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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion June 11, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.comTime:  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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Advent 2C December 5, 2021

Baruch 5:1-9
Canticle 16, p. 92
Philippians 1:3-11
Luke 3:1-6

Our first reading today is from a book of the Bible attributed to Jeremiah’s secretary, Baruch. Scholars tell us that Baruch was not the author, and we really do not know who wrote this beautiful passage. Scholars tell us that it was written well after the lifetime of Baruch by someone who was very familiar with the work of Isaiah.  

“Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God.” The book is addressed to people who have been in exile, and God is telling them that they will return home. Jerusalem is pictured as standing on a high spot, looking out on all her children returning from the four corners of the earth.

In an echo of Isaiah, the mountains and hills are made low, and the valleys are filled up so that the path toward the holy city is level. The journey home is easy. There are no climbs or descents.The text tells us, “God will lead Israel with joy, in the light of his glory, with the mercy and righteousness that come from him.”

For this second Sunday in Advent, we have a choice between two readings from the Hebrew scriptures, and I chose this one because it gives us such a vivid and moving picture of our own return home to God in this holy time of Advent. It is a return full of joy, and God makes it much easier by leveling the ground! 

This image of the mountains being made low and the valleys filled is also symbolic of the shalom of God. In God’s shalom, there will be a level playing field. Justice will prevail.

Our Canticle for today, the Benedictus, is the song of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, celebrating the birth of this very special child who was called to be the forerunner of the Messiah. “In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.” We are walking the way of God’s shalom.

Our epistle is from the letter of Paul to his beloved community in Philippi. Paul begins with gratitude: “I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of your because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” Paul is reminding us that we are living in that in-between time. The kingdom of God has begun but is not yet complete, That will happen when Jesus comes. Paul reminds the Philippians and us that God has begun this good work and God will complete the work of creation.

Paul says that the community in Philippi “holds [him] in [their] heart” because they all share in God’s grace.  This means that we, here in Sheldon two thousand years later, hold each other in our hearts because of God’s grace, and God holds all of us in God’s heart. Paul prays that their and our “love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help [us] determine what is best,” so that when our Lord comes to complete the creation, we will have borne good fruit in helping to build his shalom. There is work to do, and there are moral and ethical decisions we will need to make, and Paul is telling us that God will be with us every step of the way to help us stay on the path of shalom.

In our gospel, we meet that great Advent figure, John the Baptist. Notice that Luke carefully places John’s ministry in its historical context. It’s the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius; Pontius Pilate is the governor of Judea, and Herod is ruler of Galilee. All the rulers are named. The word of God comes to John, the son of Zechariah, the priest in the Jerusalem temple. In the words of Isaiah, John is “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord.” Everything is made level. Everything is being straightened out. Everything is being set right. All is being made clear. We are going to see the salvation of God. We are going to meet the Messiah face to face. God’s loving and merciful and just reign is going to prevail.

John is preaching a repentance, a changing of our life and priorities, a metanoia, a transformation, a forgiveness of sins, a course correction, a possibility of freedom and release. No wonder people flocked to see and hear him. After all those years of doing things that were destructive and not doing things that were creative and life-giving, at long last there is help. There is hope.

In this year 2021, our readings today are filled with hope. The hope of returning home after an exile. The hope of living lives based on love for each other and for all people. The hope of love overflowing more and more. The hope of creating a world in which the shalom of God is more fully realized. That is a hope we can have because of the abundance of God’s grace, and the fact that God is with us. God has given us a vision, and God is helping us to fulfill that vision of shalom.

At this time of the year, when the days are so short, the light is overcoming the shadows. God is calling to us in love and joy. Our King is coming. May our hearts be filled with light and joy. May we keep each other in our hearts. May we remember that we are being held in the loving heart of God. Amen.

The Last Sunday after the Epiphany Year A   February 23, 2020

Exodus 24:12-18
Psalm 2
2 Peter 1:16-21
Matthew 17:1-9

Today is the Last Sunday after the Epiphany. This coming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. We move from the Epiphany season, a time when we celebrate the showing forth of the light of Christ to all people, a time when we focus on light and mission. And we enter the season of Lent. 

Lent comes from the Old English word “lencten”, meaning “spring.” Lent is a time when we take on disciplines that will bring us closer to God and a time when we let go of any things in our lives which draw us away from God. Lent is a time when we engage in self-examination and preparation for the great feast of Easter. In the early Church, Lent was a time in which people were prepared for the sacrament of Baptism. It is a penitential time in which we examine our lives and repent. 

Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary says that to repent is to be sorry for our sins and to dedicate ourselves to the amendment of our lives. Another way to say it is that during Lent and other times of penitence, we experience metanoia, a process of transformation which leads us closer to God and allows us to let God into our lives so that we grow more and more into the likeness of Christ.

Lent is a time when we walk the Way of the Cross. We walk in the shoes of our Lord and we gain a more profound understanding of who he was, what it means to follow him, and how we can live the Way of Love.

Our opening reading today is from the Book of Exodus. Moses goes up the  mountain to receive the Ten Commandments. Back in those days, the thinking was that you could not look into the face of God and live. So the fact that Moses could go up there and come back down was quite amazing to people. Herbert O’Driscoll says that back in those days Mount Sinai was an active volcano, and that certainly adds to the terror of Moses’ journey.

In our gospel, Peter has said that Jesus is the Messiah. Our Lord takes his closest followers, Peter, James and John, and leads them up a high mountain. This is not Mt. Sinai. Scholars say it could be Mount Tabor or Mount Hermon. Others suggest other possibilities. Some say we should not search for an exact location but consider this a symbolic Mount of Transfiguration.

In any event, Jesus and his three companions go up the mountain. His face shines like the sun, his clothes are dazzling white. He is transfigured. The great prophets Moses and Elijah are there, talking with him, showing that he is in the fulfillment of the law and the prophets.

We could say that this is an awe-inspiring scene, and perhaps a bit scary. It is definitely what we would call  a “mountaintop experience.” Peter is is extremely flustered and is not quite in possession of his logical faculties. He wants to build three booths to preserve this moment of intersection with the eternal. When we have those mountaintop moments, we all want to do this. We want to save the moment forever.

As in the baptism of our Lord, God says, “This is my Son, the beloved; with him I am well pleased;” and then God adds some very good advice: “listen to him!” The disciples fall on the ground, overcome by fear. You know how it is. In a terrifying moment, we became paralyzed. And then Jesus comes and touches them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And they look up and see no one but Jesus. The text says, “himself, alone.” He is the Son of God, and yet directly after that moment, he comes and touches them, calms their fears, and brings them back to reality. Then they go down the mountain.

As we get ready for Lent, there are so many things we can remember from this transfiguration experience.  One is that we can now look into the face of God and live. We can look into the face of Jesus and from the power of his love and light we can gain the courage to take the next steps of our journey.

 As we move into Lent, we can remember the glorious illumination of his transfigured presence. We can keep in mind that he is calling us to grow into his likeness, to become more and more like him.

We can feel him touching us in our moments of fear or grief or despair, and saying, “Get up, and do not be afraid.”

The author of the First Letter of Peter, probably a disciple of Peter, is so close to his teacher that he can recall this moment as though he actually lived it. This faithful disciple writes, “You would do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”

The morning star is often thought of as a symbol of Jesus. In hymns such as number 497: “How bright appears the morning star; with mercy beaming from afar; the host of heaven rejoices; O righteous Branch, O Jesse’s Rod! Thou Son of man and Son of God! We, too, will left our voices: Jesus, Jesus! Holy, holy, yet most lowly, draw thou near us….”

For the next two days, we can hold in our hearts this vision of our transfigured Lord and his call to us to open ourselves to his transforming power and love. Then, on Ash Wednesday, we will resume our journey with him, the journey to the cross.

As we make that journey, may we hold this vision of who he truly is, May we be strengthened to bear our cross. May we be changed into his likeness. In his holy Name. Amen.

Advent 1A    December 1, 2019

Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 122
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:36-44

Advent is the New Year’s season of the Church. Our vestments turn from the green of the post-Pentecost season to purple, which symbolizes royalty. Our King is coming. Purple also symbolizes penitence, sorrow for our sins. Advent is a time of self-examination, a season in which we take stock of ourselves and ask God to help us to get on track. 

We change from Lectionary Year C to year A. During the three years of the lectionary cycle, which is shared by all the major Christian denominations, we cover all the key passages in the scriptures.

We are preparing for the second coming of Christ our King. Our Lord will come to complete his work of creation and establish his kingdom. Since the ways of this world are very different from the values of his kingdom, we take this time to realign ourselves with our Lord’s vision of how the world should be.

Our opening reading from Isaiah reminds us of these values. We are called to beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks. We are called to turn from war and violence to peace and the nurturing of people and the creation. If we make our swords into plowshares, we are investing in raising food, and feeding people instead of killing people. We are putting our energy into taking care of people and all creatures instead of hurting them. We are moving toward life rather than death. Isaiah calls us to “Walk in the light of the Lord.”

Our psalm shows us a beautiful and powerful picture of people flocking to the Holy City of Jerusalem. Indeed, many people make pilgrimages to this city, which is the center of three great faiths, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. God is calling us to prepare for the day when people of all faiths will work to bring peace, not only in Jerusalem and in the Holy Land, but across the whole wide earth.

In our epistle for today, Paul wakes us up. “You know what time it is,” he writes. He tells us that “Now is the moment for [us] to wake from sleep. Advent is a time for us to pay attention, to be alert, to be present to every moment. This is a good season for cleaning out things that we no longer need, a time for lightening our load, focusing on what is essential. It is a time for making or revising wills, filling out advanced directives, telling our families about what we want done when the end of our lives comes near. In other words it is a time for getting things in order. 

We pray the  powerful words of Paul in our collect for today: “Let us lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” And Paul calls us to “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” We are called to put on Christ as we would a garment. We are called to grow up into  Christ, to become more and more like him. That is the process of metanoia, transformation.

And in our gospel, our Lord tells us something he wants to make very clear. When he comes, it will be sudden. There will be no time to prepare. That is why we need to prepare for that moment all of our lives. When we look into his eyes, we will see the One Who loves us beyond all telling, and he will say, “Servant, well done.”

The shalom of God has begun, but it is not yet complete. Isaiah makes the vision very clear—a kingdom of peace, compassion, harmony, and wholeness where everyone has food and clothing and shelter and medical care, and good work to do. Even amidst all the brokenness we see on earth, there are signs of light, signs of wholeness. Each of us is doing our little bit to build that kingdom, that shalom. One little sign of that is our food shelf, and there are many others.

We have just celebrated Thanksgiving, that wonderful holiday when we get together with family and friends to give thanks for the many blessings God showers on us and to eat all our favorite holiday foods. We are also continuing to collect our United Thank Offering, which helps people all over the world. Another light, another ministry of love.

Advent is a paradoxical in-between time. We are looking back to the time when he came among us as a little baby, and ahead to the time when he will come aa our King. Now, at the darkest time of year, the light is shining, the light that nothing can or will extinguish. And we are walking in that light and love.

Here is a meditation by an anonymous writer: “I pray that I may lose my limitations in the immensity of God’s love. I pray that my spirit may be in harmony with God’s spirit.  Amen. (Twenty-Four Hours a Day, November 30.)

Pentecost 13 Proper 15B RCL August 19, 2018

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14
Psalm 111
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-58

In our first two readings this morning, the term “wisdom” is mentioned. In our gospel, we focus on Jesus as the bread that came down from heaven, and this leads us to reflect on the meaning of the Holy Eucharist.

In our first reading, Solomon, the son of David and Bathsheba, becomes the King of Israel. In his encounter with God in a dream, Solomon asks God for the gift of wisdom, and God grants that request. Scholars tell us that there was a great flowering of wisdom literature during the reign of Solomon, and the wisdom tradition has continued since that time, about three thousand years.

In our passage from the Letter to the Ephesians, we are called to live as wise people, not foolish ones. This involves understanding and doing the will of God. We are called to keep our minds clear. Singing psalms and spiritual songs, including Taize chants, is one very effective part of the wisdom tradition. This kind of singing helps us to center our lives in God, in Christ, and in the Spirit. Giving thanks for everything at all times is a powerful part of our prayer lives.

Our gospel for today leads us into a deeper awareness of our life in Christ. We are one with him. He has given his life for us so that we may have new life. He gives himself to us, his life and energy, every time we gather for Eucharist.

We gather, we pray, we read the word of God. We hear the readings interpreted in a sermon; we say the Nicene Creed together as our statement of faith. We pray for the Universal Church, the world, our nation and all in authority, our local community, those who suffer, and those who have died. We give thanks for God’s many blessings. We confess our sins and receive God’s absolution.

At the Offertory, we we offer our time, talents, and treasure to God, We ask God to take our lives and transform them and use them in God’s service to build God’s shalom.

And then we move into the Eucharistic prayer. We remember what happened when Jesus shared that last supper with his closest followers and gave us the commandment to love one another as he loves us. And we recall that he told us to gather and share this special thanksgiving meal of bread and wine—His Body and Blood—to call him into our midst. And so, here our Lord is, the host at this Thanksgiving feast, feeding us with his very self.

We say the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer he taught us, the prayer that has been said over two thousand years.  And then we come to the part of the service called the Fraction, the breaking of the bread. As the body of our beloved Lord was broken on the cross, he took all the brokenness of the world and made it whole. He takes all the brokenness in our lives and makes it whole even now. We receive the body and blood of our Lord knowing that he is risen and present among us. He is in us and we are in him.

Now, let us pick up the thread of wisdom and try to integrate that into our reflection on these readings and on our life in Christ.

In her book Wisdom Jesus, Cynthia Bourgeault writes, “What [Jesus]…has in mind is a complete, mutual indwelling: I am in God, God is in you, you are in God, we are in each other. His most beautiful symbol for this is in the teaching in John 15 where he says, ‘I am the vine; you are the branches.” Bourgeault, Wisdom Jesus, p. 31.)

Bourgeault says that Wisdom calls us to“[see] with the eye of the heart.” She continues, “We almost always think of the heart as the center of our personal emotional life. But this is not the way the wisdom tradition sees it. In wisdom, the heart is primarily an organ of spiritual perception, a highly spiritual instrument for keeping us aligned…with the realm of meaning, value, and conscience. The heart picks up reality in a much deeper and more integral way than our poor, Cartesian minds even begin to imagine.” (pp. 35-36.)

Bourgeault goes on to say that seeing with the eye of the heart operates …from harmony, as when we hear a G and automatically think of a B and a D, “that make it into a chord, that join it to a whole.” (p. 36.) She says that metanoia, the process of transformation to which Jesus is calling us, “literally means to ‘go beyond the mind’ or ‘into the larger mind.’ It means to move into that nondual knowingness of the heart which can see and live from the perspective of wholeness.” She says, “This is the central message of Jesus. This is what his Kingdom of Heaven is all about.” I would add that this is what Jesus meant when he said that we are all one as he and God are one.

We Christians are beginning to return to the wisdom way of knowing and living. The Rock Point Intentional Community celebrates a Celtic Eucharist each month and another Wisdom School will gather this fall.  I think that Grace Church is very much a wisdom community, having an awareness of the oneness of God and the creation and the oneness of God and all God’s people. I think that awareness is at the root of Grace’s deep love for God and all people, a love that people can feel when they come into this building or when they spend time with this community. Today, once again, we meet the risen Christ and take another step toward looking at the world through his eyes and his heart.  Amen.

Advent 2B RCL December 10, 2017

Isaiah 40:1-11
Psalm 85:1-2,8-13
2 Peter 3:8-15a
Mark 1:1-8

Our first reading for today comes from a point in history when the exiles were still in Babylon.They have been trying to go on with their lives, deepen their understanding of the scriptures, continue their prayer life as a community of faith. They have been in captivity for almost fifty years.

And now, they are receiving the news they have been hoping and praying to hear. At last, they will be going home. “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” It is difficult for us to grasp how they must have felt to hear those words.

As we listen to these words, we cannot help calling to mind the beautiful music of Handel’s Messiah. The people are going home! It seems almost impossible, but it is true. Yes, we humans are like grass, here today, gone tomorrow, bending with every breeze. But God’s word will stand forever.  “He will feed his flock like a shepherd;  he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.”

The power and gentleness of this passage touch our hearts so deeply. This is the love of our God. No, we are not living in exile in Babylon as God’s people did fifteen hundred years ago, but we are living in difficult times, times of division and hatred and violence that seem very far from God’s shalom. In this passage, we are reminded that God is eternal and faithful, and God will lead us into God’s kingdom of peace and harmony.

In our reading from the Second Letter of Peter, the theme of God’s eternal presence is sounded again.  In God’s sight, a thousand years are like one day. God is patient with us, and God is building God’s shalom and calling us to help in that work. Christ will come again to complete the work of creation. The letter calls us to remain faithful to our Lord and to be ready for his coming again.

Our gospel for today focuses on John the Baptist, who appears in the wilderness calling us to “Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.” John offered a baptism of repentance. He called people to sincerely ask God’s forgiveness for their sins and turn their lives around. He invites us to turn to God and ask God’s help in our process of transformation, in Greek, metanoia.

John definitely did not follow the current fashion. He had a coat of camel’s hair, lived very simply, and when he said something, you knew he meant it. He was a great prophet and religious leader, but he did not base his ministry in the city of Jerusalem where all the power was centered. His home base was the wilderness, where there is no sky glow. Out there, you can see God’s stars and planets very clearly and gain a divine perspective on things. It is also quiet out there—no distractions, no human power struggles, just you and God.

For all these reasons, John had a completely clear idea of who he was and what he was about. He knew he was the messenger foretold in the prophets who had gone before him. He knew he was called to let people know that they needed to prepare for the Savior.

Thousands of people were attracted to John. He was the equivalent of a rock star in his time. People followed him everywhere. They left the big city to go out into the wilderness and be with him, so powerful was his message. But it never went to his head. He knew exactly who he was. He said, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

John is a shining example of singleness of heart, the ability to focus on Jesus with every part of his being—spirit, heart, mind, intuition, everything. This Advent and every day, we can learn so much from John the Baptist.

Here we are, on the Second Sunday in Advent, in the year of our Lord 2017. What are these readings telling us?

Among many other things, our lesson from Isaiah tells us there is always hope. Just when we think it’s over, those little flickering fingers of a new dawn appear and the thing we had hoped and prayed for finally comes to be. And God will shepherd us every step of the way on the journey home, or closer to God, or wherever it is that God is calling us to be.

One thing our epistle tells us is that God is patient with us and with everything else, which is a great blessing because we can all can try God’s patience at times. And God is eternal. God takes the long view. But when the time finally arrives, God is going to build new heavens and a new earth. The creation will be made whole.

And our gospel? It tells us more than we can absorb. But we can say this. Here is this fellow, dressed as the great prophet Elijah was dressed, out in the wilderness attracting hordes of people. But there is no glitz, there are no lights or cameras. There is just this man, John, who absolutely tells the truth straight from God and who is here to lead us to the One we have waited for all our lives, the One who loves us so much that we are willing to follow him on the hard and joyful journey of transformation, the journey to his shalom.  Amen.

Ash Wednesday March 1, 2017

Isaiah 58:1-12
Psalm 103:8-14
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Lent is a time of penitence, that is, sorrow for our sins. It is a time for honest self-examination, a time to ask our Lord’s help in allowing him to transform us into the persons he calls us to be. The Greek word for this is metanoia.  We have seen him transfigured on the holy mountain, and we are deeply committed to growing into his likeness. The ashes that will soon form the sign of the cross on our foreheads have been made from the palms that we waved on Palm Sunday to welcome our King. We will go with him to the cross and we will move with him into newness of life.

In our first reading, Isaiah reminds us that if we truly love God, we will love our neighbor. We will be a people of justice; we will free our brothers and sisters from oppression. We will feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and provide shelter for the homeless.

In our epistle, Paul tells us that this is the time to be reconciled to God, that is to grow as close to God as we possibly can.

In our gospel, our Lord calls us not to make an outward show of our spiritual practice, but to do an honest evaluation of our spiritual state and to follow spiritual practices that will build up treasures in heaven, that is, practices that will bring us closer to God. Our Lord also reminds us that deep and true spirituality is the source of great joy.

How do we do an honest assessment of or spiritual condition? One way is the summary of the law, “Love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, and love our neighbor as ourself.” Our reading from Isaiah also speaks to this.

Another guideline would be the Ten Commandments. We will be reading these each Sunday during Lent.

Another set of guidelines for self-examination and transformation are the Seven Root Sins, also called the Seven Deadly Sins, counter- balanced by the Cardinal Virtues and the Theological Virtues. These insights have come from many sources, but I especially thank David Brown, beloved mentor and former rector at Christ Church, Montpelier, now retired in Connecticut, for his wisdom and guidance.

So here we go with the Seven Root Sins, or as David used to say, “Sins I have known and loved,” and don’t we all!

First comes pride, doing it our way instead of God’s way.

Wrath, (Ira), not normal healthy anger, but holding onto a grudge, nursing it until it becomes a voracious cancer that infects everything we think and say and do.

Envy—the inability to rejoice in the blessings bestowed on others.

Greed—wanting more than we have.

Gluttony—taking more than we need.

Lust—Using other people, exploiting others for our own needs.

Sloth (acedie)—Giving in to that “I don’t care” attitude. Despair. Giving up hope.

On the positive side, we have the Cardinal Virtues.

Prudence—Kenneth Kirk defines prudence as, “The habit of referring all questions to God.” Constant communication with God. Lord, what is your will in this situation? What would you call me to do or not do?

Justice—treating everyone equally. “Respecting the dignity of every human being.”

Temperance—Balance. Like steel that has been tempered in fire and ice. Flexibility. Again, a sense of humor.

Fortitude. The grace and ability to hang in there with faith and patience on the side of God’s shalom.

And the Theological Virtues—

Faith—Total trust in God.

Hope—The ability to look at a situation in all if its brokenness and see the potential and the path for growth and healing.

Love—Accepting God’s unconditional love for everyone, including ourselves, and extending that love to others.

Always remember that Lent comes from the root word meaning “spring,” a time of growth and renewal.

In addition to all of these resources, many of us are using “Living Life Marked as Christ’s Own.”

May this Lent be full of joy and growth and healing for all of us.

Special prayers for jan’s surgery tomorrow.


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.