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

Easter 3C May 1, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pentecost 6 Proper 9B, July 4, 2021

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10
Psalm 48
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Mark 6:1-13

In our opening reading, all the tribes of Israel come together to make David their king. It is 1,000 years before the birth of Christ. He will be king for forty years.The text tells us that, for some time, even though Saul was king, David has been leading the troops into war. For years he has been doing the work of a king. Now the people want to anoint him as their leader.

God has called David to be king, and David is a unique kind of king. His rule is based on a covenant among David, the people, and God. God has called David to this position of leadership. David is a shepherd-king. Like a good shepherd, he will protect his flock. He will put the needs of his people first. After seven years, David moves the capitol from Hebron to Jerusalem, which is about halfway between the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. Under his leadership, the kingdoms and tribes are united. As we have said before, David is not perfect. But he has been called by God, and he is a person of deep faith.

In our epistle for today, we remember that Paul founded the church in Corinth, but he has not been there for a while. He has been staying in touch by writing letters, but that is not the same as being there. During his time away, other teachers have come through Corinth. They have accused Paul of being insincere because he told the people he would visit them and he has not been able to do so. These teachers have other criticisms of Paul, including that he isn’t a very good public speaker, and the latest one is that he does not have enough mystical experiences.

So Paul tells a story in the third person. Scholars say that this is really a story about Paul, but he is too humble to say that. Paul has been “caught up in the third heaven.” Scholars tell us that the third heaven is the highest heaven.

Perhaps we have not been to the third heaven, but I think many of us have had times when we have felt God’s presence in a way that goes beyond words. Perhaps we were looking up at the stars one clear night and sensed the paradox of the vastness of God, who could make such a universe, and yet the infinite love of God for a little creature like us. Perhaps we were listening to some favorite music and felt the glory and joy of God. Or maybe we have been struck with wonder at a sunrise. We have all had these moments of realizing the power and glory of God. 

The other teachers who have come through Corinth have bragged about their gifts and their mystical experiences, and some of the Corinthians have followed the example of these teachers and bragged about their gifts, especially the gift of speaking in tongues.

 But Paul does not brag. Instead he shares something deeply personal with these people, who can be quite arrogant, persnickety, and competitive. He shares that he has what he calls a “thorn…in the flesh.” He has prayed to God three times to remove this, and God has not removed it. Instead, God has told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

Scholars have no evidence of how Paul’s sharing about this weakness was received in Corinth, but you and I know that this takes us straight to the heart of the cross. We know that, when, we are at the end of our rope, and when we have tied a knot on the end of that rope and we are now hanging on for dear life, that’s when God can finally help us. Until that point, all our plans and solutions and delusions of our power can get in the way. The Revised Standard Version says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So, Paul is telling us,“[God’s] power is made perfect in weakness.”

That is one reason why our Lord died on that horrible instrument of torture, the cross—to show us that, when we let go and let God, new life happens. Paul says that is when “the power of Christ may dwell in [us].” When we admit our weakness. And when we share our weaknesses with trusted others, God’s power can act in amazing ways.

In our gospel for today, our Lord goes to his hometown synagogue in Nazareth. As a rabbi, a teacher, this is what he would be expected to do—go to the local synagogue and teach. But the people see him only as the local boy who went out into the world and came home to put on airs. The text tells us that he “could do no deeds of power there.” He did heal a few sick people. Our Lord sums it up: “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown….” Does this lack of hospitality and openness stop him? No. He heals a few people. And he calls the apostles and sends them out two by two. And he tells them to do their work with simplicity—take only what you absolutely need. As it turns out, they heal many people.

What are these readings telling us? God calls a young shepherd to be king and has Samuel anoint him as such. This young shepherd leads the people in battle. They get to know and trust him. He unites the two kingdoms into one. When God calls us to be together in community and we build that community on the covenant of love for God and neighbor. that is a foundation of great strength. God’s love calls us together and creates unity among us.

Our weakness can be our greatest strength. Sharing our weakness, asking for help, is a powerful thing. Admitting our weakness allows  us to let God help us. When that happens, miracles happen. The cross, which can be seen as a symbol of weakness, is, paradoxically, a symbol of great power, the greatest power in the world—the power of God’s love.

Gracious God, help us to love you with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Thank you for helping us in our weakness. Thank you for the power of your love.

In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Pentecost 3 Proper 6B June 13, 2021

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13
Psalm 20
2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17
Mark 4:26-34

Last week we looked on as Samuel anointed Saul the first King of Israel. Things have not gone well. Saul has not been a good king. Our reading tells us that God is sorry that God has made Saul the King. Samuel is devastated over the turn of events.

Now God calls Samuel to go to Bethlehem and anoint the one God has chosen to be the next king. Samuel is terrified at the prospect. Saul is very protective of his power, and Samuel reminds God that, if Saul finds out Samuel has gone to anoint a new king, Saul will kill Samuel. God instructs Samuel to take a heifer with him and say that he has come to offer a sacrifice to God. Samuel will invite Jesse to the sacrifice and God will take care of the rest.

When Samuel arrives in Bethlehem, the elders are trembling with terror. They, too, are afraid of Saul, who does not hesitate to destroy anyone who challenges his power. Samuel assures them that he comes in peace, which is certainly true. He is trying to carry out the will of God.

I don’t know about you, but I love the next scene. Jesse makes seven of his sons pass before Samuel, Each is a fine young man. But none of them is the one God has chosen. Finally, we discover that the last son is out in the field taking care of the sheep. The youngest of all, the one who is doing the humble work of a shepherd, is the one God has chosen. The spirit of the Lord comes mightily upon David.

One of the great lessons of this passage is what God tells Samuel: “Do not look on his appearance, or on the height of his stature…for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

What good news this is for us. God does not look on the exterior things, what clothes we are wearing, how much money or power we have. No, God looks into our hearts. If we are trying to love God and love our neighbor, God sees that.

And there is another important point in this story. Biblical scholar John Hayes writes, “The lord makes the least expected choice. Expectations are reversed. The last is made the first, and God’s power is to be manifested in weakness. (Hayes, Preaching through the Christian Year B, p. 306.)

In our epistle for today, Paul writes, “We regard no one from a human point of view.” That carries on the idea that God looks upon our hearts. Because we are following Jesus, and because we know that  our Lord is looking into our hearts, and filling us with us love and grace, we look on other people and on the world differently. 

Paul writes, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new.” Because of the love of God, because we have come to know Jesus and to follow him as our Good Shepherd, we see things differently than we did before. We see people and situations through the loving eyes of God.

Every person is our brother or sister, no matter whether they are rich or poor, no matter what race they are or what kind of work they do, no matter how they dress, none of those things matter. Every person is a beloved child of God.

There is a new creation. Everything has become new. Everything is seen in a new light. God’s light. As we are transformed, we look at our brothers and sisters, not through human eyes, but through the loving eyes of God, and we reach out to them with the welcoming arms of Christ. We are the body of Christ sharing his love with all we meet.

Our gospel gives us some parables of the kingdom of God.  It’s like planting seeds and the seeds grow and grow and there is an abundant harvest.

The kingdom, the shalom of God is like a mustard seed. It is the smallest of the seeds, yet when you plant it, it grows into a shrub, so that birds can build nests in its branches.

This is one of the greatest gifts our Lord has ever shared with us, the idea that small is beautiful. We live in a beautiful place, a small place, and it is a gift from God. May we cherish that gift.

As the next king, God chose the youngest son, the one too young to come to the sacrifice. God looks into our hearts. God gives us hope. God transforms us through the power of God’s love. We are a new creation. God calls us to see things differently because of our faith. God calls us to look beyond and through the exterior things. 

May we look at others with your loving eyes, O God, and may we love others as you love us. Amen.

Easter 6B and Rogation Sunday May 9, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, Cornelius has gathered his household and many guests to hear what Peter has to say. When Peter, the messengers, and Peter’s friends reach the home of Cornelius, Cornelius falls on his knees and worships Peter. Peter tells Cornelius to get up and makes it clear that he, Peter, is a mere mortal. Then Peter realizes that there is a large group of people in Cornelius’ house. He tells them, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.” Peter asks Cornelius why he has summoned him. And Cornelius tells Peter that an angel instructed him to send for Peter and to listen to what Peter had to say.

Then Peter preaches his sermon which is the opening reading for Easter Sunday. It begins, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality….”Peter tells the people that he has learned that anyone who loves God is acceptable to God. And then he tells these people the story of Jesus life, death, and resurrection, and how all people receive forgiveness of sins through Jesus’ name.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Easter 6A  May 17, 2020

Acts 17:22-31
Psalm 66:7-18
1 Peter 3:13-22
John 14:15-21

In our opening reading from the Book of Acts, a year has passed since last Sunday’s reading. Saul has met our Lord on the road to Damascus, and he has been completely transformed from a person who wanted to kill all the followers of Jesus into an outstanding and gifted teacher and preacher. So profound is his transformation that he has a new name—Paul.

He has preached and taught many people in Asia Minor, which today we call Turkey, and now he has crossed over into Greece. He has endured many hardships. He has spent time in prison; he has been driven out of towns for preaching the good news, and now he is in one of the great cultural centers of the world, Athens.

Just before this passage begins, in verse 16, Luke tells us that Paul “was very distressed to see that the city was full of idols.” Yet, when Paul stands in front of the Areopagus, a place where philosophers presented and discussed their ideas, he frames that observation in a different way. He says, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way.” Paul notes that they have even dedicated a monument to an unknown God, and then he quotes the Greek poet Epimenides, who wrote that in God, “We live and move and have our being.” In a spirit of knowledge of and respect for their traditions and scholarship, Paul preaches about God and Jesus. When he is finished, some of his listeners scoff, some say that they want to hear more, and some follow him. One of Paul’s great gifts was the ability to approach his listeners where they were, to listen to them, to learn about and respect their culture. As we try to share the good news in our culture, we need to follow Paul’s example.

Once again, in our epistle, Peter is addressing new Christians who are experiencing persecution. Peter is encouraging these people to continue to do good rather than retaliate with evil, and to show the hope that is in them and conduct their lives with gentleness and reverence. One note. The text says to do all these things, “if suffering should be God’s will.” Suffering is never God’s will. God’s kingdom is one in which everyone has a safe place to live, nourishing food, clothing, medical care, and good work to do. Suffering is not something that God inflicts on us. It is something we inflict on each other. God wants us to live in peace and harmony with each other.

But there is suffering on this earth, and in the midst of this pandemic, we see that very clearly. Some of our brothers and sisters are suffering and dying in disproportionate numbers during this time. God is calling us to bring justice to this situation.

In our gospel, our Lord says, If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” He says that he will send the Holy Spirit to energize us to spread his love around the whole wide earth. He says, “This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.” This led me to meditate on how important it is to seek truth and to listen to those who speak the truth in love. 

One of our truth tellers is Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has served as the Director of the Institute of National Allergy and Infectious Diseases since November 2, 1984, through the presidencies of Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump. This past week, in the face of great pressure to open up the country and get back to business as usual, Dr. Fauci called all of us to move carefully and follow the science.

Much closer to home, we have another truth teller, our own Governor, Phil Scott. He has been calling us to follow the science all along as Dr. Fauci has, and he has called upon Dr. Mark Levine, our Commissioner of Health, to give us the facts we need in order to act wisely and save lives. This past Wednesday, Governor Scott also spoke truth on a different issue. There had been an encounter in Hartford, Vermont which involved verbal abuse with racial overtones. Governor Scott addressed this issue and said, “This virus cannot be used as an excuse for hatred, division, or bigotry.” Dr. Fauci, Governor Scott, Dr. Levine, and so many others are speaking the truth in a time when we deeply need to hear the truth.

Our Lord says of the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit: “You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” In other words, we can recognize when God’s Holy Spirit is at work in a person or in a situation. We can recognize when people are calling us to live in God’s love. As our Presiding bishop has said, “It’s all about God’s love.” God’s love calls away from hatred division, and bigotry and toward compassion, unity, and understanding of others.

We in Vermont are fortunate to have leaders who respect scientific findings and reliable data abut pandemics and about the Corona virus. Please continue to follow the guidance of Governor Scott,  Dr. Levine, and our other leaders. And please continue to listen to Dr. Fauci and others on the national level who are speaking the truth.

Our Lord has gone to be with God. He is no longer here with us. We are his risen, living body here on earth. As he said, he has not left us orphaned. He has not left us comfortless. He said, “You will see me; because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

In this pandemic, as our beloved Presiding Bishop has said, love is about taking care of each other. At this time, love is abut continuing with social distancing, wearing masks when we are around others, and all the other things our truthful leaders are telling us. God gave us minds and calls us to use them. In these very strange times, God’s love is about listening to people who are telling the truth. May God continue to bless and protect Dr. Anthony Fauci, Governor Scott, Dr. Levine, and all truth tellers.   And may God lead us and guide us in the way of love. Amen.

Easter 5A May 10, 2020

Acts 7:55-60
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
John 14:1-14

In our very short first reading from the Book of Acts, the community of followers of Jesus has been growing by leaps and bounds. As we learned last Sunday, the community takes care of its members. In the portion of Acts that precedes today’s reading, the apostles have gotten so busy trying to teach people and preach the Good News, that they ask the community of faith to appoint seven men of good repute to take on the ministry of distributing food to the poor. This is a ministry of servanthood, diaconia, and these men are the first deacons in the Church.

Among these seven men is Stephen, a man full of the Holy Spirit and the love of God. In our passage for today, Stephen has been preaching about the history of God’s people and the death and resurrection of Jesus. Some of the people listening to Stephen accuse him of blasphemy. In the portion we read today, Stephen is stoned to death by an angry mob. As he is dying, Stephen asks God to forgive these people who are killing him. Stephen is the first Christian martyr, and we celebrate his feast day on December 26, the day after Christmas.

There is a brief mention in this passage of a man named Saul, who witnesses this horrible event. People leave their coats with him. Saul of Tarsus is on a personal campaign to wipe out the followers of Jesus. Very soon, on the road to Damascus, he will meet the risen Lord and his life mission will change from hate to love.

In our epistle from the First Letter of Peter, we read that Jesus is the living stone, the foundation of the Church. To paraphrase the scripture, Jesus calls us out of darkness into his marvelous light. Stephen shows forth that light in his life and ministry, and in his death as well.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is aware that he is going to the cross. He is trying to be sure that his closest followers understand everything that they are going to need to know about him so that they can carry on his ministry.

First, our Lord tells his disciples and us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God,  believe also in me.” He is telling them and us that he is going to die, and he wants to make our faith as strong as possible.

So he talks about heaven, and he says some unforgettable words that have comforted people over all the centuries since he first said them. “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places,” he says. I like the King James version, too. “In my father’s house are many mansions.” It gives us such a sense of the expansive, inclusive nature of heaven. It also makes us think twice. In my father’s house are many dwelling places, or many mansions. A house is a dwelling pace, A house could be a mansion. But how does a house contain many mansions or many dwelling places? What he is trying to tell us is that heaven is big. There is plenty of room for everyone. God’s love includes everyone. As Archbishop Tutu says, “God has a big family.” So, if we or the disciples are worried about getting into heaven, the point is that God wants us to be there. God is not trying to shut people out. God is trying to welcome people in. Some people think that there are a lot of rules and regulations about getting into heaven. But, as someone has said, God is a lover, not a lawyer. Everyone is welcome in heaven.

And then Jesus says, “You know the place where I am going.” And Thomas says, “Lord, we do not know where you are going.” And that is when Jesus says to him and to us,”I am the way and the truth and the life.” The conversation goes on, The disciples are trying to grasp some very difficult concepts about God.

Finally Jesus says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” Later on, he will say, “I and the Father are one.” Jesus is telling his disciples and us that if we have seen him, we have seen God. In the entire history of God’ s people, God was seen as very scary. People were taught that they could not see God and live. 

Now Jesus is telling us that by seeing him and walking with him and learning from him about the power of love, we have seen God. And then he says something that blows all the circuit breakers in our minds. He says, “Very truly, I tell you. the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these because I am going to the Father.”

Our Lord says that we will do greater things than he has done because he is going to the Father. He is going to send the Holy Spirit, and is commissioning us to carry on his ministry. Stephen heard that commissioning loudly and clearly, So did Saul, after our Lord straightened out his thinking. Of course, we know him as St. Paul.

What are these readings saying to us in this time of pandemic? We have the account of Stephen’s martyrdom. He was a deacon. He was given a ministry of servanthood. May we serve others in the Name of Christ. Thank you Lord, for the ministry of our food shelf servants, several of whom are among us, and their number is growing.

At the beginning of this Covid 19 journey, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry was asked about social distancing, or maybe we should call it physical distancing. He said that this distancing is all about God’s love. God wants people to be safe. We are doing this out of love for our brothers and sisters. We are wearing masks for the same reason—to keep from giving the virus to others. It’s about love. 

Like Stephen and the other deacons, we are called to be servants. These days, we are especially called to serve and help those who cannot work from home and are risking their lives to do everything from ministering to the sick to stocking shelves in grocery stores. We are also called to help those who have lost their jobs. We are going to have to extend financial and other help to them so that they can feed their families. We are going to have to think as the early Church thought. God calls us to take care of each other.

I also ask your prayers for our brothers and sisters in areas where folks are opening shops and restaurants and trying to return to normal when the numbers of new cases and deaths are still rising. We pray that they may decide to stay safe.

It’s all about love. God is calling us to use our minds and our hearts. God is calling us to seek and to do God’s will. May we seek the mind of Christ. May we seek the love of God. May we seek the wisdom of the Spirit. Amen.

Pentecost 4 Proper 6B RCL     June 17, 2018

1 Samuel  15:34-16:13
Psalm 20
2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17
Mark 4:26-34

Last week the people wanted Samuel to appoint a king for them. Our reading ended with Saul becoming King of Israel. As our reading opens today, Saul’s reign is spiraling downward. He is a disaster as a leader, and he has little regard for the guidance of God.

While Saul is still alive, God calls Samuel to anoint the next King. The tyranny of Saul is apparent in Samuel’s asking God how he can go to the home of Jesse to carry out this mission, for Saul will kill him. God tells Samuel to say that he has come to sacrifice to the Lord.

You know the story. All of Jesse’s excellent sons pass before Samuel. As wonderful as they are, none is the one called to be King. It is the youngest, David, the shepherd, who will become the beloved leader of his people. In this passage, we read something on which we could meditate for the rest of our lives: “For the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” God does not look at our outward appearance. God looks into our hearts. That is to say, God looks at our intentions, our will, our intuitions, our thoughts. Bishop Tom mirrors this statement about God when he says that we should always evaluate situations, especially vocations, in terms of two things—intentions and integrity. What are our intentions? Are we carrying out those intentions with integrity?

In our epistle for today, Paul is still in difficult circumstances. He actually admits that it is difficult for him to be here on earth alive. He would rather be at home with the Lord. But since he is here, he is going to try to please God. We can all follow his example. Paul says that Christ died so that we would no longer live for ourselves, but for our Lord. I think we are all trying, with his grace, to do that.

Then Paul echoes our first lesson when he says that, because of Christ, we should no longer regard others from a human point of view, that, because we are now following Jesus, we are called to look at others through the eyes of Christ and love them with the heart of Christ.

And then he says this most mysterious thing—mysterious because we can think about it and pray about it and meditate on it, but we probably will never plumb its depths.  Paul writes, “So, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new.” That is what is happening to us. We are being made new. We are being transformed in Christ.

In today’s gospel, we have two parables. In the first, the kingdom of God is as if someone plants the seed, time goes by, the seed grows, we know not how. The grain grows, as if mysteriously, but the growth is energetic and robust. Finally, the grain is ready to be harvested.

In the other parable, the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. very, very small. Yet is grows into a large shrub, so large that birds can nest in it.

What are these parables telling us? Here are some thoughts. The kingdom of God is growing all the time. We do not understand how it grows, but it is progressing constantly without our awareness of how it grows. And, the other amazing thing is that the kingdom of God starts small, just like a seed, like the tiniest of seeds. Yet it can grow into something we would not believe possible.

Here in Vermont, the parable of the mustard seed is very important. Here in Vermont, a very small state which assumes national leadership on all kinds of topics far out of proportion with its size, we really do think that small is beautiful. Bigger is not always better.

In the Church, we are grappling with the fact that we will never return to the glories of the nineteen-fifties, with burgeoning buildings, bulging church schools, and no end in sight. We are now in the post-Christendom era. Membership is shrinking, formation is taking place in different ways, and we are looking around our neighborhoods seeing where God is doing good things and finding ways that we can pitch in and help. Once again, Vermont is leading in this effort, and I give thanks for Bishop Tom’s leadership on these issues.         

One of the things we will want to continue is the practice of placing just as much value on small churches as on large ones. St. Martin’s Church in Houston, where Barbara Bush’s service was held, is the largest parish in the Episcopal Church, with an average Sunday attendance of 1700 people. Vermont has no parish that even comes close to that size in numbers. But in depth of faith, commitment to the life of local parishes,  interest in learning, willingness to help neighbors near and far, the Episcopal Church in Vermont has no equal. In numbers of what we may call “mustard seed churches,” Vermont may be our national leader. This is a great gift, and I hope we will cherish that gift. When people visit with you here at Grace, or even hold concerts here, they sense a deep quality of faith and life in community. This is a pearl of great price.

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation. Let the whole world see and know that things that have been cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Easter 6A RCL    May 21, 2017

Acts 17:22-31
Psalm 66:7-18
1 Peter 3:13-22
John 14: 15-21

As we think about our first reading today, we remember that last Sunday, Saul was witnessing the stoning of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr. At that point in his life, Saul was a major persecutor of the followers of Jesus. Soon, Saul would be walking on the road to Damascus and would have an encounter with the risen Lord that would change his life. So profound was this transformation that Saul received a new name—Paul.

Since we last saw him, Paul has been spreading the Good News among Gentile people. His ministry has taken him to such places as Philippi and Thessalonica. Now, he is in Athens, a cosmopolitan city, a center of learning, and a city with temples and monuments to the many Greek gods.

Paul is well educated. He is familiar with Greek writers and scholars and with Greek philosophy. In his sermon, he quotes two Greek writers, Epimenides, who wrote that “In God we live and move and have our being,” and Aratus, who said that we are all God’s offspring. (Carl Holladay, Preaching through the Christian Year A, p.277.)

Paul is delivering his sermon at a kind of speaker’s corner in front of the Areopagus, a place where people representing many points of view were welcome to give speeches to the gathered crowds. Paul honors the knowledge and traditions of the Greeks. He tells the people that their tomb dedicated to an unknown god actually is a monument to the Creator of the world, the God of all peoples. This is an excellent example of Paul’s evangelistic approach: he honored the culture of the people to whom he was speaking; he approached them on terms that were familiar to them. This is one reason why he was able to share the new faith in a way that reached people of all classes and levels of education. This gave him the ability to start new communities of faith wherever he went.

As we look at our reading from the First Letter of Peter, we remember that this letter, which was addressed to household slaves and aliens living in Asia Minor, was designed to help these faithful followers of Jesus to survive during a time of persecution.

God does not want anyone to suffer persecution of any kind. God does not want us to suffer. We live in an imperfect world that is not operating according to God’s vision of shalom. But these people were indeed suffering under persecution, not only from the Roman Empire, but also from their own masters and others on a more local basis. The main theme of this letter is that, whenever we are going through times of suffering, we can remember that our Lord suffered the worst that tyrants and despots can do, and he came through it all. Most importantly, he is alive and present among us right now to give us the gift of newness of life, life in a different and richer dimension.

Our gospel for today directly follows last week’s gospel, in which Jesus tells us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, Believe in God, Believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” This is one of the most comforting and encouraging and strengthening passages in the Bible. In God’s house, there is room for everyone who sincerely wants to be there.

Now, in the following text, our Lord is getting even more deeply to the heart of the Good News. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” If we love him, we will love our neighbor as ourselves. We will love and serve others as he did when he was here on earth.  Jesus will be with us. He says he will not leave us orphaned. We will not be alone.

He is going to send the Holy Spirit to be with us. And he says, “Because I live you also will live.”  He says, “You will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” St. Paul knew exactly what Jesus was talking about. He said. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

Through the presence of the Holy Spirit, we are made fully alive in Christ. We are given the grace and power to do his work in the world. And we are connected with our Lord with bonds of love that nothing can break.

There is a beautiful canticle for the Easter season in the Book of Common Prayer, and I would like us to say this together as a prayer of joy and faith. It is on Page 83.

Alleluia.
Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us;
   therefore let us keep the feast,
Not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil,
   but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Alleluia.

Christ being raised from the dead will never die again;
death no longer has dominion over him.
The death that he died, he died to sin once for all;
   but the life he lives, he lives to God.

So also consider yourselves dead to sin,
  and alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Alleluia.
Christ has been raised from the dead,
   the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

For since by a man came death,
  by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die,
 so also in Christ shall all be made alive. Alleluia.

Amen.

Lent 4C RCL March 6, 2016

Joshua 5:9-12
Psalm 32
2 Corinthians 5: 16-21
Luke 15:1-3; 11b-32

In our opening reading today, Moses has died and God has called Joshua to lead God’s people. They have crossed the River Jordan and have reached the promised land. They celebrate their first Passover in their new home. They have escaped their slavery in Egypt and they are now free. They will no longer need the heavenly manna that has sustained them, for they will be enjoying the produce of their new land. In this lesson, we hear the important themes of freedom from slavery, new beginnings, and, of course, God’s generosity and guidance and love for all of us.

Our gospel for today is the beloved parable of the prodigal son. Some people call it the parable of the lost son because it follows the parable of the lost sheep whose shepherd left the ninety-nine other sheep and searched until he found the lost one. It also follows right after the parable of the lost coin. The housewife searched and searched until she found it. Some people call this the parable of the loving father or the generous father.

Although this story is familiar, every time we hear it we can see it in a new way. We can identify with the younger son in that we, too, have made some unwise decisions in our lives and have asked God’s forgiveness. We can also identify with the older son in situations when we feel that our loyalty has been taken for granted and we have not received enough recognition for our hard work. We can also identify with the father when we think of all that we have done for our children.

The younger son asks for his inheritance and he goes to a far country and spends it all. He ends up feeding pigs, which, for a Jewish young man is terrible because pigs are unclean and now he is considered unclean. He comes to himself. We have all had experiences like this. We go off on a tangent and make a series of bad choices, and one day we realize that this is not who we want to be. This is not our real and true self. This is not who God is calling us to be.

The younger son goes home to ask his father for forgiveness.  His father is out there at the end of the driveway waiting for him with open arms. There is a feast because this son was lost and now is found. When one of us finds our way back, there is great joy in heaven.

The older son is fuming and he tells his father what is on his mind. “Here I have slaved and slaved for you and you never so much as let me have a party with my friends. Now you’re throwing a big wing ding for this son who has spent our family’s money.”

And then the father says the thing that tells us so much. “Son, I know that you have been with me always and you have worked very hard. Everything that I have is yours. This feast is for you, too. But we have to celebrate because your brother is now found.”

It’s a both-and. It’s not that the feast is just for the younger brother. It is a continuous feast for all of us in the Communion of Saints, and it is also a feast for those who have gone way off the path and have returned. It is a feast for those who have been faithful from the word go and all the rest of us who have made mistakes along the way.

Saint Paul addresses some of this when he writes, “We regard no one from a human point of view.” He knows what he is talking about because when he did regard things from a human point of view, he thought that anyone who did not follow the law and anyone who was not part of the in-group should be killed. That is why he went around persecuting the followers of Jesus.

But then he met our Lord on the road to Damascus and Jesus asked him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”  Scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he saw the world in an entirely different way. He saw the world from the point of view of Christ. And that is why he can write, with stirring conviction, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. Everything old has passed away. See, everything has become new!” Now I know that just because my father gives a feast for my brother who lost his way does not mean that I don’t get a feast, too. God is incredibly generous, loving, and inclusive.

God is reaching out to everyone in a spirit of reconciliation. and God is calling us to carry out the ministry of reconciliation.

But there is an important point to keep in mind. If Saul had not listened to Jesus, if he had continued on his destructive path, we would never have had this letter to read.  If the younger son had not come to himself and repented and turned back toward God and gone home to confess his destructive behavior which affected not only his family but all the workers on his father’s land and all the folks in the surrounding area who depended on his father for their livelihoods; if we humans do not come to our true selves and acknowledge our destructive behavior, and confess it with a sincere intention to change our behavior, there is no reconciliation possible. It is a two-way street. There are people who do all kinds of destructive things to other people and have no idea of the damage they are doing. They think they are doing just fine. Their chances of true repentance and full commitment to changing their behavior are small.

Most of us in this sacred place right now are somewhere on the other end of the spectrum. We are acutely aware of our errors and are genuinely pained by our sinfulness.  We sincerely confess, and we truly want to change. We know we need God’s help. The parable of the prodigal or lost son is for us. We feel so distressed and sad about our sins that it is easy for us to feel hopeless. This is why, especially during this season of self-examination and repentance and metanoia, conversion, we need to hear this parable.

God is out there at the end of the driveway waiting for us to come home—home to God, home to our best and truest self, home to the human family, home to the feast of forgiveness and new life. God is waiting to wrap us in a big hug and welcome us home to the awareness that God’s love and healing are far bigger and deeper than we could ever imagine and that we are welcome to God’s infinite and eternal feast.  Amen.

Easter 5 A RCL May 18, 2014

Acts 7:55-60

Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16

1 Peter 2:2-10

John 14:1-14

Just before our first lesson, in chapter 6 of the Book of Acts, we read that, as the number of believers grew, the apostles could not keep up with preaching and teaching plus taking care of the widows and orphans, so they called together the community of faith—it was not yet called the Church—and asked the people to select seven men to be the first deacons. As you know, it is the ministry of deacons to care for the poor and vulnerable. One of those men was Stephen.

The new faith was attracting many people, but opposition was also growing. Because of his faith, Stephen was arrested, and today we read of his being stoned to death by an angry crowd.

In a manner which reminds us of our Lord, Stephen asks Jesus to forgive the people who are killing him. And then we read a short statement, “…and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.” In the verses that follow, we read that Saul actually went into the houses of followers of Jesus and had them put into prison. And then we read of his encounter with the risen Lord and his journey from being a persecutor of the Church to being an apostle of Christ.

Saul was in the crowd watching Stephen become the first Christian martyr. He was a leader in the persecution. He thought he was doing the right thing. The risen Jesus convinced him that he needed to change his life completely. He needed to undergo metanoia, conversion. Saul thought he was doing God’s will. Christ, in his infinite mercy and love, asked him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” As a result of that encounter and that dialogue, Saul became Paul.

Our reading from Peter is also addressed to a community which is experiencing persecution. Peter emphasizes that they and we are not just individuals standing alone. We are part of a community. We are members of the Body of Christ. We are called “to proclaim the mighty acts of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

In our gospel for today, Jesus is sitting at supper with his disciples, and he is teaching them. He is trying to tell them that they and we will follow him to heaven and that he is going to prepare a place for us.

Thomas insists that we do not know the way. But then Jesus says those words that ring down through the centuries:  “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” If we just follow our Good  Shepherd down the path where he is leading us, we will be with him.

Then Philip asks Jesus to show them the Father. And Jesus says that those who spend time with him are in the presence of the Father. Jesus is really saying that he and God are one. If we are in the presence of Jesus, we are in the presence of God. Jesus is God walking the face of the earth.

What are these lessons telling us today? First, Christians are still being persecuted today. The young women abducted in Nigeria were captured because of their faith. We still do not know what has happened to them.

Secondly, Jesus meets us humans wherever we are. Jesus could look deep into Saul and see Saul’s potential. In his love and mercy, he called out to Saul so that Saul could follow Jesus and turn the energy of all that hate into love. Jesus is still calling people today.  He is calling us to share his love and healing with others.

Our epistle reminds us that, contrary to what many believe today, life is not about being a group of disconnected individuals. Life is about community. We are living stone that build the house of God. We are members of the Body of Christ. Jesus has called us out of darkness into light. We are called to spread his light and love. He is with us now, and we will be with him forever.

“In my father’s house are many dwelling places.” our Lord says. There is room in heaven for all who want to be in the presence of God. Jesus has gone to prepare a place for everyone. Just think—Jesus has gone to prepare a place for you! Jesus has prepared a place for all our loved ones who have gone before us.

For us as Christians, this is our reality, that Jesus is our Good Shepherd, that he is the way, the truth, and the life, that he calls us into loving and healing community, that we are not alone, that he is in us and we are in him, that he is risen and alive and that we are members of his living Body, the Church.

May we listen for his voice. May we follow him faithfully.  Amen.