Thursday, July 21, 2011

Thursday


  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • As the Archdeacon has now returned from his study time in Oxford, and as my own vacation begins tomorrow, we had a substantial amount to talk about, mostly by way of "hand off."
  • Hand-wrote a couple of dozen notes to clergy and spouses having August birthdays and anniversaries.
  • Picked up three chicken tacos from La Bamba ("burritos as big as your head") and brought them home to eat.
  • Had a detailed speaker phone conversation (with the Archdeacon participating) with Fred Vallowe, Mission Warden at St James' in McLeansboro. Stay tuned for news of some rather happy developments of the win-win variety.
  • Wrote an Ad Clerum (letter to the clergy) covering sundry issues. It should go out by email tomorrow.
  • Evening Prayer in the office.
My vacation begins tomorrow. Brenda and I will be spending some time out west, visiting with members of both our families, and taking in some of the natural wonders of Washington's Olympic Peninsula. I will be back in office on Friday, August 12. Until then, this blog is now going dark!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Wednesday


  • Morning Prayer in the office (still too hot in the cathedral).
  • Finally got hold of Wippell's U.S. office (after several attempts over several days) to take care of some haberdashery needs.
  • Had a scheduled phone conversation with my peer mentor, Bishop Bill Love of Albany.
  • Looked over the readings for my visit to St Laurence, Effingham on August 28; made notes on a homiletical direction for that occasion.
  • Took care of some minor administrative chores that will make it possible for me to be on vacation in a timely manner.
  • Home at lunchtime.
  • Reviewed the academic transcript of a potential ordinand who has some theological training; composed a memo on the subject to some officially interested parties.
  • More minor administrative chores/decisions.
  • Out the door at 3pm to go home, grab Brenda, and head south for a dinner engagement in the Belleville area.
  • Then to St George's Church for a meeting with clergy and laity from the Darrow Deanery. We discussed issues of mission strategy. Home around 11.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tuesday (St Macrina)


  • Tuesday task planning and email processing at home.
  • Stopped by St John's Hospital on my way downtown for a quick followup to some tests my conscientious new doctor had me subjected to yesterday. 
  • Morning Prayer in the office.
  • Processed a week's worth of accumulated paper on my credenza. Handled sundry administrative mini-decisions.
  • Left for a late-morning appointment with my new eye doctor. Left with a new prescription, and an order for some new glasses.
  • Quick drive-through lunch at ... you guessed it ... Taco Gringo. Feeling wild and crazy, I had chicken enchiladas instead of beef.
  • Met with an individual over a sensitive pastoral/administrative matter. Then composed a letter as a follow up to the meeting.
  • Stole a few minutes to take care of rental car arrangement for the west coast portion of our upcoming vacation.
  • Reviewed some materials sent to me by the person who will be facilitating our strategic planning retreat in September.
  • Dashed off a condolence note to a former parishioner whose husband has just died.
  • Put some meat on the bones of the homily I will deliver at Redeemer, Cairo and St James', Marion the weekend following my vacation (13-14 August).
  • Evening Prayer in the office. Got home on the early side in order to be available for the last hour of preparation prior to the arrival of dinner company. (Grilled gourmet burgers. It was so hot on the patio I almost didn't need to light the coals.)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sermon for Proper 11 (V Pentecost)

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Wisdom 12:13, 16-19
Psalm 86:11-17

St Mary's, Robinson
St John’s, Albion                                                                                                      
St John the Baptist, Mount Carmel

One of my favorite movies is a rather obscure film from the 1990s called Breaking the Waves. The main character is a young woman names Bess McNeil, who lives in a small village on the east coast of Scotland. Now Bess, along with the rest of the village, is a devout Presbyterian.  Bess makes the mistake of falling in love with a Scandinavian oil rig worker, and as a result of that relationship she ends up engaging in some pretty bizarre behavior which was, by any standard, unwise, and by most religious standards, quite sinful. Toward the end of the movie, Bess dies. I’ll never forget the scene at her funeral, with the Presbyterian pastor, along with the elders of the village, gathered around her grave. As Bess’s coffin lay in the bottom of the grave, the pastor solemnly declared, “Bess McNeil, you are a sinner, and for your sins you are condemned to Hell!” And that was that.
Well, I know a few Presbyterians, so I know not to make generalizations about Presbyterians based on that scene. But the stern brand of Puritanism that produced such an attitude is certainly part of our collective unconscious as Americans; it’s part of our cultural DNA. And it’s an image of God in our heads that is not very appealing—a God who is harsh, who is out to trip us up if he can, a God from whom there is always a trick question, and who takes delight in condemning and inflicting misery.
Most of us are probably not tempted to buy into this way of thinking explicitly. But I’m pretty sure a lot of us often accept softer, less dramatic versions of it. We think that God’s disposition towards us is one of constant disappointment and that’s He’s just itching for an excuse to make something bad happen to us.
This God of perpetual anger is represented by some of the characters in the parable that Jesus tells about a farmer, a grain grower, whose field hands come to him and say, “Look, boss, we’ve got a problem. You’d better talk to your seed supplier, because those seeds that we planted a couple of weeks ago are starting to come up, and they’re not all what you thought they were. There are some weeds in there.” And the farmer says, “Do tell. So what do you want to do about it?” And the field hands say, “Let’s go out there and yank out those weeds right now. Let’s pull them all out by the roots, before they get any bigger.” Haven’t you known people who seem just a little too eager to pull weeds, a little too eager to name the names of those who are certainly on their way to Hell? Haven’t you known people who think that God is being most God-like when He’s condemning somebody?
But, of course, not everybody thinks that way. There are those who believe not so much in God the Father as God the Grandfather. This is a “kinder and gentler” God—a God who is never judgmental and who would never really punish anybody. We might get a friendly tug on the shirtsleeve when we’ve been really naughty, but actual punishment? Actual consequences for wrong-doing? No way. And Hell? Certainly a God who is Himself the very essence of love would never really send anyone there, nor would a God who is Himself the very essence of love resort to fear-mongering as a means of getting us to toe the line. Rather, God appeals to our higher instincts, to the good that resides in every person’s heart.

This “kinder and gentler” God is particularly appealing to us these days. Within my own lifetime in our society, the notion of objective morality—the idea that some things are right and other things are wrong, just in and of themselves—the notion of objective morality has withered and practically died. Among the majority of the current generation of young adults, and among a great many middle-aged and older adults, it’s considered a laughable concept. Morality, for them, is flexible. If some particular moral map seems to lead an individual or a group in the direction they want to be going, good for them. But it’s good only because it works, not because it’s just good.
In terms of today’s parable, we have to invent a place in the story for the advocates of this viewpoint, because, in the story as Matthew tells it, they don’t exist. So, using our imagination, we might conjecture that some of the farm hands come to the grower and say, “Look, we’ve got a minority report here. Some of our co-workers, we realize, are telling you that there are weeds coming up among the grain. But we’re not so sure. We think it’s just a different sort of grain, but no better and no worse than what you thought you were planting. We don’t see a problem. We should just treat them both equally and let them grow.”
So, one group says, “Pull the weeds out now, before it’s too late!” Another group says, “Weeds? We don’t see any weeds.” The first group says, “Our God is a God of judgment and righteous wrath. He will strike down those who do not walk in His ways.” The second group says, “God is love, and gives life and joy and freedom to all His creatures. We should just live and let live.” Well, as they used to say on the old TV show To Tell the Truth—will the real God please stand up?

So, what do the scriptures and the Christian tradition tells us about God that might help straighten out this mess?  First, they tell us that God is indeed loving and patient and forbearing. The Psalmist prays, “…You, O Lord, are gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger, and full of kindness and truth.” And in the Book of Wisdom we read, “Although you are sovereign in strength, you judge with mildness, and with great forbearance you govern us.” God’s first word to us is “I love you” and God’s last word to us is “I love you.” But as the verse from Wisdom hints, there is a context for that love—not limits; God’s love is infinite, without limits—but a context, an environment in which God’s patience and forbearance lives, and that environment, that context, is judgment. God’s judgment is real. In today’s parable, what does the landowner ultimately elect to do in response to the problem of weeds growing right alongside his good grain? Does he rush to judgment and have them immediately pulled up? No. He’s patient and forbearing. He doesn’t want to put even one stalk of good grain at risk of accidentally falling victim to the zeal of the weed pullers. He says, “Let them all grow up together. Then, when they’re mature, it will be easy to distinguish between the weeds and the wheat. Then we can sort everything out and throw the weeds into the fire.”
What this parable is telling us is that, yes, God is patient and forbearing and loving, but there are weeds in the garden. Sin is real. It is possible to fall short of God’s expectations. It is possible to displease God. It is possible to disobey and rebel against God. And God will not infinitely tolerate sin. He’s provided the means for dealing with it; that we know. But those means need to be applied.
This presents us, of course, with yet another paradoxical tension that we need to maintain—the tension between God’s judgment and God’s love. Both are real. We can’t decide with the dour Presbyterians at poor Bess McNeil’s grave that God is only judgment. But neither can we decide with the majority in our culture that God is only love. God is both judgment and love. God’s judgment is the package in which God’s love is wrapped, and God’s love is the package in which God’s judgment is wrapped. God’s love is for all people, even the weeds among the wheat. God’s judgment is for all people, even the wheat among the weeds. Jesus, in this parable, invites us to endorse and agree with God’s own attitude. And if our first impulse is to think of ourselves as wheat and some of our neighbors as weeds, then we’ve got some work to do. We are all some of both. The good news today is that a loving God doesn’t grind us into mulch, even with all the weeds in our garden. He lets the weeds and the wheat grow together. In the end, he’ll pull out the weeds Himself, finishing His new creation, making us pure and spotless, enjoying His presence forever. Amen.

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 11)


  • On the road with Brenda yesterday by 1pm en route to some of the far corners of the diocese. We checked into our hotel in Olney just past 4, then hunted down St Alban's Church, which, alas, has been closed for a number of years. Ideally, of course, we would have mission work going at least in all our county seat towns, but the shrinking and graying of rural American makes that a stiff challenge.
  • It was then about 45 minutes east and north again to Robinson and St Mary's Church, where we were greeted by priest-in-chage Fr Gene Tucker, and the one to whom he delegates local duties at St Mary's, Deacon Ann Tofani. We had a congregation numbering in the low 20s, which is pretty good for that church, including one whom I received into the communion of the Episcopal Church. Robinson is the birthplace of the Heath Bar, and the Heaths were Episcopalians. We left town well-supplied with that particular confection!
  • This morning we were up bright and early and heading south down IL131 to Albion for an 8:30 liturgy. St John's is the oldest Episcopal church building in Illinois, having been erected in 1842. Deacon Bill Howard does a fine job looking after this congregation, and presented five adults for confirmation. 
  • After a brief time of informal visiting with the people of St John's (about 25 in church--again, a good showing), we were rolling again, this time east on IL15 to Mt Carmel, right across from Indiana on the Wabash River, and the Church of St John the Baptist. This time, the congregation number nearly 30, and we enjoyed the warm hospitality of Fr Brant Hazlett and his flock (including three generations of his own family). Post-liturgical nourishment was at a place called Hogg Heaven. You can guess what was served ... and it was very good.
  • Pointed the wheels of the Bishopmobile back in a northwesterly direction around 2pm, and rolled back into the friendly confines of the Leland Grove Palace (aka our house) 170 miles later, at 5:20, not having touched an inch of the Interstate system. We've got lots of miles of nice interstates in this diocese, but sometimes you just can't get anywhere on them.
  • On the road with Brenda yesterday by 1pm en route to some of the far corners of the diocese. We checked into our hotel in Olney just past 4, then hunted down St Alban's Church, which, alas, has been closed for a number of years. Ideally, of course, we would have mission work going at least in all our county seat towns, but the shrinking and graying of rural American makes that a stiff challenge.
  • It was then about 45 minutes east and north again to Robinson and St Mary's Church, where we were greeted by priest-in-chage Fr Gene Tucker, and the one to whom he delegates local duties at St Mary's, Deacon Ann Tofani. We had a congregation numbering in the low 20s, which is pretty good for that church, including one whom I received into the communion of the Episcopal Church. Robinson is the birthplace of the Heath Bar, and the Heaths were Episcopalians. We left town well-supplied with that particular confection!
  • This morning we were up bright and early and heading south down IL131 to Albion for an 8:30 liturgy. St John's is the oldest Episcopal church building in Illinois, having been erected in 1842. Deacon Bill Howard does a fine job looking after this congregation, and presented five adults for confirmation. 
  • After a brief time of informal visiting with the people of St John's (about 25 in church--again, a good showing), we were rolling again, this time east on IL15 to Mt Carmel, right across from Indiana on the Wabash River, and the Church of St John the Baptist. This time, the congregation number nearly 30, and we enjoyed the warm hospitality of Fr Brant Hazlett and his flock (including three generations of his own family). Post-liturgical nourishment was at a place called Hogg Heaven. You can guess what was served ... and it was very good.
  • Pointed the wheels of the Bishopmobile back in a northwesterly direction around 2pm, and rolled back into the friendly confines of the Leland Grove Palace (aka our house) 170 miles later, at 5:20, not having touched an inch of the Interstate system. We've got lots of miles of nice interstates in this diocese, but sometimes you just can't get anywhere on them.
With the confirmands, an acolyte, and Deacon Bill Howard at St John's.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Friday

  • Usual routine at home; Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Processed a batch of emails.
  • Had a scheduled phone conversation with Fr Victor Sheldon, a canonically resident priest of the diocese who is on active duty as a Navy chaplain. now stateside after two somewhat harrowing years in Landstuhl, Germany ministering to those wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. Fr Sheldon and I go way back; we served together in the Diocese of Louisiana in the early '90s, and he then succeeded me as Vicar of St Margaret's, Baton Rouge.
  • Took care of some deployment-related tasks on behalf of one of our congregations in search mode.
  • Met with Fr Jeff Kozuzcek, priest-in-charge at St Thomas' in Salem, and then went to lunch with him at the Holy Land Diner, two blocks from the diocesan office.
  • Got back to work on a closer reading and evaluation of the contest essays I am helping judge.
  • Met with one of the finalists, and his wife, for the position of rector of Trinity, Lincoln.
  • Conceived and hatched a homily for my visit to St Mark's, West Frankfort on August 21. Why such an early start? Because, when you back out my vacation, it's only three weeks away. (I am "on holiday" beginning a week from today, and will be back in the office on August 12.)
  • One of the ways I pray regularly is to sit down at a keyboard and play through hymns. I had the cathedral and its organ all to myself for that purpose late in the afternoon.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • In the evening, I churned out a significant post on my "real" blog. Check it out.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Thursday

This was a spiritual and professional self-care day, with a little productivity around the edges. I drove to LaPorte, Indiana to check in with my friend and mentor, Father Tony Clavier (whom some of you may remember as the preacher at my consecration; please do continue to hold him in your prayers, as he shortly faces a cancer therapy with a high likelihood for a very positive outcome, but with with a long and harrowing recovery regimen). We enjoyed a nice lunch at a local restaurant, after which he was kind enough to hear my confession (it's enough of a challenge for a priest to find a confessor, and even more so for a bishop), and to talk with me through some issues of mission strategy for the diocese. Fr Tony used to do the work I'm doing now for a very long time in one of the para-Anglican jurisdictions before being received as a priest into the Episcopal Church several years ago. He is a treasure trove of experience and wisdom. It was a lot of driving for three hours of "being there," but well worth it, I think. In the meantime, I had a couple of substantive phone conversations while en route, one administrative, one pastoral.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Wednesday


  • Pre-breakfast trip to the doctor's office to get blood drawn for labwork. Happy to notice that it's not as insufferably hot as it's been.
  • Paper-reading, tea-drinking, muffin-eating, and task planning at home.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Discussed the status of our electronic backup systems in the office, and our general IT infrastructure needs, with the Diocesan Administrator. We agreed that these are areas that need attention and help from someone more techno-geeky than ourselves (and Sue and I are both moderately geeky).
  • Did a first reading of five more contest essays. This is Round 2 of the judging process. There was some very interesting material in this batch.
  • Lunch from Taco Gringo, eaten at home.
  • Updated the Office of Transition Ministries (OTM, formerly CDO--Clergy Deployment Office) online portfolio for the interim position at the Chapel of St John the Divine in Champaign with some fresh information provided by their vestry. (This is something the Archdeacon would normally do, but since he's away on study leave, it's good for me to be cross-trained.)
  • Reviewed, approved, and processed a request from a priest to solemnize the marriage of a divorced person.
  • It took four phone calls and an email, but I think we've got the logistical details of my scheduled August 13 visit to Redeemer, Cairo worked out. When there isn't a resident priest-in-charge, and when it's a cooperative venture with the ELCA congregation in the same town, and when the ELCA synod is "between bishops," things can get a little complicated.Whew.
  • Conceived and hatched the sermon I will deliver on said visit to Cairo, as well as the next morning at St James', Marion.
  • Dashed off two more emails--one administrative and one pastoral--and left one more voice mail (administrative).
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tuesday


  • Task planning at home--always a big deal on Tuesday, which is the beginning of my work week, and I like to organize my tasks by what needs to get done, or would be nice to get done, "this week."
  • Morning Prayer in the office.
  • Took care of a couple of emails to lay leaders in congregations that are currently in transition. There were some very specific questions to be addressed in both.
  • Spent the rest of the morning scanning documents and then tossing them, and in relation to a couple of them, dashing off an email or picking up the phone. Gave in to the urge to clean off my credenza as well, all of which helped create a full waste basket.
  • Lunch at home, then off for my first visit to a primary care physician since moving to Springfield. This was a baseline physical and "get acquainted" appointment. Of course, now I have a bunch of tests and labwork to look forward to.
  • Got back to the office to several phone calls that needed to be returned, all of which concerned matters of substance, so they consumed a good bit of time. 
  • Fleshed out and put the finishing touches on a sermon that I will get to deliver three times this weekend: Saturday night in Robinson, Sunday morning in Albion and Mount Carmel.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost


  • Indulged in a kind and gentle Saturday morning, with a long brisk walk (4+ miles) on a beautiful day in Washington Park, and some straightening around the house.
  • Processed a batch of emails.
  • Packed for an overnight and left around three for Alton, accompanied this time not only by Brenda but by Brenda's dog, Lucy. (This was an experiement born out of slightly unforeseen necessity.)
  • Met Fr David Boase at the Holiday Inn and got settled in our room (with Lucy in her portable kennel). 
  • The banquet in honor of the 175th anniversary of St Paul's Church began at 6:30. Met lots of people, shook lots of hands, posed for lots of pictures. Heard an exemplary after-dinner speech by Bishop Roger White, sometime rector of Alton, and Bishop of Milwaukee during the years I was a seminarian at Nashotah in the late 1980s. One of us, at least, made the other one feel old.
  • This morning we enjoyed a nice breakfast at the hotel with Bishop and Mrs White, then packed up, checked out, and headed down to St Paul's, where there was a good-size congregation for the single 10:30am liturgy. I celebrated, preached, and blessed some altar linens. (If you must know, Lucy visited the nursery during the service, in her kennel, of course. She was reasonably well-behaved and was actually something of a hit among those who met her.)
  • After coffee hour, we headed toward the tiny town of Hamel, right where Illinois 140 intersects I-55. There I met with Mark Waight, a member of St Michael's, O'Fallon, who will be facilitating a September working retreat for the Department of General Mission Strategy. We strategized today in order to better strategize some more in September. Meanwhile, Brenda and Lucy found a nearby park with shade and a water supply and kept themselves amused. (They are members of a mutual admiration society.)
  • Got home a little after four and chilled out. Tried to go see Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, but, due to a broken projector, the 7:20 showing of that film was thrown under the bus for the sake of Bad Teachers. Go figure. Since Brenda has a rule against ever watching a movie with Cameron Diaz in it, we went back home, made our own popcorn, and watched The International on Netflix.

Sermon for the 175th Anniversary of St Paul's, Alton

Note: In view of the 175th anniversary festivities, the readings for the Anniversary of the Dedication of a Church were used, rather than those of Proper 10. The Episcopal Parish of Alton includes both St Paul's Church and Trinity Chapel. Today there was a single combined liturgy at St Paul's.

It is a high honor and a joyful privilege for me to be standing here before you this morning on such an important milestone in the history of the Episcopal Parish of Alton. This date has been on my calendar since the days immediately following my election as Bishop of Springfield last September, nearly ten months ago! Of course, during the “walkabout” event in August, held right over here in the parish hall, while one of the other candidates was being interrogated, I snuck out of the holding cell and looked around the church. I stood right where I’m standing now, in this pulpit, and imagined the possibility that I might stand here again, and … here I am! And one of the really precious moments of the election process took place right at this altar. The morning after that final walkabout event, Father Boase celebrated the Eucharist for the three final candidates and our wives just before we went our separate ways, a wonderfully generous act of hospitality and pastoral care on his part, for which all six of us, I’m sure, will always remain grateful.

The scripture readings that we have just heard are those appointed for the Anniversary of the Dedication of a Church—the very occasion, more or less, that we are celebrating this weekend. They are rich and powerful readings, and in the few minutes that we have together here, I would not be able to do justice to the task of unpacking them in very much detail, as much as I would like to. So let me just skim off some of the cream from each one, and stir it all together in a sauce pan, and apply some heat to it, and see what we can make of the homiletical custard that results!

The selection from I Kings is part of King Solomon’s prayer on the occasion of the dedication of the temple that he had built in Jerusalem. This was the first time that the Ark of the Covenant, the sign of God’s presence among his chosen people of Israel, had ever had a permanent home. For hundreds of years it had lived in tents and temporary shrines. By any standard, Solomon’s temple was magnificent, glorious to a degree that the Psalmist, perhaps Solomon’s father David, could only have imagined when he wrote in Psalm 26, “Lord, I love your house, and the place where your glory abides.”

The gospel reading from Matthew 21 takes place on the same piece of Jerusalem real estate, and also in the temple, but not Solomon’s temple, which had been destroyed several hundred years before Christ. The incident that has become known as the “cleansing of the temple” took place in the outer courts of a structure built fairly recently by King Herod, one wall of which, the famous “wailing wall”—still stands. I’ve been there; perhaps some of you have as well. Bottom line, what’s going on here is that Jesus is taking “ownership” of the temple. He is, in fact, saying to the temple, “Nice job, most of the time. But now you’re fired. I’ll take it from here.”

The passage from St Peter’s first epistle picks up on the same theme of “building,” but spiritualizes it. He calls the new Christians to whom he is writing “living stones, and then shifts into poetic overdrive with language like “chosen race”, “royal priesthood”, and “God’s own people.”

Now, when we take these pieces of holy scripture and set them next to each other—or, to use my earlier image, stir them together into a custard—what do they tell us about the attitudes we might appropriately bring to the celebration of 175 years of the Episcopal Church in Alton?

The image I want to play with here is that of sign. A sign, of course, points to something else; it has a meaning beyond itself. If you’re driving your car, and you see a red octagon, your first thought is probably not, “My, what a lovely shade of red. I wonder what the color is called.” And it’s probably not, “Wow, I just love octagons; what an attractive sign!” No, without thinking, your foot hits the brake pedal, and you come to something resembling a stop. You’ve encountered a sign, and the sign has pointed beyond itself to another level of meaning.

Churches, whether we’re speaking of church buildings or the communities that worship in them, are signs. St Paul’s Church is a sign. Trinity Chapel is a sign. They are certainly potent signs to most or all of you. If you have worshiped within these walls for years and years, as many of you have, then this church is a sign of a complex web of relationships and experiences and memories. That web is powered up and activated every time you walk through the door. You may not always be consciously aware that this is going on, but it is. God our Father, ministering through Jesus his Son and in the power of his Holy Spirit has been and continues to be present in that web. This is a heavily prayed-in place, a holy place! For this reason, church buildings are not matters of indifference. Their sign value is enormous, and this is a large part of what we are marking and celebrating.

But our church buildings are not only signs to those who worship in them; they are also signs to those who don’t worship in them. In any given week, hundreds of people drive or walk by this church. Very few of them will ever come through the door. Many of them probably take in this pile of stones subliminally, and couldn’t even tell you the name of the church, let alone anything about it. Have you ever thought about this? What sort of sign is St Paul’s to them? Perhaps they are members of another church in the area, and are glad that there is a community of fellow Christians here. Perhaps they are members of another church of the sort that would easily find one of the many available reasons to be suspicious of and skeptical about the Episcopal Church! Perhaps they have formed a negative opinion of Christianity as a result of an unfortunate experience they have had with a church or even just a particular Christian, and they automatically lump St Paul’s in with their negative stereotype. Or perhaps they have no opinion at all, because they have no particular knowledge of either St Paul’s or the Episcopal Church or Christianity in general. Isn’t Jesus the guy who comes out of his cave on Easter morning and if he sees his shadow there’ll be six more weeks of winter? To them, St Paul’s is a blank slate. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to write on that slate?

More easily said than done, to be sure. And this is where we make the move from considering a building to considering the community that worships in the building—the “living stones” who meet God in this “house of prayer.” As we give thanks for God’s faithfulness to this community over the last 175 years, we do well to get a fresh grip on our vocation, our calling, for the next 175 years. I’m going to be bold enough to presume to tell you what that vocation is: It’s to be a sign. The calling of the Episcopal Parish of Alton is to be a sign to all of Alton—and, I would dare say, all of Madison County—a sign of what life in the Kingdom of God looks like. The world around us values self-centeredness and greed, but the Episcopal Parish of Alton values generosity and service. That’s a potent sign. People in the world around us define themselves by race and ethnicity, culture and class, consumption and status, but people in the Episcopal Parish of Alton define themselves by their baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, knowing that they are part of a chosen race, a royal priesthood, God’s own people. That’s a potent sign. The world around us is in the habit of assigning blame and fixing judgment, but the Episcopal Parish of Alton is in the habit of extending forgiveness and grace. That’s a potent sign. The world around us is overcome by depression and fear, but the Episcopal Parish of Alton is energized by joy and hope. That’s a potent sign.

I see that you have a sign in front of your building. That’s wonderful. I wouldn’t object if you wanted to have a neon sign! But what I want for you more than anything is for St Paul’s—both the building and the congregation—not simply to have a sign, but to be a sign. That is your calling. That is your vocation on this joyous anniversary. Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Friday


  • Early morning power walk, task planning at home; MP in the cathedral.
  • Met with Norm Taylor in connection with his role as chair of the Department of World Mission.
  • Met with the Diocesan Administrator to look at the hotel reservations I will need on most weekends through September.
  • Made some reference check phone calls regarding a candidate for one of our vacant clergy positions.
  • Spoke by phone for about 35 minutes with the person who was the subject of the reference checks, then sent out a couple of emails in light of the phone interview.
  • Lunch at Subway, eaten in my car while listening to the radio.
  • Processed a batch of emails. Dismayed at the time it took me to do this.
  • Went online and bought two copies of a book, to be delivered to a couple of people in the diocese who will, I hope, find it interesting and useful.
  • Called and scheduled an appointment for an eye examination. My glasses aren't working for me anymore when I'm using a computer.
  • Closed the door of my office and engaged in an Ignatian-style discursive meditation on a gospel passage (the one appointed for Evening Prayer--from Mark, the preaching of John the Baptist and the baptism of Christ).
  • Evening Prayer in the office.
  • OK ... at odd points during the day, I did play a little with the new Google+ app, a potential challenge to Facebook, to which I managed to score an "invite" [sic--I would never use a verb as a noun!] yesterday.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Thursday


  • Usual morning routine; MP in the cathedral.
  • In view of the Archdeacon's impending vacation (beginning this afternoon) ... actually, a continuing education time at Oxford, no less ... there was a good bit to talk about. Now I'm minding the store all by myself with only the Diocesan Administrator to restrain me!
  • Took care of some chores related to clergy deployment.
  • Took a phone call from the bishop-elect of the ELCA Synod that more-or-less mirrors the geographical territory of the Diocese of Springfield. I look forward to participating in his installation this October.
  • Put flesh on the bones of my sermon for July 16/17--Saturday night at St Mary's, Robinson and Sunday morning at St John's, Albion and St John the Baptist, Mount Carmel. 
  • Lunch from Taco Gringo, eaten at home.
  • Did a second, closer, reading of the five contest essays I first looked at a couple of days ago, and submitted my rankings.
  • Reviewed the paperwork connected to the application of St John's, Albion to be included in the Register of Historic Places. This is probably the oldest Episcopal church building in Illinois, dating back to 1842, and exemplifyiing the Prairie Gothic archtectural style.
  • Reviewed a memo from the former canon missioner for the Hale Deanery, Father Swan (now priest-in-charge of St John's, Decatur), regarding administrative chores that need regular attention in the congregations of that area.
  • Read Evening Prayer in the office, as it was pouring down rain and it seemed prudent to avoid even walking across the parking lot to the cathedral.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Wednesday


  • Early morning walk (abbreviated--2.5 miles), task planning over tea and muffin.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Dealth with various administrative minutia, conversation with the Archdeacon over the clerical vacancies we are trying to deal with. In what seemed like the twinkling of an eye it was time to head north for my PM appointments.
  • Lunch with Fr Desmond Francis, rector of Christ the King in Normal. This was part of my "face-time-with-clergy-in-charge-of-congregations project, even though the 90-day time frame I once had in mind for completing this has come and gone. 
  • Met with a layperson at a coffee shop in Normal over a pastoral care issue.
  • Drove to the Lake Bloomington area to be the "host" at the annual "Bishop's BBQ" at the camping program we have long shared with the Diocese of Quincy (now in its ACNA incarnation). It's no longer a BBQ, thanks to Colonel Sanders, but the kids seem to enjoy the fried chicken a great deal. I enjoyed being able to connect with both campers and staff. It's a terrific program that obviously touches lives across generations.
  • Home around 8:30.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Tuesday


  • Said goodbye to Jordan and Angela as they headed home to Chicago about the same time I left for Diocesan House.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Scanned and round-filed the usual week's worth of accumulated paper on my desk (actually, my credenza). This has now become a routine Tuesday chore.
  • Met with the Department of Finance to discussed the proposed 2012 diocesan budget. We agreed on a draft that will be presented to Council in August, which has the opportunity to make changes before sending it to Synod for final approval in October.
  • Met with Deacon Dr Tom Langford in his role as Chair of the Commission on Ministry and Dean of the Springfield School for Ministry.
  • Lunch at home. At while watching the runup to the announcement of the verdict in the Casey Anthony trial. Lingered in my car for about five minutes after returning to the office in order to hear it read.
  • First reading of five theological/historical essays that were submitted to a contest for which I have agreed to serve as a judge. Closer reading and evaluation/ranking yet to come.
  • Battened down the hatches on this Sunday's homily at St Paul's, Alton.
  • Evening Prayer in the office. (Church too hot.)

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Sunday (Pentecost III, Proper 9)

Having learned that the clergy of the diocese seem not to want to see the Bishop on a holiday weekend (for reasons that I can well imagine and empathize with!), I found myself with an open day on my calendar and "invited myself" to the cathedral church (which is, after all, technically my home base). Preached at 8am and preached/presided at 10:30.

We've been enjoying a visit from our son Jordan and his wife Angela since yesterday afternoon. Wonderful smoked brisket for dinner. That boy can cook.

Sermon for Proper 9 (Pentecost III)

Matthew 11:16-19. 25-30
St Paul's Cathedral

They say that a preacher’s job is to comfort the afflicted … and afflict the comfortable. Well, I’ve got plenty of material to do both with this morning, right here in these eight verses from the eleventh chapter of Matthew’s gospel.

But I’m feeling a little rebellious today, so I’m not going to do either one! I’m not going to try and comfort you in this sermon—though, of course, if it’s comfort you need, your clergy in this cathedral, and your bishop, stand ready to provide that comfort. And I’m not going to try to particularly afflict you either, though I do hope that you find what I have to say a little challenging, at least, if not provocative. What I want to try to do is enable you to see familiar sights and familiar events a little differently, and, having seen, to be inspired to action. What I want to do, in fact, is to invite you to put yourselves in my position as the preacher in this interaction. Only instead of a polite congregation seated in pews, your hearers are ordinary people out in the world getting on with their busy lives. Your job is to “preach” to them, both in word and in deed—probably mostly in deed—and in preaching to them, what you want to do is…you guessed it…comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

Some of you know that there was an event held up in Minnesota the week before last, the triennial Episcopal Youth Event, or EYE. We had an adult leader and two youth—including a young lady from this parish—represent the Diocese of Springfield there, along with a cameo appearance by the Bishop. Imagine 900 teenagers taking over a college campus, getting together a couple of times a day in a rock concert atmosphere to sing and worship and listen to speakers, and at other times break out into smaller groups for various activities. It was a high-energy experience!  

The theme of this year’s EYE was loud and clear: It’s all about mission. There were some very powerful and moving presentations on the subject, and, as a result, a bunch of young people who are inspired and motivated to pursue mission. And mission is at the core of today’s gospel reading from Matthew. Just a few verses earlier, Jesus had sent his apostles out on their first mission trip, and the material we heard today is part of the conversation in which Jesus helps them unpack their experience as missionaries.

I’m aware that, under the leadership of Dean Brodie, there’s an ongoing conversation in this parish community about mission: What is the mission of the Cathedral Church of St Paul? What imprint is this historic congregation called to leave on the community of Springfield in the second decade of the twenty-first century? And you can take my word for it that there’s also an ongoing conversation at a diocesan level on the same subject: What is our mission in central and southern Illinois at this particular moment in the history of Christianity and the history of this part of our state? One on a mission is one who is sent. What, precisely, are we “sent” to accomplish? Trust me on this: I eat, drink, sleep, and dream that question 24-7!

Well, for starters, thinking back to the idea of comforting the afflicted, we certainly have words of comfort to offer. Jesus himself gives us those words: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

God knows, and we know, that there is no shortage of people in the world around us who are “weary” and “heavy laden.” People are weary from being laden with anxiety—anxiety about finances, anxiety about their relationships with family members and others whom they love. People are weary from being laden with grief over losses that have already occurred and losses they know will occur and losses they fear might occur. We are particularly mindful these days of those who are suffering loss due to floods and fires in various parts of our country. People are weary from being laden with chronic poverty, from being imprisoned by addiction, from being abused and exploited by those in positions of power. There is no shortage of weariness or heavy-laden-ness.

And we have good news for such weary and heavy-laden men and women and children—good news that we can tell, and good news that we can do. Through the organized ministry of the church, and through the faithful actions of individual Christians, we offer words of comfort and deeds of comfort to those who are weighed down by the burdens of the human condition. Through us, they hear Jesus saying to them, “I will give you rest.”

But before being swept away by missionary zeal, we do well to remind ourselves that our words and deeds of liberation and reconciliation will not always get us welcomed with open arms. When Allied troops invaded France in 1994 to drive out the Germans, they were welcomed as liberators. When Coalition forces invaded Iraq in 2003 to topple Sadaam Hussein’s government, they generally got a rather chillier response. When Jesus sent his apostles on their first mission trip, he warned them that they would encounter rejection, and to just shake off the dust and move on.

Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. Jesus gives voice to their frustration, and his own, here: “To what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places and calling to their playmates, ‘We piped to you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” In other words, John the Baptist was all eccentric and spiritual, so people thought he was just plain weird. Jesus was more ordinary and liked to mix it up socially, so he was accused of being a party animal. Either way, people had an excuse for rejecting the gospel, for turning their back on the good news. As missionaries who follow in their steps, we should also expect to be misunderstood, misinterpreted, falsely accused, and rejected. There’s no way around it.

When, as Episcopalians, we think about the missional challenges we face, we are tempted to worry about “competition” from other churches. In particular, we worry about the “big box” churches, churches with big screens, theater seats, Starbuck’s in the lobby, and rock bands on the platform, packing in hordes of people every Sunday. There are a number of good reasons why we should not think of other churches as our competition, but I’m particularly struck by these words from evangelical pastor John Ortberg on the subject:

Who is your competition?
It's not other churches. Every church is our partner and ally. Thank God for Lutherans and Episcopalians and Methodists and … Congregationalists and Non-denominationalists. …our competition is hell. Hell is at work wherever the will of God is defied.
 
Every time a little child is left unloved, unwanted, uneducated, unnoticed. Every time a marriage ends. Every time racial differences divide a street or a city or a church. Every time money gets worshipped or hoarded. Every time a lie gets told. Every time generations get separated. Every time a workplace becomes de-humanizing. When families get broken up. When virtue gets torn down. When sinful habits create a lives of shame or a culture of shamelessness. When faith gets undermined and hope gets lost and people get trashed. That's when hell is prevailing. 
It is not acceptable to Jesus that hell prevail. Your job is not to meet a budget, run a program, fill a building, or maintain the status quo. Your job is to put hell out of business. 
That's what it means for your church to do well.
I would only add this: Our mission is not to defeat hell on our own by solving all these problems, tempting as it may be to think we can. Rather, our mission is twofold: First, it is to announce to the world not what we are doing about all the world’s ills, but what God is doing to redeem and restore the fabric of creation through the death and resurrection of Jesus. We are primarily newscasters, and only secondarily newsmakers. Second—and this is the hard one—our mission is to model in our own life together what the restored Kingdom of God looks like, to say to the world, “Hey, if you want to know what’s coming when God is finished with this project of his, look at us.” Of course, that’s pretty audacious, because it means we then have to deliver on what we’ve promised. Not so easy, I realize, but always our vocation, always our calling.

My friends, will you walk with me in that glorious mission? Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Friday


  • Out the door at 6:45 for an abbreviated walk (taking advantage of the relative cool of the morning with a predicted high of 95 for the day).
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Debriefed with the Archdeacon and made a few notes about the previous evening's meeting with the vestry of St John's Chapel. Did a little email networking in the effort to scrounge up an interim priest for them who could be in place a couple of months from now.
  • Drove up to the Secretary of State's Vehicle Services location just north of downtown in order to (finally) get Brenda's car registered in Illinois. Alas, these things always require more than one trip, for one reason or another, so instead of leaving with license plate, I left with some papers for her to sign in lieu of her actually having t show up there with me.
  • Got to work on completing this Sunday's sermon (St Paul's Cathedral).
  • Lunch at home.
  • Processed some emails.
  • Met with Youth Department Chair Kathy Moore to debreif about EYE and strategize for future youth events.
  • Back to Vehicle Services. This time the mission got accomplished.
  • Resumed work on Sunday's sermon; got it done.
  • Prayed the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary and Evening Prayer in my office (it was no doubt a little warm in the church).