Friday, October 31, 2008

A Halloween Poem and a Prayer

WHEN the night wind howls
In the chimney cowls,
And the bat in the moonlight flies,
And the inky clouds,
Like funeral shrouds,
Sail over the midnight skies--

When the footpads quail
At the night-bird’s wail,
And black dogs bay at the moon,
Then is the spectre’s holiday--Then is the ghost’s high noon!

Ha! Ha!

Then is the ghost’s high noon!

As the sob of the breeze
Sweeps over the trees
And the mists lie low on the fen,
From grey tomb-stones
Are gathered the bones
That once were women and men,

And away they go,
With a mop and a mow,
To the revel that ends too soon,
For cock crow limits our holiday--The dead of the night’s high noon!

Ha! Ha!

The dead of the night’s high noon!

And then each ghost
With his ladye-toast
To their church yard beds take flight,
With a kiss, perhaps,
On her lantern chaps,
And a grisly grim, “good night!”

Till the welcome knell
Of the midnight bell
Rings forth its jolliest tune,
And ushers in our next high holiday--The dead of the night’s high noon!

Ha! Ha!

The dead of the night’s high noon!
by: W.S. Gilbert (1836-1911)

O Lord,
From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Proper of Yesterday: SS Simon and Jude, Apostles

I was at the Newark Clergy Conference yesterday without my laptop - there was a freak winter storm in N Nj and NE PA, and some areas of Sussex County had nearly a foot of snow! I was planning to commute each day, but with the bad weather I got a room last night instead. Glad I did! But that mean a gazillion emails when I did get home today and no reflection for SS Simon and Jude, Apostles, whose memory we recalled yesterday. So, loyal readers, any of you want to write a reflection on the day? Use the Comments so we can all see it.

O God, we thank you for the glorious company of the apostles,and especially on this day for Simon and Jude; and we praythat, as they were faithful and zealous in their mission, so wemay with ardent devotion make known the love and mercy of ourLord and Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you andthe Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.


Monday, October 27, 2008

The Proper of Yesterday: Pentecost XXIV

Wow, the Roman numerals are getting very long this time of year! Yesterday we at St. Thomas's gathered as we always do on a Feast of Our Lord. We recounted the story of the death of Moses, for me one of the saddest passages in all the Bible. We continued to read from Paul's 1st letter to the Thessalonians, and then from Matthew's Gospel, the excellent and thought-provoking Summary of the Law. Here's what I offerred at the lectern. As always, I welcome your comments!

St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Vernon
Proper 25A RCL 2008
Deut 34:1-12; Ps 90:1-6,13-17; I Thes 2:1-8; Matt 22:34-46
The Rev. R. F. Solon, Jr., Vicar

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts, be always acceptable in your site, O Lord our Redeemer, Amen.

I can’t help but think of the game show, “The Weakest Link.” Do you remember it? That’s the quiz show where you and your team answered questions for higher and higher amounts of money, and at the end of the round you had to vote someone off your team. Remember Anne Robinson? She was the very stern and insulting quiz show host, who was nicknamed the “Queen of Mean.” He signature line was “You are the weakest link. Goodbye!”

It sort of seems like the Pharisees are playing “The Weakest Link” with Jesus today. And really, they have been at it for a while now. Last week it was the Pharisees who were trying to trap Jesus with the trick question about paying taxes. The week before it was Jesus, in the story of the very bizarre wedding banquet, zinging the temple leaders about who would be worthy to be invited to the Great Feast. And at the beginning of October it was Jesus again going after the Pharisees in the Parable of the Vineyard. Seems like they’re all playing a dangerous game of The Weakest Link, or maybe Survivor or Big Brother. Someone gets voted off the Island or the team or the mansion. Who will it be? Stayed tuned to find out!

Unlike the questions you get on game shows on TV for the most part, these quiz questions that Jesus gets are meant to be emtrapment and are dangerous. Although there was no TV back in the day, if Jesus gave a wrong answer, he could very easily have been arrested or worse, beaten up by the crowds. It was a dangerous game the Pharisees were playing. They were determined to get him, any way they could. It’s kind of interesting that, because we tend to use a more-or-less sequential reading of the Gospel, by the time we get into October and November every year we’re reflecting on places and events that happened, like this passage does, during Holy Week itself. In our church year we don’t get there until April, and there’s a long time between now, the first few days of that week, and the second week in April, when we take up the Passion narrative again. But make no mistake. The temple authorities were playing for keeps.

This time, though, I wonder if the temple leaders hadn’t made a strategic mistake. Even though they are trying to get Jesus in trouble, they pick a pretty esoteric topic to do it in. You might know that there are 613 commandments in the Torah, which means Teaching, and that includes the Ten Commandments and all the rest. There had been ongoing scholarly debate in Pharisee circles about which of all the 613 were the most important. After all, the temple purity laws were needed in order ot have ceremonially ready priest to offer the sacrifices. And the food laws were important in order to keep the people pure and not mix in with the heathens. Or maybe it was the laws about what to bring to the Temple when a pilgrim came to the Temple. Pharisees, of course, were the strictest and they wanted to follow all the Torah scrupulously. They tried, at least. But even they knew that some were probably more important than others. But which ones?

I wonder if this wasn’t a mistake because, except for the Pharisees, most Jewish people probably didn’t care too much which of the 613 were most important. They had a hard enough time trying to get by under foreign occupation and just keep as much of their own uniqueness going as they could. 613 separate commandments? You’re nuts, I can hear Jacob the Plumber saying. I’ve got mouths to feed and taxes that I can’t afford to pay. You want me to concentrate on what?

Of course in hindsight, we know what Jesus is going to say. His reply is the Summary of the Law: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” And then he goes on and asks them a trick question back. According to Matthew, “No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.”

For Jesus at least, the quiz was over. There would be more to come later on that week, unfortunately, but we know that even that final confrontation was the beginning of the end for sin and separation in the world. But it begs the question then, does the Summary of the Law have anything to say to us today? After all, the Good News is that we are not finally separated from God. That ended on Easter morning. Even in this physical life, we know that Jesus is among us right here and now, and most especially in the Holy Communion we will share in just a few minutes. When we say, “This is my body” and “This is my blood,” we really mean it. So what happens at the end of our worship then, after we agree to go forth in peace to love and serve the Lord? Does something that summarizes the 613 commandments of Torah, even if it is the words of Christ himself, mean anything to Christians today?

Think about it. We know that our salvation, the end of our separation, occurs when we are baptized and adopted as God’s own sons and daughters, brothers and sisters to Christ himself. That salvation is completely free – we can’t earn it, we can’t just follow the rules and be assured that all is right with God. After all, if that were true, then who needs Jesus at all? That’s what the 613 commandments were for, to keep people in right relationship with God. As we heard in the parable of the vineyard from a few weeks ago, though, it wasn’t working. God finally sent Jesus to finally and forever break down the separation we know exists. So how can two of those 613 commandments be good for us, if following them or any of the 613 won’t get us any closer to God than we are now?

It’s absolutely true that we can’t earn our way into God’s love. God won’t love us any more or any less than God loves each of us right now. It’s the entire life and ministry and death and rising again of Jesus that actually is a witness to that completely unbelievable love of God. But Jesus, who is literally the embodiment of the Good News of that love, he says something which cuts through all the red tape. He says to love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. He makes it clear that neither is more important than the other commandment. Both are equal in importance. Here’s the amazing part:

If you love God as hard as you can, you will find you have no choice but to begin to show love to those around you, your family, friends, next door neighbors, members of the community here at St. Thomas and wherever else you associate. Why? It’s paradoxical that it’s a commandment, but remember you can’t love God any more than God already loves you. It is impossible for us humans to reciprocate God’s love. We can’t do even one one-millionth, one one-billionth, one gazillionth of what God already does. And so in a way the command to love God is not much of a command, because we can’t. Not like God does. But what we can do is show the love that God shows to you and to me and spread it around. It’s the opposite of the Survivor or Weakest Link or Big Brother, because instead of voting people off the island, we do what Jesus does and vote them in. Anyone who wants to, just like Jesus did. That’s why Jesus pointed out that the two commands are equivalent, because in a way they are only one command. If you accept the salvation that God offers to you in Jesus, if you want the personal relationship that God has designed for you since the Big Bang itself, the way you love God with all you can is to begin to love your neighbor as yourself.

I want to point out a curious thing about this. I hope you do not think I am conceited, but I actually disagree with Jesus on part of this. Jesus says there are two commandments that are in actuality the one unified way to live out your salvation. Actually, there are three commandments here, not two. The first commandment is love God as hard as you can. The second commandment to be listed is to love your neighbor, and the third commandment is to love yourself. Really. The little word “as” is very very important. It says that your love of neighbor is predicated on how much you love yourself. You are your own closest neighbor. Think about that for a minute. You will not be able to show love to those around you if you are not taking good care and loving yourself. You’re created in God’s own image, after all. God doesn’t make junk, as the bumper sticker so rightly puts it. So if you aren’t showing your own self the care and attention and affection and desire for what’s truly best for someone – and that someone being you – then you will not be able to expand that love to anyone else and you will not really be loving God either. The love of God and neighbor means accepting yourself as God accepts you – honestly, clearly, with no preconceptions, no filters, just as you are.

And that’s hard. We all have things we wish were not part of our lives. Things we perhaps did in the past that we regret. Habits we know aren’t good for us. Baggage from old relationships long ceased that we still find we can’t put down. Internal DVDs or tapes from mentors or parents or friends – messages that pull us down that should mean nothing today but that continue to play in the background of our hearts. Separation from self is really the first separation that God says is over in Christ. God looks at each of us with complete clarity – nothing is hidden from God. All the things we hide even from ourselves, all the things we wish we could keep hidden from God. And the astounding Good News is that God loves each of us anyway!!!!! It doesn’t matter what we have done or said or been or, as the confession has it, left undone either. God wants to be in relationship with you and with me, unaffected by anything that has or has not happened in the past. And my unease, my discomfort, my discombobulation over that, and perhaps yours too, is that if God sees everything about my broken self and still loves me, then God invites me to see my own self with the same loving and clear eyes that God uses. And that means confronting those broken and sinful parts with love and honesty and acceptance. That doesn’t mean leaving them that way. If I begin to see myself as God sees me then I will want to work on those less-then-whole parts of my life. That’s the continual conversion to the mind of Christ that I open myself up for when I begin to let him into my life. I begin to want what he wants, which is wholeness for my own self, which is living my life as God desired for me in the first place anyway.

So does this last round of Jesus-vs-the Pharisees mean anything? It means everything. It was the final straw - the beginning of the end – for Jesus’ earthly life. But for you and for me, it’s the end of the beginning of our old lives, the lives marred by separation from God and others and our own very selves. So this week, my hope and invitation for you is to take some time and quiz yourself. Instead of Howie Mandel or Anne Robisnon asking the questions, though, let Jesus do it. Your quiz questions are simple. You shall love God and your neighbor as you live yourself. How do you fall short of loving yourself as God loves you? What are the broken parts of your life that you’d rather not remember, that you wish God didn’t already see? Take five minutes each day this week. Pick one thing you don’t like about yourself, or something you’ve done, or a habit that is causing you to be less than whole, less than living the life God wants you to live. And give it God. God knows all of it and loves you anyway! And then do one thing for yourself that you like to do, that gives you joy. That’s a reminder that God wants your entire life to be full of joy and wholeness. This is a way to begin to love yourself, so you can eventually love others and demonstrate in your very life the love of God too. In this quiz, there are no wrong answers. You won’t be voted off the team. And the grand prize is nothing less than your very life itself!
In the name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.
Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Proper of the Day: St. James of Jerusalem

Today the Episcopal Church observes the life and witness of St. James of Jerusalem "The Just," brother of Our Lord. This James is not the same as James son of Zebedee, but is assumed to be the author of the Letter of James and is also considered, because of the witness in Acts and elsewhere, as the first Bishop of Jerusalem, and so in some sense the first ackwoledged Bishop in Christian history. James was executed during an interval in Roman governors in Jerusalem in about 62 AD. By the First Council of Nicea in 325 AD, there were some three hundred bishops in Christianity, but up till then only five Patriachs, or bishops of the most important dioceses. These are Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, and Rome. So James the Just has a special place in Christianity for those who believe that being "catholic and apostolic" means being in communion with the historic episcopate.

Often the Scriptures appointed for Major Feasts are pretty obvious in their application. Occasionally, they don't seem to be, at least to me. Tonight's second lesson at Evening Prayer (Hebr. 12:12-24) seems like that to me. it's clearly exhortation to be at peace with others and also to recognize that in Jesus, proximity to God is assured, unlike at Mount Sinai during the Revelation of the Torah. This feast is not in the 1928 BCP, so is new in this edition. The recent Lutheran Evangelical Lutheran Worship does not have seperate readings in the Office for major feasts, and this feast is not observed there or by the Roman Catholic rite either. So no clues there. (Update: this Feast is observed by the Orthodox churches, and some of the appointed scripture is the same - see here.) The Psalms for the day are very Jerusalem-centric, and the reading from Isaiah (Is 65:17-25) is a wonderful prophecy about the Holy City's renewal. It's probably obvious to everyone but me, so if someone would please explain it, please do!

This Daily Office site suggests "O Lord, Thou Has Been Our Refuge" by Vaughn Williams for today. Here's a version on youtube that's nicely sung:

Grant, O God, that following the example of your servant James the Just, brother of our Lord, your Church may give itself continually to prayer and to the reconciliation of all who are at variance and enmity; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever.


PS - The icon of St. James was written by Fr. Tobias Haller at In a Godward Direction just this year and will be dedicated Sunday. It's used with his permission.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Death is Rated PG-14

I happened to stumble across an episode of Boston Legal just a few minutes ago. The main story line was about a man who is about to be executed - for what I don't know. The execution itself was handled pretty well - it was all I could do to not turn the channel. (It was in Texas and so by lethal injection.) But I happened to press "info" on my cable remote. And you know what? This episode is rated PG-14. PG-14. The delibrate killing of a human being by the state is only rated "Parental Guidance - 14 years or older."

It's not X for extreme violence? It's not even R? It's only PG-14?

I'm appalled.


Private Poll: Obama beats McCain by 16 Electoral Votes

The NYT has a cool feature that allows you to draw your own electoral map of the presidential election. At the moment, I'm conservatively predicting predicting that both Ohio and Florida will go for McCain, but that Obama picks up Colordado, New Mexico, and Iowa, as McCain seems to have conceded them. Here's a link to my map - you can draw your own if you sign in to the site. Note that you need 270 EVs to win the presidency. Many pollsters are giving Obama much higher scores, as Obama is trying very hard to break down the "270 +1 vote" mentality of governance and widen the concensus in American politics.


PS- Just found out you have to relink each time you make a change to the map. Darn.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Monday Funnies

It's been a while since I posted any funnies. Here's two for Monday. Click on an image to enlarge.

Hmmm...What other virtue or vice lists would you have added?



Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Proper of the Day: the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost

Today the community of St. Thomas's gathered to celebrate the Lord's Day and the Children's Sabbath. We had special prayers for children and many of the children participated in out 10 AM service. Thanks to the Sunday School for the good work they are doing - we have more than 20 children registered this year!

At 10 AM I asked the children about why we come to church on Sunday. We had a bit of conversation about it , and then I reminded us that Sunday is the first day of the week, and that God should be first in our lives. so it's good and cool that the first thing we do on the first day of the week is come to church to meet God. Don't know how it turned out, but as I told the congregation when we began the Creed, it's there to cover for the preacher just in case.

Yesterday was the major feast of St. Luke, Apostle and Evangelist. I was leading an Autumn Quiet Day on the theme of Creation, and although I privately observed the feast at Morning and Evening Prayer, our public celebration yesterday had a different feel. I realize it's the first time I haven't done a sperate entry for a mjaor feast since this blog began, and I plead extra work this past week.

Besides the creation story of Genesis 1:1 - 2:3, I selected the following lessons to frame our day, beginning with MP and ending with the Gospel of the Eucharist. I'd appreciate your feedback on this "Votive for Creation" which is not really the same as the Rogation Day votives:

At Morning Prayer: Psalm 104: 1-24; Sirach 43:1-12, Benedictus es, Domine ( Canticle 13), Hebrews 2:5-18, Dignus es (Canticle 18), Collect for Rogation Days III, At the Eucharist: John 1:1-14

Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of your mercy, that your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Great Re-Opening!

From today's New York Times:

Since midsummer, installers have been placing the 8,500 pipes the console organ controls in chambers above the choir stalls at the eastern end of St. John the Divine.

Read it all here, and rejoice in God's adundance!


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Season is Incredible

This week I've spent some time outside looking at the leaves. Last Tuesday a friend and I visited High Point State Park in Sussex County. at 1803 feet, the High Point monument is the highest place inNew Jersey. On a clear day, which it was, you can see almost four states!

Last Friday I took a drive up the Delaware River into New York. I wish I had brought my camera, because it was truly stunning. Deep valleys to the left, nearly sheer cliffs to the right on Rt. 97. There's a nice picture from the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River site from the National Park Service.

Finally, on Monday I took another drive up due north into New York and discovered the Mohonk Preserve, a privately funded forest preserve dedicated to protecting the Shawangunk Mountains by insporing people to care for, explore, and enjoy the natural world. Here's a pic from their site, which does nto really do justice to the immesity of the ridge itself:

Autumn in this area of the country has just been truly grand, and excellent reflectional fodder for the Autumn Quiet Day coming up on Saturday.


Monday, October 13, 2008

The Proper of the Day: Penteccost XXII

Yesterday was a long day, but good too. We gathered to encounter the Word in word and Sacrament - and this week the Gospel has got some of Metthew's "hard words" to deal with. See what you think. As always, I welcome your feedback!

St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Vernon
Proper 23A RCL 2008
Ex 32:1-14; Ps 106:1-6, 19-23; Phil 4:1-9; Matt 22:1-14
The Rev. R. F. Solon, Jr., Vicar

May the words of my mouth, and meditation of all our hearts, be always acceptable in your site, O Lord our Redeemer, Amen.

When I was on vacation two weeks ago I visited my parents in Toledo. It was a good visit, except for the driving part! During part of my time there I had the opportunity to look through some of the family pictures from years past. It was very nostalgic in lots of ways to see pictures of me and my brother and parents during the holidays and stuff. Chad is twelve years younger than I am, and it was fascinating to see some of his baby pix in my minds eye when I had lunch with him later in the week! But what really has stuck in my mind are some pictures of weddings we went to when I was growing up. There was one with my uncle Denny – I was in the wedding party and we had to wear what we would now think are truly atrocious ruffles and a top hat with a walking stick. I think I was ten or so. There was another one with my cousin Celia – I vaguely remember that one. She was older too and so I might have been 12. There was my other cousin Kevin’s wedding too – it was bitterly cold and wasn’t even that fun, as far as I could recall. The truly oddest one, in a way, was the wedding of my own parents! It was a fall wedding, in October, and the wedding colors were exactly the colors of the leaves right now. I was also in that wedding party, too, and no, it’s not what you might be thinking! This was my father’s second marriage and I was five. I don’t remember too many details because I sort of didn’t quite understand what was going on until later. And thinking back on it, it was kind of a surreal experience, going to your own parents’ wedding.

Some of the details of the wedding we heard about in today’s passage from Matthew are pretty surreal, too. The parable starts normally enough. There’s a king, and his son is getting married, and invitations to the feast get sent out. Now in those days it was customary to get rsvp’s back, plan the banquet, and then send out a reminder closer to the day of the wedding. If you’re a king, you don’t need mail or email, you have your slaves go out. But for whatever reason, the invited guests blow the king off. They apparently have other stuff to do that’s more important. That’s the first odd detail. Remember that, like at the wedding at Cana, that weddings, especially royal ones, lasted several days and the parties were umbelievable. So the king got everything ready for the big multi-day dinner, and sent some more slaves, and, like in the parable of the vineyard, some of these get mistreated or even killed. That’s where it starts to get even more unreal. You don’t go around mistreating the king’s own slaves, after all! That’s sort of like beating up the mailmen. But then it gets even more strange, and rather bloody besides. While dinner is apparently more or less on the table, the king sent his soldiers to kill the guests and burn their city. Probably, this verse refers to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70 and might be a later addition into the story. It’s hard to tell, though, and in any case the point is that the king is not a happy camper. So he’s got all this food and wine, maybe a nice orchestra, all camped out for a week or more, and he tells his slaves to literally go pull people off the street to come to the feast. And as Matthew notes, “Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad, so the wedding hall was filled with guests.” Can you imagine having a week-long wedding reception at say, the Highland Lakes Clubhouse and just asking anyone to come in?

And here’s the next bizarre part of the story. The king comes in and sees one of the guests without a suit on. He asks him about it, and the guest has nothing to say. Now remember that this guy got his invitation, at the earliest, the same day. I can picture our guest going out for a donut, unshaven, wearing some old 501s, favorite rock band t-shirt, and maybe some flip flops, when all of a sudden a bus pulls up on a street corner and the driver says, “Come on, get in, there’s a great party over at the palace and the kings is having everyone in!” In jumps our guest in whatever he has on, and off he goes right to the great hall. But the king has him bounced out of the feast anyway, just like at a club in Midtown Manhattan or someplace. I’m reminded of my cousin Kevin’s wedding, where it was nice and warm inside the reception and below zero and snowy outside. “Many are called, by few are chosen,” are the concluding words of this parable.

This is, once again, an example of one of Matthew’s hard sayings. There are more coming up before all is said and done. Sometimes it’s easy to see the Good News in a particular parable or other passage from the Gospels. Other times it isn’t, and this seems like one of those. What’s going on here?

The first thing to note is that Jesus is still talking to the Pharisees and the scribes, his sworn enemies. This is the third parable he tells them, all after the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, so this might be only two or three days before the last Supper and the Crucifixion. Just like last week’s parable of the tenants in the vineyard and the story of the two sons the week before, the major point of this story is of an allegory of salvation history. The wedding banquet is the end time – after space and time has ended, when all are brought into judgment, and those judged worthy get to sit down to the banquet. God is the king, Jesus is the son, the slaves are not only prophets from the Old Testament times but also Christian missionaries later on, and the first round of invitees are the scribes and Pharisees themselves. Well, they don’t seem to be accepting the Good News of God’s love, and so other people – you and me, the guests pulled in off the street, are invited to the wedding instead. So far so good. But who is the guest caught in t-shirt, jeans, and flip-flops? What’s that supposed to represent?

Well, here’s where it’s both Good News and also hard news. The wedding garment the guest is lacking can be thought of as putting on the new clothes of salvation - you have to take off your old clothes if you want to put on new ones. It was the earliest practice of Christianty that people took off their old clothes, were baptized naked, and then put on a white baptismal robe to signify their new life in Christ. It may be that this practice has an echo in this parable. But the new clothes of salvation, for Matthew, are not merely the acceptance of the invitation. That’s where “many are called” comes in. Everyone, absolutely everyone, rich or poor, gay or straight, Republican, Democrat, Independent, white, black, men, women, are invited to God’s great celebration of new and renewed life. And that’s the Good News! God constantly calls to you and to me and says, “Hey, come to my dinner – I have all sorts of good things for you!" That’s what Jesus did – he issued a standing invitation to come to God’s wedding hall and dig in. And at the wedding each of us is given a white wedding garment to wear. Think of that as both baptism itself and more importantly, the baptismal covenant we renew several times a year. We’re given the garment and we’re expected to wear it. We don’t have to, it’s always our choice. But putting it on means taking off our old clothes first, the old clothes of not respecting the dignity of every human being, of not continuing in the apostles’ teaching and the breaking of bread, of not seeking and serving Christ in all persons, and the other things we sign up for that we say we agree with and that we will do. Matthew is very concerned that the grace of salvation gets acted on, and the little vignette about the wedding guest with crummy clothes is nothing less than a representation of one who just shows up and expects to be saved, without any expectation of doing anything else. Just because we get an invitation doesn’t mean we can show up in any old thing we want to wear. Just because we know we are saved, that we are in right relation with God, doesn’t mean we can just sit back at the banquet and chow down.

The wedding garment here is nothing less than the good works that we prayed for earlier this morning. “We pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works.” Notice that grace comes first. That’s so important! We are given the gift of salvation and it actually surrounds us and permeates us. Our good works don’t earn us grace, our good works are in response to grace. Our prayer is that this grace will inspire in each of us ways to show that God’s love is active right now, by extending God’s love out from each of us into the world we live in. And what’s completely wonderful is that we have a prequel of the wedding banquet that we’re invited to, every time we gather here in this place. Our Eucharist is nothing less than a preview, an appetizer, if you will, of that same wedding feast Jesus told us about in this parable. And like all food and drink, this holy meal nourishes us and strengthens us. “Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength, for pardon only, and not for renewal.” Strength and renewal go along with getting a wedding garment, and it’s what we need to do those good works we just prayed that we want to, in fact, do.

And what is that? As I mentioned earlier, putting on the wedding garment means accepting what we signed up for when we were baptized or when we are confirmed. It’s a set of values that are at times completely antithetical to the values of the world around us. It’s seeing a need, here in St. Thomas’ or in the community, on in someone you know, or perhaps people you may never meet, and helping out in whatever ways you can to live out salvation right in your life. That’s what Jesus means when he talks about wearing the wedding garment. Each of us is given one, and we have to put it on – we’re asked to live out our wedding invitation. Each of us has different gifts that God us to do this – it’s part of the grace that precedes and follows us, because gifts, like grace itself, are unearned. Perhaps you have a special ability that know is useful and needed by the community. Perhaps you have the gift of time that you are offering for the ongoing ministries of St. Thomas’s or in the township. Perhaps you have a good income that you are contributing to the material fabric of the parish and support of the ministries. For most of us, it’s some combination of time, talent and treasure that at various times in our lives we can bring. Whatever it is, it’s valuable. And I want to thank and acknowledge whatever it is you are offering now. All of it is helping to build up this community of St. Thomas’s and is needed and helpful. In God’s eyes, there are no unworthy contributions at all. Everyone is invited to the Feast, and everyone’s offerings are valued and valuable too. That’s the flip side of the Good News. With great privilege - the good news that we are made right with God and each other, in Jesus - comes great responsibility, that we actually have to act like it.

I still remember how odd it was to stand there next to my Dad and his girlfriend in my own little tux. Going to your own parents’ wedding as a five year old is definitely a bit surreal, at least if you’re five. I often am mindful of that event in my life when I read about the surreal wedding of the king. The invitations, the over-the-top destruction of the city and then the weird treatment of the wedding guest. But the strangeness is the point. I wore a tuxedo back when I was five. Each of us is also invited to an ongoing wedding, and that feast starts right here. But if we go, we’re expected to get dressed up first. That starts here too. How can each of us daily live out the invitation we have been given, inviting others to the very same feast that we already have a standing invitation to?


Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Friday, October 10, 2008

A Pastoral Letter on the Financial Meltdown

My Dear Sisters and Brothers of the Diocese of New York,

We live in perilous times.

For many years we have been aware of the danger to the environment. In recent years we have been acutely aware of the dangers of violence and war here at home as well as abroad. Day by day and week by week we have prayed for the men and women who serve in harms way, and for the leaders who direct their paths. Now we face a new threat, one that presents an even more immediate threat to the way we, live our lives as individuals, the well-being of our nation and even the health of the world's community of nations: the apparent collapse, at least in the short term, of the economic underpinnings that sustain us all.

No wonder that anxiety saturates society.

Times of danger can cause panic and panic which reveals the best and the worst in human character.

The worst amounts to a blind frenzy to survive. And here the operative word is "blind"; the state in which anything and everything can be sacrificed to the one objective of personal, corporate, or national survival. A pernicious corollary of this blind instinct is the indiscriminate placing of blame. Clearly the time will come when a deep and thoughtful analysis of what went wrong will need to be undertaken. However, in the very midst of the crisis, as we now find ourselves, we need to be extremely cautious about the wholesale pointing of fingers. This is exactly the impulse that, in other eras and places has led to the obscenity of pogroms.

However, such moments of crisis also have the power to elicit the very best that the human heart has to offer. It is that very best that Christians are called to offer, now and always. It is our deepest conviction that though there can be no dispute that the physical circumstances of our lives are important, yet the truth that we have been shown in Jesus is that the ultimate, the real, foundation on which our lives rest, is not on the health of our bank account but rather upon the abiding love of God. The gospel that we have heard, and have been called to proclaim, is not that the darkness is not dark, it is rather that the light of Christ will over-come it. The hope that is ours is rooted not in an unbroken chain of triumph and success but rather the cross of Christ that brings life out of death. Therefore, we need have no fear. Our identity is not defined by our bank accounts but by God's love. The ground on which we stand, the abiding love of God for us and for all creation, is solid ground. Though we may be surrounded by the tornadoes' winds we need have no fear. Though we may even be caught up in those winds, we need have no fear. The wind of the Spirit of God who sustains us is more than any of these.

Now more than ever, at this time, when our society is in such turmoil, it is our vocation as Christian to be, in ourselves, beacons of hope. We can be such beacons of hope not because we possess a secret answer to complex financial and economic questions, but rather because we know that the One through whom all things were made possesses us in the palm of His hand.

Faithfully yours,

(XV Bishop of New York)

Monday, October 6, 2008

Don't Vote!

Don't Vote.....Really!

Watch This.

Registration deadline in New Jersey is next Tuesday, October 14. Get the form here. You can register in person until 9 PM at each registration office!

You cannot vote if you do not register!


The Proper of Yesterday: The 21st Sunday After Pentecost

St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Vernon
Proper 22A RCL 2008
Ex 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20; Ps 19; Phil 3:4b-14; Matt 21:33-46
The Rev. R. F. Solon, Jr., Vicar

May the words of my mouth, and meditation of all our hearts, be always acceptable in your site, O Lord our Redeemer, Amen.

It;'s getting cooler, finally, isn't it? I kind of really like breaking out the jackets. But the cool weather and the beginnings of color in the trees get me thinking about the beauty of the season. Autumn is my favorite time of the year, I think, and it will be the very first time for me to experience autumn here in Sussex County. I can already sometimes smell what I assume are burning leaves, and it’s a wonderful smell. It’s illegal to burn leaves in the cities, but I seem to remember way back when I was in grade school, in Toledo, that we did it then. And it’s such an evocative odor, too, redolent with all sorts of depth and pungence, both soothing somehow and also biting, as if it’s looking both backward to summer and forward to winter.

This time of the year, I think many of us find special attractions in the wonders of outside and really of all creation. The sky is more deeply blue. And once the trees are in full color, it’s as if God spilled his paints all over, or maybe simply couldn’t decide what to use next and just used everything. Although it’s perhaps coincidental that the Feast of St. Francis falls in early October, it’s a good thing too. Francis was a special advocate both for the poor and for the wonders of creation, and a tradition of blessing of animals and pets on or near his feast day has sprung up in many parishes. We’re trying it this year as part of our regular worship, by inviting all the special animal friends who are really members of our family, to worship God our Creator with us today, and to receive a special blessing during the time of personal and community blessings. And our Eucharistic Prayer for today through November is one that particularly celebrates God’s gifts to us in creation, as the first of the many gifts from God that culminate in the greatest gift of salvation in Christ Jesus.

And that’s really what we do here today, and really every Sunday. We gather and pray, hear the word of the Lord in Scripture and meditation, and then approach the Table for the great Feast, where we give thanks to God for everything really, but most especially for what God did for us in Jesus.

This particular prayer invites us to consider the vast expanse of space and tiny lilttle ‘ole us, made by God the rulers of creation. God tried to keep us together with him and each other through the Law, encapsulated in the Ten Commandments that we heard recited today in the reading from Exodus. That unfortunately wasn’t enough. And although God has called us again and again, as even today’s Gospel reading reminds us, we turned against God and one another and our own selves. But Jesus, by becoming a human being like us, inside the created order of space and time, opened the way of freedom and peace for you and for me. He became the new Creation that allows each of us to rejoin the unsullied and unseparated universe that God always intended. As so we will say shortly, “we celebrate his death and resurrection, as we await the day of his coming.” Or as St. Paul puts it in today’s excerpt from his letter to the Philippians, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, we press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

And as we do that, for many of us, it’s our beloved pets who wait along with us. I’ve often thought that the love and attention of a family pet is perhaps closer than anything else on earth to the love of God. I know I have deeply loved, and been deeply inspired to love, by the love of the dogs I’ve been privileged to care for in the past. And it’s indeed a privilege, for I’ve never considered myself the “master” of my dog Alexander so much as his friend and trainer. I trained him to sit and heel and do all the other things he learned because they’re good for him. Learning to come if he’s running toward traffic is a good thing. Same thing with learning to heel if there’s a small child nearby who might otherwise be intimidated. I don’t train him for my benefit so much as his. And oddly, I think that’s what the Ten Commendmants are for us. They aren’t for God, because God is all knowing and truly the Lord of all creation. God doesn’t need our obedience in order to love us. Rather, the Commandments are for us. Not that we’re animals as far as that, but because they are good for us. I’ll leave it to you to take the reading home and perhaps meditate on which commandments seem the easiest and which the hardest for you. You might find some interesting insights as you consider your own life in the light of the Ten Commandments. We as Christians are not formally bound under the Ten Commandments, since as St. Paul reminds us today, our righteousness comes not from the law but “faith in Christ, the righteousness in God based on faith.” But that doesn’t leave us off the hook. The Ten Commandments are a fine way to examine our lives to see how we are living out the love of God in our lives. Jesus points out that loving God, and loving each other as our own selves, is the complete summary of the Law, God’s complete expectation for us. For one framework on how to do that, you can go to the Ten Commandments.

On this day and in this season when we celebrate the world that God gave us to be stewards over, you might wish to go beyond the Ten Words as they are sometimes called. There are two kinds of relationships that I don’t think are well represented. Yes, one’s relationship with God in the first four commandments, and with family and others in the other six, are all covered pretty well. But what about our relationship with the created order, with creation itself? In the beginning God gave us explicit authority over all the rest of creation, and it’s up to us to care for it and cultivate it, like the servants in the vineyard in today’s reading from Matthew. And my sense is that in some ways we humans aren’t doing a very good job of it globally and nationally. Dozens of species are extinct or endangered right here in America, and it appears that global warming is indeed a reality. I wonder how that will reflect on our stewardship of creation. So that may be an area to consider. How are each of is and in this parish exercising our duty as Christians, as follower of Jesus, to be the best steward of the vineyard of creation that we can?

The other area where the Decalogue falls short is one’s relationship with oneself. You can sin against your own self, and so many of us do. I’m not talking about the Seven Vices necessarily, but once again there’s wisdom there to be found as well. I’m really talking about the ways we fail to honor and respect and love our own selves as created in God’s own image. Remember it’s you and it’s me that God loved so much that God became one of us just so he could get through to us how much he does love us! And so each of us is infinitely valuable to God! And we forget that at times, believing that we’re not good, that we don’t measure up, that we can’t do it, that God nor anyone else could possible respect, care for, and love us. And that’s just as much a sin as any of the others in the Seven Vices or the Ten Commandments or the 617 laws of Torah.

My sisters and brothers, God’s gifts to us are amazing. Isn’t it odd that even in the midst of massive economic and political turomoil, when so many things seem so not to be going well, that we Christians still pause from our lvies to come together here to thank God for what God is doing? Somedays I wonder myself, what’s to thank God for? And yet the great gifts that God gives us, the gift of creation, the gift of the Commandments to help us day by day, the gift of our pets to be loyal companions on the journey, and most astoundingly to my mind, the gift of Jesus himself, that’s what to thank God for. And so I do, and I invite you to join in, too.

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Rescue Plan summarized

From today's New York Times, a good summary of the rescue plan (click image to enlarge):


Saturday Funnies's true, I suppose...never thought about it that way before....

This is just cute....

And I don't yet have any dogs in the house, and I still get service loss.....


Friday, October 3, 2008

Well, They Did It

Today the US House of Representatives passed the bailout bill and the President has signed it into law. Wall Street in the form of the stcok markets seemed to shrug it all off, but since this has never been about stocks, but about interest rates and credit, it doesn't really matter what the DJIA, et. al., did.

I wa watching a bit of C-SPAN this afternoon while at the gym and I was amazed at the claptrap some of the Honorables were spouting. "It won't work" said many. "We don't understand what the problem really is." How sad to utter either of those comments!

What has happened isn't complicated. Too many people acquired mortgages on terms they could not afford. The lenders were too lenient, too eager to make the deal, and so too many people got housing they could not afford for very long. When the mortgage rates began to adjust from the very low initial rates, people started to default and go bankrupt at rates far higher than anyone was prepared for. (Lenders always reserve something for unperforming loans.) At the same time, because of both deregulation and lack of regulation of the credit markets, the big banks began to repackage mortgages into sellable securities. It worked like this:

Say that Raphael, Uriel, Michael, and Gabriel each have taken out a mortgage so each can buy a fluffy cloud in Heavenly Hills. Each owes $100,000 to Medici Bank. Medici may keep or sell the mortgages (really, the right to collect the mortgage payments) at any time. Companies like Fannie and Freddie would buy the mortgages and take loan off the books of Medici so Medici could turn around and make some more loans. Remember that loans and credit are what make the modern economy run. But say that Medici combines the 4 loans into one thing called Mortgage A, and sells shares of Mortgage A to spread the risk around. People (institutions, in reality) could perhaps buy a $5000 share of Mortgage A. So far so good. But when the defaults rise higher than anticipated, then the pieces-parts of Mortgage A now become less valuable. Investors began to lose money on these securities, and because they are very complicated, it was hard to tell for a long time what would happen. There are trillions of dollars of these mortgage-backed securities floating around. The credit crunch is happening becasue the securities have dropped in value, and so institutions have to hold more cash to back them and cover the losses stemming from the underlying mortgage failures. If everyone is holding cash to cover their losses, there is less cash available to loan out. Modern everyday commerce depends on loans both long and short-term, and even California is having to ask the US Treasury to lend it money because California can't borrow when no one else will lend.

As I understand it, merely bursting the housing bubble (which is what is happening now) wouldn't necessarily be enough to cause the credit crunch, because the "normal" regulations and safeguards would have been in place to ensure banks had the reserves needed to cover their losses. But when you add in the unregulated securitization of the mortgages themselves, all bets were off. And that's what has happend. It's like a clogged water pipe - the water can't run and shuts everythineg down because it's clogged with bad mortgages and their securities. Loanable money is the water and it isn't flowing anywhere, because everyone is sitting on it to cover their bad loans.

So how to solve it? Remove the blockages in the pipes that carry the loand throughout the economy. In other words, buy the bad mortgages at reduced prices, which clears out the pipes by taking the bad loans off the books of the banks and institutions. Now the water can flow again becauase lenders and borrowers don't have all that bad debt blocking the pipes.

And that's what the bailout plan does. It authorizes the Government to use public debt to buy the debts that are clogging the economic system so that credit and loaning can resume. There are safeguards to make sure that we the taxpapers can recover the sales prices when the firms we buy the debt from recover. But the essense of the plan is to unblock the pipes by getting the bad debt out of the way.

I don't know if the above helps. It's almost more for me than for anyone else, but I hope it helps explain what, more-or-less, is going on and why the bailout was done the way it was done.

The New York Times is doing an excellent job of explaining things, far better than I can. Check it out if you'd care to.