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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 5C May 15, 2022

Acts 11:1-18
Psalm 148
Revelation 21:1-6
John 13:31-35

In our gospel for today, Jesus has gathered with his disciples for the last supper. He has washed their feet. He has told them that they and we are called to be servants. He has said that he will be going to be with God, and that one of them will betray him. At this point in the narrative, Judas has left, and Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

Biblical scholar Charles B. Cousar writes, “A new and unparalleled model for love has been given the disciples….In Jesus the disciples have a concrete, living expression of what love is. Love can no longer be trivialized or reduced to an emotion or debated over as if it were a philosophical virtue under scrutiny. Jesus now becomes the distinctive definition of love.”

Cousar says that this “new commandment” of Jesus also means that eternal life is not something to be realized in the future. It begins now. He writes, “At the center of the new era is the community established by Jesus, the intimate though at times unfaithful family, whom he affectionately addresses as ‘little children.’ What holds the family together and makes it stand above all the rest is the love members have for one another—dramatic, persistent love like the love Jesus has for them.” (Cousar, Texts for preaching, p. 311.

A short time after Jesus has given this new commandment and sealed it with his death, resurrection, and the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we catch up with Peter. He has been called to meet with some believers in Jerusalem because they are upset that he is ministering to Gentiles.

And Peter tells his amazing story. He was in Joppa. He went up on the roof to pray, and he had a vision of all kinds of food, clean and unclean, being lowered from heaven as on a sheet. Then the voice of God said, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” Peter objected strenuously. “Lord, I have always followed the dietary laws. I would never eat anything that was unclean!” The voice of God came a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” 

God has just thrown the dietary laws out the window. This happens three times. We recall that the number three signifies completeness. The dietary laws are now gone. Peter has lived his life by these laws, and now they are erased.

But the Holy Spirit is not finished. Peter has no time to think this over. Three men from Caesarea arrive. The Spirit tells Peter to go with them without question and to make no distinction between himself and them. Walls are tumbling down all over the place. Six brothers are with him, and they accompany him to Caesarea. 

When they reach Caesarea, they go into the home of a man named Cornelius. He is a centurion in the Roman army, a devout man who loves God and gives generously to the people. An angel has told Cornelius to call Peter to come to see him.

As Peter begins to speak, the Holy Spirit falls on everyone gathered in Cornelius’ house, and Peter remembers how Jesus said, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Peter concludes that the Holy Spirit can be given to everyone. He says, “If then God  gave the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” When the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem hear this, they are silenced.

Jesus’ commandment to love one another as he loves us has created a new community, and in the Book of Acts we see that community growing by leaps and bounds. Walls come down, barriers are broken, lives are transformed. Love is spreading faster than they can keep up with it. The Holy Spirit is at work.

Two thousand years later, we are that community. Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, is leading us in living and walking the Way of Love. He says “If it’s about love, it’s about God. If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.”

To return to the story of Peter, once the Gentiles in Cornelius’ home have received the holy Spirit, Peter asks, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he orders the people to be baptized. Then he and the brothers with him stay at the home of Cornelius for several days. They will be spending time together sharing their faith and building a larger and stronger community of believers.

We are called to help God to create God’s Beloved Community, a community where all people are accepted as precious and equal. When Peter was having his vision of God up on the roof, walls came down and divisions between people were erased. When the people in Cornelius’ home received the Holy Spirit, Peter realized that they should be baptized. As Paul said so many years ago. “In Christ, there is no slave nor free, no Jew nor Greek, no male nor female. We are all one in Christ Jesus.” 

Lord Jesus, our Good Shepherd, help us to love each other and all others as you have loved us. In your holy Name. Amen. Alleluia!

Christ the King  November 21, 2021

2 Samuel 23:1-7
Psalm 132:1-13
Revelation 1:4b-8
John 18:33-37

This Sunday is Christ the King Sunday. We rejoice in the fact that Christ is our King. Our Lord comes from the lineage of David. In our reading from the Second Book of Samuel, we find a description of the good earthly king: “One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.”

Good earthly leaders are people of justice, integrity, and morality.

In our gospel, Jesus tells us that his kingdom is not of this world. His kingdom, his shalom, is the kind of world God wants us to live in, to paraphrase retired Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, the shalom of God is a world in which every person is loved and respected, everyone has food, shelter, clothing, health care, and good work to do. Our Lord says, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” He is our Good Shepherd, and we are listening to his voice calling us to help him build his shalom of peace, love, and harmony for everyone.

This is also the week of Thanksgiving. We take time to gather with our families as much as we can in this age of Covid.  We have a wonderful meal with all the dishes our family loves best and we take the time to thank God for all of God’s gifts to us.

Everything we have is a gift from God. From time to time, it’s a good idea to make a Gratitude List—just take a few moments and write down all the gifts God has given us. I can walk, I can talk, I can see, I can hear. I have a roof over my head and clothes to wear. Some of us are retired. All of us have had good work to do. Most of us are doing ministries of service to others. God gives us the energy to do all these things.

In and through all these gifts from God is the greatest gift of all—God’s  unquenchable, unstoppable, eternal, unconditional love for us. God knows us, our weaknesses and our strengths—everything about us— and God loves us with a love that is so big and so deep and so wide that we will never be able to grasp how huge it is.

In gratitude for God’s many gifts to us and for God’s unfailing love and blessings flowing out to us all the time, we return a worthy portion of all of this to God. For those who wish to make a pledge, please do that before the end of the year. Our pledge is our thank you to God for all of God’s blessings. Some of us prefer to give back to God without pledging. That is fine, too.

Our pledge includes the gifts of time, talent, and treasure, which God gives us constantly.  God gives us every moment of our lives. The gift of time. God gives us different talents. And God gives us the ability to earn money, treasure. All of you give generous gifts of time and talent in all kinds of church and community activities. Gifts to charitable organizations such as Episcopal Relief and Development, the Red Cross, and Habitat for Humanity are also a part of returning a worthy portion of God’s gifts back to God. In harmony with the theme of Thanksgiving, we are making gifts to UTO, the United Thank Offering, doing the month of November.

One year ago, when we were celebrating Christ the King Sunday, we were not able to be in our church building. We had no vaccine. Governor Scott was announcing that our positivity rate was up to two per cent. As I write this, Vermont’s overall positivity rate is 4.3 per cent. Essex County’s positivity rate is 13.9%; Franklin. 6.99%; Orleans, 6.93%; Chittenden, 2.9%. Our positivity rates are higher. We are in a surge. Governor Scott said this week that 70% of the new cases involve unvaccinated people.

This leads us to a clear reason for gratitude. We have vaccines that work. We have boosters. We are now vaccinating children ages 5 to 11. So, if we are vaccinated, if we  wear our masks, keep social distancing, and pay attention to ventilation, we can be here together, in our building with our friends on Zoom. This year, unlike last year, we are celebrating Holy Eucharist on Christ the King Sunday, and some of us are here in our beloved building. What a blessing!

I am so happy to be here with you all. We have so much to be thankful for.

Hymn 645 is a beautiful hymn which begins, “The King of love my shepherd is.” It is a poem based on the 23rd Psalm. Christ is our King, and he is the King of Love. He is in our midst this very moment, and this includes our brothers and sisters online. He is leading us through this pandemic, through everything, to the green pastures and the still waters. Thanks be to God for God’s unending, amazing gifts.

Amen.

Pentecost 19 Proper 22B October 3, 2021

Job 1:1; 2:1-10
Psalm 26
Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
Mark 10:2-16

Our opening reading today is from the Book of Job. Job is a good person of deep faith. He has a loving family and is well off financially. He is respected as a person who is just and compassionate. People seek his counsel. Satan, who in those times was seen as a kind of prosecuting attorney, feels that, if Job had a few challenges thrown his way, his faith would quickly evaporate, and he would curse God.

In the portion of the first chapter which has been omitted, several disasters have already occurred. The Sabeans captured Job’s oxen and donkeys and killed the servants who took care of them; a fire burned up the sheep and the shepherds, and the Chaldeans captured the camels and killed the camel drivers. Worst of all, a huge wind came across the desert, collapsed the house, and killed Job’s seven sons and three daughters.

In our passage for today, Job is stricken with sores that cover his entire body. In those days, such a skin condition was considered to be leprosy, so he is now ritually unclean and an outcast. As we look in on the scene, he is scratching his sores with a piece of broken pottery. His wife encourages him to abandon his integrity, curse God, and die. But Job will not abandon his faith. He says that we have to receive the bad that comes from the hand of God as well as the good.

We will be reading the Book of Job for three more Sundays. Does God send bad things for us to suffer? Just a few weeks ago, we read from the Letter of James, “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift is from above, from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”In commenting on this passage, Beverly Gaventa says, “The writer insists that good gifts (and not temptations) come from God.” (Gaventa, Texts for Preaching, p.490.

We live in a fallen creation that is not operating in the way God would want it to operate. God’s shalom is not yet here. We are all working to build God’s kingdom of peace, harmony, and love. In Biblical times, people believed that good things happened to good people and bad things happened to bad people. As Christians, we know that that is not true. All we have to do is to look at the cross.

As we read the Book of Job, we will be asking questions such as, why do some people maintain their integrity even in the midst of hardship and suffering? Why do some people have faith that seems unshakeable?  Why do bad things happen to good people? Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote a wonderful book responding to that question. Thus far, Job has lost his children and all of his possessions. He now has leprosy and is an outcast. But he still will not curse God.

In our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, the unknown writer, a person of deep faith, tells us that God has “spoken to us by a Son.”  Of the Son, the writer says,”He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.” Jesus, the eternal Word, is God walking among us. The writer wonders why God would even care about us, but we know that God cares so much that God comes among us. The risen Christ is in the midst of us now, leading and guiding us. When we have times of suffering, we can look to him. He went through the worst experience possible, and through that experience he gave us new life. He made us his brothers and sisters.

In our gospel for today, our lord is facing the Pharisees, and they are asking him a question, not because they want to learn, but because they want to trip him up. Back in those times, a man could divorce his wife for something very trivial. She burned the supper or he didn’t like the way she kept house. A woman could not divorce a man even if he beat her. Women and children were chattel, objects, less than human.

Jesus presents an idea of marriage as a relationship between two people, two human beings, who become so close that they are like one flesh. That is the ideal we are all aiming for. However, there are cases in which a person is not able to keep his or her marriage vows. Domestic violence is one instance of this. There are valid reasons for the dissolution of a marriage. In this gospel passage, Jesus is raising marriage to its proper level as a partnership between two precious and beloved human beings. That is revolutionary thinking for his time.

But the next portion of the gospel is also revolutionary. Little children are trying to come to see Jesus. People want Jesus to touch these little ones. In those times, children were chattel, possessions, objects, expendable. Men did not pay attention to children in those times. That was women’s work. Children were considered a nuisance. They were at the bottom of the social scale. The disciples are trying to keep the children away. They are scolding the children.

And Jesus says something that turns the world upside down: “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.”

Little children are open, receptive, trusting. That’s how we need to be with God. Open and receptive. Open to God’s love and joy and peace and healing. Listening carefully for the voice of Jesus, our Good Shepherd, calling us, leading and guiding us. Trusting in the power of the Spirit and the grace of God. 

Jesus, our Good Shepherd, lead us to those still waters and those green pastures where we may be still and know that you are God. Give us grace to build your kingdom of love and peace, in the power of the Spirit. In your holy Name we pray. Amen. 

Pentecost 13 Proper 16B August 22, 2021

1 Kings 8:1,6,10-11, 22-30, 41-43
Psalm 84
Ephesians 6:10-20
John 6:56-59

In our opening reading this morning, the great temple in Jerusalem has been completed. King Solomon and the leaders of the people gather, and the priests bring the ark of the covenant into the temple. A cloud fills the temple, indicating the holiness of the presence of God. This is a deeply profound moment in the history of God’s people. They have been nomads. The ark has led them ourtof slavery in Egypt and into the promised land. Now they will be settling down.

Solomon offers a powerful and beautiful prayer. He emphasizes that, although the ark is now in the temple, symbolizing God’s presence, God cannot be contained or limited. God fills the heavens and the earth. And Solomon also emphasizes the inclusiveness of God, saying, “Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name…when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling place and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name….” Solomon is praying that, if someone from far away comes to the temple and offers prayers, that God may hear and answer those prayers so that people all over the world may know God. This is one of the early passages that teach us that God has a big family, and it includes everyone on earth.

Our psalm today is one of the most beloved of all the psalms. Although it is a song about the temple, for us it is a song abut Grace Church and every church building we have ever loved. As Herbert O’Driscoll notes, it is also a song about the pilgrimage of our lives and how much we love being in sacred spaces where we can feel the presence of God and generations of past pilgrims. “One day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room.” God’s protection is such a cherished gift for us: “For the Lord is both sun and shield; he will give grace and glory.”

Our epistle today gives strength and tools for following our Lord in a challenging world. We are called to “be strong in the Lord,” and to put on the “whole armor of God.” Following Jesus isn’t easy in a world that often values the material over the spiritual, and just as people dress to fight chemical fires or dive into the ocean depths, so we are called to wear “the belt of truth,” the “breastplate” of of a right relationship with God, the “shield of faith”, the “helmet of salvation,” and the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Most of all, we are called to pray, to stay in touch with God. The fruits of the Spirit, as noted in Galatians 5:22—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, are so different from the values of this world that it is helpful to have these tools at hand.

In our gospel, Jesus is teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. He is talking about what we need to do in order to stay close to him. His disciples find this teaching difficult. He knows that Judas is going to betray him. He is going to be crucified. When John’s gospel was being written, followers of Jesus were being persecuted, and this has happened over the centuries. It is not easy to follow the way of our Lord. People leave. People fall away.

So he asks his disciples, “Do you also wish to go away?” And Simon Peter answers, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Here we are, at Grace Church, in the year 2021, centuries after Peter said those words. and yet he is speaking for us. We have been abiding with Jesus for quite a while now. Not perfectly, to be certain. As the Prayer Book says”We have erred and strayed” from his ways from time to time to be sure, but here we are, and, with Peter, we know there is no other one we can follow. We are like the sparrow in the psalm. We have found a home with him. We abide in him and he in us.

For me, abiding in Jesus always brings to mind Psalm 23. Jesus is our Good Shepherd. Barbara Brown Taylor tells us that she has a friend who grew up on a sheep farm in the midwest. Taylor says that, contrary to common belief, sheep are not dumb. She writes, “According to my friend, cows are herded from the rear by hooting cowboys with cracking whips, but that will not work with sheep at all.  Stand behind them making loud noises and all they will do is run around behind you, because they prefer to be led. You push cows, my friend said but you lead sheep, and 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.

“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 right through a sleeping flock without disturbing a single one of them. Sheep seem to consider their shepherds part of the family, and the relationship that grows up between the two is quite exclusive. They develop a language of their own that outsiders are not privy to. A good shepherd learns to distinguish a bleat of pain from one of pleasure, while the sheep learn that a cluck of the tongue means food, or a two-note song means it is time to go home.” (Taylor, The Preaching Life, pp. 140-41.)

This is a wonderful description of what it means for us to abide in Jesus and Jesus to abide in us. He knows us, flaws and all. We know him. We can hear his call. We know he loves us, and we love him. He calls us to love each other, and we do, to the best of our ability, with the help of his grace.

But perhaps the most important thing is that he is always going before us. There is nothing that we will have to endure that he has not gone through already. As Taylor writes, our shepherd goes before us to “show us that everything is all right.” He has gone before us, and he will make it possible for us to follow. He will be out in front leading us. As the “Footprints” poem says, he may even be carrying us. Amen.

Easter 3B April 18, 2021

Acts 3:12-19
Psalm 4
1 John 3:1-7
Luke 24:36b-48

This morning, we are going to look at our readings in chronological order so that we can trace the story and the meaning of our Lord’s resurrection. In terms of the events, the gospel reading is the earliest in time.

Today’s gospel follows the powerful story of the road to Emmaus.  It is later on the Day of Resurrection. That morning, at dawn, Mary Magdalene, Joanna,  Mary, the Mother of James, and some other women had gone to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away. They had gone into the tomb and found it empty. Two angels had told them that Jesus had risen. They had told the others about this, but their good news was dismissed as “idle talk.” Peter had listened carefully, had visited the tomb. and had seen that it was empty.

On the same day, Cleopas and another of Jesus’ followers were walking to Emmaus. The text tells us it was a distance of seven miles. They are talking with each other about how Jesus died on the cross and what a horror it was and how very sad they are.

Suddenly a stranger is walking with them. He asks then what they are talking about, and they tell him about what happened to Jesus. They even tell the stranger about what the women had seen and heard at the empty tomb. But they have no idea who the stranger is. It is only when they extend hospitality to the man walking with them and share a meal with him that he becomes known to them in the breaking of bread. 

He disappears, and they return to Jerusalem, marveling about how he had opened the scriptures to them. 

They join the others, bursting with their good news. But the word is already going around that the risen Lord has appeared to Peter.

Suddenly, quietly, Jesus is standing in the midst of them.saying, “Peace be with you!” They can’t believe he is real, so he invites them to touch him. They are still wondering when he asks, Have you something to eat?”

Ghosts do not eat. They realize he has risen. And then, just as he did with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, he goes over the scriptures to prove to them that he is the Messiah, that he suffered as the scriptures said he would and that he is risen.

Then he gives them a commission. They are to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name.

Chronologically, our reading from the Book of Acts is the next event in historical time. In the part of the chapter preceding our reading for today. Peter and John were walking into the temple around three o’clock in the afternoon, the time of prayer, when they saw a man who had been lame from birth. Every day people would carry him to a place by the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask folks to donate money  so that he could support himself.

The man saw Peter and John walking into the temple and asked for help, Peter said that he did not have any money, but he healed the man in the name of Jesus. The man jumped up and began to walk and leap and praise God. This drew a big crowd. Our reading for today is Peter’s sermon to that crowd. Peter asks the people why they are staring as if he and John have healed this man, and he tells the people that God has glorified Jesus, the crucified Jesus. Jesus has risen from the dead, and the name of Jesus has made this formerly lame man strong. Then he tells the people that he knows they acted in ignorance. He calls upon them to repent and turn to God. All of this is happening shortly after Pentecost. The apostles are preaching and teaching about the healing and reconciling power of the risen Christ.

The epistle, from the First Letter of John, is the last writing in chronological order. Scholars tell us that it was probably written around 70 years after the death and resurrection of Christ by a disciple of John who was part of a community founded by John. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God, and that is what we are.” Our passage today is about the central theme of the good news—love.  

Our readings today offer a reflection of our own spiritual journeys. We question; sometimes we doubt; Jesus walks with us and teaches us; suddenly we realize that he is alive and here to lead us and guide us along the way.

In these three readings, we follow the journey of his original community of disciples. They were understandably horrified by the crucifixion. Many of them lost hope. He walked through walls of fear and oppression to be with them. They realized he had risen, and they spread that good news all around the Mediterranean Basin in a very short time, given that they had no modern modes of transportation or communication.

Every Sunday in this Easter season we will be reflecting on the fact that Jesus has risen and is here with us. How do we sense the presence of our risen Lord? How do we sense the power of his healing Spirit? How do we feel him leading us as a good shepherd leads the flock or guides a lost sheep back to the fold?

When hope seems gone, do we ever feel a loving presence reassuring us that there is hope, that hope is real, that good things can be achieved no matter how many challenges lie ahead? When we are sad and grieving, almost paralyzed by a huge loss, do we ever feel him there, standing beside us, letting us know we are not alone?

In this time of pandemic, Lord, thank you for holding us together, reminding us that “This, too, shall pass,” that we are not alone, that you are in our midst, leading and guiding us. Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia! 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 15 Proper 19 September 13, 2020

Exodus 14:19-31
Psalm 114
Romans 14:1-12
Matthew 18:21-35

In our opening reading for today, God’s people pass through the Red Sea. Scholars tell us that their route led though a part of the sea called the Sea of Reeds, a shallow portion. When it was very windy, the wind would push the water to one side, and you could pass through, if you were traveling light. The people of God were on foot. The Egyptians had chariots and horses, and they sank. 

The thing that strikes me about this passage this year is that the pillar of cloud, which symbolizes the presence of God, and the angel, who have been leading the people, now move to the rear and place themselves between the escaping slaves and the pursuing Egyptian army. God leads God’s people into freedom. God protects God’s people as they flee from slavery. God literally puts Godself as a barrier between God’s beloved people and those who would enslave them. And God protects us from that which would enslave us. God leads us into freedom.

Paul is addressing his letter to a congregation which has people from all kinds of different religious backgrounds. They have all flocked to this new faith in Jesus. Some are Jews, and they continue to observe the Jewish holy days and the dietary laws. Some have worshipped at the shrines of the Greek and Roman deities. There is a wide array of dietary and religious practices, and Paul is saying, please respect each other, continue to follow your dietary practices and religious observances, and do all of this to honor God and to give thanks to God. God is the one binding us together.

Over the centuries, we Christians have had many differences. Some of us remember the controversy over the new prayer book, published in 1979, and then the new hymnal published in 1982. We still have differences of opinion today, but the main thing is that we are gathered because our Lord has called us together, and, no matter what our differences, he calls us to be one in him.

In our gospel for today, Peter asks Jesus, “How many times should I forgive—as many as seven times? Scholars tell us that the rabbis told us to forgive three times, so Peter is being very generous in saying seven times. But Jesus says seventy-seven times. And then he tells a shocking parable. 

A king is settling accounts with his slaves. One slave owes him ten thousand talents. Scholars tell us this is a huge amount, a sum that is almost beyond imagining. One scholar says it is 3 billion dollars. Another says forty-six million dollars in today’s terms. The point is that it is an amount that no one could pay back. This slave cannot pay the debt. The king says that he will sell the slave and his family and possessions to get what money he can.

The slave is devastated. He falls on his knees and begs the king to have patience and he will pay everything. It would be impossible for him to pay this debt. The king has pity. Scholars tell us that the word translated as “pity” is the same word used of the compassion of our Lord for the crowds who follow him, and the compassion of the Good Samaritan for the man who had fallen among thieves. The king forgives the debt.

The slave goes out, and meets a fellow slave who owes hm a hundred denarii. Biblical scholar Thomas Troegher says the modern equivalent would be $12,000. The recently-forgiven slave grabs the man by the throat and demands payment. When his colleague cannot  meet the demand and pleads for mercy, the recently-forgiven man has him put in prison.

We have been forgiven so much. We have received so many gifts and blessings from God. And our loving God is calling us to extend to others the compassion we have received. Our Lord is calling us to forgive each other countless times, to throw out the calculator and not even bother to try to keep track. This parable is addressed to the community of faith. We have been called together by our loving and forgiving God. Beyond and through all differences or controversies, we are one as Jesus and the Father are one. I think our Presiding Bishop, who is teaching us the Way of Love, is calling us to extend this practice to all we meet. Whatever our differences may be, God is calling us to genuinely care abut each other and to work together to find a loving way forward. 

This may seem impossible, but escaping slavery in Egypt seemed impossible, too. God is calling us to explore the many kinds of slavery which hold us in bondage. Africans were brought here beginning in 1619 and held in slavery, but we white people have also been enslaved by our implicit racism and our assumption of white privilege. When we fail to extend to others the gifts of freedom which have been given to us, we are like the forgiven slave who refused to give that gift of freedom and forgiveness to his brother.

Here we are, on September 13, 2020. We have just passed the nineteenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks which we will never forget. We are still in the midst of the Covid 19 pandemic. We also have an economic crisis which is hurting great numbers of people. In the richest country in the world, people are going hungry. We are facing many challenges. They may seem like a Red Sea that we may not be able to cross.

This year, I find the image of the angel and the pillar of cloud inspiring and helpful.  God is leading and protecting us. And we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, all the saints who have followed God’s leading over the centuries and who serve as inspiring examples to us. And always we think of our Good Shepherd, out in front leading us. 

God is with us. The risen Christ is with us. The Holy Spirit is with us. The creativity of God is in our midst. The redemptive healing and forgiveness of Christ is with us. The Holy Spirit, God at work in us and in the world, is with us. God is surrounding us with love, filling us with grace, and energizing us for the work ahead. We have received God’s love and forgiveness. Let us share it. Amen.

Let us now pray the Prayer for the Power of the Spirit.

Easter 4A   May 3, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lent 5A March 29, 2020

Ezekiel 37:1-14
Psalm 130
Romans 8:6-11
John 11:1-45

Our first reading is from Ezekiel, a priest who became a prophet to the people of God who were exiled in Babylon. This was a time when God’s people felt increasingly helpless and hopeless.

In the midst of this near-despair, Ezekiel has a vision of a valley of dry bones, bones which have no life left within them. God asks Ezekiel, “Mortal, can these bones live?” Ezekiel knows that only God can answer that question because only God has the power to bring these bones to life. So Ezekiel answers, “O Lord God, you know.”

Muscles grow on the bones; skin covers the muscles; and, finally, God breathes the breath of life into the bones, and the living people stand on their feet. They are a great multitude, and God is going to bring them home. God tells the people, “You shall live, and I shall place you on your own soil.”

We have never had to leave our homes and go to a foreign land and live in exile for fifty  years, but we can at least begin to absorb how these people must have felt when they heard the word of the Lord. They realized that God was very much with them and that, in the midst of this dire situation, there was actually hope.

Though we have never been in exile in Babylon, we are gong through a kind of exile from our normal lives. We are spending as much time as we can in our homes. In a sense, our world is shutting down. Many businesses are closed. Some are working with partial staffing and working from home. Grocery stores have special times for senior citizens to shop. Truckers continue to drive so that we may have groceries and other necessities. I saw a wonderful tribute to them on the Today show.

Our medical workers, our beloved doctors nurses, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, EMTs and other professionals are working day and night, in many cases without adequate equipment. We hope and pray that they may have that equipment as soon as possible. People who cannot go to work will need their unemployment insurance and other help. Businesses which have had to close will need help to stay afloat. We pray that our leaders will work together to take care of those who are in need. Thank God they passed a relief bill which is much needed by workers who have been told to stay home, businesses which have had to close, and hospitals and medical workers, to name a few. May we all do whatever is necessary to take care of each other.

This vision of Ezekiel, this promise from God to a people in exile, speaks to us almost as much as it spoke to God’s people two thousand five hundred years ago. God can bring life out of death. God can and does bring hope out of despair.

Our gospel for today makes this message even stronger. Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, is ill. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are Jesus’ closest friends. Jesus does not rush to Bethany. He waits two days.

When he finally says to his disciples, “Let’s go to Judea again,” they remind him that the authorities are trying to kill him. Thomas finally says, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” This is a signal to us that the following events are a foreshadowing of his own death and resurrection.

When Martha hears that Jesus is coming, she goes to meet him and scolds him for not coming sooner. Jesus tells her, “Your brother will rise again.” Mary also goes out to meet Jesus and says the same thing Martha said, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.”  When Jesus sees her weeping, he cries, too. He is human. One of his closest friends has died.

They go to the tomb. Jesus tells them to take away the stone. Martha tells Jesus that Lazarus has been dead four days. There is a stench. This death is real. They take away the stone. Jesus cries with a  loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man comes out of the tomb. Like the bones in the valley, he is walking. But he is still trapped in pieces of the cloths they had wrapped him in. And Jesus commands, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

At these words of Jesus, the dead body of Lazarus comes to life, and then he is set free. Resurrection is not only coming from death into life, but it is being set free to live that new life. We have been set free.

Because of the cross and resurrection of our Lord, we are in eternal life now. We are in that new life now. We have come out of the cave of our imprisonment to sin, and we are in that new and deeper dimension of life in Christ. We are set free from the power of sin and death.

As we reflect on our reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans, we can say that, because of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and because we have received the Holy Spirit in baptism, we have set our minds on the Spirit. We are living in the Spirit. Christ is in us, and we are alive in him.

In a sense, we are in exile. In a sense, we are in a cave of isolation. We are doing this because scientists and medical experts tell us that this is what we need to do to flatten the curve of a deadly pandemic.

Our situation may make it easier for us to identify with God’s people in exile in Babylon and with Lazarus, dead in a cave of a tomb.

God is calling us to be a people of hope, a people of faith. God has given us the will to stay together through the medium of Zoom and  email and telephone and FaceBook and the power of God’s love. Please continue to listen to the science. Listen to the experts. Once again, I thank God for Governor Scott and Dr. Levine.

Above all, we need to remember that God is with us. Jesus, our Good Shepherd, is leading and guiding us. The Holy Spirit is giving us the very breath of life. May we be a people of fortitude, hanging in there. May we walk as children of the light. Amen.

Lent 4A, March 22, 2020

1 Samuel 16:1-13
Psalm 23
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41

Our opening reading today is the account of how the faithful and courageous prophet Samuel was called by God to anoint the next King. King Saul has become unfit to serve as ruler, and God calls Samuel to go to the house of Jesse. There, God will let Samuel know which of Jesse’s sons to anoint as the new ruler of God’s people.

There is a great deal of tension and turmoil in the land, and Samuel is afraid that King Saul will kill him if he finds out that God is going to call forth a new king. God reassures Samuel and gives him a plan.

One by one, all of Jesse’s sons appear before Samuel. Samuel feels that any one of them would make a great king. But that is not God’s will. Finally, the last of Jesse’s sons, David, is called in from tending the flock. This is the one. Samuel anoints David as king.

This passage contains the wise insight into the nature of God: “…the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the lord looks on the heart.” David will turn out to have failings as all of us do, but he will also be able to face and admit his failings. He will be deeply loved by the people.

Psalm 23 is one of the most beloved psalms in the Bible. David was a shepherd, and our Lord is indeed our Good Shepherd. The past few days and weeks have been upsetting. We have been called to practice social distancing, and we have missed being together. In spite of all barriers, our Good Shepherd has been with us, leading and guiding us.

Our reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans calls us to be children of the light and tells us that the light of Christ will shine on us.

In our gospel for today, we hear the story of the healing of the blind man. The disciples wonder who sinned, that this man was born blind. Sometimes we try to explain things by trying to find something or someone to blame. We live in a world that is not operating according to Gods vision of creation. God wants all people to be well and whole. Jesus tells them and us that he is the light of the world. Any illness or brokenness of any kind is an opportunity for him to bring wholeness and healing.

Jesus sees the blind man. The man does not even have to ask for help. Our Lord makes a poultice of mud  and spit, as people did in those days, and puts it on the man’s eyes. Then he tells him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam, which means “sent.” The man does this, and immediately he is able to see. People ask him whether he is the man who used to beg, and he tells them yes, he is, but the neighbors and then the Pharisees try to cross examine him. They even find his parents and question them. How difficult it is for them to believe that, yes, this man is healed. The Pharisees and the neighbors find it so hard to believe what has happened to this man that they finally drive him out of the town.

The man knows what happened. He knows who healed him. When Jesus hears that the people have driven the man out, he finds him and tells him who he is. Immediately the man says, “Lord, I believe.”

This man has been unable to see since the day he was born. Jesus comes and puts on the poultice of mud and saliva and says, “Go, wash in the Pool of Siloam.” The man does not argue, He does not ask why. He does not question. He simply goes and washes in the pool, and the whole world opens up before him. For the first time in his life, he can see.

This man’s life has been transformed. He has had an encounter with Jesus, and he knows exactly who Jesus is. He has experienced the power of the healing love of our Lord. He has faith in Jesus. We do not know the rest of his story but we can easily believe that he might have become a disciple. He certainly proclaims the good news by repeatedly telling the people, “I was blind, now I see, and this is the One who healed me!”

Yet many of the people who have seen the before and after of the man just can’t believe the sheer fact of what has happened. He was blind. Now he sees. What is keeping them from seeing this? Sometimes our preconceptions keep us from seeing what is right in front of our eyes. The neighbors and the Pharisees are not able to see the spiritual and physical truth of what happened.

Thank God we can see. Thank God we, too, have had encounters with our Lord that let us know that he is here to spread light and love. He is here to heal our hurts, our worries, our fears in these trying times.

Epidemiologists tell us that the best way to deal with this virus at this stage is to practice social distancing. We love being together and we miss seeing each other. Keeping a distance is the last thing we want to do. Yet we really need to stay away from other people as much as we possibly can to slow the progress of this pandemic. Let us pray for all those who are affected by this situation and let us help them in any way that you can. I thank God for our food shelf volunteers.

So here we are, worshiping on Zoom. As Bishop Shannon has said, this Lent we have to fast from being with each other. When we get back together, O what joy will burst forth!

Meanwhile let’s keep in touch. Let us remember that our Good Shepherd is in our midst. Nothing, including viruses, can stop him. He comes among us offering gifts of peace, faith, hope, and love. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for being right in our midst at this moment and for ever. Thank you for calling us together to share your love. Amen.