Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Wednesday (St Aidan)


  • "Short form" walk (not quite three miles).
  • Morning Prayer at home.
  • Task planning and email responding in the office.
  • Took an incoming phone call from the Rector's Warden at one of our parishes in transition ... regarding, of course, issues related to their being in transition.
  • Picked up where I left off yesterday planning the Synod liturgy. I found myself curiously energized by this project, as I miss the regular crafting of liturgy that is part of a parish priest's routine.
  • Take-out tacos for lunch (from La Bamba "Burritos as Big as Your Head!").
  • Had an impromptu, but good and long, visit with Dean Brodie next door in the cathedral offices. We had not seen each other since before out respective vacations and there was a good bit to catch up on.
  • Responded to a request from the publishers of the Episcopal Church Annual (the "red book") for a pic and bio to go in their "new bishops" section.
  • Did the nuts-and-bolts drafting work on my homily for 11 September, when I will be at St Stephen's, Harrisburg.
  • Took an incoming phone call from the chair of the search committee of another of our parishes in transition regarding ... you guessed it ... issues related to their being in transition. (Both of these places are on the cusp, I believe, of some stability in clergy leadership--one on an interim basis, the other as a permanent call.)
  • Did preliminary spade work on the first of the homilies I will deliver as part of an All Saints preaching mission I have been invited to give at the Church of the Redeemer in Sarasota, Florida about two months from now.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tuesday (Blessed Charles Grafton, Bishop of Fond du Lac)



  • Task planning at home, MP in the cathedral.
  • Took care of a batch of emails, a couple of which required fairly thoughtful and detailed responses, debriefed with the Archdeacon on various matters, and did my usual Tuesday scanning chores.
  • Lunch from Taco Gringo, eaten at home.
  • Checked in by phone with Fr Tucker regarding some details of my visit to Mount Vernon this weekend.
  • Had an hour-long scheduled phone conversation with a dear old friend, a discipline we have agreed on as a measure of mutual spiritual accountability, given an added dimension of poignancy since our paths have taken us in divergent ecclesial directions.
  • Completed and refined my homily for this coming Sunday, at Trinity, Mount Vernon.
  • Wrote some emails by way of preparing for the Mass at October's annual Synod of the diocese (known as "convention" in most dioceses). Began to get my thoughts in order as to the details of that liturgy.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Woke up in Effingham in time to arrive at St Laurence's Church to preside and preach at the liturgy of the day, at 8am. Joined by all four of the remaining members of the congregation, plus Fr Jim Fackler, their regular supply priest, and his wife. Had a lively and serious discussion with all of them after Mass. I came away much better informed about the town, the history of the Episcopal Church's presence there, and the prospects for the future. Two of those present are distant relatives of the legendary 19th century bishop Jackson Kemper (they still carry the family name), one of the true heroes of the Episcopal Church's expansion into the Midwest.

Once again, because of the early time of the service, I got back home at a reasonable hour, in time for the sort of nap that truly makes Sunday afternoon special, followed by a nice long and leisurely walk in Washington Park with Brenda.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Saturday

Leisurely Saturday morning at home, marking 39 years of marriage to the light of my life, Brenda. Good long walk on one of the many trails in Springfield built on abandoned rail beds. Sad that there are no more trains on them, but glad to have access. Puttered around the house before heading off to Effingham in the early evening (flying solo this time due to pet care issues). Effingham has risen in prominence since becoming the nexus of two major Interstate highways. Unfortunately, neither one goes anywhere near Springfield! So it was a hundred scenic miles on seco dary roads. Glad to hear from daughter in NYC that she's ready to ride out the storm.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Friday


  • Task planning at home, Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Today was our quarterly Diocesan Council meeting, of which I am the President. Though it officially begins with Mass at 10am, people trickle in for an hour or so beforehand, and if the Bishop is visible, the Bishop participates in welcoming the tricklers. It's my joy!
  • The liturgy was ably celebrated by Fr Dave Halt, with Fr Gene Stormer "bringing the message" (as we used to say in my long prior ecclesial incarnation).
  • The meeting--shall I say it?--was more substantive than the last three (all that I have attended), as it involved presentation, discussion, and approval of the 2012 operating budget, which will now be presented to Synod in October.
  • Met briefly in my office with Fr Dale Coleman (rector of St George's, Belleville), and then set out on foot for lunch with him and with Chuck Evans, a Council member also from St George's. (It was nearly 1:30 before we left for lunch.)
  • Responded to some emails and took a couple of phone calls. (If you know anything about introverts, it's dawning on you that I wasn't much good for productive work at this point.)
  • Prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Thursday (St Louis, King of France)


  • Walking the street by 6:45, my usual weekday/workday 2.5ish mile route.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Sundry administrative minutia.
  • Conceived and significantly gestated a sermon for September 11, when I will be at St Stephen's, Harrisburg, 
  • Lunch at home.
  • Met with Fr John Henry, Rector of St Paul's, Carlinville and Vicar of St Peter's, Chesterfield. 
  • Conferred with the Administrator at some length about the medical insurance program for diocesan clergy. It's mostly good news: Rate increases are generally low to modest.
  • Hand-wrote my personal greetings to clergy and spouses celebrating birthdays and anniversaries in September.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • In the evening, I delivered myself of a theological reflection from my vacation on my "regular" blog. If you're interested, look here.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

St Bartholomew (Wednesday)


  • Usual routine, Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Wrote a couple of letters of recommendation for a couple of diocesan clergy who are pursuing post-retirement or continuing education opportunities.
  • Began work on the sermons and talks I have agreed to give as part of an All Saints preaching mission in a Florida parish this fall. 
  • Put substantial meat on the bones of the homily I will give on September 4 at Trinity, Mt Vernon.
  • Met with Fr Dave Halt (rector of St Matthew's, Bloomington) regarding some D.Min. work he is doing.
  • Lunch at home.
  • Completed an application for a conference for new bishops sponsored and hosted by Canterbury Cathedral that I hope to attend this coming January.
  • Tied up some loose ends in the personal organization project I worked on last week, resulting in a much tidier "My Documents" folder on my laptop!
  • Traded several emails with individuals who are seeking to get on my calendar, or I on theirs. I continue to be astonished at the time this sort of mundane activity can consume.
  • Wrote a letter to my ELCA counterpart inviting him to come and greet our annual Synod in Belleville in October.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tuesday


  • Morning Prayer at home, then off to a doctor's appointment; got into the office sometime after 10am.
  • Processed several pending emails and organized my tasks for the rest of the week.
  • Conferred with the Archdeacon on some clergy deployment and personnel matters.
  • Spoke by phone with the Bishop of Missouri and invited him to bring a word of greeting to our annual synod in October (we'll be meeting just across the river from him, in Belleville).
  • Began the usual Tuesday chore of scanning accumulated "snail mail" documents.
  • Lunch at home.
  • Continued the document scanning task.
  • Refined my homily for this Sunday (I'll be at St Laurence in Effingham),
  • Sat down with the Archdeacon and the Administrator to discuss the agenda for Synod. We're slightly changing the pattern of recent years (Eucharist on Friday, no Evensong), which raises all sorts of unanticipated questions.
  • Continued on my own with some broad brush planning of the Synod liturgy and my homily.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral. 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sermon for Proper 16

Matthew 16:13-20
Romans 12:1-8


St Mark’s, West Frankfort                                                                                                                                   

In January of 2009 I had the privilege of being part of a tour of the Holy Land. One of the places we went to was Caesarea Philippi, to location of the narrative from Matthew’s gospel that we just heard read. It’s a beautiful area—wooded, mountainous, in the area now known as the Golan Heights, where Israel and Syria and Lebanon all come together. There’s an ancient Roman temple there, a temple to the God Pan, set into the rocky side of a mountain—you can still walk among the ruins—and at the time when Jesus and his disciples were there, the temple was in all of its glory.

So, try and imagine that scene. Picture Jesus turning his back, both literally and symbolically, to the Temple of Pan and posing his question: “Who do you say that I am?” The implied subtext of his question, given the setting, is, “Who or what are you willing to turn your back on in order to follow me?”

Now ask yourself this: If Jesus were to walk visibly in our world, where would he position himself?

Would he stand with his back to the local bank, which invites us to define ourselves by our material wealth, and say, “Will you follow me and walk away from all the things that you think you possess but which, in fact, possess you?”
Would he stand at the mall, with his back to the main entrance, and in front of the retailers who invite us to define ourselves by the status we get from whoever designed our clothes, by what brand names and logos appear on our shoes or our T-shirts, and say, “Will you follow me, and find your peace in me, rather than in what others think of you?”

Would Jesus stand with his back to the school or college campus, which tempts us to define ourselves by our educational achievement, and say, “Will you follow me, and find your self-esteem in my esteem for you, rather than in the diplomas and credentials you can hang on your wall?”

Would he stand in front of the Capitol Building in Washington, which tempts us to define ourselves by our American citizenship, and say, “Will you follow me, and discover that your true citizenship is in the Kingdom of God, and that your true brothers and sisters are those who share your baptism, not your nationality?”


Would Jesus stand in front of each of our homes, which we think of as our castles, and which express and define our identity, and say, “Will you follow me, and see that your true home is a place you’ve never yet even seen?”

Peter gives the right answer, of course: “You are the Christ”—the Messiah, God’s anointed one—“the Son of the living God.” But it’s the Apostle Paul, writing some decades later to the Christians in the city of Rome, who tells us explicitly how to live out our confession of faith in Christ:
I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 
In other words, following Jesus, being a Christian, is not merely we do with our brains, reciting the creed and really meaning it, not crossing our fingers. And it’s not merely something we do with our hearts either—feeling all warm and loving toward him and wanting to listen to Christian music on the radio all day. No, being a disciple of Jesus also means doing things with our bodies—behaving in certain ways and not others, saying certain things and not others, intentionally cultivating certain good habits and unlearning certain bad ones.


And why? Listen to St Paul as he continues:
Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I bid every one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith which God has assigned him.
You see, it’s all about transformation—being ourselves transformed, transformed from the attitudes and values of this world—false attitudes and false values that tempt us to look for all the right things in all the wrong places—into reflections of the holiness—the wholeness—of God revealed in the face of Jesus. This transformation begins with the renewal of our minds, Paul tells us, and works its way through our hearts and into our wills and finally expresses itself in our actions. Jesus stands with his back turned to the false gods and false attitudes of that age and invites us to engage the process of transformation by turning our backs to the false gods and false attitudes of this age. We begin right here, right now, by presenting our bodies at this altar, where we offer a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is our spiritual worship.


Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

X Pentecost (Proper 16)

Checked out of our hotel in Marion in time to find a WalMart and purchase an item for an emergency haberdashery adaption (the secret is mine), and arrive at St Mark's in West Frankfort in time for their 9am Eucharist. Presided, preached, and shared good fellowship with about 35 souls in a church hand-built by English coal miner immigrants in the 1930s. We enjoyed it immensely.

With the relatively early Mass time, we made it home at an eminently decent hour--around 2:30. Then the down time began.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Saturday (St Bernard)

Leisurely morning ... long walk ... on the road south and east around 12:30. Stopped by the BalloonFest in Centralia, but didn't get to actually see any balloons. Bad timing. Then on to a joyful and delicious dinner with the people of St Mark's, West Frankfort in their parish hall. Fajitas! Nice time visiting with them. Looking forward to Mass in the morning.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Friday


  • Task planning at home, Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Processed another batch of emails that have come in over the last couple of days. Some of this was complex, and sucked a lot up more time than I anticipated.
  • Lunch at home after driving through ... wait for it ... Taco Gringo. (I can tell people actually read this diary blog because I get asked about Taco Gringo!) Got back to the office a little late because I was seduced by the Cubs-Cardinals (or Cardinals-Cubs if you prefer) game on TV. Stayed to watch the first inning. I was glad about the eventual outcome, but grateful I didn't watch the process of getting there. It would have given me an upset stomach!
  • Major progress on conceiving, hatching, and growing a sermon for my visit to Trinity, Mount Vernon on Labor Day weekend.
  • Building on the "sharpen the saw" theme from yesterday, I took some time to re-examine and revise my personal Rule of Life and personal Mission and Vision statement. These documents were created years ago, and have served me well, but they were in need of some updating and recasting.
  • Did a lectio divina on passage from I Kings appointed for Morning Prayer tomorrow.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Thursday (Wm. Porcher DuBose)


  • Task planning at home, Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Took care of some administrative minutia.
  • Sent a fairly detailed email to the rector of a parish out of the diocese where I have been invited to give a preaching mission this fall, trying to solidify some of the particulars.
  • Met with a retired priest of the diocese in my office.
  • Tweaked and refined my sermon for this Sunday (St Mark's, West Frankfort).
  • Made a pastoral check-in phone call to a priest of the diocese who has recently been hospitalized.
  • Responded to an email request from a national advocacy group to add my name to a petition to Congress regarding some proposed legislation. Here is what I said: "Since I was first ordained in 1989, I have had a policy against using my position as a religious leader to advocate specific positions on public policy. I don't even allow myself to have political bumper stickers on my car or signs in my yard, even though I like to think of myself as an informed citizen and a conscientious voter. As a leader, I understand my job to be to help those committed to my charge to let their consciences be formed by the values of the gospel, as enunciated in scripture and the church's teaching tradition. But, on most tangible questions of public policy, Christians of good will and an informed conscience can legitimately disagree, and it is my experience that more harm than good is usually done when church leaders stray into political advocacy. For this reason, I will, with respect, decline to have my name added to your list."
  • Lunch at home--leftover chicken fajita tacos. Yum!
  • Took care of the last of the handwritten correspondence it seems meet and right to acknowledge from (believe it or not) the time following my election eleven months ago! All of that that's going to get done is now done.
  • One of Stephen Covey's "7 Habits of Highly Effective People" is something he calls "sharpening the saw"--that is, maintaining the tools that organize and support one's life. I spent that last couple of hours of my day in the office in that endeavor, performing "scheduled maintenance" on the software that sorts and tags notes, files, and documents of various sorts. (It's called Evernote, and I highly recommend it.)
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Wednesday


  • Sneakers on the asphalt at 6:40am for a 2.8 mile brisk walk on a beautiful morning. So nice for the heat to have abated.
  • Morning Prayer and task planning at home.
  • Phone conversation with a priest/friend in another diocese regarding potential deployment and some "larger church" issues.
  • Carefully reviewed a draft of proposed changes to diocesan canons designed to bring them into conformity with the national canons on clergy discipline (Title IV). This is a complicated and vexed subject.
  • Engaged several details of the planning process for October's regular diocesan Synod. I have a very detail-oriented Administrator who relentlessly makes this "forest" guy look at "trees"!
  • After a substantial amount of soul-searching over the past month or so, I signed the canonical form withholding my consent to the consecration of the bishop-elect of Washington (D.C.). This was not a casual decision; given my recent history in the consent process, my default is always Yes. But Dr Budde, in her parish ministry, both permits and advocates offering Holy Communion to persons who have not been baptized. This is an explicit violation of canon law, and is completely incoherent theologically.
  • Fleshed out the bare outline of my sermon for August 28, when I will be at St Laurence, Effingham.
  • Began work on my article for the September issue of the Current.
  • Lunch appointment with Fr Dick Swan, Priest-in-Charge of St John's, Decatur.
  • Continued work on my Current article. Sent it off to the editor.
  • Looked at what will need to be done in advance of a delegation from the Diocese of Springfield attending the triennial Synod of Province V, to be held in Chicago in April.
  • Created several projects related to my own personal preparation for the regular annual Synod of the diocese in October.
  • Left at 4:30 with the Archdeacon for points south. After dinner at a picturesque Route 66-themed restaurant in Litchfield, we arrived at St Thomas', Glen Carbon in time for a 7pm meeting with members of that congregation and the one to which it has long been yoked, St Bartholomew's, Granite City. Given that the current supply priest arrangement is ending in November, we discussed various possibilities for long-term pastoral leadership in those places. It was a productive time, I think. Got home just before 10:30.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tuesday


  • Task planning and Morning Prayer at home.
  • Debriefed with the Archdeacon on some recent developments.
  • Processed several items in my email inbox.
  • Discussed an emerging administrative/financial/pastoral issue (yes, it was all three) with the Archdeacon and Treasurer in person, and one other individual by phone.
  • Walked down to the main branch of the Illinois National Bank to sign some documents in the presence of a notary relative to the sale of some property adjacent to one of our churches. (Logged about 3500 steps on my new pedometer doing so--toward a recommended daily total of 10,000.)
  • Began to process yet another pile of snail mail that had arrived since last Friday.
  • Drove down to Subway to pick up a sandwich for lunch and bring it back to the office to eat.
  • Continued my processing-scanning project.
  • Spoke by phone with a priest of the diocese over sundry matters.
  • Responded in writing to a request from a priest from outside the diocese to preside at a wedding within the bounds of the diocese.
  • Gave my consent for the bishop-elect of Nebraska to be consecrated and for the Bishop of Atlanta to resign.
  • Put meat on the bones of my sermon for this Sunday at St Mark's, West Frankfort.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Pentecost IX (Proper 15)


  • The morning had a gentle beginning--a welcome development, since my first obligation at St James' in Marion was a 10am meeting with the Bishop's Committee. So we took our time getting ready and checking out of the hotel, with a stop by Starbuck's on the way to church so Brenda could get her green tea.
  • Discussed a range of concerns with the lay leadership of St James'. There are some very dedicated and faithful people there.
  • Presided and preached at an 11am Mass, followed by a delicious potluck in the parish house. Had a couple of different "small world" conversations with people whose life paths have put them in places we are also familiar with.
  • On the road home around 1:20, taking just over three hours to cover the 180 or so miles between Marion and Springfield. Blessedly, the stretches of I-57 and I-64 that we interacted with were free of construction zones. I-55 ... not so much.

Homily for Proper 15


Matthew 15:21 28                                                                                          Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32                                                                                      Isaiah 56:1, 6-7                                                                                                  Psalm 67

Redeemer, Cairo & St James’, Marion  
If you ever want a dramatic reminder of how the world is passing you by, just pick up a map of the world that is only a few decades, or even just a few year, old. Even my children, who are only in the 30s, can do this. When they started school, there was a country called the Soviet Union. Now we look at a map and certainly see Russia, but also a lot of smaller countries that end in “-stan”. When I was a school child, ther was Yugoslavia, but that’s now long since been divided up several ways. Maybe you’re old enough to remember French West Africa, which is now a handful of separate nations.

Now, unless your map is literally hot off the presses, it’s out of date as of about six weeks ago, when Sudan was divided into Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan. For years, there has been bloody tension between the north, which is primarily Arab and Muslim, and the south, which is primarily black and Christian. Hopefully, by dividing into two, the bloodshed will stop, because literally millions of lives have been lost in the conflict.

Of course, I bring up the situation in Sudan because I believe it stands as a particularly clear illustration of the basic human condition of alienation and division. In the time and place in which our Lord Jesus walked this earth, it was the divide between Jew and Gentile that dominated the social landscape. It was this element that came into play when Jesus and his disciples made an excursion out of their native region of Galilee, which was predominantly Jewish, northward into what would now be southwestern Lebanon, an area that was predominantly non-Jewish.

A resident of that territory, a woman, approaches Jesus and begs him to have mercy on her and deliver her daughter from the demon that possesses the girl. And when she makes that request, Matthew’s gospel tells us, Jesus simply ignores her. He makes no answer. Jesus and his disciples and this woman were experiencing the disconnection and brokenness that defined the relationship between Jews and non-Jews. But it was certainly nothing unique. We are estranged and cut off from one another in countless ways: person from person, family from family, region from region, race from race, generation from generation, women from men, nation from nation, and, sad to say, even church from church.

But, to her everlasting credit, this Canaanite woman seems unwilling to simply accept the status quo of alienation. She persists in her plea. She makes a pest of herself—so much so that Jesus’ disciples seem to get irritated at him for not acting more forcefully to send her away. But she persists all the more. Even when Jesus himself makes his discouraging remark that his mission was to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” and not to Gentiles like her, she refuses to take No for an answer. In her steadfast resolve to be in relationship with Jesus, the Canaanite woman stands as a shining example of the kind of faith that moves mountains and changes lives, the kind of faith that sees participation in the life of Christ as the highest good of human existence.

Jesus finally grants the woman’s request. For her and for her daughter, his merciful action is an occasion of deliverance and joy. But for the rest of humanity, it has a much larger implication. It strikes the first hammer blow against the dividing wall of hostility that separates us. The early church took this incident as implied permission—more than permission, actually, but a mandate—to carry the gospel of Christ not only to Jews, but to the whole Gentile world as well. Perhaps they recognized that the seeds of Jesus’ response to the cry of a mere Gentile are found several centuries earlier in the writing of the prophet Isaiah:
The foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to love the name of the Lord and to be his servants . . .
those I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer.

It was certainly a concept that St Paul was familiar with, as he writes to the Gentile Christians in Rome about the eventual reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles in Christ:

If you [meaning his Gentile readers] have been cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree and grafted [that is, through faith and baptism] , contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree [that is, the heritage of God’s own chosen people, Israel], how much more will these natural branches [meaning, the Jews] be grafted back into their own olive tree.

Common participation in Christ, expressed in faith like that of the Canaanite woman, is the only source of profound and lasting unity among human beings. The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church of our Creed— a tree on which have been grafted branches from every people, language, tribe, and nation … every tribe and nation, including both Sudan and South Suday—the Church is the wrecking ball that assaults the wall of hostility that divides one person from another.

I read an article in a church publication back in the time when the former Yugoslavia was torn and bleeding, an article that first warmed my heart, and then disturbed me. It talked about an Episcopal parish on the east coast with a wonderful ministry of hospitality toward refugees from the former constituent parts of Yugoslavia. They supplied housing, food, clothing, and companionship for individuals and families whose lives had been uprooted by armed conflict. This is wonderful, and is of the very essence of the Church’s mission. But one of the parishioners was quoted in the article to the effect that their goal is “not to make Christians” out of the refugees. I think I understand the motive behind that comment, and it’s a good one. It expresses a desire to respect the freedom and dignity of the refugees, to not be coercive in any way or to attach strings to the help they were providing. But it made me sad, nonetheless, because it reflects an attitude that robbed that parish’s refugee ministry of its potential to be a sacramental sign of the ultimate reconciliation that the gospel brings us. It’s like trying to breathe with one lung, or walk around town with only one shoe. It’s better than nothing, but it’s less than the full deal. A dry roof and a full stomach and a helping hand is a good start—probably even an essential start—in the process of overcoming the deep estrangement that divides us. But it falls way short of accomplishing the mission. Without a common relationship with God in Christ, there is only a superficial basis for unity. It is temporary, and will not stand up under pressure.

Under the communist government of the Soviet dictators, the Soviet Union convinced the world—maybe even convinced themselves—that they were one people, one nation. But when that system and that dictatorship fell, the unity of the Soviet Union proved to be a mirage. It vanished like smoke on a windy day. We hear a lot today about “diversity.” It is commended to us as something to “celebrate.” To the extent that this means there will be an array of different ethnic cuisines available for my palate to appreciate, I’m all about celebrating diversity! But celebrating diversity will not cure what ails us as a human race. It simply attempts to make a virtue out of necessity. It throws in the towel on unity and just accepts division. In the end, it only prolongs our agony.

The great faith of the Canaanite woman is a beacon to us today, a beacon drawing us to “holy communion” with Christ, and thereby with one another, calling us to be grafted on to the one tree that is the Tree of Life. In the words of our Psalm:

“Let your ways be knows upon earth,
your saving health among all nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all . . . the peoples praise you.”

Amen.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Saturday

Finished email catch-up in the morning, then headed for points south shortly after noon. Celebrated and preached at Redeemer, Cairo, with good local BBQ after the liturgy. What a gorgeous church, and what a devastated town. Major kudos to Louise Ogg, who drove 15 miles back to church to let me in after I discovered I had left my iPad on the organ console! Now ensconced, with Lady Brenda and her canine maid Lucy, at a hotel in Marion, awaiting a visit to St James' in the morning.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Friday


  • Vacation was great, but it was nice to be back in harness. Task planning and Morning Prayer at home.
  • The morning was consumed by catch-up conversations with the Archdeacon and the Administrator over various developments during my absence, and then by processing the sizable stacks of snail mail that had piled up on my desk over the last three weeks.
  • Lunch from Taco Gringo, eaten at home.
  • After lunch, I met for a good while with a finalist for one of our vacant cures.
  • Refined and began to "internalize" my homily for this weekend (tomorrow evening at Redeemer, Cairo and Sunday morning at St James', Marion). 
  • Continued to process (by responding or creating a planned task) a formidable number of emails that appeared when I reconnected to the diocesan email server last night, all of which require some action on my part. (Devoted a good bit of my evening at home to this same work.)
  • Evening Prayer in the office.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Sermon for Proper 13


On July 31, while on vacation, it was my joy to preach at St Timothy's Church in Salem, Oregon. This is the parish where our family was active for ten years (1976-1986), where two of our children were baptized, and from which we were sent off to seminary. It remains a remarkable worshiping and serving community all these years later. Here's what I shared with them about the feeding miracle in Matthew's gospel.

Matthew 14:13-21

Have you ever noticed how the most wonderful experiences that are available to us in this life are often best appreciated if they’re not talked about? It is, rather, in the doing of them that we know their meaning and feel their power. So, in a sense, I’m hesitant to be even giving this sermon, because what I want to talk about is one of those things. And, moreover, I want to talk about it while we’re in the middle of doing it, which is to say, I want to talk about the Eucharist, which is clearly one of those things that is at risk for being spoiled if it’s talked about too much. The power and meaning of the Eucharist is found in the doing of it, not the talking about it. Jesus’ own words at the Last Supper were “Do this for the remembrance of me.”

Nonetheless, I proceed, because, while it may be dangerous to talk about, neither can something like the Eucharist be left completely “unsaid,” and today is one of those occasions when it is “meet and right” to speak the mystery of the Mass. So, hopefully without treading on the teaching prerogatives of either your rector or your bishop, and at the risk of seeming presumptuous by saying all this in a parish that is more formed by the Eucharist than any I know, let’s begin to unpack this.

So… why today? Well, if we scratch the surface of this familiar gospel story of the miraculous feeding of thousands of people in the wilderness from five small loaves of bread and two fish, we find the Eucharist in all of its glory. Our earliest Christian ancestors understood this passage, alongside the Last Supper narrative and the long discourse in John’s gospel about the “bread of life,” as a primary eucharistic text. It provides a virtual template for the liturgy we celebrate every time we come together.

Let’s look at it more closely. What’s the first thing that Matthew tells us Jesus did there in the wilderness? He sees the people and he calls them together; he gathers them and presides over them. This is what the celebrant, the presiding priest or bishop, does in the liturgical celebration of the Eucharist, gathering and presiding over the people of God. Then Jesus spends some time healing those who were sick. In other accounts of this incident, Jesus is said to have taught the people. These activities correspond to what we know as the Liturgy of the Word, where we read scripture and someone interprets and applies the scripture, and we offer our prayers of intercession and petition for those who are in need.

Then what does Jesus do?  Matthew tells us that “taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples…”. There are four significant verbs in that sentence I just read, which—if we put them all in their basic present tense form—are: take, bless, break, and give. This also corresponds very closely to what we’re about to do. When the bread and wine are placed on the altar, we’re “taking.” When the celebrant—in this case, Father Brandon—offers the eucharistic prayer on behalf of the gathered congregation, we’re “blessing.” After the Lord’s Prayer, he will “break” the bread, just as Jesus did at the feeding miracle. And then Fr Brandon, along with those who assist him, will “give” the consecrated bread and wine—now become the body and blood of Christ, the “gifts of God for the people of God”—we will give Holy Communion to the people. Take, bless, break, give—this is the essential fourfold action of the Eucharist, and we have the pattern for it right here in this gospel story.

The Eucharist is a complex subject, and there is certainly more that we could say about it than we’ll be able to say today. After all, we’re primarily here to do it, not talk about it! Nonetheless, I do want to suggest to you three levels of understanding the Eucharist. Actually, it’s the third level I really want to talk about, because it’s a key element in the feeding miracle story from Matthew. But it’s like the top rung of a ladder—we can’t get to the third level except by means of the first two.

The first level at which we understand the Eucharist is the level of food. It involves the literal eating of bread and drinking of wine—food for our bodies and food for our souls. Knowing Holy Communion as a source of spiritual nourishment makes an obvious connection with our sensory experience—the whole reason we’ve come together in this place is to share a meal. Whatever else we do, we’re at least doing that much. We receive the bread and wine as Body and Blood—food for the journey through this life and into the next.

The second level at which we understand the Eucharist is the level of sacrifice. The theme of sacrifice has received heavy emphasis in the western Christian tradition, and the Eucharist is closely identified with this theme. On our behalf, Jesus offered himself to the Father—in his birth and life, in his death on the cross, and in his resurrection from the dead—Jesus offered himself to the Father as the atoning sacrifice that makes our reconciliation with God possible. In the Eucharist, we share in that sacrifice. Not just in receiving soul-nourishing grace in the sacrament, but in the whole offering of the liturgy, we participate in Christ’s self-offering, we make it our own, we “cover” ourselves with it as we approach God’s presence.

So we know the Eucharist to be sacramental food. We know the Eucharist to be a sacrificial offering. And standing on those two pillars (if I can switch my metaphor from rungs on a ladder!) we are in a position to know the Eucharist as a mystical participation in the eternal heavenly banquet. We find the sign and clue for this in what might at first strike us as an incidental detail in the feeding miracle narrative. I’m talking about the leftovers. Matthew tells us that after everybody ate their fill, the disciples collected twelve full baskets of broken pieces. There weren’t just a few scraps left over, something to take home to the dog. The leftovers were abundant, and this little detail is intended to put us in mind of visions like the one we find in Isaiah: “On this mountain the Lord will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.” It also puts us in mind of the “marriage supper of the Lamb” in the book of Revelation, the party to end all parties, the eternal celebration of God’s final triumph over sin and death.

In the Eucharist, in the Mass, we participate in this celestial banquet. Holy Communion is certainly food for the journey, but it is also food at the end of the journey. And unlike the manna that the Lord provided for his people in the wilderness in the time of Moses, which was new every morning but spoiled overnight, the mystical food of the eucharistic banquet never spoils. The Eucharist draws us into the realm of Eternity and plops us down right in the middle of the heavenly banquet. In the midst of this very liturgy, we are transcending time and space and joining our praises with the songs of the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. In the midst of this very liturgy, we are transcending time and space and entering into deep communion, holy communion, with our Lord Jesus Christ, as well as deep and holy communion with all the members of his Body, living and dead—those we know and those we don’t know, those we like and those we don’t like.

This is precisely why baptisms, and weddings, and funerals all find their clearest expression in the context of the Mass. When the newly baptized make their first communion just a few minutes later, they are dining with the company of saints into whose number they have just been initiated. When the first act of a married couple is to receive Holy Communion at their wedding service, they become breathing icons of the church as the bride of Christ in union with the Son of God. When we bury our loved ones from the church, after having offered the Mass for them, we not only plead the sacrifice of Christ on their behalf in a wonderfully effective way, but we also join them at the heavenly banquet table, and we have a tangible sign that while death changes life, it does not end life.

To quote the great Anglican liturgical scholar Dom Gregory Dix, “Was ever another command so obeyed?”  “Do this for the remembrance of me.” Do this. For more than a hundred thousand consecutive Sundays and countless other occasions, the people of God have faithfully done “this.” In talking about “this” we receive relatively little. But in doing “this” we receive the spiritual food of our Lord’s very life—his body and his blood. We participate in the single yet eternal self-offering of the Son to the Father on our behalf. And we feast at the heavenly banquet table with the entire communion of saints. Amen. Amen.