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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 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.