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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion April 2, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion April 9, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
    • Sunday service - Holy Communion April 16, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…

Pentecost 22 Proper 25B October 24, 2021

Job 42: 1-6, 10-17
Psalm 34:1-8
Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 10:46-52

In our opening reading today, we meet Job once again. He wanted to meet with God, to argue his case before God. He wanted God to know that he was a good man, a righteous man. He wanted God to understand him and his situation.

As we saw last Sunday, Job did meet God. Once he was in the presence of the almighty God, the creator of the universe, he realized there was no way that he would be able to fathom the mystery of God. In today’s reading, Job says that he despises himself, but Biblical scholar James D. Newsome says that translation is a bit off the mark. He suggests that, instead of Job saying. I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes,” we should understand Job as saying, “I admit my mistake and I yield.” (Newsome, Texts for Preaching, p. 558.)

Newsome rephrases Job’s apology to God this way, “When I asked you to meet me in court, O Jahweh, I simply didn’t know what I was talking about. But things are clearer to me now. I no longer wish to challenge you;  I only wish to learn from your wisdom.” (Newsome, p. 558.)

Have you ever been angry with God? Have you ever argued with God? Shaken your fist at God and hurled questions at God? I think most of us have been angry with God at one time or another. And one important point of these readings from Job is that it is all right to be mad at God, to yell and scream and cry at God about the awful things that happen to us in life. I remember one time at a retreat, a dear friend and I knelt before the altar as he expressed his anger with God about his son’s fatal illness.

But after all of this struggle, God gives Job twice what he had before; his friends return to him. Life is even better than it was before.  And what does this mean? Newsome gives us a powerful answer: “Yahweh loves Job as Yahweh loves all people. Yahweh blesses Job as Yahweh intends to bless all people…. God’s ways are mysterious and past our understanding, but one thing is not in dispute: the God of Israel, the Father of Jesus Christ, is a God of compassion whose ultimate will for all persons is peace and joy.” (Newsome, p. 55.)

In our reading from Hebrews, the writer describes the ancient high priests who would go into the temple once a year and offer sacrifices for the sins of the people. Each priest would eventually die and would be replaced. The life, ministry, death, and resurrection of our Lord have given us a close relationship with our God. We have become God’s children. As our Lord says, we can call God “Abba,” “Dad,” or “Mom.” Because of the ministry of Jesus, we are not far away from God as Job was. Our God is in the midst of us. Our God is as close as our breath.

In today’s gospel, Jesus and his disciples are in Jericho. Herbert O’Driscoll tells us that, after you walked through the busy streets of Jericho, heading south, the beggars would be gathered on the outskirts of the city. If you had stayed overnight, you were well fed and you would be rested and might be in a better mood to be generous.

Here is Bartimaeus, a blind beggar. He hears that Jesus is coming. We can surmise that he has heard about Jesus already because he begins shouting loudly to get our Lord’s attention. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” People tell him to be quiet, but he shouts even more loudly. He is determined to get Jesus’ attention. It is a long walk to Jerusalem, and Jesus could well have ignored Bartimaeus. But he did not do that. He stopped and said, “Call him here.” Now the people who  have been telling Bartimaeus to be quiet get into the spirit of things. They tell Bartimaeus, “Take heart; get up; he is calling you.”

Bartimaeus throws off his cloak. Perhaps he is shedding his old life for a new one. Perhaps he is lightening his burden. Bartimaeus springs up and goes to Jesus. He is blind but he has heard that voice and he goes right to Jesus. Then our Lord asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And Bartimaeus says, “My teacher, let me see again.” This tells us that Bartimaeus was once able to see. He has not always been blind. To have once been able to see and now be blind lets us know that he has undergone a great loss. He was once able to see, and now he has a severe disability and has to beg for a living.

Jesus does not make a poultice and put it on the eyes of Bartimaeus, He does not even touch Bartimaeus. He says, “Go; your faith has made you well.” But Bartimaeus does not go anywhere. He regains his sight and follows Jesus.

This is our high priest, This is our God among us. He could ignore us. He could resume his journey without listening or paying attention. But he never does that. He listens. He treats everyone of us as his beloved brother or sister. He hears the anguish, the longing, the depth of our need. And he responds. Bartimaeus can now see, and what does he do? He becomes a disciple of Jesus.

Most of us have probably argued with God or railed at God and that is fine. God can take it. But we can also ask God for help. We can also ask God to heal us, strengthen us, guide us, give us the grace to do something we know we have to do, but we have no idea how we’re going to be able to do it without God’s help.

This is why God has come among us. So that we can reach out the way Bartimaeus and thousands of others have reached out to our loving God, We have all asked God for help at one time or another, and that may be why we are all following Jesus. Because there is real help with him. He asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” And we tell him, and he listens. He hears us. And in one way or another, he helps us. It may not be in the way we imagined, but it may be a way that turns out to be better. As James Newsome says, “God is a God of compassion whose ultimate will for all persons is peace and joy.” Amen.

Pentecost 21 Proper 24B October 17, 2021

Job 38:1-7, 34-41
Psalm 104:1-9, 25, 37c
Hebrews 5:1-10
Mark 10:35-45

In our first reading for today, Job finally has the opportunity to talk with God. God speaks to Job out of a whirlwind, and God has some questions: “Where were you when when I laid the foundations of the earth?…Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that a flood of waters may cover you? Can you send forth lightnings, so that they may go and say to you, ‘Here we are?’ Who has put wisdom in the inward parts, or given understanding to the mind?”

Job is in the presence of the God who has called the creation into being, the God who has made each of us and has given us our minds and our ability to think. Job is encountering the almighty God, whose power makes us humans seem infinitesimally small and extraordinarily weak.

In this dramatic scene from the Bible, Job stands silent while God speaks out of the whirlwind. This is not a meeting of equals. Biblical scholar James D. Newsome writes, “This text offers a straightforward answer, as remarkable for what it omits as for what it contains: You, Job, simply do not possess the wisdom to contest God. Therefore, trust God and you will be at peace.” (Newsome, Texts for Preaching, p. 551.)

Our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that every high priest is able to deal with our human frailties and weaknesses because every high priest is human and has these human flaws just as much we we do. After our encounter with God in our first reading, this is reassuring.

Jesus is our great high priest. He is God walking the face of the earth. We believe that he is fully human and fully divine. In contrast to the almighty God who speaks to Job out of the whirlwind, our Lord knows what it is to be human. He is not above us; he is with us and among us. The life, ministry, death. and resurrection of Jesus show us how much God loves us. God has come to be among us. God has become one of us. This is an amazing gift.

In our gospel for today, James and John tell Jesus that they want him to do whatever they ask of him. This is a demand, not a request. He asks them what they want, and they say they want to sit, one on his right and one on his left, in his glory.

Their arrogance is surprising, even shocking. He is their teacher, their leader. We can imagine that Jesus was taken aback, perhaps even a bit irritated, even angry. What in the world are they thinking, after all this time watching him take care of people, listen to them, teach them, heal them, forgive them, love them? Have they missed the point entirely?

He asks them whether they can drink the cup that he will have to drink  and undergo the baptism that he will endure. We recall his prayer to God that this cup might pass from him, and we know that his love and servanthood were fully expressed in his death on the cross. James and John assure our Lord that they will be able to drink that cup and undergo that baptism. The path to glory leads through the experience of the cross.

The other disciples are angry with James and John. And Jesus says something that expresses so much of what he is calling us to do. He says, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Jesus is telling us so many important things in this encounter. In the world, so many people are trying to climb the so-called ladder of success. People lord it over each other, and this whole process often produces tyrants.  In the shalom of Christ, we are all called to be servants. Instead of a ladder to success, there is more of a circle. Each person is a beloved child of God, an alter Christus, an “other Christ.” As we look at each other, we are not looking at a competitor or an enemy to be pushed off the ladder so that we can succeed, but at a brother or sister, an “other Christ.” When we look at each other, we are looking into the face of God, the face of Christ.

Herbert O’Driscoll writes of the disciples,  “Jesus calls them and very deliberately tells them the great truth about authority in the kingdom of God. In the world around them the basis of authority is power. But in the kingdom, and in the community that claims to be questing for the kingdom, authority comes from servanthood….This has been the pattern of his own ministry among them. Now it must become the pattern of their ministry to each other and among others.” (O’Driscoll, The Word among Us Year B, p.135.

This is the pattern our Lord is calling us to follow, and thanks be to God, that is what happens here at Grace. Folks pray together, work together, love each other, help each other, and go out into the world to help others. Power is not the source of authority. Love and service are  the center of our life together. Thanks be to God.

With this in mind, We will be doing a book study on Zoom beginning in November. Our book will be “Love is the Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubled Times,” by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. Please let me know if you would like to join us, and what days and times would be good for you. This winter, we will be reading together several books about walking the Way of Love. This will be an inspiring journey.

Almighty God, you created the universe, from galaxies and planets to tiny, delicate flowers, and butterflies and tigers and everything in between. You came among us to show us how to love and serve each other. Give us the grace to be aware of your power, which surpasses our understanding, and your love, which you have expressed in coming among us as one of us. Help us to love you with all our hearts and to love and serve others. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Pentecost 19 Proper 22B October 3, 2021

Job 1:1; 2:1-10
Psalm 26
Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
Mark 10:2-16

Our opening reading today is from the Book of Job. Job is a good person of deep faith. He has a loving family and is well off financially. He is respected as a person who is just and compassionate. People seek his counsel. Satan, who in those times was seen as a kind of prosecuting attorney, feels that, if Job had a few challenges thrown his way, his faith would quickly evaporate, and he would curse God.

In the portion of the first chapter which has been omitted, several disasters have already occurred. The Sabeans captured Job’s oxen and donkeys and killed the servants who took care of them; a fire burned up the sheep and the shepherds, and the Chaldeans captured the camels and killed the camel drivers. Worst of all, a huge wind came across the desert, collapsed the house, and killed Job’s seven sons and three daughters.

In our passage for today, Job is stricken with sores that cover his entire body. In those days, such a skin condition was considered to be leprosy, so he is now ritually unclean and an outcast. As we look in on the scene, he is scratching his sores with a piece of broken pottery. His wife encourages him to abandon his integrity, curse God, and die. But Job will not abandon his faith. He says that we have to receive the bad that comes from the hand of God as well as the good.

We will be reading the Book of Job for three more Sundays. Does God send bad things for us to suffer? Just a few weeks ago, we read from the Letter of James, “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift is from above, from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”In commenting on this passage, Beverly Gaventa says, “The writer insists that good gifts (and not temptations) come from God.” (Gaventa, Texts for Preaching, p.490.

We live in a fallen creation that is not operating in the way God would want it to operate. God’s shalom is not yet here. We are all working to build God’s kingdom of peace, harmony, and love. In Biblical times, people believed that good things happened to good people and bad things happened to bad people. As Christians, we know that that is not true. All we have to do is to look at the cross.

As we read the Book of Job, we will be asking questions such as, why do some people maintain their integrity even in the midst of hardship and suffering? Why do some people have faith that seems unshakeable?  Why do bad things happen to good people? Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote a wonderful book responding to that question. Thus far, Job has lost his children and all of his possessions. He now has leprosy and is an outcast. But he still will not curse God.

In our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, the unknown writer, a person of deep faith, tells us that God has “spoken to us by a Son.”  Of the Son, the writer says,”He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.” Jesus, the eternal Word, is God walking among us. The writer wonders why God would even care about us, but we know that God cares so much that God comes among us. The risen Christ is in the midst of us now, leading and guiding us. When we have times of suffering, we can look to him. He went through the worst experience possible, and through that experience he gave us new life. He made us his brothers and sisters.

In our gospel for today, our lord is facing the Pharisees, and they are asking him a question, not because they want to learn, but because they want to trip him up. Back in those times, a man could divorce his wife for something very trivial. She burned the supper or he didn’t like the way she kept house. A woman could not divorce a man even if he beat her. Women and children were chattel, objects, less than human.

Jesus presents an idea of marriage as a relationship between two people, two human beings, who become so close that they are like one flesh. That is the ideal we are all aiming for. However, there are cases in which a person is not able to keep his or her marriage vows. Domestic violence is one instance of this. There are valid reasons for the dissolution of a marriage. In this gospel passage, Jesus is raising marriage to its proper level as a partnership between two precious and beloved human beings. That is revolutionary thinking for his time.

But the next portion of the gospel is also revolutionary. Little children are trying to come to see Jesus. People want Jesus to touch these little ones. In those times, children were chattel, possessions, objects, expendable. Men did not pay attention to children in those times. That was women’s work. Children were considered a nuisance. They were at the bottom of the social scale. The disciples are trying to keep the children away. They are scolding the children.

And Jesus says something that turns the world upside down: “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.”

Little children are open, receptive, trusting. That’s how we need to be with God. Open and receptive. Open to God’s love and joy and peace and healing. Listening carefully for the voice of Jesus, our Good Shepherd, calling us, leading and guiding us. Trusting in the power of the Spirit and the grace of God. 

Jesus, our Good Shepherd, lead us to those still waters and those green pastures where we may be still and know that you are God. Give us grace to build your kingdom of love and peace, in the power of the Spirit. In your holy Name we pray. Amen. 

Pentecost 16 Proper 19B  September 12, 2021

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

In our opening reading today, Wisdom is calling to us. Wisdom is depicted as a female person, usually a beautiful young woman. The prophets are seen as people who have acquired wisdom. Jesus is seen as Wisdom.

Herbert O’Driscoll writes, “Wisdom is understood as the companion of God, a part of God, an aspect of God. The figure of Wisdom expresses the mind of God. This is why the Wisdom passages are so important….   We are being asked to consider a relationship with God as the deepest and richest knowledge of all. To possess it is to enrich all other knowledge. Moreover, knowledge of God brings a sense of being at home in ourselves and in the world, because we know to whom we and the world most truly belong.” (O’Driscoll. The Word among Us, p. 102.)

In our passage from Proverbs, wisdom is calling to the people, but very few people seem to be answering.

James Newsome writes, “A gracious God has placed at the disposal of men and women the ability to understand what God wants them both to be and to do. That is to say God has created a world of order and coherence, and by studying that world (in terms both of what we might term “nature” and of “human nature) it is possible to understand God.” (Newsome, Texts for Preaching, p. 506.)

As we listen to Wisdom calling to the people and hearing very little response, we can be grateful that we are on the journey of following Jesus, growing close to God, and living the Way of Love.

The fact that we are on this journey is itself a gift from God. Our loving God has brought us together, and, as we study the scriptures and learn together and pray together, and spend time with our risen Lord, we learn more and more the depth and breadth of God’s love for us.

In our gospel for today, Jesus asks the disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter says “You are the Messiah.” And then Jesus tells them what is going to happen. He is going to die on the cross. And Peter says, Lord, that horror cannot happen to you. And Jesus tells Pater that, by saying that, Peter is tempting Jesus to be unfaithful to his call. And then our Lord calls us to take up our cross. And then he says that those who lose their life for his sake and for the gospel will save their lives.

One way of thinking about Wisdom is to think that those who are on the path of Wisdom are seeking the mind of Christ. We are seeking, as our diocesan mission statement says, “To pray the prayer of Christ, learn the mind of Christ, and do the deeds of Christ.” This is a trinitarian concept that goes back to St. Augustine of Hippo, a very ancient and wise way of thinking about our lives as Christians.

Reading Bishop Curry’s book, The Way of Love, has made me think that when we take up our cross, we are really taking up the mantle of the Way of Love. We are really trying, with God’s grace to see each brother or sister as a beloved child of God and we are working with our loving God to help God create the Beloved Community of all people on earth living together in mutual respect and peace. God’s shalom, where, to paraphrase retired Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori, everyone has enough to eat. a place to live, adequate clothing and other essentials, healthcare, and good work to do.

Another book I have been reading recently is Sara Miles’ “Take this Bread,” the story of how she goes into St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, receives Communion, and answers a call from God to start food pantries. In this process, serving the folks at the food pantry becomes a kind of Holy Communion, in which everyone is loved and fed, clients become volunteers, and God’s love is magnified and passed on and on in a kind of eternal and ever-growing circle. Our food shelf is very much like that.

This makes me realize that when we take up our cross, it is a cross of love. It does involve a death to self; it involves listening very carefully for the distinctive call of our Good Shepherd. It involves following him, but he is always guiding us and taking care of us. Always there is the love, so deep we cannot fathom it, so wide we can’t see across it even with a telescope. Love, surrounding us and carrying us. Love that picks us up when we are too tired to walk. Love that leads us to green pastures and still waters. Love that brings light out of darkness, hope out of despair, wholeness out of brokenness, life out of death.

In this relationship with our extraordinary Good Shepherd, we are moving toward Wisdom. He is Wisdom. And we are moving toward the heart of God. And the heart of God is love.

I’m hoping that we may have a group study of both these books so that we can read them and reflect on them carefully, maybe a chapter at a time, savor them, share our responses, and grow together in the love of God, the mind of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Loving God, thank you for calling us to your Wisdom. Lead us and guide us, O Lord. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Pentecost 8 Proper 11B July 18, 2021

2 Samuel 7:1-14a
Psalm 89: 20-37
Ephesians 2:11-22
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Biblical scholars Walter Brueggemann, James Newsome, and colleagues write, “Something new begins when God’s powerful love and loving power are acted out.” They are especially referring to what they call “the radical newness that is worked in Israel with the appearance of David.” (Brueggemann, Newsome, et al Texts for Preaching, p. 428.)

As we know, David was able to draw all the tribes together and create a united Israel. God had called David to be the king. In our first reading for today, David has built a house, and he wants to build a house for the ark of the covenant. He shares this idea with Nathan the prophet, who appears for the first time in the passage. Nathan encourages David to go ahead with the project, but that night, the Lord tells Nathan that God will build a house for David. God has a special relationship with the family of David. One of David’s descendants, Solomon, will build the temple to the Lord in Jerusalem. The Messiah will come from the house of David.

In our epistle for today, part of the Letter to the Ephesians, a kind of circular letter written to the churches in Asia Minor, now called Turkey, by a faithful disciple of Paul, the theme of God’s love creating a new thing is continued.

All kinds of people were coming into the community of faith. Some of them were Jewish, and some were Gentiles, non-Jews, people who might be worshipping one of the Greek or Roman gods, or who might not have any religious connections. Many of the new converts were Gentiles, and the writer realizes that these people might have felt like second-class citizens in the community. They were not familiar with the Hebrew scriptures or the law or the tradition. And he tells these people, “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups [Jews and Gentiles] into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law…that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.”

Brueggemann, Newsome and colleagues write, “Clearly Jesus, according to this text, runs well beyond David in envisioning and enacting a new, single community of humanity, which overrides our deepest divisions.”  (Brueggemann, Newsome, et al, Texts for Preaching, p. 428.)

Our Lord is creating a new community in which “God’s powerful love”and “God’s loving power” are being acted out.

In today’s gospel reading, we remember that Jesus has just heard of the death of his cousin, John the Baptist. I think Jesus and John were quite close. They were members of a large extended family, and they were kindred spirits and faithful servants of God. So, when he heard of the death of John, I think Jesus was very sad. But he did not let that stop his work of creating loving community, teaching, and healing people. As our reading opens, he has sent the apostles out to teach and heal. Now they are coming back and reporting all they have done. 

We can imagine that they have much to share with him and with each other. They have gone out two by two, and they have shared the good news and taught, and healed people. After this debriefing, Jesus calls them to go away to a quiet place to rest and, undoubtedly, to pray. We can imagine that both he and they are exhausted from all their work. They get into a boat and go to the other side of the lake. 

But a crowd of people arrives there ahead of them. And the text says, “he had compassion on them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he began to teach them many things.” Jesus cares about people.  No matter how tired he is, his compassion seems to be almost endless. This is an example for us. We are human, and our compassion is not endless. But our Lord is calling us to try, with his grace, to be compassionate to everyone we meet. 

Then Jesus and his disciples cross back to the other side of the lake. People recognize him and bring sick people from far and wide to be healed. Wherever he goes, people bring sick friends and relatives to be made whole again. Even touching the hem of his garment heals people. The healing power of our Lord goes beyond our understanding. We, too, are called to extend the healing power of his love.

“Something new begins when God’s powerful love and loving power are acted out.” Each and every one of you is sharing the power of God’s love with others, some in ministry with elders, some with animal rescue, some at the food shelf, some with Meals on Wheels, some with young people, the list goes on and on. You are all doing ministry, caring for people, animals, and God’s creation. This week, thanks to jan, our friends at the food shelf, and our brothers and sisters at First Congregational Church in St. Albans, we are beginning to serve families in our new Welcome Home Initiative for people transitioning from temporary to permanent housing. These kinds of ministries break down barriers and bring people together. They help God to create God’s big family.

“Something new begins when God’s powerful love and loving power are acted out.” Gracious and loving God, thank you for your powerful love and your loving power. Thank you for calling us to be together to share life in you. Thank you for all the ministries you give us to do. May we minister to each other and to our brothers and sisters out in the world with your powerful love and your loving power. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.