Friday, December 11, 2009
I just wanted to let you know that St. Thomas' is now on Facebook. I encourage you to check us both out! You do have to be a member of Facebook first, but I have to tell you that I am very pleased to recommend it to you. If you are online and reading blogs, then get on Facebook too. I expect to do most of my personal posting and the parish posts on FB for the forceable future.
The St. Thomas page on Facebook is here!
Proper of the Day will now go back to hiatus. Advent Blessings Continue!
Saturday, December 6, 2008
Sunday, November 30, 2008
St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Vernon
Advent 1B RCL 2008
Isaiah 64:1-9; Ps 80:1-7,16-18; 1 Cor 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37
The Rev. R. F. Solon, Jr., Vicar
In the Name of Him who will come again in power and great glory, Amen.
I’m sure everyone here has heard about the poor Walmart employee who was literally trampled to death on Friday morning when the store opened. It happened not far from here, relatively speaking – many of us know lots of people who live on Long Island. And all the news this week has also covered the horrible terrorist incident in Mumbai, India, where among others, a young rabbi and his wife from Brooklyn were deliberately killed in a horrible and intentional attack. Not too far away from us again. I could go on and on. So could probably any of us. The world that I and perhaps you as well, have known, a world of relative safety and security – that world seems to be not just crumbling, but out and out collapsing. It seems like Isaiah’s lament from the first reading, “You have hidden your face from us, you have delivered us into iniquity” is as true in our own day as it was in his.
Today is the first day of the season of Advent. This is perhaps the least understood and also most difficult of the seasons of the church year. You know of course that the most important season of the year is Eastertide, the Great Fifty Days of celebration over the Resurrection of Our Lord. And before that is the season of Lent, a period of six weeks where we are urged to prepare anew for what will come after the drama of Holy Week. And the second most important season is Christmastide, which begins on Christmas Eve and lasts through the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6. Christmas is the Feast of the Incarnation, when God became man so that we might come divine. And just like for Easter, early Christians began to observe a period of preparation for Christmas, too. This season became known as Advent, from the Latin Adventus or “Coming.” During these four Sundays before December 25, we take time to look backward at the events leading up to the First Coming of the Lord at the manger in Bethlehem. And we also look forward to the time we recite each Sunday in the Creed when we say, “and he will come again in glory, to judge both the living and the dead.”
The looking back part is easy, but it’s the looking forward that is hard. It might seem like we’ve been in Advent for weeks now, because we’ve been dealing with some of the hardest of the hard words in Matthew’s gospel. We shift now to the Gospel of Mark, and over the course of this new church year, which begins today, we’ll delve deeply into the particular point of view and emphases of this evangelist. Today we hear from the famous or infamous “Little Apocalypse” of Mark. “Apocalypse” simply means “revealing,” or “revelation,” and this is a passage where Jesus seems to be talking to his disciples about what will happen in the future. And since he is, as we recalled last week, Lord of Heaven and Earth, he should know, right?
There’s a lot going on here, but it seems to me the most important part of this reading is not the images of the angels flying around out of heaven or the gathering of the elect from all the earth. Notice what Jesus says in verse 32: “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” This has always been a very comforting verse for me. I’ve found apocalyptic language, like what we are hearing today and what the entire Book of Revelation is about, to be problematic for me personally and spiritually. I admit I don’t understand it very well, and I often have difficulty seeing how it might speak to us today in the 21st century, especially since it’s usually using images and catchphrases that are very time bound. They would have been understood by Mark’s readers and hearers, but even then it was puzzling at best. It was never meant to be taken literally, although many Christians try their best to do so. And so we get to all these exciting predictions about starts falling from heaven and such, echoing today’s reading from Isaiah. And then Jesus says, in effect, “Don’t get excited too much about what I’m telling you, because the only person who really know what’s going on and what’s going to happen is God the Creator anyway.”
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think this means we can simply dismiss out of hand what Jesus is talking about. And in fact he will tell us in a moment not to do just that. But I think it’s a welcome tonic for the obsession some Christians have with end times. There is a lot of weird stuff being preached out there. and a lot of people spend a lot of time and effort trying to predict the future from these obscure passages from today and scattered throughout the bible. It’s ironic, perhaps, that in this season of the year, when we actually take time to reflect on the relative importance of the events of the world around us compared to God’s grand scheme, that the first thing we hear, right at the beginning of the season, is essentially, “Don’t get too hung up on it all.”
But that’s not all Jesus tells us. “Be aware, keep alert. Keep awake!” he says in the very next verse. Just because we don’t exactly know what will happen or when, doesn’t mean we can simply slack off and do nothing. Jesus tells a much abbreviated version of the parable of the talents that we just heard two weeks ago as a reminder that while we are waiting, there is much to do. Last week we were commanded in no uncertain terms what that work is – making sure that those around us know of the tangible love of God in their lives, that we proclaim it to them not only with words but most especially with actions. And while we are waiting and working, we are called to be alert, too. What is this being alert anyway?
To be alert means to be aware of what is going on around us. It requires an openness to using all our senses, to listening, to watching, to feeling, to tasting, to touching. It also requires a stillness on our part, a quietness. If we are talking, we can’t be listening. To be alert means to slow down and be quiet, so that we actually can see and hear and touch and taste what is really going on, instead of what we think or assume is going on. And so the message of this Advent, and every Advent, is to reground ourselves in the world around us, and in what God is calling us to do and be. And we can’t do that if we are running around, constantly busy, continually buying into the message of the culture to do more, to be more, to buy more, or else you aren’t good enough. That insidious voice wants to keep us busy so that we can’t hear the still small voice of God trying to break though into our hearts and souls, just as the tiny baby will once again break through the gloom and doom of the entire cosmos in a few short weeks.
So what to do this Advent? Slow down. Be quiet. Be alert! Let me suggest some practical ways you can practice being alert this Advent season.
Can you not do just one thing you might usually do this Advent? Maybe it’s a Christmas party, although we know they are really holiday or Advent parties, because Christmas doesn’t come until December 24th. Instead of going to that one more thing, stay at home with your family. Have a meal together, or order in if you’re tired. Take some time and simply be present to one another. No need to rush around and get stressed out.
You might use the Advent calendars that are compliments of the parish as part of a daily Advent observance. You can read iteach day in the morning. Get some markers and color in each day after you’ve read it, as a visual cue about how close you are getting to Christmas. I’ve got mine hung up on the wall next to my dresser, so I can’t help but see it as I’m getting dressed.
You might get an Advent wreath for your home. If you have a child in Sunday School you should be receiving one. Like we do here, light one more candle each week until you have all four lit on December 21st, the 4th Sunday of Advent. Light your wreath anytime anyone sits for a meal, even if it’s only for a quick breakfast in the morning. Say the prayer of the day from Sunday as you light the candle. You can find it on the front of the scripture insert each Sunday. The Advent wreath is a great way to bring the spirit of Advent here from our community Sunday worship into your own homes.
Or, perhaps you can spend five minutes a day, just 300 short seconds, simply sitting. You might look at a cross or a candle. Or your Advent candle if it’s nearby. You don’t need to do anything else. No need to read. No need to pray as such. Just sit. For five minutes. It’s not long, although the first few times will seem like forever. Set a kitchen timer if that would help. I know one very good friend who does this in her bathroom. She has a chair there and a five minute pause has become part of her morning routine. This is actually the spiritual practice I am going to adopt this Advent, although not perhaps in the bathroom.
We can’t escape the ongoing clamor of the world around us. Horrors like the tragedies in Long Island and Mumbai continue to assault our senses and our sensitivities. We can get worn down by all the incessant noise and demands on our attention and time and energy. But Advent isn’t merely, or even mostly, a time to get ready for Christmas. It is, of course, but even more it’s a time of sacred waiting, a time to allow the noise of the world to recede just a bit, a period to reflect on what our true priorities are, as opposed to what the world says they should be. And so, I invite you to enter as fully as you can into the spirit of Advent. Oddly enough, the less you actually do in these next twenty five days this season, the more you will be actually doing so!
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Excellent for Christ the King Sunday, and coutesy of my friend Josh. Here's the English text from the Book of Common Prayer (The Orthodox have a slightly different numbering of the Psalms than Western Christians use, which is why it's Psalm 23 in the video):
24 Domini est terra
1 The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, *
the world and all who dwell therein.
2 For it is he who founded it upon the seas *
and made it firm upon the rivers of the deep.
3 “Who can ascend the hill of the Lord? *
and who can stand in his holy place?”
4 “Those who have clean hands and a pure heart, *
who have not pledged themselves to falsehood,
nor sworn by what is a fraud.
5 They shall receive a blessing from the Lord *
and a just reward from the God of their salvation.”
6 Such is the generation of those who seek him, *
of those who seek your face, O God of Jacob.
7 Lift up your heads, O gates;
lift them high, O everlasting doors; *
and the King of glory shall come in.
8 “Who is this King of glory?” *
“The Lord, strong and mighty,
the Lord, mighty in battle.”
9 Lift up your heads, O gates;
lift them high, O everlasting doors; *
and the King of glory shall come in.
10 “Who is he, this King of glory?” *
“The Lord of hosts,
he is the King of glory.”
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Last Pentecost - Proper 28A RCL 2008
Ez 34:11-16, 20-24; Ps 100; Eph 1:15-23; Matt 25:31-46
The Rev. R. F. Solon, Jr., Vicar
In the Name of the Lord of Lords and King of Kings, Amen!
Then I stopped by the office on Tuesday morning to check on messages and stuff. I passed though the lobby and glanced over at the pantry. It was completely bare. Even that canned okra? Gone. There was nothing there except some baby formula and the “who-to-call” handouts. Admittedly, it wasn’t the first time this has happened, but for whatever reason this time it hit home. After all, we had put up a sign asking people to take what they need but to leave some for others. Whoever visited Monday night didn’t even do that. I admit I felt perturbed, angry, and even a little violated. How could someone just take everything like that? Maybe those other food pantries are right. Maybe we need to set up a more protected system, so we can make sure people don’t take too much, so that there’s something for more people. Times are really tough economically right now. Maybe its time to revisit how we help out those in need.
And this one is a doozy. Jesus is now on the throne of heaven, Lord of all nations and Judge of all peoples. That’s one reason we’re hearing this on Christ the King Sunday. Nowadays we Americans don’t have a good sense of kingship or authority, but think perhaps of a Presidential motorcade or maybe the upcoming Inauguration and you might get some emotional sense of what’s going on. Jesus proceeds to divide people into two groups, on his right and on his left. (I might point out incidentally, as a left-handed person myself, that Matthew’s blatant handism is a bit offputting.) But be that as it may. He tells the ones on his right that they are blessed by God because they have taken care of Jesus’ own needs. When they took care of any of the poor and downtrodden and destitute, they were doing it for the Lord. The people on his right were surprised to hear that. And because of that, off they go to heaven.
And in perhaps the most direct and harsh words that Matthew uses in the entire Gospel, he condemns the people on his left hand to eternal punishment because they didn’t take care of Jesus’ needs when they did not minister to the poor and needy among them. Those people are surprised too, but they seem to have no options left and off they go to hell. There’s no getting around this language. It’s in the original Greek as well as the English. This seems pretty clear.
There a few things that it’s important to understand here, it seems to me. First, notice the quadruple repetition of the ways to help others out. Remember that throughout the Bible, and particularly in Matthew, whenever something is repeated it means to pay attention. And here, the same list of actions is announced not just once but four different times. Talk about a neon sign saying, “Listen up, people!” I’m not sure there is another instance in the entire New Testament at least that is repeated four times. This is obviously a really important thing for Matthew and hence for us.
There’s another thing that we might miss on a casual reading. At the end of time, notice it says that “all the nations” will appear before the throne. That’s a phrase that means everyone – Jews, Gentiles, Romans, Greeks, Barbarians. Absolutely everyone. No one is exempt. Everybody is included. So that means that everyone is not included in the judgment, but also in the “least of these” category, those who are members of Jesus’ family. There’s no special category of those who were helped. It isn’t just those like us, or just Christians, or just residents of Sussex County or whatever. It’s everyone.
And that’s actually perhaps the key to understanding this passage, it seems to me. After all, for it to be Gospel there should be News and it should be Good. It might be hard to find the Good News here, given the extremely negative things going on here. But it is there, and it’s actually not too difficult to find.
Notice who is doing the judging. It’s Jesus. It isn’t the sheep or the goats. It’s Jesus. He is the one who is the King and Lord of all Creation. He is the one who sits on the throne, channeling all the imagery of Isaiah and Ezekiel, whom we heard in the first lesson, into this heavenly vision. It is only him. He has the power, and he has the authority, and he has the responsibility to make wise judgment. And of course he will! Better him than us. We’re only human and we don’t have total knowledge like Jesus does. It’s above our pay grade and I, for one, am very thankful for that.
You know why? Because it frees us to concentrate on the giving and our ministries of service and not on whether or not those whom we serve are worthy - or not. Remember that it is “all the nations” who are both being judged and who are included in Jesus’s family. As followers of Jesus, our task is to do always what he did. He did in fact feed hungry and give water to the thirsty and all the things of that quadruple list. And he was remarkably indiscriminate about who he healed and ate with and served and died for. And that, I think is what the point of this gospel is. That’s the Good News. Jesus is the judge, not us. We don’t have to worry about whether those whom we help are hoarding food, or whether they follow the rules of the food pantry, or whether they really need it or not. That’s ultimately between them and God. Everybody, we who minister and those whom we minister to, will have to face Jesus in Jesus’ own good time. The Good News is we don’t have to worry about what anyone else is doing or not. We only have to ensure that we are doing as Jesus would have us do.
So I hope you can find it in your hearts and wallets to continue to contribute to the Food Pantry, and to our Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets, and for the material needs of St. Thomas’s itself. Continue your ministries or service to this each other and this parish and in the community. Do like my friend does and volunteer to serve Thanksgiving Dinner somewhere. Whatever it is and whatever you can do, the need is always present. It’s not ultimately about those we are helping. It’s about treating them as Christ himself, and let Christ figure everything else out. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got enough to figure out and worry over than in trying to take on the job of Lord of Lords and King of Kings. Thanks be to God that’s for Jesus! I for one am relieved and delighted to have him do it.
Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well¯beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Today is Veterans' Day in the US, the day originally when WWI ended, on the 11th month on the 11th day at the 11th hour. My first job out of college was as a civilian in the Information Technology group within the Defense Logistics Agency, an agency of the US Department of Defense. I got the opportunity to work with lots of active duty Marines, Soldiers, Sailors, and Airfolk (we called them "airmen" in the 80s) and gained great respect for what they do and did. My Federal service was a wonderful time for me, made so in large part because of the dedication and duty of the military members I had the privilege of working with and for. Even now, when I so disagree with the foreign policy of our nation, I cannot help but be angry with the way the current Administration has treated our veterans. No matter whether I agree with why they have been sent overseas or not, we as a nation still owe them and must take care of them and their families. That, I believe, is our solemn obligation.
And, as I observed on Memorial Day, we in the church do a disservice to our Veterans, it seems to me, by not having a proper observance on this day. Seems to me we could use the same observance as I suggested for Memorial Day andit would work fine. Alternatively, the stuff from Joel about the ravaging army (we are reading it in the Daily Office this week) would be appropriate. Are there other passages that come to mind?
For Heroic Service, BCP p. 839
O Judge of the nations, we remember before you with grateful hearts the men and women of our country who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy. Grant that we may not rest until all the people of this land share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept its disciplines. This we ask in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Monday, November 10, 2008
What was most on my mind this weekend was an incident that happened on Thursday. A cross was burned on the front lawn of a family who supported Barack Obama. Hardwick is in Warren County, just next door to us in Sussex County. It appalled and disturbed me that still, in 2008, there are people who pervert the symbol of my faith, a symbol of love, into a symbol of hatred and racism. My homily addressed this by noting that, as Christians, the Parable of the Over and Undercaffeinated Bridesmaids says that we have the obligation to never simply acquiesce to evil in our midst but to confront it and stand against it. We simply can't ignore it or just stand idly by while it happens.
Praya for the family who were the victims of this incident. Pray for those who perpetrated it. And pray for the Church, that we might always be alert and be ready to confront evil wherever it occurs.
O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Friday, November 7, 2008
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to
other nations of the earth.
To the President, the President-elect and members of the Cabinet, to Governors
of States, Mayors of Cities, and to all in administrative
authority, grant wisdom and grace in the exercise of their
Give grace to your servants, O Lord.
To Senators and Representatives, and those who make our
laws in States, Cities, and Towns, give courage, wisdom, and
foresight to provide for the needs of all our people, and to
fulfill our obligations in the community of nations.
and integrity, that human rights may be safeguarded and
And finally, teach our people to rely on your strength and to
accept their responsibilities to their fellow citizens, that they
may elect trustworthy leaders and make wise decisions for
the well-being of our society; that we may serve you
faithfully in our generation and honor your holy Name.
head above all. Amen.
Monday, November 3, 2008
Here, in note form, is what I offerred at thre homily. As always, I welcome your comments!
St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Vernon
Proper 25A RCL 2008
Joshua 3:7-17; Ps 107:1-7, 33-37; I Thes 2:9-13; Matt 23:1-12
The Rev. R. F. Solon, Jr., Vicar
Israelites at the Jordan before the Crossing into Israel proper....
Scary situation – 40 years years, Moses dead, spies reported back bad things, etc.
They can see the other side, the Promised Land....
But The river is pretty deep – can’t cross it right now....
Still they have a lot going for them….
What to do?
Once again, God saves them – G’s initiative, not theirs
Their response is in today’s Psalm – “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is Good”
9 separate times quoted in the Bible!
Seems to me we’re in a similar situation....
As a community , we want to move forward with Parish Goals....
For us personally, we have our own goals and dreams for the future.....
The deep water of the economy is before us, blocking us from our Promised Land.....
How are we going to cross it?
And yet Good Things Happening:
Worship Every Sunday and Principle Feasts
Welcome Mat Ministry
Autumn Quiet Day
All Saints Party
3 people presented for reception
7 or more for Baptism
Over 20 children enrolled in SS
I sense vitality and commitment to our Episcopalian identify here in Vernon
That’s a lot, it seems to me!
We are praying together, playing together, and serving together.
Israelites had much going for them, and perhaps they weren’t so good at seeing it – had gotten used to grumbling in the desert.
Maybe we aren’t used to seeing our good gifts from God either. Maybe we’re looking for a miracle to split the waters in too.
Maybe instead we are laying stones in the water so that eventually we can cross on dry ground.
Much to give thanks to God for, for he is good!
Our gratitude toward God leads us to offer our own gifts back to God of time, talent and treasure.
We are starting that time of the year when it’s important we talk honestly about what God is doing for us and what our responses will be. It’s my hope that our individual responses and response as a community will be to see the good things that are happening, see the stones being paid across the water, see the water itself piling up on one side and on the other. This week pledge cards are being prepared and will be ready for you. We’ll gather them in on Christ the King Sunday on November 23. Throughout the month members of the parish will talk honestly about what this community means to them. As they do so, I invite you to take a look around. Think about what God is doing right now for you in the midst of all the fear and uncertainty that surrounds us. The water looks deep and wide. But How will you respond to the invitation to cross to the Promised Land?
That water? It isn't so deep, or so cold, or so wide.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!
Almighty and merciful God, it is only by your gift that your faithful people offer you true and laudable service: Grant that we may run without stumbling to obtain your heavenly promises; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Saturday, November 1, 2008
Who are the beloeved saints in your life? Perhaps it's one of the "official" ones, perhaps one known only to you. I invite you to name them in the Comments, and if you're willing, tell a bit about why he, she, or they are your favorites(s).
While you're pondering, here's a version of the hymn tune "Lasst uns erfeuen," which is the tune for "Ye Watchers...."
Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
Friday, October 31, 2008
WHEN the night wind howls
When the footpads quail
Then is the ghost’s high noon!
As the sob of the breeze
And away they go,
The dead of the night’s high noon!
And then each ghost
Till the welcome knell
The dead of the night’s high noon!
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!