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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion February 5, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion February 12, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
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The Day of Pentecost  May 20, 2018

Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:25-35, 37b
Romans 8:22-27
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Today we are celebrating the Feast of Pentecost. The followers of Jesus are waiting and praying. Their community has survived the betrayal of Judas. Under God’s guidance, they have chosen Matthias to complete the company of the apostles. They are all together in the house where they have been gathering, and suddenly there is a sound like the rushing wind as the Holy Spirit fills the house and flames of fire dance over their heads and they burst forth in all the languages of the known world the world around the Mediterranean Sea.

God is bringing forth a new thing, God is giving birth to a new community, God’s big family, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu puts it. The apostles are empowered by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the Good News of God’s love so that each person there hears this wonderful news in his or her native tongue.

And just to make sure that everyone understands, Peter completes this extraordinary event with a sermon. God is fulfilling the prophecy of Joel, that the people will see visions and dream dreams, and God will pour out God’s Spirit on all people.

In our gospel for today, Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit will come, and will lead us into all truth. The Spirit is still leading us into the truth about the depth of God’s love for us and the call of our Lord to help him to build his shalom of peace and love.

In our epistle for today, Paul talks about this birth process of a new thing, a new vision for life, the vision rooted and grounded in God’s gifts of faith, hope, and love.

God’s love is so great that when we cannot find words to pray, the Spirit prays for us “with sighs too deep for words.” When we become wordless, God hears our prayer and voices it for us.

We say that the Day of Pentecost is the birthday of the Church. The apostles could have become swamped by sorrow and anger at the betrayal by Judas, but they did not. They asked God’s guidance and, with prayer and care they chose Matthias to complete God’s team called to spread the good news.

Today, we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, giving the followers of Jesus the gift to be able to share the truth about Jesus. He came among us to share his love, healing, and forgiveness, his vision of peace and harmony and wholeness for all people and for the creation. And on Pentecost, the apostles received the gift to share that Good News with everyone who had come to Jerusalem from all over the world—to share that good news heart to heart—not just on an intellectual level, but in a way that could be received by the heart, the center of will and intention as well as thought, emotion, and intuition.

The Spirit continues to lead us into all the truth. Not just emotionally, not just intellectually, but on every level. What did our Lord mean when he called us to love each other as he and God love each other? As we answer this question for ourselves and walk that journey, we find that  barriers come down and we move closer and closer to his shalom, God’s deep peace and harmony over the whole wide earth and the entire creation.

As we go out into the world today, let us remember that the Holy Spirit has touched our minds and hearts and will and intention and understanding on every level and has called us to share God’s love on a deep level—heart to heart. Often we will share God’s love by actions rather than by words.  To paraphrase an old saying, “Share the good news of God’s love. Use words if necessary.” Amen.

Easter 6B RCL May 6, 2018

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

The Easter season is so full of the love of God and the work of the Holy Spirit that I just want to pause for a moment and reflect. During these Sundays in the Easter season, all our readings are from the new Testament. Instead of a first reading from the Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures, we have been reading passages from the Book of Acts.

The Book of Acts reads like a running newspaper report on the growth and challenges of the early church and the work of the Holy Spirit. It is fast-paced and action-packed. We could say that the Book of Acts, is a kind of spiritual cable news show on the early history of the Church.

Our first reading for today illustrates this perfectly, so I’m going to fill in some background. Several days before the event in our reading, a man named Cornelius has been praying. Cornelius is a centurion in the Roman army. This means that he commands a group of one hundred men. This is a position of power and prestige. He knows what it is to give orders and have them obeyed, He also knows what it is to follow orders.

He is a wonderful person, well-respected, even loved in his community of Caesarea Philippi. He is not a Jew, but, like the Ethiopian eunuch whom we met last Sunday, he is a seeker. He gives generously to the local synagogue and gives alms to the poor, but he is not a member of the synagogue. He is widely known in his community as a person who cares about others and helps others.

One day, Cornelius is praying and an angel of God comes to him in a vision and tells Cornelius to send a message to a man called Peter, who is staying in Joppa with a man called Simon the Tanner.

Meanwhile, miles away in Joppa, Peter is praying and falls into a trance and has a vision of all kinds of unlawful foods coming down on a sheet and God telling him to go ahead and eat them. Peter tells God that he has never eaten anything that is against the law to eat, and God responds, “What God has made clean, you shall not call profane.” The text tells us that Peter is “puzzled” about this vision. After all, God has just erased the dietary rules.

While Peter is pondering all this, the messengers from Cornelius arrive. The Spirit instructs Peter to welcome them and to go with them. So Peter goes down from the roof, welcomes the men in for the night, and the next day they head toward Caesarea. Some of the followers of Jesus in Joppa go with Peter and Cornelius’ messengers. Meanwhile, Cornelius has gathered his household and many guests to hear what Peter has to say.

The next day, Peter, the other followers of Jesus from Joppa, and Cornelius’ messengers arrive at Cornelius’ home. Cornelius falls to his knees and worships Peter. Peter tells Cornelius to get up and makes it clear that he, Peter, is a mere mortal. Then Peter realizes that there is a substantial crowd gathered at Cornelius’ house. He says, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile, but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.” Peter asks why Cornelius has summoned him. And Cornelius tells him that an angel instructed him to send for Peter and listen to what Peter had to say.

Then Peter preaches his sermon which begins, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality…” Peter tells the people that he has learned that anyone who loves God is acceptable to God. And then Peter tells the people the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and how all people receive forgiveness of sins through Jesus’ name.

This is where our reading begins. While Peter is still speaking, the Holy Spirit falls on everyone in that large crowd. Everyone begins praising God. And then Peter baptizes them, realizing that the gifts of the Spirit are open to everyone, God loves all people, and all are welcome to be followers of Jesus.

Peter and his companions were simply putting into practice what Peter had heard from Jesus: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love…This is my commandment, that you love one another.”

And Jesus also says, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” And he says that we are his friends. Not his servants, but his friends. And he says that he has chosen us, and he has chosen us to bear fruit.”

Today, in a world that is so fraught with conflict and a country that is being polarized by hate and misinformation, things that are directly in opposition to the love and truth of Christ, we need to remember that he is telling us all this so that our joy may be full.There is deep, refreshing, hope-instilling, joy in following Christ.

In today’s reading, Peter’s entire belief in the law has just been rocked on its foundations. The early Church agonized over whether it was going to stay a sect of Judaism and require folks to follow the dietary laws and be circumcised.  Because of this chain of Spirit-inspired events, Peter went to the council of Jerusalem and said what he says in our reading today. God has a big family, and there are no barriers. If you want to love God, come in, If you want to follow Jesus, come and be a part of his risen body.

There is great and deep joy in the faith we have been given as a gift beyond measure. Remember how Sarah burst into laughter when she heard that God was going to give her a son? Well, every now and then, maybe we should just laugh with joy that God has showered us with such unconditional love and that Jesus is the kind of friend and brother and good shepherd who would give his life for us and lead us into new life here and now.

He is alive among us. We are alive in him. We are his risen body. We have the gifts of the Spirit, and we are equipped to spread the Good News of his love, healing, and joy just as Peter and Cornelius did all those many years ago.  Amen.

Easter 5B RCL  April 29, 2018

Acts 8: 26-40
Psalm 22:24-30
1 John 4:7-21
John 15:1-8

In our first reading today, we meet two extraordinary people.The first is Philip. Philip has been called to serve as one of the first seven deacons in the Church. The new community of Jesus’ followers has been growing, and the apostles need help in taking care of those in need.

Very soon, one of those deacons, Stephen, becomes the first martyr, and the Church in Jerusalem faces persecution. Philip goes to Samaria. As our story opens, an angel tells Philip to go south to the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. Without question, Philip goes.  A wilderness road is a dangerous place. One can encounter robbers or wild animals. But Philip goes anyway. He is constantly seeking the will of God and faithfully responding to God’s call.

Our second character is an Ethiopian eunuch. He is the treasurer for the Queen of Ethiopia. He holds a position of great honor and prestige. Not only does the queen entrust the financial affairs of the kingdom to this man. She is also allowing him to make his pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He has come to Jerusalem to worship. As an Ethiopian and a eunuch, he is considered unclean on two counts, so he would not be able to go into the temple to worship. But he is a seeker who is trying to grow closer to God.  He is also wealthy. We know this because he is riding in a chariot and he has a scroll. These are extremely expensive items. Scholars tell us that, given the state of travel in those days, the Ethiopian eunuch has traveled five months on this pilgrimage. He is reading the prophet Isaiah, chapter 53, on the suffering servant.

The angel tells Philip to go over to the chariot. Without hesitation, Philip obeys that call. Philip asks the Ethiopian official, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The Ethiopian gentleman is well educated. He is reading Hebrew. He is also deeply intelligent, eager to learn, and searching for God. He responds with profound insight: “How can I learn, if I don’t have a guide?”  What wisdom this seeker shows in that statement. We cannot be formed in our faith alone. We need community. We need teachers and guides. We need God and each other.

Philip hops into the chariot and opens the scripture to this man.

Then the man asks Philip who this suffering servant, this messiah is, and Philip tells him about Jesus. Philip has watched Stephen being stoned to death and asking God to forgive the people who are killing him, so he is well qualified to speak about the suffering servant. When they come to some water, the man asks to be baptized. They go down to the water, and Philip baptizes him. Then the Spirit snatches Philip away. But the man goes on rejoicing.

Here is a man looking for genuine faith. In some ways, he is wealthy and powerful. In other ways, he is excluded. There are many obstacles in his way, but he does not let those stop him.

Here is Philip, a person of profound faith. He has watched Stephen die; he has probably watched Jesus die. He leaves Jerusalem to avoid persecution, but he faithfully goes where the Spirit tells him to go and responds to every opportunity to spread the Good News.

Scholars tell us that Ethiopia was considered to be “the ends of the earth.”This is truly a story of how the good news is spread to the ends of the earth. This story shows us that the good news of Christ is for everyone. No one is to be excluded.

Jesus is the vine. We are the branches. We cannot bear fruit without him. We need him and we need each other. We are all a part of each other. John uses the word “abide.” This word means more than simply resting in Christ. It is an active connection with our Lord. Commentator Nancy Blakely points out that, in his translation of the Bible called The Message, Eugene H. Petersen “uses the words, ‘Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you.’” (Blakely, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol 2, p. 474. Living in Christ and allowing him to live in us is a dynamic relationship. To abide with Christ is to live in active, loving relationship with our Lord. That is the kind of relationship Philip had with Jesus, and he shared the aliveness of Christ with the Ethiopian eunuch.

The encounter between Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch is one of the most inspiring dialogues in the Bible. They are both so real and so committed to the journey of faith. The Ethiopian gentleman has no hesitation in asking for help. Philip, trusting in the Spirit, guides this courageous seeker into the truth about Jesus, and the Ethiopian is baptized. He has a long journey home, but it will be a joyful one.

Our epistle for today expands on the theme of love. I encourage you to read this over during the week and meditate on it. It is a beautiful theological statement, almost a hymn of praise. “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. …We love because he first loved us.”

Our readings for today invite us to explore the depth and breadth of God’s love for us.

Blessed Lord, you are the way, the truth, and the life. May we find our home in you. May you find your home in us. May we be as eager to learn about you as the Ethiopian eunuch. May we be as faithful in sharing the good news of your love as your deacon Philip was all those centuries ago. Amen.

The Day of Pentecost  Year B RCL May 24, 2015

Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:25-35, 37b
Romans 8:22-27
John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

Today is the end of the Great Fifty Days of Easter. This is the Feast of Pentecost, the day when the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles, giving them the gift to share the good news about Jesus in a way that could be understood by people from all over the known world. The power of this event is almost overwhelming. So, let us take a look backward and approach it with prayer and thought.

In today’s gospel, Jesus is talking with the apostles. He is trying to tell them everything they will ever need to know in order to carry on his mission. He has told them that he is the Vine and they are the branches,  and that his commandment is that they love one another. He has also talked about how he and they will be persecuted. Now he is telling them that he is going to the Father, and that he will send the Holy Spirit. Jesus says that the Spirit “will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.” Charles Cousar writes of this passage,”The world has its own judgments of sin, justice, and judgment. It constantly rewards those who measure up to its standards and norms and punishes those who transgress them. Jesus defied the reigning structures and ended up as one of those punished. The Spirit will expose the world’s ways of doing things.”

Jesus tells us that the Spirit will lead us into all truth. This is not a black-and-white truth, but a truth deeply rooted in God’s compassion and justice. As Christians, we seek to know God’s truth in the context of community, prayer, and responsible scholarship.

Jesus tells the disciples and us that he has to go away in order that the Spirit may come to us. When he ascends to be with the Father, the disciples feel abandoned and confused. He has told them to stay together and to pray, and they faithfully follow his direction. But that time was a crisis for the Church. If they had not kept the faith and remained together in prayer in the face of Jesus’ departure, we would not be here.

This is something that is important for us to remember in this post-Christendom era. Christianity is not the center of people’s lives at this point in history. Attendance is dwindling in all the major denominations. In the past, we would look for programs to bring people in. Now we are called to be missional, to go out into the world to do mission, to meet people where they are. Like the original disciples, we are called to be faithful in our time.

In our brief passage from his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul tells us that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains up to this point and that everyone who is trying to follow Christ has also been struggling to give birth to something new. We and the creation are struggling toward the time when we will reach our full identity in Christ and the time when our Lord’s shalom will be complete.

Meanwhile, we gather as the disciples did so many years ago, and we try to “Pray the prayer of Christ, learn the mind of Christ, and do the deeds of Christ.” We try to live as our Lord wants us to live. This takes a great deal of prayer, and it requires grace from God. And here, St. Paul gives us one of the greatest gifts in the Bible.

Have you ever gotten to the point where you could not find the words to pray? The point where you did not know what to pray for? I certainly have.  St. Paul tells us that, when we get to that point, the Spirit prays for us. He says, “The Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.”  So, when we reach those points when we just can’t find words to pray, we can let the Spirit take over and pray for us.

Now we arrive at Pentecost. All the people are gathered in Jerusalem because this is fifty days after Passover. It is the feast of weeks, the end of the celebration of the spring harvest. The followers of Jesus are all together in one place. They have hung together. They are praying. They have no idea what will happen. Jesus said that he would send the Spirit, but the disciples are not at all sure what that means. Some of them are still in profound grief because Jesus has left them. I think that some of them had their doubts about what would happen next. The important thing is that they were doing what he had asked them to do, no matter how they felt, no matter how grief-stricken they were, no matter how much fear they were feeling about the future. They were together, and they were praying.

What happens is far beyond anything they could have imagined.  There is a violent wind. Tongues of fire dance over their heads. They are filled with the Spirit and they speak in all the known languages of the world. Something new is coming to birth in the world. They had been gathered in that house, probably with quite a bit of fear and apprehension. Now, they are empowered by the Spirit and sent out into the world to tell everyone about Jesus.

Some people think the disciples are drunk. But Peter tells them, No, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning. This is a new dawn. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

We call this the birthday of the Church because the Spirit has come to give the followers of Jesus the power to speak of Jesus’ love and healing in a way that can be deeply understood, heart to heart, by every person on earth.

Jesus is not physically present in the way that he was when he was walking the face of the earth with his followers. Because he has sent the Holy Spirit, he can now be everywhere in the creation. All around the world, faithful people are his hands reaching out to heal, his lips speaking forgiveness, his eyes seeing into the depths of people’s needs. We are his Body, and we are empowered by the Spirit just as his disciples were two thousand years ago.

May we go forth in the power of the Spirit to share Christ’s love, healing, and forgiveness with the people we meet every day, and to build the shalom of Christ.  Amen.