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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion December 11, 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 December 18, 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 December 25, 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:…

Pentecost 11 Proper 14B August 8, 2021

2 Samuel 18:5-9. 15, 31-33
Psalm 130
Ephesians 4:25-5:2
John 6:35, 41-51

In our opening reading today, King David is going through one of the most tragic experiences any of us can imagine. David’s son Absalom has been part of a civil war against his father. David asks Joab, his commander, to deal gently with Absalom, but that is a very difficult thing to do in war, and we look on as the young man hangs between heaven and earth and finally loses his life.

This passage is one of the most moving scenes in the Bible. It reminds us that all of us, even kings and queens, go though such tragic times, that our loving God sustains us in these experiences, and that God, who gave God’s only Son for us,  knows how we feel as we move through such heart-rending losses.

Our epistle offers us much wisdom. We are called to “speak the truth to our neighbors.” Honesty is the bedrock of a healthy community. We are called to reconcile with others before the sun sets. Not to hold grudges. We are called to work hard and share with those in need. We are called to be careful about what we say, to say things that build each other up rather than tear each other down, to speak words that “give grace to those who hear.” We are called “to be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, as Christ has forgiven [us.] We are called to “be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ  loved us.” This is a blueprint for living together in community.

How are we going to be able to live that kind of life, as individuals and as a community of faith?

In our gospel, our Lord gives us the answer to that question.”I am the bread of life,” he tells us. We are gathered to celebrate Holy Eucharist.  The word “eucharist” comes from the Greek word for Thanksgiving. We are about to celebrate a Thanksgiving feast, and Jesus is our host.

We are still experiencing the joy of being able to do this after a year and a half of Covid fasting. The Eucharist is the way Jesus gave us to call him into our midst, to remember that he is alive and with us right now. We are continuing to receive only the bread, and we tell our children that this bread is special food that Jesus gives us because he loves us very much. This food is full of the energy and love which Jesus gives us so that we can live our lives as loving and caring people.

With the energy of the grace of Jesus, we can be the kind of  community which Paul’s disciple describes in our reading from the Letter to the Ephesians. We can  be people who speak the truth in love, people who share words of grace that build up those with whom we speak. We can be people of compassion and generosity who share with those who need help. 

When we are going through times of great change or pain, as King David was in today’s reading, we can reach out and grasp Jesus’ hand and he can keep us from drowning as the waves grow higher and higher. Because he feeds us with the bread of life, we can live the compassionate lives described in our epistle for today.

We are members of the Body of Christ. We are his hands reaching out to welcome and help people. We are his eyes looking at others with compassion. He has given us new life, and he is with us now, to lead us and guide us and to feed us with the energy of his love and life.

Risen Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the bread. Amen.

Pentecost 5 Proper 8B  June 27, 2021

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27
Psalm 130
2 Corinthians 8:7-15
Mark 5:21-43

In our opening reading this Sunday, King Saul and his son Jonathan have died in battle. David offers a poetic and powerful lament for these two men. As we know, King Saul had had an illness that tormented him. The only thing that comforted the king was David playing on his lyre, sometimes called a harp. 

As his illness progressed, King Saul became convinced that David was his enemy. The king got to the point where he wanted to kill David, so David left the palace and went into hiding. Jonathan continued to be a loyal friend to David. He stayed in touch with David and warned him when Saul was looking for him to kill him. 

In this lament, David is grieving over his best friend and his greatest enemy. Yet he pays tribute to both Jonathan and Saul. “How the mighty have fallen,” he says. He celebrates the courage of Saul and Jonathan and says that they were “Beloved and lovely…swifter than eagles and stronger than lions.”

David was far from perfect, but, at a time of great sadness, he was able to pay tribute to both Saul and Jonathan, people with whom he had extremely complicated relationships. Perhaps the most important theme of this passage is the tragedy of war.

In our second reading for today, Paul is encouraging the congregation in Corinth to follow through on their promise to raise funds to help the poor people in the Church in Jerusalem. The Corinthians have many gifts and much wealth, and Paul encourages them to share their material gifts with the people of Jerusalem. The members of the church in Corinth were Gentiles, and those in Jerusalem were Jewish. Paul is calling them and us to reach out beyond barriers of race and class to help our brothers and sisters.

In our gospel for today, Mark does one of his sandwich stories. He starts out by  telling us about Jairus and his daughter and then interrupts the story right in the middle to tell another story.

Jesus and his closest followers get into a  boat and cross to the Jewish side of the Sea of Galilee. A huge crowd gathers. One of the leaders of the synagogue, Jairus, comes up to Jesus. We can be sure that Jairus knows that the authorities in Jerusalem are keeping a close eye on Jesus and trying to find a reason to put him in prison or worse.

When your child is ill, you do anything you need to do to save that child. Jairus puts his own life in danger. He falls to his knees and begs Jesus to come and heal his daughter. He has heard about Jesus, and he has complete faith that our Lord can heal his child. Jesus goes with him.

We remember that there is a huge crowd pressing in on Jesus. They want to get close to him. There is a woman in this crowd. On the social status scale, she is as far from Jairus as anyone can get. She is a woman, and in that society, women are considered as chattel, property. A complimentary way to think of a woman in that culture is that she is the equivalent of a prize cow. She is an object, a possession. In addition to that, she has had a hemorrhage for twelve years. This makes her ritually unclean according to the law. She is supposed to stay away from people. Rabbis, and Jesus is a rabbi. are not supposed to be anywhere near a woman, especially a woman who is unclean. Like Jairus, this woman, who is not named, is desperate. She has spent all the money she had going to doctors and they have done nothing to help her.  She is feeing even worse. She has heard about Jesus, and she believes in him with all her heart. She comes up behind him in the press of the crowd and touches his cloak, She completely believes that touch will heal her. The hemorrhage stops in that instant. Relief flows into her.

But Jesus has felt power going out of him. He asks, “Who touched my clothes?” The woman is filled with fear.  She could try to run away. She could attempt to disappear into the crowd. But she does not. She feels the love flowing from Jesus, a love that changes her life then and there. She is still afraid, but she kneels before him, as Jairus did, and tells him the whole truth. And what does Jesus do? Punish her? Yell at her? No. He says, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease.”

Now, some people come and tell Jairus that his daughter has died. Jairus’ heart sinks. But Jesus tells him, “Do not fear, only believe.” Jesus takes Peter, James, and John, his closest disciples, and they go with Jairus to his house. Jesus goes into the house and finds a group of people weeping and wailing. He puts them outside. He creates a place of quiet and healing. Then he takes the child’s parents and they go into her room. He takes the girl by the hand and says, “Little girl, get up!” And she gets up and walks around. And then he tells them to give her something to eat. Jesus is always practical, always down to earth. This girl is alive! She needs nourishment.

Jairus and the unnamed woman are on opposite ends of the social scale. Our Lord treats them with the same infinite level of love and respect for their dignity. He knows how they feel. They are both at the end of their tethers. They are willing to risk anything. He gives them his complete focus and energy. He is there for them. He knows their anguish and desperation. He senses the depth of their faith. A woman is healed from something that made her unclean, unacceptable. A twelve year old girl has another chance at life. Our Lord can take us by the hand and give us a new lease on life. God can heal us of things that separate us from others. God can lead us from death to life.

The ministry of healing is a powerful thing, In many and different ways, all of you are involved in ministries of healing, whether it be caring for animals, feeding others, listening to others and sharing God’s love, making prayer shawls, so many ways of sharing God’s healing with others. May our loving and healing God continue to bless you in these ministries.

“Do not fear, only believe,” our Lord tells us. Loving and gracious and healing God, strengthen our faith. In Jesus Name, Amen.

Pentecost 12 Proper 14B RCL August 12, 2018

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33
Psalm 130
Ephesians 4:25-5:2
John 6:35, 41-51

In our first reading this morning, King David is at a deeply tragic point in his life. As we recall from last Sunday, the prophet Nathan had told David that, because of his adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband, Uriah the Hittite, David will face conflict from within his own family.

Here is a brief summary of the tragic events. The time is three thousand years ago, and King David has several wives. David’s eldest son, Amnon, rapes Absalom’s sister, Tamar. After appealing to David who does nothing, Absalom murders Amnon. David is devastated and outraged at Absalom’s murder of his half-brother. Absalom asks Joab, King David’s faithful military leader and friend, to help patch things up, but Joab refuses. Absalom then burns Joab’s field. Absalom finally has to flee to another kingdom.

Now Absalom has returned, and he is leading a revolution against his father. Absalom is handsome and vain and proud. He is especially proud of his hair, which he grows long. Absalom is also quite charismatic, and many people are attracted to him. These people have joined his army. Absalom’s revolt has been so successful that David and his court have had to leave Jerusalem.

On the eve of the battle, David is so distressed that he actually asks his military leaders to “deal gently” with Absalom. David’s troops win the battle. The text says that the forest claims more victims than the sword, and of course, one of those is Absalom, who becomes stuck in the thick branches of an oak tree. His mule runs away, leaving him hanging by his hair. The text omits verses 10 through 14, in which some of David’s soldiers see Absalom hanging from the tree. One of them reports this to Joab, who asks him why he did not kill Absalom. The soldier says he wanted to honor David’s request for gentleness. The text tells us that Joab “thrusts three spears into the heart of Absalom.”

The Bible offers us many accounts of human nature. Some of them remind us of how noble we humans can be, and others reveal the complicated and dark depths of human depravity and the conflicts and tragedies that can arise from that darkness. The story of King David and his family has both. Few biblical accounts are as heart-wrenching as this one. When he hears of Absalom’s death, David cries out, “ O my son Absalom, my son, my son. Would I have died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

Vermont theologian Frederick Buechner writes, “He meant it, of course. If he could have done the boy’s dying for him, he would have done it. If he could have paid the price for the boy’s betrayal of him, he would have paid it. If he could have given his own life to make the boy alive again, he would have given it. But even a king can’t do things like that. As later history was to prove, it takes a God.” (Buechner, Peculiar Treasures, p. 6.)

“As later history was to prove, it takes a God.”

Our gospel for today calls to mind this passage written by Frederick Buechner. The five thousand have been fed, Jesus is telling us that he is the bread of life. These words in today’s gospel are echoed in our offertory chant from the Taizé community: “Eat this bread, Drink this cup. Come to me and never be hungry. Eat this bread, Drink this cup. Trust in me and you will not thirst.”

Jesus is with us, and following him gives us a deeper dimension of life. This is what he calls eternal life, and that life has already begun in us because of his presence. We are not alone. We do not have to trust only in ourselves. He is our Good Shepherd and he is leading us. He gives us his grace and love and healing and guidance. He feeds our deepest hunger. He leads us beside the still waters and fills us with the gifts of faith and trust in him, He gives us new life, life on a new level.

And he gives us the gift of community, of life together in him as members of his Body. Our epistle describes the qualities of that life together. We are called to be honest. We are called to deal with anger in a responsible way, not to nurse it and let it fester. We are called to work so that we will have something to share with those in need. We are called to be kind to one another, tenderhearted, and forgiving. Whatever we do or say should build up the body of Christ. We are called to “live in love,” because we are following the One who “Loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and sacrifice to God.”

As we read the tragic story of David and his family and then read our epistle and gospel for today; and as we think about the words of Frederick Buechner,  we realize again and perhaps on an even more profound level that it takes a God to bring life out of death and wholeness out of brokenness.

Blessed Lord, thank you for being with us in every moment of our lives and for feeding us with the food of your presence, your love, your forgiveness, and the gift of new life in you. Thank you for calling us to follow you and to help you build your shalom. Thank you for the gift of community rooted and grounded in your love. Give us your grace, we pray, that we may seek and do your will. Amen.

Pentecost 6 Proper 8B RCL July 1, 2018

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27
Psalm 130
2 Corinthians 8:7-15
Mark 5: 21-43

In our opening reading, Saul and his son Jonathan have been killed in battle. During the reign of Saul, David had spent a great deal of time at the court. As Saul became more and more ill and had trouble sleeping, David used to play the harp and sing to the king. David and  Jonathan were close friends.

As time went on, Saul became more and more afraid of losing power as king. He thought David was plotting to take the throne and tried to kill David. David had at least one opportunity that we know of to kill Saul, but he spared Saul’s life. When David had to escape out into the wilderness to hide from Saul, Jonathan continued to remain a loyal friend, bringing David food and warning him when Saul was searching for him. Even though Jonathan was Saul’s heir, he remained a good friend to David. He put friendship ahead of his own place as the one next in line to be king.

Of course, we know that God had sent Samuel to anoint David as king. David had many flaws. He gave orders that Uriah be sent to the front lines to die in battle so that he could marry Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. At the same time, David had qualities that endeared him to his people. His poem of praise to both Saul and Jonathan is a beautiful elegy for these two men, and it is also a lament on the waste of war. “How the mighty have fallen” is a phrase that has come into our language. David praises both Saul, who tried to kill him and Jonathan, his loyal friend, calling them “beloved and lovely!” David was able to look beyond the complex and tragic personal aspects of the situation and to pay tribute to Saul, who helped Israel begin the transition from a collection of tribes into a nation-state.

Psalm 130 is a powerful song of faith and hope with which all of us can identify. How many times have we been awake in the night watches agonizing over a situation and praying for God’s help for ourselves and others.

This assurance of God’s love and power is what enables two people to reach out to Jesus for help in our gospel for today.

Jesus is back on the busy side of the Sea of Galilee. The crowds are around him. Jairus, one of the leaders of the synagogue, is so desperate that he comes to this teacher whom the authorities are watching closely. “My daughter is at the point of death, Come lay your hands on her and heal her.” Immediately Jesus follows him to his house.

Things are so hectic and needs are so great that a woman, someone on the other end of the social spectrum, is able to come up and touch the hem of Jesus’ garment, certain that just the power from that contact will heal her of hemorrhages that she has had for twelve years. She has gone to doctors but they have not been able to help. Because of this illness, she is marked by the law as unclean, She is supposed to stay away from people, No rabbi is supposed to be near to or touch someone who is unclean. But somehow she knows that Jesus will not be angry at her. She knows that he will care as much for her as he does for an official of the synagogue. So she reaches out over the abyss of social standing and religious laws and touches his cloak.

Jesus feels energy leaving his body. Herbert O’Driscoll says something very important about this, He notes that healing work has a cost. Every one in this congregation does healing work of one kind or another, and it does have a cost. I want to thank you for carrying out these ministries and for paying the emotional and physical price  for your healing work.

Jesus asks, “Who touched me?” We will never know how much that woman might have been tempted to run away, or to melt into the crowd and hide. She had just broken the religious law. But there was something about Jesus. His love and his caring had given her the courage to reach out and touch his garment in the first place, and now she falls on her knees before him just as Jairus had done earlier. Knowing that she had been healed, she told him everything. That’s how Jesus is: we can tell him everything. And he says, “Daughter, your faith has made you well.” He has just made her a part of his big family.

As he is still speaking, people come from Jairus’ house and tell him, “Your daughter is dead. Don’t bother the rabbi any more.” And Jesus says, “Do not fear, only believe.”  He takes with him only Peter, James. and John. He firmly escorts all the weeping and wailing people out of the house and takes the girl’s mother and father into her room.

Jesus knows the difference between life and death, between despair and hope. He takes the girl by the hand and says, “Little girl, get up!” As she walks around the room, he tells them to get her something to eat.

“Do not fear, only believe.” There are things happening in our own lives and in the world which can make us worried and afraid.  Our Lord is speaking to us and to our fears and worries today when he says, “Do not fear, only believe.” He is calling us to do what he did with these two people. He was not afraid when a religious authority asked his help even when other authorities were watching his every move. He was not afraid when a woman labeled unclean touched his cloak. He was always looking beyond these rules and labels and always moving in faith to bring healing, love and wholeness into the lives of people.

That is what we are called to do—to move beyond the fear and believe that, with God’s help and grace, we can bring love and healing into the world.    And that is what you are doing every day. Amen.

Lent 5A  April 2, 2017

Ezekiel 37:1-14
Psalm 130
Romans 8:6-11
John 11:1-45

Our first reading, which comes from the Book of Ezekiel, is one of the most compelling passages in the Bible. Ezekiel was a priest and a prophet who lived with the exiles in Babylon. His ministry took place from 593 to 563 B.C.

The people of God spent fifty years in exile. As time went on, they began to feel that their whole nation, the whole of Israel, was dead. After all, they were in captivity in an alien land. A foreign power was occupying their homeland. The temple in Jerusalem, the center of their worship, lay in ruins. They had little or no hope of ever returning. They might as well be dead. They had no future. They were prisoners in a foreign land.

Our reading this morning is Ezekiel’s God-given vision of the nation of Israel, the people of God lying dead in the valley of dry bones, and God raising these dry bones back to life.  God asks Ezekiel, “Mortal, can these bones live?” Ezekiel humbly answers, “O Lord God, you know.”  Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann writes, “Only God can answer. This is not a question permitting human response, because the power for life is held only by God. Only God knows, not because God has ‘information,’ but because only God has the power to make life happen.” (Texts for Preaching Year A, p. 219.)

This passage tells us that God brings life, not only for individuals but for nations, especially oppressed nations and groups. God takes these dry bones and puts muscles and flesh on them and covers them with skin and puts breath (ruach) into them. Last Sunday we made an offering to help the nation of South Sudan. God can bring life to our brothers and sisters in South Sudan, and in Haiti and Zimbabwe and El Salvador and all the other places where death is stalking the people. Brueggemann calls us to “…trust the stunning freedom and power of the God who gives life.” (Texts for Preaching Year A, p. 221.)

No situation is hopeless. God brings life. God is going to bring the exiles home.

In our gospel for today, we have another powerful account from Jesus’ ministry. As we look at this story, we remember that Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are Jesus’ closest friends. They live in Bethany, which is about two miles outside of Jerusalem. Jesus has spent many hours at their home, which is a kind of sanctuary for him. It is a relatively safe place for him in the midst of all the intrigue and power politics of Jerusalem.

Lazarus falls ill. Mary and Martha send a message to Jesus to come as quickly as he can. Jesus waits another two days. By this time, Jerusalem is an extremely dangerous place for him to visit. But Jesus also says that he is waiting so that God’s glory may be fully revealed. Finally he tells the disciples that they are going to Judea. He says that Lazarus has fallen asleep and he is going to awaken him. Going to Jerusalem is dangerous. Thomas even says, “Let us go, that we may die with him.”

When Jesus and the disciples arrive, Martha meets them. She gently rebukes Jesus, saying that, if he had been there, Lazarus would never have died, Jesus could have healed him. Jesus tells her that Lazarus will rise again. And he says those words which are at the center of our faith, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Martha says that she believes this.

Mary comes to Jesus, kneels at his feet, and, weeping, tells Jesus that if he had come earlier, Lazarus would never have died. All of their friends who have been mourning with Mary and Martha are crying as well. Jesus himself is in tears at this point. Our Lord is fully human as well as fully divine, and this is a terrible loss. One of his best friends has died. Some of the mourners again point out that, if Jesus had arrived sooner, he could have prevented this tragedy.

Then Jesus commands them to take away the stone. The down-to-earth Martha points out that Lazarus has been dead for four days and there is going to be a smell. This is real death. But Jesus is focusing on the fact that God brings life. Yes, a beloved friend has died. This is real. But God brings life.  Into every situation, no matter how seemingly hopeless, God brings life.

They take away the stone. Jesus prays, thanking God for the miracle that is about to come. Lazarus staggers out into the light, the cloths in which he had been wrapped unwinding as he propels himself out of the dark cave. Jesus says, “Unbind him and let him go!” Lazarus is alive and free.

Whenever we feel hopeless, whenever we encounter death of any kind, the death of slavery or of addiction or of oppression, God brings life. In the face of all death and brokenness, God brings life.

In the words of Walter Brueggemann, may we “trust the stunning power and freedom of the God who gives life.”  Amen.

Pentecost 11 Proper 14B RCL August 9, 2015

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33
Psalm 130
Ephesians 4: 25-5:2
John 6:35, 41-51

We remember that last Sunday, the prophet Nathan had the difficult job of confronting David with his sinfulness, and God told David that David would be subjected to serious troubles from within his own family. This morning, we witness a tragic example of these troubles.

Absalom was an exceedingly handsome young man with a magnificent head of hair which he allowed to grow long. Although King David loved Absalom, he did not discipline his son, and Absalom did whatever he felt like doing. By the time we reach today’s reading, Absalom had murdered his brother Amnon and had burned a field owned by King David’s loyal commander, Joab, because Joab would not do what Absalom wanted him to do.

At this point in the tragic story, Absalom is leading a revolution against his father. Many of the Israelites are following this charismatic young man. A battle is about to take place. If David loses this battle, he will lose his kingdom. But this is not his greatest concern. David does not want anything bad to happen to his beloved son. He tells his commanders that if they come upon Absalom, they should be gentle with him. Absalom is riding on his mule, passes under a huge oak tree, and gets caught in the branches. He is hanging helplessly when Joab’s ten armor bearers come by. They kill Absalom. When David hears this news, he is heartbroken.

This whole chain of events began when David lost his own way and committed adultery and then murdered Uriah to cover up that sin. We might say that David was so busy fighting battles and building up his kingdom that he did not have the time and energy to be a good father to Absalom. Joab, his faithful commander, does what is necessary to  protect David and the kingdom.  What a sad story of human sin and frailty.

Our reading from Ephesians describes the qualities of a healthy Christian community. We must tell the truth to each other because we are members of each other. We are joined together as hands and feet and eyes and ears and heart and lungs and brain are joined in a body.  We must work so that we can help those who have less than we do. We must always be building up, not tearing down. We must put away bitterness and anger and truly love each other as Christ loved us.

This is such a contrast to the story of David and his family, which is so full of struggle and selfishness and major sins, including murder. King David would undoubtedly have given his life if he could have saved his son. But it took a greater King, our Lord Jesus, who was also of the house of David, to lead us out of the mire of our sins and give us new life.

When we live as the Letter to the Ephesians calls us to live, we all grow more and more into Christ, Our gifts are nourished for the good of the body and of the entire human community, We become stronger and stronger because our Lord is leading us. Sometimes quite suddenly, sometimes gradually, our sins fall by the wayside. We are growing into maturity in Christ. We see the Christ in each other and we truly love each other. We love to be together. We support each other on our journeys. Sometimes we are called to speak the truth in love and disagree on some things. We can speak the truth and still love and respect each other. Always, we know that we are being led by the risen Christ, who is in our midst.

I thank God often for the gift of being at Grace, where these qualities of a loving community are lived on a daily basis.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is telling us that he is the bread of life. The religious authorities can’t understand this. They keep focusing on the idea that Jesus is the son of Mary and Joseph, and there is no way that he could have come down from heaven. The idea that God loves us so much that God would actually come and live here as one of us just boggles their minds. When we  humans are closed to the amazing depth of the love of God, that’s what happens. We just cannot get our minds around the fact that God loves us so much that God would come among us as a baby, just the way we came into the world. And that God would have a profound understanding of what it means to be human because God has lived on this earth as a fully human being. Jesus is the living bread. Jesus gives us this heavenly food, the food of his very self, his energy, his love, his healing.

Maybe that is why Paul could write so eloquently and powerfully about what it means to be a Christian and how a healthy Christian community looks and functions. Because, on the road to Damascus, as Paul, then named Saul, was fuming with rage on his way to kill more followers of Christ, our Lord  broke through Saul’s hate and unbelief when he asked that question which changed everything: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Paul went blind for awhile but he saw the light. And he became the apostle called to share this news with everyone. His mind and heart were opened to this new truth, this new life.

Jesus loves us so much that he does things like that. He breaks into our mental and spiritual prisons and sets us free. All of us are human. We have all made mistakes, and we will make more. But our Lord is with us. He is the light of the world. He is the Good Shepherd, leading us. He is the Bread of Life. We also have a community of loving people who will listen to us, support us, pray for us, and help us along the way. That is what it means to be members of the Body of Christ. Grace, love, and healing are flowing through us every moment. And we are here to share all these gifts with others.

Lord Jesus, thank you for all these blessings. Lead us and guide us always. In your Name we pray.  Amen.

Lent 5A RCL April 6, 2014

Ezekiel 37:1-14
Psalm 130
Romans 8:6-11
John 11: 1-45

Have you ever faced a time when you felt the worst had happened, that things just could not go downhill any further? That is the situation we see in our opening lesson today. The mighty Babylonian Empire has come in and conquered the people of God. The temple has been leveled, the people have been deported to Babylon. Biblical scholar Gene M. Tucker tells us that Ezekiel was one of the first to be deported, Ezekiel was a priest who is known as the prophet to the exiles.

There they were, in an alien land. They had some freedom, enough to worship in their own way, but they had lost the land God had given them, and the center of their worship, the temple, was a pile of rubble. In short, they had lost everything. But they gathered together, and they prayed, and they studied the scriptures, and God gave Ezekiel this shatteringly powerful and life-giving vision. God would breathe life into God’s people. Indeed, they did return home. They rebuilt the temple; they rebuilt their lives, and they flourished. Whenever we feel discouraged about the future of the Church or the ability of communities of faithful people to rise up out of the ashes, we need to remember this vision which came true and which comes true over and over again.

As we turn to our gospel for today, we recall that last week Jesus healed the man who had been born blind. The religious authorities were not pleased with this. Then Jesus began to teach that he is the good shepherd. There was a confrontation with the authorities, and a crowd actually gathered to stone Jesus, so he went back across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing. In other words, he withdrew from Jerusalem for safety.

Now Jesus hears that Lazarus is ill. Mary and Martha send a message. We need to pause and meditate on this. Jesus has withdrawn to a safe place, or a safer place. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus live in Bethany, only two miles from Jerusalem. Jesus has spent many wonderful hours with these dear friends. Mary has sat at his feet in the formal position of a disciple. Martha has served many delicious meals. These are Jesus’ dearest friends. Their home has been a haven for him. But that is no longer true. Any place that near Jerusalem is going to be dangerous for Jesus.

At first, Jesus hears that Lazarus is ill. He delays the trip to Bethany. He knows it will be dangerous. But then he says to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples remind Jesus that people had tried to stone him. Jesus says that their friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but this is a way of saying that he realizes that Lazarus has died. He knows that he must go to Bethany. Then Thomas says, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Thomas knows how dangerous this is going to be. We are facing the death of Lazarus, and we are also facing the death of our Lord.

When they are still two miles away, Martha comes out to meet them. She is hopping mad. “Lord, if you had been here, he wouldn’t have died!” With Martha, you always know what she is thinking. And then she expresses her faith in Jesus. And he says those words which have rung down through the ages, “I am the resurrection and the life Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live….” Mary comes out to see him and says the same thing, “Lord, if only you had been here, this would not have happened.” Mary is more sad than angry. She is in tears.

The depth of what has happened grips Jesus, One of his best friends has died. He cries over this loss. He cries in front of all the mourners who have followed Mary out to meet him. They go to the tomb. Martha points out the facts: there will be a stench. Lazarus has been dead for four days

It is a cave, They take away the stone. Jesus prays. Then he calls to his dear friend, “Lazarus! Come out!” And Lazarus stumbles out of the cave, wrapped in his grave cloths. Then Jesus issues the command, “Unbind him, and let him go!” Jesus calls to each of us, this last Sunday before the beginning of Holy Week. He calls us by name, because he is the good shepherd, and he knows us and we know him. He calls us to move from death to life, He calls us to allow him to free us from anything that might bind us or imprison us or enslave us.

In our epistle for today, St. Paul talks about the difference between lifein the flesh and life in the spirit. When Paul refers to “the flesh,” he does not mean our human body. As Christians, we do not see the body as bad or evil. Herbert O’Driscoll has an excellent way of explaining what Paul means by “the flesh.: O’Driscoll writes, “To be in the flesh means for Paul that one is living out our flawed human nature without reaching for the grace that lies beyond ourselves. The spirit that lives in such a life is a solitary spirit. Paul points to another way of living. This is the way of reaching out beyond ourselves for a Spirit that comes from Christ.” (The Word Today, Year A, Volume 2, p. 42.) Our goal is to allow Christ to live in us and through us.

All of our lessons today remind us that God can and does bring life out of death. This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday, and we will be with our Lord as he is welcomed as a hero, and we will also be with him as he makes a decision to live out the power of love and self-offering rather than operate on the basis of human and earthly power.

What are these lessons telling us? No situation is hopeless. God can and does bring new life to communities of faith and to communities in general. Seeking our Lord’s will and asking his grace to do his will brings us to life in the spirit, life on a new level.

May we continue to walk the Way of the Cross with our Lord. May our faith grow and deepen with every step. Amen.