

This lets us know that they are wondering whether this could be true. Is Jesus indeed alive? They are hoping against hope. There he is, standing right in front of them, and they still do not recognize him.

Jesus reviews the teachings of the prophets. They reach the village and Jesus looks as though he is just going to keep walking. But, honoring the tradition of hospitality, they invite him to have supper with them.  When he takes the bread and blesses and breaks it, they finally recognize him in the breaking of the bread. He vanishes.

Then they remember how their hearts were on fire as he discussed the scriptures with them. They rush back to Jerusalem to be with the community of faith.

What a wonderful story, one of my favorites and I think one of yours as well. So often we do not recognize the risen Christ when he is standing right next to us. And how challenging it is to hold on to a realistic and hopeful stance in life. How challenging it is to hold onto faith.

We live in what is often called a scientific age. I was trained in the scientific approach through my undergraduate education, and that approach is supposed to be open to discovery through research. Much of what some people call the “scientific approach” is really just concrete thinking that rules out the spiritual. Many eminent scientists have come to faith simply because of the beauty of God’s creation, whether it be in the immensity of galaxies or the minuteness of subatomic particles.

We humans are not as logical as we sometimes think we are. We see Jesus crucified and we think that has to be the end. Then that colors our vision when he stands right before our eyes!

Jesus is alive. Jesus is continuing his ministry of love and healing every time someone gives a cup of water to a thirsty person or digs a well in a developing country.  Jesus is continuing to build his shalom through the power of the Spirit, and the Spirit is very much at work in the Church and in the world. The Spirit is not limited by walls or beliefs or prejudices.

Jesus is alive and at work whenever people love each other and treat each other with respect, wherever and whenever people build inclusive, loving communities, whenever people make peace instead of war.

Jesus is alive. May we recognize him in the breaking of the bread, in his love extended to all people, in the building of his shalom. May we recognize him in each other and in our midst. Amen.

Easter 2A RCL April 27, 2014

Acts 2:14a. 22-32

Psalm 16

1 Peter 1:3-9

John 20:19-31

Our lessons this morning are not in chronological order. In our opening reading from the Book of Acts, it is the feast of Pentecost. People are gathered in Jerusalem from all over the known world. It is fifty days after Passover, about fifty days after the first Easter.

Flames of fire dance over the heads of the apostles. The wind of the Spirit blows. And the apostles tell the Good News in all the languages of the world.

Standing with the eleven because Judas has died, Peter preaches about Jesus. He links Jesus with Jewish history and with the reign and promises of the great King David. Peter proclaims that Jesus has been crucified and has risen. At that point, Peter probably thinks that the followers of Jesus will form a sect of Judaism.

Our epistle comes from years later in Peter’s life and ministry. He writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. By his grace he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

By this time, the new faith has spread all around the Mediterranean Sea, giving hope to people living under the yoke of the Roman Empire, When Peter writes that Jesus has given us “a new birth into a living hope,” he is comforting and strengthening many followers of Jesus who are undergoing persecution.

The followers of Jesus were peacemakers. They did not fight in the Roman army. They were therefore seen as subversives who should be punished and persecuted. They were also noted for the love and care which they showed to each other. An author of the time wrote, “See these Christians, how they love one another.” The promise of a new reality, a new hope, and a new way of living attracted thousands of people to the new faith. The love within each community sustained its members and welcomed new folks to join in the fellowship.

In our gospel, it is the evening of the first Easter. The followers of Jesus are in hiding. They are afraid of the authorities. They have heard that Jesus has risen, but only Mary Magdalene has actually seen the risen Lord.

Jesus walks right through the walls of fear. The first thing he says to them is, “Peace be with you.” Shalom be with you. The vision of shalom, the kingdom of God, where there is peace, where there is love and compassion, everyone has enough to eat and drink; everyone has shelter; basic needs are met; everyone has constructive work to do and the chance to lead a healthy and productive life.

Then Jesus breathes the Spirit of shalom into them and us. That first time, Thomas is not there. He tells the others that he will not be able to believe until he touches the wounds of Jesus.

A week later, Jesus comes again. All Thomas has to do is take one look at Jesus.  Thomas knows that it is the Lord, and that he has come through it all and is here to lead us on a new path. On the spot, Thomas believes.

What does it mean to believe? It is important to keep in mind that belief is not a matter of intellectual assent to a proposition. In other words, when we say we believe, we are not saying, “I believe this on an intellectual level.” Belief involves what Jewish thought calls the heart, but the heart is more than just feeling. The heart is the core of the person, It involves the emotions, and it also involves the mind and the will and the intentions.

Once we see Jesus and we get to spend time with him in loving community the way the early Christians did, it is irresistible. We want to be with him. We want to follow him. We want to live the way he calls us to live, We want to help him build his shalom of peace, healing, and harmony. Other people truly become our brothers and sisters.

Like Thomas, we probably won’t have to touch the wounds of Jesus in a literal sense. We know they are real. We know that he went through all that horror. And we know that he came through it stronger than ever. And that tells us that we can meet challenges. We can endure, and not only endure, but flourish.

This morning, we meet our risen Lord. He breathes the Spirit into us to give us the power to carry out his ministry of reconciliation and to bring in his shalom. He calls us to be peacemakers. He calls us to see every other human being as our brother or sister.

Blessed Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the bread, in the beauty of your creation, in the faces of our brothers and sisters. Give us grace to help build your shalom.  Amen.

Easter Year A RCL April 20, 2014

Acts 10:34-43
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Colossians 3:1-4
John 20:1-18

They said I had seven demons. All I know is that I was very ill. I met Jesus and he gave me my life back. I had to follow him.

It was amazing to watch him. He truly loved people, and they knew it. He met them as they were, rich and poor, young and old. He taught them, healed them, treasured every one of them. People flocked to him. But his love was a threat to the people in power.

We went with him to Jerusalem. Judas betrayed him. Peter denied him. Peter felt awful about that, but later he and Jesus had that wonderful reconciliation on the beach. There was the questioning by Pilate and then one horror after another.

We stood at the foot of the cross. I don’t know how his mother endured it. She is so courageous. And, at last, he died. Two members of the Sanhedrin, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, had been secret followers of Jesus. They risked their lives and asked permission to take his body down off the cross and place it in Joseph’s new tomb.

We all gathered to cry and pray. Now it was really over. All our hopes were gone. We would never see him again. I cried most of the night.

Then I realized I just had to go to the tomb. I could not stay away any longer. I had watched him die. I couldn’t do anything then and I couldn’t do anything now, but I just had to go.

When I got there, the stone was rolled away. I ran and got Peter and John. Jesus’ body was gone. We were devastated. Peter and John went back to where we were staying.

I stayed and the tears flowed. It broke my heart to think that some thing had happened to his body. Two angels asked me why I was crying. I suppose they were trying to comfort me. I tried to put it into words.

And then I saw someone I thought was the gardener. I thought maybe he had taken Jesus’ body away. But then he called my name. I don’t know why I didn’t recognize him until that moment. Anyway, I finally realized that it was Jesus. He was alive! There he was, standing right in front of me!

I wanted to hug him. But he asked me not to hold onto him. Oh, that hurt! I was so shocked I could hardly breathe.

Much later, I realized that, now that he is risen, he is with all of us all over the world. I couldn’t hold onto him. We couldn’t keep him in Jerusalem or even in Galilee.

Then, I went to Peter and John to tell them, “I have seen the Lord!” He had journeyed all the way through the hatred and brokenness and darkness and transformed it into love, wholeness, light, and new life.

He is with you. He is with me. He is with each of us and all of us in a powerful way that can transform our lives. I have spent my life absorbing that reality, and I imagine that you have done the same.

When darkness surrounds us; when hope flickers and fades; when all seems lost, let us remember that moment when we are standing in front of that empty tomb and Jesus calls our name and we know that he is risen; he is with us; the light is showing over the horizon, and he is here among us.

We have seen the Lord. He is risen! Amen.

Easter 2C RCL April 7, 2013

 Acts 5:27-32

Psalm 150

Revelation 1:4-8

John 20:19-31

In our first reading, Peter and the other apostles are at work in Jerusalem spreading the Good News. They have been ordered by the authorities to stop teaching in the name of Jesus, but, of course, they have continued because, as Peter says, “We must obey God rather than any human authority.”

Herbert O’Driscoll points out that this encounter shows us a law of human affairs. He says, “ Any new force acting in a society or an institution will meet resistance from forces already entrenched.” The High Priest is trying to contain this threat.

The Book of Revelation was written thirty or forty years after our first scene from the Book of Acts. Already there are seven churches in Asia. The new faith is growing and spreading over a larger and larger geographical area. John writes that our Lord, who loves us has “made us a kingdom, priests  serving his God and Father.” We are called to offer ourselves to God in every way that we can so that God can use us in the work of spreading the Good News.

Now we move to the gospel for this day. It is the Day of Resurrection. It is that first Sunday. Jesus has just risen from the dead. The Church has not yet begun to spread.  Jesus’ followers are gathered in the house in Jerusalem where they had stayed whenever they were in the city. It is the evening of that first day of new life.  Mary Magdalene has gone to the tomb and has seen the risen Lord, but the reality has not yet sunk in. John tells us that the doors were locked for fear. They are afraid. Terrible things have happened. Some of them have seen Jesus die on the cross. They are afraid of the authorities with good reason.Jesus moves right through the doors, the walls of fear. What does he say? “Peace be with you,” Shalom be with you, Shalom, the wholeness and harmony, the peace which passes all understanding, Shalom, the restoration of all the whole creation be with you.  Then he shows them his hands and his side, He shows the wounds so that they will know it is he. And they are so happy to see him and to recognize him.  He has come through it all. And he says again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And he breathes the Holy Spirit into them. When Jesus was here among us he told us that the Holy Spirit is within us.

And he gives them and us the ministry of reconciliation. Traditionally, this is the beginning of the ministry through which priests confer absolution when people make private confessions. Now, as we understand baptismal ministry and the ministry of all believers, we know that all of us as Christians are called to listen to the confessions of our brothers and sisters who share the things they have done which have hurt themselves and others and for which they seek God’s forgiveness. All of us hear confessions all the time and all of us can assure others of God’s mercy and forgiveness. There are some times when people are in great pain and remorse over their sins and should seek the sacrament of Reconciliation of a Penitent, or private confession to a priest. Oftentimes, folks can receive the assurance of God’s forgiveness from a lay person.

Thomas was not with them when the risen Christ appeared. They tell him that they have seen the Lord. But he has to see for himself. He cannot believe at a second or third hand level. Just imagine Jesus’ love. Two weeks later, they are there in the house and he comes back again. Our Lord does whatever it takes to help us to have faith. “Put your finger here and see my hands,” he tells Thomas. Thomas falls on his knees in pure adoration. “My Lord and my God!” he whispers in awe.

And then Jesus says something which is a blessing to you and to me. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have  come to believe.”

We weren’t there in that room with the apostles. We were not there on the Road to Emmaus or on the beach when Jesus welcomed them to a breakfast of fish and bread. We weren’t there on the Road to Damascus when Paul was blinded by the light. Yet we have seen the risen Christ. We have felt his presence. We have experienced his forgiveness and healing. And we believe in him. And we are blessed every day by his presence and power in our lives.

The Easter season lasts for fifty days, until the Feast of Pentecost. During this time, we will continue to hear about the work of the early Church in spreading the Good News and we will be with the disciples as our Risen Lord appears to them and to us.

If any of you speak a foreign language, please let me know so that we can use those languages in our Pentecost celebration. During the Great Fifty Days of Easter, our readings are all from the New Testament or Greek Scriptures. We are especially celebrating the presence of our Risen Lord and our mission to spread the Good news of his victory over death and brokenness.

May we share in his victory and in his ministry of healing and reconciliation.


The Fifth Sunday of EasterYear C RCL April 28, 2013

Acts 11:1-18

Psalm 148

Revelation 21:1-6

John 13:31-35

In our opening reading from the Book of Acts, we are given the gift of being present at one of the pivotal moments in the history of the Church.

Peter has had his powerful vision of a sheet coming down from heaven with all kinds of animals on it. The voice of God says, “Get up. Peter. Kill and eat.”  But Peter refuses. He says that he has always followed the dietary laws. Then God tells him that all foods are made clean by God. This happens three times.

Peter is still pondering these things when three men arrive where Peter is staying in Joppa. The Spirit tells Peter to go with them. Just think how differently things would have been if Peter and Mary and Joseph and Paul and so many others had not been paying attention and being open to the voice of God and the leading of the Holy Spirit. Peter and the men arrive at the home of Cornelius the Centurion, a military man, a Roman and commander of a body of a hundred soldiers.  When Peter and the men arrive, the Holy Spirit falls upon Cornelius and all his household. Peter shares a meal with the people there.

Then we fast forward to the beginning of our reading. Peter is in Jerusalem.  He is being questioned as to why he shared a meal with Gentiles. He does not try to explain his actions logically.  He shares his experience of the vision in which God tells him that the new faith is for everyone. As Bishop Michael Curry and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have said, “God has a big family, the whole human family.”

In our reading from the Book of Revelation, we see the vision of the new heaven and the new earth, where the creation is restored to wholeness. This is the vision we are working for.  God is making all things new.

Today’s gospel takes us back to a crucial moment. This is before the crucifixion, Jesus has just washed the disciples’ feet. He has said that one of them will betray him, and Judas has just left. Think of this. Jesus has just performed his act of  servanthood, a tender, gentle, intimate act of washing their feet. Judas has gone off into the night to do his awful deed. Jesus knows his time has come. The terrible chain of events is now under way. “Little children,” he says, I am with you only a little while longer.”

Jesus knew he had very little time to be with them. I suspect that the disciples did not realize all of what was going to happen. They were probably shocked and deeply moved by his washing of their feet. But now he is saying that there is very little time left. The words he is about to speak are some of the most important words in the gospels. These are the thoughts he wanted us to remember forever. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this, everyone shall know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.”

The commandment to love one another is not new. The Hebrew scriptures call us to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. But Jesus is calling us to love each other as he has loved us. This is what is new about the call to love—that Jesus has showed us how to love in all the words and actions of his life among us. In Christ, we have a living example of how to be loving people. This is not an intellectual exercise or a point for debate or discussion. He is our example.’ And he is the source of the love we are called to live and to share.

Thomas Troeger of Yale University writes, “The newness is the source that feeds this love: the humility of the Almighty as revealed through Christ’s death, the transformation of the meaning of glory from worldly renown to Godly compassion. We are not simply to use words to tell people about the meaning of the cross and resurrection.

“When we allow the love of Christ to take deep root in us, so that it flourishes in all that we do and say to one another, it is the first step in helping the world to understand how Christ has transformed glory. We give witness to what no purely verbal argument can ever accomplish: the glory of God breathing through the life of a Christ-centered community.”

How does our Lord love us? He loves us as a Good Shepherd. He knows each of us intimately, our gifts and strengths, our flaws and weaknesses, and he loves us infinitely.  He gives his life for us and to us. He loves us in a way that calls forth the best that is in us. He loves us in a way that enables us to grow and accept new truths as Peter did and to love and serve others in ways we would not be able to do without his grace. He calls us to be open to new levels of love and service. And he calls us to love each other as he has loved us. He calls us to be a community that lives that kind of love.

He does not call us to offer complex theologies. He does not call us to argue over the words of the Creeds, as we have done for centuries, or to fuss over the fine points of liturgy, as we sometimes have done in the Church.

He calls us to love one another as he has loved us. It may sound simple, but it isn’t easy. Yet, day in and day out, I see you living into this commandment. With his grace and love to empower and guide us, I believe Grace Church is answering our Lord’s call to be a loving community. We know each other, we support each other, we love each other.  We do this because he has called us to be a community of love and inclusiveness, and we know that our life together is possible only because of the amazing gift of his love for us.

Risen Lord, thank you for your love and grace. Lead us and guide us as we follow you and share your love.   Amen

Easter 4C RCL April 21, 2013

Acts 9:36-43

Psalm 23

Revelation 7:9-17

John 10: 22-30

Last Sunday’s reading from the Book of Acts told us the story of Saul’s encounter with the risen Christ. Saul, the persecutor of the Church, becomes Paul, one of the most faithful followers of Jesus.

Now the focus shifts to Peter’s ministry. Peter is in Joppa. There is a faithful and generous disciple called Tabitha in Aramaic and Dorcas in Greek. The text tells us that “She was devoted to good works and charity.” Tabitha has died. Her body has been washed and has been laid out in an upstairs room. The community of Jesus’ followers sends two men to Lydda to ask Peter to come to them. Peter follows them back to Joppa. They take him to the room where she is lying.

All the widows from the community are there, weeping. They show Peter clothing that Tabitha has made for them. Widows were often poor in those times, and Tabitha has clearly ministered to these women. They love her deeply.

Peter asks all of them to leave. I believe that he does this, not to be cruel, but to have quiet in the room so that God can work in a concentrated and powerful way. Then Peter kneels down and prays. I believe that he is praying for God’s presence and healing for Tabitha.

Peter stands up, turns to the woman’s dead body, and says, Tabitha, get up.” She opens her eyes, sees Peter, and sits up. He extends his hand and helps her up. Then he calls in all the members of the community to see that she is now alive.

This is a wonderful and important story. Tabitha is a beloved woman who is carrying out a key ministry to the widows in Joppa. The Revised Common Lectionary, which we started using a few years ago, was developed because we wanted to include more stories of women in our readings. This is one of those stories.

Also, the ministry of healing was a powerful part of the life of the early Church.  Many contemporary Christian communities are being called to lively ministries of healing, and we do have services in the prayer book involving the laying on of hands and anointing with oil for healing. These can be used at any time. Many parishes offer these services on a regular basis. As we read through the Book of Acts during the Easter season, we see how vibrant the ministry of the early Church was. The deeds of people like Peter and Paul and Tabitha demonstrated the love and healing of Christ and drew people to the community of faith.

Psalm 23 is one of the most beloved parts of the Bible, Many people can recite it from memory. In powerful and comforting words and images, this psalm tells us that God is with us in everything and that Jesus is our Good Shepherd.

Our reading from the Book of Revelation reminds us that Christians thirty or forty years after the death and resurrection of our Lord were encountering persecution. Here we have the vision of thousands of people, many of whom have suffered for their faith, worshipping God.

Today’s gospel comes at the end of the passages in which Jesus has been saying that he is the Good Shepherd. He is not a hireling who runs away when the wolf attacks. He knows and loves the flock and he knows each sheep intimately. When he calls our name, we answer and follow him. We know his voice.

It is January. It is the feast of Dedication which we would know as Hanukkah. This feast celebrates the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrians in 160 B. C., which freed the people from foreign rule and allowed the temple to be restored to their control.

Scholars tell us that as we read this passage, we need to be aware that some of the religious authorities were genuinely interested in what Jesus was trying to teach and what he was trying to accomplish. Others were suspicious of Jesus and were trying to trap him. Both groups  were present in this encounter. They are asking Jesus how long he is going to keep them in suspense. Is he the messiah or not?

The question about whether Jesus is the messiah is an attempt to put Jesus into a known and defined category. But Jesus goes beyond categories. What sounds like a simple enough question does not have a simple answer.

I believe that Jesus is saying that he is calling everyone to be a part of his flock. He is the one who calls us to be his sheep. But we have to respond to his call. And the response is not only intellectual. It is a response of every part of us—our minds, yes, and also our hearts, our feelings, our will, our ethical and moral selves, our physical selves, all parts of us.

When Jesus calls and we respond to him because we know he is our Good Shepherd, it’s because we know that he is everything to us that is described in the 23rd Psalm. He gives us everything we need. He leads us to good pastures and pure water. Even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, even when all we can see is the next step, we know that he is with us, and somehow, though we may wonder how we will ever make it, we are not paralyzed by fear, because we know that he is walking with us.

Being a part of his flock, being among his sheep, is not just an intellectual exercise; it’s experiential. We have to live it in every part of our being. “My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me.”

And then he says, “The Father and I are one.” This is the key of John’s gospel. In every action and word of Jesus, we are seeing what God is like. We are seeing God walking the face of the earth and loving people and healing people. Not just some people, but all people.

Most of us have not been shepherdesses or shepherds. Few of us have has close relationships with sheep or flocks of sheep. Yet we instinctively know what this image of the Good Shepherd means. He takes care of us, He is with us, No, he can’t protect us from every harm that happens in a fallen creation. But he goes through it with us, and it always leads to new life.

What a gift we have received, that Jesus is our Good Shepherd.

May we listen for his call, May we follow where he leads.  Amen.