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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 5C May 15, 2022

Acts 11:1-18
Psalm 148
Revelation 21:1-6
John 13:31-35

In our gospel for today, Jesus has gathered with his disciples for the last supper. He has washed their feet. He has told them that they and we are called to be servants. He has said that he will be going to be with God, and that one of them will betray him. At this point in the narrative, Judas has left, and Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

Biblical scholar Charles B. Cousar writes, “A new and unparalleled model for love has been given the disciples….In Jesus the disciples have a concrete, living expression of what love is. Love can no longer be trivialized or reduced to an emotion or debated over as if it were a philosophical virtue under scrutiny. Jesus now becomes the distinctive definition of love.”

Cousar says that this “new commandment” of Jesus also means that eternal life is not something to be realized in the future. It begins now. He writes, “At the center of the new era is the community established by Jesus, the intimate though at times unfaithful family, whom he affectionately addresses as ‘little children.’ What holds the family together and makes it stand above all the rest is the love members have for one another—dramatic, persistent love like the love Jesus has for them.” (Cousar, Texts for preaching, p. 311.

A short time after Jesus has given this new commandment and sealed it with his death, resurrection, and the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we catch up with Peter. He has been called to meet with some believers in Jerusalem because they are upset that he is ministering to Gentiles.

And Peter tells his amazing story. He was in Joppa. He went up on the roof to pray, and he had a vision of all kinds of food, clean and unclean, being lowered from heaven as on a sheet. Then the voice of God said, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” Peter objected strenuously. “Lord, I have always followed the dietary laws. I would never eat anything that was unclean!” The voice of God came a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” 

God has just thrown the dietary laws out the window. This happens three times. We recall that the number three signifies completeness. The dietary laws are now gone. Peter has lived his life by these laws, and now they are erased.

But the Holy Spirit is not finished. Peter has no time to think this over. Three men from Caesarea arrive. The Spirit tells Peter to go with them without question and to make no distinction between himself and them. Walls are tumbling down all over the place. Six brothers are with him, and they accompany him to Caesarea. 

When they reach Caesarea, they go into the home of a man named Cornelius. He is a centurion in the Roman army, a devout man who loves God and gives generously to the people. An angel has told Cornelius to call Peter to come to see him.

As Peter begins to speak, the Holy Spirit falls on everyone gathered in Cornelius’ house, and Peter remembers how Jesus said, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Peter concludes that the Holy Spirit can be given to everyone. He says, “If then God  gave the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” When the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem hear this, they are silenced.

Jesus’ commandment to love one another as he loves us has created a new community, and in the Book of Acts we see that community growing by leaps and bounds. Walls come down, barriers are broken, lives are transformed. Love is spreading faster than they can keep up with it. The Holy Spirit is at work.

Two thousand years later, we are that community. Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, is leading us in living and walking the Way of Love. He says “If it’s about love, it’s about God. If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.”

To return to the story of Peter, once the Gentiles in Cornelius’ home have received the holy Spirit, Peter asks, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he orders the people to be baptized. Then he and the brothers with him stay at the home of Cornelius for several days. They will be spending time together sharing their faith and building a larger and stronger community of believers.

We are called to help God to create God’s Beloved Community, a community where all people are accepted as precious and equal. When Peter was having his vision of God up on the roof, walls came down and divisions between people were erased. When the people in Cornelius’ home received the Holy Spirit, Peter realized that they should be baptized. As Paul said so many years ago. “In Christ, there is no slave nor free, no Jew nor Greek, no male nor female. We are all one in Christ Jesus.” 

Lord Jesus, our Good Shepherd, help us to love each other and all others as you have loved us. In your holy Name. Amen. Alleluia!

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. 

Easter 6B and Rogation Sunday May 9, 2021

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

Today is the Sixth Sunday of Easter, and it is also Rogation Sunday. On Rogation Sunday, we pray God’s blessing on those who work in agriculture and industry.

Our opening reading from the Book of Acts comes at the end of a chain of events that almost boggle the mind. In Chapter 9, Paul has his encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, and he is transformed. Jesus asks him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” and Saul feels the love of Jesus in a way that changes him forever.

Peter undergoes a similar transformation which results in today’s events. Several days before the events in today’s reading, a man named Cornelius has been praying. Cornelius is a centurion in the Roman army. A centurion commanded one hundred soldiers.

In addition to being a respected commander, Cornelius is a wonderful person. He is not a Jew, but he gives generously to the synagogue in town and also gives generously to the poor. He is well known as someone who cares about others and helps them.

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

Meanwhile, miles away in Joppa, Peter is up on the roof praying and falls into a trance. He has a vision of all kinds of unlawful foods coming down on a sheet and God telling him to eat these things. Peter tells God that he has never in his life eaten anything unclean, and God answers, “What God has made clean, you shall not call  profane.” God has just wiped out the dietary laws which Peter has followed all his life.

While Peter is trying to grasp this revolutionary thought sent from God, the messengers from Cornelius arrive. The Spirit tells Peter to welcome them and to go with them. So Peter welcomes the men in for the night and the next day they leave for Caesarea. Some of the followers of Jesus from Joppa go with Peter and  Cornelius’ messengers. 

Meanwhile, Cornelius has gathered his household and many guests to hear what Peter has to say. When Peter, the messengers, and Peter’s friends reach the home of Cornelius, Cornelius falls on 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 large group of people in Cornelius’ house. He tells them, “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 Cornelius why he has summoned him. And Cornelius tells Peter that an angel instructed him to send for Peter and to listen to what Peter had to say.

Then Peter preaches his sermon which is the opening reading for Easter Sunday. It 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 he tells these people the story of Jesus life, death, and resurrection, and how all people receive forgiveness of sins through Jesus’ name.

This is where today’s reading begins. While Peter is still speaking, the Holy Spirit falls on everyone in the crowd. Everyone begins praising God. And then Peter baptizes them, realizing that the gifts of the Spirit are available to everyone. God loves all people, and all are welcome to follow Jesus.

Peter was one of our Lord’s apostles, and now he is simply practicing what Jesus told his closest followers: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love…..This is my commandment, that you love one another.” Jesus also says to his apostles and to us, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” And he tells us that we are his friends, not servants but friends, and he has chosen us to bear much fruit, the fruit of the Spirit—love joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

As we contemplate these readings today, stirring passages that show us the power of God’s love to change people and situations, we can remember that in the early Church, some folks felt that all members of the Church should follow the dietary laws. As a result of his experience with God dissolving the boundaries, Peter was able to tell the assembly that the new faith was open to all people.

Governor Scott has told us that we are in the final laps of this race against Covid. Vermont is number one in the nation in vaccinations. We also rate highly in testing and contact tracing. Things are  beginning to open up. And, once again, I haven’t said it every Sunday, but I think we all have thought it: thank God for Governor Scott, Dr. Levine, and Dr. Kelso, and all our leaders for sticking with the science.

As you know, our country has been deeply divided for several years now. Tragically, we are even divided over whether to get vaccinated or not. Experts are saying that because of people’s hesitation and/or opposition to getting the vaccine, we may not reach herd immunity. 

Saul began as a persecutor of the Church and was so profoundly transformed that he got a new name—St. Paul, a Pharisee who became the apostle to the Gentiles. Peter thought it was absolutely necessary to follow the law, and God spoke to him and told him no food and no person was unclean. God’s love has the power to change lives. What would we have done without Saints Peter and Paul leading us to realize that God’s love breaks all barriers and makes us into the big family which is God’s vision for all of us? Let us pray that God’s healing love will touch the hearts of enough of us so that we can vaccinate enough people to protect all of God’s beloved children. May God surround us all with love and fill us with grace so that we can run these final laps. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

First Sunday after Christmas December 27, 2020

Isaiah 61:10-62:3
Psalm 147
Galatians 3:23-25, 4:4-7
John 1:1-18

“Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your  incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus  Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.” This is our powerful collect for today, the First Sunday after Christmas.

And then, our reading from John’s gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” We can picture in our minds the creation of the world. Christ ,the eternal Word, was there with God, and as God brought forth God’s vision of the creation, Christ, the Word, called the creation into being. Christ, the Word, the Logos, the plan for creation, the model for human life.

And then, in the next phrases of this amazing and inspiring gospel, the light is coming into the world. John the Baptist is testifying to the light. And then the true light, which enlightens everyone, is coming into the world. Jesus, the light of the world, brings light and hope to everyone in the world. We can envision a world of darkness lighting up with the light and love of Christ, We can understand that the light of Christ, the love and hope of Christ, can turn our lives from darkness and despair to light and hope. We can almost picture the whole dark world illuminated by the light of Christ, the dawn of a new day a new year, a new life for everyone.

But then,  our gospel says, “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him,” That led ultimately to the Cross. And yet, even out of that, he brought new life.  But to all who were open to him and welcomed him into their lives, “he gave power to become children of God.” When we open our lives to his love, he brings us as close to God as children are to their own loving parents.

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us…full of grace and truth.” God loves us so much that God came among us as one of us, born as a little baby, just as we were born.

He did not come as a conquering warrior, though he could have. He did not come among us as an earthly king, though he could have done that too. He came into human life just as we do,  He was born in a little place called Bethlehem, in a cave used as a stable. He was born before Mary and Joseph were married, so some tongues wagged, and some folks considered him to be an illegitimate child. And then, King Herod, who  had heard from the wise men about the new king, killed all the baby boys to stamp out that  threat. Joseph, a very protective and courageous foster father, and Mary, as protective and courageous as her husband, had to take Jesus into Egypt. This meant that they were refugees, migrants. seeking asylum. Jesus knows what it is to be human and he also knows what it is to be persecuted, marginalized, and demeaned. 

When things became safer, the holy family moved back to Nazareth, where Joseph was a carpenter. Jesus grew up learning the carpenter’s trade and studied the scriptures and eventually began his earthly ministry by being baptized by his cousin John in the Jordan River.

After that, he spent somewhere between one and three years, depending on whose account we read, going from place to place telling people how much God loves us and how much God wants us to love each other. In a patriarchal culture, he had high respect for women; in a culture that saw children and women as chattel, possessions, he instructed his disciples to let the children come to him so that he could hold them in his arms. He made it crystal clear that God’s love knows no barriers. This was a threat to people who wanted to preserve their power, and he ended up dying on that horrible instrument of torture called the cross. 

And then, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and found that it was empty. He was not there. She saw a man and thought he was the gardener, but he called her name, and she knew that it was Jesus. He had risen. She ran to tell the others. And then people began seeing him. He appeared to two of them on the road to Emmaus, but they didn’t even recognize him until they invited him in for supper and he interpreted the scriptures in a way that set their hearts on fire. Peter and the disciples were out fishing and, when they came ashore there he was, cooking fish and bread over a fire. He appeared to the disciples in the locked upper room and said, “Peace be with you.” And he called us to build his peace, his shalom, over the whole earth. And that’s what we are trying to do, with his grace. 

He is alive, He is in our midst, and he is calling us to walk the Way of Love. Let us follow him, our Emmanuel, God with us. Amen.

Pent 13 Proper 17A RCL August 30, 2020

Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26. 45c
Exodus 3:1-15
Romans 12:9-21
Matthew 16:21-28

Last week, we read the inspiring story of the birth of Moses. The new Pharaoh was a cruel tyrant, but Moses’ parents, his sister, the midwives, and the princess all showed profound courage, and Moses’ life was saved. When he grew older, he was adopted by the princess and went to the palace to live.

Much has happened between last Sunday’s reading and our lesson for today. To summarize, the young man Moses leaves the palace and sees the sufferings of the Hebrew people. Though he is a prince, he still identifies with his own people. He sees an Egyptian trying to kill a Hebrew man, and he kills the Egyptian and buries him in the sand. His sense of justice calls him to defend his fellow Israelite.

A short time later, he goes out again, but this time he sees two Hebrew men fighting each other. He confronts the man who is at fault and tells them not to fight. He is trying to teach his people to work together, not against each other. But the man who is at fault confronts Moses and asks him whether Moses is going to kill him the way he killed the Egyptian. Soon, Moses realizes the king is looking for him. He escapes and goes to Midian.

He stops by a well and meets the seven daughters of Reuel, the priest of Midian. Some shepherds harass the young women. Moses defends Reuel’s daughters and waters their flock. Once again, he is defending and protecting those who are vulnerable. Moses fights for justice everywhere he goes. The young women see him as an Egyptian, but he sees himself as an Israelite.

The young women arrive home early and their father asks them how they watered the flock so quickly. They tell him about the Egyptian young man who protected them from the shepherds and watered the flock in record time. Reuel realizes that this is an extraordinary young man and welcomes Moses to visit the family. Eventually, Moses marries Reuel’s daughter Zippporah and becomes a shepherd.

These events have a deep connection with Grace Church because Keith’s ancestor, Reuel Keith, founder of Virginia Theological Seminary, was named after Reuel, the priest of Midian, who welcomed Moses into his family and thus became a mentor and protector to the man who would lead God’s people out of slavery in Egypt.

This brings us to today’s reading. God has heard the cries of God’s captive people in Egypt. Moses is faithfully going about his daily work as a shepherd. He is alert.  He pays attention to the world around him. And he notices a most unusual thing— a bush that is on fire but is not consumed. He goes to investigate. And God calls to him. Moses realizes he is on holy ground. He is in the presence of God, and God is calling him to lead God’s people out of slavery.

Like so many people called by God over the ages, Moses does not feel up to the task.  And God tells Moses something very important.  God assures Moses that God will be with Moses every step of the way. God does not call us to do difficult things and them leave us alone. God walks with us, God leads us and guides us.

God helps Moses understand who God is—“I am who I am.” And the wonderful thing about Hebrew verbs is that they are all tenses at once—I am who I am; I was who I was; I will be who I will be. God is dynamic and eternal. God will guide Moses as he leads the people out of slavery into freedom. God has chosen a leader who sees the suffering of God’s people, defends his own people, protects those who are vulnerable, and tries to bring justice in every situation. As we know from reading the Scriptures, leading God’s people to the promised land was not easy, but God was with Moses on the journey.

In our gospel, Peter cannot bear to think of Jesus suffering. In his effort to banish this thought, he gets in the way of our Lord’s accepting his own cross, and Jesus admonishes him and tells him to get out of the way. He even calls him Satan because he is so upset that Peter, in showing compassion for our Lord’s suffering, is actually deflecting our Lord from his vocation. Each of us has our own cross to bear. Each of us will suffer in one way or another as we try to follow our Lord and be faithful. We may have rifts with family members. We may lose friends. We may not achieve success in the world’s terms. But in the end these crosses also lead us into life in a new dimension.

Our epistle for today is addressed to a community which is suffering persecution. “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor….Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer….Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly…Live peaceably with all….If your enemies are hungry, feed them.” This is the vision of God’s shalom which Jesus expresses in the beatitudes and which his mother, Mary, sings about in the Magnificat.

What are these readings saying to us in this time of Covid 19? Moses was the person God chose to lead God’s people out of slavery. He did not feel that he was up to the job. When God calls us, most of us do not feel adequate to the task. We are part of a long line of people, a “great cloud of witnesses,” who say Yes in spite of all our misgivings and, with the grace of God, do our ministries to the best of our ability, depending solely on the grace of God.

Jesus came to show us what a life centered in God’s love looks like. Paul, born a Pharisee, a persecutor of the Church, met our Lord on the road to Damascus and was blinded for three days by the light of that love. In our epistle for today Paul offers us a poetic blueprint of living the life in Christ and being ministers of reconciliation.

Jesus has called us to live the Way of Love, and I’m pretty sure that not one of us feels that we are up to the task. But we are in very good company. Moses, Jeremiah, Isaiah. and so many heroes and heroines of the faith felt inadequate, too. Nowadays, sharing God’s love with others involves being careful not to spread Covid 19. It has been difficult to do all the things the medical experts are telling us to do. but here in Vermont we have the lowest statistics in the country, and, as our Presiding Bishop reminds us, keeping people safe and saving lives is our first priority. 

This means that we will not be able to hug each other, or share Communion, or sing together, or have a coffee hour with actual food—for a while. We don’t know for how long. In the meanwhile, “Let love be genuine, love one another with mutual affection, rejoice in hope.” Live the Way of Love. Amen.

Pentecost 12 Proper 16A August 23, 2020

Exodus 1:8-2:10
Psalm 124
Romans 12:1-8
Matthew 16:13-20

In our opening reading today, we hear one of the most important stories in the Bible. We recall that in last Sunday’s reading, the Pharaoh had recognized Joseph’s gifts of administration, and  God’s people were invited to come to Egypt, where there was plenty of food stored up to help everyone survive the time of famine.

Our reading begins with an important sentence. “Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. This king rules on the basis of fear. He sees that the Israelites are more numerous than the Egyptians, and he thinks the Israelites will join his enemies and overthrow him and escape from Egypt. So he forces the Israelites into slavery, and imposes increasingly ruthless burdens upon them.

The king then tells the midwives to be sure that all the Israelite baby boys will die. But the midwives believe in God, and they do not follow the king’s instructions. The king then orders that all the Hebrew baby boys must be killed. Things become worse and worse.

In the midst of this turmoil and suffering, a Levite man marries a woman from the house of Levi. She gives birth to a son. She hides him for three months. Then she knows she has to do something. She gets a papyrus basket and puts tar and pitch on it to make it into a little boat. She puts the beautiful little baby into the little boat and hides it in the reeds beside the great Nile river. The baby’s older sister, Miriam, keeps watch from a distance.

The daughter of Pharaoh comes to the river to bathe. She finds the baby, has pity on him, and concludes that he must be one of the Hebrews’ children. Just as this moment, Miriam comes up and offers to find a nurse for the baby. The king’s daughter accepts the offer.  She knows that her father has ordered the Hebrew baby boys to be killed, yet she saves this little one. The baby Moses will grow up in his own home and will have his very own mother as his nurse. When he grows older, his mother will take him to the king’s daughter, and she will adopt him. God rescues this baby from slavery and death and arranges for him to grow up in the royal palace. This is Moses, who will free his people from slavery. Biblical scholar James Newsome writes of this passage, “The oppressive hand of Pharaoh may be strong, but the redemptive hand of God is stronger still.” (Newsome, Texts for Preaching Year A, p, 454.)

In our epistle for today, St. Paul calls us to offer everything that we have and everything that we are to God. He calls us to allow ourselves to be transformed by the grace of God into the people God calls us to be. Paul encourages us to be humble, and he calls us to think clearly and carefully about things, and to use the faith that God has given us. And then he reminds us that we are members of the Body of Christ. We have different gifts, and we are called to use those gifts for the building up of the Body of Christ, because we are all one in Him.

In our gospel, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that the Son of Man is?” And they give a report on what people are saying. Some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, others Jeremiah, others say one of the prophets. And Jesus asks, “”But who do you say that I am?” Without hesitation, Peter says, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus praises Peter’s faith, and he says that Peter is the rock on which he will build his church. Like us, Peter is not perfect. He jumps into the water, walks a few feet on the water and then begins to sink. He blurts out thoughts of building three booths and preserving the moment of transfiguration when he is with Jesus, James, and John on the mountain. He denies our Lord three times. But in this moment, when our Lord is asking him this crucial question, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answers, with all his heart and soul and mind and strength, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” 

In these days of Covid 19 and so much turmoil, our readings call us to that depth of faith. Moses’ courageous, resourceful, and faithful mother put her beautiful baby in a little boat that she made herself, and, with unceasing prayer, hoped that God would protect this little one. Miriam stood by the river on constant watch to be sure her little brother was all right. And then, miracle of miracles, the Pharaoh’s daughter came down to bathe, and this little baby came under her protection. The liberator of God’s people grew up in his own home with his mother, father, and sister, and then, when he was older, was adopted and lived at the palace.

This is how God works through people who have deep, abiding faith.

Moses’ mother and sister, Peter, and so many others who have followed in their footsteps have been holy examples to us because of their deep, powerful faith.

This week, at this time in our journey with and through Covid 19, let us meditate on Moses’ mother and father and sister and on their faith. Let us meditate on the midwives, who courageously followed God instead of the corrupt king. Let us meditate upon the Pharaoh’s daughter, who knew she was going against her father’s wishes in protecting this little baby. And let us meditate on Peter, who is such a wonderful example because we can identify with him. He is so human. He has faults, just as we do. And he has faith. He knows who Jesus is. He stumbles a few times, but in the end his faith is as solid as a rock. Let us pray that we may have that strong faith.

These are not easy times. This is a time for faith, and thanks be to God, the Creator,  who has given us the gift of faith, and the gift of hope, and the gift of love. Thanks be to Jesus, the Redeemer, who has made us members of his Body, the Church, here to share his love with all people. And thanks be to God, the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier, who is always at work in us and in the world, bringing in God’s shalom of peace harmony, and wholeness. Amen.

May we say the Prayer for the Power of the Spirit.

Pentecost 10 Proper 14 August 9, 2020

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

Our first reading today is one of the most famous in the Bible and in Christian education classes—the story of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph was his father’s favorite, and Jacob made his beloved son a coat with long sleeves, what we have come to call Joseph’s “coat of many colors”, or Joseph’s “Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

Joseph did have dreams, which he shared with his brothers, and this did not help the situation, One dream that particularly got their goat was that they were in the field binding sheaves when Joseph’s sheaf 

rose above his brothers’ sheaves, and the sheaves of his brothers worshipped his sheaf.

In our reading, Israel sends Joseph out to find his brothers. When Joseph finally finds them after some investigation, his brothers conspire to kill him. Reuben arrives just in time to stop them from actually killing Joseph and they decide to throw him into a pit. When Joseph arrives, they strip him of his clothes and throw him into the pit. It is dry, so at least he will not drown.

Then some traders come by, and Judah convinces his brothers to sell Joseph to the Ishmaelite traders for twenty pieces of silver. As Christians, we can’t help but think of the thirty pieces of silver which Judas received for betraying Jesus. The Ishmaelite traders take Joseph to Egypt. 

The Bible is a library of books written over centuries of time, and between its pages we can find all kinds of stories about things we humans can think and do. Together with the birth of Jacob and Esau, with Jacob hanging on to Esau’s heel, this story is one of the classic examples of sibling rivalry. What does it take for brothers to decide to kill their own sibling? Will Joseph seek revenge? Will he forgive his brothers? Joseph has an amazing, God-given gift for interpreting dreams, and we will see what happens.

In our gospel for today, Jesus has just fed over five thousand people. He tells the disciples to go across the Sea of Galilee while he dismisses the crowd. After the crowd leaves, Jesus goes to the mountain to pray. This is something that he did often. He took time apart to be with God. This is his wonderful example to us—to take time away in quiet to ask God for guidance. By the time he comes back to the shore of the lake, night is falling.

The disciples are out in the boat, but the wind has come up and the boat is far from the land. Large waves are battering the boat. The wind has blown them far out on the lake. With the howling of the wind and the size of the waves, they are afraid.

Jesus comes walking toward them on the water— right through the waves, the wind, and the chaos. They see him, but they do not recognize him. They are terrified. They cry out, “It is a ghost!” They are gripped in icy fear.

But then, Jesus speaks to them, and let us remember these words when we are sailing stormy seas with high waves and winds that threaten to swamp us: “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” 

Peter immediately responds to the presence of his Lord. “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” And Jesus says, “Come.” So Peter starts walking toward him. But when he notices exactly how strong the wind is, fear rises in his heart  and he begins to sink. He calls out to Jesus, “Lord. save me!” And Jesus reaches out his hand to Peter and saves him. They get into the boat; the wind stops, and Peter says, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

How many times have we been afraid, stricken with pure terror, and we ask our Lord for help, and he stretches out his hand and saves us? We all know that fear can paralyze us. Our Lord can calm any storm. Our Lord can save us from the storms of life. He is reaching out his hand to us right now to steady us, lift us from the chaos of fear, and bring us to a safe place.

In our epistle for today, Paul says many wonderful things. He says, “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart.” Jesus, the eternal Word who brought  the worlds into being, is near us. We can reach out our hands and touch him.

And the other thing that I think is very important for us to remember is that Paul writes here and in other letters, “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek.” In his Letter to the Galatians,  he writes, “There is no longer Jew or Greek. there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28.)

Two thousand years ago, Saint Paul was telling us that there are no distinctions between human beings. God loves us all, infinitely and equally. Any distinctions of race, gender, class, social status and all the other things we humans have used to divide us are created by human beings, not by God. We’re all in the same boat. We’re all in this together.

Here we are, sailing in the high winds and choppy seas of Covid-19, and our Lord is saying, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” As we look out on the rest of our country and see that the rates of illness and death are rising in places where there have been large parties and other gatherings where folks were close together and not wearing masks, we might imagine to ourselves that our Lord might be telling us, “Do not be afraid, but do not be cocky. This is a powerful virus.Take care of yourselves, and take care of each other. I love you.”

When Jesus reaches out his hand to take us into the boat and bring us to safety, his hand is not only a hand of rescue, but it is a hand of guidance. He gave us minds so that we could do research and determine exactly what we are facing, and then take the actions we need to in order to stay safe and keep our brothers and sisters safe from illness and death. The Way of Love is to help everyone stay safe and stay healthy. May we continue to walk in the Way of Love. Amen.

Easter 5C May 19, 2019

Acts 11:1-18
Psalm 148
Revelation 21:1-6
John 13:31-35

In our opening reading from the Book of Acts, which I like to call the newspaper of the Jesus Movement, Peter is meeting with the members of the new community of faith in Jerusalem. Those who are convinced that followers of Jesus must follow every letter of the law are upset that Peter is associating with Gentiles. 

This is a pivotal moment in the history of the new community of faith. Are they going to decide that they must stick to their honored traditions and admit only those who follow the law, or are they going to open up the doors to everyone? Are they going to be exclusive or inclusive?

Those who are questioning why Peter would associate with Gentiles are sincere and good people. Peter himself used to feel as they do, that this new faith is only for his own people. But the question for us in every age is: What is God calling us to do?

Peter shares the experience he had up on the roof when he was praying. God showed Peter that people can eat any foods they wish. The dietary laws have been transcended. And there is something else: God has called Peter to go and share the good news with Gentiles. He has just gone to the home of Cornelius the Centurion, and the Holy Spirit has fallen on the people gathered there. Peter and his team have baptized these people because God has given them the gifts of the Spirit.

God is doing a new thing. God is pouring out the Holy Spirit on all people. In this reading, God is showing the early disciples and us that God has a big family. It includes everyone. If those followers of Jesus had not listened to Peter and heard God’s message, we would not be here today. Thank God that Peter and the people gathered in Jerusalem over two thousand years ago listened for God’s voice. May we, too, listen carefully and hear the voice of God.

As we consider our reading from the Book of Revelation, we remember that this book was written in code to inspire and energize the followers of Jesus who were being persecuted. These visions of God and Jesus being worshipped by a great multitude of saints carried our ancestors in the faith through trials and tribulations that we could never imagine.

Just as he spoke to those faithful saints centuries ago, our Lord is telling us, “See, I am making all things new. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.” Our Lord will nourish us with living water. He will give us the food of everlasting life. He will help us to meet every challenge.

Our gospel for today is brief, but so powerful. Judas has just gone out to betray Jesus. Our Lord is telling us that by his going through the horror of the cross, God will be glorified. And that is what we Christians believe, that Our Lord has conquered all forms of brokenness, even death. The paradox of the cross is something we all meditate on our whole lives. Out of darkness and suffering and pain, and death, God brings wholeness and hope, and new life. We will never understand this entirely. It is the greatest mystery of our faith. We keep praying about it. Every Good Friday we contemplate the depths of this mystery. In our lives we experience how the presence of God and Jesus and the Spirit can lead us through challenges that we could never have endured without them, and that from these experiences of suffering, we become stronger and more compassionate. From these deathly experiences, we grow more completely into new life.

Jesus is leaving his followers. He will die. They will be without him. They will miss him terribly. But then, as we know, he will appear in a room with locked doors; he will suddenly be there with two followers walking to Emmaus and they will finally realize who he is when they share the bread; he will be there on the beach with a fish and bread breakfast when Peter and the others have been out all night fishing and have caught nothing.

And what is his message to them as he prepares to leave them? What is his message to us, as he hosts this meal for us, as he leads us on the journey of faith?

It’s the message we heard on Maundy Thursday as he washed our feet. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

God is doing a new thing. God is dissolving boundaries. The new faith is for everyone. We have a powerful message: God loves everyone.

Yesterday, delegates from all over Vermont gathered in Burlington to elect a new bishop to be a servant leader for the Episcopal Church in Vermont. We have been praying about this for weeks. Our committees have done an excellent job in expressing who we are and in helping us to meet and get to know three wonderful, faithful priests who have felt a call to be the eleventh Bishop of Vermont.

As you may know, we gathered in prayer, and, with God’s help, we called the Rev. Dr. Shannon McVean-Brown to be our Bishop-Elect.                                                                         

Please keep Shannon and her family in your prayers.

On a sturdy foundation of scripture, tradition, and reason, God is doing a new thing. And our Lord is calling us to love one another and to extend his love to everyone.  Amen.

The Last Sunday after Epiphany 3/3/2019

Exodus 34:29-35
Psalm 99
2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2
Luke 9:28-36, (37-43)

Today is the Last Sunday after Epiphany. We move from the Epiphany season, the season of light and mission, into Lent, a time of penitence, self-examination, and prayer, a time for askesis, spiritual fitness, a time to confess our sins, ask God’s forgiveness, and grow closer to God. Today is also called Transfiguration Sunday because of our gospel reading.

Our first reading is from the Book of Exodus. The people of God have been enslaved in Egypt, and they are now on their journey to freedom. Moses, their leader, goes up Mount Sinai to receive the tablets of the law. The skin of Moses’ face is shining with the light of the presence of God. When Aaron and the people see Moses’ face, they are afraid to come near him. They are afraid of God, They believe the old saying that, if you see the face of God, you will die. So Moses covers his face with a veil when he returns from talking with God.

In our gospel, it is about eight days after the feeding of the five thousand and after the conversation in which Jesus asks his disciples who they think he is. Peter answers, “The Messiah of God.” Jesus takes his closest followers, Peter and James and John up to the mountain to pray.

And while he is praying, his entire person shows forth the the light of the presence of God. The two great prophets, Moses and Elijah, are there talking with Jesus, showing that he is in the line of the greatest prophets in history. Peter, dear Peter, says, “Master, it is good that we are here with you. Let’s make three shrines, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. He wants to make sure this moment will be forever preserved in history. He wants to build a monument.

Then a cloud comes over them, the same cloud that covered Moses on Mount Sinai, the cloud that shows God is present, and God speaks, “This is my Son, my chosen. Listen to him!”

If this had taken place in the time of Moses, Peter and James and John would never have been on the mountain. They would never have been in the presence of Jesus and God. If by some strange error they had been, they would have run down the mountain screaming in horror because they were afraid of the presence of God.

But none of that happened. Yes, they had been drowsy but they had stayed awake and they had seen the whole thing—Jesus with Moses and Elijah, and then God descending to the top of the mountain and telling them to listen to His Son. Yet they did not run away howling in terror.

Paul talks about this in his letter today. He writes, “All of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord, …are being transformed into the same image from one glory to another.” In other words, we are being transformed into Christ.

Peter and James and John had decided to follow Jesus. They had prayed with him, eaten meals with him, watched him heal people, listened to his teachings, helped him to feed five thousand people. They had observed how he treated each person with great care and respect. Peter had figured out that Jesus was the Savior whom they had all been expecting, they had all been hoping for.

And yet, when they were on that mountain, and the two great prophets were there and then God was also there, Peter and James and John were in awe for certain, but they were not afraid as God’ s people had been afraid in Moses’ time, a little over a thousand years before.

Why was that? What had happened? Why were these three close followers awe-struck but not running away in terror? Because God had come to live with them, to walk with them, to talk with them, to teach them, pray with them, heal them, lead them as their good shepherd, and be with them every day of their lives.

God had come to be close to them, to be with them, and what they felt most of all, was God’s love for them, a transforming love, and that is what St. Paul is trying to express in this portion of his Second Letter to the Corinthians.

Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. Jesus has come to be with us, to lead us and guide us. Here on Transfiguration Sunday, we see our Lord as he truly is—powerful, but not in a way that paralyzes us with terror. His is the power of love.

As we prepare for Ash Wednesday and for the season of Lent, and as we do honest self-examination and confession of our sins, our Lord calls us to remember that this is part of our ongoing process of transformation. We are becoming more like him. We are placing ourselves and our lives in the hands of our loving God.

He is in our midst, calling us to follow him, not out of fear but out of love.   Amen.

Pentecost 17 Proper 19 B RCL September 16, 2018

Proverbs 1:20-33
Psalm 19
James 3:1-12
Mark 8:27-38

In our first reading today, Wisdom calls the people to return to God, to respond to God’s call. Wisdom is always a female figure. Wisdom is considered to be a part of God, an aspect of God, who was present at the creation. Jesus is often thought of as being one with Wisdom. Herbert O’ Driscoll says, “ Wisdom expresses the mind of God.” (The Word Among Us, Year B, Vol 3, p. 102.) Wisdom practice is designed to help us attune our minds to the mind of God and to follow the will of God.

Our passage from the Letter of James is also considered to be wisdom literature. It gives guidance on how to live our lives in harmony with God’s will.  Much of today’s reading focuses on that very small but very powerful part of our body, the tongue. James tells us that it is easier to control the rudder of a ship that it is to control our tongues.

Biblical scholar Beverly Gaventa quotes that old adage that we all recited when we were children: “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” Gaventa writes, “The lines carry within themselves their own contradiction, for if words did not in fact have the power to do harm, the lines would not be necessary.”  (Gaventa, Texts for Preaching Year B, p. 509.)

With social media, we can send messages to hundreds and thousands of people. We are not saying something to just one or two people. The misuse of social media to send negative messages is particularly harmful to our children and youth. We have all read or heard accounts of young people actually committing suicide because of bullying that has occurred over social media. James points out that with our tongues we can either bless or curse, and we pray that, in everything we say, we will be extending blessings.

In our gospel, Jesus has been doing healings and touching many lives. He has realized that his ministry is to all people. He has also endured verbal attacks by the religious authorities who scold him for putting the needs of people before the traditions.

In today’s reading, Jesus asks his followers who he is. They report on the opinions others have been offering. Jesus asks them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter says, “You are the Messiah.” Then Jesus tells them what is going to happen. He is going to suffer, he is going to be rejected by the authorities, he is going to be killed, and then he is going to rise again.

Peter cannot bear this, He takes Jesus aside and begins to scold him, “Lord, this simply cannot happen.” In one way or another, all of our readings today are about how we respond to God’s call. Jesus knows what he is called to do. His revolution of the spirit is so frightening to the authorities that they are going to kill him. He is going to suffer.

I think Peter is responding to this on at least two levels. First, he loves Jesus. He has left everything and followed this man, and now Jesus has become like a big brother to him. He cannot bear the idea of Jesus suffering and dying.

Secondly, there are two strains of thought regarding the messiah. One is that the messiah will come as a conquering hero, defeat the oppressor—in this case, the Roman Empire—and establish a new kingdom, the reign of God. It’s one thing to be following a military hero who achieves a military victory. It is another thing to be following a leader who suffers and dies. Prophets such as Isaiah clearly present the concept of the suffering servant, and Peter knows this, but it is still very difficult to hear.

But let us consider how Jesus is feeling. He knows what he is called to do. But now his dear friend Peter, the one who will lead the apostles, is saying that this simply cannot happen. He loves Peter. He knows Peter is emotional and impulsive at times, but Peter is the one who has recognized Jesus as the Savior. When Peter tells Jesus that our Lord’s description of his death and resurrection can’t be true, it tempts Jesus to waver in his resolve. And that is why our Lord says, “Get behind me, Satan.” Peter is tempting Jesus to veer from the path he is called to walk. Peter is setting his mind on earthly things instead of heavenly things.

And then Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him. He calls us to lose our lives for his sake. That does not necessarily mean dying for his sake, but it does mean putting heavenly things above earthly things.

If we go back to the theme of Wisdom as expressing the mind of God, or the mind of Christ, following Jesus means that we are called to make our minds and hearts one with his mind and heart. This means that we are called to be people of love and compassion, to care about others as our Lord did.

As we pray our collect for today, we are asking that we nay follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit in all things. That is what it means to take up our cross and follow Jesus— to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit in all things. When we do that, we are following our Good Shepherd, who is leading us into new life,  Amen.