Monday, December 31, 2007

End of the year thoughts

This is presumably my last post for 2007. I am off to a party yet this evening. 2007 has been an eventful year for me on a number of levels. I am amazed at what has gone on in my life and in the life of our nation and The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Communion, and the whole world. There is much to think about and reflect on. I'm not sure I'm glad that 2007 is over, but I have high hopes for 2008, both personally as well as professionally. My prayer is that you will as well.

On this last night of 2007, I was particularly struck by the aptness of the Psalm appointed for Eve of the Holy Name, which we celebrate tonight. The focus on time was perfect,I thought. See what you think:

Domine, refugium
  1. Lord, you have been our refuge *
    from one generation to another.
  2. Before the mountains were brought forth,
    or the land and the earth were born, *
    from age to age you are God.
  3. You turn us back to the dust and say, *
    "Go back, O child of earth."
  4. For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday
    when it is past *
    and like a watch in the night.
  5. You sweep us away like a dream; *
    we fade away suddenly like the grass.
  6. In the morning it is green and flourishes; *
    in the evening it is dried up and withered.
  7. For we consume away in your displeasure; *
    we are afraid because of your wrathful indignation.
  8. Our iniquities you have set before you, *
    and our secret sins in the light of your countenance.
  9. When you are angry, all our days are gone; *
    we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
  10. The span of our life is seventy years,
    perhaps in strength even eighty; *
    yet the sum of them is but labor and sorrow,
    for they pass away quickly and we are gone.
  11. Who regards the power of your wrath? *
    who rightly fears your indignation?
  12. So teach us to number our days *
    that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.
  13. Return, O LORD; how long will you tarry? *
    be gracious to your servants.
  14. Satisfy us by your loving-kindness in the morning; *
    so shall we rejoice and be glad all the days of our life.
  15. Make us glad by the measure of the days that you afflicted us *
    and the years in which we suffered adversity.
  16. Show your servants your works *
    and your splendor to their children.
  17. May the graciousness of the LORD our God be upon us; *
    prosper the work of our hands;
    prosper our handiwork.


PS - The painting is "Saturn Overcome by Amor, Venus, and Hope" - Vouet, ca. 1645.

Sermon for the First Sunday after Christmas

As promised:

St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Vernon NJ

The Sunday after Christmas 2007 (BCP)

Isaiah 61:10 – 62:3; Psalm 147: 13-21; Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7; John 1:1-18

The Rev. R. F. Solon, Jr.

Well, the official Christmas season is over, right? Ever since Thanksgiving or even before, we’ve been inundated with messages to buy, give, shop. Buy this for your loved ones. Give this special gift to someone you know. Shop till you drop! Don’t’ miss out! There’s a special sale! Now open extended hours! I don’t know about you, but I didn’t go near a mall the last week or two before Christmas. It just got to be too much - all the emphasis on stuff.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m no Scrooge. I like presents just as much as anyone else, both getting as well as giving. You may have had a special present you searched high and low for. Perhaps you received a something particularly thoughtful this year that you weren’t expecting. Hopefully you experienced joy from your giving and receiving, and hopefully those with whom you gave and received, experienced joy as well. We often often receive joy from stuff, don’t we? We’re human, after all, flesh and blood, made of matter and atoms and DNA and proteins and all the rest, and there are times, like at Christmas, when we feel particularly connected to other people. Often, it’s our gift-giving and receiving - our stuff - that facilitates our joy and our connectedness. We’re made of stuff, and we can’t help but like, appreciate, and sometimes even love our stuff.

In one sense Christmas is indeed over, although we Christians know that the Twelve Days of Christmas begin on December 25, they don’t end on December 25. I happened to venture finally to a local mall on Friday to just take in the sights and get a little exercise. I wandered through some of the stores and actually bought a couple of books that looked interesting. But I remember most of all is the sales. In the men’s department of one department store chain, there were items that were 50, 60, and even 75 per cent off! One rather nice shirt, warm and thick for winter, was marked done to $7.50 from $65.00 I kid you not! I was amazed. I almost bought it, too, just because it seemed like such a good deal. I ended up leaving it on the shelf, but it got me thinking. Even the retailers want to gift us presents. Yes, they want us to buy stuff, but they also make it so easy, practically giving perfectly fine stuff away almost for free.

And you know, in a way, society has it right with its relentless emphasis on stuff. Stuff is important. It matters. Even God thinks so. God thinks that stuff is important. Remember the creation story? After each day of creation, God pronounced that “it was good.” After the sixth day, when God created humanity, God said we were very good. Us! Not just good, very good! It’s the only time that a part of creation was deemed very good. From the very beginning of creation, God has taken a particular interest and delight in flesh and blood, in us humans. In stuff. The atoms and molecules and all, the stuff of life, our physical lives, is something God has always paid attention to. Think back to Christmas and the Sundays of Advent. In almost every case, the reading from Isaiah is grounded – and I use that term deliberately – in the stuff of creation:

In days to come
the mountain of the LORD's house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains.

Or this:

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,

the desert shall rejoice and blossom;

like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly.

From Christmas Eve:

You have multiplied the nation,

you have increased its joy;

they rejoice before you

as with joy at the harvest.

And from today’s reading:

For as the earth brings forth its shoots,

and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,

so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise

to spring up before all the nations.

And what do we celebrate these twelve days with all our might? Yes, the birth of Jesus. But it isn’t merely a birth, as miraculous as any birth is. This birth was very special. The Gospel for today is possibly the most beautiful passage in all of the New Testament. Hear the beginning of it again: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” Jesus did not merely begin his existence in a little stable in Bethlehem. Jesus has always existed, has always been loved by God and loved God. More than that, Jesus has always existed, even before there was a creation. The Gospel tells us that Jesus the Christ was intimately involved in creation, right alongside the Father who called things into being. Jesus is actually the Word of creation itself. Jesus is no mere created being like you and me, but has always been alive and active.

That might be Good News enough. But the reason Christmas is so significant, so crucial, is what comes a little later: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth….From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” My friends, we Christians make the audacious claim that God chose to become actual matter – atoms and molecules and proteins and DNA and all the rest, and to be a real human being, just like you and just like me. We believe that Jesus was both human and divine. And those aren’t just throwaway words either. The Word didn’t just appear to be human – The Word was human, completely and fully homo sapiens. Think about it. God cared about stuff – about our stuff, about our lives, so much, so much! That God became stuff too. God didn’t just declare stuff, especially us, to be good, even very good, at creation. No, God has been actively concerned about creation and most especially us throughout the billions of years of creation itself. That attention, that love, is what drove God in Jesus to literally live among us as a human being.

We take pleasure and receive joy from our giving and receiving of presents at this time of the year. Our culture is obsessed with stuff, with physical things that we can touch and see and feel. Think about your favorite present this year, or one that you have always remembered. Maybe it’s one you gave rather than one you received. Remember how good it felt? Remember the love and joy you felt for the other person,. The connection you had? Now think of the indescribable joy God feels over his paramount gift to us. And it’s a real present, too, all wrapped up, not with pretty paper and a bright bow, but in simple bands of cloth. That gift to you and to me is physical and we can see and feel and touch it. That gift is Jesus, who was with God and who is God, and who became a real baby and lived in a real place with real people in a real time. And although one part of his physical life ended on a Cross nearly two thousand years ago, we still touch and see and feel him. God’s gift to us of Jesus is truly the gift that keeps on giving, because it is given again every time we come to the Table to celebrate Jesus among us in the Bread and the Wine – the Body and Blood – of the Eucharist.

My friends, that’s the meaning of Christmas. Immanuel – God-with-us - didn’t just end on that Friday on a hill outside Jerusalem. God-with-us is now and here and real. To God, stuff matters. We physical human beings matter to God. God created us, and likes to give presents too, and gives us his ultimate present – himself. And now each of us has to decide what to do with that present. How will we thank him? How will we use what we have been given? This Christmastide, I invite you think about what the gift of Jesus means in your own lives and in the life of St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church. You have a new vicar arriving, and it will be a joy to begin your life together. I pray that the spirit of Christmas will fill your hearts throughout the next weeks and months and years. Never forget the great joy you are to God. Never forget this Christmas present that tops all other presents you’ll ever receive or give. Because, from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

In the Name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Proper of the Day: 1st Sunday after Christmas

Today, the First Sunday After Christmas, is also the Sixth Day of Christmas, and today the Church celebrates the mystery of the Incarnation. The Gospel reading for today, which is duplicated (with additions) from the Third Mass of Christmas Day, for those who didn't have one (!), is the Prologue of the Gospel of John. Possibly one of the most sublime passages in all the New Testament, it's John's take on Jesus as the existing-before-Creation Word of God, active and real in the universe before time and space began. It happens to be one of my favorite passages too.

I presided today at St. Thomas's Episcopal Church in Vernon NJ, while they are awaiting the arrival of their new vicar. I'll be there through all of Epiphany. St Thomas's is on the Appalachian Trail and has a great ministry to the hikers - in the summer they run a Hiker Hostel program in their undercroft. You can read more about it in their Winter Newsletter. They need help running in next season, so if you are near the sky country in NW New Jersey, check them out.

I'm posting this remotely and so I'll post my sermon - It's All About Stuff - as soon as I can.

PS - The Icon is "God as Architect" - on short notice it's the best I could come up with for the Incarnation, since I used Light on the Feast of St. John the Evangelist. Anyone got any better ones?

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Proper of the Day: Holy Innocents

On this fourth Day of Christmas the Church specifically remembers an incident recorded in the Gospel of Matthew in the birth narratives. Recall that the Wise Men visited Herod first, presumably because they figured he would have known about the new-born King of the Jews. Well, for various reasons, Herod was never very sure of his grip on the throne, and so he was naturally threatened and scared. Known by both biblical as well as extra-Biblical sources as a very cruel ruler, he promptly had all the baby boys in Bethlehem under two years old executed. Thus, the Slaughter of the Holy Innocents.

The Collect for this Major Feast is, I think pretty direct:

We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

There is an excellent reflection on this day over at Thinking Anglicans. I commend it as better than what I might write.


Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Cost of Schism

As I noted a few weeks back, there is a schism happening in the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin. I hesistate to report on this during Christmastide, but few of the major sites have picked this up yet: Events have been unfolding in San Joaquin and in response, and the most recent, terrible occurrences have taken place at St. Nicholas Mission in that diocese. Bishop John-David Schofield, who is not now a bishop of the Episcopal Church, tried to make a pastoral visit to the mission last Sunday, Advent IV. What happened there is recorded by eyewitnesses over at Fr. Jakes. I urge you to take the time to read all the accounts and the comments. They are eye-opening and heart-rending.

Almighty Father, whose blessed Son before his passion prayed for his disciples that they might be one, as you and he are one: Grant that your Church, being bound together in love and obedience to you, may be united in one body by the one Spirit, that the world may believe in him whom you have sent, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in
the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (For the Unity of the Church, BCP p. 255)


The Proper of the Day: St. John the Evangelist

The first three days after Christmas Day, that is, the Second Third, and Fourth Days of Christmas, each have a major feast assigned to them. On this Third Day of Christmas we also observe the Feast of St. John the Evangelist. John was an Apostle and the brother James, both Sons of Zebedee. Along with James as well Simon Peter, he made up sort of an "inner circle" of dcisciples who among other things are recorded as witnessing the Transfiguration and whom were asked by Jesus to stay up and wait with Him in the garden on the night of his passion. John is credited with writing the Gospel of John, my favorite, along with the three Epistles of John and the Book of Revelation.

I've always appreciated the dichotomy between the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) and the Gospel of John. The Synpotics (meaning "same eye" or "same vision" because of their similarities and use of common sources) present Jesus as a very human person. John, on the other hand, has Jesus as a majestic, serene, always-on-top-of-it figure, more God than human. And that's the point, or one of them. Jesus is, after all, both human and Divine. In fact, we get much of our divine imagery of Christ from John's Gospel, especially in the Prologue. It's no coincidence that the first three words of the Gospel, "In the beginning" are the same first three words of Genesis, after all. John explains Jesus as the pre-existing Logos, the Word of God, who comes into the world to save it. In John's gospel Jesus makes long speeches about himself and tells few parables, and in John's Gospel we get some of the most beautiful images of Jesus: the Gate, the Door, the Good Shepherd. I am drawn to the poetry and mystery and depth of the Fourth Gospel; there's a part of me that wishes we could just use the whole thing every year, rather than at Lent and Easter and a few other occasions. We need the Synoptics and John to get more complete, if always imperfect, view of Jesus the Christ.

John likes to use "light" imagery and motifs, and so it's appropriate that we observe his feast in this Season of Light.

Shed upon your Church, O Lord, the brightness of your light, that we, being illumined by the teaching of your apostle and evangelist John, may so walk in the light of your truth, that at length we may attain to the fullness of eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Christmas Funnies

Now we know the real story....who knew?

Of course! What else would Santa use?

No one ever thinks of the animals.....


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Proper of the Day: St. Stephen, Deacon and Protomartyr

On this second day of Christmastide we remember Stephen, one of the first deacons, whose selection was record in Acts 6. Stephen was also the first recorded Christian martyr. He was stoned by the members of the Sanhedrin (sort of the Jewish Supreme court) in Jerusalem about 35 AD or so on trumped-up charges on heresy and blasphemy. Sound familiar? It should. That's essentially what happened to Jesus, too. It may be no coincidence that the Church placed the Feast of Stephen on the day after Christmas, to honor his place among the saints by closest proximity to Christ's birth. Stephen's theophany (vision or revelation of God) is unique because, as he was dying, he saw both Creator and Redeemer together.

"Martyr" actually means "witness" and did not take on the concept of witnessing unto death until sometime in the late first century. Martyrdom has been on our minds a lot as a society and in the world. Islamic martyrs struck the US on 9.11.2001, and terrorist acts prompted by religious motivation have been a hallmark of the late 20th century and certainly the 21st. There have been Christian martyrs as well; there are people being executing for their Christian faith reported in various nations in the 2/3s world. Does God call us or certain people to be martyrs? I do not necessarily think so. It was already becoming common enough by the time the Gospels were written that there are assurances that the Holy Spirit will be with anyone called to testify for one's faith, and that death may result. But I see nothing in Scripture that encourages anyone in this way, and nothing that gives encouragement or a command to kill others in Christ's name. I think this is a real difference between how Christians have typically viewed martyrs - as unwilling victims - and how some Muslim people view martyrs, as apparently (because I am no expert on this) gaining rewards in heaven for their deaths.

Is Jesus worth dying for? It's easy for me to say, "Of course!" I have not been asked to make that sacrifice, and I pray that I never will have to. Is Jesus worth giving up things less than life for? Of course! that we are called to do every day, to witness to the Good News not only in our words, but in our actions as well.

We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of the first martyr Stephen, who looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors to your Son Jesus Christ, who stands at your right hand; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Proper of the Day: Christmas Day

Hodie christus natus est!
Today Christ is born!

This is the Feast of the Nativity, Christmas Day. Many, if not most Americans, think this is the culmination of all of December and even earlier. We know better. Today is not the last day of Christmas, but the first - of Twelve, no less - ending with the Feast of the Epiphany on Sunday, January 6, when the Wise Men come to visit Jesus with precious gifts in his honor. Christmastide includes the Feasts of St. Stephen, St. John the Evangelist, and the Holy Innocents. On January 1 we celebrate the Holy Name of Jesus. The Proper of the Day will of course honor all of these as well :-)

The Archbishop of Canterbury has offered a particularly apt reflection for this day. Here it is in its entirety:

One of the strangest yet most moving expressions in the New Testament is a verse in the Letter to the Hebrews (11.16): God ‘is not ashamed to be called their God’. The writer is talking about the history of God’s people. When they have been faithful to God, faithful in keeping on moving onwards in faith rather than settling down in self-satisfaction, when they are true pilgrims, then God is content to be known as their God. He declares himself to be the God of pilgrims, of people who know that their lives are incomplete and that they are still journeying towards the fullness of God’s promises. Visiting refugee camps in the Middle East, as I did this October, brings home so powerfully what it is to be literally and absolutely homeless, not able to be confident in any resources, inner or outer. People in these terrible circumstances will never be complacent, they will always be looking for a future. They are in the most obvious way those whom God is not ashamed to be with, people whose God he is happy to be. He is at home with the homeless. But it is also an image of God’s relationship with all those who are homeless or wandering in other ways.

What an odd expression, to say that God is not ‘ashamed’! It’s as though we are being reassured that God, in spite of everything, doesn’t mind being seen in our company. Most of us know the experience of being embarrassed by someone we are with – children are embarrassed by parents, parents by children; I have sometimes found myself walking down the road with someone who is talking loudly or behaving oddly, and wishing I weren’t there. But God is not embarrassed by human company when that company is turning away from self-satisfaction and ready to move on. We might think that God would be ‘ashamed’ of human company that was imperfect, confused, even sinful. But God is happy to be the God of confused and sinful people when they recognise their own confusion and face the truth of their need. That’s what the great parables of Jesus in St Luke’s Gospel are so often about, especially the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.

So at Christmas, God shows that he is not ashamed to be with us. He has heard our cries of weakness and self-doubt and unhappy longing, he has seen our wanderings and anxieties, and he is not ashamed to be alongside us in this world, walking with us in our pilgrimage. And because he is content to walk with us, we are challenged about whose company we might be ashamed to share. So easily we decide that we would be ashamed to share the company of the sinful, the doubting or the outcast. But God, it seems, is not ashamed to be seen with such people. If he is ashamed to be called the God of any human group, the text from Hebrews strongly suggests that he is most ‘embarrassed’ by those who think they have arrived at the end of their journey, who think they have already attained perfection (compare St Paul’s angry and scornful words in I Corinthians 4.8 – ‘Already you have become rich!’). And it is clear why God would be ashamed to be the God of such people: they behave and speak as if they didn’t really need God, as if they didn’t really need grace and hope and forgiveness.

God loves the company of those who know their need, and that is why he comes at Christmas to stand with them, to live with them and to die and rise for them. He is the God who blesses the poor – not only those who are materially poor, but those who are without the ‘riches’ of self-satisfaction and complacency, those who know all too well how far they fall short of real and full humanity. And so we are to pass on that blessing to the poor of every sort, those who are without material resources and those who are ‘poor in spirit’ because they know their hunger and need. Let us ask ourselves honestly whose company we are ashamed to be seen in – and then ask where God would be. If he has embraced the failing and fragile world of human beings who know their needs, then we must be there with him.

May God give us every blessing and joy in the Christmas Season.

+Rowan Cantuar

And in response, we join in singing:

Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born this day of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.


Monday, December 24, 2007

The Proper of the Day: Christmas Eve

Tonight, after an Advent season of prayer and preparation, we begin Christmastide with the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord. We celebrate that, on this night, earth and heaven were joined together, and the great gulf between them has been bridged forever in Jesus. On this night "God was pleased as man with man to dwell" and to to become one of us, a human being with DNA and nerves and blood and poop and all the rest. This evening I simply invite you to join the angels in their great exultation at this marvelous, mysterious event when, as we recite in the Nicene Creed, "he came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary":

O God, you have caused this holy night to shine with the brightness of the true Light: Grant that we, who have known the mystery of that Light on earth, may also enjoy him perfectly in heaven; where with you and the Holy Spirit he lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.


An Early Christmas Present

The Twelve Days of Christmas begin tonight, and I thought I'd offer this to you as a slightly early gift:


Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Proper of the Day: Advent IV

Today is the Fourth Sunday of Advent, which is always the last Sunday before Christmas. We add one more candle to the Advent Wreath to show that the Light of Christ continues to approach and to fill us who are empty. I was amazed how much more light my own Advent Wreath at home added when I added the Third candle last week and now with the Fourth candle lit.

Today we read from the prophet Isaiah the source of Matthew's famous "A virgin shall conceive and bear a son" prophesy. Turns out Mathhew took it out of context. The doesn't mean it isn't true or anything, but what Isaiah was actually doing was announcing a sign from God to King Ahaz of Judah, to assure him that God was still present with the people even during the impending doom of the coming Assyrian invasion. Matthew liked to cite "fullllment passages," when he would say something like "this was to fulfill what was promised by so-and-so." He does that a lot and they're usually right on the money, but not in this case.

The opening of Paul's Letter to the Romans cites the fact the Jesus was a member of the Davidic royal line, and the Gospel passage relates the dream of Joseph when he was told by an angel not to divorce Mary because her child is "from the Holy Spirit." In Jewish law, Joseph would have had every right to divorce her if she had actually been unfaithful. Matthew likes dreams too - Joseph gets several, and even the wife of Pontius Pilate has one.

So our Advent - our time of preparation for the Coming and the Second Coming - is almost complete. We have but a day or so until we begin the Twelve Days of Christmas. But we are not quite there yet. Let Advent come to its own fulness, that the great Feast of the Nativity may be even more profound and joyous in its meaning for you.

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Proper of Yesterday: St. Thomas the Apostle

Yesterday the Church, and I, commemorated the Major Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle. In what apparently is my Advent habit this year, I simply neglected to post a entry yesterday, even though I observed the day myself in the Office. You, along with Thomas, may not believe me, but there it is.

The Office readings for this day seem somewhat snarky towared poor Thomas. The morning lesson from Hebrew Scriptures is Job's theophany to the Lord, where he says, "I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you." And from I Peter: "And lthough you have not seen him [the Lord Jesus], you love him." Isaiah 43 offers :"Bring forth the people who are blind, yet have eyes; deaf, who have ears!" The lesson from John is the great "I am the way, the truth, and the life" prompted by Thomas's question to show the disciples the Way. But I think the overall tone of the lessons isn't very nice. I think we should be gentle with Thomas. Who hasn't wondered about God and Christ? Who hasn't asked for a sign of God's presense in their lives? I think it's absolutely OK to wonder, and even to doubt. The opposite of faith, after all, is not doubt, it's certainty. We Anglicans traditionally have tolerated and encouraged questioning and poking and prodding and doubting even. I'm reminded that the Archbishop of Canterbury has taken a lot of flak for engaging in that hoary Anglican tradition of deconstructing the details of the Nativity accounts. That's the kind of engagement that's perfectly acceptable. After all, he was right: we don't know there were three wiese men, just that some number came from the East; we don't know when the Nativity took place, but if it was December, it probably wasn't snowy at all; and so on. What the Archbishop noticably did not do is call Jesus a myth or that there really was a child who was born miraculously of a virgin. His "doubt," if that's what it was, was of the mildest kind indeed. (By the way, the Telegraph headline saying the Archbishop called the Nativity a legend is completely false. He note that some of the details of the story are questionable. He did not call the Nativity or the Incarnation a legend.)

So let's cut Thomas, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and especially ourselves and each other some slack. Doubt, after all, implies the desire to understand, and from that perspective, is a healthy thing as long as it keeps us on the journey with Christ, even if we can't see Who He is or much of anything else along the way.

Everliving God, who strengthened your apostle Thomas with firm and certain faith in your Son's resurrection: Grant us so perfectly and without doubt to believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God, that our faith may never be found wanting in your sight; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Playoff Update

Well, RFSJuniors got beaten - badly - in last week's playoff game. My QB Tony Romo was nearly shut down, and my TE, Antonio Gates, only the top tight end in the NFL, started but got no action. So the final score was 85-55. So that means this week I'm playing for 3rd place. I admit I'd like to finish third, although I also have to admit I've done far better - and through sheer luck only - than I ever hoped I would.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

No More Death In New Jersey!

The death penalty, that is. Gov. Corzine signed the bill eliminating the death penalty in New Jersey. I am very proud of him and the legislature for doing this. My own view, informed from a Christian perspective, is that human life is sacred and that we ought not arbitrarily cut it off, no matter what a person may have done. More importantly, if we execute someone for some crime, we potentially cut short any repentance and opportunity for reconciliation that person may be going through. I leave the status of an executed murderer's soul in God's hands, but I do not want to have a hand in cutting that short. Two wrongs do not make a right in this case.


Monday, December 17, 2007

The Proper of Yesterday: Advent III

Hmmm. For the second week in a row, I've not been able to post my Proper of the Day entry on it's actual day. Perhaps that says something about the holiday rush that seems to have taken over our culture. Perhaps I need to take some more Advent advice and slow down and let the stillness and patience of Advent permeate my soul. Or perhaps it simply means that two Sundays ago I was on an airplane going to an Advent vacation, and that yesterday I was having friends over for a Gaudete Sunday supper.

The Third Sunday of Advent has traditionally turned from the more foreboding (to some) aspects of the Lord's coming to the more joyous ones. The reading from Isaiah continues a poetic vision of a glorious future under God's auspices, and the Gospel reminds John the Baptist, and us, about what the Messiah does:

Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.

And we too, who celebrate the Messiah's coming among us every Sunday, help to create and recreate that tantalizing world foretold by Isaiah and initiated by Jesus. This Advent season, what are you doing to make the dry lands of your life or those around you be glad, and the deserts of your neighborhood and world bloom?

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Saturday Funnies

You suspected it was like this, right?


Friday, December 14, 2007

I'm Proud of New Jersey Today....

TRENTON (NYT)— The New Jersey General Assembly approved a bill eliminating capital punishment on Thursday, clearing the way for Gov. Jon S. Corzine to sign the measure as early as Monday.

Mr. Corzine said he would act quickly. “It will be very, very prompt,” he said at a news conference on Thursday. “I’m sure it will be within the next week.”

Once he signs the bill, New Jersey will become the first state in the modern era of capital punishment to repeal the death penalty.

Read it all.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

This is says it all....

....and the headline in today's USA Today is "Steep heating Costs Hit Neediest." We continue to spend $785 million per day in Iraq. Our eldest can't heat their homes this winter. Where are our priorities?


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

I Made the Playoffs!

The fantasy football league I play in has a playoff system built in it, so that the top four teams play against each other in week 15 and 16 in a championship round, and the next four play against each other in a consolation round, in a strict 1-vs-4, 2-vs-3 format. RFSJuniors finished Week 14 in 4th place, so we play the No. 1 team OaklandSlugga in the league this upcoming week. The playoff bracket is here. If I win this game I can't finish lower than second in the league.

I'm kind of amazed actually. It seems like mostly luck on my part that I've gotten this far. I don't have the sense of this game that I think I am getting in Fantasy Baseball about how to win, but it's quite clear to me that I happened to draft one of the two top quarterbacks this year in Dallas's Tony Romo. If I did not have him I would simply have been a member of the pack. I am still unclear about how one actually prepares to win in this version of the game, and I'm not sure I'll play again next year or not.

In the meantime, I can't seem to find a patron saint for football. Any ideas?


Monday, December 10, 2007

The Proper of Yesterday: The Second Sunday of Advent

Yesterday was the Second Sunday of Advent, when we heard about the Peaceable Kingdom in Isaiah. St. Paul also reminded us that we ultimately live in hope, not fear, which was good to hear, since the Gospel was about John the Baptist's ministry in the desert. He especially had problems with both the Sadduccees and the Pharisees, which was interesting, since it's possible that John, being from a priestly family, was apparently estranged from the Temple establishment. If he were an Essene, as some claim, his beef with the Pharisees could have been that they weren't rigorous enough.

But the key to the Good News here, I believe, lies once again in John's message, "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near." Three things to note here: "Kingdom of heavean" is a euphemism, esp. in Matthew, for God or the Kingdom of God. So what St. John is really telling us is that God has come near. And the second thing is that the sense of the original Greek verb [enggizo, I can't get the Greek font to copy into Blogger] "has coming near" is in the perfect tense, meaning an action complete in the past that has continuing effects now. And finally, notice the that awful R-word "Repent," is conditional on God's coming near - we repent as a result of God's arrival, not in order to bring it about. It's a wonderful encapsulation of the entire message of grace.

In other words, God has arrived and God's arrival is continuous. It happened once for all in Jesus Christ and it continually happens today. It's all-Advent, all the time! Each of us has the opportunity to re-appropriate John's message, to accept God's continuously-acting grace in our lives right now. And as a result of that grace, we begin to change our hearts and minds and souls as we re-orient ourselves to God and to each other and to ourselves and to the world around us. that's all Repentance is anyway. Especially in the season of Advent, we re-orient ourselves to Jesus, who Has Come and is Coming Again. That's not primarily an orientation toward buying stuff and going to parties - it's an orientation of the interior. In fact, sometimes all those decorations and stuff gets in the way.

How are you getting ready for Christ this Advent? Feel free to add comments and let us all know, if you'd like.

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Saturday, December 8, 2007

Well, they did it

You will know that I do not comment or report much on the goings-on in the wider Church, as I and my parishioners have enough to do trying to be faithful Christians right here in Bayonne. However, today was a historic day. The Diocese of San Joaquin, in Convention assembled, voted today to withdraw from The Episcopal Church and come under the authority of the Province of the Southern Cone. Now I and many others believe this is not possible, that people can leave but parishes and dioceses cannot, but the people of San Joaquin do. And so now the dice are cast, the Rubicon is crossed, whatever hackneyed phrase you want to use. The word I have been hoping to avoid is upon us. There is schism in the Anglican Communion and in The Episcopal Church. I am very sad over this. (H/T to Stand Firm)

O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior,
the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the
great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away
all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us
from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one Body
and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith,
one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all
of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth
and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and
one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen. (BCP, p. 818)

Update: Episcopal News service has a press release about this happening.


Saturday Funnies

Just because it's Advent doesn't mean we can't be funny. While taking a break from cleaning, I ran across these. Hope you enjoy them (click on the image to enlarge if needed):

I recall having to take the driver's test four times, and my mom didn't even believe me the last time. I can relate to this:

Every Christmas season we get inundated with the latest e-book thingy. Here's the ancestor fo them all:

And as a Trekkie I got a chuckle out of this:


Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Stop the Madness!

Bob Herbert of the New York Times gets it right:

A report prepared for the Democratic majority on the Joint Economic Committee of the House and Senate warns that without a significant change of course in Iraq, the long-term cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could head into the vicinity of $3.5 trillion. The vast majority of those expenses would be for Iraq.

Priorities don’t get much more twisted. A country that can’t find the money to provide health coverage for its children, or to rebuild the city of New Orleans, or to create a first-class public school system, is flushing whole generations worth of cash into the bottomless pit of a failed and endless war.

Read it all here.


Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Proper of the Day: The First Sunday of Advent

Today we begin the season of Advent, the time in the church year when we prepare for the coming of Christ the first time at Christmas and again at his Second Coming. Today I was invited to preach and preside at historic St. George's Parish in Astoria, New York City, as they need a resident priest and so this was my audition. Here's what I offered:

St. George’s Church Astoria

First Sunday of Advent 2007 (Year A RCL)

Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matt 24:36-44

The Rev. R. F. Solon, Jr.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be always acceptable to you, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen!

I want to thank Canon Juan Bosch and the Wardens and Vestry of St. George’s for your kind invitation to worship with you today. It’s a privilege for me to be with you and I’m deeply honored.

I’ve always loved cities. I grew up in Toledo, Ohio. Toledo is on the far western shore of Lake Erie, and the entire metro has about 660,000 people. Not very large by New York standards, is it? But I liked it. I especially liked going to downtown Toledo whenever I could. I liked the high rises and the older buildings and the traffic and the shoreline along the river. I thought it as pretty cool. I always loved visiting the downtown area of every city I visited. I visited Detroit, not too far from Toledo, and saw lots more big buildings and such than in Toledo. The larger the city, the more I liked it. I eventually visited Cleveland and Columbus and then Chicago. Now Chicago was, I have to admit, pretty impressive. Who has been there? The El is pretty cool, and I like the Magnificent Mile a lot too. But of course, there came a time when I finally visited New York. I’d never been there, and I was really looking forward to it. I recall stepping out of the cab from the airport the very first time. I just stopped in my tracks. I don’t even remember exactly where I was, but I just remember the energy of it all. The people rushing by. The traffic. The noise. Everything about it. I was entranced. It seemed like everything about the City was bigger and better and faster. More expensive, too, especially the housing, but I’d learn that later. The point is that there is something about New York that draws all kinds of people, probably for very different reasons. But you have to understands that there is no place else in America like New York. There’s just something about it. I don’t know, maybe you have to be a visitor or immigrant to feel this away.

But boy, it can be maddening at times to live here, can’t it? I mean, sometimes the simplest things just take a lot of time. Getting any place means deciding bus or subway or both, or maybe car. Shopping can be very easy if you’re in the right neighborhood, or really difficult. Thank God for FreshDirect, although they don’t have it yet in Bayonne where I live. Laundry can be a pain if you don’t have facilities in your building. Taxes are high, the schools can be good or bad, and of course the price of housing is just astronomical here. I pay twice as much for my little apartment in Bayonne than I pay for the mortgage on my house in Indianapolis, and it’s nearly three times as large! For all its culture and sports and shopping and music, New York is still a real pain. All cities of any size have their issues, and New York certainly does as well!

Cities, and one city in particular, were on the mind of the prophet Isaiah, too. For Isaiah, a prophet writing perhaps 800 years before Christ, Jerusalem was the center of his universe and his great love, probably like New York is for me. Hear again the magnificent vision Isaiah has: “Out of Zion shall come forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem….they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not rise up against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” Those stirring lines are immortalized in stone in a plaza on First Avenue just across from the United Nations complex in Manhattan. They express a wonderful future – God’s future – when there will be no war, no hatred, when God’s peace will reign. And it’s amazing because it’s God’s goal, God’s vision, God’s desire for what humanity really is intended to be. It’s a vision that resonates deeply in our hearts, especially in this time of war in Iraq and elsewhere, with discord in the Anglican Communion and a hard close election nearly upon us here at home. There’s just something about it, like the good parts of New York without all the not-so-good parts. And it’s all centered on Jerusalem. Our Psalm for this morning also expresses this hope and belief about Jerusalem. For these writers, there is no greater joy than Zion, the City of David. Sometimes it seems they just couldn’t stop talking about it! There was just something about it. It had captured their imagination and their hearts.

Jerusalem is on Jesus’s mind too. In today’s Gospel, Jesus is telling his disciples what the end of the world will be like. It was a common topic of conversation back then, just as I suppose it is today. There’s always all kinds of speculation about what’s going to happen. This season of Advent, which we begin today, asks and reminds us about exactly that. Advent means “Coming” and in these four Sundays before Christmas we prepare for the coming of Jesus in the manger as a babe, but also the coming again of Jesus in triumph.

The whole topic of the last things or end times can be a really difficult one. Many of our fundamentalist brothers and sisters, who try to take every word of the Bible literally, read into bits of today’s Gospel and the Book of Revelation especially an entire sequence of events about what will happen and when. If you have heard about the Left Behind series of books, you know what I mean. People have tried to construct all sorts of fanciful meanings for John’s visions. The problem is, Revelation is not meant to be taken literally. But today’s gospel from Matthew doesn’t get into fantastic signs and symbols from heaven. Rather, it talks about the uncertainty of when whatever is going to happen actually does. And I think the most important part of the entire passage is the first verse: “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the son, but only the Father.” I think that’s really significant, because here Jesus tells us not to be too worried about what will happen or even when. After all, he admits he doesn’t even know. But Jesus does warn us not to slack off. When the gospel of Matthew was written, most believers thought that Jesus was coming back any day – in their lifetimes.

And so warnings like we have this morning make a lot of sense. But of course, given that we are sitting here today in 2007 still waiting for Jesus to return, then we have to rethink what it means to be ready and watchful and waiting. In fact, this theme of watchful waiting is so important in Matthew that there are no less then two other parables about it. You can read for yourselves the Parable of the Bridesmaids and the Parable of the Talents – they follow right after today’s Gospel in chapter 25.

So Jesus is talking to his disciples about the end of the world and they ask him about the Temple, the center of Jerusalem. All of chapter 24 is about his answer to them, and it’s worth a read – just remember it’s not meant to be taken literally. Jerusalem figures prominently there, and even more prominently in the Book of Revelation. In fact, the great climax of that vision of St. John is in the last two chapters, 21 and 22, and it’s all about the New Jerusalem, “coming down out of heaven adorned as a bride for her husband.” The City itself is perfect – no traffic problems there! – and the leaves of the trees in it are for the healing of the nations. It’s a stunning image of Jesus as the Light of the transformed city and how all people will come to it. And it’s here on earth, it’s not up in heaven. It’s a vision of what this world can and will be like, not some prediction of what heaven will look like. The Pearly Gates will be here, with us, not in heaven!

And of course, the New Jerusalem is compared to a bride on her wedding day. And the church – the community of all believers, is often called the Bride of Christ. And so when I hear the vision of Isaiah that says, “For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem,” I think of us! We’re the New Jerusalem, that perfect City that tops even New York in all its glory. We’re to have the word of the Lord that inspires people to beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning forks. We’re the ones who are supposed to bring that message of grace to the world right now. Advent is about getting ready for the First Coming but also the Second Coming, and we need to prepare for that as well. So it’s we who are supposed to help bring about the time of heavenly peace. Our job is to help get the world ready and to bring that about as much as we can. We can’t slack off - Jesus warned us not to get complacent.

None of us has the luxury to just do nothing. Even though Advent is in part a time of waiting, and a time of slowing down, it’s for a purpose. I think Advent is a time to reflect on what each of us is doing to bring about that vision of the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem. What are you doing to bring a message of peace to those around you, in your home and where you work and where you hang out? And what about this worhipping community of St. George’s parish in Astoria? It’s the mother parish of Astoria, as I understand it, and so you have a proud history. But Jesus very clearly reminds us that history and two bucks will get you a subway ride. What is the role of St. George’s in offering a vision of peace to Astoria and those who live in it? How can this parish become again a New Jerusalem, where instruction comes forth, and people here and do the word of the Lord? For we, you and I, do have the Word, both in Scripture and in Sacraments. Astoria needs to hear it, people in the new senior housing need to hear it, you and I need to hear it, again and again and again. This is a place, right in the middle of the bustling, maddening City of New York, where the New City can shine forth in light. I don’t know very much about St. George’s, but you do. What can you do this Advent to take stock of yourselves, to pause a bit in Advent stillness, to look around and see how you the people of St. George’s can be a place, as the Psalmist says, “to which the tribes go up, to praise the Name of the Lord”? I’d like invite you to invite yourselves to use this Advent season to look inward, to prepare for the coming of the Christ Child at Christmas. But more than that. I invite you to prepare, to help make ready, to help bring about, Isaiah’s famous vision. My friends, the world needs, New York needs, Astoria needs, what you have to offer. Let this Advent be your time to get ready for it!



PS - Eucharist is now using Year A, Office is Year 2!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Today is World AIDS Day

You may know that I'm a member of the board of Episcopal Response to AIDS, a New York charity that gives grants to Episcopal ministries involved in AIDS work. Today is World AIDS Day and we announced our 2008 grant awards (I'll post them separately.) I was invited to preach the Eucharist at St. Paul's Chapel, Manhattan, today, and this is my sermon:

St. Paul’s Chapel, New York City

World AIDS Day, December 1, 2007

Isaiah 53:3-9, Psalm 90:1-12, Mark 7:24-30

The Rev. R. F. Solon, Jr.

“Keep the Promise – Take the Lead”

May only God’s word be spoken, and only God’s word be heard. Amen!

I want to thank the Rev. Dr. Stuart Hoke, Missioner to St. Paul's chapel, for the invitation to worship with you today. On Sept. 11, 2001 and after, I watched on TV from Indianapolis as this holy place was transformed. We all know St. Paul's Chapel, even if we've never been, and for me it's a profound privilege to be here.

But I want to take you back even further, twenty years earlier still, to 1981. Nineteen eighty-one. Where were you and what were you doing in 1981? Do you remember? It was, after all, twenty-six years ago. You might remember, that was the year Ronald Reagan became President of the United States. It was the year Walter Kronkite resigned from CBS news. The Space Shuttle went on its first mission. Lady Diana married Prince Charles. MTV aired its first video. The PC was invented. And the first person in New York City died of what would become eventually known as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, AIDS, on January 15, 1981.

Twenty-Six years ago. The AIDS epidemic in New York is over a quarter-century old. Since that time, nearly 33 million people worldwide have acquired the HIV virus that causes AIDS, and 25 million have died, including nearly 85,000 New Yorkers. Perhaps you yourselves know someone, perhaps more than one, with HIV/AIDS. I do, and my heart breaks whenever I think of my good friend in Columbus, his life hanging by a Damoclesian thread of potent drugs and good insurance. On this World AIDS Day, 6,850 people, mostly in Africa, mostly women, mostly black, very few with insurance or access to medications, will contract the virus, and most will not even know it. In some African nations the infection rate is nearly 1 in 4. By the time I step down from this pulpit, nearly 50 people, children of God, created in God’s image, will have their lives changed forever by an insidious - and still incurable - disease that until 1981 we didn’t even know existed.

And the terrible truth is, we can stop this disease from progressing. We know how. It’s not really difficult. When you have sex, use a condom or dental dam or sheath. Every time, unless you are absolutely sure of your partner’s status. If you shoot drugs, use a clean needle. Every time. If you’re worried about your status, get tested. Don’t put it off. That’s pretty much it.

I realize that this sort of straight talk about AIDS may be uncomfortable to some of you. But I’m not going to apologize. A little discomfort on this one day of the year to help raise awareness of HIV and AIDS is a small price to pay, it seems to me. We Christians are unfortunately guilty of not taking a whole lot of leadership here. We’ve gotten sidetracked into focusing more on details of who they are than whose they are. For many of us, we’re still stuck in the mode of our passage from Mark. A foreign woman, not Jewish, comes to Jesus and asks him to heal her daughter. At first, Jesus begs off. He seems to be saying, “Well you know, you’re not the right sort of person, and I couldn’t possibly help you. I’ve got my own kind to help, and you’re just going to have to get your own help someplace else.”

Shocking, isn’t it, if a bit polite. We’re not used to a Jesus who says things like that in quite that way. You should know, though, that what he calls her – a dog – is as incredibly insulting back then as it is today. It’s about on par with hanging a noose on a tree or by a locker or in a tractor cab. Of course, the story doesn’t end there. After the foreign woman argues with him, Jesus relents and tells her that she can go because her daughter will get better. But she has to beg him first. In other words, this Jesus initially seems concerned about her background and who she is – a foreigner. He stigmatizes her, in a sense blames her for being different. Sounds like something we’ve done in the past. We Christians have been guilty of that, too. We’ve said that gay men aren’t worthy of help because of who they have sex with. We’ve said that intravenous drug users are beneath our help because drug use is illegal and immoral anyway. We’ve not lived up to the second part of the story – the part that actually turns it into the Good News. That’s the part where Jesus says, “For saying that, you may go. Your daughter has been healed.” Jesus sets us an example of true openness, true growth, true generosity of spirit. It doesn’t matter where you were born, Jesus says. It doesn’t matter your sexual orientation, or your class or economic status or whether you use drugs or receive blood transfusions or what. It doesn’t matter how you got sick. That’s completely beside the point. What matters is that each and every one of you here, and every person affected with HIV/AIDS, and every person on this planet, is a child of God and worthy of the respect and dignity that comes from being created in the very image of God. Every single person!

And that’s not all. Our Jesus is not simply the magnanimous healer who comes from God and then just pops back again. Hear again the ancient Servant Song from Isaiah about the Messiah:

Surely he has borne our infirmities

and carried our diseases;

yet we accounted him stricken,

struck down by God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions,

crushed for our iniquities;

upon him was the punishment that made us whole,

and by his bruises we are healed.

Jesus our Messiah suffers on the Cross with every person suffering from HIV/AIDS. Our God does not ignore the tragedy of two-and-a-half million African children who are orphans because of AIDS. Our God is right there with each and every one of them. What Isaiah proclaims to us is that the Body of Christ is HIV positive. Jesus is bearing our infirmities and carrying our diseases. More shocking language, perhaps. But understand this. We who will in just a few minutes approach the altar for Holy Communion are also the Body of Christ. We will take into ourselves the holy Bread and sacred Wine. When we do that, we become Christ’s body and blood in the world. And we become HIV positive too. Isaiah is talking not just about the Messiah. Isaiah is talking about us!

My friends, HIV/AIDS is not simply a pandemic. It is not simply an economic tragedy. We who are Christians must recognize our own complicity in not talking honestly about AIDS because we’re embarrassed about sex and drug use and the other ways HIV is spread. We need to get over that. We need to follow Jesus’s example and learn and grow into our place in the world. We Christians need to take leadership and remind the world that we’re not talking about throwaways, but with precious children of God, just like you and like me. The Good News is that God loves each and every one of us with an indescribable love. God loves us so much that God bears our afflictions when we do, and carries our diseases right along with us. The time for passing judgment, as if we ever had that right, is long since past. In the end, Jesus didn’t pass judgment. He grew, and so can we. We Christians need to take the lead of Jesus our Savior. We need to stand up once and for all for all those who are vilified or worse because of their HIV status. We need to be clear and say to those who ignore the problem, in Africa and here in New York, No more denigrating! No more disparaging! There’s work to be done, and we need to be about doing it!

After this service, Episcopal Response to AIDS, of which I’m privileged to serve as treasurer, will announce its 2008 grant awards. The organizations to whom these grants will be given are really living out the Good News. They are the HIV positive Body of Christ in the New York area, bearing our afflictions and carrying our diseases. We can and must follow their lead in ensuring that all those suffering with HIV/AIDS with whom they minister are held in God’s arms. We, you and I, need to hold them in our arms, too.

A foreign woman talking to Jesus. An impoverished single parent with young children in Africa. An immigrant living in the Bronx with little English. My dear friend in Columbus, Ohio. No one should have to beg for what is rightfully theirs as children of the Living God. Today, on this World AIDS Day, I invite each of you to join with me in God’s vision of a world where no one is turned away, where all are treated like the children of God that Jesus insists that we all are. In another twenty-six years – in less than twenty-six years! - we can change the course of this disease, right here in New York and around the world. There’s still work to be done. After all…50 people just contracted HIV.