Saturday, December 14, 2019

Saturday (St John of the Cross)

  • Morning Prayer in my hotel room. Made do with the breakfast offerings downstairs. 
  • Drove to the starting point of one of my old Springfield walking routes, one that exploits parts of abandoned interurban rail beds. It's a long-ish route, so I got my full 10K steps in, and then some. 
  • Back to the room to clean up and change.
  • Picked up and early lunch from the drive-thru at Taco Gringo, and brought it up to the office to eat in front of an episode of the TV show Britannia, which is about the Roman invasion of Britain in the first century.
  • Tackled a substantial list of action items--from Mission Strategy Reports to Ember Day letters to anxious emails from wardens of parishes in transition to restoring a decorative fountain in my office to working order. That last item should give a clue that I got down to the dregs of my task list--things I've been putting off for months because there was always something more important. I actually finished everything on my list, not just for the day, but for the week, which almost never happens. There will be a bunch of new items that pop up in the system next week, but, for now, I'm enjoying "task list zero."
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral. Fajitas in the bar at Chili's for dinner.

Friday, December 13, 2019

St Lucy

  • Out of my garage right at 0530. At the office by 0845. An audio book certainly eats of the miles.
  • Organized tasks. Conferred a bit with the Archdeacon.
  • On behalf of one of our Eucharistic Communities that is concerned about the issue, did some research (including conversations with the Archdeacon and the Dean, in addition to the interwebs) on security protocols for churches. Sad to have to even expend any energy on something like this.
  • Got to work refining and editing my homily for this Sunday (St Luke's, Springfield).
  • Broke off from this at 10:40 to meet with my 11:00 appointment, who arrived early. It was with a deacon who is ordained and canonically resident in another diocese who has relocated in retirement to the Champaign-Urbana area. It was a get-to-know-you meeting prior to licensing and possible eventual transfer of canonical residence.
  • Back to the sermon work. Finished it up.
  • Out to Chick-Fil-A for lunch. Then downtown for a quick errand.
  • Began to scan, categorize, and tag the accumulated hard copy in my physical inbox.
  • Broke of from this to meet by 2:00 appointment--a two-hour continuing tutorial in liturgy (we have about eight hours in now) with an ordinand in the area of liturgy.
  • Caught up on incoming texts and emails.
  • Prayed the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary in the cathedral, followed by Evening Prayer.
  • While I am truly comfortable with my usual office encampment while in town, I gratefully accepted an offer from St Luke's to get me a hotel room for a couple of nights, so I journeyed down to La Quinta on South Sixth and got settled in. Out to dinner at a Chinese-Cajun (yes, you read that right) place on Wabash.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Thursday (Our Lady of Guadalupe)

The morning was effectively consumed by producing my regular "column" for the next issue of the Springfield Current, which will appear shortly after Epiphany. The early afternoon was devoted to a healthcare errand, after which I focused on an Ad Clerum--a letter to the clergy, mostly on matters liturgical. Managed to turn a chuck roast into a bunch of beef barbacoa, thanks, once again, to the Instant Pot (cooked to perfection in one hour under pressure). Then it was time to pack for my weekend in the diocese.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Wednesday

  • Regular weekday AM routine.
  • Substantive email exchange regarding an ongoing administrative concern.
  • Took a call from a "head hunter" retained by a large parish in another diocese that is searching for a rector. (He wasn't head-hunting me, but looking for suggestions. Being the bishop of a backwater diocese with no large congregations, and not having any clergy at the moment who I'm eager to get rid of, I wasn't of much help.)
  • Said my prayers and took an initial pass at the readings for II Epiphany (January 19 at Christ Church, Springfield).
  • Lunched (on the late side) on leftovers.
  • More emails regarding another administrative issue.
  • Spent a chunk of time on the Lambeth Conference web portal going through "Stage Two" of the registration process. This is a complex and finely-oiled machine.
  • Plowed through about a half a dozen tasks that involve responding to an email, none of which were particularly urgent, and most of which have been sitting in my list for a while and never quite rising to the top. Some of them required some careful thought. So now I can cross them off.
  • 45-minute treadmill workout.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Tuesday

  • Regular weekday AM routine, supplemented by the need to welcome a mold remediation team to our apartment for the day, and they'll be back tomorrow. I'll spare you the details. Suffice it to say that the main bathroom ceiling is rather thoroughly deconstructed at this point.
  • Answered a brief query from the Communicator.
  • Provided a letter attesting to the "in good standing" status of a priest who has retired and moved to another diocese.
  • Corresponded with a deacon who has moved to the diocese in retirement and wishes to pursue being licensed.
  • Continued correspondence with a priest (Anglican-ish? I'm not sure) for whom I can do nothing formal, but who wishes to stay in contact informally.
  • Wrote a substantive email to a lay communicant of the diocese who has kindly taken me to task for a position I have enunciated.
  • Did some surgery on a "vintage" sermon text for Advent IV in anticipation of reshaping it for use this year at St John's, Centralia.
  • Lunched on leftovers.
  • Got my granddaughter a Nintendo gift card for her birthday and emailed it to her. Sometimes I do love contemporary technology.
  • Spend about 45 minutes with my ongoing basement organizing project.
  • Attended to a routine personal organization chore (making sure clergy in charge of congregations I'm visiting in the next month have expressed an awareness that I'm coming).
  • Paid attention to an ongoing administrative project.
  • Revisited, via notes, and email, the subject of how to form diaconal ordinands.
  • Caught up on some Covenant blog reading.
  • Evening Prayer with Brenda.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Second Sunday of Advent

Away from the office around 0830 en route to Havana, with a drive-through stop at McD's for some breakfast. Arrived at St Barnabas' the targeted 30 minutes prior to their regular 10am liturgy. There were 51 in attendance, which, in light of the recent history of that community, was remarkable. Fr Mike Newago has been an inspiring and effective pastor and leader. We baptized two teens, confirmed two adults and received one, all in the context of duly celebrating the Second Sunday of Advent. After some good visiting time over lunch, I was on the road at 12:15 and home at 3:45.

Sermon for II Advent

St Barnabas’, Havana--Matthew 3:1–12

We’re into the mid-section of Advent now, where John the Baptist is the lead actor, and the prophet Isaiah is the principal supporting actor. The gospel writers give us only a handful of details about John, but there are enough of them to paint a rather compelling picture. I mean … what a sight! He’s dressed in camel hide, lives in the desert, eats insects, and is on a constant rant about sin and the need for people to repent. And, still, he was wildly popular, mostly, I would guess, because he was so weird, and such a spectacle. But it’s not like people were ignoring the nugget of his message, which was, in a word, Repent! People were making a rather demanding journey down to where the Jordan River runs through the Judean desert—it wasn’t a casual stroll from where people lived—they were making their way to John, and listening to his message of repentance, and confessing their sins, and getting baptized. It was a really big deal, and we shouldn’t allow ourselves to downplay it in our imaginations.

Now … you would think that, given what people had to go through to get to him, and given the … ahem, unappealing character of his message, John would at least cut them some slack and not ask too many questions—you know, give them some points for making the effort. If someone manages to make it down to the river, and wants to confess their sins and get baptized, we would expect John to just say, “Bless you, friend. Step right up.” But no!  When he sees members of two partisan groups within Judaism approach him for baptism, he goes ballistic. His head explodes. “You bunch of snakes! Who warned you to run away from what’s in store for you?!”

That’s certainly not a warm pastoral embrace of a humble penitent sinner, is it?! Why? What motivated John to be so unhospitable toward the Pharisees and Sadducees? Well, to understand John’s attitude, we need to look under the hood of the other element, the other basic theme, of John’s preaching, which is: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

The kingdom of heaven is at hand. It’s very easy to hear this expression and understand it in very straightforward, static terms, like we would understand somebody saying, “Christmas is just around the corner” or, toward the end of a long road trip, and your impatient child asks, “Are we there yet?” and you’re able to truthfully answer, “Just about. We’re almost there. Look, we can see where we’re going from here.” 

But God’s kingdom, the kingdom of heaven, isn’t like that. On December 25, Christmas will have arrived, and on January 7, it will have departed. It’s simple and predictable. When I arrive home tonight and park my car in the garage, my journey will be over. My navigation app will say, “You have arrived at your destination.” God’s kingdom, by contrast, is always happening rather than simply existing. It’s not a territory or a sphere or a realm. It’s an ever-ongoing event. Any consideration of the kingdom of heaven always ends in -i-n-g. It’s always happening, always continuing. The kingdom of heaven is “near,” not spatially, the way we usually thing of nearness, not “near in time,” but “near in place,” sort of in the way that the Illinois River is “near” Havana. And when the river is at flood stage, it gets even nearer still. I can imagine that there have been times when the residents of this town have feared that the Illinois River will just “invade” Havana. This is more or less what John the Baptist is saying about the kingdom of heaven: It’s constantly “inbreaking,” forever “on the verge” of invading our time and place. God’s kingdom isn’t a place or an event, but an ongoing moment of “happening.”

So, John’s criticism of the Pharisees and Sadducees is that their repentance is cheap and cynical, not genuine, not authentic. It doesn’t spring naturally and spontaneously from their hearts. Rather, it’s fabricated, contrived, motivated only by a desire to escape the just and proper consequences of their self-serving behavior.

But the kind of repentance that God’s always inbreaking, always on-the-verge-of-invading kingdom summons us to is joyful repentance. I mean … God’s kingdom is near, and that’s pretty awesome, so that’s more than enough reason to be joyful, right? But, joyful repentance? That just sounds weird, doesn’t it? Yeah, that may strike us a contradiction, because repentance is serious business, and is often appropriately accompanied by tears of regret and sorrow. But joyful repentance is actually the heart of this season of Advent.

We are always, of course, aware of our need for repentance. Along with the Psalmist, we can truthfully say, “My sin is ever before me,” and even, on occasion, “My wounds stink and fester by reason of my foolishness.” In my more than three decades of ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church, I have found that Ash Wednesday is one of the most well-attended of the liturgical occasions that never fall on a Sunday. We are aware of our sinfulness, and we understand that confession of sin is an essential movement in the process of repentance. But, unlike the Pharisees and Sadducees, hopefully, we don’t repent out of fear, we don’t repent simply to avoid the consequences of our behavior. We repent as an irrepressible response to our anticipation of the full arrival of the kingdom of heaven, when all wrongs will be put right, and every tear be wiped away. Think of repentance, if you will, as you might when you are expecting some very special company in your home. The work may be challenging and difficult, and not at all fun. But you don’t go about it with fear or off-the-charts anxiety. Rather, you clean your house with joyful anticipation, because somebody who is important to you, somebody whom you care about a great deal, is going to show up, and the prospect of that makes you want to sing with joy. Housecleaning under those circumstances is much like the repentance that John the Baptist calls us to, that the season of Advent calls us to. It’s serious business, but it springs from the heart, authentically and organically.

Our King and Savior now draws near: Come, let us adore him. Amen.