Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Wednesday

Morning Prayer and Mass with the Nashotah community ... breakfast in the refectory ... conferred informally with various trustees as the morning progressed and committee meetings got underway ... sat in for a bit with the Audit Committee, then with the Institutional Vitality Committee ... lunch off campus (because it was grilled cheese in the refectory, which does not comport with the strict diet I'm four weeks into ... convened the full board of trustees at 1:30 and adjourned at 4:20 ... Evensong in the chapel ... cocktails and "heavy hors d'oeuvres in the deanery.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Tuesday

Up, out, and headed north a little past 8am. Arrived on campus at Nashotah House around 1:30. Checked in at the Dean's office, conversed with some fellow trustees, sat in on a retreat address (the students are in silence while we're here, which is a little awkward/weird) from Bishop Michael Marshall (one of my favorites), got settled in my lodging (third floor of Webb Hall, aka "the Fort"), walked to the chapel for Evensong, waked to the deanery for cocktails with Dean Salmon, three other trustees, and the Academic Dean. Then, out to dinner in nearby Hartland with Canon Koehler and his wife Terry, and Fr Dow Sanderson (trustee, and rector of Holy Communion, Charleston, SC).

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Lord's Day (XIX Pentecost)

Preached and celebrated at both regular Masses at Emmanuel--8:00 and 10:30. Met for about 30 minutes with the confirmands between services--two youth and four adults. I made sure they knew it wasn't too late to back out, since publicly promising to follow Jesus as Savior and Lord is kind of a life-changing deal, but none of them did. Emmanuel always has outstanding music and well-executed liturgy; it's a tonic to my soul. After the liturgy we were treated to a Mexican lunch by uber-deacon Chris Hopkins and her husband Mike. Got home around 3:30, and after trying and failing to complete my usual walking route, I crashed hard in a pre-dinner nap. Guess I needed it.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sermon for Proper 24

Emmanuel, Champaign--Matthew 22:15-22, Isaiah 45:1-7

Ever since the beginning of June, we have been methodically exploring the gospel according to St Matthew in our Sunday liturgies. We’ve heard something of our Lord’s teaching and preaching, using both parables and direct discourse; his relationship with his disciples, and stories of miraculous healing. As the Season after Pentecost draws toward a close in about five weeks’ time, Matthew’s narrative takes us into the final weeks of Jesus’ earthly ministry, and he builds tension in the plot of his story by turning up the fire under the relationship between Jesus and the Jewish religious establishment—primarily the Pharisees. Matthew paints these folks as Jesus’ adversaries. They engage in a series of attempts to entrap him—to get him to contradict himself, either verbally or in his behavior, or to say something that would offend one of the stakeholders in a very tense and unstable political environment—and thereby discredit his ministry, and send him packing back off to Galilee to live the rest of his life in shameful obscurity. They come up with what they believe is the ideal ambush. One of the elements in the volatile political atmosphere was a poll tax imposed by the Roman occupation on the local Jewish population. The fact that this tax was used to finance an oppressive regime was bad enough, but—to add insult to injury—the Romans required that it be paid in Roman coins, which bore the image of Caesar, and thereby forced Jews to violate one of the most sacred precepts of their law—the prohibition against graven images. So the Pharisees, in a dubious alliance with the Herodians, a minority faction that supported the puppet government of King Herod—put this question to Jesus: Should we or should we not be paying the poll tax? So, if Jesus answers Yes, he will offend the majority of the population and lose his base of support. If he answers No, he will be in immediate trouble with the Roman occupiers, who might just take it upon themselves to do him in completely, which neither the Pharisees nor the Herodians would have a particular problem with. They figured they had him on the horns of an impossible dilemma

Now, this situation in first century Palestine raises questions that have contemporary relevance. It speaks to the relationship between our civil obligations—which include, among other things, paying our taxes—and our religious obligations as Christians—at least as far as we’re concerned here and now, although the same issues would be raised no matter what one’s religious commitment is, because religion, by definition, is what the physicists call a “theory of everything”; that is, when push comes to shove, religion trumps even our civil obligations. A case in point for those who are late middle-aged or older: In 1960, when John Kennedy ran for President, we had never in our history had a Roman Catholic in that office, and a great many people were worried whether, because of the strong hierarchical structure of that church, the Vatican might be calling the shots in the Oval Office. We pretty much got over those fears, so much so that, in 2004, when another Irish-American Roman Catholic won the Democratic nomination, it was the opposite question that bothered many church leaders: Would a “President Kerry” be faithful to Catholic moral teaching, or would he leave his religious convictions on the White House lawn?

But it’s not just our political leaders that face these questions. If we actually stop and think, they concern each of us, not only when we go into a voting booth, but whenever we write a check to the IRS, or the Illinois Department of Revenue, or look at a pay stub and see how much has been deducted for taxes. What happens when we conscientiously disagree with our political leaders, and are forced to pay taxes that support policies we consider immoral? What about Christians who live in countries with oppressive or authoritarian regimes? What about those whose taxes are used to support corruption or vice or even genocide?

If we look to the rest of scripture to shed light on these questions, what we see can often seem contradictory. The thirteenth chapter of Romans takes a very pro-government position, and tells us that government officials are put where they are by God, and that we owe them our loyalty and obedience. On the other hand, the Old Testament is full of stories about unrighteous governments being overthrown at God’s command and with God’s help. At the time of Jesus, the Maccabean Revolt—a successful insurrection of Jews against their Greek overlords—was no longer in living memory, but was fresh enough history to be on everyone’s mind.

So Jesus’ adversaries figure they have him between the proverbial rock and a hard place. They figure he’s cooked, no matter what he says—it’s just a matter of whether he’s going to be fried or baked. So how does Jesus respond? He responds by refusing to accept the premise of the question, he refuses to impale himself on the proposed dilemma. Jesus notes Caesar’s image on the coin with which the tax is paid, and reminds his hearers that, as much as they may despise the Roman occupation, and as much as they may rightfully resent the fact that there’s a graven image on Roman coins, the fact is that they enjoy tangible benefit from the civil and economic structure that Rome provides, and so they do indeed owe something to Caesar: "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's…” Jesus says. Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.

But we must note well the implication in the phrase “the things that are Caesar’s.” The implication is that some things are not Caesar’s. Caesar’s domain is contingent, not absolute. Caesar’s domain is temporal, not eternal. Which sets us up for the “other shoe” to drop: “…and to God the things that are God's." Render to God the things that are God’s. God’s domain is universal. God’s domain is eternal. There is nothing that is not God’s. Even what looks like it belongs to Caesar ultimately belongs to God. Today’s reading from Isaiah talks about the Persian King Cyrus—a really nasty dude who brutally conquered every nation he set his eye on—God, speaking through Isaiah, refers to Cyrus as his “anointed” because God was going to accomplish God’s own purposes through the agency of this unwitting Persian king. Now, we need to understand the significance of the term “anointed.” In the Hebrew, it is nothing other than “Messiah”, which, in turn, is the basis for the Greek word “Christ”! This is tantamount to God saying to Americans during the Cold War: The Soviet Union is accomplishing my purposes without desiring or knowing it; the Chairman of the Communist Party is my Chosen One, my Messiah, my Christ.” No less shocking were Isaiah’s words about Cyrus to his original Jewish readers.

God can use whatever vessels he chooses, even corrupt and wicked human governments. It is our obligation to render to the human government under which we live whatever may be legitimately due to them, even, on occasion, our very lives. But God alone commands our ultimate loyalty. Human governments—democratic or otherwise—deserve our respect and our submission, but only to the point where such loyalty and submission conflict with the demands of loyalty to God. Of course, this is often a difficult line to draw, and while we might hope that the readings today would offer us some help in making that distinction, unfortunately, they don’t. And what makes things worse is that Christians in good faith can draw the line in different places, and that can create some tension within the Body of Christ. So we need to be patient and forbearing of one another, as some among us see the current administration and its policies as righteous and good, while others among us see that administration and those policies as wicked and unjust. Remember, both the ideal King David and the tyrannical conqueror Cyrus are referred to in scripture as God’s “anointed.” Yet, we all—whatever our political persuasion might be—need to be ever vigilant for the place where loyalty to “Caesar” conflicts with our more fundamental loyalty to God. Because the only thing worse than failing to render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s, is to inadvertently render to Caesar that which is God’s alone. 

Amen.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

St Luke

Up and out and headed ahead in time for a 10:30am arrival at Emmanuel, Champaign, where we proceeded to duly celebrate the new ministry of their rector, the Revd Beth Maynard. After the reception, I attended the regular October meeting of Emmanuel's vestry, and took the opportunity to develop with them what a Canon for Mission Development might accomplish, both both Emmanuel and for the whole diocese. Brenda and I then checked into our hotel, enjoyed a little down time, and then met Beth and her husband, Mark Dirksen, for dinner in downtown Champaign's burgeoning restaurant scene.

Institution of the Revd Beth Maynard--Emmanuel, Champaign

St Luke's Day--Ecclesiasticus 38: 1-4, 6-10, 12-13; II Timothy 4:5-13 

It’s a joy to be in Champaign, and at Emmanuel, for the weekend! Some of you I’ll see just today, but others of you I’ll see today and tomorrow, when I’m here for my regular annual visitation.

I’m doubly glad that, as the calendar chips fell, we’re celebrating the new ministry of Beth Maynard at Emmanuel on St Luke’s Day. By long and strong tradition, Luke is the author of a two-volume work of fairly-sophisticated literature—at least any beginning student of New Testament Greek would tell you it’s sophisticated—a two-volume work, consisting of the gospel that bears his name, occurring third in the customary numerical order of the gospels, and the Act of the Apostles, which begins with Our Lord’s Ascension, and goes on to chronicle the day of Pentecost, the earliest history of the Church, and the missionary endeavors of St Paul. Again, by tradition, Luke was a physician, whatever that might have meant 2000 years ago.

So it’s not surprising at all to find, both in Luke’s gospel and in the book of Acts, a strong thread of interest in the ministry of healing. In Luke’s gospel, healing emerges as the preeminent focal point of Jesus’ ministry—healing motivated by and accompanied by deep empathy and compassion. Jesus seems to have been emotionally invested in what he was doing. In Acts, healings are equally abundant, especially so in the early chapters, and always, of course, in the name of Jesus.

Luke having been a physician explains the choice of the reading from Ecclesiasticus 38 on his feast day. Mother Beth is not a physician, but she is an agent of the Great Physician, and so is here to exercise a ministry of ongoing healing. Healing is called for when a body is broken, or isn’t functioning the way it’s supposed to. The problem that calls for healing can be something quite physical and discoverable, which is why we have physicians like Luke and his professional descendants. But it can also be a dysfunction of the spirit, something that a physician can’t find or help with. Beth is trained and formed to be a physician of the soul. Now, along the way, she might become your friend, or she might not. You might turn out to like her, or you might now; she might end up liking you, or she might not. But all that’s beside the point, because at the core of her reason for being the rector of Emmanuel is to care for your soul, to point you to Jesus, to redirect you when you lose your focus. She’s not responsible for getting you into heaven, but she is responsible for pointing out the way. So, dear people of Emmanuel, let her do her job. Let her be the physician of your souls, and don’t distract her from that with all sorts of busy work. Work with her to help her keep the main thing the main thing.

We also hear from St Paul this morning, by way of his second letter to Timothy. Now, it’s pretty anachronistic to speak of things like “ordination” and “bishops” when we’re still looking at the mid-to-late first century, but if we were to follow the evolutionary trajectory of those terms backwards in time, we might be able to say that Paul had ordained Timothy to be the first bishop of the church of the city of Ephesus. In any case, Timothy had pastoral oversight responsibility, so, when we read this epistle, we’re listening in on some advice from a senior pastor to a junior pastor. Paul tells Timothy, “Always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.” I am confident that Mother Beth will “do the work of an evangelist” among you as she exercises her ministry in this place. In season and out of season, she will indefatigably proclaim, in the words of the Victorian warhorse hymn, “tidings of Jesus,” good news of “redemption and release.”

Now, let’s look back to Ecclesiasticus for a bit, as the author lauds the medical profession: “There may come a time when recovery lies in the hands of physicians, for they too pray to the Lord that he grant them success in diagnosis and healing, for the sake of preserving life.” This is not easy work, I have to tell you, although it probably comes as no surprise. In doing this work of caring for souls, in doing this work of proclaiming good news, borrowing language now from II Timothy as Paul speaks of himself, Beth will also be “poured out as a libation.” That’s the ominous fate she has assumed in her ordination. Pastoral ministry is a life in which one expects to be expended, poured out onto the ground. One of the more difficult and heartbreaking ways this experience of being poured out happens is that the pastor gets betrayed by someone thought to be a close friend. Paul laments to Timothy about a fellow named Demas, who, “in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Cresens has gone to Galatia,” and “Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me.” And that’s how this passage made it into the lectionary for the day, with the mention of Luke alone sticking with Paul, probably imprisoned in Rome near the end of his days. Over time, I expect Beth will probably develop her list of “deserters” such as Paul mentions here, only saying instead of “only Luke is with me,” perhaps, “only Mark is with me!”

But, for you own sake, if not for hers, do not let Beth pour herself out too much too quickly. For she herself is also in need of ongoing healing, and one place she needs to find that healing grace is from those among whom she ministers. Never forget, although I think I hardly need to remind this particular parish, that you have an investment in your rector’s spiritual health. If she ever gets to the point when she’s beginning to run on Empty, then she’s got nothing to give you. So, hold her accountable about taking her day off, taking her vacation, and seeing to it that her well is regularly replenished, so she can be the pastor and leader you deserve. And most of all, help make it possible for her to say, echoing the words of Paul to Timothy, “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful in my ministry!”

Emmanuel Memorial Church, rector and people together, is called to be an icon, a vibrant sign, of healing and wholeness. Caring for one another, under the leadership of your priest and pastor—and, I might add, in communion with your bishop and the rest of your family in the one church of the Diocese of Springfield—you are today embracing your vocation to be a herald and a witness. As a herald, your constant message is, “The brokenness of the world is not the last word. God has the last word, and that word is health, wholeness, and life.” As a witness, your job is to model what you proclaim, to be a community that, in Christ your head, embraces health, wholeness, and life, for the sake of the world for whom Jesus died.

Blessed Luke, pray for us … and praised be Jesus Christ.

Amen.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Friday (St Ignatius of Antioch)

  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Got to work writing a post-synod reflection for the website--and eventually for our print product, the Springfield Current. This took me right up to noon, but the work was interrupted twice for important and substantive conversations, one with the Archdeacon and one with the Interim Provost. The usual vague subject category applies: "administrative and pastoral issue" (where one is found, the other is usually not far away).
  • Lunch at home--microwaved Indian food.
  • Reviewed and approved a request for a marital judgment.
  • Scanned and otherwise processed hardcopy from my physical inbox.
  • Took a walk four blocks south, two blocks west, then north and east to complete the circuit.
  • Dealt with a couple of long-outstanding emails that were never urgent and only marginally important, but out of regard for the sender they needed to have their 15 minutes of fame.
  • Friday prayer: Lectio divina on today's daily office reading from Ecclesiasticus. There was a lot there about discipline, patience, prudence, and keeping one's mouth shut until the right moment. I took an inventory of my habits in those areas.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.