Friday, October 24, 2014

Friday

Usual morning Nashotah routine through breakfast (with Fr Philip Cunningham delivering a most excellent homily on Christian unity at the Mass). Then it was time to prepare for presiding at the 10:30am academic convocation, during which it was my duty to confer four honorary doctorates ... in flawless Latin, of course. Of of these was to a long time friend, Canon David Seger, who was the deployment officer at the House at the time I graduated in 1989, but who has myriad other stellar accomplishments. It was a joy. After visiting with several people during and after lunch in the refectory--some of these visits purely social and some substantive--I trudged back up to my lodging in the Fort, packed up my stuff, and pointed the YFNBmobile east and south. About two and half hours later, I retrieved Brenda at the METRA station in Downers Grove, IL; she had ridden Amtrak up from Springfield in the morning. We're camped out in a hotel for the night now. Tomorrow one of my brothers is getting married in nearby Wheaton, so it's a family occasion. No visitation this weekend; we'll be heading home Sunday PM. Going dark in this venue until Tuesday.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

St James of Jerusalem

Same morning chapel routine as yesterday ... met with the Nominating Committee of the board over breakfast ... plenary session reconvened at 9:30 ... very intense, sometimes difficult, but ultimately productive work, with a quick break for lunch and individual publicity photos for the Nashotah website, until we recessed for Evening Prayer and Solemn Eucharist at 4:30, during which time, among other things, we heard a search committee report, negotiated an agreement, and elected the 20th Dean and President of the seminary. Not bad for a day's work. It was my joy to announce it three times: first to the faculty before the liturgy, then to the students afterward, and to the larger community gathered for dinner in the refectory. Sadly, our work wasn't done, so we had a 90 minute evening session of the board. My brain is fried.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Wednesday

Morning Prayer and Mass with the Nashotah community ... breakfast in the refectory ... conferred informally with various trustees as the morning progressed and committee meetings got underway ... sat in for a bit with the Audit Committee, then with the Institutional Vitality Committee ... lunch off campus (because it was grilled cheese in the refectory, which does not comport with the strict diet I'm four weeks into ... convened the full board of trustees at 1:30 and adjourned at 4:20 ... Evensong in the chapel ... cocktails and "heavy hors d'oeuvres in the deanery.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Tuesday

Up, out, and headed north a little past 8am. Arrived on campus at Nashotah House around 1:30. Checked in at the Dean's office, conversed with some fellow trustees, sat in on a retreat address (the students are in silence while we're here, which is a little awkward/weird) from Bishop Michael Marshall (one of my favorites), got settled in my lodging (third floor of Webb Hall, aka "the Fort"), walked to the chapel for Evensong, waked to the deanery for cocktails with Dean Salmon, three other trustees, and the Academic Dean. Then, out to dinner in nearby Hartland with Canon Koehler and his wife Terry, and Fr Dow Sanderson (trustee, and rector of Holy Communion, Charleston, SC).

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Lord's Day (XIX Pentecost)

Preached and celebrated at both regular Masses at Emmanuel--8:00 and 10:30. Met for about 30 minutes with the confirmands between services--two youth and four adults. I made sure they knew it wasn't too late to back out, since publicly promising to follow Jesus as Savior and Lord is kind of a life-changing deal, but none of them did. Emmanuel always has outstanding music and well-executed liturgy; it's a tonic to my soul. After the liturgy we were treated to a Mexican lunch by uber-deacon Chris Hopkins and her husband Mike. Got home around 3:30, and after trying and failing to complete my usual walking route, I crashed hard in a pre-dinner nap. Guess I needed it.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sermon for Proper 24

Emmanuel, Champaign--Matthew 22:15-22, Isaiah 45:1-7

Ever since the beginning of June, we have been methodically exploring the gospel according to St Matthew in our Sunday liturgies. We’ve heard something of our Lord’s teaching and preaching, using both parables and direct discourse; his relationship with his disciples, and stories of miraculous healing. As the Season after Pentecost draws toward a close in about five weeks’ time, Matthew’s narrative takes us into the final weeks of Jesus’ earthly ministry, and he builds tension in the plot of his story by turning up the fire under the relationship between Jesus and the Jewish religious establishment—primarily the Pharisees. Matthew paints these folks as Jesus’ adversaries. They engage in a series of attempts to entrap him—to get him to contradict himself, either verbally or in his behavior, or to say something that would offend one of the stakeholders in a very tense and unstable political environment—and thereby discredit his ministry, and send him packing back off to Galilee to live the rest of his life in shameful obscurity. They come up with what they believe is the ideal ambush. One of the elements in the volatile political atmosphere was a poll tax imposed by the Roman occupation on the local Jewish population. The fact that this tax was used to finance an oppressive regime was bad enough, but—to add insult to injury—the Romans required that it be paid in Roman coins, which bore the image of Caesar, and thereby forced Jews to violate one of the most sacred precepts of their law—the prohibition against graven images. So the Pharisees, in a dubious alliance with the Herodians, a minority faction that supported the puppet government of King Herod—put this question to Jesus: Should we or should we not be paying the poll tax? So, if Jesus answers Yes, he will offend the majority of the population and lose his base of support. If he answers No, he will be in immediate trouble with the Roman occupiers, who might just take it upon themselves to do him in completely, which neither the Pharisees nor the Herodians would have a particular problem with. They figured they had him on the horns of an impossible dilemma

Now, this situation in first century Palestine raises questions that have contemporary relevance. It speaks to the relationship between our civil obligations—which include, among other things, paying our taxes—and our religious obligations as Christians—at least as far as we’re concerned here and now, although the same issues would be raised no matter what one’s religious commitment is, because religion, by definition, is what the physicists call a “theory of everything”; that is, when push comes to shove, religion trumps even our civil obligations. A case in point for those who are late middle-aged or older: In 1960, when John Kennedy ran for President, we had never in our history had a Roman Catholic in that office, and a great many people were worried whether, because of the strong hierarchical structure of that church, the Vatican might be calling the shots in the Oval Office. We pretty much got over those fears, so much so that, in 2004, when another Irish-American Roman Catholic won the Democratic nomination, it was the opposite question that bothered many church leaders: Would a “President Kerry” be faithful to Catholic moral teaching, or would he leave his religious convictions on the White House lawn?

But it’s not just our political leaders that face these questions. If we actually stop and think, they concern each of us, not only when we go into a voting booth, but whenever we write a check to the IRS, or the Illinois Department of Revenue, or look at a pay stub and see how much has been deducted for taxes. What happens when we conscientiously disagree with our political leaders, and are forced to pay taxes that support policies we consider immoral? What about Christians who live in countries with oppressive or authoritarian regimes? What about those whose taxes are used to support corruption or vice or even genocide?

If we look to the rest of scripture to shed light on these questions, what we see can often seem contradictory. The thirteenth chapter of Romans takes a very pro-government position, and tells us that government officials are put where they are by God, and that we owe them our loyalty and obedience. On the other hand, the Old Testament is full of stories about unrighteous governments being overthrown at God’s command and with God’s help. At the time of Jesus, the Maccabean Revolt—a successful insurrection of Jews against their Greek overlords—was no longer in living memory, but was fresh enough history to be on everyone’s mind.

So Jesus’ adversaries figure they have him between the proverbial rock and a hard place. They figure he’s cooked, no matter what he says—it’s just a matter of whether he’s going to be fried or baked. So how does Jesus respond? He responds by refusing to accept the premise of the question, he refuses to impale himself on the proposed dilemma. Jesus notes Caesar’s image on the coin with which the tax is paid, and reminds his hearers that, as much as they may despise the Roman occupation, and as much as they may rightfully resent the fact that there’s a graven image on Roman coins, the fact is that they enjoy tangible benefit from the civil and economic structure that Rome provides, and so they do indeed owe something to Caesar: "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's…” Jesus says. Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.

But we must note well the implication in the phrase “the things that are Caesar’s.” The implication is that some things are not Caesar’s. Caesar’s domain is contingent, not absolute. Caesar’s domain is temporal, not eternal. Which sets us up for the “other shoe” to drop: “…and to God the things that are God's." Render to God the things that are God’s. God’s domain is universal. God’s domain is eternal. There is nothing that is not God’s. Even what looks like it belongs to Caesar ultimately belongs to God. Today’s reading from Isaiah talks about the Persian King Cyrus—a really nasty dude who brutally conquered every nation he set his eye on—God, speaking through Isaiah, refers to Cyrus as his “anointed” because God was going to accomplish God’s own purposes through the agency of this unwitting Persian king. Now, we need to understand the significance of the term “anointed.” In the Hebrew, it is nothing other than “Messiah”, which, in turn, is the basis for the Greek word “Christ”! This is tantamount to God saying to Americans during the Cold War: The Soviet Union is accomplishing my purposes without desiring or knowing it; the Chairman of the Communist Party is my Chosen One, my Messiah, my Christ.” No less shocking were Isaiah’s words about Cyrus to his original Jewish readers.

God can use whatever vessels he chooses, even corrupt and wicked human governments. It is our obligation to render to the human government under which we live whatever may be legitimately due to them, even, on occasion, our very lives. But God alone commands our ultimate loyalty. Human governments—democratic or otherwise—deserve our respect and our submission, but only to the point where such loyalty and submission conflict with the demands of loyalty to God. Of course, this is often a difficult line to draw, and while we might hope that the readings today would offer us some help in making that distinction, unfortunately, they don’t. And what makes things worse is that Christians in good faith can draw the line in different places, and that can create some tension within the Body of Christ. So we need to be patient and forbearing of one another, as some among us see the current administration and its policies as righteous and good, while others among us see that administration and those policies as wicked and unjust. Remember, both the ideal King David and the tyrannical conqueror Cyrus are referred to in scripture as God’s “anointed.” Yet, we all—whatever our political persuasion might be—need to be ever vigilant for the place where loyalty to “Caesar” conflicts with our more fundamental loyalty to God. Because the only thing worse than failing to render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s, is to inadvertently render to Caesar that which is God’s alone. 

Amen.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

St Luke

Up and out and headed ahead in time for a 10:30am arrival at Emmanuel, Champaign, where we proceeded to duly celebrate the new ministry of their rector, the Revd Beth Maynard. After the reception, I attended the regular October meeting of Emmanuel's vestry, and took the opportunity to develop with them what a Canon for Mission Development might accomplish, both both Emmanuel and for the whole diocese. Brenda and I then checked into our hotel, enjoyed a little down time, and then met Beth and her husband, Mark Dirksen, for dinner in downtown Champaign's burgeoning restaurant scene.