Friday, September 30, 2011

Friday (St Jerome)

  • Task planning at home, Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Processed administrative detritus from last Saturday's Commission on Ministry meeting and the DGMS retreat from three weeks ago.
  • Drafted my sermon for October 9, to be given at Trinity, Lincoln.
  • Wrote and (caused to be) sent an Ad Clerum--letter to the clergy.
  • Lunch at home (leftover fajita tacos--yum!).
  • Drafted the liturgy booklet for the Synod Mass. I love what I'm doing, but I do miss getting to plan and prepare liturgy, so this was kind of a treat. And a time-consuming treat at that.
  • Prayed the Luminous Mysteries of the rosary.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

St Michael & All Angels

  • Task planning at home; Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Processed a batch of pending emails.
  • Met with the Standing Committee from10:30 until 12:30--in my office, since new lighting was being installed in the rest of the building.
  • Quick lunch from a nearby sandwich shop.
  • Met with the Executive Director of the Illinois Conference of Churches (at her request).
  • Pastoral care phone conversation with a retired priest of the diocese who has recently suffered a significant loss.
  • Spoke by phone with Fr John Henry regarding details of my visit to Chesterfield and Carlinville this Sunday.
  • Worked on a first draft of my Synod address.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • (After dinner, continued to work on my Synod address for another couple of hours.)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wednesday

  • Task planning and Morning Prayer at home.
  • Caught up with the Archdeacon about developments since last we met; this had largely to do with one of our parishes in transition. Made a couple of phone calls related to this.
  • Left a phone message with the office of Archbishop John Holder in Barbados. We have long had a companion relationship with that diocese, and I have been remiss in letting this much time go by without making contact.
  • Hand wrote notes to all the clergy and clergy spouses with milestone events (birthdays, anniversaries of wedding and ordination) in October. This took the rest of my morning.
  • Lunch at home.
  • Did some deeper exegetical study of one of the readings for the Synod liturgy; my sermon for that occasion seems to be coalescing around that one reading.
  • Refined and prepped my sermon for this coming Sunday (St Peter's, Chesterfield and St Paul's, Carlinville).
  • Processed (via scanner) the hard copy items that have accumulated since before my trip to Quito.
  • Got down to some serious meditation and study in preparation for the "clergy day" addresses I will be giving as part of my preaching mission at the Church of the Redeemer in Sarasota at the end of October/beginning of November.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tuesday

I was sidelined most of today due to a scheduled outpatient diagnostic procedure in the morning that left me feeling a trifle pekid. I've had some volunteer tissue on my thyroid that was discovered over the summer. A succession of tests failed to rule out what one hopes to rule out in such cases, including a needle biopsy last month. Today was a repeat of that procedure, only with a ENT specialist at the helm. The results were not as conclusive as might be hoped for, but that very inconclusiveness is, in its way, encouraging, since cancerous tissue in the thyroid tends to want to call attention to itself. The operative word, however, is "tends," so we'll have another look via ultrasound in a year's time. I'm grateful to have this behind me for the time being.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

XV Pentecost (Proper 21)

My visit today was to the parish of Christ the King in Normal. (Yes, they are well aware of all the jokes that can be spun off from the name of their city!) The morning began with a wonderful tour of their pre-school facilities by the school's energetic director. Then we confirmed or received some eight people--both young persons and adults--including a couple from other parishes. Of course, there was a copious amount of good food in the parish hall afterward. A grand celebration. This is more fun than I deserve to have.

Sermon for Proper 21

Matthew 21:28 32                 
Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
Christ the King, Normal

Sometimes, a person with a demanding life just needs to relax in a way that is otherwise a complete waste of time. For me, the way I waste time is to play solitaire on my iPad. I don’t play it in my office, but early in the morning when I’m trying to get going, or late at night when I’m trying to wind down, it’s there for me.
One of the features of computer solitaire that makes it a lot more fun, in my opinion, than using actual playing cards, is the feature called “Replay.” As you’re playing out a particular hand, you’ve got to make certain choices along the way. They may or may not be the right choices, even with a hand that is a potential winner, you can still lose.

So when, sure enough, you play to a dead end, you can click “Replay,” and one second later, the original hand is laid out for you, just as it was before. So you can do it again, only this time make different choices, take a different fork in the road. On many occasions, I have played a hand unsuccessfully three or four times, and then finally coaxed a victory out of it. The motivation behind all this is the knowledge, or at least the suspicion, that there is a winning path, there is a route to victory; we simply haven’t found it yet. And what a gift of grace it is to be able to start over, to keep trying until we get it right.

If only the rest of life were as kind and forgiving as computer solitaire. Alas, it is not.

We make mistakes, we make wrong choices, we face a fork in the road and it often seems that the best we can do is toss a coin, and the odds are still that we’ll miss the path to a winning hand. We look back on education and career decisions we have made, and wish we had chosen otherwise. We look back on friendships and romantic relationships and marriages that just didn’t go the way we had hoped they would, and we wish we could have this word or that deed back to do over again. But there is no “Replay” button to click on. We look back on addiction and mental illness and the destructive behavior that flows from them, and we wish we knew then what we know now, but it’s too late. What’s done is done, water under the bridge, over the dam, and out to sea.

Many of us, particularly the sorts of people who would find themselves in a place like this on a day like this doing what we’re doing, many of us have a gnawing sense that many of the choices we have made have been displeasing to God, and we’re ashamed. But we don’t want to think too much about it, and we surely don’t want to talk about it, what’s done is done. We can’t take it back. We can’t do it over again. It’s too late. In something we have said or done, or not said or not done, we have said “No” to God, and it feels well past the time when we can change our mind and say “Yes.” It would seem dishonest, hypocritical, or, at best, presumptuous. If God knows what he’s doing, that is, if he behaves the way we would behave in the same      circumstances, he has closed the window of opportunity for us to change our mind, assuming our most recent behavior to speak for itself, and be, in fact, our final answer, our last word.

We’re like the batter who at first decides to swing at a pitch, but then wants not to, so he checks his swing. If the umpires decide he has not reached the point of flexing his wrists, they will give him the benefit of the doubt. But if he broke his wrists, he is considered to have swung, and it’s a strike, and there’s no appeal. It’s easy for us to envision God as the home plate umpire who has just called “Steee-rike!” . . . and that’s that. 
Or we’re like the bargain hunter who clearly sees the sign on the cash register, “All sales final,” and hands over her credit card, even as she has second thoughts about the wisdom of her purchase. Once the clerk has swiped the card through the machine, the deed is done. She has made a purchase. Repentance is meaningless and regret is fruitless. She may as well just enjoy what she’s bought and try and move beyond the guilt.
Indeed, repentance does sometimes seem meaningless, and regret fruitless, and because we feel like it’s too late to rescind our negative RSVP to God, we look for ways to rationalize the stupid decision we have made, just to relieve ourselves of the crushing burden of guilt. It’s OK. It’s all right. Sure, we have displeased God, but he’ll just have to find a way to deal with it. What’s done is done.

So we persist in ways of living that are destructive to our souls, either slowly or quickly.
We chase furtively but vainly after false gods like career success, attainment of wealth, health, beauty, or sexual fulfillment, self-improvement, and even “spirituality” of a sort. But we ignore the true and living God, the lover of our souls, the one who alone fills the void at the core of our being, the one who alone is our health and our salvation.

Into the darkness of this pit of fatalistic despair shines the light of the Good News in the form of a simple and abundantly clear parable told by our Lord Jesus as recorded for us in the 21st chapter of St Matthew’s gospel. A man has two sons, and he needs their help. The first one says “Yes, father, I will certainly do what you ask. Consider it a done deal.” But the day goes by, and the first son’s words are never translated into action. Maybe he was lying to his father from the outset. Maybe he genuinely intended to keep his word, but just never got around to it. Who knows? The important thing is that he did not fulfill his commitment.
The second son, by contrast, immediately told his father, “No way, Dad. Not gonna do it. Better find somebody else.” Now we don’t know, of course, whether Son #2 was just being willfully ornery, or whether he had a genuine conflict of obligations that would have prevented him from honoring his father’s request. The relevant fact is that he changed his mind. He thought better of his initial decision and checked his swing, he pulled the credit card back from the sales clerk’s hand. By his deeds, he changed his words. He changed his “No” into a “Yes.”

And his action is an icon to all of us, for all time, of the fact that we always have “space” in which to repent. As far as God is concerned, there is a “Replay” button in the game of life. He will not accept “No” as our final answer. So, as many words as we may have spoken that mean “No,” as many deeds as we have done that add up to “No,” God is always ready and eager to hear our “Yes.” As the Lord says in the direct, un-sugar coated words of the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel, “...when a wicked man turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is lawful and right, he shall save his life. Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions which he had committed, he shall surely live....”.

God places a premium on personal responsibility and personal integrity. He is much less concerned about what we said yesterday than he is about what we do today. If we can let this simple fact sink in to our hearts, it can change our lives. Do you see the potential for liberation that is available to us here? God wants to set us free from the burden of regret. Sure, maybe we broke the wrist, but we can have the pitch back. Yes, the credit card has been swiped, but that “All sales final” sign suddenly disappears. We can have the hand of solitaire back at the beginning, and this time play our cards right.


It is never too late to say “Yes” to God, and the way we say that is by doing it. We know what God wants. We know what behavior will please him. And even if we originally said “No,” it’s still not too late. We can perform the work that he calls us to do. We can say “Yes.” We can do “Yes.” God’s magnanimous grace is here to help us, if we will but receive it. Amen.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Saturday (Our Lady of Walsingham)

Fulsome Commission on Ministry meeting from 10 until 2ish. (At lunch, I introduced six of them to the now legendary Taco Gringo!) Met briefly with a priest over a pastoral issue. Got home with just enough time to pack, load the car, and head off to Normal for a meeting with the Mission Leadership Team (aka Vestry) of Christ the King Church, followed by dinner with them, some of their spouses, tomorrow's confirmands, and a couple of other parish leaders. Now ensconced safely in an uptown Normal hotel.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Friday

  • Sneakers on asphalt at 6:45am for a 2.5 mile brisk walk. It was a cool 42 degrees at that hour.
  • After a shower, a perusal of the morning paper, and breakfast, I was on the road (Morning Prayer en route) to Rantoul, where Fr Steve Thorp showed me around St Christopher's and the town (including the former Chanute Air Force Base) before we had lunch together at a local diner.
  • Then it was down to Champaign. At Emmanuel, I had a first meeting with a young man in discernment for Holy Orders. After a generation (or two) of seeking (and getting) ministry candidates of "riper years", the cycle is returning to what had previously been the normative pattern of "from college right to seminary." It makes a certain amount of sense that, if we want to have younger people in our churches, we need to have younger clergy. This is a positive development, I think.
  • I then had a nice long chat with Fr Alan Herbst, rector of Emmanuel. As was my meeting with Fr Thorp, this was part of my ongoing "how-are-things-going-for-you-and-how-can-I-help?" project. It was time very well spent.
  • Since the new interim rector at the Chapel of St John the Divine has arrived on the scene only this week, it seemed only meet and right to stop by and greet Fr Rob Nichols. We had a good talk, and I look forward to his valuable work in that critical outreach ministry of our diocese.
  • Fought the Champaign rush hour, but eventually made it back to I-72. Home just past 7pm.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Thursday (Philander Chase)

  • Task planning and Morning Prayer at home.
  • Debriefed with the Archdeacon regarding developments during my absence. Made a couple of phone calls, send a handful of emails, and hand wrote a note with respect to those developments.
  • Refined the draft of my homily for this Sunday at Christ the King, Normal.
  • Picked up lunch at Taco Gringo at ate it at home. Nice to be having some familiar food, as much as I can sometimes enjoy the exotic.
  • Spent most of the afternoon writing a substantive blog post on the ministry of bishops. I felt like I needed to get this one out and up ASAP, as there has been some internet buzz on that fact that the HOB met in a foreign country and that the HOB meets twice a year. Check it out.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

St Matthew (Wednesday)

Flying overnight is not my favorite thing, but we're home safely, and I'm very grateful to be at a reasonable altitude and to be able to breathe normally. They say one is supposed to adapt to high altitude after a couple of days. I did not.

Both Quito and the House of Bishops meeting were interesting. I learned something interesting about myself: My spoken Spanish is better than my heard Spanish. I was pleasantly surprised by my ability to effectively interact with hotel staff, restaurant servers, taxi drivers, and retail vendors. But I couldn't always finish what I started! And listening to addresses and sermons in Spanish without an interpreter is not yet in the cards for me.

This was my second House of Bishops meeting. I'm already on record as to my opinion of the substantive content. So the value of these encounters is not what happens on the official agenda, but in the hallway and elevator and break time and mealtime conversations with colleagues. The relationships that are forged in these off-the-schedule moments sow important seeds that will yield fruit we cannot yet know of.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tuesday (John Coleridge Patteson & His Companions)

I'm writing this a few hours earlier than usual. In a little bit, we'll go down to the closing dinner of this meeting of the House of Bishops. Then we head to the airport for an 11:30pm redeye to Atlanta, and after a five hour layover there, on to Bloomington, and a 65 mile drive home.

Today was what I wish the rest of HoB meetings were like. In the morning, we heard from Bishop Stacey Sauls, newly-appointed Chief Operating Officer of TEC, regarding the need for a major overhaul of the organizational structure of the church. The idea is that we seem to be driven by governance rather than by mission. From an iPad, I'm not going to write too much about the concrete proposals he floated. More will be made public in due course, I'm sure. But we should expect it to be a hot topic at next summer's Genera Convention. My own gut sense is that it may be too little too late. But I could be wrong.

I had lunch with my good friend and former bishop, Ed Little of Northern Indiana.

The afternoon session was a business meeting--that is, "on the record," open to the public, with the PB in the chair, and motions and seconds and discussion and debate. The major item was a proposed Pastoral Letter from the House to the whole church on the subject of protecting and restoring the environment. It was changed to a Pastoral Teaching, which makes it a study document commended to everyone, but without the expectation that it be read aloud in churches.

The motion passed on a voice voice, with one dissent: mine! I am nearly as avid a recycler as anyone, and I'm all in favor of renewable energy and sustainable growth. I've got no problem acknowledging that climate change is a reality. I am not persuaded, however, that human activity is primarily to blame, if at all. This may be true, but I'm not prepared to state it as baldly as does the document we were offered. I also don't believe most bishops are willing to make the lifestyle changes that would be consistent with what the Teaching commends. I know I am not. The gallons of jet fuel that we are helping consume just by being in Quito is just one sign of that fact.

More profoundly, perhaps, I have a deep reticence, as a church leader, to speak out on matters of public policy, particularly in very complicated areas where scientists are not of one mind. In an attempt to be prophetic, we risk ending up just looking foolish.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Monday (St Theodore of Tarsus)

  • After breakfast, I read Morning Prayer by myself, rather than attending the corporate celebration. I must admit, I like my liturgy pretty straight, and conforming to the Prayer Book. Those who plan worship for House of Bishops meetings apparently prefer to be a little more cutting edge and experimental. I can handle a certain amount of that with equanimity, but eventually a saturation point is reached, and it's not good for my soul's health. I seem to have reached that point.
  • The main business of the morning was a panel presentation by four persons, touching on issues ranging from international migration, the work of the Latin American Council of Churches, third world debt, and factors contributing to climate change.
  • There was a Eucharist in the late morning. See first bullet point above.
  • Lunch was "working," as the handful of Communion Partner bishops present met with the three bishop members of the Standing Commission on Liturgy on Church Music. Our discussion addressed the pastoral damage done by any rites for same-sex marriage that are brought forward (per C056 from 2009) might be minimized in dioceses where the bishop is not likely to permit their use. It was a fruitful time.
  • The first part of the afternoon session was a continuation of the morning's work. Then we had what is styled a Town Hall meeting. This involves various members of the house speaking about work they are involved in, or just making announcement plugging this or that. It is also a time when guests of the house bring greetings. In that category, we heard from the Right Revd Peter Price, Bishop of Bath & Wells (Church of England). His remarks were actually newsworthy, and I have reported them over at Confessions of a Carioca.
  • This was the night for "class" dinners, and the twelve bishops elected during 2010, and now making up the Class of 2011, along with the five spouses present, got into a convoy of five taxis and enjoyed a wonderful dinner at Esmerelda Verde, which features Ecuadoran coastal cuisine. We were told that it was recently written up in the Sunday New York Times, and given a very favorable review.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

XIV Pentecost (Proper 20)

  • There were three different opportunities for the bishops and spouses to attend the Eucharist in Quito this morning. Brenda and I went with the largest group to the cathedral church of the Diocese of Ecuador Central. It is a large structure on the north side of town, near the airport, and was filled to capacity and then some (I would estimate there were 1,000 people in the room). The liturgy was completely in Spanish, of course, with music that expresses the life of the indigenous congregation. We were warmly welcomed.
  • Lunch was served banquet-style at the Hilton. Then we accompanied the Bishop of Northern Indiana on a walk (through the rain, at first) into the old section of the city, where we explored the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a magnificent late nineteenth century stone Gothic structure. Eventually we found a small cafe near the top of one of the twin towers on the west end. From there we had a panoramic view of the city in three directions. (An American liability lawyer would have that whole enterprise shut down in about ten minutes!)
  • After dinner on our own, the bishops gathered for an event that has become styled as a Fireside Chat, though there was no fire, and it strains credulity that 100+ people can "chat" about anything. There was a very moving presentation (with video) from the Primate of Japan (a guest of this meeting) dealing with the effects of last March's earthquake and tsunami on the Japanese church. There was also some impassioned discussion about the horribly dysfunctional situation in our host diocese. To call it a train wreck would be too mild. 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Saturday (Hildegard of Bingen)

  • Quick breakfast (wonderful buffet at the Hilton) before boarding a bus for the north Quito neighborhood of Comite del Pueblo, home to some 80,000 people. The physical infrastructure there has, shall we say, an organic and improvisatory character. We (a group of some 40 or so bishops and spouses) were greeted with heart-melting warmth and enthusiasm by members of the community of the church of Christ the Liberator.
  • After Morning Prayer with everyone (in Spanish, of course), we toured their Christian education areas and the site of their feeding ministry for senior citizens. Then we walked about four blocks to a building where the parish operates a day care facility. Once again, the greeting by staff and children was overwhelming.
  • Back at the Hilton around noon. After a brief nap, we had lunch in one of the hotel restaurants, enjoying the company of the Bishop of Oklahoma and his wife. We had hoped to get some significant neighborhood walking in, but the weather was off-and-on inclement, so between forays into the park across the street, we hung out in our room, allowing me the time to complete some reflections on Liberation Theology, posted now on my main blog.
  • This was the evening dedicated to dinner by province. The bishops and spouses of the Province of the Midwest (aka Province V) had a rip-roaring good time at a superb restaurant called Za Zu. Couldn't have asked for anything better.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Friday (St Ninian)

  • Morning Prayer and Bible study at our tables in the main meeting room.
  • Another guest presenter on Liberation Theology, with Q & A. Interestingly, both today's and yesterday's speakers are Brazilian, but they delivered their talks in Spanish.
  • Eucharist at 11:45--in Spanish.
  • Lunch was on our own. I ended up at a nearby bistro with the Bishop of Northwestern Pennsylvania. Our dioceses have much in common, size-wise and challenge-wise, so we had a very stimulating discussion.
  • Reconvened for a panel discussion, the panel being made up of the three presenters we've heard thus far. It was a challenging day for Anglophones, as virtually everything was in Spanish. We had to rely on simultaneous translation via headsets.
  • Then we were briefed on some of the logistical details for tomorrow's field trips.
  • I repaired to our room (Brenda was on a day-long field trip with several of the spouses) and began a blog post on Liberation Theology. It's still a work in progress, Evening Prayer on my own.
  • Drinks and dinner with some colleagues, staying within the Hilton.
  • Attended a voluntary "Indaba" discussion on the subject of same-sex blessings. A theology paper and a draft liturgy have been made available to the bishops. Of course, I cannot support any version of this project, but it was good to hear what others are thinking,

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Thursday

  • Very nice breakfast in one of the dining rooms here in the Quito Hilton. Brenda was especially pleased with the fresh tropical fruit, a reminder of our visits to Brazil.
  • The meeting of the House of Bishops got officially underway with a celebration of the Eucharist in one of the hotel ballrooms. I always find corporate worship on these sorts of occasions ... challenging. Perhaps I will unpack that sometime in a blog post. Or maybe not.
  • We then reassembled in our main meeting room. After some preliminary remarks and announcements, we took about 30 minutes to "check in" with one another at our table groups.
  • The rest of the morning was devoted to a presentation from a VP of the Church Pension Group on issues related to TEC's health insurance plan for clergy and lay employees. Q & A was spirited, as there is considerable controversy over substantial rate differences between various parts of the country.
  • Lunch at a nearby restaurant with some colleagues.
  • The afternoon was devoted to two presentations by outside speakers on the subject of Liberation Theology, with followup Q&A. I will probably soon have more to say about this over at my "real" blog.
  • Evening Prayer (with music) in the meeting room. 
  • Beer and wine reception for bishops, spouses, and guests, followed by a quite fine buffet banquet. Very nice.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Holy Cross

This was a day of travel, but humane as travel days go. Door to door it was a little over 14 hours, but that included a four hour layover in Atlanta, which allowed for lots of intentional walking. It helps tremendously that Quito is in the same time zone as Springfield. International travel without jet lag--what a concept!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tuesday (St Cyprian)


  • Usual routine at home, Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Processed a handful of pending email messages.
  • Took care of a couple of brief chores emanating from this past weekend's Department of General Mission Strategy retreat.
  • First meeting with a potential nominee for Holy Orders.
  • Scanned or otherwise processed accumulated hard copy items.
  • Talked by phone with a priest of the diocese who is home recovering from a "cardiac incident" last week.
  • Ran a personal errand on the north side of town, and picked up some lunch from a different Taco Gringo than my usual one!
  • Met with a priest of the diocese who is currently non-parochial regarding the future shape of his ministry.
  • Spoke by phone with a rector regarding various goings-on the in the congregations he takes care of.
  • Ran an errand connected to tomorrow's travel plans, and arrived home around 4:00.
  • Working at home, conceived a sermon for my visit to Trinity, Lincoln the second Sunday in October.
  • Mapped out the broad strokes of my address at next month's regular annual synod of the diocese.
  • Evening Prayer at home.
  • Packed bags for tomorrow's flights to Quito, Ecuador for the regular fall meeting of the House of Bishops. (There are two dioceses of the Episcopal Church in Ecuador, including Ecuador Central, our host.)
SPECIAL: Yesterday I posted on my "real" blog some substantive thoughts about some missional challenges we face as a diocese. You may want to have a look if you haven't seen it already.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Homily for Proper 19

Matthew 18:21-25
St Stephen’s, Harrisburg

Today’s parable from Matthew’s gospel is possibly the clearest of any of the parables Jesus is recorded as telling. A man owes a great debt, which he is unable to pay. The creditor could have justly imprisoned the debtor, but he instead decides to be merciful, and not only decides against prison, but actually forgives the debt, which was staggering—tens of millions of dollars in today’s money.

Now, the man who has received such astounding mercy is himself also a creditor. One of his colleagues owes him some money—a serious amount, but nothing in comparison to the amount he had just been forgiven—a matter of only a few hundred dollars. But when he meets his debtor, he immediately demands payment, and when such payment is not forthcoming, he exercises his legal option and orders the other man imprisoned.

When word of this gets back to the original creditor, the one described in the narrative as a king, he is infuriated at such a display of ingratitude. He reneges on his prior mercy, and orders the man who owed more than he could possibly ever pay to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

The moral of the story is utterly transparent: If God’s forgiveness of us is to take root and flourish in our lives, then we must be forgiving of those who have sinned against us. This is, of course, much more easily said than done. In fact, the difficulty—dare I say impossibility?—of living this way seems inversely proportional to the clarity of our Lord’s parable. Easy to see, hard to do.

So we need to look at forgiveness today, in the hope that the power and the mystery of forgiveness might eventually sink in and we’ll “get it.” I need to preach about it, in the hope that it might eventually sink in, and I will “get it.” This is for all of us. We need this. We need to lean more and more into the reality of the gospel message proclaimed in this parable.

I’m going to start by making a couple of observations about what forgiveness is not. Before we can understand what forgiveness is, we need to clear the decks of some misconceptions.

First, despite the expression “forgive and forget,” forgiving is not the same thing as forgetting. Forgiving does not necessarily imply forgetting. It is possible to remember an offense, and to still be wounded and hurting from an offense, and yet to forgive the offender. This is perhaps particularly important for us to remember on a Sunday that falls on September 11, and is a milestone anniversary of a monstrous offense against against our entire country. The fact is, that offense, and any of the offenses that we suffer, did happen. To simply pretend it didn’t happen, to forget it prematurely, is to be in an unhealthy state of denial. And to be in sustained denial is ultimately damaging and disintegrating, emotionally and spiritually, to the one in denial. Our God is a God of truth. Christ is the “way, the truth, and the life.” He would have us face the truth, even when an infinitely more pleasant fantasy may be available.

The second misconception is that to forgive is to trust. It’s not. Forgiveness is free and unearned. It is a voluntary, uncoerced act of charity on the part of the forgiver. If the offender receives any grace in this transaction, it is just that—pure grace, not an entitlement, not anything that’s deserved. Trust, on the other hand, must be earned. It must be built up slowly and carefully. It must be proven over time and through adverse conditions. So we need to be able to freely forgive those who have offended us, even if we cannot yet trust them. Forgiveness can precede trust by a wide margin.

Now that we’ve looked at a couple of things forgiveness is not, let’s consider what it might actually be in its own right. I would invite you to envision forgiveness as an act of letting go, an act of release, an act of setting free. More specifically, it is a letting go of two poisonous forces.

First, it is a letting go of anger. When we’re hurt, when we’re wounded, we tend to lash back at our offender in anger. Forgiveness means not doing this. Forgiveness means counting to ten, “taking a pill,” going for a walk—whatever it takes. Words spoken in anger can only escalate a situation that may already be volatile, and lead to behavior which may be severely regretted only minutes later. This is, of course, completely counter-intuitive, and if I were to stand here and tell you that I have not learned the dangers of speaking in anger from repeated personal experience as one speaking in anger, my nose would be long enough to reach the door of the church! But forgiveness means being willing to let go of anger.

Forgiveness also means being willing—and this one may even be harder—forgiveness means being willing to let go of justice. Forgiveness means being willing to surrender that which we may be justly entitled to, that which may be legitimately due us. There is no room for revenge in forgiveness, no room for getting even, no room for avenging lost honor, no room for demanding restitution or reparations.

When the late Pope John Paul visited the man who shot him in 1981, he gave that man his personal forgiveness. He let go of his own right to be angry, and he let go of his own right to personal retribution. Of course, the Pope’s feelings and attitudes have no relevance on whether the Italian justice system should release that man from jail—that’s a public concern. But between John Paul and his offender, there is forgiveness, possibly even reconciliation.

Ultimately, forgiveness is not even an act, a particular behavior located in space and time. Forgiveness is a habit, a way of life. It leads to an enlarged heart—not the kind of enlarged heart that turns a cardiologist’s hair gray, but the kind that is large because it is a reflection of the heart of God. It is a heart that beats in time with God’s own heart. Forgiveness is a costly offering, an expensive sacrifice. It should be, because it finds it fullest expression in that costly sacrifice of the cross, when our Lord interceded for all of us, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

And that, in turn, reminds us of the most enduring benefit of forgiveness. You see, it was our sin that put Jesus on the cross. We are not only victims of sin, but we are offenders and perpetrators. We are the ultimate beneficiaries of the ultimate forgiveness —God’s forgiveness of us. When we forgive others, we open ourselves to being forgiven. And being forgiven is the ultimate release, the ultimate freedom, the ultimate liberation from bondage.

Amen.

XIII Pentecost (Proper 19)

Wonderful visit with the community of St Stephen's, Harrisburg. They meet in a building that was originally a Carnegie Library, and has lent itself quite well to its new use as a church. Celebrated, preached, and confirmed a delightful young man before enjoying a delicious luncheon in their downstairs parish hall. Sunday parish visits are clearly more fun than I deserve to have--what a blessing!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Saturday

Back at the Chiara Center (a gorgeous facility, by the way) by 8am to continue the DGMS retreat. What an enormously productive time we had. I can't wait to begin to broadcast to the whole diocese the vision we developed today. It is truly ground-breaking. We finished around 3, after which I went home and was able to get a good walk in before heading down to Marion (third tine in the same hotel room in the past five weeks!) ahead of tomorrow's visitation to St Stephen's Harrisburg.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Friday (Martyrs of Memphis)

This was "one of those days" when it felt like I could never get traction on any one thing because something else kept intervening. I wanted to get a walk in, but it was raining (about which I will not complain, as we have badly needed it). News then quickly came of the death last night of Elisabeth Bettman, wife of one of our retired priests. So there were emails and phone calls and the like in response to that sad development. Trying to clear my inbox of emails took an inordinate amount of time, it seemed. Much of it had to do with next week's trip to Quito, Ecuador for the regular fall meeting of the House of Bishops. I made it home for a lunch of leftovers, then back to the office, where I managed to focus long enough on one thing to get a sermon hatched for my visit to Chesterfield and Carlinville on the first Sunday of October. Then I worked on trying to fill an upcoming vacancy on the Commission on Ministry; time will yet tell whether my efforts were successful. I also got my 2012 visitation calendar roughed out. It's not ready for publication yet, but getting there. After Evening Prayer in the office (wedding rehearsal going on in the cathedral), I headed out to a nearby retreat center for the working retreat of the Department of General Mission Strategy. We had a productive start, and I look forward to tomorrow. This is the work that will begin the process of charting our course as a diocese. There are no templates, no "best practices" to emulate. We're discovering fire and inventing the wheel. It's that fundamental. Scary ... but exciting ... and the Holy Spirit is with us.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Thursday (Nativity of the BVM)


  • Slightly earlier-than-usual departure; Morning Prayer on the road (no worries, memorized short form).
  • After a cameo appearance at the office, I had tires on the asphalt for Mattoon, in the east central part of the diocese, a little beyond 90 minutes from Springfield. Had an 11am scheduled rendezvous with Fr Ken Truelove, priest-in-charge of Trinity Church there, as part of my project of spending time with parish clergy on their own turf, if possible, apart from my regular scheduled Sunday visitation.
  • Mattoon, sadly, is a little shopworn, having lost a ton of manufacturing jobs since its heyday in the 1950s. Even though I-57 was routed past Mattoon, nearly Charleston (10 miles to the east) has fared better and passed Mattoon in population, owing principally to the presence there of Eastern Illinois University. Fr Truelove drove me around both communities, and we had a nice lunch at a place called What's Cookin' in Charleston.
  • Rolled back into Springfield just before 4:30, so I stopped by the office, and even managed to be productive: Chose hymns for the Synod Mass, roughed out the broad strokes of my homily for the Walsingham pilgrimage in Danville, and returned a phone call concerning one of the clergy pastoral situations about which I wrote yesterday.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Wednesday

  • Too chilly for a comfortable morning walk. What a difference a week makes!
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral. Then made time to look at the avalanche of birthday greetings on Facebook.
  • Got word of a serious injury to one of our retired clergy wives. Checked in by phone, then wrote an Ad Clerum advising the diocesan clergy community of what has befallen some of their colleagues this week. Tried to strike an appropriate balance between transparency and guarding privacy as a conduit of information. 
  • Fleshed out a draft of my sermon for September 25, to be delivered at Christ the King, Normal.
  • Walked with the Archdeacon to a downtown restaurant and allowed him to treat me to a birthday lunch.
  • Ran a couple of domestic errands.
  • Began work on my remarks for Friday night's opening of the Department of General Mission Strategy planning retreat. This is pretty important, so I took care with it, which means it pretty much took the rest of the day ...
  • ... but was interrupted by Brenda's arrival in the office with a concoction called Chocolate Intemperance (let your imagination run wild exponentially on that one), which she pressed into service as a birthday cake. Those of us who inhabit the diocesan office during the day were soon joined by the cathedral staff from next door and a couple of others Brenda had invited for a bit of a party. Very nice.
  • Resumed and completed work on the DGMS presentation.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tuesday


  • Usual routine at home, Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Processed a handful of emails.
  • Took a phone call apprising me of an unexpected pastoral situation. Made a couple of phone calls in response to it.
  • Met with the Archdeacon and the Treasurer over a couple of significant items of diocesan financial business. Then met with those two plus the Administrator to take common counsel regarding the 2012 health insurance program for the clergy. (The amount of premium increase is the lowest I can remember.)
  • Lunch at home.
  • Usual Tuesday chore: Scan accumulated snail mail and other hard copy documents.
  • Refined my sermon for this coming Sunday at St Stephen's, Harrisburg.
  • Wrote a substantive email message to the Bishop's Warden of one of our missions regarding some issues that congregation is facing.
  • In preparation for my homily at next month's Synod Mass, I took a good long look at the appointed readings (Votive Mass: For a Church Convention) and made some preliminary notes.
  • Selected service music for the above-referenced liturgy.
  • Took a phone call from my opposite number in the Central and Southern Illinois Synod of the ELCA. This was only his third day on the job, but it was more than just a courtesy call. Since the ELCA is a full-communion partner of the Episcopal Church, we had some material issues to discuss.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

XII Pentecost (Proper 18)


After spending Saturday night at home for the first time in several weeks, I rolled out at 6:45am for Mt Vernon. For a holiday weekend, attendance was great at Trinity Church. I never fail to be astonished by the enthusiasm with which I am received, and today was no exception. One of the parishioners even wrote a poem for the occasion. The three confirmands (seen above with YFNB and Fr Tucker) had an average age of 39 ... but one of them is 94! After Mass and brunch I accompanied the Rector to take Holy Communion to a parishioner who is confined to a nursing home; this sort of thing used to be a routine part of my ministry as a parish priest, but is now unusual, so I was grateful for the opportunity. Back home around 4:30.

Sermon for Proper 18


Matthew 18:15-20
Trinity, Mount Vernon                                                                     Ezekiel 33:1-11



Well  ...  have you committed any sins lately?

I know I have, and I would bet you have too!

Have you been  approached lately by a member of this congregation who claimed to have been wronged by you,  and asked to make amends? Perhaps  ...  but that would be a relatively unusual occurrence, would it not?

Have you been  ganged up on lately  by two or three fellow parishioners of Trinity who have attempted to bring to your attention some wrongdoing on your part, and persuade you to change your ways? Again, not outside the realm of possibility, but I myself would be shocked to hear of such an incident.

One more question.  Have you recently considered committing a particular sin, and been stopped in your tracks by the thought of receiving a phone call from Father Tucker asking you to appear before the next meeting of the vestry and explain your behavior? 
Here, I believe, we truly cross the line between conceivable reality… and the Twilight Zone! 

As far out as these possibilities sound, they are precisely what Jesus the Christ, as recorded in St Matthew’s gospel, envisions as routine disciplinary procedures for his church!  And at the root of these procedures is the hard reality that Christians, despite being Christians, continue to be sinners.  And the fact of our sinfulness is of no small consequence.  Any sin is potentially a deadly sin for the individual who commits it, because it inhibits the free flow of God’s love and grace in that person’s life. Left unchecked, sin is spiritually fatal. 

But any sin is also potentially a deadly sin for the larger Christian community, the family of the church, because it inhibits the church’s mission and witness in the world. 
For better or for worse, the world out there judges the church in here much more for what we do than for what we say. They look for us to walk what we talk, practice what we preach. Some years ago, I ran accross an online bulletin board for atheists and agnostics. I did some snooping around and was dismayed to find that a majority of self-professed atheists and agnostics who posted messages on this particular bulletin board were at one time or another deeply wounded by the church or by an individual Christian. So they have rejected the gospel—rejected God himself—because of that wound. Indeed, our sins are of no small consequence.

Yet, as destructive as our sinful behavior is, we tend to bend over backwards not to confront one another about it.  One reason we don’t confront one another about our destructive sinful behavior is our regard for a slightly modified version of the Golden Rule: “Don’t do unto others what you would not have them do unto you.” We’re afraid of being made to face our own sin, so we have an unspoken agreement to simply not bring up the subject, except in very general terms and from very safe places—like pulpits!  If we venture to violate the agreement of “mind your own business”, we do so at some degree of personal risk.  It will undoubtedly rock the boat, and make it very awkward to polish candlesticks or hand out bulletins with that person next weekend. 

Then there’s the understandable fear of becoming, or being victimized by, a genuine busybody—one who takes a compulsive and inappropriate interest in others’ affairs. There’s also the fear of making a mistake, of completely misjudging a situation, and being made a fool of. 

What it amounts to is that we generally don’t trust one another enough to risk confronting one another with our wrongdoing, even when we’re the victim of it, and much less when the wrongdoing could be construed as someone else’s private business. 

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone,” Jesus says. There is something about the nature of our life together that makes it exceedingly difficult to successfully put into practice this simple directive from our Lord. 

Jesus continues, “If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you ... and if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church ... and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector”—which is to say, kick him out and bolt the door.

What can I say? This is so far removed from our normal experience of church life that it’s almost impossible to even connect with it. Our habits of thought and feeling, our instincts, our assumptions—everything about our social fabric—is not set up to gracefully and effectively receive such a proposal.  Somehow we’ve adopted the notion that the be-all and end-all of our relationships within the church is that we’re nice to each other.  Now I’m not trying to demean good manners, but “being nice” is not the ultimate Christian value.  The bottom line is this: for whatever reason, the internal discipline—for the laity, at any rate; less so for the clergy—the internal discipline of the church is lax, if not non-existent. 

But hear the words of the prophet Ezekiel, which are addressed to us today as surely as they were to the Jewish exiles in Babylon 2,500 years ago:
“If I say to the wicked, O wicked man, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.”

These are sobering words. God indeed does not hold us responsible for the actions and decisions of others.  But he does hold us responsible for speaking a word of warning to a brother or sister in Christ who is about to fall off a spiritual cliff, or is doing something that undermines the mission of the church to which we are all committed.

Together, we have an obligation to somehow find a way of taking seriously the fact that we are all spiritually   interdependent on one another.  Believe me, no one is more aware than I am as I stand before you at this moment, that I’m talking about something that is much more easily said than done. In fact—I’ll make a confession—I don’t even have a clear vision of what it would look like if what I’m talking about actually came to pass! I do believe, however, that change in perception is usually a pre-requisite to change in behavior. And in this case, I believe we need to change our perception in one fundamentally important area. We need to change our perception of one word that, in all four gospels, occurs only in Matthew, and within Matthew’s gospel, is found only in this passage and the one we read two weeks ago.            

“If he refuses to listen ... tell it to the church.” 

Tell it to the church. 

We tend to think of the church as  an institution, and institution is a rich image. It contains everything from hierarchies and chains-of command, to constitutions and by-laws, to standard operating procedures, to membership requirements and initiations, to warm fuzzy feelings of comradeship and togetherness.  The church is an institution, and that is necessary and important, even good. 

But I would suggest to you that the institution is perhaps the least helpful single image of the church one could choose, because it also carries with it the idea of being a voluntary association.  We join the Rotary club, the country club, or whatever, if we perceive that membership would somehow be good for us. And when we no longer find it good, we just quit. It’s all voluntary. But one thing an institution cannot do is interfere in our personal lives.  The city club I belong to in Springfield requires that gentlemen wear jackets in the dining room, but it sure can’t tell me what to wear at the grocery store! So if we perceive of the church as an institution, it’s no wonder that we hesitate to either give or receive discipline through her. 
 
But we’re headed down a dead end road here, because the church is not merely an aggregation of individuals who perceive that they share similar opinions or experiences about God and want to get together for worship or fellowship or service or whatever. The church is a tribe, a clan, family. The model for what the church is is the ancient Hebrew nation, the twelve tribes of Israel.  They were related by blood.  We are related by water, the water of baptism. And in this case, water is thicker than blood! We don’t choose to become a member of a tribe—we’re born into it. We don’t apply for admission to a family—we’re adopted into the family of the church, the Christian tribe, at our baptism.  And, most importantly,  we can’t resign from our family. We can abandon or betray it, but we can’t ever stop being a member of it. At the font, we were marked as Christ’s own forever, and nothing can erase that mark. 

And although a functioning family is never perfect, it does create the environment in which discipline is at least credible, at least not a laughable concept. As long as we choose to relate to the church as an institution, we will always recoil at the thought of church discipline.  But if we see the church as an extended family into which we have been born, we have a chance, at least, of developing the trust necessary to submit to her discipline.  And if we are able to do that, we will ensure that our sins never become deadly sins, either for ourselves, or for those who may depend on us as mediators of the word of the Lord and the gospel of his Christ. Amen.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Saturday

Spent the entire day just "hanging out" with daughter Summer, her husband Dominick, and their little ones Charlotte and Elsa. This is their first visit to Springfield since my consecration in March. Got to take Charlotte to the park. Even watched a little football. A good day.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Friday (Martyrs of New Guinea)


  • Still too hot even early in the morning for a walk or reading the paper on the porch. So ... usual routine at home, Morning Prayer in the office.
  • Processed the latest batch of emails, and handled some too-long-pending correspondence.
  • Did some background reading and research in preparation for a sermon I've been invited to give at the (Our Lady of) Walsingham pilgrimage at Holy Trinity, Danville next month.
  • Took care of some relatively mundane administrative chores.
  • Lunch with the Archdeacon at Xoxomilco, a Mexican joint on the west side.
  • Traded a bunch of emails with my photographer brother. We're about to have the Bishop Daniel Martins Official Portrait website up and running, with a handful of different poses available for purchase by parishes and other interested parties.
  • Back to the optometrist for a recheck. The glasses I picked up a couple of weeks ago are not working out. They're going to make new lenses.
  • Got some formal administrative ducks in a row for the winding down of St James', McLeansboro as an active mission of the diocese. The silver lining is that the building is being sold to a local concern with an interest in historic preservation. They will restore it to original condition and then allow us to use it for worship on either a regular or occasional basis. St James' Church will be re-designated as a chapel, under the auspices of the Hale Deanery. All in all, as pretty close to a win-win outcome as could have been imagined.
  • Spent some prayer time in Ignatian-style discursive meditation on a portion of the Passion according to St Mark (the passage appointed for this evening in the office lectionary).
  • Evening Prayer in the office.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Thursday (David Pendleton Oakerhater)


  • September 1st and it was too hot at 8am to read the paper outside. Task planning at home, Morning Prayer in the office (also too hot in the cathedral!).
  • Responded to some snail mail (by email, of course!), and generally got bogged down in distractions and false starts, an experience that ended up characterizing the whole day, unfortunately.
  • Began the process of registering for a November meeting of bishops of "small" dioceses (which Springfield qualifies as by just about any measure). Appalled at how air fares have gone up. 
  • Met with a priest of a neighboring diocese to get acquainted and explore possibilities for deployment in this diocese.
  • Lunch at home--a combination of leftovers I probably shouldn't say much about.
  • Got back to the task of making travel plans for Salt Lake City in November. After being on hold with Delta long enough for them to conjure the spirit of its founder in some Louisiana crop dusting hangar, I managed to get credit for the unused portion of a flight they canceled in May (but which their computer showed me as still "checked in" for), and make reservations for the upcoming trip in question. By that time, I needed Happy Hour to arrive early. It didn't. (I'm flying from Bloomington, because that's where Delta flies from, and because they already owe me money. Unhappy that it's so expensive to fly from SPI.)
  • Conceived and hatched a homily for Proper 21, which, God willing, I will deliver at Christ the King, Normal on the 25th of this month.
  • Began to incubate the other two (the first one having been attended to yesterday) sermons I need to prepare for the preaching mission in Florida, 30 October-1November.
  • Looked at my October visitation calendar and made a few notes about details I need to check into further.
  • Evening Prayer in the office.