Saturday, January 24, 2015

Saturday

Retrieved Bishop Godfrey from his hotel and brought him to our home for a leisurely breakfast. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn more about his ministry in the Diocese of Peru, which has burgeoned under the last 17 years of his leadership and is now on the brink of qualifying to become an autonomous province of the Anglican Communion. Eventually we headed to the cathedral-office complex, where I showed him around and was able to explain our mown mission strategy. Then it was off to the Lincoln Museum, an obligatory element in the welcome Springfield residents give to out-of-town guests. It was my third time there, and I've never failed to be profoundly moved by the experience. After some down time in the late afternoon, we gathered back downtown with Fr Mark Evans and Sandy Moore, who represented the diocese on a visit to Peru in April 2013. We had a lovely dinner, and look forward to seeing them again tomorrow morning at Trinity, Lincoln.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Friday (Phillips Brooks)

  • Usual AM routine; MP in the cathedral.
  • Attended to some detritus from last night's cathedral Chapter meeting; trying hard to call their next Provost.
  • Met with the new cathedral music director, Nicole DelGiorno. I think they'll be in good hands, and I look forward to working with her.
  • Continued to attend to details of the upcoming Nashotah House trustees meeting.
  • Made some incremental progress in the task of rearticulating the nature of the ministry of deacons in the Diocese of Springfield, and launching an intentional effort to recruit more diaconal vocations.
  • Lunch at home. Leftovers.
  • Hand wrote my notes to clergy and spouses with nodal events in February.
  • Scanned, catalogued, and otherwise dealt with the small mountain of hard copy items that had accumulated in my physical inbox.
  • Purged my credenza of anything that didn't really need to be kept around.
  • Friday prayer: Lectio divina on tomorrow Daily Office OT passage from Isaiah 45.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • At 7pm, drove to SPI with Brenda to meet Bishop Bill Godfrey of our companion diocese of Peru, who is in for the weekend. We got him checked in at the Abraham Lincoln (now a Doubletree) downtown and then took him out to dinner.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Thursday (St Vincent of Saragossa)

  • Customary Thursday morning weights and treadmill.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral. 
  • Arranged a meeting with the new cathedral organist, who starts this Sunday. As St Paul's faces a pastoral hiatus, and I will myself be doing the liturgical heavy lifting for Holy Week, she and I will be working closely together.
  • Attended, mostly via email, to some emerging Nashotah House issues as we face into a special winter trustees meeting week after next.
  • Attended via email to a clergy deployment issue, and then a pastoral/administrative issue.
  • Cobbled together a rough draft of a homily for Ash Wednesday, using some pre-existing material, which I will delivered at the community Eucharist at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA.
  • Walked two blocks to Julia's Southern Kitchen for lunch with John Roth, my ELCA opposite number. Bishop Roth and I have a lot in common, and it was a good time of sharing. Being able to talk to someone who is, at least roughly, a peer is invaluable.
  • Edited and posted "alternative" lectionary-based Prayers of the People forms for the Sundays of Lent and Easter (Year B).
  • Took care of some more Nashotah detritus.
  • Brought my homily for Epiphany IV from rough notes to rough draft condition. (February 1 at Christ Church, Springfield).
  • Hard walk east on Lawrence to 5th, down to Scarritt, over to 2nd, and back up.
  • Finished and printed the last of my three meditations for the clergy pre-Lenten retreat.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Home for dinner, then back to meet at 7 with the cathedral chapter. We're making progress on their next pastoral transition.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Wednesday (St Agnes)

  • Usual AM routine: task planning at home; MP in cathedral.
  • Prepared for the midday Mass.
  • Took care of a bit of financial administration via email.
  • Spent some quality time with commentaries on the Gospel according to Mark in preparation to preach on the Second Sunday in Lent, at St Bartholomew's, Granite City. This is not always necessarily an extraordinarily rich experience, but it was today. Wish I had more time for personal scripture study just for its own sake, but I'm glad having to preach forces me to do it. (Early start on this one because of insane travel schedule in February.)
  • Took a vigorous walk (the only kind possible in cold weather) up around the capitol (opposite direction as yesterday).
  • Celebrated and preached the midday Mass, keeping the lesser feast of St Agnes, a twelve-year old martyr in Rome in the last general wave of persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire.
  • :Lunch from La Bamba, eaten at home.
  • Took a phone call from a priest who was responding to an email I had sent yesterday.
  • Tied up some administrative loose ends related to a visit to a DEPO parish (one of two I look after) next month.
  • Reached out by email to a potential videographer for the Lenten teaching series I'm giving at St Michael's, O'Fallon.
  • Drilled down on the second of two addresses I will deliver at Trinity School for Ministry at their Ash Wednesday quiet day next month. It is at the brink of completion.
  • Took another brisk walk, this time down to South Grand Avenue and back.
  • Worked some more on the liturgies for the clergy retreat.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Tuesday (St Fabian)

  • Substantial weekly task planning at home.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Conferred with the Archdeacon over an emerging matter of interest.
  • Three email responses: one to a search committee chair, one to a priest outside the diocese (permission to reprint something I wrote), one to the Dean-elect of Nashotah House.
  • Took a brisk walk down Second to South Grand, then back up on Spring.
  • Prepared and sent an email to the Nashotah House trustees with several issues concerning next months' special winter board meeting in Sarasota.
  • Lunch at home (leftovers).
  • Wrote an email message to one of our priests asking for a phone conversation.
  • Met with Fr Mark Evans, first to discuss my visit to his parish this Sunday, and secondly to discuss progress in his work as Finance Department Chair as we take steps to process Jim Donkins' impending retirement as Treasurer and financial officer.
  • Another hard walk: this one north on Second to the other end of the Capitol Building, then over to Spring and back down.
  • Slogged through some mundane but necessary details related to corporate worship at next month's clergy retreat.
  • Roughed out the last of the three addresses I will deliver at said retreat.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Epiphany II

Out the door (solo; Brenda had an another organ gig at the cathedral) at 7:15 in time to join the good people of Christ the King, Normal in their parish hall for breakfast. After a good and leisurely time visiting with them, I presided and preached at the regular 10:15 celebration of the Eucharist. I then stayed for their annual parish meeting. This is a Eucharistic Community that faces some daunting challenges, but they do so with an exemplary level of spiritual maturity and mission-focused commitment. Home around 2:30.

Sermon for Epiphany II

Christ the King, Normal--John 1:43-51, I Samuel 3:1-10

One of the forms of play that we all engaged in as children, is a guessing game. Something is a secret—usually the location of a hidden object or person. One or more of the players knows the answer to the secret and      one or more of the players try to guess the answer. Those who know the secret are allowed to assist those who don't by saying "You're getting warmer" if they're moving closer to the goal and "You're getting colder" if they're straying further away. With the help of these clues, the riddle is eventually solved, and the next round begins.

As I reflect on my day-to-day experience as an adult, I'm aware that I am profoundly influenced by variations on this essential children's guessing game. The clues—"you're getting warmer / you're getting colder"—are more subtle for adults. They make use of various code words and symbols. But the basic rules of the game are the same. Secrets, riddles, puzzles, cryptic clues, symbolic codes—these are all common tools that grownups use in relating to one another in the everyday world. The game is so ubiquitous that we're usually not even conscious of it; it's just the air we breathe.

So it really should not come as a surprise that we expect God to play by the same rules. We assume that he has scattered clues about himself throughout the universe that we inhabit—in the operation of nature, in the breathtaking order of mathematical principles, in the human capacity for love and sacrifice and honor and the appreciation of beauty, and in a host of other places. Our job is to be observant, to read these clues, and by dedicated effort to peel back the layers of the mystery of God's being. Once in a while, we may get an extraordinary report card from God evaluating our progress: "You're getting warmer—you're getting colder."

I realize, of course—at least I hope—that, in our minds, we know that this is a false conception of the way God relates to us. Unfortunately, though, it's often all too accurate a picture of the way we relate to God. And it's an attitude that can get us into a good deal of trouble. Some of you who are really veteran Episcopalians may remember a fellow named James Pike. James Pike was a successful young lawyer in Manhattan, a nominal Roman Catholic who experienced a spiritual awakening through the ministry of the Episcopal Church. He soon felt himself called to leave his career, go to seminary, and become a priest, which he did. James Pike rose through the ranks, as it were, very quickly. He was a bright, articulate, and personable evangelist, in the best and broadest sense of that term, for Christian faith and practice. In the late 1950s he was elected and consecrated Bishop of California. But Bishop Pike, it appears now, still saw himself as on a search, trying to solve a riddle. He was unable to rest in the fact that his search was over, that the God he was looking for had already found him. A few short years later, after scandalizing the church by very publicly denying just about every belief we hold, James Pike perished in the Judean wilderness as he searched for a way to contact the ghost of his dead son. Playing guessing games with God can have serious consequences indeed. We can end up losing forever the very thing we had been searching for.

I guess it's obvious by now that my point this morning is that it doesn't have to be this way! There is an alternative to going through life waiting for God to tell us, "You're getting warmer—you're getting colder." The wonderful Old Testament story of the call of the boy Samuel gets us back on the track, and Jesus's exchange with Nathanael brings us to our destination. Samuel's parents had apprenticed him to Eli, a priest at a local Israelite shrine, shortly after his birth. Samuel grew up, then, almost literally in the shadow of the altar, in the almost tangible presence of God. He knew nothing of searching for God. Quite the opposite: one night as he lay in bed trying to get to sleep, he experienced God searching for him. "Samuel . . . Samuel ...", the voice called to him. Only after Samuel ran to Eli three times did the old priest realize who it was that was calling the boy, and he told him to answer, "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening." Samuel did not seek and find God; God sought and found Samuel.

And isn't it, when we stop and think about it, better that way? Isn't it much more fun to be recruited, to be wooed and courted, than to answer a want ad and fill out an application? I've done both, and it's no mystery to me which one is preferable! And for the most part, that's the way God prefers to treat us. He took the initiative in creating us. He took the initiative in loving and redeeming us. And he takes the initiative in pursuing a relationship with each one of us. And the basis for all that initiative-taking is God's intimate knowledge of us. The One who seeks us out and finds us is the one to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid. When it comes to the basis of our relationship with him, God doesn't play guessing games, either as the secret keeper or the puzzle-solver. The basis for our knowledge of God is God's knowledge of us.

This is made clear for us in St John's account of Jesus's encounter with a fellow named Nathanael. First Jesus calls Philip to follow him, and Philip does so. Then Philip goes and finds Nathanael—a friend of his, presumably—and says, "We've found the Messiah, his name is Jesus, come and meet him!" So Nathanael tags along, somewhat skeptically, until he actually meets Jesus. Jesus greets him in a casual, almost playful, manner that would suggest he already knew him. Nathanael is mildly perplexed and says, in effect, "Excuse me, have we met?" Then Jesus drops the bomb. "Well, Nathanael, yes and no: I saw you when you were underneath the fig tree." Now the fig tree in question was not one that was in the vicinity as they had this conversation. But it was one, apparently, under which Nathanael had had some significant spiritual experience. We have no clue what it was, but it was deeply important to him. And this man Jesus, whom he had never met before, knew all about it. Don't we melt like putty in warm hands when someone gently and sincerely shows even an interest in, much less knowledge of, our most profound joys and sorrows? Nathanael had one very private tender spot in his heart, and Jesus knew right where it was an touched it. He touched it mercifully and lovingly, and Nathanael knew immediately that Philip had indeed found the Messiah. When we experience that touch, when we know that we are known at the deepest level of our being, we receive the confidence and the trust to respond as a disciple, to become a follower of the One who knows us so well. For Samuel the response was, "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening." For Nathanael, the response of discipleship was, "Rabbi, you are the son of God, you are the king of Israel!"  

My friends, Jesus sees us under our "fig trees." He sees us in the special places, those special people, those events both joyful and sorrowful, in the books and the songs—wherever it is that we bare our souls and lay ourselves open without reservation, wherever it is that we simply quit playing guessing games. If we stop our desperate search for clues that we're getting warmer or getting colder, we can enjoy the knowledge that the God who made us and loves us is always getting "warmer", and if we just sit still long enough, he'll find us!

Amen.