Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Tuesday

At the clergy pre-Lenten retreat at King's House in Belleville. Two superb addresses from Bishop Ed Little. An afternoon a one-on-one conferences. Morning Prayer, Mass, and Evensong--at which both Brenda and I played major music roles. This isn't actually a retreat for me--it's work--but I'm delighted to have a hand in providing this experience for the fine clergy of the Diocese of Springfield.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Monday (Janani Luwum)

Usual early AM routine. Got organized, packed, and out the door southbound with Brenda at 10:45. With a stop for lunch in Romeoville and brief foray to the office in Springfield, we were at King's House in Belleville five hours later. We both immediately got to work preparing musically for the 5:30 evensong (she on the piano, I on the organ)--we divide our duties by the type of music ,,, I do better with chants, she with hymns). Dinner, then the opening session of our clergy pre-Lenten retreat, where the presenter is my old friend, Bishop Ed Little.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

Already in Glen Carbon since last night, and with the liturgy at St Thomas' not until 1030, I had a rather humane pace to my morning. Slept in until 0700, got packed up, said my prayers, and enjoyed breakfast at the Waffle House in Collinsville. My eldest daughter is a Waffle House fan, and she told me, "If you get it, you get it." Well, I'm not sure I get it, but I can now say I've given it a try. It was certainly an unobjectionable breakfast. We duly kept the Lord's Day at St Thomas'. It is an untellable joy for me to share with our communities in the ministry of Word and Sacrament. Every single time. On the road again a little bast 12:30 and home a little before 5:00. I now thank God daily for audio books.

Sermon for Epiphany VI

Matthew 5:21–37, 1 Corinthians 3:1–9
St Thomas’, GlenCarbon                                                                     


From today’s gospel: “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” These are the words of Jesus, and if we pay attention closely, it might seem strange to hear him talk about “offering your gift at the altar,” because, while Jesus was a practicing Jew, that expression pretty much makes perfect sense in a fully-developed Christian context, as when we place our offering in the plate as it comes by, and, in most churches, representatives of the congregation bring the bread and wine up, and it’s all—money, bread, and wine--offered at the altar. Well, as it turns out, Matthew’s gospel is the most “churchy” of the four. He doesn’t do it in this passage, but Matthew is the only one among the four evangelists to actually use the word “church” in his gospel.

And in this passage, as is the case in the other passage where the word “church” comes up, “Matthew’s Jesus” is concerned about church unity—or, more precisely, about the clear fact that there is disunity, that there is strife within the Christian community. This shouldn’t come as a shock to us, because, two-thousand years later, there is still disunity and strife, both between churches—that’s why we have something called ecumenism—and within churches: witness the last decade-and-a-half of quarrelling and lawsuits among Episcopalians and recently former Episcopalians in this country. And, nobody can deny that there is disunity and strife within local congregations: turf battles over who gets to do this or decide that, people getting entrenched in particular roles for decades, with nobody quite knowing how to challenge the status quo, inability to be direct and open about conflict, so there’s an abundance of whispering and secrecy, people using leaving and the threat of leaving as a manipulative tool, or just as a coping mechanism, because they literally don’t know what else to do. This is all truly scandalous, of course. It’s the biggest single impediment to mission and evangelism that we face.

St Paul wrote two letters to the Christian community in the Greek city of Corinth, a church that was no stranger to disunity and strife. Paul’s awareness of divisiveness among the Corinthians is evident in the passage we have this morning. He tells them he cannot even address them as “spiritual people,” because there is so much “jealousy and strife” among them, that they are not proper Christian adults, but are “infants in Christ.” It’s not apparent in today’s selection, but dissension in the Corinthian church affected even their observance of the Eucharist; Paul spends quite a bit of time on that later in the letter. As a pastor of more than thirty years’ experience, speaking in a congregation whose pastor has more than fifty year’s experience, I would not be telling the truth if I did not say that the communities I’ve served, like the Corinthians, have been made up of too many people who are also … too many of us are also “infants in Christ,” who can only be fed spiritual “milk” because they’re not ready for “solid food.” Three weeks ago, using different material, but also from Matthew and I Corinthians, I suggested that the antidote to disunity is shared discipleship. (You can find that sermon on the diocesan website if you’re curious.) Today, I want to affirm what I said three weeks ago, and also point out that yet even other resources available to us to combat strife and disunity among Christians. Among these resources are what we already have—each other. We have the discipline of the church’s communal life, our life together.

Now, when I say “discipline,” I don’t mean principally things like rules and regulations—you know, canon law. I’m talking about something rather more natural, more organic. You know, of course, how each of our lives is constrained, channeled, by the particular circumstances of our life. Thirty years ago, I played first base on a church softball team. I could competently field ground balls and dig out hard throws from the shortstop from the dirt, and hit the ball out of the infield a decent percentage of the time. I haven’t played competitive softball since that time. There’s certainly no law or regulation saying that I can’t. And, while, in my fantasies, I still could, in reality, I realize that, at age 68, I can’t anymore. My life is naturally constrained, organically disciplined, by my age and health.

Our decision to live with one another in the Body of Christ, a decision flowing from God’s own decision to include us in that body, constrains and channels us in certain ways. A couple of decades ago, I was a huge fan of the TV series The West Wing, as I suspect some of you were too. Quite often, I found myself envious of the characters in that show, because they were able to do something I cannot do, and that is, to use a metaphor, “play hardball.” They were able to use skullduggery, chicanery, manipulation, and blatant exercise of power, to do what they needed to get done. As a Christian, and still more as a Christian leader, those tools are not available to me. I have often wished they were. But I have countless times vowed to live otherwise, to seek and serve Christ in all people and to respect the dignity of every human being. My life is constrained, channeled, by my Christian identity. I realize that I desperately need those with whom I feel myself to be in conflict. They are the very means through which God will work to save me, to convert my soul to him. My perceived enemies are also my saviors, because God uses them to bring my holiness to perfection, to call my wandering heart back to him. We all live by those same constraints, and when we honor those constraints, it becomes a lot more difficult to be at war with those whom we know we need so desperately.

And then, to put a fine point on it, there’s the Eucharist. In a very powerful novel called Hurry Sundown, that became a movie starring Jane Fonda and Michael Caine, there’s a scene that takes place at the communion rail of an Episcopal church in the south during the Jim Crow era. There are actually two churches involved—one for whites and one for blacks—both served by the same (white) priest. A new priest is being ordained for this cure, and the liturgy takes place in the white church, but there are members of the black congregation present. A black woman makes her communion from the chalice, and then, when it’s presented to the older white man next to her ... he spits in it. I found that moment utterly shocking when I first saw this movie fifty years ago, and, to tell you the truth, I still tremble a bit even telling you about it. The truth is, those who commune next to us at the rail are our sisters and brothers. And, as you know, we don’t get to choose our siblings, either our biological siblings or our spiritual siblings. I can have worthy opponents in the councils of the church, but once I have shared the Peace of Christ with them and joined them in receiving Christ’s Body and Blood, they cannot be my enemies. They are family, and it’s my duty to love them even if they drive me nuts. Our mutual participation in the Eucharist with those who otherwise afflict and trouble us forms us in holiness. It fosters the demeanor and character that we need in order to be able to live in God’s nearer presence without being turned to dust.

Accepting these gospel truths can sometimes be more than a little bit uncomfortable for us Americans who live in a culture that cut its teeth in radical individualism, personal autonomy. We don’t like constraints of any sort! But gospel truths they remain, whether or not we like them.

The church, my friends, is a community that breaks us. The late New Testament scholar Reginald Fuller, in commenting on today’s passage from Matthew, says: “The better righteousness that the kingdom of God requires covers not only overt behavior but also inner motive. God’s demand for obedience is absolute and total, claiming the whole person in the entirety of his or her relations.”
We are not free to give rein to our petty narcissism. I am not free to play hardball. The Eucharist itself compels reconciliation. And it is precisely in the Eucharist that we find the grace which alone can put us back together as the re-membered Body of Christ. Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Saturday (Thomas Bray)

Across the alley for prayers around 0715. The down to McD's drive-thru for a sausage McGriddle. Got my office encampment packed up and the YFNBmobile loaded. Headed south at 0905 to Edwardsville, where I pulled into the parking lot at St Andrew's about 70 minutes later. Presided at the institution and induction of Fr Ben Hankinson as rector of the parish. A good time was had by all, and I have high hopes for the future of St Andrew's. Long and high-quality visiting with a variety of folks at the reception. Then I ambled over to the Hampton Inn in nearby Glen Carbon (where I am visiting St Thomas' in the morning). Got my stuff into the room and ,,, no computer. Turns out I'd left the whole bag--laptop, iPad, and computer glasses--in my office. Without really giving it a second thought, I just drove to Springfield and retrieved it. The jaunt consumed about 2.5 hours. Grabbed some (disappointing) barbecue in Collinsville, and am calling it a night, having surrendered my hopes for a semi-productive afternoon. 

Friday, February 14, 2020

Friday (Ss Cyril & Methodius)

  • As is now my wont on most Fridays, I was out of my garage at 0520, headed south. Arrived at the office right at 0845.
  • Got myself organized for the day. Responded to a couple of urgent emails.
  • Signed and sealed the certificate for Fr Hankinson's institution tomorrow at St Andrew's, Edwardsville.
  • Took a phone call from a consultant who is working one of our parishes.
  • Spent the rest of the morning with Canon Evans covering a variety of issues, mostly thinking through (and plotting on newsprint) the clergy ordination and deployment mill for the next couple of years, taking into account the needs for supply and interim work in the meantime. It seems we have a good crop in the pipeline (to mix metaphors), but the payoff sweet spot doesn't arrive until about 15-20 months from now. In the meantime .... workarounds.
  • Lunch with John Roth, my ELCA counterpart bishop. We always have a good time of pretty rich conversation.
  • Did the finish work on my homily for this Sunday (St Thomas', Glen Carbon).
  • Took a document down to INB to sign it in the presence of a notary. This will allow St Mary's, Robinson to give an easement to the local water company.
  • Did some followup work on the morning's near-term deployment conversation--involving a spreadsheet and multiple emails.
  • Printed and folded the six service leaflets for worship at next week's clergy retreat.
  • Prayed the Luminous Mysteries of the rosary in the cathedral, followed by Evening Prayer.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Thursday (Absalom Jones)

  • After prayers, tea, and breakfast, I trudged through the cold and falling snow a mile to keep my chiropractic appointment. Back home a little before 10:00.
  • Dealt with some late-arriving email and a phone call.
  • Spent some time on the treadmill to pick up the balance of 10K steps after my earlier walking.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Wrestled with my exegetical notes on the propers for Lent V (St George's, Belleville) until they yielded a homiletical message statement.
  • Spent long quality time with commentaries on Matthew's gospel in preparation for preaching at the cathedral on Palm Sunday.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.