Sunday, August 25, 2019

The Lord's Day (XI Pentecost)

Out of my hotel accommodations in Glen Carbon in time to arrive at St Bartholomew's in Granite City about 30 minutes ahead of the regular 0930 Eucharist. Presided and preached for the small but dedicated band of regulars there, along with Fr Scott Hoogerhyde, who regularly takes care of them. After some post-liturgical visiting, it was time to head up to Edwardsville for a lunch appointment with a lay leader in one of our communities. Then, about 35 minutes back south on I-255 to Toddhall, where it was my joy once again to preside and breach the closing Mass for the Cursillo weekend. It was back in my car heading out at 4:50, and home exactly six hours later (after a brief stop at the office in Springfield, dinner in Lincoln, and gas in Odell).

Sermon for Proper 16

St Bartholomew’s, Granite City--Hebrews 12:18–29
                      
One of the attributes of God is that God does not change. In a universe full of change, God is the one constant, a fixed point. We can depend on God to be who God is, to be consistent with his own nature. But the way human beings speak about God changes all the time. Sometimes we talk about God as distant, severe, a Supreme Being who provokes us to fear and trembling. At other times, we imagine God as nearby, a kind and merciful Grandfather figure.

Perhaps you’ve heard of a famous sermon given by the New England Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards in the early 1700s. It’s known by the title Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. Edwards paints such a vivid picture of eternal damnation that you can feel the flames of Hell beginning to singe the hair on your arms! And then, by contrast, there the lyrics of “praise choruses” in the “Contemporary Christian Music” genre that have led some critics to sarcastically summarize them as “Jesus is my boyfriend.”

Or, if you’re looking for contrasting ways of describing God, spend some time with the Psalms. They are all over the map with regard to whether God is frightening or benevolent, angry or loving.

So … how are we supposed to approach God? Should we be kind of casual about it, like the grown child who walks through the front door of his parents’ home at 1am, raids the refrigerator, and plops down on the couch to watch a movie without giving a second thought to his sleeping parents? Or … should we come into God’s presence like the subjects of the Mongolian Khans, who entered the throne room with their heads bowed, never looked the ruler in the eye, and exited walking backwards so as to not turn their backs on the sovereign?

The answer, as you might imagine, lies somewhere between those two poles. But, if we take our cue from the twelfth chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, we’re going to find ourselves wanting to more closely imitate the behavior of the Mongols than that of the casual and presumptuous adult child. God is so utterly awesome that it makes sense for us to approach him with grateful trepidation, with confident fear, with humble trembling. Listen to the text of our reading:
For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”
So, Moses is trembling with fear, and for good reason. If you’re paying attention, that description has to give you goosebumps. But what’s truly terrifying is that this description is of what the reader is not facing—“You have not come to what may be touched” etc. etc. So, what have we come to?
You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
Now, this is less immediately terrifying than the description of Moses going up Mt Sinai, but it is certainly still immensely humbling. It puts us in our place! Heavenly Jerusalem … innumerable angels … God, the judge of all … sprinkled blood—it’s all pretty darn impressive!

And then the author wraps it up with this:
Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.
Whenever you’re reading the Bible and you see the word “therefore,” that’s when you know to start really paying attention; that’s when the super-important stuff shows up. Therefore … what? Therefore let us be grateful. Gratitude is the foundation of our approach to God. We are grateful to God that he has given us a “kingdom that cannot be shaken.” But then there’s more. “Let us offer to God acceptable worship.” And what constitutes acceptable worship? Well, the author tells us. “Let us offer acceptable worship with reverence and awe.” Reverence and awe. Why? Because “our God is a consuming fire.” Now we see where Jonathan Edwards got part of his inspiration!

This is why traditional Christian worship is full of symbolic objects, symbolic actions, and symbolic postures, all of which point to the sacredness of what we’re doing and the holiness of God. When we’re in church, we see and use material objects that we don’t see and use anywhere else. We speak words that we don’t speak anywhere else. We do things with our bodies that we don’t do anywhere else. Even in a small church with a small congregation like at St Bartholomew’s, there’s nothing “casual” about what we’re doing. We have “come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant.” We have come to invoke the Holy Spirit of God on our humble gifts of bread and wine, that they may become the very Body and Blood of his crucified and risen Son, given to us for the salvation of our souls, as we ourselves are given for the life of the world.

Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

St Bartholomew

Made the very short (5-7 minutes) drive from my hotel in Columbia to Toddhall in time for my scheduled 0930 presentation on the sacraments at the Cursillo weekend. It went well, though I could have talked much longer. It's a big subject! After a brief break, I presided and preached at a Eucharist in which we observed today's feast day. Not much is known about Bartholomew, so I spoke about apostolicity and apostleship in genera. I grabbed lunch from Burger King on my way out of town, and drove up to Fairview Heights to get some steps in by walking around St Clair Square mall. Malls are kind of sad places these days. Having killed sufficient time, I kept going north and slightly west to the Hampton Inn in Glen Carbon, my home for the night. Took a necessary nap, did some reading (the novel I'm in the midst of), and processed a few emails that were stragglers from yesterday. Drove back down to Fairview Heights for a dinner of Thai food, then enough walking back around the hotel to get me over the 10K step threshold. 

Friday, August 23, 2019

Friday

  • Up at 0500 so as to be in the road to Springfield at 0530. I ended up eight minutes behind schedule, but still got to the office right at the targeted 0900.
  • Had the predictable extended discussion with the Archdeacon on a range of issues.
  • Processed the thick stack of hard-copy items on my desk, most of it having accumulated during my vacation, since last weekend was so jammed I didn't get to deal with it.
  • Refined, edited, printed, and scheduled for posting the text of my homily for this Sunday (at St Bartholomew's, Granite City, and probably some version of it at the Cursillo closing Eucharist on Sunday afternoon).
  • Did my due diligence on a request for consent to the consecration of the bishop-elect of Montana. Unable to find any red flags, I consented.
  • Lunch at Chick-Fil-A, then a brief personal shopping expedition at Best Buy.
  • Made significantly more progress on the pastoral issue affecting one of our communities about which I cannot yet say anything.
  • Took a phone call from a colleague bishop in another diocese over a recent development that can only be described as "bizarre."
  • Hand-wrote notes to clergy and spouses having nodal events in September.
  • Friday prayer: Lectio divina on today's daily office Old Testament reading, which was a pretty eventful narrative from II Samuel. This happened in the cathedral, after which I offered Evening Prayer, a bit on the early side.
  • Took a phone call from a lay leader in one of our Eucharistic Communities. Then more conversation with the Archdeacon.
  • Left at 5pm headed south. Arrived at the Hampton Inn in Columbia two hours later. Took a long walk, grabbed some dinner at a BBQ place, and did some reading. Here because of proximity to Toddhall for my appearance at the Cursillo weekend tomorrow.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Thursday (Mary, Queen of Heaven)

  • Morning preliminaries done in time for me to be out the door to another chiropractic appointment by 0735. Back home a little past 0930.
  • Organized tasks for the day, took a couple of phone calls from diocesan clergy, did the crossword, got cleaned up.
  • Reviewed the draft minutes of the August Diocesan Council meeting sent to me by the Secretary. Suggested a typo correction.
  • Began the process of reviewing Mission Strategy Reports from the Eucharistic Communities.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Dealt with some details pertaining to a couple of upcoming ordinations to the priesthood.
  • Moved the ball considerably down the field toward the clarification and resolution of a significant pastoral issue related to one of our communities. (Sorry about the vagueness; all will be revealed in due course.)
  • Continued to an organic stopping point with the Mission Strategy Reports.
  • Goosed the conversation along with the board chair of the Society of King Charles the Martyr, looping in the Archdeacon and the Dean, looking toward the cathedral hosting the Annual Mass & Luncheon in January.
  • Read a progress report from the Communications Coordinator about her work with Breeze, the database program we are currently using. Then I played around in the system a while. This is a HUGE step. For the first time ... ever ... after literally years and years of trying, I feel like we are on top of this quest. We may be arriving late to the 21st century, but it feels good.
  • Dealt by email with an ongoing clergy discipline issue.
  • Caught up on some sandbagged internet reading (the Covenant blog, mostly).
  • Domestic complications caused EP to fall through the cracks tonight.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Wednesday

  • Usual morning routine.
  • Responded to an email from the Senior Warden of one of our Eucharistic Communities that will soon be in transition. Trying to set a time for an initial vacancy consultation.
  • Took care of some bits of administrative business toward the end of being able to set ordination dates for our two transitional deacons, and making sure someone who has been nominated for postulancy will get in front of the Commission on Ministry.
  • Turned my attention to a rather substantial administrative issue and sent the results of my work off to those who will know whether I did an adequate job.
  • Read another big chunk of Dignity, the book I'm committed to reviewing for The Living Church. Almost done with it.
  • Drove to one of the local parish churches for an appointment with a priest who has expressed in interest in exploring the vacancies that we have in the diocese.
  • Lunched (a bit late) at home on leftovers.
  • Had a substantive phone conversation with the bishop of another diocese over an issue that has an impact on us here in Springfield.
  • Spent a big chunk of quality time with commentaries on St Luke's gospel, in preparation for preaching on the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus on September 29 at St Stephen's, Harrisburg.
  • Responded in a more-substantive-than-usual way to a message from the Bishop of Tabora.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Tuesday (St Bernard)

  • Prayers, tea, breakfast, and crossword in the usual fashion. Then out at 0735 for a chiropractic appointment at 0800. 
  • Back around 0915. Got cleaned up. Planned tasks for the day.
  • Took a phone call from one of the clergy of the diocese.
  • Stepped out to take Brenda to a 1030 acupuncture appointment. Picked up some Italian beef sandwiches from Al's Beef on the way home. They make the absolute best. Ate in front of an episode of NCIS: Los Angeles. Yes, I can have pretty trashy taste in TV at times.
  • Composed and sent a substantive email to a colleague bishop about a rather sensitive and complex issue about which I can presently say nothing specific.
  • Took care of a fairly small duty in connection with my role as board secretary of the Living Church Foundation.
  • Dealt at considerable length with an emerging pastoral issue in one of our Eucharistic Communities.
  • Took care of a loose end related to my registration for next month's House of Bishops meeting.
  • Emailed the presenter for our November clergy conference with an eye toward fostering the process of content development.
  • Extended some pastoral care by phone to a cleric from outside the diocese.
  • Because of some recent changes to my weekend schedule in September, I had to revisit some preaching prep plans. This involved identifying a couple of old texts that can be reworked.
  • Evening Prayer in our domestic chapel.