Monday, October 31, 2011

Monday

Celebrated Mass at Redeemer, then led a clergy day until 2pm, talking about the challenge of being part of the "minority party" in the Episcopal Church. Shared some reflections from Jeremiah, Hosea, and Joshua.

Interviewed a priest from a neighboring diocese who is interested in exploring opportunities that may come open in Springfield.

Accompanied Brenda and an old friend who now lives in the area to a nearby botanical garden. Fascinating and exotic flora and fauna (little lizards).

Attended a dinner party at the home of a Redeemer parishioner. Very elegant. Good food. Stimulating conversation.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Homily: Evensong for All Saints

(Delivered at Redeemer, Sarasota as the preaching mission continues.)


“I sing a song of the saints of God …”  This is the opening line of what I would dare say is one of the more popular All Saints hymns in the Anglican tradition. It’s a children’s song, really, and rather obviously reeking of Victorian Englishness, so much so that the liturgical powers-that-be in the Episcopal Church made the decision to omit it from the most recent revision of the hymnal in 1982. But the members of the House of Deputies at General Convention that year—God bless them, a group not generally not known for being nostalgic about the past—voted overwhelmingly to restore it, and it remains one of the quaint and quirky elements of our Anglican sub-culture.

Behind the Victorian schmaltz, however, behind the poetic images that make us grin—the lines about meeting the saints of God in “shops” or in “lanes” or “at tea”—is a repeated refrain that is as serious as a heart attack. Each of the three stanzas ends with the line, “…and I mean to be one too.” This is what the saints are like, and I mean to be one too. Do we really mean this? If we paid attention to what we were singing, would we allow these words to cross our lips? Certainly it would give us pause if we were to consider the implications. “I mean to be one too.” I expect to be a saint. I aspire to sainthood. To borrow from another song that is often trivialized, “…Lord, I mean to be in that number, when the saints go marching in.” And I mean to be one too.

That really is a daunting and sobering prospect. Sainthood is not for the faint of heart. That much is made clear in the readings for All Saints Day in the classic Anglican lectionaries. In Ecclesiasticus we read about “famous men” who “made a name for themselves by their valor” and gave wise counsel and spoke in prophetic oracles and composed music and literature and were the pride of their times, “godly men whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten.” In Revelation, St John sees the multitude that “have come out of the great tribulation, [and] have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

“And I mean to be one too.” We look at these folks, and we look at ourselves, and we wonder that anyone would think it possible for us to attain such holiness. Or we may look honestly into our own hearts and realize that holiness is perhaps the last thing that we would aspire to. Who wants to be holy, anyway? We don’t want to come across as “holier than thou,” or be thought of as a “holy roller” or be referred to as a “holy Joe.”

Maybe we’d better watch what we sing. Hymns can be dangerous.

To be a saint, of course, means to be holy. That’s what the word means, “holy one.” To aspire to sainthood is to aspire to holiness. To be holy means, first and foremost, to be set apart by God. This is a sovereign act of God, and has little or nothing to do with the individual qualities of the person or object being set apart. God simply decides, for whatever reason, to mark something or someone as His, and it becomes, in the language of the Old Testament, “holy to the Lord,” set apart from ordinary use and ordinary significance. When we celebrate the sacrament of Holy Baptism, we make new Christians by setting them apart, designating them as holy to the Lord, and God takes possession of them in that act, marking them as “Christ’s own forever.” Of course, there’s another layer of meaning to the word “holy” which does imply a qualitative distinction, that says something particular about the object or person we are calling “holy.” When we speak of a holy woman or holy man, we are saying that such a person is somehow like God in His essential nature: complete, whole, unblemished, pure, “without spot or wrinkle,” a complete mirror image of the likeness of Christ. Such a condition of holiness is not arrived at instantly. It is the end of a long and gradual process; it is the fruit of a sustained pattern of openness to the ministry of the Holy Spirit in one’s soul. It is the result of a lifetime of habitually yielding oneself to God’s love and God’s purpose.

Those whom we revere as “saints,” both on All Saints’ Day and the various days of the year when their names pop up—these folks all started out as sinners, just like us. Some were naturally nice people, like Francis of Assisi, but some were notoriously cantankerous, like St Jerome, the one who first translated the scriptures from Greek into Latin. Some had what seemed like an innate goodness that easily showed through their personalities—St Margaret of Scotland falls into this category. Others had to work at cultivating the Christian virtues—one thinks here of St Augustine, who sowed more wild oats in his teens and twenties than most men today can even dream about! Some of those we call saints were highly rational creatures, like St Thomas Aquinas, who seriously did apply his intellect to the question, “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” Others, like St Teresa of Avila, were complete mystics who were frustrated at having to put their experience of God into mere human words. Some of the saints were loners, like St Antony of Egypt, the father of Christian monasticism.  Others loved being with people—I can’t help mentioning Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

I could go one, but the point is this: It is highly improbable that any of us will ever have our own day in the liturgical calendar. A couple of us may someday have a plaque on the inside wall of a church somewhere with our name on it, which may or may not be a sign of some degree of holiness. So, some of us will be known by future generations because someone was thoughtful enough to bring a resolution to a vestry meeting, and others will be remembered because of heroic Christian witness. But heroic Christian witness is not really why those in the latter category as remembered as saints.  They are saints for the same reason that you and I are also destined to sainthood: because they have achieved—or so the church assumes and/or discerns—they have achieved, through grace, a vision of God that is no longer clouded by Sin. They can look God straight in the eye without being destroyed.

And that is what awaits all of us who have been “marked as Christ’s own forever.” That is the destiny of the community of the baptized, God’s holy ones, those who have been set apart for His glory. 

Is there an alternative to this destiny? Is there another option besides complete holiness? You bet there is. It’s called Hell! It’s called eternal separation from God. It’s called the eradication of all that is truly human within us. Those are the alternatives: complete holiness, or utter darkness. There are no slums in Heaven. There is no low-income subsidized housing. We’re either en route to sainthood or en route to Hell. The choice is ours. As for me, “I mean to be one too.” Amen.

Homily for Proper 26

1 Thessalonians 2:9-13, 17-20
Matthew 23:1-12
Micah 3:5-12

(Given at the Church of the Redeemer in Sarasota, Florida, where I am giving a "preaching mission" today and Tuesday.)

I don’t see it so much lately, but, for a while in the middle years of the last decade, a 1999 film called Office Space seemed to be constantly popping up on one TV channel or another. Office Space is a parody of what life is like for those on the lower rungs of the corporate ladder—working in a cubicle doing repetitive tasks that don’t seem to have any bearing on anyone’s real life, dealing with a smug and condescending boss who’s more concerned with getting the paperwork right than with actual productivity, and a pair of rather idiotic “downsizing” consultants who identify the main character, who is in fact a complete slacker who hates his job and everything about it—they identify this guy as prime leadership material, and earmark him for immediate promotion!

Prime leadership material indeed. One might question the wisdom and judgment of those consultants, but this little scene certainly serves to illustrate the critical importance of good leadership in any human community or organization.  Now that the baseball season is over, we’re probably going to see some teams that didn’t do as well as they had expected replace their managers—“We need new leadership in the dugout” the front office will say. When I lived in Baton Rouge in the early ‘90s, I learned that they take their football very seriously, and when LSU had a losing season, the coach might well wake up one morning and find a moving van parked in front of his home! When corporate earnings come in below Wall Street expectations, the Board of Directors immediately looks to the CEO—the top leader—for an explanation. Church communities, of course, look to the rector, and the staff, and the vestry, and the heads of parish programs for leadership in carrying out the mission and vision of the congregation. I just presided over my first diocesan convention as a bishop, and I can assure you that the clergy and laity of the Diocese of Springfield are looking intently at their bishop for leadership!

Good leadership can be an elusive quality, and difficult to define. Unfortunately, bad leadership is usually pretty recognizable, and its results quite visible. Today we hear from the Old Testament prophet Micah,  who is all worked up about the quality of leadership in his native kingdom of Judah. He has a problem with his fellow prophets who sell their ministry to the highest bidder—telling those who pay for it whatever they want to hear, while castigating those who don’t put any money into their coffers.  Micah also has strong words for the… 

“…heads of the house of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel, who abhor justice and pervert all equity, who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with wrong. Its heads give judgment for a bribe, its priests teach for hire, its prophets divine for money…”
Micah tells them that because of their actions, they “shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded height.”

Then Jesus himself has some choice words about the religious leadership of his own day:
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice.”
He then goes on from there with a rather scathing bill of particulars that certainly didn’t win him any friends among those whom he was accusing.

Both Micah and Jesus are as lathered up as they are because the consequences of bad leadership are crippling. Bad leadership is demoralizing. The organization has no sense of direction and no enthusiasm for getting where it doesn’t know it’s going! Bad leadership leads to systemic dysfunction. People wear their feelings on their sleeve and engage in turf wars and talk past each other rather than working with each other. Bad leadership ultimately leads to despair—to a sense of hopelessness and eventually to the collapse of the community.

This much is fairly obvious. But what is good leadership? Let me make that more specific: For Christians, for the community of the church, what is good leadership? In other words, what is authentically faithful leadership? What sort of leadership indicates faithfulness and obedience to the leader of leaders, obedience to our Lord Jesus Christ, and to God the Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit?

In the 1980s, a Roman Catholic leader in liturgical renewal wrote a book called Strong, Loving, and Wise, which was about how priests should preside in liturgy, but it seems to me that those three characteristics could also be applied to Christian leadership in general, and not be too far off the mark. Strong, loving, and wise—if all church leaders could live up to those ideals, we would indeed have something to praise God for!

Yet, I might suggest that even leadership that is strong, loving, and wise may still lack the “one thing needful.” I say this because of the challenges that St Paul faced as a leader and because of what he said when he wrote back to the new Christian community he had founded in the city of Thessalonica.
“You remember our labor and toil, brethren; we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you, while we preached to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our behavior to you believers; for you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to lead a life worthy of God….” 
There is one quality that shines through in this passage. Yes, Paul is a strong leader. Yes, Paul is a loving leader, and he’s also wise. But more fundamentally, Paul is a servant. He is a servant not only of his Lord, but of those whom he leads. His concern was not for his own status. He did not seek the “perks” of leadership—no limousine, no penthouse, no foundation named after him… or whatever the first century equivalent of those things was. He poured out his life in the service of those whose leader he was, and that is what gave the mark of authenticity and faithfulness to the strong, loving, and wise leadership that he exercised.

Faithful leadership is servant leadership. I would suggest that this is true for schools and corporations and cities and counties and states, not to mention families. But it is most certainly true in the church. Of course, I stand before you as a Christian leader, so it stands to reason that I’m preaching to myself, and that this is the standard of leadership to which I aspire, and to which my diocese has a right to hold me accountable. But it is also the standard that applies here at Redeemer, to your most excellent Rector, to the clergy who assist him, to the wardens and vestry,  and to all those involved in positions of leadership in this parish. The more we all live into this ideal, the stronger and more authentic will be our witness to the world that Jesus is Lord and the Kingdom of God is breaking in all around us. Faithful leadership is servant leadership. Amen.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Saturday (James Hannington & His Companions)

Today was a day of travel in preparation for the preaching mission I am giving at the Church of the Redeemer in Sarasota, Florida. Redeemer is a thriving resource-size parish with over 700 in average Sunday attendance.

Left home at 8:15 to catch a 10:30 flight out of Bloomington. Three hour layover in Atlanta provided opportunity for some significant walking--always welcome. Lovely dinner in Sarasota with the rector of Redeemer, Fr Fred Robinson, and his wife Linda.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Ss Simon & Jude

  • Took it just a little easy on myself this morning, given the late night of baseball watching. So ... I read the morning office in my room, and missed Matins & Mass in St Mary's Chapel.
  • Took part in the fall academic convocation, at which several degrees were awarded, mostly to distance learning students. The distance learning program at Nashotah has been a raging success. Lord Carey of Clifton, the 103rd Archbishop of Canterbury (will there ever be a 103rd Bishop of Springfield?!) delivered a fine talk on the significance of the King James translation of the Bible, on this, its 400th anniversary year.
  • At lunch, I had the opportunity, at a table with some students, alumni, another bishop, and a priest trustee, to share the nascent Springfield vision statement. There was great excitement.
  • After lunch, participated in the afternoon session of the Nashotah trustees meeting. We were one short of a quorum, so we couldn't transact any official business. Fortunately, we had already done the essential stuff yesterday, so we just had a very valuable discussion.
  • After a short visit to the lakefront--a luminous spot in the history of my soul--I was glad to get an earlier-than-expected start on the five hour drive home. Had two long an substantive phone conversations on the way.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Thursday

  • Solemn Choral Matins at 8, followed by breakfast in the refectory.
  • Trustees met all morning and all afternoon. Had lunch with a seminarian and his wife, at the recommendation of a faculty member. The seminarian is currently an "orphan" looking for a diocese.
  • Attended the installation of Bishop Edward Salmon as the new "temporarily permanent" dean and president of Nashotah House.
  • Scrumptious dinner at the refectory, then over to the deanery for some socializing with Bishop and Mrs. Salmon (she is an over-the-top rabid Cardinals fan) and some parishioners from All Saints, Chevy Chase, MD, where the bishop has recently completed a 26 month interim stint. We were also joined by Lord and Lady Carey.
  • Watched three or four innings with some Rangers fans in one of the guest apartments, but came back to my hotel room to watch the agonizing/exciting finish to Game 6 of the World Series.
  • My introversion was pretty well taxed today. I'm beat.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Wednesday (Alfred the Great)

  • Hit the road northbound at 7:45. Lunch in Beloit, WI. Had a couple of fruitful phone conversations along the way. Arrived at Nashotah House with about fifteen minutes to spare before a 1:30 committee meeting ....
  • ... said committee being External Affairs. Heard an upbeat (all things considered) report on enrollment. Some particularly creative work is being done in student recruitment. I am particularly impressed with the work done by a couple of young staff members on the website. Do check it out.
  • Back to Delafield to check in to my hotel, make a pastoral call by phone, and process some email.
  • Solemn Evensong in St Mary's Chapel, followed by the dedication of the new wing of the refectory, which includes lots of additional classroom and meeting space.
  • Hung out for a bit at the reception/happy hour. Chatted some with Fr Mark Evans, rector-elect of Trinity, Lincoln. Excited about his coming to the diocese. Also got to meet George Carey, the 103rd Archbishop of Canterbury, who is here for Friday's academic convocation, at which he will receive an honorary doctorate.
  • Delightful dinner with the Bishop of Fond du Lac at a nearby German restaurant. We solved all the problems of the church. Unfortunately, we will have forgotten all our solutions by tomorrow and nobody will ever hear about them.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tuesday

  • Task planning (always more complex on Tuesdays) at home; Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Debriefed on several matters relating to our recent diocesan synod with the Administrator and the Archdeacon.
  • Took a phone call from the rector-elect of Trinity, Lincoln concerning various details of the beginning of his ministry (Advent).
  • Took a phone call from the Rector's Warden of one of our parishes regarding an administrative/pastoral matter.
  • Gave written consent to the resignation of the Bishop of Ecuador Central. (If you know the back story here, you know it's a sad one.)
  • Followed up with the Archdeacon with an administrative matter regarding one of our clergy.
  • Processed about a half dozen emails.
  • Lunch at home (from McDonalds--a McRib ... available for a limited time only!)
  • Finished and refined the drafts of four sermons: the three I'll give at Redeemer, Sarasota as part of my All Saints preaching mission, and the one I'll give in Pekin and Morton the following Sunday.
  • Took care of my 2012 medical insurance plan enrollment. Never as easy as it should be.
  • Conceived and hatched a sermon for Christ the King Sunday, to be given at St Andrew's, Edwardsville.
  • Fleshed out a draft of a homily for Proper 28 (St Thomas', Salem).
  • It was already 6pm as I was leaving the office. Intended to do Evening Prayer in my car while driving home (the memorized short form, of course), but this one got by me.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

XIX Pentecost

St Bartholomew's, Granite City at 8:45 and St Thomas', Glen Carbon at 10:30, the latter with two confirmations. Then home for some down time after a long and challenging--but invigorating--weekend.

Sermon Notes for Proper 25

I stuck fairly close to this outline at St Bartholomew's, Granite City and St Thomas', Glen Carbon, but delivered the homily without notes. It's just a walk-through rough exposition of the Psalm for the day--Psalm 1.


  • The Matrix—red pill/blue pill choice (truth and potential happiness vs. comfortable anxiety and despair)
  • Psalm 1 presents us with just such a choice

1 Happy are they...

  • Happiness/blessedness—the highest human aspiration (lies beyond intermediate “I would be happy if…” statements)

who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked, 
nor lingered in the way of sinners,
nor sat in the seats of the scornful

  • First advice, a negative: avoid the wicked/sinners/scornful (in Heb. parallelism, those terms are successively illuminating, and they all refer to those who are self-sufficient, autonomous) 

2 Their delight is in the law of the and they meditate on his law day and night.

  • Hard for me to conceive of “delighting” in any law (60s, evangelicalism—only a wannabe lawyer studying for the bar meditates on any law day and night!), so I have to think of “law” not as something imposed by force, either reasonably or arbitrarily, but as simply “what is” (as in “laws of nature”)

3 They are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; everything they do shall prosper.

  • Illus: ribbons of green on a desert landscape—trees “prosper” (have access to a source of life-giving sustenance) no matter what the immediate circumstances are. 

4 It is not so with the wicked; they are like the chaff which the wind blows away.

  • The "wicked" (the autonomous, arrogant, self-absorbedly independent) = "chaff" (i.e. they are "lightweights")

5 Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when judgment comes, nor the sinner in the council of the righteous.

  • …who cannot “stand upright when judgment [settling accounts, paying the bills, closing the books with final postings to the ledger] comes, they are shells of the real selves, lacking in substance 
  •  What a blessed/happy prospect it is to be able to stand upright in God’s presence, without shame or fear  (because of the “law of the Lord cum paschal mystery) that is the very fulfillment of the human telos

For the but the way of the wicked is doomed.

  • v6: we have a choice of “ways” – God and happiness are at the end of one way, and not the other [red pill > new birth > real world] – may we all choose life

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Saturday

We wrapped up the business of the 134th synod of the Diocese of Springfield pretty much on schedule, with adjournment around 12:15. I was encouraged by both the tone and substance of the the whole event. There is much daunting labor that lies ahead of us, but we are rather clearer about it now, I think, and that clarity is a necessary step.

Brenda and I had lunch with a friend, then grabbed some down time, as we are remaining in the Metro East area for the night because my visits tomorrow are to Granite City and Glen Carbon. We saw the movie Moneyball, which was probably a providential choice, as it deals with precisely the sort of seismic shift in thinking that I tried to articulate in my address yesterday.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Friday

  • Didn't go in to the office, but took such steps at home as were necessary to leave at 10am for Belleville and the 134th annual synod of the Diocese of Springfield. Trying to sort out what vestments to bring and what to carry them in made Brenda remark that I'm worse than a girl getting ready for prom!
  • Spied a Ruby Tuesday (always Brenda's casual dining establishment of choice) in Belleville and grabbed lunch before checking in at the Four Points by Sheraton.
  • Gaveled synod to order promptly at 2pm and took care of the organizational and administrative formalities that need to be taken care of on such an occasion.
  • Introduced and heard greetings from two special guests: the Bishop of Missouri (whose office is only a 17 minute drive from where we are meeting) and the new ELCA bishop of the Central-Southern Illinois Synod. 
  • Delivered the Bishop's Address, the text of which can be found here.
  • Recessed a little earlier than we had planned on (no complaints from anyone on that) and met down at St George's for the Eucharist. It was a splendid liturgy.
  • Back up Hwy 159 to the Four Points for a lovely banquet and light-hearted entertainment. This is fun.

Sermon at 134th Annual Synod Mass

Revelation 21:1-7

When I was a boy, I had a sort of recurring fantasy—it may have been rooted in a dream, I suppose; I don’t know—a fantasy in which I rescued the rusted out shell of an automobile from a junkyard and painstakingly restored it to bright and shining mint condition. Then, as young adults, Brenda and I took great delight in watching episodes of the old PBS version of This Old House, and watched Bob Vila work his magic every week on another gem of an old home. At one level, it’s odd that I would find these things interesting, because I don’t really have the aptitude or the patience to actually do them, at least with cars, although we’ve have a small degree of success with a couple of houses. But at another level, maybe it’s not so odd. Maybe youthful fantasies about restoring and renovating cars and houses have prepared me for just this moment, just this season, in my life and ministry, and this season in our life together as the Diocese of Springfield.

“Behold, I make all things new.” This is the astonishing announcement that God himself makes in this mystically mind-bending scene in the Revelation to St John. “Behold, I make all things new.” These words fill us with hopeful anticipation, with spine-tingling excitement, because so much of our experience in this world feels very old, very dysfunctional, very threadbare and soiled. The patterns of ethnic conflict, political corruption, crime and violence, war, and economic upheaval, just keep on repeating themselves with distressing regularity. Only the names and the details change each time.

“Behold, I make all things new.” These words give us hope, but they also, if we’re paying attention, induce fear. They induce fear because they threaten everything to which we are attached. I make all things new. All things. Including the things that have give us comfort and joy and to which we look for security and affirmation. Some of it, of course, we need to let go of anyway. Some if it can easily become an albatross, a burden that holds us back and keeps us from making progress. But much of what we are attached to is indeed worthwhile and good and deservedly enduring.  So it’s comforting to realize that we’re talking here about renewal, not necessarily replacement. What made my car and house fantasies compelling—for me, at any rate—was that they took something which had grown old and made it new. You can buy a new car; you can build a new house. Sometimes, that’s the right decision. But there’s something about redemption, something about restoration, something about recovery, that touches our hearts in a much different place, a very sensitive place, a place of great vulnerability. This is all in accord with one of the fundamental precepts of Christian theology, which is that “grace perfects nature,” that is, God’s default mode is not to throw out that which is old and broken, but to fix it, to restore it, to redeem it, to make it not just like new, but better than new. Is not this a more satisfying vision than the one supplied by our culture of obsolescence, where even appliances like refrigerators are now virtually disposable, and are old after only five years or so?

At this moment, I am wearing, very intentionally, the ring that was made for and worn by Bishop Chambers, the seventh Bishop of Springfield. And the pectoral cross that you saw me wearing when I had my black cassock on at the hotel was one made for and worn by Bishop White, the fourth Bishop of Springfield. As you may recall, when I was consecrated, Bishop Beckwith presented me with the crozier carried by Bishop Seymour, the first bishop of this diocese. These are all outward signs of the rich heritage that is ours in the Diocese of Springfield, signs that God has indeed been “our help in ages past.” As we move into the exciting future God has for us, we do not abandon that heritage. We take it with us. It is what drives us forward. But we have grown old, my friends. We have grown old in so many ways. And when we hear God say, “Behold, I make all things new,” we hear him saying that to us. And so, the crozier that I carried into this liturgy, the sign of the bishop’s ministry as shepherd and leader, is my own new one, one of the many gifts I have received from the clergy and faithful of this diocese. Perhaps it will also one day “live” in the diocesan archive room, and be brought out by a future bishop as a sign of God’s faithfulness to us, now, in this generation, in this season of our life together. For us now, though, it is a sign of promise. If the cross and ring worn by previous bishops are, together, a sign of our heritage pushing us into the future, this new crozier, together with the new ring and the new cross made for and worn by the eleventh Bishop of Springfield, are, together, a sign of God pulling us into the future that he has prepared for us. The past pushes us into the future; the future pulls us into itself. The same God who was our help in ages past is our “hope for years to come.”

“Behold, I make all things new.”

Our access to the power of renewal is through the paschal mystery, through that which we are gathered here to tap into right now. The death and resurrection of Jesus forms the pattern, the template, for our own redemption.  And it is through baptism and eucharist that we participate in that mystery. Baptism leads inexorably to eucharist, and eucharist, if it is done well, leads without fail to mission, and mission, if it is done faithfully, leads to more baptism, and the cycle repeats itself as the Church is continuously renewed.

In the paschal mystery—or, to be clearer, in our liturgical participation in the paschal mystery—time itself is suspended and transcended. We have this wonderful image that is presented to us in the Revelation to John, the image of the New Jerusalem—the essential sign of God’s renewing and redeeming activity—the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven as a bride adorned for her bridegroom. We, together, are the bride. Jesus is our bridegroom.  St Augustine tells us that this “coming down” is not just some future event that we look forward to; it is a continuous, ongoing action, an action that has been happening since the beginning of time. This is a mystical reality that we are invited to share in every time we come together at the altar of God, and particularly intensely, I might add, when the community of the baptized is gathered together with the Bishop, and the presbyters, and the deacons. We are, at this moment, forming an image, a living icon, of the completeness of the Church, and of the workspace in which God pursues his renewing and redeeming work.  

“Behold, I make all things new.”

As we prepare now to gather in heart and mind around the Lord’s Table, which signifies for us the heavenly altar at which the saints are gathered in glory, we first do well to be renewed in the hope of our baptism. So I invite you to stand with me now as we remind ourselves who we are, and whose we are; where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going.

(The liturgy continued immediately with the renewal of baptismal vows.)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Thursday

  • Usual AM routine. Remembered Morning Prayer this time!
  • Wrote out notes to clergy and spouses with November birthdays and anniversaries. (I only hope they can read them; my handwriting is not what it used to be!)
  • Met, along with the Archdeacon, with the Bishop's Warden and Treasurer from St Michael's, O'Fallon in connection with the process of calling their next Vicar.
  • Lunch at home.
  • Conceived and hatched a sermon for November 13, when I'm at St Thomas' in Salem.
  • Went online to reserve a rental car for when we're in Florida for a preaching mission the week after next (followed by three days of R&R).
  • Wrote my "From the Bishop" article for the November edition of the Springfield Current.
  • Evening Prayer in the office.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Wednesday (Henry Martyn)

  • Task planning at home. Got to the office and immediately got distracted such that I completely forgot about Morning Prayer. Not quite sure what happened there; didn't even realize it until late in the afternoon.
  • Played email tag with a couple of potential candidates for a parochial vacancy.
  • Took care of some details related to my registration for a continuing ed program for new bishops sponsored by Canterbury Cathedral. Happily, I learned that I have been accepted, and began to investigate air travel arrangements. (This takes place in late January.)
  • Refined and attempted to interiorize a bit my homily for this Sunday, to be given at St Bartholomew's, Granite City and St Thomas', Glen Carbon.
  • Lunch from TG, eaten at home.
  • Spoke by phone with one of the candidates for the aforementioned vacancy.
  • Labored successfully on a final draft for my synod address, including coordinating the PowerPoint slides that will accompany it.
  • Spoke by phone with another of the candidates for the vacant position.
  • Conceived and hatched a homily for my visit to Morton and Pekin on the Sunday after All Saints.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

St Luke

  • Task organization at home; MP in the cathedral.
  • Debriefed on sundry items with the Administrator and the Archdeacon and the Treasurer.
  • Processed several pending emails.
  • Initiated some contacts with potential candidates for a parish vacancy we're trying to fill.
  • Processed the accumulated paper items in my (physical) inbox.
  • Lunch at home.
  • Finished drafting and refining my homily for the synod liturgy this Friday.
  • Worked some more on the vacancy situation.
  • Prepared (mentally) my homily for tonight's Mass at St Luke's, for St Luke's Day,
  • Celebrated and preached at St Luke's. We worshiped in spirit and truth, and then enjoyed a good meal. Doesn't get any better.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

XVIII Pentecost (Proper 24)

A long and demanding day, but a wonderful one. I left home before sunrise and arrived back after sunset. My official visit was to St John's, Decatur: Masses at 7:30 and 10, with an open forum between the liturgies, and lunch with the vestry following the final coffee hour. What a drop-dead gorgeous church St John's is. The liturgy had lots of energy; we confirmed four adults, and three others reaffirmed their vows. Morale is good in the parish; Fr Swan is doing excellent work as priest-in-charge. Then it was off to Holy Trinity, Danville to preach at their annual Our Lady of Walsingham pilgrimage. (Holy Trinity is the site of an OLW shrine.) It was an ecumenical event, with two local Roman Catholic priests and several of their parishioners present. Fr Scanlon put together an excellent Vespers liturgy, and we duly made our public witness with a procession up and down the block in front of the church. Great food and fellowship afterward in the parish hall. Pulled back into our Springfield driveway about 7:45, thrilled with the day, but exhausted!

Homily for Danville Walsingham Pilgrimage

When God manifests himself to a human being in an extraordinary way, we call it a “theophany.”  A theophany is invariably accompanied by a command: Do this … be this … say this.  I don’t know whether there’s a special word by which to talk about a appearance by someone very close to God, but not God himself, to a human being in an extraordinary way, so I’m going to invent one: hagiophany—the appearance of a saint, a holy one.

Today we celebrate a hagiophany. And it’s not just any saint, any holy one. It’s the person who is as close to God, as close to Jesus, as it’s conceivable to get—his mother, the one who gave birth to him, the one who gave birth to God-in-the-flesh.  And in this hagiophany, as there would be with a theophany, there is, indeed, a command. When Our Lady appeared to Lady Richeldis 950 years ago in an out-of-the-way Norfolk village, her command was, “Build a house.” Build a house that replicates the house in Nazareth where the boy Jesus was nurtured to adulthood by Mary and Joseph. Lady Richeldis obeyed that command, and the house she built was a pilgrimage destination for the next 500 years, serving the spiritual needs of the vast majority for whom a trip to the Holy Land was not possible. By the grace of God, Walsingham is once again a pilgrimage destination, and now, places like Holy Trinity Church serve the spiritual needs of those for whom a trip to Walsingham itself is either impossible or inconvenient.

A house, of course, is a home. And a home is intended to be a place of refuge from the impositions of life in the world. A home is a place of warmth when it’s cold outside. A home is a place of safety when it’s dangerous outside. Children are raised in homes, and we expect those homes to provide nourishment—nourishment of the body, nourishment of the mind, and nourishment of emotional well-being. And if the home is a Christian home, we expect it to be a place of spiritual formation, a place where all the members of the household are given, through their daily interactions with one another, an opportunity to grow in their knowledge of God, in the strength of their faith, and in the fullness of their discipleship. And, of course, we expect that all of this—the refuge, the nourishment, and the formation—we expect that it all happens in a context of love, a context of self-giving mutual submission, and constant forgiveness.

Mary made a home for Jesus. While it is certainly meet and right that we honor her for being the theotokos, the God-bearer, this is not the only reason that all generations call her blessed. We also properly revere her for being, in the best sense of the word, a home-maker. Mary made a home for Jesus. She made a home for Jesus first in her womb, a marvelous act of generosity and hospitality on her part, given the circumstances of her life. And then she, with Joseph, made a home for Jesus in the “holy house” of Nazareth, the template for the “holy house” that Lady Richeldis would build in Walsingham a thousand years later.  And, if we can allow ourselves a gesture in a yet more mystical direction, Mary makes a home for Jesus by becoming, in her own person, a microcosm of the Church. To borrow language from the world of technology, if the Church is a collection of files, Mary is a ZIP folder into which all those files are compressed, making them transportable and shareable, and, thereby available, manifest, accessible. The Church is the household of faith, St Paul tells us, and Mary is, quite literally, the “lady of the house,” the home-maker. She is, indeed, “Our Lady.”

Of course, then, as children of the household, Mary invites us to imitate her in her discipleship as a home-maker. She sanctifies “making a home” as a holy vocation, a sacred calling.  In our life together in the household—in our worship, particularly at the Mass, in our fellowship, the community we form with one another, in the moral and political decisions we make—we welcome Jesus into our lives, making a home for him in our going out and our coming in, our waking and our sleeping, our words and our actions.  And then, even as Mary made a home for Jesus, we, as the Body of her Son, the one whom she bore and raised, we have an opportunity to make a home for the “homeless” of the world. I speak not only of those who are physically homeless, although they are always first in the imagination of our hearts, but of all who lack the emotional security, the mental nourishment, and the spiritual formation of a proper home, all who are rootless, directionless, purposeless. For them, for these “poor” ones, we have gospel, we have good news. We can offer them redemption for the past, meaning for the present, and hope for the future. We can offer them a home.

Our Lady of Walsingham, home-maker,  pray for us. Amen.

Sermon for Proper 24

Matthew 22:15-22
St John's, Decatur

You may have noticed that, for the last three months or so, we’ve been slowly but surely working our way on Sunday morning through the gospel of Matthew. So now we’re coming up on the end of the story, and the plot is definitely beginning to thicken. Matthew is turning up the flame underneath Jesus’ relationship with a group of Jewish leaders called Pharisees. He sets them up as Jesus’ adversaries, the “bad guys.” They’re feeling all threatened by Jesus’ popularity, so they keep trying to trap him into saying something that will get him into hot water with his supporters, and send him packing back off the Galilee where he came from.

They come up with what they believe is the ideal ambush. There was a particular tax at that time that was imposed by the Roman Empire on the Jewish people, and it was very unpopular, not only because it was a tax, and all taxes are unpopular, but because this tax was required to be pain only in Roman currency—Roman coins, to be specific. And every Roman coin had on it an engraved image of the emperor, of Caesar, and one of the Ten Commandments, to which the Jews were very attached, and which they took very literally, forbade any sort of “graven image”, including the sort of image that appeared on Roman coins. So not only was this money out of pocket for those who paid the tax, but it was a pretty direct insult against Jewish religious sensibilities. It rubbed their face in the fact that they were ruled by the Roman Empire.

So the Pharisees think they’ve got the ideal solution, and they put this question to Jesus: Should we or should we not be paying the poll tax? If he answers Yes, he will offend the majority of the population and lose his base of support. If he answers No, he will be in immediate trouble with the Roman occupiers, who might just take it upon themselves to do him in completely, which his Jewish enemies would certainly have no problem with. They figured they had him on the horns of an impossible dilemma.

Now, this situation in first century Palestine raises questions that are very contemporary for us in 21st century America. It speaks to the relationship between our civil obligations—which include, among other things, paying our taxes—and our religious obligations as Christians. A case in point for those who are middle-aged or older:  In 1960, when John Kennedy ran for President, we had never in our history had a Roman Catholic in that office, and a great many people were worried whether the Vatican might be calling the shots in the Oval Office. We pretty much got over those fears, so much so that, in 2004, when another Irish-American Roman Catholic ran for President, it was the opposite question that bothered many church leaders: Would a “President Kerry” be faithful to Catholic moral teaching, or would he leave his religious convictions on the White House lawn?

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

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

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

But we must note well the implication in the phrase “the things that are Caesar’s.” The implication is that some things are not Caesar’s, which sets us up for the “other shoe” to drop: “…and to God the things that are God’s.” 

Rule #1: Render to God the things that are God’s. 
Rule #2: There is nothing that is not God’s. 

Even what looks like it belongs to Caesar ultimately belongs to God. 

Today’s reading from Isaiah talks about the Persian King Cyrus. Cyrus was a really nasty dude who brutally conquered every nation he set his eye on. And God, speaking through Isaiah, refers to Cyrus as his “anointed” because God was going to accomplish God’s own purposes through the agency of this unwitting Persian king. Now, we need to understand the significance of the term “anointed” in order to appreciate how stunning this statement is. In the Hebrew, it’s nothing other than “Messiah”, which, in turn, is the basis for the Greek word “Christ”! This is roughly equivalent to God saying to Americans today: Al Qaeda is accomplishing my purposes without their desiring or knowing it; the head of Al Qaeda is my Chosen One, my Messiah, my Christ.” Now—hear me well—that’s not what I’m saying! But wouldn’t it be shocking if it were? Well, no less shocking were Isaiah’s words about Cyrus to his original Jewish readers.

God can use whatever vessels he chooses, even corrupt and wicked human governments, even organizations as wicked as Al Qaeda. It is our obligation to render to the human government under which we live whatever may be legitimately due to it, even, on occasion, our very lives. But God alone commands our ultimate loyalty. Human governments—democratic or otherwise—deserve our respect and our submission, but only to the point where such loyalty and submission conflict with the demands of loyalty to God. Of course, this is often a difficult line to draw, and while we might hope that the readings today would offer us some help in making that distinction, unfortunately, they don’t. And what makes things worse is that Christians in good faith can draw the line in different places, and that can create some tension within the Body of Christ. Good Christians can come to different conclusions about political issues; no surprise there, right?! So we need to be patient and forbearing of one another, as some among us see the current administration and its policies as righteous and good, while others among us see that administration and those policies as wicked and unjust. Remember, both the ideal King David and the tyrannical conqueror Cyrus are referred to in scripture as God’s “anointed.” Yet, we all—whatever our political persuasion might be—need to be ever vigilant for the place where loyalty to “Caesar” conflicts with our more fundamental loyalty to God. Because the only thing worse than failing to render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s, is to inadvertently render to Caesar that which is God’s alone. Amen. 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Saturday (St Teresa of Avila)

  • My morning was consumed--joyfully--by my attendance at and participation in the installation of John Roth as the new bishop for the Central-Southeast Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. By virtue of the Episcopal Church's full-communion relationship with the ELCA, I was among those laying hands on him. The intention of the agreement was (and presumably still is) that, by such acts, ELCA bishops and clergy will, gradually over a generation, be brought fully into the historic succession.
  • Household chores and a long walk along a straight-as-an-arrow former rail bed on a gorgeous autumn afternoon. Getting prepped for a very full day in Decatur and Danville tomorrow.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Friday (S.I.J. Schereshrewsky)

  • Usual routine at home; Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Took care of some more odds and ends relating to synod.
  • Processed about a half dozen emails that were in the queue.
  • Finished creating Power Point slides for my synod address. (Don't go running into the night screaming--they're practically all pictures. I'm well aware of abuse-by-PowerPoint, and endeavor not to commit that sin.)
  • Lunch at home (from Popeye's).
  • Fleshed out working notes for my second clergy day address for my Sarasota preaching mission.
  • Put some more meat on the bones of my homily for the 23rd (Granite City and Glen Carbon).
  • Trolled YouTube in search of hymns. Strange to say, but this is actually a form of prayer for me.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Left a tad early so as to be able to get a walk in before dark.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Thursday

  • Task planning and Morning Prayer at home.
  • Haircut appointment.
  • One last consultation with Sue over the 2012 visitation calendar.
  • Took care of some more email responses that have been pending.
  • Took some time to keep updated via internet on the breaking developments in and about the Diocese of South Carolina. Sad that there is once again drama at a national church level.
  • Lunch at home (leftovers).
  • Took a phone call regarding some synod-related issues.
  • Invested another big chunk of time on my address to next week's annual synod of the diocese.
  • Evening Prayer in the office.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Wednesday

  • Usual morning routine; MP in the cathedral.
  • Responded to a couple of emails that had been in the chute for a few days.
  • Took care of some minor chores related to an upcoming trip.
  • Met with two lay persons over a pastoral matter.
  • Refined the final draft of my homily for the Walsingham Pilgrimage service in Danville this Sunday afternoon.
  • Wrote an email concerning an administrative matter.
  • Lunch from Subway, eaten in the office.
  • Fleshed out the structure of my sermon for the synod Mass a week from Friday.
  • Finished a working outline for my first clergy day address, as part of my All Saints preaching mission at Redeemer, Sarasota.
  • Took a second look at the draft of my 2012 Sunday visitation schedule, talked it over with Sue, made a couple of adjustments, and gave the thumbs up for publication. Clergy will be getting the info shortly.
  • Headed for home about 45 earlier than usual in order to get a walk in. The shorter days and cooler mornings (with the exception of the last few days) are cramping my style, exercise-wise. The time is coming, and now is, when I need to acquire an exercise machine (treadmill? elliptical?).
  • Evening Prayer while walking (courtesy of iBCP and the Lectionary app).

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tuesday

  • Task planning at home; lot's to do this week. Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Processed a load of new emails that had arrived in the past couple of days.
  • Reviewed service leaflet drafts for my visit to Granite City and Glen Carbon on the 23rd, and discussed them by phone with Fr Pence.
  • I always monitor the internet message board run for the members (and recently former members) of General Convention, but I rarely post anymore. Once in a while, though, something occurs to me that just needs to be said, and I figure it's part of my vow to "take my share in the councils of the church" to just go ahead and say it. My remarks there, slightly expanded, now appear on my "real" blog.
  • Spoke by phone with Fr Swan regarding the details of my visit to St John's, Decatur this Sunday.
  • Lunch from Taco Gringo, eaten at home.
  • Handled some executive decisions regarding the upcoming synod of the diocese.
  • Processed an unusually large load of hard copy that had accumulated over the last two weeks.
  • Refined my homily for this coming Sunday in Decatur. It's now "in the can."
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sermon for Proper 23

A: Proper 23 (2011)     ​    

Matthew 22:1-14                                                                                                                      Isaiah 25:1-9
Psalm 23                                                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                  ​​ (Trinity, Lincoln)           
Every time Brenda and I pack for a trip, I receive a fresh education in the difference between men and women. I try to be as frugal as I can. I try to anticipate as best as I can what I will need, and then bring as little as I can get away with. Brenda, on the other hand, prefers to have a range of options once we reach our destination. She wants to be prepared with the right outfit for whatever occasion might arise. And, I might add, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that approach!
 
Brenda, perhaps, has taken to heart this morning’s gospel parable more than I have. She doesn’t want to find herself in a position similar to those characters in Jesus’ parable about the king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. All the arrangements had been made, and the party was ready to happen, but the VIP guests all sent their regrets at the last minute. The king isn’t about to not have a proper wedding celebration for his son, so he sends his staff out with instructions to switch to the ‘B’ list, or even the ‘C’ list, if necessary—just make sure the banquet hall is filled. So there were a bunch of people in that kingdom who, with virtually no warning, all of a sudden had a very pressing social engagement of a sort they were not accustomed to and which required their immediate attention. They asked themselves questions—about proper attire and proper behavior and what to expect. After all, they had never been to the king’s house for a wedding banquet before.
 
So, the best question we can ask in a situation like this is, “What did this parable mean to the original readers?” To the first readers of Matthew’s gospel, living roughly thirty to forty years after Jesus last walked on the earth, the symbolism in this parable would have been crystal clear. The king is God. The king’s son is Jesus. The names on the original guest list—those who sent in their last-minute regrets—represent the Jewish people, the nation of Israel, and the last-minute guests are all the other nations, the gentiles, who now, through Christ, have access to Israel’s God.
 
If you are keenly observant, you will note that this is the third Sunday in a row in which the theme of the gospel reading has been the replacement of Israel by the Church as the primary agent of God’s work in the world. And because of that transfer of status, we have always seen ourselves, in the Church, as heirs of the stories and promises and prophecies of the Old Testament. So these original early Christian readers of Matthew’s gospel would also have made a connection between the banquet in this parable and another banquet scene described in the twenty-fifth chapter of the book of Isaiah, a passage which, not coincidentally, is appointed to be read at today’s liturgy:
 
On this mountain, the lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich foods filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the lord has spoken.
 
Among those who study the scriptures, this is known as the “messianic banquet”, because it describes conditions at the end of history, when the work of the Messiah—the Anointed One, the Christ—will have been brought to completion. In chapter nineteen of the Book of Revelation, this scene is referred to as the “marriage supper of the Lamb”—the Lamb being Christ, who is the groom, and the bride being the Church.
 
Now, speaking personally, however it’s described, this is one banquet I don’t want to miss. And I give thanks that, as a member of the Church, I am among those who have received a late-in-the-day invitation to the festivities. Yet, I am at the same time in grief because I know that there are so many who have also received the same special invitation, but who are not aware of what a great honor it is, and what a great party it will be!
 
There are those who approach the Messianic Banquet, the marriage supper of the lamb, as an object of curiosity. “Yes, God, since you’ve invited me, and I don’t yet have anything on my calendar for the first few thousand years of eternity, I’ll come. I’ll be there. I’ll show up. But I hope you won’t mind if I’m a little late, and I hope it’s a come-as-you-are party; I don’t want to have to wear anything special. And don’t bother actually setting a place for me; I’ll probably just graze at the hors d’oeuvre table. And I don’t think I’ll actually dance at the reception; I’ll probably just hang out around the door. Actually, I’m mostly just interested in seeing what your house looks like. No offense.”  
 
Every Sunday and Holy Day, we have available to us a foretaste of the Messianic Banquet, a sneak preview of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. It’s called the Holy Eucharist, the Mass, the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion. What an incredibly wonderful gift! Yet, how many there are who approach it out of bored curiosity. They don’t really let themselves get into it. They remain detached, observing on the margins, hanging out by the hors d’oeuvre table and never sitting down to the meal or stepping out on to the dance floor. They don’t want to see themselves as particularly—you know— “religious,” so they sing half-heartedly, if at all, they let others make the responses in the liturgy, and they don’t bother with personal gestures like making the sign of the cross or bowing the head at the name of Jesus, or other such visible indications of personal faith and piety.
 
It’s as if they have a spiritual eating disorder. They’re starving spiritually, but all they can think about is avoiding being “religious”, so they don’t take any nourishment. Spiritual food is all around them in abundance, but it goes uneaten. A person who suffers from anorexia has a distorted image of her own body and its relationship to food. A spiritual anorexic has a distorted image of his or her own soul, and how a daily personal relationship with God through Christ is vital to the health of the soul, and how religious practice and the fellowship of the church nourish that relationship with God. Do you have a spiritual eating disorder?
 
Or maybe you find yourself at the banquet, not out of curiosity, but just because you’ve been swept along by the tide. You got the phone call saying “come to the party,” and you don’t remember ever really saying Yes, but you never said No either, and everyone around you was going, so here you are. Have you ever known anybody who gets into a line of work in his or her twenties—not as a result of a great deal of thought, but just because it was an opportunity that became available, because it seemed like the right thing to do at the time—and then twenty or thirty years later wonders, “What am I doing, I don’t even like this job, but I’m trapped because I don’t know how to do anything else.”?  It’s really a sad situation. Might that be a fair description of your relationship with Christ and his Church? You don’t really know why you’re here, but you’re here, and it’s sort of a habit, and you don’t know how to do anything else?
 
My friends, that’s better than not being here at all, but my heart goes out to you, because even though you’re at the party, you’re not having any fun. You’re there, but it’s not really a party for you. You’re not eating, you’re not dancing, you’re not drinking, you’re not socializing; you’re just there. What a drag! If you’re at the Messianic Banquet out of bored curiosity, if you’re at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb out of sheer unconsidered habit, if you are holding yourself back from the full commitment of your heart and soul and mind and will and abilities and time and wealth to the Lord Jesus Christ, then there’s a word to describe you, and it’s “party pooper!”
 
Now, lest you think that characterization to be a trifle harsh, let me go on to say that it’s actually the kinder and gentler way of putting it. The plain, unvarnished, non-sugar coated version is spoken by the king in our Lord’s parable. When he sees that one of the guests at the banquet is not properly clothed, he orders his servants to take that person and bind him hand and foot and cast him into outer darkness where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Now that is harsh. We don’t know what this poor fellow was wearing, or what he should have been wearing. The point is, the fact that he was wearing the wrong thing means that he wasn’t present at the banquet for the purpose of participating in it and celebrating what the banquet was celebrating. When we’re at the party, but we’re not there to “party”, then it’s like we’re at the wedding feast without the wedding garment. We are demonstrating our ignorance of the true meaning and significance of the occasion, and we are insulting our host!
 
When we attend the eucharistic feast, but our intention is to hang out by the door nibbling on stuffed olives, we are demonstrating that we are clueless as to the meaning and significance of the Eucharist. The reason we’re celebrating—I’ll give you a hint—has something to do with the redemption of the entire created universe, including your individual soul and mine, from the power of evil and death. It has something to do with the good guys in the white hats untying the widow from the railroad tracks just before the train arrives. It has something to do with finding meaning in suffering and coming to some resolution on the mystery of bad things happening to good people. This is, as I said, just a hint. But it is certainly reason enough to celebrate, ample justification for throwing a party.
 
So, our invitation to the Messianic Banquet, our summons to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, assumes that our reason for accepting the call is that we are ready to celebrate. Please come, we are told, but realize what you’re coming to. Plan on singing, plan on dancing, plan on eating—a lot—and plan on having a bit to drink, not just nibbling and watching. There’s no need for wallflowers at this dance. And, most importantly, plan on not only seeing the King’s house, but on meeting the King. He’ll be at the party, and he wants you to get to know him. In the end, he is himself the reason for the celebration. Amen.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Friday

  • Usual morning routine.
  • Read, commented on, and returned a draft of the search profile for St Michael's, O'Fallon. We will be giving them some candidates to interview soon.
  • Dealt with some outstanding issues relating to music for the Synod Eucharist.
  • Wrote a first draft of my homily for the Walsingham Pilgrimage service in Danville on the 16th.
  • Lunch at home.
  • Conceived and hatched a sermon for my visits to Granite City and Glen Carbon on the 23rd. 
  • Spent my regular Friday prayer time in an Ignatian-style discursive meditation on the daily office gospel reading for the day--Jesus heals two blind beggars and a demoniac.
  • Finished a draft of my homily for when I visit St John's, Decatur on the morning of the 16th.
  • Wrestled some more with the second reading for the Synod Mass (Revelation 21:1-6) and distilled a central message for my sermon on that occasion.
  • Dinner (Kiku's) and a movie (The Ides of March) with the Dragonfly in the evening.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Thursday (William Tyndale)

  • Dropped my car (the diocese's car, actually) off at the dealer for scheduled maintenance.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Debriefed with the Archdeacon and the Administrator over sundry developments since we were last in the office at the same time, which has been several days.
  • Took care of several small administrative chores.
  • Reviewed the Synod agenda with Sue--that is, the special binder she prepared for me as the chairman of the meeting.
  • Began processing a fairly large batch of emails. (This is what happens when I'm out of the office for a few days--they mount up.)
  • Got a ride back to the dealer to pick up my car. Then home for lunch.
  • Continued processing emails.
  • Finished and refined my sermon for this Sunday (Trinity, Lincoln).
  • Wrote a quick blot post on the recent newsworthy developments in the Diocese of South Carolina.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • This was one of those days that just seemed to "get away." I didn't make nearly a big enough dent in preparing for all the preaching and speaking engagements that loom in my relatively near-term future. Somehow grace will abound. It always does.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Wednesday

Finished up a very stimulating Forward Movement board meeting in the morning. I hope I contributed in some proportion to what I received, because I came away with some insights into the dynamics of digital communication that may yet become concretely applicable to our work in the diocese. Left the Cincinnati area just after lunch and arrived home just prior to 6:30. A more or less uneventful drive, which is what one wishes for a drive.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Tuesday (St Francis)

Still in Cincinnati for the Forward Movement board meeting. It was a stimulating day, both with the board and, beginning in the afternoon, with staff members as well. There is some very creative thinking going on about what it means to be a "content provider" contributing to the "re-invigoration" of the church (the language of the original charge from General Convention in 1937) in an age of transition from print to digital media. Part of my interest is selfish: Can FM potentially be a resource to us in the Diocese of Springfield as we also seek re-invigoration and try to negotiate that same transition? I am hopeful that it might be so.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Monday

After finding my way out of all the construction on I-465 on the west side of Indianapolis, I completed the drive to the Cincinnati area, arriving at the Transfiguration Spirituality Center in time for lunch. Spent the rest of the day, and evening, in working sessions, getting to know other board members and getting familiar with the task at hand.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

XVI Pentecost

What a day. Rose at 5am in order to leave at 6am in order to be in Chesterfield in time for a 7:30 liturgy. (How many towns of 250 have an Episcopal church?--one of only two churches in town, no less! It was spectacular watching the day dawn over central Illinois farm country. Then off the brunch at the home of a parishioner, which had to be cut short in order to be at St Paul's, Carlinville in time for a 9:45 service. Wonderful post-liturgical repast in the parish hall (pulled pork). Home around 1:15--just in time to grab a 45 minute nap in my recliner before throwing some clothes in a suitcase and hitting the road again. Slightly late for a 4pm organ recital at St John's Chapel in Champaign, followed by a leisurely dinner at a downtown Champaign eatery with Fr Scanlon. I write now from a hotel room in Indianapolis, as I am en route to Cincinnati for a Forward Movement board meeting that begins at noon tomorrow. Time now to catch a few winks.

Sermon for Proper 22

Matthew 21:33-43

Most of us are only too aware of the particular details of the economic and financial mess our country is in, along with much of the rest of the world. So it’s easy to forget some of the other ways our system can get messed up. This morning’s gospel parable reminds of the 1990s, when every day you could pick up the newspaper and read about one more “hostile takeover” of a corporation by an outside investor or group of investors. If I had a few million dollars of spare cash, for example—I don’t, just in case you’re wondering—if I had a few million dollars of spare cash and saw a company that I thought I could make a profit on if I bought it and broke it up and sold it off piecemeal, or at least reorganized it in some way, I would start by quietly buying shares of stock through normal channels at the market price. Then I would start actively seeking out other shareholders and offering them an above-market price for their shares. If my strategy succeeds, I can vote out the board of directors at the next stockholders meeting, appoint their replacements, and then make whatever changes in the management and operation of the company that I care to. 

But ... you can bet that, before I accomplish all that, the senior management of the corporation is going to get wind of what I'm doing, and do everything they can do to stop me.  They’ll try everything they can think of to prevent me from threatening their position of influence and control.  They don’t own the company, you see—the stockholders  own it—but they do run the company.  They’re there, on site, every day, in the office, in staff      meetings, on the assembly line, in the marketing department, looking over the books, and taking pride and a sense of accomplishment from turning out high quality products and services and making a profit while doing so.  Their day to day lives are bound up with the corporation, not as a bunch of numbers on a balance sheet, but as a living, breathing, producing organism.  They put in the hours, the sweat, and the imagination—who do I think I am to just waltz in there and take things over?  Sure, the shareholders are the owners, but that’s only a technicality.  In reality, they’re a group to be ignored, if possible, and, at worst, to be pacified through mis-information. “We run this company. We’re the real owners!” they would say.

So … today Jesus tells his listeners a parable about some “corporate management” that felt just this way. They were in charge of day to day operations in a vineyard and winery.  They hoed the ground, and pulled weeds, and pruned vines, and harvested the grapes when they were mature. They crushed the grapes and fermented the juice and sold the wine. They did everything that needed to be done to take care of that vineyard. But they didn't own it. From time to time, on a periodic basis, the owner of the vineyard, who lived in a distant location, would send a representative to collect the profits and distribute the agreed-upon share to those who managed and operated it. 

Now, this was an important transaction, even if the vineyard were to have lost money, because one of the fine points of the law was that if a certain amount of time elapsed without the owner making contact with his manager/operators, ownership of the vineyard would automatically be transferred to those who had contracted to run it. 

Unfortunately for these contractors,  the owner of this particular vineyard was diligent about adhering to the law, and regularly sent his representatives. So they hatched a rather intimidating plot. They started killing off the owner's representatives. They figured the owner would get their point and just leave them alone and give up his ownership interest in the vineyard. Well, they guessed wrong, because the owner finally sent his own son, thinking that surely they would respect him. This time, it was the owner who guessed wrong, because they killed the son just as they had killed the emissaries who came before him. 

To the original readers of Matthew's gospel, it would have been very obvious what the characters in this parable symbolized.  The vineyard owner is God, the operators of the vineyard are the nation of Israel, the representatives of the owner are the prophets of the Old Testament, up through John the Baptist, and the owner’s son is Jesus himself. 

Matthew’s point was that Israel, a fellowship based on ethnicity, was being relieved of duty in its role as the agent of God's plans and purposes for the human race, and this status was being transferred to the church, a fellowship based on repentance and faith. 

Well, folks, that’s us! We are the church. So, how are we doing? We've had custody of God’s vineyard for almost 2,000 years now. Have we been any better stewards of it than the nation of Israel was?
 
Maybe, and maybe not, but that really isn’t my point. The fact is, that since we all have day-to-day “operational” responsibility for it, it's almost impossible for us not to begin to think  as though we are the owners of God’s vineyard. And when we begin to think  in such a way, we soon begin to act in such a way, and we are led to usurp the prerogatives of ownership.  We find ourselves trying to re-invent God, not as God is,  necessarily, but as we would have God be.  We find ourselves trying to re-invent Christian faith and practice to conform to our needs and our whims and our egos, rather than submitting our needs and our whims and our egos to the norms of Christian faith and practice as they have been revealed—revealed, that is, by the God whom we did not invent, but who invented us.  A passion for what is true is replaced by a passion for what “works”—what “works”, that is, for me. We slip into the grasp of the deadliest of all sins, the sin of pride, which is attempting to put ourselves in the place of God. We say to ourselves, “I run this operation, so I may as well own it. Why should I be a slave to some absentee owner?” 

The operators of the vineyard in Jesus’ parable knew they were on shaky ground. As much as they wanted to own the vineyard, they knew that they did not. They had contracted to run it for a share of the proceeds, and that was exactly the basis on which they were being treated. The same holds true for us, we who make up the church, Israel’s successor as God's primary agent in the world. We are not stockholders in God’s kingdom. God himself is the sole stockholder. We are managers and laborers. The word “church” means “those who are called out.” God has called us out from the world and into the church. We did not choose him. He chose us.  

According to the terms of our covenant with him—a covenant born in the death and resurrection of Christ, sealed in our baptism, and renewed at every Eucharist—we are the stewards of God’s vineyard.  A steward is not an owner. A steward is a caretaker, a trustee—in legal terms, one with a fiduciary responsibility.

As a community of stewards, we have three fundamental responsibilities:

First, we are to live and model among ourselves the values of the gospel, the values of the kingdom of God. I cannot emphasize this highly enough! It would be difficult to place too much importance on Christian community, on loving and forgiving one another, on bearing one another’s burdens, on being present for each other in time of need. But this is not just for our own benefit, to make us feel better and be happier. 

My concern is missionary. It is part of the mission of the church to be a foretaste, a “sneak preview”, of the kingdom of heaven. If there is not something palpably different about the way we relate to each other than the way people “in the world” relate to each other, then our witness is of no consequence. 

Second, the church is to announce the kingdom of God. “Get ready, world, the kingdom is coming (and, by the way, if you want to see what it looks like, look at us).”

Finally, we are to make disciples. This means we first have to live as disciples ourselves, and then our invitation to others to join us on the same road will be authentic and have integrity. Living the gospel, announcing the kingdom, and making disciples are the ways in which we as the church are faithful stewards of the vineyard God has placed in our charge. 

It is always tempting to usurp the privileges of ownership and change these basic duties. But that is a path that, in the end, will not lead us where we want to go. If we remain faithful to our covenant of stewardship, though, God, the true owner, will reward us beyond any of our hopes or expectations. Unlike the shareholders of a corporation, our “sole stockholder” happens to love us infinitely, and has already made us his heir. There is absolutely no need for us to take over the company! Amen.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Saturday (St Remigius)

  • Leisurely morning ... read the paper ... prayed the office ... finished a Hemingway novel I've been reading ... all in my recliner!
  • Conceived and hatched a sermon for my visit to St John's, Decatur on the 16th of this month.
  • Made significant progress on the Clergy Day meditations I will give as part of my All Saints preaching mission at Redeemer, Sarasota (Florida, that is--there may be a Sarasota, IL, I suppose!).
  • Took a nice long walk on a gorgeous fall late afternoon.
  • Read a history of the Forward Movement ... movement. I'm a new board member for Forward Movement (an Episcopal Church-related publisher of tracts and other devotional/discipleship materials), and I'll be attending my first board meeting this coming week.
  • Hey ... I spent the whole day without going anywhere by car. Cool.