Monday, October 6, 2008

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.

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