Thursday, December 18, 2014

Thursday (O Adonai)

  • Customary Thursday morning weights and treadmill. 
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Reviewed and tweaked a draft of this Sunday's bulletin at St Barnabas', Havana.
  • Reviewed (and responded to) via email an issue pertaining to my membership on the Living Church Foundation.
  • Reviewed via email an administrative issue raised by a priest of the diocese.
  • Developed and fleshed out the pre-existing bare bones of a homily for Christmas Eve. Turned them into a rough draft ready for refinement next week.
  • Appointed a team of priests to review the protocols for regular clergy gatherings. There seemed to be some energy for changes in the routine when were last together about a month ago.
  • Lunch at home.
  • The afternoon--and a good portion of the evening--was devoted to wrestling with technology, which does not put me in a good humor. My goal was to make an incremental step in making the videos from last Lent's teaching series available on the website. However, both iMovie and my computer itself teamed up to show me a lot of attitude. Eventually I won the battle, but they took their pound of flesh in the form of lower production values than I would have liked. I will be victorious in the end.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Wednesday (O Sapientia)

  • While still at home, I plotted out the tasks involved in preparing for my now-arranged Lenten teaching series at St Michael's, O'Fallon.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Prepared for the midday Mass.
  • Initiated telephone tag with another Nashotah House trustee regarding an issue of follow-through that we need to attend to. I successfully connected with him later in the day, and we have the situation in hand.
  • Made a substantive email reply to a diocesan lay leader on a programmatic concern. We spoke by phone later in the day.
  • Took a brisk walk down to South Grand Avenue and back.
  • Responded via email to a priest regarding an administrative concern.
  • Rolled up my homiletical sleeves and got to work fleshing out the broad strokes of an ordination sermon for Cameron Nations on January 2.
  • Presided and preached the Eucharist for the ferial Wednesday in the third week of Advent.
  • Lunch at home.
  • Finished what I had earlier begun with the ordination sermon, ending up with an outline that leans in the direction of a rough draft.
  • Made air travel arrangements for a short trip to the Pittsburgh area in February, where I will give the Ash Wednesday quiet day at Trinity School for Ministry.
  • Took another hard walk, this time up to Madison Street and back.
  • Edited, formatted, and posted a substantial amount of new material to the diocesan website concerning the history of the diocese: from the tenure of Bishop Seymour, beginning in 1877,  up into that of Bishop Hillestad in the mid-1970s.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Drove down to South Grand for a bite of dinner. After learning that Subway was out of meatballs, I settled for a McRib.
  • Attended and participated in a 2+ hour meeting of the cathedral chapter. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tuesday

  • Weekly task planning at home; Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Conferred with the Interim Provost on a range of emerging concerns.
  • Conferred with the Archdeacon on a different range of emerging concerns.
  • Reviewed and commented on a draft program for the ordination of Cameron Nations to the transitional diaconate on January 2.
  • Spoke by phone at some length with the rector of Emmanuel, Champaign regarding some potential candidates for discernment toward ordination.
  • Composed and printed a letter to C,M. Almy & Company explaining some ongoing issues with the crozier we bought from them less than three years ago for no small amount of money, the one I use every Sunday.
  • Lunch at home.
  • Thought about and then articulated in writing to the vicar of St Michael's, O'Fallon a proposed topic for the five-Wednesday teaching series I will be giving there this coming Lent.
  • Responded by email to an issue raised by the Bishop of Tabora regarding his visit to the diocese next October.
  • Attended to a bit of Nashotah-related administrivia.
  • Beefed up, refined, and printed my homily for this Sunday (St Barnabas', Havana).
  • Since I'm going to be preaching and celebrating at the cathedral two Sundays within the next month, and since Brenda will be filling in on the organ those Sundays, it somehow fell to me to choose hymns for those occasions. It was actually kind of fun reconnecting with what was a routine chore when I was a parish priest.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Took my crozier to FedEx, where they packed it up and shipped it off to the Almy workroom in Pittsfield, Maine. Until it returns, I'll be exploiting the fact that Bishops Chambers and Clough left their croziers lying around when they moved on to the nearer presence of God.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Third Sunday of Advent

Presided and preached the 7:30 and 10:00 liturgies at St Matthew's, Bloomington this morning. Good things happening there under the able pastoral leadership of Fr Dave Halt,with the assistance of Fr Bruce DeGooyer. It was fun to give a homily that proclaim that "we rejoice because we know that in the kingdom of God, Murphy's Law is repealed!" Delicious Chinese lunch after coffee hour with Fr Dave and Amy, along with the Rector's Warden and his wife.

Sermon for III Advent

St Matthew's, Bloomington--John 1:6-8, 19-28; Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11, I Thessalonians 5:12-28

When we’re in school, we’re required to learn all kinds of scientific principles and laws of nature. “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”—that sort of thing. One law that we don’t learn in class, but which all of us know to be true by actual experience, is known as Murphy’s Law: “Whatever can go wrong will go wrong.” When I was getting ready to go to seminary in 1986, I bought my first computer. It was a used, first-generation IBM PC, the kind with two floppy disk drives—one for the software program, and one for the data. There was no hard drive. A short while into the semester, I got ahead of myself, and finished three five-page term papers before they were actually due. I had not yet even printed them out. So I wanted to be really, really careful about things, and lots of people had warned me about backing up my work. Enter Murphy’s Law. Between the unfamiliar world of MS-DOS prompts—some of you who are either older or younger than a certain age range won’t even know that those are!—and apparently not being able to tell left from right, A from B, rather than backing up the floppy disk containing my completed term papers, I reformatted it. They were gone. This is the first time somebody mentioned to me the words “Norton Utilities,” but it was too late. The papers were gone. I had to rewrite them. Murphy’s Law strikes again.

We’ve all been there. If a medicine is supposed to be effective in 95% of the population, we’re in the lucky 5%. The one day that we absolutely depend on the buses or trains or planes to run on time, there’s a delay. When we’re late for a flight, there’s a highway accident en route to the airport. The job or house or relationship that looks like the answer to our prayers turns out to be a disaster. When Murphy’s Law reveals itself, sometimes we can laugh about it, sometimes we can smile through our tears, and sometimes all we can do is weep.

But however it happens, it’s no wonder that we as the human race are as vulnerable as we are to apathy and despair, loss of feeling and loss of hope. At this time of year, as the glitter and glamour of the world around us rises to a frenzy, so does the suicide rate, so does the level of gnawing spiritual emptiness among the very people who are hoping that holiday cheer will temporarily anesthetize them to their pain. Unless our livelihood depends on retail sales, when the normal routines of life return in January, we look back and wonder what was it we just did. For many, or even most, of those around us, if not for ourselves, it seems kind of empty. What’s wrong with me? Why didn’t I “get” more out of it? Why did it feel so empty? Everyone else said they found it rich and fulfilling; why didn’t I?

The reason is, “everyone else” is probably lying. And the reason behind that reason is that the “holiday” experience is devoid of any anticipation of the coming of Christ. The exchange of gifts on Christmas morning seems detached, an empty ritual, a thing unto itself, because it is cut off from that which it used to symbolize. It no longer symbolizes a deeper experience of waiting and hoping and preparing and, finally, welcoming. It is divorced from that which it used to stand for. We no longer associate it with the supreme Christmas gift: God’s gift to the world of Himself, incarnate in human flesh and bones and DNA molecules.

Without trying to stake out a position in the “war of Christmas” cultural debate, it’s just a simple fact that the trend, for whatever reasons, has been toward avoiding talking about the “Christmas season” or “Christmas music” or “Christmas gifts.” Instead, everything is “the holidays.” This is not news to you. We even put up “holiday trees.” And since we celebrate Christmas less and less, fewer and fewer people actually have a clue as to what it’s about. The level of sheer innocent ignorance in our society is staggering.

But if ignorance were the only issue, it wouldn’t be much of problem. All we’d have to do is get the word out that the landlord has occupied one of the units in the building he constructed and owns. He’s come to be with us. The Christmas affirmation that “the Word was made Flesh” literally means “God has pitched his tent among us.” But if we’re already doing a shoddy job of keeping the place up, the fact that the owner is paying us a visit does not come as good news. The fact is, even when we’re not ignorant, we’re still sinful. And when the Holy Spirit shines light on our sin, we have two options: We can repent, and change our ways, or we can unscrew the light bulb and pretend we haven’t seen the sin. When we are unrepentant, it becomes necessary to avoid the truth, to forget what we know, because to acknowledge it would be too costly.

Fortunately for us whose hearts are, as the hymn text puts it, “prone to wander,” our God is a persistent God, a stubborn God. He doesn’t coerce, but neither does he take No for a final answer. He just keeps on asking us to repent and believe, to have faith and follow him. And so we have experiences of God touching our lives in unexpected and unsolicited and memorable ways. We have experiences of undeserved blessings, of inexplicable good fortune, of diseases that just all of a sudden aren’t there, of damaged relationships that find healing, not through heroic effort but just by being open to grace, of marriages that seem to have hit a dead end, but somehow find a spark of new life, of things working not the way they’re supposed to but better than they’re supposed to.

Through the eyes of faith we can see God in these experiences, and know him as a Presence that sticks to us like Super Glue, of One who simply will not abandon us to our own foolishness or to the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God. We are like the people hanging out along the banks of the Jordan River and eavesdropping as the priests and Levites from Jerusalem interrogate John the Baptist. “Who are you?” they want to know, “Are you the Messiah, the Christ?”

“Nope,” John replies.

“Then tell us who you are.”

And John quotes from Isaiah, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’” In other words, John is saying, “I’m just the warm-up act. The main event is yet to come. Jesus is the one. Pay attention to him.”

John’s message to the priests and Levites is also his message to us on the Third Sunday of Advent two millennia later. The main event is yet to come. Pay attention to Jesus. And what an abundant source of hope this is! The message of Advent is a veritable hope chest for our wounded and weary hearts. We derive hope from remembering, with the advantage of hindsight, that the prophetic ministry of Isaiah and John the Baptist did bear fruit. The Messiah, the Savior of Israel, the Savior of the nations, did come. God did visit and redeem his people. The Savior’s name was Jesus, and he did live and die and rise from the dead on our behalf.

We also derive great hope from our anticipation of his continuing Advent, his every-day coming in and through the fabric of our lives. Christ comes to us in ways we do not expect and at times that we would not have chosen. If we are ready for him, if we have, through repentance and faith, prepared room for him in our hearts, these are moments of unspeakable blessing.

Finally, we derive great hope from our anticipation of the final coming of Christ at the end of time, in power and great glory, to bring his saving and redeeming work to a glorious conclusion. For those who are ready to meet him, it will be an occasion of great victory and unimaginable joy.

And joy is, in effect, the bottom line of everything that today’s liturgy is about. Our experience of God, interpreted by the gift of faith, yields hope, and hope, in turn, brings forth joy. Our hope in the coming of Christ—whichever coming that might be—our hope in the coming of Christ is the source of profound joy. As St Paul wrote to the newly-established Thessalonian church, in the first letter he ever wrote to one of the churches he had established, “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” We rejoice because we know that in the kingdom of God, Murphy’s Law is repealed! Not only repealed, but inverted: “Whatever might bring forth evil, brings forth good instead. Whatever might issue in harm, issues in health. Whatever might break down ends up working better than new.”

Let our Advent hope be spoken in these words from the prophet of the Advent himself, Isaiah: “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.

Amen.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Saturday (St Lucy)

Relaxation ... reading ... exercise ... household puttering ... email processing ... dinner at Red Lobster on our way to Bloomington, where we are now camped out ahead of tomorrow visitation to St Matthew's.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Friday (Our Lady of Guadalupe)

  • Usual weekday routine; MP in the cathedral.
  • Conferred with the Interim Provost in his office on a range of matters.
  • Conferred for a bit with the Archdeacon on a different range of matters. Utilized his notary status to execute some documents in connection with a real estate financing transaction one of our parishes in engaging in.
  • Had a surprisingly positive telephone customer service interaction with United Airlines, whereby they rectified the problem caused by my inability to distinguish between AM and PM when booking air travel, and made the necessary reservation change without charging and arm and a leg--or anything, for that matter. I think the fact that I'm a pretty regular and loyal customer may have helped.
  • Tied up the loose ends and otherwise refined, then printed, a working text for this Sunday's homily--two Masses at St Matthew's, Bloomington.
  • Ran an errand, missed a turn, got caught by a train, and eventually got home for lunch.
  • Replied via email to a couple of substantive issues raised by two of our clergy.
  • Reworked the illustrations and otherwise freshened up the draft of a "previously delivered" homily for Advent IV, to be given--as if for the first time, of course--at St Barnabas', Havana.
  • Took a longish walk on a fine day for it--over to Spring Street, then northbound, jogging over to First when necessary, as far as Madison, then back down Second to the office. Racked up some good steps on the pedometer.
  • Fleshed out a rough draft, then refined it sufficiently to submit to the editor of the Covenant blog an article that should appear next week. A teaser: It mentions Bill Cosby.
  • Prayed the Joyful Mysteries of the rosary at my office shrine, followed by Evening Prayer in the same location.