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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion October 2, 2022 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion October 9, 2022 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion October 16, 2022 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…

Easter 3C May 1, 2022

Acts 9:1-6, 7-20
Psalm 30
Revelation 5:11-14
John 21:1-19

During the Easter season, all of our readings come from the New Testament, the Greek scriptures. Chronologically our gospel comes first. The disciples have gone to Galilee. Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James and John, the sons of Zebedee are at the Sea of Galilee, together with some others.

Peter decides to go fishing and the others go with him. They fish all night and catch nothing. At dawn, Jesus is on the bank. They do not recognize him. Jesus advises them to cast their net to the right of the boat. They follow his guidance, and the net is full to the breaking point, but it holds.

John tells Peter, “It is the Lord!” Peter throws on some clothes and swims to shore. The others follow with the huge catch. When they arrive, there is a charcoal fire with fish on it, and bread. They have breakfast, a kind of eucharistic meal.

When they have finished, Jesus asks Peter, “Simon, son of John. do you love me more than these?” And Peter answers, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” And Jesus says, “Feed my lambs.” Three times Jesus asks Peter this question, and Jesus tells him, “Feed my sheep. Tend my sheep.”  The number three signifies completeness. Peter betrayed Jesus three times. Jesus asks the question three times, “Do you love me?” And Peter answers three times, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” 

Complete betrayal by Peter. Complete forgiveness by our Lord. And Jesus commissions Peter to take care of the flock that God has given them.  Jesus predicts Peter’s martyrdom. And then he says, “Follow me.” And Peter does just that.

This is such a powerful and moving scene. Jesus forgives Peter for his betrayal and makes him the leader of the apostles.

A little over thirty years later, the events in our reading from the Book of Acts take place. Saul has witnessed the killing of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. He asks the high priest for authority to go to Damascus and find followers of Jesus so that he can arrest them, tie them up, and bring them to Jerusalem to put them in jail.

On the road to Damascus, he has an encounter that changes his life. A light from heaven flashes around him. He falls to the ground and hears a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

Saul asks, “Who are you Lord?” And the answer comes, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Go into the city and you will be told what to do.” The men who are with Saul are speechless. They heard the voice but they didn’t see anything. Saul gets up from the ground. His eyes are open, but he cannot see. So they lead him by the hand into Damascus. 

For three days Saul cannot see, and he eats and drinks nothing. There is a follower of Jesus in Damascus named Ananias. He has a vision in which our Lord calls him to go and find Saul in a certain place. But Ananias argues with Jesus, “Lord, you can’t call this man to serve you. He has done very bad things to your saints in Jerusalem.”And our Lord says to Ananias, “Yes I know, but this is the person I have chosen to take the good news to the Gentiles.” 

Ananias goes to the house where Saul is, lays his hands on him and says, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me to you so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Something like scales fall from Saul’s eyes. He gets up, is baptized, eats some food, begins to regain his strength, stays with them for a while, and begins to proclaim the good news.

Jesus takes a man who betrayed him three times and makes him the leader of the apostles. Jesus takes a man who watched with glee while Stephen was stoned to death and makes him the apostle to the Gentiles. 

Peter made a mistake. Three big mistakes. Yet, after Jesus was crucified, he was there with the others. He went into the tomb and found it empty. He stayed with the others and they went back to Galilee. There, he expressed his love for Jesus and Jesus forgave him.

Saul was out to arrest followers of Jesus and put them in prison. He witnessed the martyrdom of Stephen. He saw Jesus and his followers as a threat to his faith. And then he met the risen Lord on the road to Damascus. In spite of all that had happened, Jesus knew that Saul was the one to spread the good news to people who were totally unlike Saul, who was a Pharisee, an expert on the law. Saul became a new person, Paul. He realized that, for him, the law was bondage, and Christ had set him free to live life in a new and deeper and more joyful way. Christ transformed Saul, and Saul got a new name: Paul. Paul would later write, “It is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20.)

Easter is a season of newness of life. It’s a season when we realize that God can turn death into life. God can free us from any kind of bondage. God can make old things new. God takes a persecutor of the church and makes him into a gifted theologian and evangelist. Jesus takes someone who has betrayed him in a time of terror, and, knowing that Peter truly loves him and can be a great leader, forgives Peter and places his trust in Peter.

None of us is perfect. We have all made mistakes. The stories of Peter and Paul make very clear that God can see beyond our errors and flaws. God sees our gifts and our strengths. Jesus calls us each by name. The Spirit gives us the strength and power to answer Yes to that call to love and serve God and to love and serve others in God’s Name. Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia! Amen. 

Epiphany 2B January 17, 2021

1 Samuel 3:1-20
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
John 1:43-51

Our opening reading this morning comes from the First Book of Samuel. Samuel is a faithful young man who has been serving God and learning from the priest Eli. The text gives us a very important sense of what was going on in those times. “The word of the Lord was rare in those days, and visions were not widespread.”

Eli is getting older. His eyesight has failed, and he cannot see. Eli is resting in his room, and Samuel is lying down in the temple of the Lord. Walter Brueggemann writes, “Eli is portrayed as a feeble old man, emblem of a failed priestly order that has exhausted its its authority and its credibility. Samuel is situated in this narrative as an apprentice to Eli. But he learns quickly and is shown to be more discerning and more responsive to God than is the family of Eli. Samuel is indeed the wave of God’s future.” (Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching Year B, p. 106.)

God calls to Samuel three times. Each time, Samuel runs to Eli for instruction and guidance. On the third occasion, Eli realizes that it is God calling this gifted young man, and he instructs Samuel on how to respond. Eli’s sons have done terrible things things that no priest should even consider, things which no person who is supposedly following God should do. They are corrupt and unfit to serve.

God calls Samuel a fourth time, and Samuel responds. What God says puts Samuel in an excruciatingly painful position. God is going to remove Eli’s family from their priestly duties and Samuel is going to replace them. Samuel has always shared everything with Eli. Now, what is he going to do? He loves and respects Eli, and Eli has been his teacher and guide.

The dreaded thing happens. Eli calls to Samuel. Herbert O’Driscoll describes this with unforgettable insight and power: Again, in Eli’s encounter with Samuel in the morning, we see the quality of this great human being. We know from elsewhere in scripture, as well as in this passage, that Eli has fallen on sad times. He has allowed himself to become obese. His sons have shamed and discredited him, and his name, and his high office. He must feel a terrible sense of personal failure. The last thing Samuel wants to do is to report to Eli the terrible things he now knows. But Eli insists, and at last when he hears what the Lord has said to Samuel, we again see the old man’s  greatness. There is not a hint of resentment, not a whisper of self-pity or self-justification.

O’Driscoll concludes, “I see a human being who even in his decline shows what once made him great, an elderly person who is open to the action of God in the present moment, who is totally devoid of jealousy and rancor, and who courageously accepts the consequences without flinching, Such an example must have helped to form the future greatness of Samuel.”  (O’Driscoll, The Word Today Year B Vol. 1, pp. 69-70.)

God is going to replace corrupt leaders, Eli’s sons, with the gifted and faithful leadership of Samuel. With deep faith and grace, Eli accepts the healing action of God which replaces brokenness with wholeness and makes it possible for God’s work to continue.

Our psalm for today beautifully and powerfully reminds us that God is our Creator and that God knows us intimately. God has a loving, healing, and creative purpose for us and for the world. God is at work building God’s shalom of peace harmony, and wholeness.

In today’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Church in Corinth, we are reminded that everything we do has an effect. The early Church was grappling with the Jewish dietary laws. People were coming into the new faith community from all kinds of backgrounds. Many of the Jewish converts felt it was necessary to continue to follow the dietary laws and wanted everyone else to do so. On the other end of the spectrum, some people had been worshippers of Zeus or Apollo and they felt they could eat anything. Paul constantly emphasized that, if we are following Christ, everything we do should be in accordance with our Lord’s teachings. If folks ate food that was sacrificed to idols, that might make their weaker brothers and sisters do something that would hurt their conscience, something they would later regret. Paul also emphasized that sexual activity is not to be taken lightly, that it is an act of deep intimacy that is best done only in the context of marriage, or a deep spiritual commitment if marriage is not possible.

In our gospel for today, Jesus calls Philip to follow him. Philip has read the scriptures and he knows very well that the Messiah is supposed to come from Bethlehem, so he asks that snarky question, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” And Philip says those wonderful words, “Come and see.” What an invitation! 

Then Jesus sees Nathanael, and calls him “an Israelite in whom there is no guile.” With Nathanael, what you see is what you get. He is honest, forthright, says it like it is. Nathanael asks Jesus how he got to know him, and Jesus says he saw Nathanael under the fig tree before Philip even called him. With Nathanael, as with so many people he met, Jesus clearly sees who a person truly is. He knows who we really are— no deceptions, just the truth. Nathanael acknowledges Jesus as the king of his life. And Jesus says something that makes us think of Jacob wrestling with the angel who is God and discovering his true identity. Jesus says,  “You will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” Someone has said that as we follow Jesus, we have one foot on earth and one foot in heaven. Jesus creates a thin place, where heaven and earth are very close. He connects us with all that is heavenly, all that is divine, because he is God walking the face of the earth.

We are living in a time of great stress. The stakes are high. We have decided to follow Jesus, as the old hymn says. This means that we are called to live by high ethical standards. We tell the truth, we see others as made in the image of God and we respect their dignity; we try to love others as God loves us, to treat others as we would like to be treated. 

Eli’s sons would normally have succeeded him. Because the sons of Eli were not following the law and were not morally capable of carrying out their duties, God called Samuel, a young man of impeccable moral character, deep faith, and courage to do God’s will in challenging and even dangerous circumstances. In this situation, three thousand years ago, God provided a just, ethical, and courageous leader for God’s people.

We are trying to follow Jesus and live the Way of Love. May our leaders on all levels, local, state, and national, follow the example of Samuel, and lead with ethical integrity, compassion, and justice for all. May we all continue to seek and do God’s will. Amen.

Epiphany 2 Year B RCL January 14, 2018

1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20)
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
John 1:43-51

In our first reading today, the young man Samuel is receiving instruction from Eli, the priest at the temple in Shiloh. God calls Samuel, but Samuel does not yet know the Lord and thinks it is his teacher, Eli, calling him. Three times Samuel goes to Eli, and finally Eli realizes what is happening. He tells Samuel that it is God calling and tells Samuel how to respond.

Then a tragic story unfolds. Eli’s sons have engaged in all kinds of unethical behavior. Eli has tried to correct their behavior, but to no avail. God is going to remove Eli and his sons from functioning as the priests at Shiloh. Unfortunately, Samuel is the one God has chosen to tell Eli about this.

Morning comes. Samuel opens the doors of the temple. Eli calls to him and insists that Samuel tell him what God has said. Samuel tells the truth, and Eli accepts God’s judgment. Eli has been a faithful teacher to Samuel and has helped Samuel discern his call. But Samuel’s first task is to share this terrible news.

Our reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians begins with some quotes from some of the other teachers who have spent time with the community. One has said, “All things are lawful.” Another has said that “Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food.” Some of these teachers have convinced some of the people that they can do anything they want to do, that they no longer have to follow the Jewish law. Others are saying that the material world and the spiritual world are separate. Neither of these things is true. As Christians, we give all of ourselves to God.

Promiscuous behavior was prevalent in the first century Roman Empire. Paul says this is not acceptable. As Christians, we commit our whole selves to our Lord. Christ came to fulfill the law, and, for us, that means that we are called to obey not only the letter but the spirit of the law.

In our Gospel, Jesus is calling his disciples. He finds Philip and says those words which change lives, “Follow me.” Philip finds Nathanael and tells him that he has found the Messiah. But Nathanael is dubious. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” he asks. The prophets said the Messiah was to come from Bethlehem.

Then Jesus sees Nathanael and says, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” Scholars tell us that this is a reference to Jacob, who was full of scheming and deceit before he underwent a transformation and became Israel. Jesus is able to look into the heart of a person. He knows that Nathanael is straightforward and tells the truth. Nathanael wonders how Jesus could get to know him so quickly. In their brief dialogue, Nathanael realizes that Jesus is indeed the Messiah.

Jesus tells his followers that they will see great things. They “will see the heavens opened and angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” That is a reference to Jacob’s experience of seeing the angels ascending and descending on the ladder between earth and heaven, an experience that opened Jacob’s mind to the presence of God.

Nathanael is also known as Bartholomew. When Philip first asked him to meet Jesus, he was full of questions, perhaps even scorn. But, when he actually talked with Jesus and intuitively sensed that Jesus had the ability to look into his heart and to love him, he wanted to follow our Lord.

All of these readings are about being called by God and responding in faith. We have not held services for the past two Sundays because of the record-breaking cold weather and snowfall. During this time, one of our beloved members has had a close call. Thanks be to God, Bryan, and many skilled medical folks, she is with us.

Our readings today speak to us in many ways.  We are all called by God to love and serve others. We all try to carry out our ministries faithfully with God’s help. But events like this remind all of us that each moment is precious, each person is precious, and we are all vulnerable. We are not invincible.

Our psalm today speaks to this awareness. God has made us. God knows us. There is no place we can go where God is not, God is everywhere. At every point in our lives, God has been there, loving us and sustaining us. Sometimes, God has carried us.

We are vulnerable. yes. But God is faithful and loving to us. I would suggest that we read this psalm, 139, this week and meditate on it. The love of God is present in every word of this psalm.

God is holding you in the palm of God’s hand.  Amen.