Sunday, January 15, 2017

Second Sunday after the Epiphany

I had an arduous journey to my parish visitation today--all of about 2.5 miles to Christ Church, Springfield. Spoke at their adult forum at 9am. It's always lively conversation there. Today they were mostly curious about my sabbatical and what the Camino was like, which I was more than happy to talk about. Presided at preached at the regular 10:15 Eucharist, where we also confirmed three adults. It was a very enjoyable time.

Sermon for Epiphany II

Christ Church, Springfield--John 1:21-42, Isaiah 49:1-7

Several decades ago a psychologist named Abraham Maslow got famous—at least among those who read psychology textbooks! —for publishing his theory about the “hierarchy of needs.”  Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs says that human beings have certain universal needs which, if they are met at all, must be met in a particular order. The most basic human need is for oxygen, and a person who is deprived of oxygen, after a very few seconds, is unlikely to be concerned about anything else. 

After the need for oxygen is met, the next level of the hierarchy is immediate personal safety. If you're being chased through the forest by a wild bear, you're not going to care awfully much about the relative humidity. And so on up the hierarchy through the levels of warmth, water, food, and so on. Once a lower need is satisfied, there is an immediate drive and desire to meet the next one on the scale. If you're freezing to death, you think, “If I could just have a fire, I wouldn't have a care in the world.” Then, once you're warm, you realize you're thirsty, and the quest continues. Most human beings, wherever they are on Maslow's hierarchy, spend most of their waking hours looking for something, seeking something.

When John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him, sometime after his baptism, he said to his own disciples, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sin of the world,” whereupon two of John's disciples, Andrew being one of them, up and followed Jesus. When Jesus noticed that they were following him, he turned to them and said, “What do you seek?”

What do you seek?  What are you looking for?  What need do you have that you're trying to meet? 

The highest category of need on Maslow's hierarchy is something called “self-actualization.” Self-actualization is what you seek after, the need that you're aware of, when your material and emotional needs are regularly met. If you'll permit me now to leap across the crack between psychology and theology, I will suggest that what Maslow calls a need for self-actualization, a Christian —or, for that matter, a believer of almost any religious persuasion —would recognize as a need for God. We're talking here about a spiritual need. We're talking about one's hunger for one's true self, which is found only in the communion between a creature and its creator.

The disciples' answer to Jesus' question, “What do you seek?" was “Where are you staying?” The English translation doesn't really do justice to their question. They aren't just casually curious about Jesus' address and phone number. They want to know where Jesus lives, where he abides, where he dwells. They are seeking to fulfill their spiritual hunger, to experience that communion of creature and creator which they know will alone give them real “self-actualization.” They’re seeking to fill the God-shaped void that every human being is born with. 

And Jesus responds, “Come and see.” Again, the English translation is a little bit misleading. Jesus isn't just inviting them to casually stop by for a cup of coffee and have a look around. He isn't saying, “Hey, check this out.” Rather, Jesus is inviting Andrew and his companion to really come and see.  Come and have your eyes opened. Come and be enlightened in such a way that you'll think you were blind before that moment. Come and find self-actualization. Come and find what you've always been looking for even if you didn't know it. And Andrew and his friend came and they saw.

So what do we do when we've come and seen what we've been looking for, when we've experienced “self-actualization”?  One option is to keep it a secret, to horde it like a squirrel gathering acorns as the chill of winter sets in. “I've got mine; you find yours on your own.” The first Episcopal church Brenda and I ever worshiped in regularly—44 years ago this spring—was apparently filled with such an attitude. We were there every Sunday morning for the better part of six months, and during that time not a single soul took the slightest interest in our presence.  The Rector himself didn't so much as ask us our names. It's a wonder that I'm an Episcopalian today! There were apparently some needs getting met in that place, because it was a fairly good-sized parish. But whatever it was they had, they sure didn't seem very interested in sharing it.

The alternative, of course, when one has come and seen, is to share the news, to say, “Here it is. There's plenty more. Come and get it!” First, we would tell our family and friends. Then, if the news were important enough, we would want to tell everyone we could. If you happened to stumble over the sure-fire cure for cancer, you would want as many people as possible to know it as soon as possible! Remember those scientists in Utah about 25 years ago who said they'd found a way to create a “cold fusion” nuclear reaction?  It turned out they really hadn’t, but if they had, it would have revolutionized the world energy industry overnight. If they weren't complete liars, and at least thought they'd done what they said they'd done, their eagerness for the whole world to know of the discovery was quite understandable. 

All this, I hope, is unremarkably self-evident, because now I want to relate it to our life together in the church. We say we have gospel—good news. To varying degrees, and in different ways, we have actually experienced it. We have come and seen, and we know what we've seen to be that which we've sought, what we've been looking for, that which meets our deepest—or, according to Maslow, our highest—needs. How do we respond? 

If someone walks through the doors of Christ Church and makes the effort to become part of this community, I firmly believe that the gospel of Christ is somehow going to touch that person through the members of Christ Church. But what if someone remains on the fringe? Or, horror of horrors, what if they never even make it to the parking lot? What if they drive right on up Sixth Street, wondering where they're going to meet their need for self-actualization? Where is our concern for them? If we have good news, do they also deserve to hear it?

The very word “evangelism”—which, literally, means nothing more than “proclaiming good news”—and much more the thing itself, still scares and even offends many Episcopalians.  At the very least, we're nervous about it. We sometimes say it's because we're put off by the methods that other kinds of churches employ—emotional manipulation and the like. But I wonder. Could it be, at least in part, that we're nervous about sharing the good news because we're not all that clear on just what the news is, and why it's good? Try this on in your imagination: Write a one-half page summary of the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, in a way that is both personal and attractive enough that someone who'd never heard it before would want to hear more. Could you do it?

When Andrew came and saw, and when he knew that the one he had seen was indeed the long-awaited Messiah, the hope of Israel, his first response was to run and tell his brother Peter the good news: “We have found the Messiah.” It was a completely natural and unself-conscious action on his part, as natural as one neighbor telling another about the station that's selling gas for under two dollars a gallon, or one fisherman telling another where the bass are biting.

The theme that runs through all the lessons today is that God chooses. By inviting them to “come and see,” Jesus chose Andrew and Peter as his disciples. At his baptism, God the Father revealed Jesus as his chosen one. In the prophecy of Isaiah, the “suffering servant” is chosen by God to be a light, not only to the nation of Israel —that would be “too light a thing.”  No, the servant of the LORD is to be a light to the nations. 

My friends, the same Lord is telling us in the Diocese of Springfield that it is “too light a thing” that we should minister only to one another, that we should share the good news only among ourselves. He calls us as well to be a “light to the nations,” represented by the thousands of people who live within walking or driving distance of this church, and who are looking for self-actualization in all the wrong places. We know what they seek, and we know where Jesus lives —he lives here. We have a story to tell. Let's learn it, first. Then, let's tell it. Amen.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Saturday (St Kentigern)

I had a noon meeting at the diocesan office on my calendar today, but, in the wake of the freezing rain that began to coat paved surfaces with a micro-layer of ice during the night, I was dubious about it. However, when I confirmed that the other party involved was indeed en route from a significant distance away, I threw on my winter gear and strewed ice melt compound and sand all over my driveway. A few minutes later I was able to successfully walk up it. Once I got the YFNBmobile out to the street, the roads didn't seem inordinately slick. The meeting (with a layperson over a pastoral issue) happened between 11:30 and 1:00, and I went back home, stopping at Taco Gringo for takeout on my way. The feature attraction of the afternoon was a weight workout and a very long time on the treadmill.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Friday (St Hilary of Poitiers)

  • Usual devotions (Angelus, intercessions before the Blessed Sacrament) in the cathedral, whereupon I discovered that I had left my phone at home, so I headed back there, offering short form of Morning Prayer en route.
  • Quickly took care of a couple of bits of administrivia.
  • Scanned and otherwise processed the contents of my hard-copy inbox.
  • Met for the balance of the morning with the Archdeacon and the Treasurer to compare resources with opportunities and more toward preparing an amended budget to present to the February meeting of the Diocesan Council (which always amends the budget passed by Synod the previous fall anyway, so while what we were discussing is kind of not routine, it's also kind of routine).
  • Kept a 12:30 appointment to have an ultrasound scan of my thyroid done. (There were some nodules discovered about five years ago, so this was just to see whether they're still the same size--and, I found out later, they are ... so, reassuring.)
  • Given the freezing rain advisory that was to come into effect mid-afternoon, I headed home for the day. Lunched on leftovers.
  • Worked most of the rest of the afternoon on a long-term writing project (a series of short meditations on liturgical texts associated with Advent).
  • Evening Prayer at home. No freezing rain yet!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Thursday (St Aelred)

  • Customary Thursday morning weights and treadmill, with the treadmill portion extended once again to about 90 minutes. 
  • Left the house around 9:50. Morning Prayer (memorized short form) in the car on the way in. Brief devotions in the cathedral when I got there.
  • Clarified a couple of small administrative matters ... with the Administrator.
  • Spoke by phone with two of our priests--both over concerns that could be broadly described as "pastoral."
  • Took a first prayerful pass at the readings for Epiphany VII in preparation for preaching at St Thomas', Salem on February 19. Made some notes. Now it percolates in my heart and mind, under the guidance, one hopes. of the Holy Spirit.
  • Lunch from McD's, eaten at home.
  • Hand-wrote several notes of greeting to clergy and clergy spouses with February birthdays and anniversaries. I hope it's really true that "it's the thought that counts," because my handwriting is not going to win any awards for elegance of legibility.
  • Left on the early side, around 4:00, to attend to some personal business.
  • Evening Prayer at home.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017


  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Prepared to preside and preach at the midday Mass.
  • Attended to a sensitive and difficult pastoral/administrative matter, involving two phone conversations. Not my favorite thing, but it comes with the territory.
  • Did some deconstructive and reconstructive surgery on the text of a previously-delivered homily for Epiphany III in preparation for repurposing it for use at Trinity, Lincoln on January 22.
  • Sent an email invitation to one of our priests to deliver the homily at the annual Chrism Mass on April 8.
  • Celebrated and preached the midday cathedral Mass (ferial Wednesday after Epiphany I).
  • Drove out to my optometrist's office to have new lenses put into my glasses frame. I'm cautiously optimistic.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Most of my afternoon (what was left of it by this point) was given over to plotting sermon prep tasks from Ash Wednesday through Easter. As I've mentioned before, this is an inordinately time-consuming job, but I actually rather enjoy it.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Tuesday (William Laud)

  • Usual weekday AM routine. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Responded by email to four messages that arrived yesterday. Three were fairly easily and effectively dispatched. One required an uncommon amount of care the verbal finesse.
  • By the time I finished with those, it was time to leave for a 10:30 appointment with my primary care physician. This yielded a visit to the lab for a blood drawn and a chest X-ray.
  • By the time I emerged from the clinic, it was nearly noon, so I swung by KFC for the lunch, which I brought home to eat.
  • Attended to another piece of demanding--but important and, unfortunately, necessary--piece of verbal craftsmanship, having to do with a sensitive pastoral/administrative matter (which is a euphemism I use frequently, I realize, for things I really can't say anything about in detail).
  • Revised, refined, proofed, and printed a homily for this Sunday (Christ Church, Springfield).
  • Took another hard and long look at the major teaching piece on ministry that's been in the works for a couple of years. It's now up on the diocesan website and linked to on the diocesan Facebook page (According to the Gifts We Have Been Given).
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.