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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 4C   May 10, 2022

Acts 9:36-43
Psalm 23
Revelation 7:9-17
John 10:22-30

The Fourth Sunday of Easter is always Good Shepherd Sunday, and it is one of my favorite Sundays of the year. The Collect is powerfully simple: “O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

If we ask folks what their favorite psalm is, many say Psalm 23. “The Lord is my shepherd…he makes me to lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside the still waters.” The shepherd takes care of the sheep, The shepherd gives his life for the sheep. Back in Jesus’ day, there were still lions and bears in Palestine, and shepherds had to fight them off.

Psalm 23 says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”

Back in Biblical times and still now, the shepherds would bring their flocks into the village where there was a sheepfold, a safe, enclosed area with a gate. Only a trusted person could open the gate. Each shepherd would bring his sheep in for the night and put them within that protected area. In the morning, each shepherd would call his sheep. The sheep knew their shepherd’s voice. Only the sheep belonging to that flock would follow the shepherd. That’s how close the relationship is. We know when it is the voice of Jesus.

Another thing about the Biblical shepherd is that he goes out ahead of the flock. The gifted preacher and teacher Barbara Brown Taylor learned from a friend who grew up on a sheep farm, who told her that sheep are very different from cattle. As we all know from watching westerns, you can herd cattle from behind. But, concerning sheep, Taylor writes, “Stand behind them making loud noises and all they will do is run around behind you because they prefer to be led…They will not go anywhere that someone else does not go first—namely, their shepherd—who goes ahead of them to show them that everything is all right.” (Taylor,The Preaching Life, p. 140-141.)

Taylor continues, “Sheep tend to grow fond of their shepherds, my friend went on to say. It never ceased to amaze him, growing up, that he could walk through a  sleeping flock, while a stranger could not step foot in the fold without causing pandemonium. Sheep seem to consider their shepherds part of their family, and the relationship that exists between the two is quite exclusive….A good shepherd learns to distinguish a bleat of pain from one of pleasure, while the sheep learn that a click of the tongue means food while a two-note song means that it is time to go home.” (Ibid., p. 141.)

Jesus is our good shepherd. We are his flock. He is with us always. We have nothing to fear. He will not lose one of us. We follow him. If he goes ahead of us, we know that all is well. Our good shepherd goes ahead of us through everything, even death itself. He has been through the worst of the worst. if we are following him, no matter what happens, he has walked that way before us. It may not be easy, It may be extremely challenging, but he has gone ahead of us, and it will be okay.

As we listen for his voice, as we ask him for guidance, we can hear his call. We can sense his leading. He knows us. He knows everything there is to know about us. And he loves us. And we love him. He is out in front leading us. We are not alone.

Right now our good shepherd is walking through the sheepfold. He is here. We can feel secure in his presence. He is taking care of us.  He knows and loves us. We know and love him.

All through our journey with Covid and all its variants, our Good Shepherd has been with us, encouraging us, guiding us to the green pastures and the still waters. It’s not over, and it will be an endemic, but we’ve made it thus far. Our Good Shepherd is out ahead of us. He goes before us. Everything we may face is something he has already overcome.

In our gospel for today, it is the feast of the Dedication, a feast we know as Hanukkah. The religious authorities gather around Jesus. They are trying to get him to say that he is the Messiah so that they can arrest and kill him. But he will not do that, because they will not be able to hear his voice.  

At the end of this passage, Jesus says, “The Father and I are one.” When we look at the life of our Lord, when we read about his ministry in the gospels, this is God walking the face of the earth. This is how God, who created the universe, would live a human life. By reading and studying the gospels, we can grow closer and closer to God and Jesus and the Spirit. We can have a real living blueprint for living our lives. This is what John means when he says in his gospel that Jesus is the Word, the logos, the plan for how to live a human life. He is our example of how to live, and he is not just someone who lived centuries ago and can inspire us from a distance. He is with us now.

Decades ago, when Adolph Hitler had conquered all of Europe and had reached the English Channel, the 23rd psalm became a rallying anthem for the British people. Night after night, the Nazi bombers would level building after building. Among many treasures lost was Coventry Cathedral.

Now, another tyrant is doing a similar thing. President Putin is trying to take over Ukraine, leveling buildings and killing innocent people,  even children. Most of the countries of the world are working together to try to bring peace and save lives. Once again, we look to our Good Shepherd for strength and guidance. May we follow where he leads. Amen.

Pentecost 13 Proper 16B August 22, 2021

1 Kings 8:1,6,10-11, 22-30, 41-43
Psalm 84
Ephesians 6:10-20
John 6:56-59

In our opening reading this morning, the great temple in Jerusalem has been completed. King Solomon and the leaders of the people gather, and the priests bring the ark of the covenant into the temple. A cloud fills the temple, indicating the holiness of the presence of God. This is a deeply profound moment in the history of God’s people. They have been nomads. The ark has led them ourtof slavery in Egypt and into the promised land. Now they will be settling down.

Solomon offers a powerful and beautiful prayer. He emphasizes that, although the ark is now in the temple, symbolizing God’s presence, God cannot be contained or limited. God fills the heavens and the earth. And Solomon also emphasizes the inclusiveness of God, saying, “Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name…when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling place and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name….” Solomon is praying that, if someone from far away comes to the temple and offers prayers, that God may hear and answer those prayers so that people all over the world may know God. This is one of the early passages that teach us that God has a big family, and it includes everyone on earth.

Our psalm today is one of the most beloved of all the psalms. Although it is a song about the temple, for us it is a song abut Grace Church and every church building we have ever loved. As Herbert O’Driscoll notes, it is also a song about the pilgrimage of our lives and how much we love being in sacred spaces where we can feel the presence of God and generations of past pilgrims. “One day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room.” God’s protection is such a cherished gift for us: “For the Lord is both sun and shield; he will give grace and glory.”

Our epistle today gives strength and tools for following our Lord in a challenging world. We are called to “be strong in the Lord,” and to put on the “whole armor of God.” Following Jesus isn’t easy in a world that often values the material over the spiritual, and just as people dress to fight chemical fires or dive into the ocean depths, so we are called to wear “the belt of truth,” the “breastplate” of of a right relationship with God, the “shield of faith”, the “helmet of salvation,” and the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Most of all, we are called to pray, to stay in touch with God. The fruits of the Spirit, as noted in Galatians 5:22—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, are so different from the values of this world that it is helpful to have these tools at hand.

In our gospel, Jesus is teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. He is talking about what we need to do in order to stay close to him. His disciples find this teaching difficult. He knows that Judas is going to betray him. He is going to be crucified. When John’s gospel was being written, followers of Jesus were being persecuted, and this has happened over the centuries. It is not easy to follow the way of our Lord. People leave. People fall away.

So he asks his disciples, “Do you also wish to go away?” And Simon Peter answers, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Here we are, at Grace Church, in the year 2021, centuries after Peter said those words. and yet he is speaking for us. We have been abiding with Jesus for quite a while now. Not perfectly, to be certain. As the Prayer Book says”We have erred and strayed” from his ways from time to time to be sure, but here we are, and, with Peter, we know there is no other one we can follow. We are like the sparrow in the psalm. We have found a home with him. We abide in him and he in us.

For me, abiding in Jesus always brings to mind Psalm 23. Jesus is our Good Shepherd. Barbara Brown Taylor tells us that she has a friend who grew up on a sheep farm in the midwest. Taylor says that, contrary to common belief, sheep are not dumb. She writes, “According to my friend, cows are herded from the rear by hooting cowboys with cracking whips, but that will not work with sheep at all.  Stand behind them making loud noises and all they will do is run around behind you, because they prefer to be led. You push cows, my friend said but you lead sheep, and they will not go anywhere that someone else does not go first—namely their shepherd—who goes ahead of them to show them that everything is all right.

“Sheep tend to grow fond of their shepherds, my friend went on to say. It never ceased to amaze him, growing up, that he could walk right through a sleeping flock without disturbing a single one of them. Sheep seem to consider their shepherds part of the family, and the relationship that grows up between the two is quite exclusive. They develop a language of their own that outsiders are not privy to. A good shepherd learns to distinguish a bleat of pain from one of pleasure, while the sheep learn that a cluck of the tongue means food, or a two-note song means it is time to go home.” (Taylor, The Preaching Life, pp. 140-41.)

This is a wonderful description of what it means for us to abide in Jesus and Jesus to abide in us. He knows us, flaws and all. We know him. We can hear his call. We know he loves us, and we love him. He calls us to love each other, and we do, to the best of our ability, with the help of his grace.

But perhaps the most important thing is that he is always going before us. There is nothing that we will have to endure that he has not gone through already. As Taylor writes, our shepherd goes before us to “show us that everything is all right.” He has gone before us, and he will make it possible for us to follow. He will be out in front leading us. As the “Footprints” poem says, he may even be carrying us. Amen.

Easter 4B April 25, 2021

Acts 4:5-12
Psalm 23
1 John 3:16-24
John 10:11-18

In our opening reading from the Book of Acts, Peter and John have healed a man who has been lame from birth. A crowd has gathered, and the authorities have become alarmed at the size of the crowd and at Peter’s insistence that the man’s healing happened in the name of Jesus of Nazareth.

Peter is not afraid. He is so filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit that he feels compelled to share the good news that Jesus has healed this man.

Our psalm for today is one of the most beloved psalms in the Bible. When we meditate on this psalm, it fills us with assurance of the presence of our Lord, and it reminds us that Jesus is leading us every step of the way. He leads us to good pastures so that we can be nourished by his presence, and he leads us to the still waters where we can be quiet and know that our Lord is right beside us.

Our reading from the First Letter of John continues the exploration of the theme of God’s love. One of the gems of this passage is, “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” 

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. Jesus has just healed a blind man on the sabbath, and the Pharisees are outraged. They have interrogated the man and his parents. Now they are questioning Jesus. In both our reading from Acts and our gospel for today, the authorities are upset about the power of Jesus to heal people.

Jesus says that he is the good shepherd. This year, as we are moving through this pandemic, I want to be sure that we understand the biblical shepherd. We often think of flocks of sheep being rather unruly, and border collies herding these sheep.

The biblical shepherd did not work that way. The biblical shepherd went ahead of the sheep to let them know that the path was safe. Because the sheep knew and trusted the shepherd, they followed as a group. In the village was a sheepfold. This was an impressive structure with very high walls. In that high wall was a very sturdy door. Someone guarded that door at night to keep the sheep safe. When each shepherd came to the door the next morning, the gatekeeper would let the shepherd in.

Each shepherd had a different voice and a different call. When the shepherd called, only his own sheep would follow. The sheep and the shepherd got to know each other very well. The shepherd knew the gifts and flaws of every sheep. He knew their idiosyncrasies, their little foibles and characteristics. He knew everything about them. And he loved those sheep. The sheep knew their shepherd would take care of them. So they followed him. 

Back in those times, there were still lions and bears in Palestine, and those lions and bears could attack the flock. Shepherds had to fight off those wild animals. Being a shepherd demanded great skill and courage.

When he had gathered his flock, the shepherd would lead them out into the pastures and hills beyond the village. When the next shepherd arrived, he would call his flock in the same way, each shepherd with a different voice and call. 

In the face of authorities challenging their mission of healing, both Peter and our Lord preach powerful and eloquent sermons. It is very sad to think that authorities, even religious authorities, would try to stop people from healing because the law says you can’t do that on the sabbath. Both Peter and Jesus make it clear that human rules cannot stop God’s healing power.

Jesus gives his life for his sheep. And he is calling everyone to join his flock. The hired hands are in it for themselves. The good shepherd is here to lead and protect his sheep. He willingly lays down his life for his sheep. Good leaders should not be in it for themselves, They should really care. There is a contrast between the authorities and Peter and Jesus.

But there is something even more important. Every one of us, and all of us together, those on Zoom and those who are not, everybody is a part of Jesus’ beloved flock. And here we are, over a year into this Covid Era. 

Every day of all those weeks. Jesus has called us each by name and we have recognized his loving and courageous voice. We know he would give his life for us. He already has. And here he is, calling to us, Here he is, in our midst, even though we haven’t been able to celebrate Holy Eucharist together and do so many of the other things that we hold as precious gifts and signs of our faith. Yet, we are here, and he is here with us.

We can hear his voice. “I know my sheep and my own know me,” he says. And we know he has given his life for us. And we know that he is risen and right here with us. We are not alone. He is leading us and guiding us. We stay together; we move together; we work together; he loves us and we love him and each other.

This coming Sunday. May 2, we have the opportunity return to hybrid worship. If the weather permits, some of us will be outdoors at Grace. The rest of us will be on Zoom. When we are allowed to be inside our beloved building, we will continue our hybrid worship. Some of us will be at Grace, Some will be at home on Zoom. We will stay together.

This gospel is about the crucifixion. And it is about Easter. Jesus gives his life for the sheep, for us, and for everyone. Out of the pain and struggle and brokenness of the cross, our Lord brings life. Love is the most powerful force in the world. Reaching out to others, helping them, healing them, giving of ourselves, that is the Way of Love. Let us continue to help and serve others in Jesus’ name, Let us continue to walk the Way of Love. Amen.

Easter 4A   May 3, 2020

Acts 2:42-47
Psalm 23, p. 476
1 Peter 2:19-25
John 10:1-10

Today is one of my favorite Sundays in the Church year, and I hope it is one of yours, too. This is Good Shepherd Sunday, the Fourth Sunday after Easter. Our opening reading, continuing the study of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, tells us something about the community life of the early followers of Jesus.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of head and the prayers, just as we have promised to do in our baptismal vows. They shared their resources. The scripture says they “had all things in common.” They helped those who were in need. They celebrated the breaking of the bread. They were grateful for all of God’s gifts to them, and they were generous. And their number kept growing.

Our psalm for today is one of the most powerful and beloved psalms in the Bible. This psalm guided the followers of Jesus in England during World War II as they fought valiantly to keep Adolph Hitler from invading Britain. This psalm reminds us that our Good Shepherd leads us to the green pastures and the still waters. Our Lord sets the table with a feast even in the presence of our enemies and nourishes and sustains us so that we can persevere in the face of every threat. He calms our fears and strengthens our faith. 

Our reading from the First Letter of Peter to those who are suffering persecution reminds us that our Lord has gone through everything that we may have to endure. 

Our gospel tells us in a powerful and compelling way that Jesus is our Good Shepherd. He knows each of us, warts and all, and he loves each of us, and he loves the entire flock. When he calls, we follow him.

Back in Biblical times, the shepherds would lead their flocks out to the country to find good pasture. At night they would bring the sheep into the village where there was a communal sheepfold, The sheep would be placed there to stay safe through the night. 

In the morning, each shepherd would come to the sheepfold. Each one had a unique call. When each shepherd called, the sheep of his flock would follow him. When the next shepherd came to the fold, his sheep would follow him. That is how our relationship is with Jesus, We know his voice. We know he will lead us to good nourishment and we know he will lead us to that place where we can be still and know that he is God.

Our Good Shepherd protects us. If lions or bears come to attack, he will fend them off. Yes, in the time of Jesus there were lions and bears in the Holy Land. Our Good Shepherd will give his life for us. That is how much he loves each one of us and all of us together. Our relationship with him is extremely close. We depend on him for everything. We trust him because we know how much he loves us and how determined he is to protect us.

The biblical shepherd went out in front of the sheep. He walked the path ahead of the flock. He found the good water holes. He kept them out of the brambles. He led them away from poisonous plants or anything else that might harm them. This image of the Biblical shepherd tells us that our Lord has been through anything and everything that we might encounter, even death itself.

In this portion of Chapter 10, Jesus says, “I am the gate for the sheep. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture, I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Later on in John’s gospel. Jesus says,” I am the way and the truth and the life,” Our Good Shepherd is the way, the path, the one who leads us to newness of life, eternal life, life in a deeper dimension that begins right now, We are already in the new life, the kingdom, the shalom of Christ.

Like our brothers and sisters in England in World War II, we can receive strength and renewal from Psalm 23 and from the knowledge that Jesus is our Good Shepherd. We have never experienced what we are going through with this pandemic. We have never had to stay home like prisoners in our own homes. We have never been unable to gather and celebrate Holy Eucharist together.

Because he is our Good Shepherd and is out in front leading us, we can take comfort in the fact that our Lord has walked this way before us. We can hear his loving voice calling us to have faith that he will bring us through this. We can hear him reminding us not to panic and rush out to resume our normal lives before he has guided us to use our heads, trust the advice of our expert medical and scientific guides, and create the conditions necessary to make each step toward a new normal as safe as possible.

And he is also calling us to love others as he loves us, to help those who are hurting so badly because of being unemployed through no fault of their own, to support those who are on the front lines working in dangerous conditions and becoming so tired they can hardly stand up. He is calling us to help each other just as he helps us.

And he is calling us to love each other, to stay connected, to be a strong flock relying on him for strength and guidance.

Lord Jesus, our loving Good Shepherd, help us to listen for your voice; help us to follow you; help us to love each other as you love us, and give us the grace to share your love and care with others. In your holy Name we pray. Amen. 

Lent 4A, March 22, 2020

1 Samuel 16:1-13
Psalm 23
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41

Our opening reading today is the account of how the faithful and courageous prophet Samuel was called by God to anoint the next King. King Saul has become unfit to serve as ruler, and God calls Samuel to go to the house of Jesse. There, God will let Samuel know which of Jesse’s sons to anoint as the new ruler of God’s people.

There is a great deal of tension and turmoil in the land, and Samuel is afraid that King Saul will kill him if he finds out that God is going to call forth a new king. God reassures Samuel and gives him a plan.

One by one, all of Jesse’s sons appear before Samuel. Samuel feels that any one of them would make a great king. But that is not God’s will. Finally, the last of Jesse’s sons, David, is called in from tending the flock. This is the one. Samuel anoints David as king.

This passage contains the wise insight into the nature of God: “…the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the lord looks on the heart.” David will turn out to have failings as all of us do, but he will also be able to face and admit his failings. He will be deeply loved by the people.

Psalm 23 is one of the most beloved psalms in the Bible. David was a shepherd, and our Lord is indeed our Good Shepherd. The past few days and weeks have been upsetting. We have been called to practice social distancing, and we have missed being together. In spite of all barriers, our Good Shepherd has been with us, leading and guiding us.

Our reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans calls us to be children of the light and tells us that the light of Christ will shine on us.

In our gospel for today, we hear the story of the healing of the blind man. The disciples wonder who sinned, that this man was born blind. Sometimes we try to explain things by trying to find something or someone to blame. We live in a world that is not operating according to Gods vision of creation. God wants all people to be well and whole. Jesus tells them and us that he is the light of the world. Any illness or brokenness of any kind is an opportunity for him to bring wholeness and healing.

Jesus sees the blind man. The man does not even have to ask for help. Our Lord makes a poultice of mud  and spit, as people did in those days, and puts it on the man’s eyes. Then he tells him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam, which means “sent.” The man does this, and immediately he is able to see. People ask him whether he is the man who used to beg, and he tells them yes, he is, but the neighbors and then the Pharisees try to cross examine him. They even find his parents and question them. How difficult it is for them to believe that, yes, this man is healed. The Pharisees and the neighbors find it so hard to believe what has happened to this man that they finally drive him out of the town.

The man knows what happened. He knows who healed him. When Jesus hears that the people have driven the man out, he finds him and tells him who he is. Immediately the man says, “Lord, I believe.”

This man has been unable to see since the day he was born. Jesus comes and puts on the poultice of mud and saliva and says, “Go, wash in the Pool of Siloam.” The man does not argue, He does not ask why. He does not question. He simply goes and washes in the pool, and the whole world opens up before him. For the first time in his life, he can see.

This man’s life has been transformed. He has had an encounter with Jesus, and he knows exactly who Jesus is. He has experienced the power of the healing love of our Lord. He has faith in Jesus. We do not know the rest of his story but we can easily believe that he might have become a disciple. He certainly proclaims the good news by repeatedly telling the people, “I was blind, now I see, and this is the One who healed me!”

Yet many of the people who have seen the before and after of the man just can’t believe the sheer fact of what has happened. He was blind. Now he sees. What is keeping them from seeing this? Sometimes our preconceptions keep us from seeing what is right in front of our eyes. The neighbors and the Pharisees are not able to see the spiritual and physical truth of what happened.

Thank God we can see. Thank God we, too, have had encounters with our Lord that let us know that he is here to spread light and love. He is here to heal our hurts, our worries, our fears in these trying times.

Epidemiologists tell us that the best way to deal with this virus at this stage is to practice social distancing. We love being together and we miss seeing each other. Keeping a distance is the last thing we want to do. Yet we really need to stay away from other people as much as we possibly can to slow the progress of this pandemic. Let us pray for all those who are affected by this situation and let us help them in any way that you can. I thank God for our food shelf volunteers.

So here we are, worshiping on Zoom. As Bishop Shannon has said, this Lent we have to fast from being with each other. When we get back together, O what joy will burst forth!

Meanwhile let’s keep in touch. Let us remember that our Good Shepherd is in our midst. Nothing, including viruses, can stop him. He comes among us offering gifts of peace, faith, hope, and love. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for being right in our midst at this moment and for ever. Thank you for calling us together to share your love. Amen.

Easter 4C May 12, 2019

Acts 9:36-43
Psalm 23
Revelation 7:9-17
John 10: 22-30

In our lectionary, whether in Year A, B, or C, the Fourth Sunday of Easter is Good Shepherd Sunday. The psalm is always number 23, and the gospel readings always come from the tenth chapter of John’s gospel.

We begin with this wonderful reading from the Book of Acts. In Joppa, there is a woman who helps people whenever she can, and she loves people. That’s what we, as followers of Jesus, are called to do. Love people and help people. This woman’s name is Tabitha in Aramaic and Dorcas in Greek. Her name means “gazelle.”

A tragedy has struck. Tabitha has died. The followers of Jesus in Joppa have heard that Peter is ministering nearby. They wash Tabitha’s body and lay her out in an upstairs room. Then they send for Peter. Peter gets there as fast as he can and they take him to the upstairs room.

The widows are there, and they have clothing which Tabitha has made. This means that Tabitha had a ministry of giving people clothing which she made herself. The widows are a group of women who also engaged in servant ministry. They were close to Tabitha, and they are devastated. They are weeping.

Peter leads them all outside so that there can be quiet in the room. And then, what does he do? He kneels down and prays. He links himself to God. He opens the channel of communication with God. He becomes a channel of God’s peace and healing. He lets the grace of God flow into him. He allows God to fill him with faith.

And then Peter turns to Tabitha’s body and says, “Tabitha, get up.” We think of so many healings. Elijah raises the son of the widow of Zarephath. Jesus calls Lazarus out of the tomb. Tabitha opens her eyes, sees Peter, and sits up. He helps her to her feet. The news of this healing spreads all around Joppa, and many believe in Jesus because of it.

And then, Peter goes to stay with Simon, a tanner. The work of a tanner involves touching the hides of dead animals, which according to the law was considered unclean. Peter is staying in the home of a ritually unclean person. The good news is breaking the old boundaries and expanding to include everyone.

This theme of inclusiveness is emphasized in our passage from the Book of Revelation. A great multitude is worshiping God. The new faith is for everyone. God is sheltering and  loving all of them.

Our gospel today is the last part of Jesus’ description of himself as the Good Shepherd. In the earlier parts, he tells us that he knows his sheep and his sheep know him, and his sheep follow him when he calls. He also says that he will die for his sheep. In those days, there were still wild animals in Palestine, and shepherds did indeed die protecting their flocks from wolves and even lions and bears.

It is winter, and Jesus is in Jerusalem for the Feast of the Dedication of the temple. This is what we call Hanukkah. The religious authorities ask Jesus how long he will keep them waiting. Why won’t he tell them that he is the messiah? The main reason why he does not tell them is that they do not believe anything he is saying. They have no idea what he is talking about. He is calling us to undergo a complete transformation from earthly concerns to the values of his kingdom. They are so focused on their own limited human ideas about preserving their power that they are totally closed to Jesus and to anything he might say.

Jesus puts this in terms that his followers in the crowd will understand. He tells the authorities, “You do not believe because you do not belong to my sheep.” Our Lord is saying that the authorities have fought him every step of the way, but his true followers have been with him. They have listened to him, eaten with him, walked with him, learned from him. They know his voice. When he calls, they follow. And he knows us. He loves us. We love him. There is a relationship between him and us that is so close nothing can break it, not even death.

My sheep hear my voice,” he says, “and I know them, and they follow me,” He knows each of us. He knows our strengths and our weaknesses, our foibles, our flaws, our sins, our gifts, everything about us. And he loves us, foibles, flaws, and all. He loves us. He’s not trying to protect his turf or get power as the religious authorities are. He simply loves us.

“I give them eternal life,” Jesus says. This means that he gives us life in an entirely new and joyful and deep dimension. Life that’s really worth living. A life in which we are transformed into his likeness so that we can accept his love and share that love with everyone.

And then he says, “No one will snatch them out of my hand.” He will protect us. This does not mean that nothing bad will happen to us. Following Jesus does not mean that we are immune from tragedies, illnesses, loss of dear ones. We live in a fallen creation. The shalom of God has not yet come. But he will be with us. He will be out in front of us, leading us to the green pastures and the still waters, helping us to find safety in the midst of it all. And he will be walking beside us every step of the way. And sometimes, when the challenges are beyond us, he will carry us in his arms. He says, “What the Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand.” We are in God’s hands. The entire creation is in God’s hands.

And then, “The Father and I are one.” Jesus and the Father are one. Or, as I like to say, Jesus is God walking the face of the earth. If we want to see who and what God is calling us to be, we can look at the life of Jesus in the gospels and see a blueprint for living a human life. That’s what we mean when we say that Jesus is the Word of God, the logos, the model, the blueprint for human living. He is here with us now, He is with us whoever we gather. He is leading and guiding us.

Let us listen to his voice. Let us follow him. Amen.

Easter 4B RCL April 22, 2018

Acts 4:5-12
Psalm 23
1 John 3:16-24
John 10:11-18

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. It is also Earth Day, a day to renew our commitment to be good stewards of God’s creation.

Jesus is our good shepherd. In Jesus’ time, a shepherd could encounter wolves, bears, lions, snakes, and all manner of other dangerous animals. The shepherd of those times would go out in front of the sheep and the sheep would follow him. The shepherd knew each sheep very well. And the sheep knew the shepherd’s voice. Sometimes the shepherds would go into a village and put their flocks into a fenced in enclosure for the night. In the morning, the shepherds would go and call their flocks. Each shepherd had a distinct call. His sheep knew that call and would leave the enclosure and follow him.

Sometimes the shepherd has to fight a wolf or a bear or a lion. Some shepherds run away. But the good shepherd fights for the sheep, protects the sheep. Because he goes ahead of us, he has gone through everything we may ever experience. He has gone through torture and death and he has come out the other side—alive and even stronger.

He knows us, with all our idiosyncrasies, faults, gifts, and flaws—and he loves us. He loves us so much hat he is willing to give his life for us. Even though we aren’t perfect and we have made mistakes and will make more, he loves us. He helps us to get to the good water holes and avoid the ones that would make us sick. He leads us to the good pastures and helps us to avoid the noxious weeds that would poison us. Because we are aware of his love, we follow him. When we hear his voice, that distinct call of his, we follow.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Our Good Shepherd is also the eternal Word who called the creation into being. Today, on Earth Day, many people of faith are renewing our commitment to be good stewards of the creation.

In the Old Home Day parade of 2016, thanks to Andy and his helpers, the Grace Church float consisted of a beautiful Earth. It was on the back of a truck, but we all could imagine it shining like a jewel in our little solar system in the Milky Way galaxy.

We are called by God to be good stewards of this beautiful earth. Today, on Earth Day 2018, our carbon emissions have risen to over 400 parts per million. We need to reverse that trend, and it’s going to take all of us.  Grace Church has always had a focus on taking care of our beloved planet earth. Way back when, Andy and Michael had a recycling ministry, and now, we are all trying to be part of that ministry in our own homes.

Our Native American brothers and sisters have a deep appreciation of how God expressed God’s love in making this beautiful world and all that is in it. God’s love is shown forth in every tree and flower, every animal, even the wolves, bears, and lions, and every person.

Today, we are going to have some prayers for creation in our Prayers of the People. After the coffee hour and Vestry meeting, I hope some of us will stay to join in some special Interfaith Climate Prayers. In doing that, we will be joining people all over the world who will be praying at noon their time, so the earth will be covered in prayers for our stewardship of the environment.

You will also have an opportunity to sign up to receive emails about the environment and to sign a form committing ourselves to protecting the creation.

Our Good Shepherd is calling us to preserve those clear, good waters and those green pastures and all the beauty of his creation .  Amen

 

Easter 4A RCL May 7, 2017

Acts 2:42-47
Psalm 23
1 Peter 2:19-25
John 10:1-10

Our opening reading from the Book of Acts gives us a dynamic snapshot of the early Church. “The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” They studied together. They reflected on what the apostles had taught them.

They still went to the Temple each day because they still considered themselves part of the Jewish community. But they also met in each others’ homes to pray together and to share in the breaking of the bread. Their whole mission was to share the love of Christ with each other and with everyone they met. That love caused them to share everything in common. They took care of each other. If someone had a need, that need was met. And because of the depth of their love and faith, new members joined them every day.

As we continue to read the Book of Acts, we will see that controversies came up early in the Church’s history, and they have continued into the present time. But that quality of love and caring, centered on the presence of the risen Christ at the center of the
community, has held the Jesus movement together for over two thousand years.

Our psalm today is one of the most beloved psalms in the Bible. Each of us has turned to this inspiring song of praise many times in our lives.

As we have said earlier, the First Letter of Peter was addressed to Christians suffering persecution under the Roman Empire in Asia Minor, or what is now called Turkey. Scholars tell us that the letter was especially addressed to slaves and aliens. This section of the letter actually begins, “Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle, but also those who are harsh.” Today, we know that slavery is wrong. Two thousand years ago, these words were written to give encouragement to people who had no power and were suffering because of their faith. They were encouraged to remember how Christ suffered on the cross and
to follow his example of courage. We can imagine that this message could have given hope to those who suffered in slavery here in our own country. But I believe that our Lord would also want us to say that no one should be enslaved in any way. We are called to help free those who are the victims of domestic violence or human trafficking
or any other form of slavery.

The Fourth Sunday of Easter is always Good Shepherd Sunday, and our gospel comes from the tenth chapter of John’s gospel. Jesus has just healed the blind man, and the Pharisees are investigating the healing and challenging Jesus at every turn. Jesus has just told them that they are spiritually blind leaders.

Jesus presents us with a typical scene from the Middle East. There is a large sheepfold in the village, surrounded by a stone wall. In the wall there is a gate. There is even a gatekeeper, so this must be quite a large village. The sheep go into the fold to spend the night in a protected place. In the morning, the shepherds come to get their sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for the shepherd, and the shepherd goes into the fold, calls to his sheep, and leads them out. The sheep know the voice of their shepherd. They will not follow anyone else.

His listeners do not seem to understand what he is saying, so Jesus tells them, “I am the gate for the sheep.” He has implied that he is the Good Shepherd, in contrast to the thieves and robbers who might come to harm the sheep, but now he says that he is the gate into the safety of the fold. Jesus is our good shepherd, and he is also “the
way, the truth and the life.” By following him, we go into the safety of the fold and we are under his care and protection.

And he tells us, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Following him brings us into another and different kind of life. We call it eternal life, life in his kingdom. It is life in another and deeper dimension. As we follow him and spend time with him and learn from him and pray with him, we are changed.

Let’s review the context of our gospel this morning. Jesus has just healed a blind man on the sabbath. The Pharisees are upset because Jesus is not following the law. Our Lord’s description of himself as the Good Shepherd is his response to the Pharisees, some of whom have abused their power and have become wealthy as a result. For example, some Pharisees would become spiritual advisors to widows and, in the process, take all of the widows’ savings.

Jesus puts the needs of people before everything else. In Matthew’s gospel, he makes this very clear when he says, “…for I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me….Truly I tell you, just as you did it to the least of these, who are members my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25: 35-36, 40b) His care for us, his flock, translates into our care for others in his Name.

Each of knows his voice. Each of us knows when our Good Shepherd is calling us. Each of us is trying, with his help, to follow him faithfully. He knows each of us, our strengths and our weaknesses, our gifts and our flaws, and he loves us with a love that nothing can
stop.

As we reflect on our readings today, we can remember that our brothers and sisters in congregations two thousand years ago were following him, and our brothers and sisters in Asia Minor, living as aliens and slaves, found hope and strength in him. Our brothers and sisters in the Coptic Church in Egypt and in Syria, and Yemen, and Iran, and Pakistan. and many other places, remain faithful in the midst of persecution.

May each of us listen for his voice. May all of us together listen for his voice.P And may we follow him with faith and hope and love. Amen.

Easter 4C RCL April 17, 2016

Acts 9:36-43
Psalm 23
Revelation 7:9-17
John 10:22-30

In our readings for the Easter season, the apostles are freed from prison to share the Good News, Jesus appears to his followers to assure them that he has conquered death of all kinds and is truly alive, many people are healed and forgiven; many decide to follow Jesus, and the new faith spreads far and wide.

In our opening reading, we meet Tabitha, a faithful disciple who sews clothing for widows, who were often very poor in those days. Her ministry has expanded to a group of widows who also make clothes for others and support them in many ways. Tabitha has died, and the community of faith calls Peter to come right away.

Peter goes to the  upstairs room where Tabitha is lying on the bed with all her fellow ministers weeping around her. Peter asks them to leave, not because he is trying to be unkind but because he wants to have quiet to let the Holy Spirit work.

He kneels down and prays. By this time, Peter has learned the power of healing that comes from the risen Lord and from the power of the Holy Spirit. He says, “Tabitha, get up.”  She opens her eyes and gets up. Peter calls the members of the community to come and see that Tabitha is alive.

Even today, our Lord rescues us from many kinds of death. I have been privileged to see situations which physicians have called “miracles.” Someone with kidney failure is prayed over and recovers. A tumor is there but it fades away on a subsequent cat scan or X ray. Millions of people have recovered from various kinds of addictions, and they consider that they have been saved from certain death and are walking miracles.

In our reading from the Book of Revelation, we have a vision of heaven, where people “Will hunger no more, and thirst no more,” and the “Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

In our gospel, the religious authorities are asking Jesus whether he is the messiah. Jesus has just been talking about how he is the Good Shepherd, that he knows his sheep and they know him and they follow his voice. But these people are trying to find out whether Jesus fits their definition of the messiah.

And our Lord says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.”

Jesus is speaking of a relationship between himself and us. This is not an intellectual concept or something to be defined. It is a close relationship which is based on his infinite love for us.

Each of us hears his voice, that loving voice calling us to follow him, to do the caring thing, to be people of compassion, to do what is ethical, to be honest, to work for the growth of his shalom.

Each of us has been called by him. Each of us knows him. Each of us has been led to the green pastures and the still waters where we can eat and drink and be renewed.

Each of us has been saved from deaths of various kinds and from dangerous thickets that could have caught us. Each of us has been rescued from following paths that would not have been right for us. We know his voice. We know him. We trust him.

He is always with us, even in the valley of the shadow of death. In situations that terrify us, in circumstances where we become lost and confused, he leads us.

When we are surrounded by those who would do us harm, he sets up a safe space and a banquet table. He anoints our heads with oil. He extends hospitality to us and he gives his healing to us. He protects us. He gives us abundance beyond measure.

He is the true bread from heaven. He is the way and the truth and the life. He is the vine and we are the branches. He is the living water.

But most of all, on this Good Shepherd Sunday, he is our Good Shepherd. If we listen to his voice, he will lead us. If we ask for his help, he is right beside us lending a hand.

There is no way to put him into a category. Our relationship with him goes beyond logic, beyond categories. He is our God who cares so much for us that he has come among us and he has triumphed over all the things that we fear most.

He is our Savior. He is our brother. He is our Good Shepherd. May we listen to his voice and follow him into newness of life.   Amen.

Easter 4B RCL April 26, 2015

Acts 4: 5-12
Psalm 23
1 John 3:16-24
John  10:11-18

Jesus says to us this morning, “ I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.” The biblical shepherd goes out in front of the flock. He walks the path ahead of us. There is nothing we can go through which he has not endured. He knows where the good water and the verdant pastures are. He is ready to lay down his own life to protect us.

We know the voice of our Good Shepherd. In biblical times and even now, the shepherd takes the sheep up into the mountains to graze during the day and brings them home at night to a safe place in the village. It may be a cave. It may actually have a wall around it. All the shepherds in the area put their flocks into the fold, and, in the morning, each shepherd comes and calls his sheep, and his flock knows his voice and comes out and follows him. The relationship between shepherd and sheep is an intimate one.

It was not easy to be a shepherd in Jesus’ time. It was a dangerous job, and it was a profession that was on the margins of society. Paradoxically, there was the idea of the shepherd-king, the leader who cared for and protected the people, especially those who were most vulnerable. King David, who was called from tending the flocks, was the most revered example of the shepherd-king.

The twenty-third psalm is one of the most beloved of psalms. and it elaborates on the theme of the good shepherd.  I would like to take a little time to meditate together on this beautiful psalm. I am going to use the traditional version, which is on page 476 of the Prayer Book.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. Jesus has already told us that he knows each of us by name. He knows everything about us, good and bad, and he loves us with a love that nothing can stop.

The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters. On the journey of life, our Good Shepherd takes care of us. We have everything we need. He takes us to green pastures where we can graze to our hearts’ content. He leads us to water in quiet, protected places where we can drink in peace. He leads us to the stillness and serenity that make us able to know how fully we are in his presence. The still waters—how rare stillness is in this busy world.

He restoreth my soul; he feeds and strengthens, not only our bodies, but our spirits. He gives us everything we need. He reinvigorates and revitalizes us. He fills us with his love and energy.

He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his Name’s sake. He leads us, not on just any path, not just on a good path, but on the right path so that we can grow into the persons he calls us to be and  glorify his Name.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For thou art with me. Because our Good Shepherd is with us in every moment, we do not have to fear anything, even death. Sometimes our journey takes us into some scary places. We can always trust that our Lord will bring us through.

How can we have this level of trust?  The psalm gives us the answer: For thou art with me. He is with us on the journey. He is with us to guide us. When we feel scared or confused, or lost, this is a line we can say to ourselves. For thou art with me. He is with us in everything. We are never alone. We may feel alone, but he never leaves us. He is always there.

Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. If jackals or wolves come after us with teeth bared, our Good Shepherd uses the rod and staff to beat them off and protect us. The  rod and staff are also used to keep us from straying off into the thorns and thickets and getting into trouble, Our Good Shepherd uses these tools to comfort us. Comfort is from the roots con-with and fortis-strength. So, comfort actually means strength. Our Good Shepherd strengthens us in times of darkness and danger.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies. Here, the journey takes us into a situation of a battle. The enemies are gathered all around. Maybe our little flock is surrounded by wolves. Maybe these are human enemies. Maybe it is a spiritual battle and we are being assailed by the forces of darkness.

Whatever the enemies are, our Good Shepherd is creating a safe place, setting a festive table with the best food, and blessing us with the best of hospitality.  Thou anointest my head with oil. In biblical times, a good host would anoint the guests with oil. Scholars tell us that this scene of the table is almost on the level of a royal feast.

There is some threat, and our Good Shepherd is making us safe and hosting a feast into the bargain. The wolves can circle, but they cannot get in.

Biblical scholar J. R. P. Sclater writes, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies becomes a table spread in the midst of the pilgrimage, even when foes are massing to the attack. The verse has been declared to have been a favorite text in London at Communion services during World War II, when the bombing was at its peak, even in one instance when a part of the church was hit, while the service continued.” (Interpreter’s Bible, Ps. 23, p. 128)

My cup runneth over. Our Good Shepherd showers us with abundance. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. With our Good Shepherd leading and guiding us, we will journey with courage to His glory and we will get home to the safety of the fold.

May we continue to follow him.  May we follow him always.  Amen.