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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion March 26, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
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Epiphany 1 The Baptism of Christ January 9, 2022

Isaiah 43:1-7
Psalm 29
Acts 8:14-17
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

This past Thursday, on January 6, the Church celebrated the feast of the Epiphany. Wise men come from far away to bring gifts to this new king. The feast of the Epiphany proclaims that this new faith is for all people from all over the world. It is a feast of God’s love, light, and inclusiveness.

Today, we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our first reading is from the prophet we call the Second Isaiah. God is telling God’s people in exile in Babylon and is also telling us not to fear, for God has redeemed us. God has called us by name. We belong to God. When we passed through the waters of the Red sea to freedom, God was there. God will be with us through all our challenges and trials. We are precious in God’s sight. God will gather all the exiles from all over the world and bring them home.

Our second reading is from the Book of Acts. So much is happening. Just a little before this passage, the new faith has been growing so fast that the apostles find they cannot do the work of preaching, teaching, praying, and at the same time make sure that the widows and orphans and others in need are taken care of. The apostles call together this new and growing community of Jesus’ followers and ask them to choose “seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit, and  of wisdom,” to minister to the needs of the people at the margins.  These seven men, the first deacons, were Stephen, Phillip, Prochorus, Nicanor,  Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus of Antioch. The apostles pray and lay their hands on them. This is how the first deacons were chosen and ordained.

Soon after this, Stephen becomes the first Christian martyr. An angry crowd stones him to death. Saul, who will later become the apostle Paul, looks on and approves this murder. A severe persecution begins against the church in Jerusalem.

In the midst of all of this, God calls Philip to go to the city of Samaria, home of the Samaritans, who were despised by the Israelites because the Israelites felt the Samaritans had departed from the true faith. Philip shares the good news with the Samaritans and they want to become followers of Jesus. So Philip baptizes them. Word reaches the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem that many people in Samaria are flocking to the new faith. They have been baptized but they have not yet received the Holy Spirit.

The persecution that is going on does not stop the church in Jerusalem from sending Peter and John to Samaria to reach out to these new converts and support them. Peter and John lay their hands on these people and they receive the Holy Spirit. The church in Samaria could have been seen as different from and inferior to the church in Jerusalem. But this did not happen. God guided the Jerusalem church to reach out and welcome these new followers of Jesus in Samaria into full membership in this new community of faith and love.

We remember how Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan, who, after two respected religious leaders walk by on the other side of the road, goes to help the man who has been robbed and beaten and left at the side of the road, bleeding and half dead. In those days, Samaritans were looked upon as the worst of the worst, and Jesus tells us this is the one who is the good neighbor.

When Peter and John go to Samaria, they do not treat the new Samaritan followers of Jesus as the worst of the worst. They put all of that sad history behind them. We can imagine them recalling Jesus’ parable and reminding themselves that all people are beloved children of God. When Peter and John arrive in Samaria, they treat these new followers of Christ with love and respect and welcome them into the fold. As followers of Christ, we are called to heal divisions, to be “restorers of the breach,” as Isaiah said. We are called to turn brokenness into wholeness, division into unity.

In our gospel, Jesus is baptized. He is praying.  The heavens are opened and the Holy Spirit descends upon our Lord in the form of a dove, the sign of peace. And a voice from heaven says, “You are my Son, the beloved: with you I am well pleased.”

In this scene, Jesus, the Son of God; Jesus, God walking the face of the earth, is beginning his formal ministry among us. As we read the gospels, we will be absorbing everything he says and does so that we can follow him more and more faithfully.

Our readings today have some powerful themes. Isaiah reminds us that God brings us out of exile, all kinds of exile. The exile of illness. The exile of addiction. The exile of depression. The exile of pandemic. God brings us together to form Beloved Community. God loves us. God is with us in everything.

Our reading from the Book of Acts inspires us with the reality that, even in the face of persecution, the church in Jerusalem sees God at work in the midst of a formerly hated group of people in Samaria and sends Peter and John to lay hands upon them so that they, too can receive the Holy Spirit and be full members of the new community of faith. Division and brokenness are transformed into unity and strength.

In our gospel, Jesus begins his formal ministry here on earth.

Nothing, not even persecution, can stop God’s love. God loves us so much that God has come among us to be one of us. The season of Epiphany is a season of light and mission. We spread the light and love of Christ as we reach out to help those who need God’s love and care.

May we follow Jesus. May we walk the way of love and light, May we share his love and light with everyone we meet. Amen.

Pentecost 9 Proper 12B July 25, 2021

2 Samuel 11:1-15
Psalm 14
Ephesians 3:14-21
John 6:1-21

David was a great king who brought together all the tribes of Israel and united the northern and southern kingdoms. He was a valiant warrior. His people knew him and and loved him. And David was a person of deep faith. Even as a young boy, he attributed his victory over Goliath as the work of God on behalf of God’s people. And God loved him, called him to be king, called him to be the shepherd of God’s people.  The Messiah would later come from the house of David.

In our opening reading for today, we have the account of David’s fall into the depths of depravity. He is not leading the troops into battle. He looks out from the roof of the king’s house in Jerusalem, sees a beautiful woman, inquires about her, and finds out that she is the wife of Uriah the Hittite, one of his most trusted officers. This should make David stop and think, but it does not. 

David commits the sin of adultery, finds out that Bathsheba is pregnant, calls Uriah in from the  battle, asks about the progress of the war, and tries to get Uriah to go home and spend the night with his wife so that it will appear that the baby is Uriah’s child. 

Uriah must have wondered about the behavior of his beloved commander. It was unusual to call officers home from the front. As a loyal officer, Uriah is not going to go home and see his wife while the army is at war. He sleeps with the servants at the entrance of the king’s house. Even when David gets Uriah drunk, the faithful officer shows his loyalty to his king, does his duty as an officer, and stays at the king’s house. Now David sinks even lower. Knowing that the faithful officer Uriah would never open an official communication, David gives him a letter to deliver to his general, Joab. The letter orders Joab to put Uriah in the front lines and then fall back and leave him to be killed by the enemy. Uriah is carrying his death sentence.

As David said in his lament at the death of Saul and Jonathan, “How the mighty have fallen.” Uriah’s loyalty and integrity are such a contrast to David’s shocking behavior.

In our gospel for today, we have John’s account of the feeding of the five thousand. It is near the time of the Passover. Jesus asks Philip where they will buy food for the crowd, knowing what he is going to do. But Andrew, who has apparently been getting acquainted with the people, has already found a boy who has five barley loaves and two fish.

Jesus tells the discipes to make the people sit down. When we are in a big crowd and we sit down on the grass and we are in the presence of Jesus, suddenly there is a sense of order, a sense of quiet, a sense of purpose. As Julian said centuries later, “All will be well.” Jesus takes the loaves, blesses them, breaks them and distributes them. It is a eucharistic action. They gather up the leftovers and there are twelve baskets. The people begin to realize who Jesus is.

Evening comes, and the disciples get into a boat to cross the sea of Galilee. Now it is dark, the wind comes up, the waves grow higher, and there Jesus is, coming to them on the water. They are terrified. And he says those crucial words. “It is I; do not be afraid.”

What are these readings saying to us? First, David was a great leader in many ways. Yet he went far astray. We are all sinners. We all misuse God’s gift of free will at various times in our lives. The Bible does not mince words concerning this truth. Thanks be to God that we can reach out and grasp the hand of our risen Lord. Thanks be to God that we can follow our Good Shepherd.

And then the feeding of five thousand people. Andrew has found a boy with five barley loaves and two fish. We are called to look around us, find out what gifts God is giving us, and use those gifts. Jesus takes, gives thanks, breaks and shares those loaves and fishes. Five thousand people are fed. We have the gifts we need to be Christ’s risen body and share his love with others. Thanks be to God  and our faithful volunteers for our food shelf, which is feeding so many people.

Once David misuses his power and begins his downward slide, many of his decisions are governed by fear. Our Lord says, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Again, we can reach out and touch our risen Lord and be calm and regain our faith and get back on track.

Our epistle gives us some wonderful food for meditation. Paul’s disciple prays that we “may be strengthened in [our] inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in [our] hearts through faith, as [we] are being rooted and grounded in love,” And then this faithful disciple prays “that [we] may know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that [we] may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Perhaps that is what happened to that crowd of five thousand people, sitting on the grass by the shores of the Sea of Galilee, which is really a fresh water lake, so we can imagine being near Fairfield Pond or maybe Lake Champlain, being seated near the water and eating this meal which Jesus has prepared for us. Or we can think of ourselves, here at Grace Church. We will soon share this Eucharist, this thanksgiving feast at which Jesus is the host.  We will soon share this meal which fills us with the fullness of God. May we always remember that Jesus told us his kingdom is within us. He is with us always, around us and within us. 

Verse six of hymn 370, St. Patrick’s breastplate says, “Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me. Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me. Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.”

And our epistle ends with this benediction: “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish far more than we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.” 

Easter 5B May 2, 2021

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

Before we look more deeply at our reading from the Book of Acts, let us look at the context of this passage. Back in Chapter 6, the apostles realized that they could not preach and teach and also take care of the widows and orphans. Guided by the Holy Spirit, they chose seven men as the first deacons. Philip was one of those men.

In today’s passage, Philip is in Samaria. An angel of the Lord tells him to go to the road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza. On that road is an Ethiopian eunuch. Under the law, this man would be considered unclean on two counts. He was a foreigner, from  Ethiopia, and he was a eunuch. This man— we do not know his name and this is the only time he appears in the Bible—has made a long journey to pray in the temple in Jerusalem. He is on his way home and is reading from the prophet Isaiah.

This man has a position of huge responsibility and honor in his home country of Ethiopia. He is a member of the queen’s court. He is in charge of her entire treasury. The Spirit tells Philip to go over and join the man. 

Philip runs over and realizes the man is reading from Isaiah. He asks the man if he understands what he is reading. When Philip asks that question, the man responds with wonderful openness. “How can I understand unless someone guides me?” And he invites Philip into the chariot to do just that. The passage is about the suffering servant. As Christians, we believe that our Lord is described in that passage. The Ethiopian man wants to know more. Philip shows him the relationship between the suffering servant and Christ. This man is so open to the presence of the Holy Spirit that, when they reach some water, he asks to be baptized. When they come up out of the water, the man goes on his way rejoicing. The Spirit carries Philip to Azotus, and he proclaims the good news all the way up the coast to Caesarea, some 58 miles.

In this passage we see the power of the Holy Spirit and God’s  love at work. The Ethiopian man is so eager to learn more about God, so open to guidance from Philip. And Philip is so full of the energy of the Holy Spirit, flowing over with the love of God. Because of God’s love, this man is baptized into the faith.

Our epistle for today is also filled with the love of God. “God is love,” this passage proclaims. We are called to abide in God’s love. We love others because God first loved us, and the most powerful expression of that love is the life and ministry of our Lord.

Our gospel for today is one of my favorite passage in the Bible. Jesus tells us, “I am the vine, you are the branches. “

This is another image for the Body of Christ. We are literally connected with each other and with our Lord. Branches are connected with the vine. Parts of a body are connected with each other and with the head who is Christ. We are called to stay connected with our Lord and to bear much fruit. This makes me think of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

“I am the vine; you are the branches,” Jesus says. And he calls us to abide in him. This is part of what scholars call his Last Discourse, the portion toward the end of John’s gospel in which our Lord tells us everything he can think of to help us be faithful followers through thick and thin.

If he is the vine and we are the branches, this means that we are connected very closely with him and with each other. We are dependent on him and on each other. His love is the life energy of the vine. His love, coursing through all of us, is the energy enabling us to do what Philip did—reach out to people we meet and extend the love of Christ.

The word “abide” in Greek can mean “to stay in place,” “to endure,”and we all know that followers of Jesus have had to hang in there through all kinds of trials. But to abide in this context also means to stay connected with each other and with our Lord. We stay connected but it is an active kind of connection. We are always ready to share his love with others. And we are actively nourishing ourselves with his word, with the scriptures, with prayer and meditation, staying in touch with our Lord.

In his  contemporary version of the Bible, called The Message, Eugene H. Peterson describes the relationship between us and Jesus as “intimate and organic,” and he has Jesus inviting us to “make [our] home” with Jesus. That is a wonderful translation of “abide.” 

Lord Jesus, help us to make our home with you. May we live in you and you in us. May your love fill us to overflowing, and may we share that love with everyone we meet. In Your holy Name. Amen.

Pentecost 10 Proper 12B RCL July 29, 2018

2 Samuel 11:1-15
Psalm 14
Ephesians 3:14-21
John 6:1-21

In our opening reading, we are given the opportunity to witness a low point in the journey of King David. The first clue is that David has sent out Joab, his chief military officer, to lead the troops into battle while David relaxes at him. He is not doing his job.

The next step on this downward path is that David uses his power as king to command Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, one of his most faithful soldiers, to come to his home, where he seduces her.

The next step on this downward moral spiral occurs when Bathsheba finds out that she is pregnant and David tries to get Uriah to go down to his house so that all will think the baby is his, but Uriah refuses to go and enjoy the comforts of home when Joab and all the other soldiers are on duty.

Finally, David sinks to the lowest point when he instructs Joab to put Uriah into the front lines and then withdraw in order to allow Uriah to be killed by the enemy.

Uriah’s loyalty, integrity, and sense of duty stand in stark contrast to the behavior of the king. At every step, David is using his power to get whatever he wants with no concern for the dignity of others. He is also using his power to protect himself and his position as king.

In today’s gospel, we move from Mark’s gospel to the gospel of John.

Once again, throngs of people are following Jesus and the disciples because they see how Jesus is healing the sick.

These people are also going to need to be fed, and Jesus asks Philip where they can buy food, Philip points out that they do not have nearly enough money to do that. Andrew has found a boy who has five barley loaves and two fish, not nearly enough to feed this huge crowd. But Jesus is never willing to let anyone go hungry. He invites this crowd of five thousand to sit down on the grass. Jesus takes the food, gives thanks, and the disciples distribute the food among the people. When they gather the leftovers, they fill twelve baskets. There is great abundance. There is enough to feed everyone who is hungry.

The people begin to say that Jesus is the great prophet who is to come into the world. They are beginning to sense who he is. They want to seize him and make him king. He goes to the mountain again, He does not want worldly power. He goes to be apart with God.

The disciples decide to cross the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum. A strong wind comes up and the waves get bigger. They are rowing with all their might but not making much progress. When they see Jesus walking on the water, they become terrified. In Mark’s account, they think Jesus is a ghost. He speaks to them: “It is I; do not be afraid.” They recognize him and want to take him into the boat, and immediately, they reach their destination.

Jesus did not want earthly power. He constantly tells us that his power is from another realm. No matter how big the crowds are, he always feeds them, physically and spiritually. He goes apart to be with God. Then, when he is ready to rejoin his disciples, he simply walks on the water, even in a high wind. He tells us not to be afraid. When we are in the grip of fear, it is almost impossible for us to get on the beam, to get on track and hear God’s voice calling us.

David committed adultery. Then, because of his fear that this infringement of the law would be discovered, he had a good and loyal soldier murdered.

In our epistle for today, Paul prays that we “may be strengthened in [our] inner being with power through [the] Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in [our] hearts through faith as [we] are being rooted and grounded in love.” He also prays that we “may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints,”—that is, with all our fellow Christians, “what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of God which surpasses knowledge.” In other words, Paul is praying that we will be able to sense and understand the breadth and length and the height and depth of God’s love. That is the journey of a lifetime, to even begin to understand the infinite extent of God’s love for us. And Paul says that he wants us to understand just how much God loves us so that we “may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Clearly, if David had kept his eye and mind on God, he would not have embarked on the tragic and destructive course of action he took. In trying to cover his tracks, he sank even lower. The way of faith is so different from the way of fear. Now, as always, Jesus calls to us, saying, “It is I; do not be afraid.”

God’s love for us is infinite. We will never be able to fully understand it. But Saint Paul wisely calls us to try to plumb that mystery. He knows that, as we allow ourselves to know and accept the depth of God’s love for us, we will be filled with God’s presence more and more.

As that happens, fear will wane, and faith will grow., Christ will dwell in our hearts, and we will be rooted and grounded in love.  Amen.

Easter 5B RCL  April 29, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The Day of Pentecost Year C RCL May 15, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Easter 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.