Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Wednesday (St Antony)

Enjoyed my "room with a view" at the Nicholas Center in the "River North" area of Chicago. Morning Prayer in nextdoor St James' Cathedral. The Province V bishops concluded our business around 11:30, having discussed, inter alia, Title IV (of course), and issues likely to cause heartburn at General Convention. IMO, there were significant baby steps toward the kinds of communication habits that we need to cultivate more of. After stripping and re-making my bed, I stowed my luggage in the reception area downstairs, then hoofed it through the cold to the Opera House (a pretty good jaunt), stopping at Portillo's for Italian beef along the way. Enjoyed the Lyric's production of Turandot. Magnificent, actually. Walked back up to the Nicholas Center (about 30 minutes), grabbed my stuff, and called an Uber to take me to Union Station. Traffic was gridlocked, but the driver managed to get me there. Grabbed a bite in the food court and caught the 7:00pm Lincoln Service for Springfield. arriving a touch before 10:30.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Tuesday

  • Up and out to the Amtrak station in time catch the 0632 northbound to Chicago. But, because a freight train collided with an unoccupied vehicle just south of Springfield, we didn't pull away from the station until 0915. So ... lots of waiting. 
  • Morning Prayer in the Amtrak station.
  • Once aboard, I connected to the wifi and was able to work. Attended to a few questions from a lay leader in one of our Eucharistic Communities, moved the ball down the field in preparation for next week's ordination of a deacon, sent out an email blast to the clergy about the upcoming pre-Lenten retreat.
  • Arrived at Union Station, grabbed a sandwich for a quick lunch, then caught a taxi to the Nicholas Center, a conference facility on the top floor of the Diocese of Chicago's office building.
  • Spent the afternoon and evening with colleague bishops from Province V. We discussed issues around this year's General Convention, the Church Pension Fund, and best practices of providing pastoral ministry in small congregations. We'll pick up where we left off in the morning.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Warm time on a cold morning with the folks at Christ Church, Springfield. Really lively adult forum, which included some nice catechesis time with the four confirmands (three youths and an adult). I preached from I Samuel about the importance of knowing the Lord. Then, after getting home, while changing clothes, I suddenly developed very attention-getting lower back pain. After trying for a while to "walk it out," I yielded to Brenda's entreaties and headed to the all-too-familiar Priority Care clinic. X-ray was negative, a shot to torodol helped, and now I have a prescription for hopped-up ibuprofen and a muscle relaxant. One theory is that this is a delayed development after my fall on the ice a week ago. Hmmm.

Sermon for Epiphany II

Christ Church, Springfield--I Samuel 3:1-20

Father Kevin Martin is a retired priest in Texas with decades-long experience as a congregational development consultant. I used to look at his online newsletter from time to time; more recently it’s a Facebook group. He once listed several convictions that he believes are essential to congregational health and growth. One of them was this: “Boring people is a sin.” For some reason, that got my attention. Do I bore people with my preaching? Do we bore people with our worship in the congregations of the Diocese of Springfield? Is Christ Church boring? I’m not the one to answer those questions, of course, but I certainly try not to be boring. And I take the question seriously, because I really hate being bored myself, as most people do. There are a number of things that have the potential to bore me. Even as a “religious professional,” certain religious attitudes and practices have the capacity to bore me intensely. (It’s one of the reasons I became an Episcopalian 45 years ago; I’d found a way to actually make going to church fun!)  And what I find most boring is watered-down, toothless, harmless, gutless Christianity. I am bored beyond tears by any vision of Christianity that reduces it to a bare minimum, a vague sense that we should believe in God, be as nice as we can to people, and volunteer for a few things before we die.

Unfortunately, this describes the way many people understand their involvement with the church and with Christian religious practice. Even if we know better, and even if we would never think it or say it directly, in actual practice we reduce the creed to its first article: “I believe in God.” All the rest is considered to be optional or incomprehensible, or both. We reduce Christian discipleship to trying our best to be good people, in a generic sense, and, for extra credit, trying to do something concrete to make the world a better place. This invariably results, however, in deep frustration arising from a lack of a sense of purpose in life, a lack of a sense of mission and direction.

We get ourselves all in a twist trying to do what we think must be “God’s work on earth.” And they’re good things—don’t get me wrong. Feeding the hungry and housing the homeless and educating the illiterate and solving conflicts and preventing violence are all good things. They’re good things and God approves of them. Believing in God and being nice and “making the world a better place” are not bad things, and we should be doing them. We just should not be thinking that this is the heart of Christianity, because it’s not.

Yet, in thinking that it is, we’re in good company, historically speaking. Back in the days of ancient Israel, before they had a king—we’re talking maybe 1200 BC—before there was a king in Israel, before there was a temple in Jerusalem, the Ark of the Covenant—the sign of God’s presence with His people—was kept for a time in a shrine at Shiloh, and attended by a priest named Eli, who was assisted by his two sons and, in time, by a young apprentice—a child, actually—named Samuel. Eli was just trying to faithfully and inconspicuously do “God’s work on earth,” taking care of the shrine and attending to the needs of those who came to worship there. His sons were lazy and corrupt, but Eli plugged along, and Samuel helped him.

Yet, as the biblical writer tells the story, there’s a pervasive gloom that’s hard to shake. We are told that “the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.” It may not have been the worst of times, but it certainly wasn’t the best of times. The absence of the word of the Lord, the absence of frequent visions, must have made things, not only around Shiloh but through all of Israel, rather dull, rather lifeless, rather . . . boring. Now, the story, as we heard it read a few minutes ago, is not really about Eli, is it? It’s about the young boy Samuel. Samuel hears a voice calling him in the night. He thinks it’s Eli, but it’s not; it’s the Lord. But Samuel doesn’t recognize the voice of the Lord, because, as the author tells us, “Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.” Without a living personal relationship with and knowledge of God, Samuel was not equipped to recognize the voice of God when God called him. Without a living personal relationship with and knowledge of God, you and I are not equipped to recognize the voice of God when God is calling us. We just plod ahead out of formal institutional momentum, doing what we think we’re supposed to be doing, and more often than not, bored out of our minds.

Most of you may remember the TV series The West Wing. I was pretty much addicted to it in the last three or four years of its run, and watched the seasons I had missed on DVD. In the classic years of the series, the main characters, senior members of the White House staff, were consistently passionate in their devotion to the president at whose pleasure they served. They knew him. They knew him as a person, not just as a president. They didn’t just know about him, they knew him. And that personal knowledge enabled them to stretch themselves and push themselves and work harder than they ever thought possible in order to serve that president. And they were never bored for a second! At the same time, many other people in the country were of the same party as the president, and largely shared the same views as the president. But they could hardly have been expected to be nearly as passionate in their effort and zeal on behalf of the president as were those who knew him personally and interacted with him daily. They only knew about President Bartlett; they didn’t actually know President Bartlett. The quality of knowledge makes all the difference in the world.

The third time Samuel comes to Eli in the night saying, “Were you calling me, boss?”, Eli finally figures out what’s going on. He says to Samuel, “Next time you hear the voice, son, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.’” The rest, as they say, is history. On that night, Samuel got to know the Lord, and the word of the Lord came to him in a powerful way, and he was given a job to do, and he went on to become the greatest prophet in Israel’s early history. Your vocation and mine may not be quite so auspicious, but we won’t be in a position to even know until we come to “know the Lord.” Only then are we in a position to be able to hear his voice, to discern his will for us with some clarity.

When we know the Lord, when God is an everyday reality in our lives—a living reality, not a hypothetical construct—it’s like having a cell phone with five bars on the signal strength meter; we can hear loud and clear. When we come to know the Lord, we realize that a personal daily “walk with Christ” is more than vaguely “believing in God.”  When we come to know the Lord, we realize that our main calling as a Christian is to become holy, and becoming holy is a whole lot more than being nice. When we come to know the Lord, we realize that Jesus wants us to be his disciples, his followers, and that discipleship is infinitely more demanding than volunteer work. When we come to know the Lord, the stage is set for something tremendously fruitful and infinitely satisfying, and sometimes even exciting and practically never boring. The Lord tells Samuel, “I am about to do a thing in Israel, at which the two ears of every one that hears it will tingle.” How my inadequate pastor’s heart wishes we could hear that message and substitute “Diocese of Springfield” and “Christ Church” for “Israel.” “I am about to do a thing in the Diocese of Springfield—at Christ Church, at St Paul’s Cathedral, at St Luke’s—at which the two ears of every one that hears it will tingle.” What might happen if we, together, were to say to God, “Speak, Lord, for your servants hear?”  What might God accomplish in us and through us if we were united in our desire for the Lord to reveal to us and empower us for the specific mission to which He calls us at this time in our history? The thought makes these two ears, at least, tingle with excitement.

I invite you to join me in some prayerful listening. I’ll be even more specific: The vision that I believe God has given me as bishop is that the three congregations that are in the city of Springfield—the cathedral, Christ Church, and St Luke’s—will be moved to come together in prayer and in dedication to the gospel, to coordinate the work of mission in this city and in Sangamon County. I realize that there is a long list of reasons, about 130 years of reasons, why this is an audacious and daunting vision. But the Lord is calling us, as he called the boy Samuel. My prayer is that our collective response will be, “Speak, Lord, for your servants hear.” And then let us listen. Amen.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Friday (St Aelred)

  • Finally, a "normal" day in the office. Task planning at home, MP in the cathedral chapel (they were busy de-greening the nave, chancel, and sanctuary).
  • Extended consultation with the Archdeacon on a number of ongoing matters--some mundane, some complicated, some delicate. This led to the drafting of a couple of hard-copy letters
  • Met with Paige to plot the broad strokes of our next video recording endeavor.
  • Penned a note of condolence to one of our clergy who has recently suffered a family loss.
  • Edited, refined, and printed a working copy of my homily for this Sunday (Christ Church, Springfield).
  • Lunch at home (deli turkey).
  • Attended a video-conference meeting of the Forward Movement Board of Directors between 1:00 and 2:00. Then back to the office.
  • Took care of a bit of personal business by phone.
  • Reached out by email to schedule an appointment that needs to happen with one of our priests.
  • Took a first slow homiletical drive-by of the readings for Palm Sunday.
  • Attended to various issues pertaining to the upcoming Pre-Lenten Clergy Retreat.
  • Responded to an information request from the Church Pension Group.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Thursday

The decision could have gone either way, but I decided to spare my co-workers my nasty-sounding cough, and spent the day at home again. Not much would have changed if I'd gone into the office: With time out to reply to emails as they came in, and to run a shopping errand, I devoted my time and energy to giving birth to a rough draft of my homily at a choral evensong a week from Sunday at the Cathedral Church of Our Lady of Walsingham, Houston, which serves Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter, a diocese-like community of Roman Catholics who are permitted to worship using Anglican-like forms. It's pretty much ready to refine and print next week.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Wednesday (William Laud)

Wrote and delivered an article to Paige for the next issue of the Current, handled some pastoral/administrative business by email, took a first prayerful pass at the readings for Lent III (St Andrew's, Carbondale), and performed some routine personal organization maintenance (specifically, cleaning up my computer desktop). This was all done courtesy of Amtrak's Lincoln Service wifi, as I accompanied Brenda to a doctor's appointment in Chicago. I realize some consider technology an evil. I rather appreciate it.