Monday, September 29, 2008

A "St. Michael's Day Bloodbath"?

The House of Representatives defeated the bailout plan today by a close vote. The markets plunged nearly 8 per cent on the news. I am stunned and I am angry. Maybe it wasn't the best plan, but there was hardly an alternative. When the church is on fire one hardly needs to be arguing about whether it's God's will for it to burn or not. You put out the fire.

Pray for the nation and for the world.


The Proper of the Day: St. Michael and All Angels

On this Major Feast we commemorate St. Michael and all the Angels. St. Michael is one of the Archangels, angels who are named specifically in the Bible. Angelos is the Greek word meaning "messenger," and so it is that so often God sent angels to deal directly with mere mortals. Of course, today's second lesson at Morning Prayer speaks about how Jesus is so much more exalted than the angels, and since he is also fully human, by implication so are we!

I know there was that whole angels kick going on for a while - wasn't there even a TV show "Touched by an Angel" or something? And Michael Landon played an angel - maybe it was the same show, but I'm too lazy to look it up on the Internet Movie Database.

Still, angels are kinda cool. Extra kudos for the first person to list the three other named angels in the Bible. (Hint: two of them are in the deuterocanonical books only.) And can you name the orders of angels? We often mention them on All Saints' Day. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, who have the angels been in your life, those who have anounced Good News to you in one way or another?

Here's some music for the day while you're working on your research, courtesy of the most excellent Chantblog's entry for today:

Everlasting God, who have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of angels and mortals: Mercifully grant that, as your holy angels always serve and worship you in heaven, so by your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Proper of the Day: Pentecost XX

Today is the 20th Sunday after Pentecost and I was visiting St. Christoper's Episcopal Church in Carmel, Indiana. I've been in Indianapolis since Wednesday to attend the ordination of my good friend C. Davies Reed to the priesthood. It all went very well, albeit there was a little excitement early on because Bp. Waynick, the Diocesan, was taken suddenly ill. Fortunately, the retired bishop of Iowa, Bp. Smalley, is resident in the area and was fortunately available. Whew! So that happy event was yesterday at Christ Church Cathedral, which was the sponsoring parish for both Davies and myself. Today Davies presided at his first Eucharists and I went to the 10 AM service at St. Christopher's, where he is Associate Rector. It was a great joy for me to be present both yesterday and today and to receive Communion at his hands.

O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Blood Drive This Thursday!

Our local chapter of Episcopal Church Women is sponsoring a Blood Drive this Thursday from 3 PM to 8 PM at the church. The American Red Cross will be here, and the need is great. Please donate if you can.


Monday, September 22, 2008

The Proper of the Day: St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist

Today the Church honors the witness and ministry of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist, and especially the Gospel that has his name on it. (As like last week, when Major Feast falls on a Feast of the Lord, i.e., a Sunday, it gets bumped, so we're doing St. Matthew today.) We've been reading Matthew throughout the summer, and I have to say, having to preach, or at least consider, each of the passages appointed in Matthew's Gospel has given me a new appreciation for his particular point of view. I like his focus on community and on ethics - as I noted recently, it seems mostof his parables about the Kingdom have much to do with the lived-out Kingdom here on earth. Certainly M's echatalogy is right there too, and we;ll see more of that in October and November. But I will miss Matthew as we move to Mark, who is much more direct and far less concerned with teaching. I think my favorite from Matthew at least this year is Chapter 13 and the Parables of the Kingdom. what are your favorite Matthew passages?

Here's Monteverdi's setting of Cantate Domino, Psalm 95, from the appointed Introit for today:

We thank you, heavenly Father, for the witness of your apostle and evangelist Matthew to the Gospel of your Son our Savior; and we pray that, after his example, we may with ready wills and hearts obey the calling of our Lord to follow him; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


The Proper of Yesterday: The 19th Sunday after Pentecost

St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Vernon
Proper 20A RCL 2008
Ex 16:2-15; Ps 105:1-6, 37-45; Phil 1:21-30; Matt 20-16
The Rev. R. F. Solon, Jr., Vicar

In the name of Him who leads us to say, “What is it?” Amen.

Think outside the box!

I don’t know about you, but I’m beginning to wonder if that phrase has overstayed its welcome. We’re constantly encouraged to “think outside the box,” to use unconventional thinking to solve the problems that face us, especially in our corporate and political lives. For a long time I thought “the box” referred to those cubicle farms that so many of us have lived in. Those are the cubicles that Dilbert often makes so much fun of in his famous cartoons. They’re small and confining and lend themselves to sameness of not only d├ęcor in the office, but thinking as well. They can be a problem because they divide people up into individual cells and inhibit the creative thinking that can arise when people come together in less structured settings. Thinking outside the box meant getting together with others to figure things out – many heads are better than one, and all that.

In actuality, though, “the box” refers to a puzzle that the management gurus of the early 70s used to illustrate a point. It’s pretty easy – I’ll show you how it works. There should be some pens or pencils in each pew. If there aren’t enough, look on with someone else. Now on the front of your bulletin draw nine dots in three rows of three each. Like this: Now the challenge is this: Using only 4 lines, connect all the dots together without lifting your pencil from the paper.

How many have done this before? If you know the answer, don’t give it away. Everyone else, keep working, but keep one ear open up here too!

When we have problems that arise, we usually try to solve them using the experiences and education we already have. What distinguishes us humans from other animals, among other things, is our ability to consciously learn. And so when faced with something new, we look to what we already know to see if its similar to something we’ve already done, and we tend to try that first. If it worked previously, it’s likely to work again, right? And in many cases that’s true and it will work again. In some areas we know it will work. 2 + 2 will always equal 4. If the computer isn’t plugged in, it won’t work. Touching a hot pan will give one a burn. These things are certain.

There are lots of uncertain things that we need to deal with though. Take the Israelites for example. Here they are, having miraculously fled from Egypt in the Exodus, and now they seem to be lost in the desert and worse, they’re running out of food and water. So they do the natural thing and start thinking about what worked for them in the past. For them, what was certain was they were well fed in Egypt, even though they were slaves forced to work under pretty awful conditions. So, as Scripture records, they complained against Moses and even God. “If only we had died!” they said. They kept thinking about what worked on the past, about the things they knew, even though they were in a completely new situation from what they – or anyone – had ever been in.

And what happens? They think about the usual answers, but God doesn’t. God does something completely new. God thinks outside the box and gives them manna, the famous “bread from heaven” from the Psalm for today. It’s so new that the Israelites have no idea what it is, and they ask, “What is it?” That’s why it’s called manna – it actually means, “What is it?”
It turns out that this strange flakey thing was food! You could bake it or boil it or do other stuff with it, and it’s what fed the Israelites during their sojourn in the desert. So although the people could only think inside their box – what they had to eat as slaves in Egypt - God invited them to think outside the box by giving them this new thing to eat.

Notice something important though. We usually concentrate on the miracle of the manna as a type or a prequel for Jesus, the bread of heaven in the Eucharist. And in fact in a few minutes we will all receive the Body of Christ, the true bread of heaven. But I think just as important as the gift of manna itself is the reality that God answered the prayers of his people. They were hungry and they complained. Not a very gracious prayer perhaps, but it was prayer. And as you’ve heard me say in the past, God has broad shoulders and can and does take all our prayers, including the snarky ones or even worse. And what does God do? He answers them. He feeds the Israelites. He knows they are hungry and addresses their need. It’s not in any sort of a way they expected, but nonetheless, they aren’t hungry any more. God thinks outside the box of human experience and provides for his people. Listen to the excerpt from Exodus next week too – he’s going to do it again in another remarkable way.

And I think we need to work to recognize outside-the-box opportunities even today too. I don’t think anyone here is unaware that this week was the most tumultuous week for our nation’s financial health since the Great Depression. I never thought I ever would have said that in my lifetime, but it’s true. We won’t know the full extent of everything that is going on for weeks and months yet, but one thing is for sure: the old ways of thinking, the thinking inside whatever boxes we have, aren’t going to work to get us back on a financially whole path. All of us know or perhaps are experiencing some of the effects of the whole housing market collapse. I’m experiencing it first-hand myself. I have a house to sell in Indianapolis, and after this week I have no idea what price I will be able to sell it for. Governor Corzine noted this week that there are five NJ jobs supporting every job on Wall Street in the City. Even for us way out in Sussex County, it’s possible, even likely, we will be affected.

And it’s not just our national and global financial situations that will require outside-the-box thinking. Right here in this community of St. Thomas’, we’ve got some financial challenges as equally as critical as the ones facing our nation as a whole. The Exec. Comm is committed to transparency about where we’re at, and I’m pleased to note that as a community we’re coming together for events such as our Carnival on the Mountain to raise the critical funds that we need. We’ve got an Art Auction coming up in November as well. As I hope you are all aware, it’s our pledges that are the most important and the largest contributor to our financial stability, and I encourage everyone to continue to contribute to the basic fabric of this parish as you can. All of us will have to look even harder outside the boxes of our own expectations and assumptions in the weeks and months ahead.

You know what, though? It’s not just thinking outside the box. It’s praying outside the box that’s even more important. God gives us brains and that’s good – we have to use them. But just like the Israelites in the desert, we’re in a bit of desert too. And how did the Israelites begin to move forward? They prayed. And God heard them. God answered their prayer without something completely outside their knowledge and experience. So let me ask you. Are you praying regularly for this community of St. Thomas’? And not just on Sundays during the Prayers of the People. How about at other times? If you aren’t, I encourage you to do so, with daily prayer for this parish as your goal. Prayer is powerful and dynamic and it matters. Jesus encourages us to pray for what we need. God listened to the prayers of the Psraelite people in the desert. And it’s important for us too. For all we know, there may already be manna for us, already being showered on us like the manna that the Israelites received every morning, but without prayer to open our hearts and our minds and our souls, we may simply be missing it. “What is it?” was what the people asked in the desert. What is it in our lives, in the life of this community, that is God’s gift to us to satisfy the deep and very real needs that we have? As we prayed earlier this morning, even know, while so many things seem to passing away, let us hold on to those that shall endure.

So, have you figured out the puzzle yet? Connect all the dots using no more than 4 lines without lifting pencil from paper. How many people are still challenged by this? Here’s the answer: You actually have to move your pencil outside the box of the lines of the puzzle to make it work!

My friends, I don’t know what thinking outside the box will mean for us. I have to face it with my house in Indianapolis. You may have some problem you’re wrestling with in your life. Certainly our nation has a lot of boxes we have to get outside of. And we do in the community of St. Thomas’s does as well. But if, in all these situations, we do only two things, then I am convinced that by the grace of God all these things will pass away. If we pray and bring what we need to God, God will answer. And if we continually look around in our lives and in the life of our community and ask, “What is it?” then we will find what we need. That may take discernment on our part to recognize the new things God is providing. “Behold, I make all things new” God promises us. But the Good News is that We don’t actually have to think outside the box. God will do that for us. We just have to be opening to recognizing the manna as it falls from heaven. It might well not be what we expected, and in fact, that’s probably the only thing we can expect. But God does provide. God will provide. God starts by giving us Jesus, the true bread from heaven, and then invites us to look around and ask “what is it?” Let’s starting looking!

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Quotation of the Day

"At this point I should note that for the first time, both the United States secretary of state and secretary of defense have doctorates in Russian studies. A fat lot of good that’s done us."

DEFENSE SECRETARY ROBERT M. GATES, on evaporating hopes for closer ties with Russia.

- from this mornings NYT.....



I haven't posted funnies recently, but here's a good one:

Go to the Carnival this weekend - Friday 6 to 11, Saturday 4 to 11, and Sunday 2 to 9!


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Carnival on the Mountain!

St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Vernon

Invites You to

Carnival on the Mountain

This Weekend!
Thursday Sept. 18, 6-10 PM
Friday, Sept. 19, 6 PM – 11 PM
Saturday, Sept. 20, 4 PM – 11 PM
Sunday Sept. 21, 2 PM – 9 PM

Mountain Creek Resort in Vernon
(200 SR 94, between CR 515 and CR 517)

Rides, Games, Food, and More!
Bring the Entire Family!

Pay One Price Ride Special
$25 all day Thursday and Sunday till 6 PM

Proceeds for hurricane relief and for parish support

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Proper of the Day: Feast of the Holy Cross

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Cross (transferred from yesterday because it falls on a Sunday this year). This festival grew out of the fact that the Cross, the central symbol of Christianity since the 2nd century, is "celebrated" on Good Friday, when Our Lord was crucifed on one. But that day is not really a joyous occasion, when in fact the Cross itself is ultimately a wonderful thing. So the idea of a seperate celebration that focuses on the Exaltation of the Cross as opposed to its Pain took hold. This is similar to why we observe the Feast of Corpus Christi - Maundy Thursday itself, which is the institution of the Eucharist, is the day before Good Friday and not in and of itself a joyful time.

As to how the date of September 14 came to be, here's what Lesser Feasts and Fasts has to say:

The historian Eusebius, in his Life of Constantine, tells how that
emperor ordered the erection of a complex of buildings in Jerusalem “on
a scale of imperial magnificence,” to set forth as “an object of attraction
and veneration to all, the blessed place of our Savior’s resurrection.” The
overall supervision of the work — on the site where the Church of the
Holy Sepulchre now stands — was entrusted to Constantine’s mother,
the empress Helena.

In Jesus’ time, the hill of Calvary had stood outside the city; but when
the Roman city which succeeded Jerusalem, Aelia Capitolina, was built,
the hill was buried under tons of fill. It was during the excavations
directed by Helena that a relic, believed to be that of the true cross, was

Constantine’s shrine included two principal buildings: a large basilica,
used for the Liturgy of the Word, and a circular church, known as “The
Resurrection” — its Altar placed on the site of the tomb — which was
used for the Liturgy of the Table, and for the singing of the Daily Office.
Toward one side of the courtyard which separated the two buildings, and
through which the faithful had to pass on their way from Word to
Sacrament, the exposed top of Calvary’s hill was visible. It was there that
the solemn veneration of the cross took place on Good Friday; and it
was there that the congregation gathered daily for a final prayer and
dismissal after Vespers.

The dedication of the buildings was completed on September 14, 335,
the seventh month of the Roman calendar, a date suggested by the
account of the dedication of Solomon’s temple in the same city, in the
seventh month of the Jewish Calendar, hundreds of years before
(2 Chronicles 7:8-10).

Here's a haunting setting of the anthem Adoramus Te, Christe, "We Adore You, O Christ":

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.


The Proper of Yesterday: The 18th Sunday After Pentecost

Yesterday was a long day for me at St. Thomas's. It was great day, though. We commissioned the Sunday school teachers and students as they began their year, and welcomed the choir back from their summer hiatus and commissioned them too. I was truly amazed when the entire Sunday School came up to the Altar - we had probably twenty-five kids and six teachers and assistants! And with all members of the choir returning, I have to say we are truly blessed indeed!

In the Gospel for the day Jesus gives us a soliloquy on forgiveness, perhaps the least understood of Christian duties. Here's my take on it, in note form (PS - does anyone know an easy way to copy notes into Blogger and keep the formatting?) :

St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Vernon
Proper 19A RCL 2008
Ex 14:19-31; Ps 114; Rom 14:1-12; Matt 18:21-35
The Rev. R. F. Solon, Jr., Vicar

In the Name of Him who forgives us our sins. Amen.

• Money and debt on our minds this past week
• Today possibly the most important lesson from Matthew short of the Resurrection itself
• What is forgiveness?
o Definition: Looking forward to a future unaffected by the actions of the past.
o Can only be offered by one wronged
o It implies repentance, the turning away from an action or habit that is or has been hurtful
o It’s the key ethical concept for Matthew for life in community
• So last week we learned a bit how to live in community.
• Peter continues the conversation, asking about forgiveness.
o Would 7 be good enough?
o J says not 7, but 77 times! Or maybe seventy times seven even.
o Tells a story to illustrate this
• Unforgiving Servant
o Key point here is the talent and the denarius
 10,000 talents is something like 750,000,000
 The slave owes an absolutely unimaginable amount of money
 A denarius is one day’s wage, or maybe $80 or so in today’s money
o The first slave got all his debt forgiven – in Greek it’s the same word, for both monetary and spiritual forgiveness
o He didn’t forgive the other slave who owed him a lot less
 Not like he was trying to scrape up the $750 million – he didn’t owe it anymore
o When the king – who is obviously God in this parable, hears about it, he takes back his forgiveness and tosses the guy into prison – which would obviously be for life.
o A hard saying: So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.
 M likes to exaggerate – 10,000 talents? Even King Herod’s annual income was estimated at 900 talents.
 This is an exaggeration, but it is a warning too: don’t take forgiveness lightly. Work at it! Keep trying.
• So how to forgive?
o Imagine a future with the person needing your forgiveness. What do you have to do to get to that future?
o Talk to the person who needs your forgiveness – remember last week! Stay in positive relationship as much as you possibly can.
o Maybe you can’t yet imagine such a future. The hurt you have felt may be very strong – so pray for that person at a minimum.
o If you can’t pray positive things about the person, at least name her or him before God, confessing that you can’t even wish God’s blessings on such a one but you know that God can and does. It’s a start, and will be efficacious.
• Forgiving 77 times or 70 x 7 does not mean putting up with abuse or addiction.
o An addict can’t help but hurt the ones around him or her, and will keep hurting and asking for forgiveness as long as he or she is actively using or drinking
o Imagine the future with that person as one of that person whole and healthy and in recovery
o In such cases, your forgiveness may be to help that person get into recovery!
o Insert in the bulletin about Episcopal Recovery Services
• Another point: holding on to hurt is not healthy for us. Holding it in, bearing grudges, not only contradicts what we are so clearly called as Christians to do.
o Bearing grudges and hurt just poisons our own hearts and souls.
o God does not want that. He cares about each of us as individuals. He wants each of us to be whole and healthy. Nursing our grudges, feeding them, caring for them, doesn’t hurt anyone else but else.
o God invites us to let go of all that!
• Sometimes the hurt is against our own selves.
o Often easier to forgive others than to forgive oneself. We beat up on ourselves when there is no need. We place higher expectation on our own lives than others or God even does. We don’t let go of our own baggage
o Use the same approach to forgive yourself:
 Imagine your life without the baggage you’re carrying around!
 Stay in positive relationship with yourself. Odd concept, but true – our relationships with our own selves are often the worst ones we have.
 Name yourself before God and ask God to help you forgive yourself
 Or, at least name yourself before God. It’s a start, and, over time, it will be efficacious.
• We will shortly pray “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
o Only petition in the LP that is conditional
o Of course God’s forgiveness is not conditional – it’s unconditional
o The “as” here doesn’t mean only get forgiveness as much as we forgive others
o It means that we pray that we may learn to forgive other folks just like God has already forgiven us. We pray to work hard at it.
o Only direct thing we sign up to do in the LP

• None of us, I don’t think, owe anyone $750 M. But it’s as if we did owe it, and owed it to God. God continually forgives to the tune of $750 M, $750 B, $750 trillion!
• Our solemn obligation is to keep trying to forgive those who have hurt us just as much.


O God, because without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

In Memoriam

Snippets from The Office of the Dead from this morning:
From Psalm 42
My tears have been food day and night; while all day long they say to me, "Where now is your God?"
Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul, and why are you so disquieted within me? Put your trust in God, for I will yet give thanks to him, who is the help of my countenance and my God.
I will say to the God of my strenght, "Why have you forgotten me? And why do I go so heavily while the enemy oppresses me?" While my bones are being broken, my enemies mock me to my face."

From Psalm 46

Though its waters rage and foam, and though the mountains tremble at its tumult, the Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.
The nations make much ado, and the kingdoms are shaken; God has spoken, and the earth shall melt away.
It is God who makes war cease in all the world; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear, and burns the shiled with fire.
The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.

From the Letter to the Romans, Ch. 8

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered."

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Today there is so much to ponder. I feel sad, and angry, and ashamed at my anger. On sunday we will hear Peter ask how many times to forgive, and Jesus replies with the perfect "Seventy times seven!" I cannot do that. I'm not even sure I can do the bare minimum and name my enemies by name before God. I know that even merely nameing them in prayer, even if I can do no more that that, is powerful and will change me over time. I don't know that I want to be changed, frankly. there's something about anger that is energizing. I think we as a nation still have some of that going on. I don't think we're ready to give up our own anger yet. I don't know what that means, especially given "And forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us."

And so today I pray for the dead who died, and rage with Mozart at the terror of death itself:

Day of wrath! O day of mourning! See fulfilled the prophets' warning, Heaven and earth in ashes burning! Oh what fear man's bosom rendeth,when from heaven the Judge descendeth,on whose sentence all dependeth.


Monday, September 8, 2008

New Website

St. Thomas's has a new website. Do check it out and let us know your comments, and thanks!


Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Proper of the Day: The XVIIth Sunday after Pentecost

St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Vernon
Proper 18A RCL 2008
Ex 12:1-14; Ps 149; Rom 13:8-14; Matt 18:15-20
The Rev. R. F. Solon, Jr., Vicar

In the Name of Him who treats us like Gentiles and tax collectors! Amen!

“A penny saved is a penny earned.”
“Early to bed and early to wise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”
“Too many cooks spoil the broth.”
“Many hands make light work.”“Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in morning, sailors take warning.”

I could probably go on and on quoting stuff like that. You probably can too with a little thought. Proverbs, maxims, wise sayings – often these elegant little snippets hold a great deal of practical advice. Maybe you have one that is a favorite, or that you find yourself coming back to again and again. I imagine most of us picked up the ones we know from our parents or other relatives, or maybe from reading. Benjamin Franklin wrote a whole series for his Poor Richard’s almanac, and of course the Book of Proverbs in the Old Testament contains all sorts of both useful and esoteric sayings.
In fact, I’d venture to say that much of the Bible contains all sorts of both useful and esoteric wisdom, some of it all at the same time! Matthew’s Gospel in particular contains a lot of admonitions about how to live out the Good News that we’ve been given. The Sermon on the Mount with its Beatitudes and all the rest takes up three chapters, and most of Matthew’s parables seem to have distinctly ethical implications. How to live out the Gospel and how to live together are important themes in Matthew’s Gospel. Today’s passage from Chapter 18 is no exception. Today we get some practical advice, some maxims, on living together, on being in community.
Look how it starts. “If another member of the church sins against you.” Jesus is realistic. He understands that even though you and I are already forgiven, we’re still gonna screw up. We’re still going to hurt each other, mostly accidentally, but sometimes deliberately. We’re still going to get angry with one another, especially when one of us may feel the other isn’t living up to expectations. Sometime we say or do things that we don’t think about as being hurtful, when they often are. I’m a perfect example. I used to think I was fairly sensitive about other people when I was growing up, but I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve inadvertently hurt someone when that wasn’t my intention at all. Most of the time I was simply trying to do something else entirely, and neglected to consider fully how my actions or words my affect others. And unlike some marvelous people who can read others like a book and know exactly what they’re thinking, I don’t have that gift at all. I have to ask people to please tell me what’s going on with them, because I’m a terrible mind reader. Ask any member of the Executive Committee – it was one of the very first things I said.
So Jesus doesn’t assume that in a Christian community that everything is going to be sweetness and light. His advice - command really, not something as optional as mere advice – is this: “Go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.” He’s reminding us that even when someone neglects to respect us, we have to respect the other person and bring their error to them privately first so as not to embarrass them.
And notice another very important aspect here. Going to someone private and talking with them is the very first thing we’re to do. This is very significant. One of the most destructive tendencies that communities of any kind fall into the habit of is triangulation. That’s when I’m upset with you and I go tell someone else about it and ask them to go to you. It’s a bit different from venting. We all do that. We all go to our friends and say, “Can you believe what that so-and-so just said? I’m speechless!” Most of the time that’s not triangulation. What is triangulation is if I said, “Can you believe what that do-and-so just said? Would you let him know that made my angry?” And what Jesus is counseling us to do is avoid triangulation. He’s telling us quite clearly that if one of us has an issue with another person, the way to handle it Christ-based respect is go to that person directly.
This is so important. Triangulation is deadly. Remember the telephone game? You may have played it in school, and it used to be done at those offsite teambuilding sessions we often had to go to. It’s a bit dated now, because of text messaging and email, but it’s still useful. The leader reads a short statement to somebody privately, and then that person tells the next person privately, and so on, without using paper. Everyone has to do it from memory. And then the last person says out loud what the original message was. When you compare it to the actual message written on the paper, sometimes it’s completely different! And even one iteration of the telephone game can cause the message to be distorted. Triangulating – passing messages through other people to the one intended to receive it – runs the incredible risk of not getting it right. It’s risky for both the sender as well as the receiver. What’s even worse is when it’s anonymous, when the initiator is not named and the receiver doesn’t exactly know who it is, although the person in the middle, the triangulator, sometimes does.
This first step that Jesus advices us to do when we feel hurt is so difficult. It’s really hard to go to another person directly and say that you’ve been hurt. We’re scared to offend the other, or that the relationship will end or that the fallout will be worse than the original hurt. And sometimes that happens. People don’t like being told they’ve hurt others or have screwed up in some way. But the truth of Christian community, although we often forget it, is that since we are already beloved children of God in Christ, then what others say and do ultimately doesn’t matter. Nothing you can say or do to me will affect my relationship with God. Nothing. That fact should free each of to be able to speak the truth to one another in love – always respecting the dignity of the other. But it also frees us to be able to hear what others have to say with equanimity as well.
And one more thing – our mutual relationships can never really be broken as long as we are in real communion with one another. If each of us is willing to continue to come to the Altar, then even when we’re angry or upset with one another, we are still ultimately bothers and sisters in Christ. Communion means “union with.” I’m certainly not suggesting that we just treat each other like dirt and then brush over it as the Communion rail. What I am saying is that the true reality of how and why we are together – because each if us in Christ and therefore brothers and sisters - is far far stronger than any reason in particular why we may feel our relationships are stretched. Of course we’re going to sin. Of course not everything is going to be peachy keen. During this time in the life of St. Thomas’s we are all working hard to help stabilize our common financial situation. There is a lot going on in a very limited timeframe this fall. I am one in particular who can so focus on a task at hand, that I often forget that it takes real people to accomplish things. People have feelings and it’s part of my duty as a Christian to remember that. And in fact, that’s everyone’s duty as followers of Christ. I hope that, when I fall into this old habit, that you will gently call me on it and do so directly, without triangulation. You can expect the same from me.
Ultimately, our relationships with each other are worth far more than the items we set out to accomplish. Of course, that cannot mean we just all sit around basking in Christian joy with each other. There’s work to be done and Good News to be shared, after all. But the Good News actually means is that we can, if we allow it, be free from the guilt and fear that characterize so many others kinds of relationships. Our communites, Jesus says to us, should be different.

Of course, Jesus doesn’t end there by reminding us not to triangulate, although if we remember that, the rest of what he says probably won’t be needed. If the person to whom you go to directly, without triangulating, listens to you, you have regained that person. But if not, take a few people along with and try again. This is important for two reasons. First, it’s possible the person you went to simply didn’t understand what you were saying. Sometimes that happens – we end up speaking past each other, not deliberately but because for whatever reason we just don’t get it. So bringing along someone else who might be able to explain using different language is simply respectful of the hearer. But there’s another reason. It’s possible that the perceived sin isn’t really a sin at all, but a mistake on the part of the one who felt hurt. That happens too. By asking that one or two others be brought along, we’re required to explain our case to others and receive some validation that we really do have a valid concern. It’s possible we don’t, and maybe weren’t able to see it at first. If you ever find yourself in this situation and need someone else to go along with you, feel free to call me. That’s part of why I am here.
See how relationships get continually built up in this process! First there’s the relationship between the one who was hurt and the one who sinned. Then there’s the relationship between the one who was hurt, and the witnesses and the witnesses and the one who sinned. Even in the midst of hurt and pain, if we observe the dignity of each person and keep relationships paramount, the community will continue to get built up! How amazing is that!
Jesus then suggests that, well if there is still an issue, then tell it to the church. Now this is something that in reality I’ve never observed and can’t imagine how often it happens or should happen. For the entire community to get involved is sort of the nuclear option, it seems to me. If I’ve got a beef with Sam, and I’ve gone to him privately and gone to him again with some others, and it’s so serious that it still hasn’t been resolved, to take the matter to the entire group will surely bend if not break some relationship bonds. I might interpret that to mean, in our case, the Executive Council, or something. Frankly, my prayer is that in our relationships with one another it never comes to that.
Finally, notice something else. Jesus says, well if nothing else has worked, then treat such a one as a Gentile and a tax collector. That sounds on its face that this is the means of excommunication. You get three tries and if, after three attempts, after all the validation that it is indeed a real issue, that no, the offender is not going to change or repent, then you get to kick her out, right? Gentiles and tax collectors weren’t part of the community, after all.
But I suggest that’s a bit simplistic. How does Jesus treat Gentiles? He healed the centurion’s slave boy and the Canaanite woman’s daughter after all. How about tax collectors? The very author of this Gospel was a tax collector and now revered as one of the Four Evangelists. How about that? Treating such a one as a Gentile or a tax collector means bringing the very grace and hospitality of Jesus himself to bear. It means eating and drinking and being in community and fellowship. Remember what Matthew told us in Chapter 13 a few Sundays ago in the parable of the weeds and the wheat? It’s not our place to decide ultimately who is a weed and who is wheat – let all grow together, Jesus reminds us, and let God figure it all out.
I have been harping on relationships this summer. Throughout the summer season the Offertory Sentence - that’s the invitation to offer up our gifts of time, talent, treasure in money, bread and wine – has been this: “If you are bringing your gift to the Altar and realize your sister or brother has something against you,, then leave your gift at the altar and go, first be reconciled to your sister or brother and then bring your gift.” For us Christians, walking way – simply breaking off the relationship – is quite frankly, never an option for us. Even after repeated attempts at reconciliation, we’re still to treat one who is unreconciled as a tax collector or a Gentile. Doing otherwise is an offense against the very Holy Communion we celebrate every Sunday. Our relationships one with another are grounded in the relationship each of us has with God first. Since God will never break his relationship with any of us, we are enjoined to the best of our ability to live out that same Good News and not do it either.
My sisters ands brothers, there is, I think, perhaps no harder work than being in Christian community. We’re going to screw up at times, and Jesus knows that. Particularly when much is at stake, like frankly it is right now in the life of our community, we may find ourselves seeing hurt where there is none or hurting others when that’s the last thing on our minds. We screw up, we confess that we have sinned, and we come to the Table to renew our communion with God and with each other. And we try as hard as we can until it happens again. But when we do, we have some maxims, some wise words, some proverbs - a command from the Lord himself really - imbued with a wisdom far greater than that of Poor Richard or any other earthly source:
“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”


Here's a well-known anthem that goes excellently with today's reading from Romans:

Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

What Authority Do We Have to Bind or Loose?

I thought I might try something different for a while. Over on Doorman-Priest, when I was guest blogger I asked readers to conttribute to a discussion about the upcoming readings for Sunday. It was kind of e-Bible Study, and I think it was pretty fun. So I'd like to try it here. I confess my ulterior motive: I always get something out of such activites as fodder for my own sermon!

Here's the Gospel for Sunday. (It won't always be the Gospel, and I think the format of this may change with time, but let's see how this goes.)

Matthew 18:15-20

Jesus said, "If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them."

As usual, there's all kinds of food for reflection here. I think what strikes me up front is this idea of binding and loosing. It's unique to Matthew's Gospel, and it's important for a vairety of reasons, I suspect. That's a truism, so perhaps it's me that thinks it's important at this time in my life and the life of the parish.

What does "binding and loosing" seem to mean? Does it really mean there's some sort of parralelism between heaven and earth, and that we have authority here on earth? What's this authority about then? What gets loosed and bound anyway? How do we decide? Doe all Christians have this?

I look forward to the discussion!


Fr. Boniface's Sermon is Up

As I promised, I updated the entry for August 24 with Fr. Boniface's sermon. It's quite good. Do have a look.


Monday, September 1, 2008

We Had a Flea Market on Saturday

On Saturday, St. Thomas's sponsored a Flea Market as a fundraiser for the parish. We had pretty good weather and several vendors come. Our ECW chapter put together a great cons=cession stand, and several parishioners even took turns at a St. Thomas table. We made a few hundred dollars but more importantly, set it up for even a bigger event next year. I think everyone had a good time and it was great to see so many people come out and support the work we're doing. (I need to do a better job of putting events up on my blog before the event!)

Almighty and everliving God, ruler of all things in heaven and earth, hear our prayers for this parish family. Strengthen the faithful, arouse the careless, and restore the penitent. Grant us all things necessary for our common life, and bring us all to be of one heart and mind within your holy Church; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP. p. 817)


The Proper of Yesterday: The 16th Sunday after Pentecost

I suppose this should be a split post; today is Labor Day, and there is an optional Eucharistic proper for it, althoigh it isn't observed in the Office. But of course yesterday, a Feast of Our Lord, is not optional, and we observed it as we always do at St. Thomas's. In Scripture we heard the story of Moses and the burning bush and God introducing himself with his own name "I AM WHO I AM" and from St. Paul's letter to the Romans, a description of Christians acting atg their best in community, something we can and should all aspire to. In Matthew's Gospel we heard just rebuek Peter after Peter says Jesus can't possibly go to Jerusalem, and then Jesus taching his disciples and us about what taking up one's cross means.

I pointed out in my sermon that to take up anything, one must first put down whatever it is you're already carrying. The paradox of the Cross is that, when we put down our old lives, that is, whatever is keeping us from accepting and living into God's amazing love for each of us, when wer take up the Cross we actually gain our lives back again, this time as God wants us to live it and not as society or others say we have to live it.

I also noted that quite clearly that carrying one's Cross is voluntary. I used the example of the monks at St. Gregory's, who choose to take on the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience as their way of growing into God' love for them. They aren't forced to, and in fact, God nevers forces anyone to do anything. So those people who believe that, for example, living in an abusive situation "because it's their cross to bear" are wrong. Violece and degrdation and abuse are noever part of God's plan for us, and if you are in such a situation, here are some resources in Sussex County you can contact if you need to. Also, you can always call me directly and I will help any way I can.

Almighty God, you have so linked our lives one with another that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives: So guide us in the work we do, that we may do it not for self alone, but for the common good; and, as we seek a proper return for our own labor, make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of other workers, and arouse our concern for those who are out of work; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.