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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 4C   May 10, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Easter 4B April 25, 2021

Acts 4:5-12
Psalm 23
1 John 3:16-24
John 10:11-18

In our opening reading from the Book of Acts, Peter and John have healed a man who has been lame from birth. A crowd has gathered, and the authorities have become alarmed at the size of the crowd and at Peter’s insistence that the man’s healing happened in the name of Jesus of Nazareth.

Peter is not afraid. He is so filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit that he feels compelled to share the good news that Jesus has healed this man.

Our psalm for today is one of the most beloved psalms in the Bible. When we meditate on this psalm, it fills us with assurance of the presence of our Lord, and it reminds us that Jesus is leading us every step of the way. He leads us to good pastures so that we can be nourished by his presence, and he leads us to the still waters where we can be quiet and know that our Lord is right beside us.

Our reading from the First Letter of John continues the exploration of the theme of God’s love. One of the gems of this passage is, “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” 

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. Jesus has just healed a blind man on the sabbath, and the Pharisees are outraged. They have interrogated the man and his parents. Now they are questioning Jesus. In both our reading from Acts and our gospel for today, the authorities are upset about the power of Jesus to heal people.

Jesus says that he is the good shepherd. This year, as we are moving through this pandemic, I want to be sure that we understand the biblical shepherd. We often think of flocks of sheep being rather unruly, and border collies herding these sheep.

The biblical shepherd did not work that way. The biblical shepherd went ahead of the sheep to let them know that the path was safe. Because the sheep knew and trusted the shepherd, they followed as a group. In the village was a sheepfold. This was an impressive structure with very high walls. In that high wall was a very sturdy door. Someone guarded that door at night to keep the sheep safe. When each shepherd came to the door the next morning, the gatekeeper would let the shepherd in.

Each shepherd had a different voice and a different call. When the shepherd called, only his own sheep would follow. The sheep and the shepherd got to know each other very well. The shepherd knew the gifts and flaws of every sheep. He knew their idiosyncrasies, their little foibles and characteristics. He knew everything about them. And he loved those sheep. The sheep knew their shepherd would take care of them. So they followed him. 

Back in those times, there were still lions and bears in Palestine, and those lions and bears could attack the flock. Shepherds had to fight off those wild animals. Being a shepherd demanded great skill and courage.

When he had gathered his flock, the shepherd would lead them out into the pastures and hills beyond the village. When the next shepherd arrived, he would call his flock in the same way, each shepherd with a different voice and call. 

In the face of authorities challenging their mission of healing, both Peter and our Lord preach powerful and eloquent sermons. It is very sad to think that authorities, even religious authorities, would try to stop people from healing because the law says you can’t do that on the sabbath. Both Peter and Jesus make it clear that human rules cannot stop God’s healing power.

Jesus gives his life for his sheep. And he is calling everyone to join his flock. The hired hands are in it for themselves. The good shepherd is here to lead and protect his sheep. He willingly lays down his life for his sheep. Good leaders should not be in it for themselves, They should really care. There is a contrast between the authorities and Peter and Jesus.

But there is something even more important. Every one of us, and all of us together, those on Zoom and those who are not, everybody is a part of Jesus’ beloved flock. And here we are, over a year into this Covid Era. 

Every day of all those weeks. Jesus has called us each by name and we have recognized his loving and courageous voice. We know he would give his life for us. He already has. And here he is, calling to us, Here he is, in our midst, even though we haven’t been able to celebrate Holy Eucharist together and do so many of the other things that we hold as precious gifts and signs of our faith. Yet, we are here, and he is here with us.

We can hear his voice. “I know my sheep and my own know me,” he says. And we know he has given his life for us. And we know that he is risen and right here with us. We are not alone. He is leading us and guiding us. We stay together; we move together; we work together; he loves us and we love him and each other.

This coming Sunday. May 2, we have the opportunity return to hybrid worship. If the weather permits, some of us will be outdoors at Grace. The rest of us will be on Zoom. When we are allowed to be inside our beloved building, we will continue our hybrid worship. Some of us will be at Grace, Some will be at home on Zoom. We will stay together.

This gospel is about the crucifixion. And it is about Easter. Jesus gives his life for the sheep, for us, and for everyone. Out of the pain and struggle and brokenness of the cross, our Lord brings life. Love is the most powerful force in the world. Reaching out to others, helping them, healing them, giving of ourselves, that is the Way of Love. Let us continue to help and serve others in Jesus’ name, Let us continue to walk the Way of Love. Amen.

Easter 4A RCL May 7, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Easter 4C RCL April 17, 2016

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

In our readings for the Easter season, the apostles are freed from prison to share the Good News, Jesus appears to his followers to assure them that he has conquered death of all kinds and is truly alive, many people are healed and forgiven; many decide to follow Jesus, and the new faith spreads far and wide.

In our opening reading, we meet Tabitha, a faithful disciple who sews clothing for widows, who were often very poor in those days. Her ministry has expanded to a group of widows who also make clothes for others and support them in many ways. Tabitha has died, and the community of faith calls Peter to come right away.

Peter goes to the  upstairs room where Tabitha is lying on the bed with all her fellow ministers weeping around her. Peter asks them to leave, not because he is trying to be unkind but because he wants to have quiet to let the Holy Spirit work.

He kneels down and prays. By this time, Peter has learned the power of healing that comes from the risen Lord and from the power of the Holy Spirit. He says, “Tabitha, get up.”  She opens her eyes and gets up. Peter calls the members of the community to come and see that Tabitha is alive.

Even today, our Lord rescues us from many kinds of death. I have been privileged to see situations which physicians have called “miracles.” Someone with kidney failure is prayed over and recovers. A tumor is there but it fades away on a subsequent cat scan or X ray. Millions of people have recovered from various kinds of addictions, and they consider that they have been saved from certain death and are walking miracles.

In our reading from the Book of Revelation, we have a vision of heaven, where people “Will hunger no more, and thirst no more,” and the “Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

In our gospel, the religious authorities are asking Jesus whether he is the messiah. Jesus has just been talking about how he is the Good Shepherd, that he knows his sheep and they know him and they follow his voice. But these people are trying to find out whether Jesus fits their definition of the messiah.

And our Lord says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.”

Jesus is speaking of a relationship between himself and us. This is not an intellectual concept or something to be defined. It is a close relationship which is based on his infinite love for us.

Each of us hears his voice, that loving voice calling us to follow him, to do the caring thing, to be people of compassion, to do what is ethical, to be honest, to work for the growth of his shalom.

Each of us has been called by him. Each of us knows him. Each of us has been led to the green pastures and the still waters where we can eat and drink and be renewed.

Each of us has been saved from deaths of various kinds and from dangerous thickets that could have caught us. Each of us has been rescued from following paths that would not have been right for us. We know his voice. We know him. We trust him.

He is always with us, even in the valley of the shadow of death. In situations that terrify us, in circumstances where we become lost and confused, he leads us.

When we are surrounded by those who would do us harm, he sets up a safe space and a banquet table. He anoints our heads with oil. He extends hospitality to us and he gives his healing to us. He protects us. He gives us abundance beyond measure.

He is the true bread from heaven. He is the way and the truth and the life. He is the vine and we are the branches. He is the living water.

But most of all, on this Good Shepherd Sunday, he is our Good Shepherd. If we listen to his voice, he will lead us. If we ask for his help, he is right beside us lending a hand.

There is no way to put him into a category. Our relationship with him goes beyond logic, beyond categories. He is our God who cares so much for us that he has come among us and he has triumphed over all the things that we fear most.

He is our Savior. He is our brother. He is our Good Shepherd. May we listen to his voice and follow him into newness of life.   Amen.

Easter 4A RCL May 11, 2014

Acts 2:42-47

Psalm 23

1 Peter 2:19-25

John 10:1-10

In our opening lesson this morning, we have an opportunity to look into the life of the early Church. Gene M. Tucker of Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta lists the qualities of the early Christian communities. He writes, “First, they are absorbed in religious teachings to which they are committed.” Tucker notes that they were building on the teachings of the apostles themselves.

“Second,” he writes,  “they have regular fellowship in both social and religious settings. The word for fellowship is koinonia and is best rendered in a dynamic… form—sharing.” Tucker notes that this can also involve the sharing of material possessions and financial resources. He notes that the people engage in what he calls “active care for one another” and that they have a “spirit of oneness.” When we care deeply about one another and listen to teach other and help each other, we do develop a spirit of oneness. The Holy Spirit is with us in that caring.

Tucker continues, “Third, they continue steadfast in prayer.” When a community spends time in prayer, the members of that community grow closer to each other and to God.

Tucker adds, “Fourth, they exhibited a proper sense of awe before God.” What a wonderful way to say it—“a proper sense of awe before God.” Do we feel that sense of awe? I hope so. God is very close to us and very loving, and God is also awesome in the best sense of the word, God is immanent, near us, and God is transcendent—powerful and all-encompassing.

Tucker writes, “Fifth, they grew and flourished.” Because of their love of God and each other, their “spirit of oneness,” their caring and sharing in every way, these communities attracted new believers every day. These qualities are good examples for us to follow all these centuries later.

Our epistle is addressed to slaves who are suffering at the hands of their masters. Although we do not condone slavery, and we are not slaves, this lesson can still be helpful to us. We can gain strength from our Lord in our own sufferings. We are indeed in the care of our Lord, the “shepherd and guardian of our souls.”

In our gospel, Jesus has just healed the blind man and he is being attacked by the authorities. He is commenting on the qualities of  a good shepherd, a good leader.

In Jesus’ time, and still now in parts of the Middle East, shepherds and their flocks will come into the village and the sheep will be put into one sheepfold, one protected area for protection during the night.  In the morning, the shepherds will come. Each shepherd has a different call for his sheep, and, as each shepherd calls, his sheep will separate from the larger flock and follow him.

There is a level of trust and intimacy between sheep and shepherd which is amazing.  The sheep know who their shepherd is. They will not follow anyone else. If we think of our psalm for today, and we imagine being with our shepherd day in and day out, we can begin to get a sense of that intimacy.  Our shepherd leads us beside the still waters where we can drink, He leads us to the green pastures where we can eat. Even when we have to go through dark and scary places, he guides us with his rod and pulls us back from danger with his staff.

After we have gone mile after mile with him and he has protected us from lions and wolves and has rescued us from bramble bushes and thickets, we really get to trusting him. We know his call. We would not go with anyone else. He is our shepherd.

And, of course, we need always to remember that the biblical shepherd goes out ahead of the sheep. There are no border collies here, much as we might admire and love border collies. There is only our Good Shepherd and a host of dangers from wild animals, bad water or no water in a desert environment, lack of good pasture, cliffs to careen over, mountain paths to trip and fall on, and on and on the dangers go.

Our Good Shepherd leads us to all the good things, even to a feast in the face of our enemies. No matter how bad things get, he is there to guide us, and we get through those bad times.

I think the early Christians had a sense of all this. I think they had lived through their own challenges. Their Good Shepherd and ours had gone through the worst of the worst, death itself, and had come out on the other side, looking different enough so that they didn’t always recognize him at first, but gradually, in the breaking of the bread or in prayer or in the study of the scriptures or in a breakfast of fish on the beach, they realized who he was, somehow different but even more himself than he had been before, and they knew that his goodness and mercy would follow them for the rest of their lives and they would dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  Amen.