Friday, February 23, 2018

Friday (St Polycarp)

  • Worked from home during the morning, either side of a 10am appointment at the lawyer's office for Brenda and me to sign revised end-of-life documents. I suppose there's something serendipitously appropriate about facing our mortality within nine days of Ash Wednesday.
  • Read a substantive Ember Day letter from one of our seminarians, and replied with, I hope, some equal substance.
  • Took a phone call from one of our clerics over an ongoing parish issue.
  • Made some final tweaks to the music selections for the Chrism Mass and sent it off to the cathedral organist.
  • Lunch, still at home. Leftovers.
  • (In the office now.) Worked on my homily for Lent III (Springfield Cathedral), taking it from the "developed outline" to the "rough draft" stage.
  • Sat with my notes, and commentary notes, on the Passion according to St Mark. In time, a homiletical message statement for Palm Sunday (at the cathedral) distilled from that process. It's not easy.
  • Prayer the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary. The window along the liturgical south/geographic north) side of the cathedral nave certainly make that an enhanced experience.
  • Took a first prayerful pass at the readings for Easter III, in preparation for preaching at St Thomas', Salem on April 15.
  • Reviewed clergy nodal event greetings for March. Did some by hand-written note; others scheduled for email.
  • Evening Prayer in the office.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Thursday

  • Customary robust (90 minute) Thursday treadmill workout to start the day.
  • Morning Prayer (fashionably late, around 10) in the cathedral.
  • Attended to some personal business (assembling electronic versions of my tax documents to email to my tax preparer).
  • Reached out by phone for a pastoral check-in to one of our clergy who recently underwent a serious medical procedure.
  • Sat down with Paige to re-record some sections of the catechetical video we're currently working on.
  • Emailed the Interim Dean of Nashotah House on a small but important administrative matter.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • My afternoon was consumed by the task of producing about 90% of a rough draft for my next-due post on the Covenant blog.
  • At 4:00 I hit the road southbound for Belleville, arriving at St George's right at the target time of 6:00. Ate Lenten soup with the congregation and delivered a catechetical presentation on the *renunciations* in the baptismal liturgy: cosmic evil, social evil, personal evil. 
  • Then I met for about 90 minutes with the Mission Leadership Team. There are some currently active issues in that family system that need some input from someone outside it. All will be well.
  • Home at 10:45, in time to catch the silver medal performance in ladies figure skating at the Olympics.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Wednesday

  • Usual weekday AM routine. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Prepped for a scheduled staff meeting.
  • Began to work on rehabbing a prior-year sermon text for Lent V for use this year at St Christopher's, Rantoul.
  • Received and spoke with a member of the larger Nashotah House constituency who arrived unannounced, being in Springfield in connection with his work.
  • Spent the rest of the morning in the aforementioned staff meeting. It has not been our custom to have one, but, in the interest of fostering more effective communication, it seemed "meet and right so to do." I think it was productive.
  • Lunched on leftovers are home. While there, stuck around for a 1:00 conference call about some personal matters.
  • Back in the office, finished the task I had begun earlier with the Lent V sermon.
  • Reviewed, tweaked, commented on, and sent back by email the draft liturgy program for the reception of a former Roman Catholic priest into the ordained ministry of the Episcopal Church. (He will be of our diocese to begin with, but not in it.)
  • Began the process of preparing to preach on that occasion (March 22). Laid out the broad strokes of a homily,
  • Did the same for the Chrism Mass sermon (March 24).
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Tuesday

  • Managed to get a bit of an early start to the work day, so I got a leg up on editing and refining my homily for this Sunday (Christ the King, Normal) while waiting for breakfast to happen. Delayed printing it until in the office. (This is actually a sermon I prepared for use three years ago in Glen Carbon, but my visitation was snowed out that day, so all I had to do was pull it out of the freezer, let it thaw, and stick it in the microwave for a bit.)
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Printed the homily I had worked on at home.
  • Spent the rest of my morning working on getting some planned $$ transferred to Bishop Elias in Tabora. Tried the Western Union route again, and ran into the same roadblocks I met last week. Frustrating and time-consuming. Ended up walking to Illinois National Bank and doing it the old-fashioned way, with a bank-to-bank international wire transfer. But that is time-consuming as well. 
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers. Assisted Brenda in getting our dinner started (slow-cooked pork).
  • Took a sermon text for Lent V from a prior year and did the necessary surgery to make it useful for this cycle, at St Thomas', Glen Carbon.
  • Took a substantive phone call from one of our clerics.
  • Did a deep dive into planning the hymns and service music for the Chrism Mass. This included making an online purchase of some music for a Gospel Acclamation.
  • Did the fine prep on the roughed-out notes for my Lenten series presentation in Belleville later this week.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

First Sunday in Lent

The worship at Holy Trinity, Danville seems truly "in spirit and truth," and I find it a joy to be with them. We duly "beat down Satan under our feet" in the Great Litany. And they are in the midst of some significant upgrades to their physical plant, but the church itself and in the ancillary spaces. The city of Danville has gone through more than its share of dislocations over the decades, and I am grateful for Holy Trinity's ongoing witness in that area.

Sermon for First Sunday in Lent

Holy Trinity, Danville--Genesis 9:8-17, I Peter 3:18-22

It’s Lent. Penitence is in the air. You came together four days ago and confessed your sinfulness and got doused with ashes as a sign of your contrition. We will continue to explore that theme explicitly today and Fr Richard will have the opportunity to keep on doing so over the next two Sundays, and implicitly for the rest of the Lenten season.

Sin happens. Sin can be defined in a number of different ways:  Rebellion against God, putting ourselves in the place of God, deviation from God’s revealed will or the evident order of creation, or breaking one of God’s laws.

Sin affects us; it affects is profoundly. We are the victims of sin. People lie to us, and we make important decisions based on false information, and we suffer as a result. People cheat us. They take advantage of our instinct to trust, to be generous, to give the benefit of the doubt, and we suffer as a result. People steal from us in numerous subtle and not-so-subtle ways. In recent years, identity theft has become a widespread problem that has robbed people of their reputations and their life savings. We are all victims of sin.

But we’re not exactly innocent victims, because we’re also all perpetrators of sin. We lie to other people routinely. We may not blatantly publish “fake news,” and we may think we have worthy motives, like sparing people the pain of hurt feelings, or withholding relevant information in the advancement of a noble cause, but we do lie to other people. It’s amazing what moral gymnastics people will go through in order to justify lying. We also cheat people and steal from them in a variety of subtle and not-so-subtle ways. We cheat people and rob them when we make assumptions about their character based on their ethnicity, or the language they speak, or how they dress, or what kind of car they drive, or their taste in music.

But the effects of sin transcend even the dynamics of the relationship between victims and perpetrators. Sin affects the fabric of creation. It’s not part of God’s plan that earthquakes cause tidal waves that wipe out entire populations. Tsunamis are evidence of sin, the fallenness of the created order. It’s not part of God’s plan that cells multiply in strange ways and grow into tumors that result in the failure of vital organs. Cancer is evidence of sin, the fallenness of the created order. It’s not part of God’s plan that cats catch and eat birds, and birds catch and eat worms. Predation is evidence of sin, and the fallenness of the created order. Now, I’m certainly not trying to pick a fight with geologists, who are no doubt eager to tell me about plate tectonics that cause earthquakes and how they are completely mindless and wouldn’t know a sin from a sunset. Nor am I trying to alienate molecular biologists and organic chemists and zoologists and evolutionary biologists who have perfectly plausible scientific explanations for cancer and predation. I am not in any way saying that scientific accounts of these horrible things are wrong. Science is essential in describing what happens in the natural world and how it happens. It’s the job of philosophy and theology, however, to interpret, to give meaning to that which science describes, and the significance of natural disasters and diseases and suffering of any sort is that they tell us all is not right with the world. It is fallen. We live and move and have our being under the power and curse of sin. As our Eucharistic Prayer puts it, we have become “subject to evil and death.”

But we’re not through yet, because sin also affects God—even God. The reality and presence of sin creates a conflict for God, a conflict between the very attributes of God’s divine nature. We know, from what God has revealed to us about himself, that he is infinitely loving and abundantly compassionate. In the prior edition of the Prayer Book, the formula for absolution following the General Confession at Morning Prayer included the biblical language that God “desireth not the death of a sinner, but rather that he may turn from his wickedness and live.” We also know that God is perfectly just, to a degree of fairness and impartiality that we cannot even imagine. More to the point, God is supremely holy. He is the very essence of life and wholeness. It is against his basic nature to tolerate anything that deviates from perfect justice and perfect righteousness. So, sin creates a conflict for God, because it pits God’s love against God’s justice, his mercy against his holiness.

What can God do? What options are available to him? How can he deal creatively and constructively with the problem of sin—sin as it affects human relationships, sin as it affects all of creation, and sin as it affects God himself? One strategy might be to simply ignore it, overlook it, engage in what might be called benign neglect. Perhaps, if God is just patient enough with us and our sinfulness, we’ll eventually figure things out, and get better under our own motivation. As most of you know, I’m married to a woman who spent multiple decades as a piano teacher. Over the years, I’ve heard her complain, of course, about students who don’t practice in a way that does justice to their talent. But, more frequently, I’ve heard her complain about parents who make practicing the piano a chore, like setting the table or cleaning their rooms. Brenda’s philosophy of piano practice has always been that it should be self-motivated, its own reward, an end in itself. Maybe God could take the same attitude toward our progressing in overcoming sin. Punishment serves no practical purpose. We’ll eventually get it.

Of course, this is what we hope for with respect to our own sins, or the sins of someone we love. I once watched a movie on television about a teenager who unintentionally kills his girlfriend in an isolated place, then walks away from the scene. When the boy’s father discovers incriminating evidence, he gets rid of it, and does his best to steer the authorities in the wrong direction. Yes, his son made a mistake, but why should he go to jail until he’s a middle-aged man because of a momentary lapse in judgment? He tells the boy, “Let’s work on keeping you out of jail now. We’ll worry about saving your soul later.” He obviously didn’t trust the judicial system to come to the same conclusion he hoped God would come to. However, when we’re the victim of sin, we have a slightly different attitude. Just read Psalm 109 sometime, and you’ll see what I mean. 109—make a mental note of it. In any case, though, this is not a route God chooses to follow. It’s in keeping with the spirit of his compassionate love but would be hugely inconsistent with his justice and his holiness.

Then again, in response to sin, God could decide to wipe the slate clean and get a fresh start, to see if he could make a world that would not fall captive to the power of sin, to destroy what he had made and start over. Since the advent of personal computers in the 1980s, and the simultaneous rise in the popularity of computer solitaire, I’ve noticed that some programs are strict, and make you lie in the bed you make, so to speak, while others are more lenient, and allow you to start over with the same cards, but with no penalties. So, you can learn from your mistakes but not suffer their consequences. What a lovely idea! This must have been the sort of program God was playing with when he told Noah to build an ark and then made it rain long enough to wipe out all human and animal life that wasn’t on the ark. But when it was all over, God decided to swear off “do-overs.” To destroy in vengeance is not in keeping with God’s nature of love. He decided to live thereafter in the bed that he had made. And he put a rainbow in the sky as a sign—a reminder to himself—of this covenant not to press the reset button on his creation ever again.
           
Instead, God is committed to redemption as his strategy for responding to sin. Not neglect, which compromises God’s justice and holiness, not destruction, which abrogates God’s compassion and love, but redemption, which honors both.  Redemption doesn’t make a new thing; it makes something new out of something old. God wants to take each of us as we are and take us apart and put us back together according to his own likeness and image. God wants to take creation itself and remake it, not to bring back Eden, but to introduce something better, not to merely restore what we’ve lost, but to give us something we’ve never even thought to want!

Redemption is not a slam dunk. It’s not easy or simple. It’s not a matter of God snapping his fingers, or telling his executive officer, “Make it so.” Redemption is complex. Ask anybody in the construction business, and they’ll tell you that thoroughly remodeling an old building is usually much more complicated and difficult than constructing a new one from scratch. It would have been much easier for God to deal with sin by sending another flood, or an asteroid, or a swarm of fire ants, to destroy our race and give him a blank slate to work with. But whenever that thought occurs to him, he looks at the sky and sees a rainbow and reminds himself of his covenant with Noah not to go that route again. He has made a commitment to the hard work of redemption.

Redemption is not easy, nor is it cheap. When you’re responsible for a house or another building that needs constant maintenance, it’s always tempting to do a patch here and a patch there, and just paper over problems, rather than tearing out the dry rot and really fixing the place, which would be very costly. In the same way, redemption is costly. It cost God the agony of watching his own beloved Son—literally his own flesh and blood—die on the cross. It would have been much cheaper for God to wink and nod and hope we’ll find our own way out of the mess we’re in. But that would have been inconsistent with his nature of justice and holiness.

My brothers and sisters, as we walk through Lent, as we live under the covenant of the rainbow, the cost of our redemption will become progressively clearer to us, culminating in our celebration of the Paschal Mystery in the Triduum. May we worthily keep the fast, that we may worthily keep the feast. Amen.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Saturday (Janani Luwum)

Up and out in time to get to the cathedral-office complex by 9am for prepare for the 10am Diocesan Council Mass and Meeting. Presided and preached in commemoration of the lesser feast of the Ugandan archbishop and martyr (under Idi Amin) Janani Luwum. Presided over a council meeting that was fairly routine. We had a good discussion of possible reconfigurations of the timeframe of our annual diocesan synod. Met afterward with the Chancellor, who is also the Senior Warden of St Andrew's, Edwardsville, so we talked about matters involving both his "hats." After tending to domestic matters in the afternoon, including a good treadmill workout, I hit the road in the evening for Champaign, ahead of tomorrow's visitation to Holy Trinity, Danville.