Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Tuesday (St Teresa of Àvila)

  • Usual early morning stuff. Dealt with a couple of pastoral-administrative matters via a email exchanges.
  • Until mid-afternoon, with an interlude to take Brenda to a cardiology appointment, my attention was devoted to the finish work on three oral presentations in my near future: a sermon at the synod Eucharist on Friday, a "state-of-the-diocese" address to synod on Saturday, and a sermon at St Paul's, Carlinville on Sunday.
  • Took a substantial brisk walk.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.
  • After dinner: Burned through a half dozen or so disparate ministry-related items, either through reading something or writing something, or both.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

The Lord's Day (XVIII Pentecost)

Out the door and on the road with Brenda right at 0700 ahead of a nice and relatively easy drive down I-57 to Rantoul. We arrived at St Christopher's about 0905, and joined their regular 0930 liturgy. There was an excellent turnout for that small congregation, with attendance of 26, a good percentage of whom were youngsters, including a couple of babies. It's always great to see signs of new life in a community like this one. After a good time of post-liturgical visiting, we were bank on the road northbound at 1130, and home around 3:00, with a lunch stop in Kankakee.

Sermon for Proper 23

St Christopher’s, Rantoul--Luke 17:11–19

We’re in the section of Luke’s gospel now, from sometime this past summer up until the beginning of Advent, that is sometimes referred to as the “travelogue.” Today’s reading is from Chapter 17, but back in Chapter 9 is the incident at Caesarea Philippi—which is way in the extreme north of the territory that Jesus walked around in with his followers—an incident that you’re probably familiar with, when Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” and Simon Peter finally gives the correct answer: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” Shortly after that, the text tells us that Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem,” which is way in the south, and where he would, of course, suffer and die. So Jesus and his disciples are on a long and slow journey toward Jerusalem. Today his route takes him through an unnamed village. Just like any other traveler, Jesus and company are subject to the random events that travelers are subject to; you never know in advance the details of what’s going to happen on any given day of travel. As I drive through the diocese, I have no certain knowledge concerning the details of traffic or weather or construction or reckless drivers or … whatever.

In Jesus’ case, one of these random events is an encounter with ten lepers, who hailed him from a distance. Now leprosy is surely the single disease most frequently mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments. In any given instance, it may or may not be what we now know as Hansen’s Disease, which is where flesh gets gradually eaten away, causing some awful disfigurements. It may, sometimes, be something more like eczema or a really bad skin rash; we just don’t know. What we do know is that, under Jewish law, anyone who had what might look like leprosy was commanded to self-exile, to stay away from normal society, and hang out only with other lepers. So these ten lepers were a sort of roving band of outcasts, on a rather more aimless journey than Jesus, and their random event on a day of travel was to run into Jesus, which they probably thought was a huge stroke of good luck because, by that time, Jesus had a widespread reputation as a healer

If we pause to reflect, we can recognize brief, or sometimes not so brief, encounters with God—with the Father, with Jesus, with the Holy Spirit—in the midst of the randomness of our lives: from the beauty of a sunset to a hoped-for outcome from surgery to circumstances just lining up the right way—you know, those moments when we say, “It’s got to be a God thing”—particularly when there’s a clear answer to prayer. We approach God in prayer just as the ten lepers called out to Jesus, because we know he is able to deliver us from our afflictions, and to give us the strength to endure them with grace.

Jesus heals the lepers, as is his custom whenever anybody asks for healing, but, in this case, he does so rather indirectly. Instead of some dramatic gesture, like spitting on the ground or crying out with a loud voice, he simply assumes the outcome of his action without saying anything about it. He tells the lepers: Go and show yourself to the priest—that is, the legally authorized judge of whether they are, in fact, lepers. In the course of obeying Jesus, the lepers notice that they are healed.

There are two lessons to be drawn here, I think—one lesser and one greater. The lesser lesson is that bit about “in the course of obeying Jesus”: the lepers didn’t just stand there and get healed; they had to start moving, in obedience, before they experienced healing. Just as the proverbial “watched pot never boils,” it behooves us to attend to whether we are so fixated on our faithful petitions to God that we fail to see his presence and activity already among us and within us, and forget to act in his name. We can get so caught up in our awareness of our own needs that we miss seeing how God is already beginning to act to meet those needs.

The greater lesson is visible to us in the behavior of the one leper who, when he notices that his skin has cleared up, turns around and comes back to Jesus, falling at his feet in gratitude. I cannot help but imagine a subtle grin on Jesus’ face as he asks, in mock sarcasm, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Indeed, the one grateful leper was a Samaritan, an ethnic group that were considered “half-breeds” by the Jews, and were very much looked down-upon. Yet, this half-breed, this foreigner, was the one whose eyes were open to what he had experienced. He had been healed from leprosy, his defining condition, and his new defining condition was the result of his interaction with Jesus, the Anointed One of God.

When you and I were baptized, we had an encounter with that same Jesus, the Anointed One of God. We were brought to him as lepers, under the power of sin and death, marked as not worthy of existing in the community of the Kingdom of God. Then, we were given a new defining condition, that of being “in Christ,” sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever. The appropriate response, just as it was for the leper, is thanksgiving. For this reason, we come together on the first day of every week, the Lord’s Day, the day of resurrection, to offer eucharist, to offer thanks, to offer ourselves, our souls and bodies, as a living sacrifice to the God who has healed and forgiven and redeemed us. It is not for no reason that the part of the Mass to which we will come in a few minutes is called the Great Thanksgiving.

One of the commentaries that I consulted in preparing this homily said that “Gratitude may be the purest measure of one’s character and spiritual condition. The absence of the ability to be grateful reveals self-centeredness or the attitude that ‘I deserve more than I ever get, so I do not need to be grateful.’” Indeed, gratitude is the fundamental disposition of a disciple. Gratitude begins when we truly see that God is present and active with us and in the world, just as the healed Samaritan did in the course of obeying Jesus and going to show himself to the priest. And gratitude is expressed as we begin to recognize how much God’s mercy has touched our lives, when we cultivate the habit of seeing and acting on the needs of those whose lives intersect with ours. We follow the example of the grateful Samaritan leper as we get out of ourselves and our own needs and open our eyes to Jesus. Amen.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Friday (St Philip the Deacon)

  • Usual early AM weekday routine, save that I elected to move my walk (which slipped through the cracks yesterday) to the front of the day, thus leveraging the mild temperatures, which will have dropped by some twenty degrees by late afternoon. All was brilliant until the last ten minutes of the walk, when the heavens opened and I arrived home drenched. Got cleaned up, then accompanied Brenda on her cat care chore.
  • Processed some late-arriving emails. Reviewed the PowerPoint slides the Communicator has prepared for my synod address next week.
  • Attended to another communications-related item.
  • Reached out to the priest-in-charge of one of the Eucharistic Communities I'm scheduled to visit soon just to confirm I'm still expected.
  • Had a fulsome conversation Bishop John Roth, my ELCA opposite number. I called him about a relatively small matter, but the conversation took off in several directions, which was quite enjoyable.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Wrestled with my notes on the readings for Proper 27 and wrung from them a homiletical message statement for my visitation to St Matthew's, Bloomington on November 10.
  • Attended to some travel details pertaining to my trip to Virginia Theology Seminary week after next for the meeting of the Living Church Foundation.
  • Took the barest sketch of a homily for the synod Eucharist next week all the way to a full rough draft.
  • Did an Ignatian meditation on the daily office gospel reading.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Thursday (St Paulinus of York)

  • Customary weekday routine.
  • First deep dive into liturgy planning for the clergy conference.
  • Processed a multi-faceted email from the Senior Warden of one of our communities in transition, which resulted in my taking a "supply" gig in the parish (the fifth I will have done in the last four months of the calendar year), which occasioned some remedial homiletical task planning.
  • Dashed off a note of condolence to one of our clergy who has suffered a death in the family.
  • Pushed an email message out to the diocesan clergy giving some details about the clergy conference. (They had received the registration materials from the Administrator yesterday.)
  • Picked up lunch from the Chinese place around the corner.
  • Worked on my sermon for Proper 24 (November 20 at St Paul's, Carlinville), bringing it from "developed outline" to "rough draft."
  • Continued an email dialogue with the presenter for next month's clergy conference.
  • Took care of some loose ends regarding lodging for Brenda and me either side of synod.
  • More email dialogue with a potential candidate for one of our vacant cures.
  • Spent the last hour before Evening Prayer on the never-ending project of basement organization. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Wednesday (Robert Grosseteste)

  • Customary weekday AM routine (augmented for a few days by the chore of going up to our daughter's apartment on the third floor and feeding her cat--formerly Brenda's--while she's vacationing in New York).
  • Did the finish work on this Sunday's homily (edit, refine, print, place output in car, schedule for posting on both blog iterations).
  • Continued email correspondence with a priest from outside the diocese who is interested in one of our openings.
  • Followed up on a handful of relatively small administrative tasks.
  • Turned my attention to (another relatively small) matter pertaining to next week's annual synod of the diocese.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Drafted a publicity blurb for next month's annual clergy conference. Vetted it via email with the presenter. Traded emails with the Administrator about the registration process.
  • Took another look at the synod Mass booklet and sent it off to the host parish for printing.
  • Burned through another handful of small administrative items--some requiring an outgoing email, some not.
  • Took a robust walk with Brenda on a quintessential October afternoon in the midwest--bright sunshine, cool enough to be clearly no longer summer, yet not at all unpleasantly cold. Our route took us through a lovely nearby nature preserve area.
  • Made a first drive-by of the propers for the Last Sunday after Pentecost, in preparation for preaching at St Andrew's, Carbondale on November 24.
  • Evening Prayer in our domestic chapel.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Tuesday

  • Did my early morning stuff on the back patio after lighting the grill and otherwise preparing to smoke a brisket.
  • Took a phone call from a reporter seeking a comment on Bishop Beckwith's death.
  • Worked through a short stack of relatively small administrative items. 
  • Made a pastoral care phone call.
  • Circled back to check in with a priest from outside the diocese who has expressed an interest in working in Springfield.
  • Throughout all of this, checked periodically on the brisket.
  • Had an early-ish lunch of leftovers.
  • Out the door at 1230 to take Brenda to her acupuncture appointment. Back a little before 2:00.
  • Put together a draft of the liturgy booklet for the synod Eucharist. It all went smoothly (I had a document from a prior year to use as a template), but it was nonetheless time-consuming because it involved going online to purchase graphics file of service music from Church Publishing.
  • "Knocked off," as it were, around 3:30, in partial deference to catching up on the effects of being "in the job" for fourteen straight days. Took care of a handful of relatively minor domestic chores ... and continued to pay attention to the brisket.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.
  • I guess I don't have to mention what we had for dinner! It turned out very well.