Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Wednesday (C.S, Lewis)

  • Got bogged down in some technology issues while still at home, so ... a bit of a late start to the morning. Short-form MP at my desk once I got to the office.
  • Dealt by substantive emails with a couple of pastoral/administrative (as sharply distinguished, of course, from administrative/pastoral) issues. As much as I may complain about email, I am, on balance, immensely grateful for it. I can't imagine doing what I do with the technology of yesteryear.
  • Lost time with conversations and phone calls that we peripheral to "business," as it were. It feels hard to get traction on work this day before a long holiday weekend (I have no visitation this Sunday, so it will indeed be an actual holiday weekend for me).
  • Took an initial fly by on the readings for Epiphany I, in preparation for preaching at Trinity, Lincoln on January 7. Disappointed in a major way with what the Revised Common Lectionary has done with the feast of the Baptism of Christ.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Cleaned up some loose ends on the morning's sermon work.
  • Having collected advice from key players, I proposed to the Bishop of Tabora some tentative dates for his next visit to the Diocese of Springfield.
  • Attended to a piece of business pertaining to Cursillo.
  • Reviewed the draft minutes from last Friday's regular meeting of the Diocesan Council.
  • Attended to a couple of routine monthly personal organization calendar-maintenance chores (including making sure I have the correct service times for my December visitations, in this case, and that I've set up reminders to make sure I've connected with the relevant clergy regarding pertinent details).
  • Cleaned up my computer desktop--more routine maintenance.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral a bit on the early side.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Tuesday

  • Weekly and daily task planning at home.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Debriefed with the Archdeacon on a range of issues.
  • Attended to a short stack of administrative details regarding an individual in the ordination process, breaking away at points to field incoming emails on the fly.
  • Dealt by email with a pastoral issue.
  • The IRS thinks I owe them money. I disagree. So I bravely entered whatever circle of hell it is that's required to reach them by phone. While on hold (the music and intermittent announcement forming another aspect of the general hellishness of the experience), I made some progress on deconstructing and reconstructing a sermon text for Advent I from 1999 for use this year at St John's, Centralia.
  • The IRS issue finally having been resolved around 12:25 (sadly, not in a way I had hoped), and cognizant that the periodic limited appearance of the McRib sandwich is in season, I stopped by McD's for one, and ate it at home.
  • Back in the office, I finished the work I had begun on the Advent homily.
  • Dealt by email with an ongoing pastoral issue on behalf of one of our clergy.
  • Continued participation in an email conversation with the chairman of a board that would like to elect me to membership. The organization is dedicated to a purpose about which I care very deeply, and they only meet by conference call and don't seem to be conflicted or have financial woes, so ...
  • Dealt by email with an administrative/pastoral matter that called for the exercise of some episcopal authority.
  • As part of an ongoing project of converting as much to pixels rather than paper, spent some quality time with both my desktop scanner and the network copies/printer, which also scans.
  • Met with a lay communicant of the diocese who is on the cusp of exploring a potential vocation to ordained ministry.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Lord's Day (XXV Pentecost)

Today's visitation was to St Barnabas', Havana, and this Eucharistic Community under the patronage of the one whose name means "son of encouragement" is indeed both encouraged and encouraging. They went through a very rough patch but are now enjoying a season of happiness. 24 live bodies in the room for Mass was about triple the number the last time I was there. Kudos to Fr Mike Newago for his pastoral leadership.


Sermon for Proper 28

St Barnabas’, Havana--Matthew 25:14-15, 19 29; Zepheniah 1:7,12-18;  I Thessalonians 5:1-10
                                                                                 
Blaise Pascal was a French philosopher and mathematician and research scientist of the eighteenth century. Among many illustrious accomplishments, he is known for a particular argument in favor of belief in God. It has become known as “Pascal’s Wager,” and it’s really quite simple. Consider the possibilities: Either there is a God to whom we are accountable in the next life for the way we conduct ourselves in this one, or there is not. If we do not believe in such a God, and there indeed turns out to be no such God, then we may be right, but what will it matter? If we do believe in God, and turn out to be wrong, then the most we might reproach ourselves for, in the moment of death, the moment before eternal annihilation, is that we have unnecessarily foregone some of life’s material pleasures. If, on the other hand, we do believe in such a God, and there indeed turns out to be such a God, then we will have been right, and it will matter a great deal. But it’s the fourth logical possibility that is the zinger in Pascal’s wager: If we disbelieve in God, and it turns out that we were wrong, then there are enormously unpleasant consequences, and we will have eternity to regret the choice we have made.

So it boils down to how much do you have to lose by being wrong? If you bet in favor of God, and are wrong, you lose a few of life passing pleasures for a few years on this earth. If you bet against God, and are wrong, you lose a chance at everlasting joy and peace and fulfillment beyond imagination. Which risk does it make more sense to take?

Pascal’s wager, of course, isn’t entirely convincing, because many people still, by the way they live their lives, bet against the existence of a God who will one day judge them. But to those who are more mentally and emotionally mature, and are inclined to take a long view of things—a very long view, in this case—today;s readings from Holy Scripture offer some reinforcement and encouragement.

The prophet Zephaniah, writing in the seventh century before Christ, speaks of the dreadful “day of the Lord,” when distress and anguish and darkness and gloom will descend upon the earth, and there will be no escape for those who are being justly punished for their unrighteous behavior. Zephaniah makes a point of observing that God cannot be bought or bribed; even those with great fortunes will not be able to purchase an exemption from divine wrath.

This notion, of course, is echoed in many other places. On the whole, the Bible has a very cautionary attitude toward wealth. Not only can it not buy God’s favor, it may be an actual hindrance to the reception of Grace. St Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians also speaks of the futility of relying on material resources as a buffer against the wrathful judgment of God: “When people say, ‘There will be peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as travail comes upon a woman with child, and there will be no escape.” In other words, when the labor pains start, something is going to get born, and it will happen whether one is rich or poor.

So, in the season when we expect to come to church and hear a sermon about money, I’m not going to disappoint you! I’m going to hold up the question, What do these passages say about the Christian’s relationship with his or her bank account? What are the biblical principles of asset management? I would suggest to you that one of the things they tell us is that Christian stewardship is a good bet. It’s like Pascal’s wager written in lower case letters, applied to a specific situation. If there is no God, and we live this life as if our material and financial resources really do belong to us, then we’ll still die, and we still can’t take it with us, especially if there’s nowhere to go. If we do live as though everything indeed comes from and belongs to God, and there turns out to not be a God, then, sure, we may have given up the chance to be Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates, but they will have to face the Grim Reaper just like we do, and all their billions won’t matter in that moment. On the other hand, if there is a God, and we manage to live as though we realize that we are tenants and not landlords, we will be most blessed and fortunate. And if we bet the other way, and go through life exploiting Somebody Else’s—meaning God’s—money, we will most miserable.

So, which bet do you want? Which risk seems the more acceptable? It’s just a matter of taking the long view, and there’s nothing particularly spiritual about it. It’s the same impulse that led hundreds of thousands of people in the 1990s to invest in new stock offerings that ended in “.com” even though the companies had never made one dime of profit. It’s taking a chance now for the sake of tremendous rewards in the future. When the Day of the Lord has come and gone, the tangible and in the intangible, the material and the spiritual, will have traded places. What is fleeting and ephemeral now will be hard currency then, and what is prudent and rock solid now will have turned to dust and ashes on that day.

Yet, how difficult it is to take Pascal’s wager, whether it applies to the existence of God in general or the advisability of practicing Christian stewardship in particular. Our human intuition does everything it can to convince us that stewardship is a folly, an unacceptable risk. Why give up expensive vacations, or drive a more modest car, or live in a smaller home, or eat more simply, just so we can make that ten percent tithe to the church? Why give without strings attached, when we could put conditions on our contributions and at least maintain some control over how it is spent? Stewardship may be good theology, tithing may be thoroughly biblical, but from a modern practical point of view, they seem quaint—noble and high-minded, perhaps, but foolish. Why prop up an institution like the Church, which, on its best days may be inefficient, and on its worst days may be corrupt, and which delivers only an intangible benefit, nothing that can be measured and reported?

So, in an attempt to minimize the unacceptable risk of real stewardship, in an attempt to maintain some control over what we still—knuckleheads that we are—think of as “our” money, we employ strategies like giving only what we’re “comfortable” with. There are many church members who, if they totaled up their expenditures at the end of the year, and compared their giving to the Lord with the tips they leave for servers at restaurants, would see very comparable figures. What does it say about our attitude toward God, what does it say about our attitude toward the Church, the Body of his Son, when we, albeit unconsciously, think of him as someone deserving of a nice tip?

The attitude our Lord encourages us to have is not one of maintaining control, but letting go of control. This is represented for us in the familiar parable from Matthew’s gospel about the “talents.” A talent was originally a unit of currency, but, through this parable, which is a stewardship parable par excellence, it has come to mean anything in our possession that is purely a gift from God, unearned and unmerited. Three servants are entrusted with three different amounts of money while their master leaves town for a while. Two of them had the attitude of stewards, and realized that they would be expected to put those assets to active use, even if it meant taking a few risks. The third one, out of sheer laziness and fear, simply buried the money and figured his master would be happy just to receive it back intact when he returned.

He was wrong, as the end of the story demonstrates. The servants who doubled their master’s money while he was away were rewarded, I think, as much for their willingness to take a risk as for the results they achieved. Stewardship is indeed a gamble. It involves engaging in risky behavior, behavior that may not seem prudent or wise by the standards of this world. But when you weigh the odds, and consider the consequences, it’s a risk worth taking. Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen, place you bets.
Amen.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Friday (St Hugh of Lincoln)

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Prepared for the 10am Diocesan Council Mass; greeting Council members as they arrived.
  • Presided and preached at the liturgy, observing the lesser feast of St Hugh of Lincoln.
  • Presided over the Council meeting, which was brief, but productive in the ways it needed to be.
  • Met privately for about 20 minutes with a clerical member of Council over a pastoral issue.
  • Met privately with a lay member of Council for about the same length of time over a concern in his parish.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Pointed the YFNBmobile westward toward Hannibal, MO, about a hundred miles away, to make a guest appearance at the 178th annual convention of the Diocese of Missouri.
  • Participated, but only as "eye candy," in the convention Eucharist, followed by dinner in the same venue. Along the way, we were entertained by Hannibal's most famous fictional denizens, Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Thursday (St Margaret)

  • Accompanied Brenda to a 9am dental appointment that turned out to be slightly more complicated than we had envisioned, but all turned out well.
  • Dropped Brenda at home and was only slightly late for my 11am appointment with Fr Mark Evans and one of his parishioners who believes he may have a vocation to the priesthood.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Replied to an email (in Spanish) from a priest in our companion diocese of Peru.
  • Walked less than a block south on Second Street for a get-acquainted meeting with a professional financial advisor. Retirement for me is not imminent, but simple math reveals that it's no longer far enough away to be an abstraction. It's time to start getting a few ducks in a row.
  • Re-engaged with my sermon-in-progress for Advent III and brought it from "message statement" to "developed outline."
  • Attended to some potential business for *next* year's synod via a substantive email.
  • Scanned and otherwise processed accumulated hard copy items in my physical inbox.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Wednesday

  • Usual weekday AM routine. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Dealt by email with a bit of administrative detritus pertaining to the diocesan Camp Board.
  • Designed, printed, and sealed a certificate of appreciation for a parish musician in the diocese who has recently celebrated three decades in that ministry.
  • Spoke by phone at substantial length with one of our clergy over some pastoral concerns.
  • Made a visit to Illinois National Bank to (once again) get them to de-link the diocesan checking account from my personal online account access. Not only does is create the opportunity for misbehavior, should I undergo a sudden personality change, but it gives me heart palpitations when I see large checks than I know nothing about show up mixed in with all my trips to Taco Gringo and Schnucks.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Took care of a bit of administrivia pertaining to helping one of our Eucharistic Communities with its fall stewardship campaign.
  • Wrestled once again seriously and long with the readings for III Advent, and finally managed to wrangle out a homiletical message statement. This is in preparation for preaching at St Luke's, Springfield on December 17.
  • Re-engaged with Gnosis, which I will yet fully master, and successfully launched an email blast to the geographically resident clergy of the diocese. Worked with Paige on some wrinkles getting this done.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.