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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion December 11, 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 December 18, 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 December 25, 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 5A May 10, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now Jesus is telling us that by seeing him and walking with him and learning from him about the power of love, we have seen God. And then he says something that blows all the circuit breakers in our minds. He says, “Very truly, I tell you. the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these because I am going to the Father.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Easter 6C May 26, 2019

Acts 16:9-15
Psalm 67
Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5
John 14:23-29

Our first reading, from the Book of Acts, is dramatic. Paul and his team are in Troas, a port city in what was then called Asia Minor. Today we call this country Turkey. Herbert O’Driscoll tells us that, if he had looked across the Aegean Sea, Paul would have been able to see Europe.

That night, Paul has a vision. A man from Macedonia is calling to him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Paul immediately realizes that this is a call from God to go and proclaim the good news to the people of Macedonia. The writer of Acts even describes the course they took.

They end up in Philippi, a leading city in the area and a Roman colony. On the sabbath day, they go to an area outside the city gate where, the text says, “we supposed there was a place of prayer.” Scholars think there was no actual synagogue there, but Paul and his team find a group of women gathered. The good news is about to be preached on European soil for the first time. The new faith is leaping from Asia to Europe.

Lydia is described as a “worshiper of God.” This wording indicates that she is a Gentile who is interested in the Jewish faith; she is drawn to a God of justice and mercy. She has her own business. She sells purple fabric to the wealthy and powerful in the area. She also has her own house. She is a woman of means who is accustomed to dealing with the upper classes. God has opened her heart to listen eagerly to what Paul has to say.

We have no record of what Paul said, but it must have touched the minds and hearts of his listeners. Lydia and the entire group are baptized.  Then Lydia invites Paul and his team to stay at her house. Later on, when Paul returns to stay with Lydia and her household, there is a house church in her home. This is how the new faith spread. The good news was preached; people felt the call to follow Jesus; they gathered in the homes of folks who could afford to have homes, and the word spread.

In our reading from the Book of Revelation, we are in a vision looking down from a mountain onto the holy city of Jerusalem. The light and love of God are shining forth.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is telling the disciples that he will be going to be with God. He will be leaving them. This Thursday, the Church celebrates the feast of the Ascension. As the disciples look on, our Lord rises to heaven to be with the Father. This glorious window depicts that scene.

We can only imagine how sad those faithful followers of Jesus were to see him move away from them. They would never see him again.

And yet, here in our gospel, he is telling them and us, “Those who love me will keep my word and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” He is telling us that if we love him, our actions will show that love. What we say and do will express his love. True love is not only a feeling. It is actions which respect the dignity of every human being. And Jesus says that, if we live lives centered in him, he will make his home with us. God will make God’s home with us. If we follow Jesus, he will be with us always. He will make his home with us.

Then Jesus tells the disciples and us that he will send his Spirit. Jesus says that the Spirit will remind us of what Jesus has taught us. And our Lord gives us his peace, his shalom, his vision of how human life is to be lived

Retired Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori writes,”That word ‘shalom’ is usually translated as ‘peace,’ but it’s a far richer understanding of peace than we usually recognize. It’s not just a 1970s era hippie holding up two fingers to greet a friend—‘Peace, Bro.’ 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 divine gifts with which we have been so abundantly blessed are equally valued.” (Schori, A Wing and a Prayer,” p. 33.)

As Jesus gives us his vision of Shalom, he also offers us one more paradox. He says, “I am going away, and I am coming to you.”He is going to be with God, but he will also be with us and he will be giving us his grace so that we can help him bring in his kingdom, his shalom across the whole wide earth.

Love is at the root of it all, his love that we know so well—the love that will seek out every lost sheep. strengthen our weak knees, buoy up our spirits, and welcome everyone into his big family. Nothing ca get in the way of his love. Nothing can stop his love.

This week, especially on Thursday, Ascension Day, we meditate on that paradox: Our Lord has gone to be with God and yet he has made his home with us. He is with us, with that unfailing love and grace, leading us and guiding us into his Shalom.  Amen. 

Easter 6A RCL    May 21, 2017

Acts 17:22-31
Psalm 66:7-18
1 Peter 3:13-22
John 14: 15-21

As we think about our first reading today, we remember that last Sunday, Saul was witnessing the stoning of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr. At that point in his life, Saul was a major persecutor of the followers of Jesus. Soon, Saul would be walking on the road to Damascus and would have an encounter with the risen Lord that would change his life. So profound was this transformation that Saul received a new name—Paul.

Since we last saw him, Paul has been spreading the Good News among Gentile people. His ministry has taken him to such places as Philippi and Thessalonica. Now, he is in Athens, a cosmopolitan city, a center of learning, and a city with temples and monuments to the many Greek gods.

Paul is well educated. He is familiar with Greek writers and scholars and with Greek philosophy. In his sermon, he quotes two Greek writers, Epimenides, who wrote that “In God we live and move and have our being,” and Aratus, who said that we are all God’s offspring. (Carl Holladay, Preaching through the Christian Year A, p.277.)

Paul is delivering his sermon at a kind of speaker’s corner in front of the Areopagus, a place where people representing many points of view were welcome to give speeches to the gathered crowds. Paul honors the knowledge and traditions of the Greeks. He tells the people that their tomb dedicated to an unknown god actually is a monument to the Creator of the world, the God of all peoples. This is an excellent example of Paul’s evangelistic approach: he honored the culture of the people to whom he was speaking; he approached them on terms that were familiar to them. This is one reason why he was able to share the new faith in a way that reached people of all classes and levels of education. This gave him the ability to start new communities of faith wherever he went.

As we look at our reading from the First Letter of Peter, we remember that this letter, which was addressed to household slaves and aliens living in Asia Minor, was designed to help these faithful followers of Jesus to survive during a time of persecution.

God does not want anyone to suffer persecution of any kind. God does not want us to suffer. We live in an imperfect world that is not operating according to God’s vision of shalom. But these people were indeed suffering under persecution, not only from the Roman Empire, but also from their own masters and others on a more local basis. The main theme of this letter is that, whenever we are going through times of suffering, we can remember that our Lord suffered the worst that tyrants and despots can do, and he came through it all. Most importantly, he is alive and present among us right now to give us the gift of newness of life, life in a different and richer dimension.

Our gospel for today directly follows last week’s gospel, in which Jesus tells us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, Believe in God, Believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” This is one of the most comforting and encouraging and strengthening passages in the Bible. In God’s house, there is room for everyone who sincerely wants to be there.

Now, in the following text, our Lord is getting even more deeply to the heart of the Good News. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” If we love him, we will love our neighbor as ourselves. We will love and serve others as he did when he was here on earth.  Jesus will be with us. He says he will not leave us orphaned. We will not be alone.

He is going to send the Holy Spirit to be with us. And he says, “Because I live you also will live.”  He says, “You will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” St. Paul knew exactly what Jesus was talking about. He said. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

Through the presence of the Holy Spirit, we are made fully alive in Christ. We are given the grace and power to do his work in the world. And we are connected with our Lord with bonds of love that nothing can break.

There is a beautiful canticle for the Easter season in the Book of Common Prayer, and I would like us to say this together as a prayer of joy and faith. It is on Page 83.

Alleluia.
Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us;
   therefore let us keep the feast,
Not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil,
   but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Alleluia.

Christ being raised from the dead will never die again;
death no longer has dominion over him.
The death that he died, he died to sin once for all;
   but the life he lives, he lives to God.

So also consider yourselves dead to sin,
  and alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Alleluia.
Christ has been raised from the dead,
   the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

For since by a man came death,
  by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die,
 so also in Christ shall all be made alive. Alleluia.

Amen.

The Day of Pentecost Year C RCL May 15, 2016

Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:25-35, 37b
Romans 8:14-17
John 14:8-17, (25-27)

On that first Pentecost, people were gathered in Jerusalem from all over the known world. It was the Jewish feast of Pentecost, a festival much like our Thanksgiving. But scholars tell us that there were many Gentiles there as well.

Jesus had gone to be with God. He had told the apostles that he would not leave them comfortless, that he would send the Holy Spirit. They stayed together and prayed. They chose Matthias to replace Judas Iscariot so that the company of the apostles would be whole and ready to do ministry.

They were together in a house somewhere in Jerusalem when it happened. There was a sound like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled the house. Tongues of fire rested over each of their heads. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in all of the known languages of that time.

Some people thought they were drunk, but Peter explained that the prophecy of Joel was being fulfilled, that God would pour out God’s spirit on everyone.

Pentecost is the birthday of the Church. From this moment on, the apostles will be traveling around the Mediterranean basin planting communities of followers of Jesus wherever they go.

Our epistle for today is brief but powerful. We have received a spirit of adoption. We are children of God. Because of the life and ministry of our Lord, we have been brought so close to God that we can call God Daddy or Dad or Mama or Mom. Because of our Lord, we have an intimate relationship with the creator of the universe.

Our gospel is part of Jesus’ last teaching session with the apostles. Philip says to Jesus, “Show us the Father and we will be satisfied,” And Jesus tells Philip and us that, in seeing him, we have seen God. Jesus is God living a human life. Jesus is God walking the face of the earth. The almost unbelievable quality of love which Jesus shows to all people is God’s love. Jesus and God are one.

Then Jesus tells us that “the one who believes in me will do the works that I do.” In other words, the fact that we bier in Jesus means that we are called to carry on his ministry here on earth. We are called to reach out in love to others; we are called to feed the hungry and to give clothes and shelter to those who need them. We are called to follow Jesus as our model, to live as he lived.

Jesus tells the apostles that he will send the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to be with us, to lead and guide and energize us .

After this teaching time with the apostles, called his Last Discourse, Jesus was crucified. We know that one of the apostles, John, was there at the foot of the cross. We do not know where the others were. It was the saddest day in the history of the world.

But then people began seeing the risen Christ. Two of them walking to Emmaus saw him. He appeared to Peter and the others on the beach. He came through the locked doors of the upper room. Gradually they realized that he was alive. And they gathered as he had told them to do, and they waited together, and they prayed.

It must have been very strange for them to realize that he was alive. More and more people had encounters with him. And then he ascended to be with God. He told them that he had to do this so that the Spirit could come to them.

It is one of the mysteries of our faith that, because of the Presence of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is alive in every corner of the creation at all times. Jesus is here with us now, and he is with people all over the world.

When the Holy Spirit filled the apostles, they were able to share the Good News in every language. They were able to speak of God’s love in such a way that their message reached deep into the hearts of all the people gathered there.

That message has come down to us over the centuries. God loves us so much that God has adopted us as God’s children. God loves the whole big human family.

I would like to ask you to help me end this sermon by singing together an ancient chant. The words date back to a Latin text from the 9th century. The tune was written by John Henry Hopkins Jr. and was published in 1865. John Henry Hopkins Jr was the son of our first Bishop, John Henry Hopkins. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Vermont in 1839 and his master’s degree from UVM in 1845. He taught music at General Theological Seminary from 1855-57, was rector of Trinity Church in Plattsburgh, New York from 1872-1876 and of Christ Episcopal Church in Williamsport, Pennsylvania from 1876 to 1887. He delivered the eulogy at the funeral of President Ulysses S, Grant in 1845.

This beautiful hymn calls on the Holy Spirit to come to us and fill us with the gifts of the spirit.

May the Holy Spirit fill us this day and always.  Amen.

Easter 6C RCL Year C May 1, 2016

Acts 16:9-15
Psalm 67
Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5
John 14:23-29

Once again, our opening lesson places us in the midst of an important scene in the course of history. Paul and his ministry team are in Troas, a city near ancient Troy in what we would call Turkey. Paul has a vision. A man from Macedonia is calling him to “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” We do not know who the man in the vision is, but it is clear that Paul takes this to be a call from God.

We are given the exact route that they follow. They are going from the continent of Asia to Europe. They are going to make history. They are going to proclaim the Good News on a new continent.

They land in Philippi, an important Roman city.  They remain there for several days. When the Sabbath comes they go outside the city gate to a place of prayer by the river. They are hoping to find a synagogue where Paul, a Rabbi, would have the right to teach.

But they find no building. Instead they find a group of women gathered for worship. Paul and his team sit down and talk with the women. There are two striking things going on here. In the ancient world, it would be highly unusual to find a group of women worshiping together, and it also would be unusual for a rabbi to sit down with these women. God is dong a new thing. Barriers are coming down.

Among these women is an extraordinary person named Lydia. She is a dealer in purple cloth. Most scholars see her as a prosperous business woman. Since only the Roman nobility were allowed to wear purple cloth because purple symbolizes royalty, scholars tell us that we can assume that Lydia is accustomed to dealing with the noble class.

Lydia is a seeker. She is a Gentile who is interested in learning about God.  The Lord opens her heart to listen eagerly to Paul, and she and her household are baptized. This is another unusual thing. Lydia is the head of a household.

She takes her faith so seriously that she immediately invites Paul and his team to stay in her house. After some persuasion, they accept, Later, after Paul and Silas are released from prison, they go to stay with her again. By that time, services are being held on a regular basis in her house. It has become a house church.

Lydia and her community of women who are engaged in the cloth trade are the first converts in Europe. The church in Philippi was the first Christian community in Europe, and it was a loving and faithful group of people. Paul loved them very much.

Here we have the story of how our faith spread from Asia to Europe, People meet beside the river to learn more about God and a new faith community is born.

Our reading from the Book of Revelation describes the glorious and eternal worship of Christ, the Lamb of God.

In our gospel, Jesus is continuing his teaching of the apostles in preparation for the ascension. He is going to leave them, and he is trying to give them everything they will need to carry on faithfully when he is no longer here on earth.

He is telling them and us that, even though he will not be here in a physical sense, the Holy Spirit will be with us, and the Spirit is the presence of Christ with us. The Spirit leads us and guides us as it did Paul and his team in our first lesson.

Jesus tells us several very important things in this reading. First, the heart of our life with him and in him is love, and the quality of our love for him will be demonstrated in our actions.

Secondly, we will always have his peace, his shalom. This means that, no matter what happens to us, his presence and his stillness and faith will always be within us. In addition, the vision of his shalom, his reign of peace and harmony for the whole world, will always be our vision.

He has taught us to respect the dignity of every human being, and in our opening reading we see Paul and his helpers sitting and praying with a group of women to whom they would not have been allowed to speak if they had been following the customs and laws of that time.

He has called us to create a world of peace in which everyone has enough to eat, clothes to wear, a place to live, good and useful work to do, adequate medical care, a world in which all people can feel safe. He has called us to  help him to extend his shalom to the whole creation.

Perhaps most of all he has assured us that he will be with us wherever we are. He will be with us in the sharing of bread and wine which is the food of his love and presence and energy. He will be with us as we pray for healing for our brothers and sisters, and our beloved pets. He will be with us in times of joy and in times of loss. He will be with us in every moment. He will abide in us and we in him.

When Paul and his helpers landed in Philippi, and then rested, and then went to the river to find the praying community they brought with them the presence of Christ. Lydia was waiting for that moment. It changed her life. The Church began in Philippi, and countless others were able to experience the presence of Christ in a community of deep faith.

Thanks be to God for two hundred years of that experience of the presence of Christ here at Grace, and thanks be to God for all the saints who, like Lydia, accepted our Lord with all their hearts and spread the Good News.

May we follow in their footsteps.  Amen

Easter 6A RCL May 25, 2014

Acts 17:22-31

Psalm 66:7-18

1 Peter 3:13-22

John 14:15-21

In our opening lesson, or, we might say, scene, Paul is in Athens addressing a group of people. Paul is well educated. He knows a considerable amount about Greek philosophy. He is trying to share the good news about Jesus im terms the Greek people can understand.

Paul has found that the Greeks have a statue dedicated “to an unknown God,” and he is telling the people that they can come to know God.

Biblical scholar Carl Holladay tells us that Paul is using quotations from the Greek poets Epimenides, who wrote that “God is the one ‘in whom we live and move and have our being.” And from the Greek writer Aratus, who wrote that humans are “the offspring of God.” (Preachimg through the Christian Year-A, p. 277.) Paul is following a basic principle of evangelism—meet people where they are and speak in a language they understand. By doing this, he will lead these people to Christ.

In our passage from the first letter of Peter, we read advice to people who are suffering. Scholars tell us that this letter was addressed to a Christian community in Asia Minor. These people had adopted the new faith, but they were surrounded by non-Christians who were often hostile to them. He advises them to persevere in doing good, to do what they know is right, and to look to our Lord, who suffered, and, through that suffering, leads us into new life.

These new followers of Jesus were swimming against the stream. Their lives and their values were very different from those of the people living around them. As we all know, to be different can sometimes be threatening to people.  Recently, we have been learning a considerable amount about bullying, which often happens because someone is different. Persecution often happens for the same reasons

As more and more people joined the new faith community and became followers of Jesus, all kinds of situations developed. If you were a business person, for example, some people would no longer do business with you if you became a follower of Jesus. People looked askance at this new faith. So in addition to persecution from the Roman Empire, there were all kinds of smaller and more local and personal kinds of pressures and difficulties which could happen to those who chose to follow Jesus.

There is one part of this passage that I want to comment on just briefly. The epistle reads, It is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than suffering for doing evil.” It is never God’s will that someone should suffer. God’s shalom is a realm of peace, love, and respect for every person. But God has given human beings free will. We all have choices about how to behave. And some people choose to inflict suffering on other people. This is not in harmony with God’s will.

We still have no news of the young women who were abducted in Nigeria, and our own Titus Presler was beaten in Pakistan. Thank God he is now home. Hostility toward Christians is not just a thing of the past.  Bullying and persecution of any kind grieve the heart of God.

In our gospel, Jesus tells us, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” We reveal our faith in our attitudes and in our actions.

Our Lord tells the apostles that he is going to send the Holy Spirit to be with them and us forever. This is the Spirit of truth, but not truth in a black and white sense or in a narrow sense.  The Spirit of truth embodies the kind of truth that is reflected in the life of our Lord, a truth that involves peace, harmony, love, healing, and forgiveness.

Jesus tells the apostles and us that we already know the Spirit, because the Spirit is already with them and us.  That is because we and they have spent time with Jesus. We have walked with him and talked with him. We have learned from him. We have watched how he handles situations and how he treats people. The Spirit abides with us because of our life spent with our Lord. Abides is a key word in John’s gospel. It means staying with, but in a very active and lively sense. The Spirit abides with us in an active and alive way.

Jesus tells the disciples that he is going to leave them. He is going to ascend to the Father. The world will no longer see him, but we will see him because he is in us and we are in him. We are one with him and one in him. He ends by putting the action first. Those who keep his commandments are those who love him.

Our reading from Acts gives us Paul’s excellent example. If we are trying to share our faith, it is good to start where other people are and relate faith to their experiences and needs.

Our epistle addresses the issue of suffering, and specifically suffering for the faith.  As Christians, we can often feel as though we are marching to a different drummer or swimming against the stream of our culture. We are not being actively persecuted here in the United States, but we are often misunderstood. What some people define as “Christian” may not be what we are about. But it still a joyful thing to follow our Lord.

He is with us and we can feel his presence. His Spirit is with us to guide us.  May we love our Lord with all our hearts and mind and soul and strength, and may that love be evident in our actions.  Amen.

Easter 5 A RCL May 18, 2014

Acts 7:55-60

Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16

1 Peter 2:2-10

John 14:1-14

Just before our first lesson, in chapter 6 of the Book of Acts, we read that, as the number of believers grew, the apostles could not keep up with preaching and teaching plus taking care of the widows and orphans, so they called together the community of faith—it was not yet called the Church—and asked the people to select seven men to be the first deacons. As you know, it is the ministry of deacons to care for the poor and vulnerable. One of those men was Stephen.

The new faith was attracting many people, but opposition was also growing. Because of his faith, Stephen was arrested, and today we read of his being stoned to death by an angry crowd.

In a manner which reminds us of our Lord, Stephen asks Jesus to forgive the people who are killing him. And then we read a short statement, “…and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.” In the verses that follow, we read that Saul actually went into the houses of followers of Jesus and had them put into prison. And then we read of his encounter with the risen Lord and his journey from being a persecutor of the Church to being an apostle of Christ.

Saul was in the crowd watching Stephen become the first Christian martyr. He was a leader in the persecution. He thought he was doing the right thing. The risen Jesus convinced him that he needed to change his life completely. He needed to undergo metanoia, conversion. Saul thought he was doing God’s will. Christ, in his infinite mercy and love, asked him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” As a result of that encounter and that dialogue, Saul became Paul.

Our reading from Peter is also addressed to a community which is experiencing persecution. Peter emphasizes that they and we are not just individuals standing alone. We are part of a community. We are members of the Body of Christ. We are called “to proclaim the mighty acts of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

In our gospel for today, Jesus is sitting at supper with his disciples, and he is teaching them. He is trying to tell them that they and we will follow him to heaven and that he is going to prepare a place for us.

Thomas insists that we do not know the way. But then Jesus says those words that ring down through the centuries:  “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” If we just follow our Good  Shepherd down the path where he is leading us, we will be with him.

Then Philip asks Jesus to show them the Father. And Jesus says that those who spend time with him are in the presence of the Father. Jesus is really saying that he and God are one. If we are in the presence of Jesus, we are in the presence of God. Jesus is God walking the face of the earth.

What are these lessons telling us today? First, Christians are still being persecuted today. The young women abducted in Nigeria were captured because of their faith. We still do not know what has happened to them.

Secondly, Jesus meets us humans wherever we are. Jesus could look deep into Saul and see Saul’s potential. In his love and mercy, he called out to Saul so that Saul could follow Jesus and turn the energy of all that hate into love. Jesus is still calling people today.  He is calling us to share his love and healing with others.

Our epistle reminds us that, contrary to what many believe today, life is not about being a group of disconnected individuals. Life is about community. We are living stone that build the house of God. We are members of the Body of Christ. Jesus has called us out of darkness into light. We are called to spread his light and love. He is with us now, and we will be with him forever.

“In my father’s house are many dwelling places.” our Lord says. There is room in heaven for all who want to be in the presence of God. Jesus has gone to prepare a place for everyone. Just think—Jesus has gone to prepare a place for you! Jesus has prepared a place for all our loved ones who have gone before us.

For us as Christians, this is our reality, that Jesus is our Good Shepherd, that he is the way, the truth, and the life, that he calls us into loving and healing community, that we are not alone, that he is in us and we are in him, that he is risen and alive and that we are members of his living Body, the Church.

May we listen for his voice. May we follow him faithfully.  Amen.

The Day of Pentecost

Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104: 24-34, 35b
Romans 8: 14-17
John 14: 8-17 (25-27)

Jesus has told the disciples that he will send an Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to lead them jnto all truth. They are in Jerusalem. It is the Jewish feast of Pentecost, fifty days after the Passover. People are gathered from all around the Mediterranean Sea, from all the known world.

The disciples are waiting, praying, open, expectant. The Spirit comes to them as a mighty wind, like the desert ruach, which molds and shapes the sand. Flames dance over the disciples’ heads That is why we wear red today. Suddenly these Galileans burst out with all the languages of the world, speaking heart to heart, dissolving all differences, sharing the Good News about Jesus in languages each member of the multitude gathered for the feast can understand.

Some people are deeply touched. Others are dubious. They think the disciples are drunk. Peter preaches an amazing sermon, telling them that God is pouring out God’s spirit on all flesh, as the prophet Joel foretold.

This year, we have been focusing on God’s family, the whole human family—how God breaks through humanly constructed barriers and makes us one. The Feast of Pentecost is the birthday of the Church, and we are all called to extend God’s love to all the world.

In his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul writes, “All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” So many religious systems have presented God as someone very scary, someone who is keeping track of all our sins and errors, who is, as David Brown says, “out to gunch us.”

This is not the God we worship. We are beloved children of God. We can call God “Abba,” Daddy, or Mommy, Papa or Mom. Remember how our gospel for last week told us how God loves us as much as  God loves God’s son, Jesus? God is a God of love, not a God of fear or hatred. Let us hope and pray that religious leaders will stop preaching fear of a God who is out to punish us. God’s family includes everyone. That’s what the Feast of Pentecost is all about.

In our gospel, we are privileged to be with the disciples and Jesus in the Upper Room. Jesus has washed their feet. Judas has left to carry out the betrayal. Time is growing short.

Perhaps Philip senses this. Sometimes when we are looking into the face of God, we sense that we are confronting a great mystery, something that we can never hope to fully understand, because it is so big and so deep and so complex, and our minds are not large enough to grasp some things. Which one of us can grasp the depth and breadth of God’s love? This may be what Philip is feeling. He’s trying to get Jesus to boil everything down to something simple and clear. So he says,  “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”

Jesus says, “If you have seen me, you have seen God. God is with you now. Look at my life, all the things I have done while we have been together.” And I imagine they reflect on this, his teaching, and healing, and preaching—the love, the patience, the gentleness, the courage, everything.  I think they and we can see that Jesus is God walking the face of the earth, living a human life. And now Jesus is saying that he wants us to do the same things that he has done. He is saying to us and them, “Live as I live, do as I do.” And he says that the disciples and we will do even greater things than he has done because he is going to send the Spirit to help us.  And then Jesus gives us his peace, not the fleeting peace that the world can sometimes give, but his shalom, his vision of the wholeness and the healing of creation, the shalom that he is calling us to build. Where everyone has enough food and water, has decent shelter, clothing, medical care and good work to do, the shalom in which we honor and heal the creation that God has entrusted to our care.

God’s Holy Spirit is God at work in us and in the world. The Holy Spirit gives us the gifts and tools we need to share God’s love with the world, to speak God’s love heart to heart, and remember, the heart in Judeo-Christian thought is not only the emotions, but the will, the mind, the ethical center in each of us.

As wonderful as it was to have Jesus here on earth as a human being, he had to leave and send us the Spirit. When he was on earth, he traveled around a very small area. True, he touched hearts and lives everywhere he went. But the Feast Of Pentecost tells us that now he is everywhere. Wherever two or three gather in his name, he is there. Sometimes sharing God’s love doesn’t mean speaking in verbal languages, as happened on the first Pentecost. Sometimes sharing God’s love means listening. Sometimes it means tending to someone’s wounds, either physical or emotional or spiritual. Sometimes it’s planting a garden or building a school or helping a group of women turn their weaving into a business. Whatever it may be that we are called to do, today is the day we celebrate God’s giving us all the gifts we need to do it.

Pentecost didn’t happen just once, It’s happening all the time, as we realize that we have gifts we didn’t even know we had, and as we use those gifts.

On this wonderful feast day, may we thank God for all the love and all the gifts which God is constantly pouring out. Thank you, Lord, for making us your Body here on earth and for giving us the gifts to share your love, healing, and forgiveness.

Amen.