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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion February 5, 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 February 12, 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 February 19, 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 16 Proper 20A September 20, 2020

Exodus 16:2-15
Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16

Last Sunday, we read the inspiring account of how God led the people out of slavery into freedom. This Sunday, we are on the journey with God’s people. Sometimes journeys are exciting. Going to new places can be interesting, educational, and a lot of fun. Sometimes journeys are more challenging, like hiking the Long Trail or the Appalachian Trail or even climbing Camel’s Hump on a late autumn day when the higher you got the icier it gets. Sometimes journeys are inward exploration, like therapy or recovery from addiction. In the beginning there can be a sense of excitement, and there are also times when you just want that drink or drug or when it’s so hard to move away from old habits of thinking or doing that you just want to quit.

Today, God’s people just want to give up, turn around  and go back to Egypt because they are really hungry and the food was very good there. In other parts of the scripture, the text actually mentions their favorite foods, the melons and the leeks. So they complain to Moses and Aaron. And God hears their complaint and feeds them with quails in the evening and manna in the morning. God hears them. God feeds them. God’s mercy and care are always with us.

The Scriptures tell us that God’s people wandered in the wilderness for forty years. We have  been wandering in the wilderness of this Covid desert for six months, and we are getting very tired of the whole thing. We have not shared Holy Eucharist for all these months; we cannot gather in our beautiful church building which symbolizes God’s love to us and which reminds us of the great cloud of witnesses, the faithful people who have worshipped and absorbed God’s word and tried to do God’s will over two centuries. This building is a holy place for us. It wraps us in God’s love. And we cannot go in.

And we are feeling sad and frustrated. And maybe a bit angry as well.

I think we can identify with the people of God on their journey through the wilderness. We may not be physically hungry but we have had it  with this pandemic, and we have a lot to complain about.

This past Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci joined Governor Scott’s press briefing for the first half hour. He gave Vermont high marks for our work so far. He even said that Vermont can be an example for the nation. He noted that we have not achieved this because we have a small population. He said that we have achieved our low numbers because of wearing masks, social distancing at least six feet, washing our hands as often as possible, avoiding crowds, and being outdoors as much as possible. If more populated areas followed the same guidelines, he said, they would have the low positivity rates and other great statistics that we have.

In other interviews, Dr. Fauci has warned that the fall and winter will be a challenge and that we need to be careful to continue to follow the guidelines. On Tuesday he advised us to “Be prudent,” and to be careful regarding our interactions in the community. He said he does not think a second wave is  inevitable if we continue to follow the health measures we have been doing.

We want to get back to normal. We want to go back into our church building, share Holy Eucharist, not wear masks, sing, and have coffee hour. Unfortunately, that is not going to be happening for a while. 

On May 18, delegates from all our parishes gathered in the Cathedral Church of Saint Paul. Our delegates were Beth, Lori, Jean, and me. We had three outstanding priests who felt called to be our Bishop. We had had opportunities to meet and talk with these people at the walkabouts. In an atmosphere of love and with a framework of meditation and prayer, and, with a profound sense of our oneness in Christ, we elected our Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Dr. Shannon MacVean-Brown, on the first ballot. An election on the first ballot is very rare.

The Episcopal Church goes back to the earliest roots of the Church in claiming the apostolic succession. We can trace our bishops back to the apostles.  The word “Episcopal” means “having bishops.” In the service of ordination of a bishop, we read that a bishop is called “to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church.” St. Paul addresses this when he writes to his beloved Philippians, “Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that…I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel.”

In her meeting with the clergy this past Wednesday, Bishop Shannon told us that the House of Bishops had recently met with Dr. Fauci.  In that meeting, Dr. Fauci encouraged everyone “Not to let [our] guard down.” He said that “cold and dry air helps the virus to thrive.” He told the bishops that fifty percent of transmissions of the disease come from people who have no symptoms. The  bottom line is that in-person worship indoors will not be happening soon. This is not just in Vermont but in Episcopal churches around the nation. These decisions are based on science.

This is extremely difficult news to hear. I think it’s easy for us to identify with God’s people in the wilderness. Why do we have to be going through this?

Our gospel for today can be shocking. Biblical scholar Thomas Troeger writes, “The story is about something greater than employment practices.” Referring to Matthew’s community, Troeger writes,  “People have made enormous sacrifices to follow Jesus, and now there are newcomers, including Gentiles. …This is what the kingdom of heaven is like. God, without breaking agreements with the friends who came early to the cause, will be generous to all, including the latecomers.” (Troeger, New Proclamation Series A 1999, p. 224.

God’s love and grace go far beyond our expectations. We are all beloved workers in God’s vineyard, whether we have been working faithfully for years or months or weeks or days. God’s love and grace are given to all of us in equal and generous amounts. 

We have called Bishop Shannon to be our leader. Her guidance to us is coming, not from a place of fear, but from a place of wisdom and love. God has called us together. Some of us have been here at Grace for a long time. Others have joined us more recently. I know we all love each other, and those of us who have been here awhile are very happy to welcome our new bothers and sisters. 

This time in the life of the Church and in our life together is extremely challenging. And it is one of those times when we really need to focus on being one with God and each other just as Jesus and the Father and the Spirit are one.

To paraphrase our reading from Paul and our gospel, let us all stand firm in the unity of the Spirit, thanking God for God’s outpouring of love and grace. And let us work together in God’s vineyard to share God’s love and grace with everyone we meet. With God’s unfailing help, we will get through this time, and we will be stronger for it. Amen.

Pentecost 3A RCL June 21, 2020

Genesis 21:8-21
Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17
Romans 6:1b-11
Matthew 10:24-39

Last Sunday, our first reading ended with the birth of Isaac. At last, Abraham and Sarah have a son. This Sunday, we celebrate the weaning of Isaac. Scholars tell us that in those times, about sixteen hundred years before the birth of Christ, babies were weaned when they were three years old. There is a great feast going on to celebrate this occasion, and Sarah sees the son of Hagar, her slave, playing with Isaac. Hagar’s son is older than Isaac. 

Years ago, when Sarah had been unable to have a child, she told Abraham to have sex with her maid, Hagar, so that he would have an heir. Such things were done in those times. Having an heir meant having a future. 

Now, Sarah is seeing Hagar’s son as a threat to her son Isaac. He is older and he might try to present himself as Abraham’s heir in place of Isaac. So Sarah tells Abraham that he must order Hagar to take her son and leave. They are in a desert environment, and this is going to place Hagar and her son in great peril. Abraham is very upset over this. God tells Abraham to do what Sarah is asking and God also tells Abraham that It is through Isaac that Abraham’s descendants will be named, but that God will make a nation of the son of Hagar.

Abraham gets up early in the morning, gives Hagar a skin full of water and some bread, and sends her on her way with her son. Hagar goes into the wilderness of Beer-Sheba. She puts her son in the shade under a bush to try to protect him from the sun. Then she goes as far away as she can and still see him. She does not want to see him die.

Having done all she can, Hagar begins to weep.  The text says that “God heard the voice of the boy.” Apparently, he was crying, too. Thus we learn the boy’s name, “God hears” is the translation of the name Ishmael.  The angel of God calls to Hagar from heaven and tells her that God will make a nation of Ishmael. God calls her to take her son’s hand.  Then she sees a well. She goes and fills the skin with water and gives Ishmael a drink.

The text says, “God was with the boy and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness and became an expert with the bow. His mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.” Ishmael is a Bedouin, the ancestor of the Arab people. Christians and Jews trace their ancestry to Abraham through Isaac. Muslims trace that lineage through Ishmael.

On the human level, this is a story of jealousy and fear on the part of Sarah, emotions that drive her to treat Hagar and Ishmael very badly. On the divine level, this is an eloquent statement that God can love and protect more than one person or group at the same time.   

Biblical scholar Thomas Troeger writes, “The failure of people whom we have most honored and admired, people like Abraham and Sarah, cannot defeat the compassion of God who intervenes to rescue and uphold us.” (Troeger, New Proclamation A Series 1999, p. 121.)

Our epistle today reminds us that we have been crucified with Christ. Our old self has died. As Paul writes, “Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again.” We have been crucified with Christ, and now we are in newness of life with him. We are being transformed into his likeness.

In our gospel for today, Jesus talks about many things. He talks about confusing evil with good. He says that everything will come out into the light. He tells us that God cares even about a sparrow, that God knows each of us intimately, even to the number of hairs on our heads, and God loves us very much. He tells us not to be afraid. And then he, our Lord, the Prince of Peace, says something that shocks us. “I have come not to bring peace, but a sword.” And he says that even family members will be set against each other.

Our baptismal vows call us to honor the dignity of every human being. This is a very difficult thing for us humans to do. In our own country, people held slaves until the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Indeed, people continued to keep slaves until the first Juneteenth, June 19, 1865, two and a half years after the Emancipation. We have come to realize that one human being cannot own another. It is wrong. 

And yet, we have had such difficulty thinking of our Black and Brown brothers and sisters as fully human, just as we had a problem thinking women were fully human. We thought that getting a college education would be too difficult for them, that their minds were not up to that challenge, We thought that women should not vote, that they were not quite up to that task. 

When we were hiring workers, we hung out signs saying “No Irish need apply.” The tendency to put down other people, deny them their human rights, the tendency to be blind to the fact that God loves each of us and all of us, is, in my opinion, what our Lord is talking about when he says that he brings a sword of division. He is calling us to work our way through this issue so that we can help him bring in his peace, his shalom.

When he said, “I give you a new commandment: Love one another as I have loved you,” he knew he was challenging us. But I think he also thought and hoped that, with his guidance and grace, we would be up to the challenge. 

Our lesson from the Hebrew scriptures, written by the Elohist writer almost two thousand eight hundred years ago, addresses this issue. God loves Hagar with the same infinite love with which God loves Sarah. God loves Ishmael with the same infinite love with which God loves Isaac. As Bishop Tutu says, “God has a big family.” Within that big family, may we all be one as Jesus and God are one.  Amen.

Christmas 2   January 5, 2020

Jeremiah 31:7-14
Psalm 84:1-8
Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19a
Matthew 2:1-12

Our opening reading from the prophet Jeremiah describes the exiles coming home from the north.  Everyone is returning home—not only those who are healthy and strong, but also the blind, the lame, those who are pregnant, even those who are giving birth. God is calling the people home, and there is great rejoicing. The text tells us that the life of the people will become “Like a watered garden,” a life of safety and peace and growth and plenty.

Psalm 84 was sung by pilgrims going into the temple in Jerusalem. It is a song about our desire for union with God. 

Our reading from the Letter to the Ephesians tells us that God loved us before the world was formed. Before time, God loved us and called us to be God’s children. We will spend our entire lives trying to grasp the depth of God’s love for us.

Our gospel for today is the story of the wise men coming to “pay homage” to Jesus. The text does not say that there were three wise men. Tradition has developed that part of the story. There are many theories about the star that guided these men on their journey. Some say that it was a conjunction of planets; others say it was Halley’s comet. Scholars think these men were astrologers and priests from Persia, people who observed the stars very carefully. Translating them into more modern terms, I see them as deeply spiritual scientists, astronomers or astrophysicists. They were people who were respected and taken very seriously. And they saw something in the sky that they knew had great meaning. They saw that star and they had to follow that star no matter what. Their sole purpose was to “pay homage” to this new king.

When they finally reached Judea, they followed protocol and went to King Herod and asked where the child was, and we know that this news of a new king terrified Herod, who so insincerely asked the wise men to let him know where the child was so that he, too, could go and “pay him homage.” What he really wanted to do was to kill the infant who was a threat to his power.

Biblical scholar Thomas Troeger tells us that the Greek word translated “pay homage” is proskyneo.  Troeger writes, “Because ‘journey’ is a primal metaphor for the life of faith, [we] might explore how the [journey of the wise men] begins with their need to give themselves utterly and completely to the only one who is worthy of worship. This implication is clear in the Greek, since proskyneo was commonly used  to describe the custom of prostrating oneself at the feet of a king. The physical posture dramatically expresses the idea of giving not just gifts, but our entire selves to Christ.”

Troeger points out that, when Herod says that he, too would like to pay homage to the new king, the irony of his statement is striking. Troeger writes, “The irony is that Herod unknowingly states what in truth he needs to do. The despot who rules by violence and fear needs to prostrate himself before the power of compassion and justice, needs to give himself entirely to the grace that is incarnate in the child whom the magi are seeking.”

Troeger reminds us that, when they finally reach the house, not a stable or a cave because their journey has taken at least a year, the wise men go into the house, see Mary and Jesus, and “pay homage.”

He concludes, “Only after this act of worship, only after giving themselves completely to Christ, do they present their material gifts.”

May we also give ourselves completely to Christ.  Amen.

Pentecost 23 Proper 28A RCL November 16, 2014

Judges 4:1-7
Psalm 123
1 Thessalonians 5: 1-11
Matthew 25:14-30

In our reading from the Book of Judges, God’s people have fallen into the hands of King Jabin. We hear the good news that God is going to give strength to Barak and Deborah to win the victory over King Jabin and live in freedom. In our epistle, Paul once again sounds the theme that we are called to be awake.

This morning, I would like to focus on the parable we hear in the gospel, the familiar parable of the talents. The master gives one person five talents, another two talents, and another one talent. Scholars tell us that a talent is worth fifteen years’ wages. If we recall the work of Thomas Troeger, who actually calculated the value of one talent, basing his figures on a wage of fifteen dollars an hour after taxes, one talent is worth $468,000’ two talents are worth $936,000. and five talents are worth $2,340,000. This master is generous.

I would offer the thought that each of us is the servant who has received five talents. God has given us so much. God has given us the gift of life itself, the gift of loving families, good work to do, comfortable homes, food, medical care, clothes to wear so that we can stay warm in winter. We are rich in blessings. We have so much.

Now, we can say, Well, I worked hard for what I have. And this is true. But who gave us the energy and the intelligence and the drive and the perseverance to work hard? These, too, are gifts from God. The point is that everything good in our lives comes from God.

I always like to suggest here that we make a gratitude list or update our list. I can breathe. I can walk. I can talk, I can see. I can hear. I can think. I can listen. Many people here have the gift of being healers. Some folks here are gifted painters and carpenters. Some folks here are gifted athletes, musicians, gardeners, teachers, creators of accessible spaces. All of you here have the gift of being with other people and helping them to feel heard and giving them hope. All of these are gifts from God. And you honor those gifts from God, Quietly, without fanfare, you use those gifts to God’s glory.

Perhaps the greatest gift that God has given us is God’s unconditional, unfailing love. In our opening reading today, God’s people have fallen away from God, and God is still going to raise up Deborah and Barak to set them free. God can count the hairs on our heads, God knows us inside and out, God knows our strengths and our weaknesses, God knows us, wears and all, and still God loves us mightily. God loves us with a love that will never go away, never die.

This is made so clear to us in the life and ministry of Jesus, God walking the face of the earth. God is not a God who stands far off. God loves us so much that God comes to be with us, to teach us how to live. This is the greatest gift of all.

Let us just pause for a moment and remember: God loves me. If I were the only person on earth, Jesus would have died for me on the cross. God loves me more than I can ever imagine. May God give me the grace to accept that unfailing love.

In response to all of God’s gifts, which are beyond our imagining, we are called to return to God a worthy portion—the Bible says one tenth— of what God has given us. A worthy portion of the time, talent, and treasure that God has given us.

This is what our pledge represents. Our thankful response to God, and our returning to God a worthy portion of what God has given us. This is between each of us and God.

Our pledge includes our service to others in the community, our caring for neighbors and friends and family. I know that all of you are constantly reaching our to others and offering help. Our pledge also includes charitable contributions to organizations such as the Red Cross, Episcopal Relief and Development, the United Thank Offering, the United Way, and many other fine charities.

Time, talent, and treasure. How do we spend the time God gives us? How do we use the talents God has given us? How to we spend the treasure God gives us? Someone once said that we can tell our priorities by looking through our checkbook. That is probably true. We can also get an idea of our priorities by looking at how we use the time and talents God gives us.

As we prepare for Thanksgiving and Advent, please think about these two key things: 1) God loves us more than we can fathom; and 2) everything we have is a gift from God.

After we spend some time meditating on these things—they are mysteries which we will never be able fully to understand, but it is still good to try to plumb the depth of the love behind these truths—then we make our pledge in gratitude.

The Attitude of Gratitude—one of the most powerful things in this world. That is the basis of our pledge and that is the ground of our offering of our God-given time and talents in service of our brothers and sisters.

God has given us so much. May we always be grateful. May God’s Name be praised! Amen.

Pentecost 3A RCL June 29, 2014

Genesis 22:1-14

Psalm 13

Romans 6:12-23

Matthew 10:40-42

Our first reading this morning, the story of Abraham’s possible sacrifice of Isaac, is agonizing and shocking.  It is also one of those portions of the lectionary which illustrates how important it is to pay attention to the context of a lesson from the Bible.

Scholars tell us that this passage was written by the Elohist writer, who worked around 750 B. C. But the story itself comes from a much earlier time, around 1600 B. C., when Abraham came into the land of Canaan.

At that time,  some of the people of that region believed that the gods they worshipped demanded human sacrifice, including the sacrifice of children. This seems truly horrible to us,  but these kinds of beliefs have been held around the world over the years. Some scholars have wondered whether Abraham, coming into this new land, thought his God might be calling him to sacrifice his son Isaac, and have theorized that that idea is the reason for this story.

The story is poignant and wrenching. Would God ever ask us to sacrifice our children? Would God have let Abraham kill Isaac? The answer is No. God does not want us to sacrifice children. God calls us to protect children.

Biblical scholar Thomas Troeger writes, “ If we consider the story from the perspective of ancient society, then we may be freed to glimpse its redemptive meaning. The story rejects the sacrifice of children. In the middle of the story, Abraham says that God will provide a lamb for the offering, and God later instructs Abraham, ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him.’” (22:12) (New Proclamation, Series A, 1999, p. 129.)

Our understanding of God has evolved over the centuries. At one time, people were terrified of God, probably because they were so aware of God’s power and so accustomed to the use of power to dominate and control and instill fear. Over the centuries, and especially because we now know our Lord Jesus Christ, we have been able to realize that God loves us and wants us to offer, not human beings or animals, but our hearts and lives to be renewed and transformed. Throughout this whole journey up the mountain, Abraham has the faith that God will provide the offering.

This passage applies to some complicated and disturbing events that are going on in our own area right now. We have seen the deaths of three young children, and all three had been under the supervision of our Department of Children and Families.  This reading about Abraham and Isaac lets us know that God wants us to make sure that all children are nurtured and kept safe.  This is going to be a complex and challenging task.

In our epistle for today, we have another example of a cultural context which is different from our society. In St. Paul’s time, slavery was common all over the Roman Empire. It was a fact of life. If you were a slave, you had to do whatever your master said to do. If you were free, you were not under such constraints. Paul is telling us that freedom in Christ does not mean that we can do anything we please. Freedom in Christ is choosing to ask him what he would have us do, and then, with his grace, walking in his footsteps and doing his will.  We are called to give our lives to our Lord. so that he can lead us and guide us.

Today’s gospel is the closing section of Jesus’ instructions to his disciples. He is sending them out into the world. They will be depending on the hospitality of others. Scholars tell us that the term “little ones” does not necessarily mean children. Jesus referred to his followers as “little ones” and children. He called us to become as children. Children are open and trusting. That is how we are called to be in relationship to God.

So the context here is that Jesus’ followers are going out to share the good news. How will they be received? We know that some were treated very badly. Some were persecuted. Some were killed. They were scorned and ridiculed, ignored, told to go away.

Sometimes they were welcomed with open arms and invited to stay with a family for days, even weeks at a time. A new family was being formed by these ties as the disciples traveled around. That family now spans the globe and crosses every race and country and culture.  That family is the communion of saints, the big family of God. When we read this very brief but meaningful gospel, we usually focus on the hospitality we are called to offer in the name of Jesus. And, yes, we are called to treat everyone as if he or she were our Lord.

Let us for a moment look at this from the point of view of a disciple, traveling from town to town. It is hot and dusty and your feet are sore, and every bone in your body aches. You go to the door and someone offers you a drink of cold water. This means that they know how hot and tired and dusty you are. This is true caring. They may not say much of anything, but you know they care.  These caring actions are the core of our ministry. When a disciple went to a home and was welcomed in this way, that was often the first step in a strong and deep friendship in Christ.

What are these lessons telling us? Our first lesson reminds us that God calls us to cherish children, nurture them, keep them safe from harm, and help them grow in every way. Like Abraham, we are called to trust that God will provide. We are partners with God and we must do our part, but God’s grace and generosity are amazing.

Our epistle reminds us that, as the Collect for Peace says, to serve God is “perfect freedom.” Following Jesus leads us to paths we would not have dreamed of. And our gospel teaches us that prayer and closeness to our Lord lead to loving action and service to others.

Dear Lord, help us to care for your children.  Help us to put our lives in your hands so that we may follow you and help others in your name. Amen.

The Fifth Sunday of EasterYear C RCL April 28, 2013

Acts 11:1-18

Psalm 148

Revelation 21:1-6

John 13:31-35

In our opening reading from the Book of Acts, we are given the gift of being present at one of the pivotal moments in the history of the Church.

Peter has had his powerful vision of a sheet coming down from heaven with all kinds of animals on it. The voice of God says, “Get up. Peter. Kill and eat.”  But Peter refuses. He says that he has always followed the dietary laws. Then God tells him that all foods are made clean by God. This happens three times.

Peter is still pondering these things when three men arrive where Peter is staying in Joppa. The Spirit tells Peter to go with them. Just think how differently things would have been if Peter and Mary and Joseph and Paul and so many others had not been paying attention and being open to the voice of God and the leading of the Holy Spirit. Peter and the men arrive at the home of Cornelius the Centurion, a military man, a Roman and commander of a body of a hundred soldiers.  When Peter and the men arrive, the Holy Spirit falls upon Cornelius and all his household. Peter shares a meal with the people there.

Then we fast forward to the beginning of our reading. Peter is in Jerusalem.  He is being questioned as to why he shared a meal with Gentiles. He does not try to explain his actions logically.  He shares his experience of the vision in which God tells him that the new faith is for everyone. As Bishop Michael Curry and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have said, “God has a big family, the whole human family.”

In our reading from the Book of Revelation, we see the vision of the new heaven and the new earth, where the creation is restored to wholeness. This is the vision we are working for.  God is making all things new.

Today’s gospel takes us back to a crucial moment. This is before the crucifixion, Jesus has just washed the disciples’ feet. He has said that one of them will betray him, and Judas has just left. Think of this. Jesus has just performed his act of  servanthood, a tender, gentle, intimate act of washing their feet. Judas has gone off into the night to do his awful deed. Jesus knows his time has come. The terrible chain of events is now under way. “Little children,” he says, I am with you only a little while longer.”

Jesus knew he had very little time to be with them. I suspect that the disciples did not realize all of what was going to happen. They were probably shocked and deeply moved by his washing of their feet. But now he is saying that there is very little time left. The words he is about to speak are some of the most important words in the gospels. These are the thoughts he wanted us to remember forever. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this, everyone shall know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.”

The commandment to love one another is not new. The Hebrew scriptures call us to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. But Jesus is calling us to love each other as he has loved us. This is what is new about the call to love—that Jesus has showed us how to love in all the words and actions of his life among us. In Christ, we have a living example of how to be loving people. This is not an intellectual exercise or a point for debate or discussion. He is our example.’ And he is the source of the love we are called to live and to share.

Thomas Troeger of Yale University writes, “The newness is the source that feeds this love: the humility of the Almighty as revealed through Christ’s death, the transformation of the meaning of glory from worldly renown to Godly compassion. We are not simply to use words to tell people about the meaning of the cross and resurrection.

“When we allow the love of Christ to take deep root in us, so that it flourishes in all that we do and say to one another, it is the first step in helping the world to understand how Christ has transformed glory. We give witness to what no purely verbal argument can ever accomplish: the glory of God breathing through the life of a Christ-centered community.”

How does our Lord love us? He loves us as a Good Shepherd. He knows each of us intimately, our gifts and strengths, our flaws and weaknesses, and he loves us infinitely.  He gives his life for us and to us. He loves us in a way that calls forth the best that is in us. He loves us in a way that enables us to grow and accept new truths as Peter did and to love and serve others in ways we would not be able to do without his grace. He calls us to be open to new levels of love and service. And he calls us to love each other as he has loved us. He calls us to be a community that lives that kind of love.

He does not call us to offer complex theologies. He does not call us to argue over the words of the Creeds, as we have done for centuries, or to fuss over the fine points of liturgy, as we sometimes have done in the Church.

He calls us to love one another as he has loved us. It may sound simple, but it isn’t easy. Yet, day in and day out, I see you living into this commandment. With his grace and love to empower and guide us, I believe Grace Church is answering our Lord’s call to be a loving community. We know each other, we support each other, we love each other.  We do this because he has called us to be a community of love and inclusiveness, and we know that our life together is possible only because of the amazing gift of his love for us.

Risen Lord, thank you for your love and grace. Lead us and guide us as we follow you and share your love.   Amen