Sunday, January 31, 2021

The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Ten years ago, minus about six weeks, I served as the supply priest for Trinity, Lincoln six days before my consecration as Bishop of Springfield. Today I was there for the final regular scheduled canonical parish visitation of my episcopate. (I have a few more gigs on my calendar: March 7 in Mattoon, the Chrism Mass, the Triduum at the cathedral, May 30 in Cairo, and June 27 back at the cathedral--May 2 is available and not yet spoken for--but the every Sunday routine of my life for the past decade (in a larger sense, for the last 32 years) is at a major flex point.) As much as it could have been in the midst of a pandemic, this morning at Trinity was luminous. We confirmed eight adults, six of them qualifying as "young." My homily had to compete with the sounds of active young children. (I would much rather do that than have no kids in church.) Trinity is one of the exciting points of light in my ministry in the diocese. I took my time getting out of Lincoln because I wanted to give the storm in the Chicago area a chance to abate. I finally hit the road at 12:15, and conditions were much better than I expected, matching "normal" travel time all the way until I got into the alley behind my building, ten feet from my garage, where the AWD YFNBmobile got mired in snow. After a little bit of shoveling, I was able to get it into the garage

I know there are people who actually read this blog, and even make it part of their regular routine. So I feel bad about calling it quits abruptly, but ... I'm calling it quits abruptly. As of midnight tonight, I will be sharing ecclesiastical authority with the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Springfield. They will tend to all the ordinary administrative and financial stuff, along with leadership, mission, and vision. I am required by my mediated agreement with them, after they sought my resignation last October, to confine my ministry to the ordination process, clergy discipline, and clergy deployment. I have told the clergy I am also available for pastoral care as they see fit to seek it. I had hoped and worked for a seamless transition, as is normative, between my ministry and that of my successor. I may be retired on July 1, but I won't feel retired until there is another bishop elected and consecrated. I will retain a sense of burden for the welfare of the diocese until I know it's in the steady hands of a bishop. But circumstances (mostly Brenda's illness, but also the pandemic and my conflict with the Standing Committee) conspired to foil the aspiration of a seamless transition, so we have to embrace the messiness for a season.

So I will enter now a period of transition (a "terminal sabbatical") leading to my full resignation and retirement in five months, at the end of June. The purpose of this blog was to give the baptized faithful of the diocese a sense of having an "ownership stake" in my ministry among them, by sharing the day-to-day shape of that ministry. There are, of course, details that I have not been able to share, but I have tried to err on the side of candor rather than secretiveness. Some, indeed, have protested that I have been too candid. In any case, though, that time is now past. The percentage of my days that I spend doing diocesan work will drop considerably. My life will become necessarily more private. This is as it should be. The purposes for which this blog was begun no longer pertain. So I'm laying it aside as of pressing "Publish" on this entry. I'll still be in cyberspace. I'm on Facebook, usually several times a week, and occasionally on Twitter. You're more than welcome to follow me in those places. My Instagram account is pretty much fallow. I will undoubtedly re-enter the blogsphere again at some point, but I don't yet know what shape that will take or when it will happen.

It has, as they say, been real. Really, it has.

Saturday (St Charles, King & Martyr)

Substantive phone conversations with the rector of Lincoln, the President of the Standing Committee, and the Canon-to-the-Ordinary. Attended the live-streamed memorial service for a former clergy colleague, and continuing friend, with whom I was in serious conversation about coming to the diocese less than a year ago, who died quickly of COVID at age 66. Then, earlier than I actually needed to, but wanting to get out of town ahead of the snowstorm, I packed up and headed south to Lincoln, where I had time to do some significant reading before hitting the sack.

Sermon for Epiphany IV

Trinity, Lincoln--Mark 1:21-28

It’s still very early in the public ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. At approximately thirty years of age, he left the carpentry shop he had inherited from Joseph, went down to the Jordan River to be baptized by John, heard the approving voice of God the Father, and got anointed by the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. He formed the nucleus of his band of followers, his disciples—the brothers James and John, and the brothers Andrew and Simon, and according to John’s account, Nathaniel. Now he’s ready to go public in a fresh way, and really get things rolling. He walks into the village of Capernaum, finds the synagogue, and starts to teach. St Mark tells us that the people who were gathered there that day “were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.” The scribes, of course, were their usual teachers, but I’m not going to get into what this little comment implies about the quality or content of their teaching because, for Mark, the emphasis is all on Jesus, and the extraordinary quality of his teaching. He taught as one who had authority. What he taught wasn’t secondary, derivative, a summary of somebody else’s wisdom or insight. Rather, it flowed from the center of his being, from his very essence. It was authentic; it had an unmistakable ring of truth. Jesus’ teaching had authority because he was speaking on behalf of the author. Then Jesus goes on, in effect, to demonstrate the authority of his words by the power of his deeds. There’s a man in the congregation who is evidently possessed by a demon—what Mark calls an “unclean spirit.” Jesus commands the spirit to come out of the man, and in a rather loud and dramatic fashion, it does. And everybody is amazed.

Now, one of the fascinating things about the Bible, particularly a passage from the gospels like this one, is that what we get out of it depends a great deal on with whom in the story we identify ourselves. If you were to put yourself into this scene in the Capernaum synagogue, who would you be? There are only four choices, really: You could be Jesus, you could be an unnamed member of the congregation—one of the amazed onlookers, you could be the man who has an unclean spirit, or you could be the unclean spirit. Right? Have I missed anything? So, I think most of us, out of what we would take to be appropriate humility, would probably not identify ourselves with Jesus. And most of us would probably be equally reluctant to see ourselves as the demon. Given the two remaining choices—the demon-possessed man and anonymous membership in the crowd of amazed onlookers, I think it’s safe to say that the vast majority of us are going to opt for anonymous membership in the crowd of amazed onlookers. After all, the members of the congregation were good, respectable people. They were normal (and we surely do all want to be normal; we all have our “inner child” that just wants to blend in with the crowd and not be conspicuous). They were trying to do the right thing, showing up in the synagogue. They were paying attention, and really liked this young man who was speaking. And when he was able to kick that demon out of that poor fellow—well, it was nothing sort of amazing; we’ve never seen anything like it. And there’s an added convenience to viewing this story through the eyes of the amazed onlookers: It enables us to sincerely admire Jesus—which is a good thing to do; I mean, who wouldn’t want to sincerely admire Jesus?—but it also allows us to keep him at a safe distance. I’m not the one he’s talking to; I’m not the one he’s touching, because—hey—I’m not the one with the problem. I’m just normal. Keeping Jesus as a safe distance means we don’t have to step outside our comfort zone. We don’t have to change any of our habits or our attitudes or make any life-altering commitments. We can “feel spiritual” without actually being challenged.

But what if I were to tell you that there’s a whole treasure trove of spiritual and practical benefits that is waiting for us, ours for the taking, if we’re willing to stretch a little bit, willing to step out and do something a little…risky?  What if we were to look at this story, not through the eyes of Jesus, not through the eyes of the demon, and not through the eyes of the normal and respectable—if totally amazed—onlookers in the synagogue congregation? What if, instead, we were to set aside our pride, and put ourselves in the place of the man with an ‘unclean spirit’? What would we see?

First, we would be in touch with our own brokenness, our own helplessness in the face of the power of sin and death and evil. We would know our need for a savior, a deliverer, an advocate, someone on our side who is not only more powerful than we are, but more powerful than any challenge we might confront.

Then, we would see a compassionate Jesus whose own heart is broken by the fact that we are “possessed” by a force that prevents us from being the person we were created to be. We would see a righteous Jesus who is justifiably angered by the injustice of our being held captive by the power of sin and death. We would see a powerful Jesus who speaks and acts with an authority that instills terror in anyone or anything that stands on the side of tyranny and oppression, anyone or anything that would seek to “possess” the beloved children of God. We would know the Jesus who is the model for the lion Aslan in the Narnia stories—a lion who is always good, but not in any way tame, not predictable, not “safe.” Most of all, we would know ourselves to have been delivered from that which enslaved us. We would know ourselves to have been set free from that which possessed us. Instead of being chained to the past, we would be able to embrace the future. Instead of being dragged down by guilt or grief, we would be free to organize our lives around hope and purpose.

It all depends on whose eyes we use to read the story.

But the blessings don’t stop there. When we identify ourselves with the man who is demon-possessed and is liberated by Jesus, we not only receive the grace of that freedom ourselves, but our own lives become a blessing to others. When we know ourselves to have been redeemed and made free, we become signs to the world of the inbreaking Kingdom of God, and the world is amazed. The world can “read” our lives—our lives as individual Christians, and our lives communally as the church—people can read our lives and “hear” Jesus speaking with authority and “see” Jesus acting with authority. They can marvel at the power in which God has acted on our behalf, and their hearts can be melted to the same liberating love that has set us free.

It all depends on where you see yourself in the story.

Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

Friday, January 29, 2021

Friday (St Andrei Rublev)

 The day included:

  • Two substantive phone conversations with Canon Evans.
  • A screening interview with a potential candidate for one of our parishes in transition.
  • A mentoring session with one of our postulants.
  • An Ignatian meditation on the daily office gospel reading.
  • Processing a not insignificant number of emails and text messages.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Thursday (St Thomas Aquinas)

Did the finish work on Sunday's homily (Trinity, Lincoln) ... followed up on mission strategy and ordination liturgy planning ... email dialogue with the Communicator on a couple of issues ... otherwise, some emerging domestic concerns diverted me.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Wednesday (St John Chrysostom)

The main work of the day was to make a day trip to Springfield for the purpose of attending the closing of the sale of our former home there. Ten years and one day since was closed on its purchase--possibly in the same room; certainly in the same building. Bittersweet. I leveraged the opportunity to do a small bit of shopping at Meijer (of which we are bereft in Chicago), stop by the office for a couple of things, and make a visit to Illinois National Bank to deposit the proceeds of the home sale. Back home (leaving Springfield in accumulating snow, but finding a clear road north of Lincoln) just before 4:30, having had substantive phone conversations en route with Canon Evans and with a priest from outside the diocese by way of pastoral care.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Tuesday (Ss Timothy & Titus)

 Highlights:

  • Started liturgy planning work for March 7 ordinations to the transitional diaconate.
  • Moved the ball down the field re jump-starting the Department of Mission.
  • Attended a one-hour Zoom meeting of my House of Bishops table group.
  • Reviewed materials submitted by a potential candidate for one of our parishes in transition. Arranged for a video interview.

Plus ... staying on top of incoming emails and small administrative tasks.