Wednesday, November 30, 2011

St Andrew's Day

  • Task planning at home.
  • Dropped shoes off at repair shop, took car for routine service; Brenda drove me in to the office.
  • Sorted and culled and otherwise processed a stack of snail mail on my desk.
  • Debriefed with the Administrator and the Archdeacon on sundry minutia.
  • Began hand-writing greetings to clergy and spouses with December birthdays and wedding or ordination anniversaries. (December is a big month for ordination anniversaries!) Some of them may even be partially legible. Hoping it's the thought that counts.
  • Sue took me to retrieve my car, then lunch from you-know-where, eaten at home.
  • Finished the milestone greetings begun before lunch.
  • Usual weekly scanning and e-cataloging of hard copy documents.
  • Left at 3:30 with the Archdeacon for Trinity Church, Mount Vernon, arriving just in time for a 6pm liturgy rehearsal for the ordination of David Peters to the transitional diaconate. David is an Army chaplain stationed at Fort Knox. I won't describe here the confluence of circumstances that put him on the ordination track in the Diocese of Springfield, but simply say that it is a privilege to be involved. We may not ever benefit directly from his ministerial gifts, but we have surely given something to the larger church and to the military community.
  • Home just before midnight.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tuesday

  • The November crud was knocking at my door yesterday, and by this morning it was fully arrived. So I opted to not inflict it on those in office, and stayed home to work from my recliner. To be honest, I wouldn't want to make a habit of it, but it's amazing how productive one can be with the right devices and a broadband internet connection. 
  • Spoke by phone with the rector of one of our parishes regarding an upcoming meeting I have with some of his lay leaders to discuss the emerging diocesan vision for mission.
  • Negotiated (by email) a conference call appointment with the lay leaders of two yoked congregations to discuss a particular candidate for becoming their priest.
  • Contacted the Bishop of Kentucky to let him know I'm about to ordain a military chaplain who is physically resident in the territory of his diocese (David Peters, who is stationed at Fort Knox).
  • Exchanged several emails throughout the day with Fr Tucker in Mount Vernon regarding details of tomorrow night's ordination liturgy (see above bullet point).
  • Contacted another bishop with some information he needs about a priest who is canonically resident here but physically resident there. (Isn't this a funny system we have?)
  • Produced an article for the December edition of the Springfield Current.
  • Exchanged emails with the priest-in-charge of a Eucharistic Community I will be visiting in December regarding some of the details of that occasion.
  • Negotiated a telephone appointment with the investment adviser for the Putnam Trust, of which the Bishop of Springfield is one of the two co-trustees, and which benefits St John's Chapel in Champaign and St John the Baptist in Mount Carmel. This is for the purpose of a routine year-end review.
  • Assessed and organized planning for the various acts which I now need to take in order to comply with the canon we amended at last month's synod which brings our procedures into conformity with the national canons on clergy discipline (Title IV). There's a bit of bureaucracy we need to reinvent.
  • Studied a parish-based discipleship formation resource that has been assembled by another diocese, with an eye toward how it, or something like it, might be employed in the execution of our general mission strategy.
  • Planned and organized the actions I need to take in producing Sunday sermons for the rest of this year and most of the next.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Advent Sunday


Woke up in a Champaign hotel room, having returned to the diocese last night after a really quite lovely Thanksgiving weekend with my extended family-of-origin in the Chicago suburbs. There were over 40 people at my sister's for the big dinner, including my mother, all six of my siblings, and 14 of the 19 great-grandchildren/second cousins. 

This morning's visit was to St Christopher's, Rantoul, a Eucharistic Community of great care for one another, under the watchful eyes of Fr Steve Thorp and Deacon Ann Alley. I made friends with a 95-year old Welsh-born parishioner during coffee hour by sitting down at the piano and playing several classic Welsh hymn tunes, from which there are a number of fine ones to choose. 


Sermon for Advent Sunday (Year B)

Mark 13:24-37
                                                                                            Isaiah 64:1-9a
1 Corinthians 1:1-9

(St Christopher’s, Rantoul)
Most of you are, I suspect, at least somewhat familiar with the Chronicles of Narnia, C. S. Lewis’s popular series of children’s books, and particularly the first volume—The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which, as of a few years ago, was made into a quite well-done movie. As the story opens, the land of Narnia is in a dreary state, and is there a better description of dreariness than this?: “Always winter… but never Christmas.” Narnia is under the oppressive rule of the wicked white witch. It’s always winter, but never Christmas. But there are rumors in Narnia—rumors whispered from person to person, elf to elf, and—in that magical land—from tree to tree. “Psst, Aslan is on the move.” Aslan was a powerful lion who was thought to be the only hope for Narnia against the power of the White Witch. The rumor that “Aslan is on the move” was a source of great hope, a reason to get excited. Every eye was peeled for any sign of Aslan’s arrival. There was great vigilance, great expectation.

This is Advent Sunday. The season of Advent is about waiting and hoping and keeping vigil and watching out for the arrival of the One of whom the lion Aslan is a symbol. We’re waiting for the coming of Christ. Jesus is coming. He’s coming in power and great glory to judge the living and the dead. That coming could happen, quite literally, at any moment—maybe even before I’ve finished with this sermon! I’m sure we all want to be ready for that event, and to keep an eye out for it. Jesus is also “coming,” so to speak, four weeks from now, as we celebrate Christmas. Advent is a time of preparing our hearts once again to welcome the child Jesus—to become as little children ourselves, in order to properly welcome him as a little child.

This business of keeping watch, then—of getting ready—is very serious. But it’s also very difficult. We get virtually no support in this from the world around us. So we are at serious risk of missing it altogether. “God is on the move.” That’s the Advent announcement. It’s reason to be excited. It’s reason to be hopeful. Instead, too often, we’re just complacent. We get sucked in by the routine demands of life—working and playing and eating and drinking and laughing and crying and loving and learning—mostly good things, in and of themselves, but which can seduce us into a complacency that blinds us to what God is up to. God’s wonderful works are, as it were, “hidden in plain sight.” God is on the move. His movements are available for us to see, but we have to be alert, we have to be looking for them. It requires at least as much intentionality and discipline as bird watching, where if you avert your gaze, even for a moment. away from the trees, you run the risk of missing what you came out to see.

Jesus tells us a parable about vigilance. A household employee is left with some specific responsibilities while his boss is out of town. He may be tempted to slack off and delay getting down to work. There is, after all, no hidden TV camera, or anything of the sort, recording his every move. So why not grab some extra nap time while the boss is away? But the problem is, the boss has not told the employee when he’s coming back. The employee doesn’t know whether it’s going to be a long trip or a short trip. So if he’s smart, he’ll act as though it’s going to be a short trip. He’ll stay awake and attend to business and keep an eye out for the boss. That way, he’ll be ready for the master’s return, no matter when it happens.

The application of this parable is pretty clear, isn’t it? Jesus wants us to be vigilant, to watch out for him, to not let the routine demands of life rock us to sleep.  When we make a new Christian in the sacrament of baptism, we pray for the person, that he or she will always have an “inquiring and discerning heart.” We pray for so many things during the liturgy of baptism that it may be easy to overlook this one. But an inquiring and discerning heart is precisely the quality that we need to do a good job keeping Advent. An inquiring and discerning heart is a heart that is alert and awake and looking for signs of the presence and activity of God. An inquiring and discerning heart can see that God is on the move, that the status quo is temporary, that it will not always be winter, and not only will Christmas come, but spring will come as well. The ice and snow of evil and death will melt away, and the beauty and loveliness that God created for us to enjoy will burst forth in full bloom.

When we are vigilant, we are able to witness what God is doing. As St Paul writes to the Corinthians, we will not be “lacking in any spiritual gift, as [we] wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  When we are vigilant, we are able to participate in the mystic vision of Isaiah: “O that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence.” When we are vigilant, we number ourselves—to use the language of Jesus in Mark’s gospel—we number ourselves among the “elect” whom the angels “gather from the four winds.” And the really good news is that those of us who are here at this moment are—at this moment, at least—among the elect. We have been gathered and constituted as the Body of Christ, and as we celebrate this Eucharist together, we are re-constituted as the Body of Christ. We share in the sacrament of the Body of Christ. We are present as the heavens are opened and the Holy and Immortal One draws us up into His presence to be with Him in the most intimate conceivable way. We who are here are “in the know,” we are “on the inside.” We can see that God is on the move, and the sight is marvelous in our eyes.

If we are not vigilant, if we have been asleep at the switch, blind to what God is doing in the world and in our own experience, then the idea of the second coming of Christ is something we look on with fear and dread. This fear and dread may often be disguised as scorn and ridicule, but it is, nonetheless, fear and dread. But the fact is, the message of Advent Sunday is not supposed to be scary; it’s supposed to be comforting. God’s great final saving act—the return of Christ in glory—is the happy ending to beat all happy endings. If we’re awake, we’ve got nothing to worry about. God is on the move. Let’s keep our eyes peeled. 

Amen—Come, Lord Jesus. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Wednesday (St Clement of Rome)

  • Task planning at home; Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Reviewed the draft program for a diaconal ordination scheduled for next week.
  • Processed a batch of emails.
  • Revised and refined my homily for this Sunday (at St Christopher's, Rantoul).
  • Lunch at home.
  • Took care of some correspondence on behalf of a priest-friend needing some pastoral care in another part of the country.
  • Usual Tuesday chore: Scanned the accumulated hard copy items in my inbox.
  • Produced a working draft of a homily for Advent II (December 4 at St Andrew's, Carbondale).
  • Conceived and hatch a sermon for Advent III (St Andrew's, Paris and Trinity, Mattoon).
  • Contact the lay leadership of two Eucharistic Communities that share one priest regarding the next priest I'm going to suggest they share.
  • Took a phone call from a priest outside the diocese who is a potential candidate for an upcoming vacancy.
  • Took care of some administrative detritus (appointment scheduling) via email.
  • Evening Prayer managed to get lost in the shuffle tonight.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tuesday (C.S. Lewis)

Some days just never seem to get traction. This was one of them. My time in the office was consumed by off-list administrative minutia, phone calls, and just ... whatever, all to the detriment of whatever was on my well-planned to-do list. It was a good reminder that people are not interruptions. People are my job. The busier I get, the more I probably need to spend extra time in prayer.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Christ the King

Rose in time for a 6am departure to Edwardsville for a visit to St Andrew's--two Masses (8 & 10) with an adult forum in between. It turned out we got there with time to spare, but no harm done; it certainly beats being late. Wonderful visit to a lively congregation.

After a much needed nap of nearly an hour, we headed over to Westminster Presbyterian Church for a hymn festival sponsored by the local chapter of the American Guild of Organists. The guest artist was Bruce Neswick, lately of the Cathedral of St John the Divine in New York City and now on the faculty of Indiana University, and who happens to be an Episcopalian. It was splendid.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Saturday (St Elizabeth)

Quarterly Diocesan Council meeting in the morning. Beyond the routine reports, we considered a request from several other bishops and dioceses to pass a resolution requesting a special General Convention in 2014 for the sole purpose of reforming the structure of the Episcopal Church. Lively discussion but no vote. That may happen at the February meeting.

After a long walk, and some putting and relaxing around the house, Brenda and I attended a concert of the Illinois Symphony Orchestra. It was astonishingly good. Worth every penny of the ticket price.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday (St Hilda of Whitby)

The concluding session of the Bishops of Small Dioceses conference was a free-flowing discussion of several topics that we had identified on Wednesday afternoon.  Our one "action item" was to draft a letter to the Medical Trust expressing the hope that we will move toward price parity, with a reasonable phase in period to allow those dioceses that would be adversely affected time to adjust. 

The rest of the day was devoted to travel, which occurred without incident, and to a couple of not overly-long but quite important phone conversations about exigent matters in the diocese.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thursday (St Hugh of Lincoln)

Still at the conference for bishops of small dioceses in Salt Lake City. The morning was devoted primarily to interacting with representatives of the Episcopal Church Medical Trust. There is a move afoot at a grass-roots level to achieve more pricing parity between the dioceses, which are now divided into ten price bands--rated on demographics (read: age and sex), geography (cost of providers), and prior claims experiences. Springfield is in Band 10, the most expensive. If the pricing were to be distributed evenly across the church, we would see premium reductions of 29%. Of course, dioceses in Band 1 would see increases of a corresponding scale. There was certainly a consensus among the bishops present that, for moral reasons if nothing else, price parity is a wothy goal, but that some reasonable phase in period is probably necessary to cushion the shock for those who will have their rates raised.

The afternoon was given over first to a presentation by Anthony Guillen, the Latino ministry officer at 815. I give him kudos for debunking the notion that Latino ministry means Spanish-speaking ministry. The majority of Latinos in the U.S. (about 75%) either speak only English, primarily English, or some English. So it's not so much a matter of learning a different language as it is learning a different culture. Something I've been saying for at least a decade based on my experience in California. We also heard about an innovate program from the Diocese of Lexington that aims to put very bright new clergy into small rural congregations for three-year internships. It's creative, but it won't work in Springfield, unfortunately.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wednesday (St Margaret)

Up at 4am to catch a 0630 flight from Bloomington to Minneapolis, then on to Salt Lake City. Did some touristy things walking around town in the afternoon (the LDS complex is impressive but the Roman cathedral is spectacular; I'm envious) before settling in for a meeting of about twenty bishops from small dioceses. Utah is a small diocese--about two-thirds the size od Springfield in terms of membership and number of churches--but they have a significant endowment that has allowed for the construction of a beautiful office and conference center complex around their historic cathedral. It's top drawer in every way, and right in the heart of downtown SLC. I'll be here unti Friday afternoon. Might learn something. Might share something. Might do both.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Tuesday

  • Usual morning routine. MP in the cathedral.

  • Talked with the Archdeacon at some length about an emerging pastoral situation.

  • Took care of some administrative minutia (Commission on Ministry business and email correspondence regarding my trip to England in January).

  • Spoke on the phone with Betsy Rogers of St George's, Belleville. We both serve on the board of Forward Movement, and that was the primary subject of our conversation.

  • Spoke on the phone with a rector regarding a pastoral situation (not the one mentioned above).

  • Refined my sermon for this Sunday, to be delivered at St Andrew's, Edwardsville.

  • Lunch from you know where, eaten at home.

  • Performed my usual Tuesday hard copy scanning chores.

  • Answered an email regarding the liturgical details of an upcoming visitation.

  • Wrote a note of condolence to a colleague bishop who has suffered a death in his family.

  • Talked with Sue about getting the incoming rector of Trinity, Lincoln up to speed on unique-to-Springfield stuff.

  • Emailed a rector about setting up a meeting with his vestry on a vision-implementation matter.

  • Conceived and hatched a homily for the Second Sunday of Advent, to be delivered at St Andrew's, Carbondale.

  • Fleshed out the draft of a homily for the First Sunday of Advent--St Christopher's, Rantoul.

  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Sunday, November 13, 2011

    XXII Pentecost

    • Met Fr Tom and Sue Davis for breakfast at the Garden Inn on the main drag in Salem. Fr Tom is the retired Vicar of St Thomas', and was assisting today with a baptism.
    • Celebrated, preached, baptized, and confirmed at St Thomas', to a near-capacity "crowd" (if one can call 65 a crowd). Baptized a 6-week old and confirmed her mother. Doesn't get much more fun than that!
    • Left Salem around 12:30. Crossed two interstate highways on the way home, neither of which was headed a way we wanted to go. Central Illinois is funny that way.
    • Pulled in to the Springfield area about 2:30, just in time to drop Brenda off at home before heading over to the cathedral to preside and preach at the closing Mass for Happening #54. That, too, was great fun.
    • Huddled about twenty minutes in my office with the Archdeacon and one of our Rural Deans while we discussed an administrative/pastoral matter.
    • Home at 5:30, dog tired but grateful for the work I've been given to do.

    Sermon for Proper 28

    Matthew 25:14-15, 19-29                                            St Thomas’, Salem                                                                                         I Thessalonians 5:1-10

    We hear a lot these days about the notion of “accountability.” Everybody from presidential candidates to college football coaches are finding out very painfully what it means to be held accountable.  And we certainly talk about accountability in the church, for both clergy and laity, and in several different dimensions. Yet, the kind of accountability that really nags at us, and may even cause us to lose sleep from time to time, is final accountability, the kind of accountability that St Paul has in mind when he writes to the Thessalonians about the “day of the Lord.”  We’re talking Judgment Day here, Doomsday, the end of the world, the curtain coming down on the stage for the last time, the final exam for which our entire life is a marathon study session.

    We’re now into the tail end of the Christian year—a sort of “pre-Advent” season—in which final accountability looms large as the principal theme that emerges in our worship. In the tradition of Christian art and literature, this theme has inspired more than its share of paintings and poems and plays and operas, to say nothing of untold numbers of “St Peter at Heaven’s Gate” jokes. Unfortunately, because of all this literary and cultural material, we’ve been conditioned to think of the “final accountability” question in terms of in or out, up or down, saved or damned. What we overlook is the equally scriptural notion that even those who are in, those who get the thumbs-up sign, those who are saved, will still have to give an account of the way they have lived their lives. There are no passes, no freebies. We would all do well to contemplate with some sobriety the prospect of standing before the Creator of the universe and hearing, “So…tell me about yourself,” knowing that the One doing the asking has access to a record of everything we’ve ever said, done, or thought. Now that’s accountability!

    What will that accounting consist of?  Will we be asked to demonstrate that we’ve had more good thoughts and said more good things and done more good deeds than we’ve had nasty thoughts and said and done mean things? I don’t think so. I could be wrong, but I don’t think God keeps score in that particular way.  Will we be asked to show that we have faithfully kept any eight out of the Ten Commandments? Well…no. All ten are pretty important; we don’t get a free pass on any two of our choosing, as attractive as that might sound. Perhaps the Lord will have access to our church attendance records, and will be looking to see whether we’ve been in church 52 Sundays a year? Or 40…or 32…or 26…or as the canon says, “unless for good cause prevented.” Now, here, I have to tell you, I’m really tempted to say, “Yeah, this is the one! This is the one we’re going to get judged on.” But, alas, I would be telling a lie, and would therefore have some extra “’splainin’” to do when my own turn comes.

    What I can tell you with some confidence is this: The measure of our reward, one of the things—perhaps even the main thing—that the Judge of all will be looking at on “the day of the Lord” will, in fact, be the quality of our stewardship. Now, you may think it predictable that someone like me would say something like that at a time of year like this! And you would, in some measure, be absolutely right. But I didn’t just pull this out of thin air. I had a big assist from St Matthew the Apostle and Evangelist, and from Jesus, who collaborate today to give us what we know as the Parable of the Talents. A wealthy man is going to do some traveling and will not be able to manage his assets. So he divides them between some members of his staff, and trusts that they will invest them wisely. He makes them stewards. He’s not giving them the funds—one receives the sum of five “talents,” the second two talents, and the third one talent—he’s not giving the funds to them outright; he will hold each of them accountable for their performance as stewards, for their exercise of the trust that has been placed in them. When he returns from his travels some time later, the first two servants have doubled their investment. They have done extraordinarily well.  The third, however, just gives back the original sum, and says, in effect, “I didn’t want to risk losing your capital, boss, because I knew it would make you angry, so I hid it in a mattress. Here it is, just like you originally gave it to me.” This third servant, of course, is severely reprimanded. He has been a poor steward, and he is judged unworthy of trust. He is held accountable by having the single talent that had been entrusted to him taken away.

    This is the quintessential parable of stewardship, and in this season when we emphasize financial stewardship in particular, we do well to take a close look at all the ways the principle of stewardship affects our lives as Christians, and thereby prepare ourselves for being held accountable on Judgment Day. There are three classic categories of stewardship. You know them: “time, talent, and treasure.”

    TIME—Every human being has the same gift of 24 hours in a day. None get any more and none get any less. The difference between us is what we choose to do with that time. How do we use our time to develop our relationship with God in Christ? Do we “make” time for prayer? Do we make time for the study of scripture and other spiritual reading? Do we make time for service to others? How does your use of time help advance the Kingdom of God

    TALENT—The very word comes from today’s parable, where it was a sum of money, and which the English language has co-opted into referring to any innate—that is, presumptively God-given—any inborn abilities that we might have. Do you know what your talents are? If you know what your gifts and talents are, how are you making them available to God and his people for the spread of the Kingdom of God? How are you “investing”—that is, developing, cultivating, and exercising—how are you investing the “capital” that has been entrusted to you? Is God getting a return on his investment in you, or have you buried your “talent” in a field or hidden it in a mattress? Have you listened for God’s call on your life? Have you discerned that call? Have you followed that call?

    TREASURE—You knew I wouldn’t forget this one! “All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.” A busy father—a member of Congress, in fact—took his young son to McDonald’s for lunch one Saturday in order to spend some quality time. While they were eating and visiting, he casually reached over and took one of his son’s french fries. The boy pitched a fit, so that one would have thought his father was trying to chop off his right arm. His father’s first impulse was to be angry. “Don’t you know I can afford to buy you french fries until they’re coming out of your ears? And you still begrudge me one little french fry, which I paid for in the first place?” Fortunately, he calmed down, and was able to speak to his son about the virtues of sharing. But the incident stuck with him as a wonderful illustration of the principles of financial stewardship. We can understand the father in this story as God, and ourselves as the the little boy, and the french fries in front of us as all our material possessions and our income. It all comes from God. It’s all his. Every last french fry. He paid for all of it. And he’s capable of replacing it many times over, until we have so much we wouldn’t know what to do with it. Knowing that, why would we want to begrudge God the 10% that he asks of us?  Tithing, you know, is a good deal, a great deal! We get to keep 90% of God’s money for our own needs, for our own happiness. Where else can you find a stewardship deal that sweet? I once served under a bishop who put this in very bold terms, only I’m not as bold as he is, so I’ll just quote him rather than actually saying it myself: God lets us keep 90%, but if we dare to keep 91%, we’re robbing God. Robbing God.  And the Day of the Lord, the day of accountability, draws near? Do we want to have to explain to God why we robbed him?

    The sobering news is: We will have to render an account. Judgment Day awaits us. The good news is: We have everything we need—we have the time, we have the talent, and we have the  treasure—to render a faith-ful accounting. Amen.

    Saturday, November 12, 2011

    Saturday (Charles Simeon)

    Indulged in a somewhat leisurely morning at home, took care of some administrative detritus from my laptop, took another long hard walk, and solved a technological issue on the home computer system. Then it was time to pack and head to Salem, where we checked in to the Super 8 and grabbed a quick dinner at Denny's, after which I met with the Vicar and Bisops' Committee of St Thomas' Church (the venue of tomorrow's visitation).

    Friday, November 11, 2011

    Friday (St Martin of Tours)

    Inasmuch as the office was closed for Veteran's Day, and having determined that there was nothing on my task list that couldn't be done from home (God bless the internet), I opted to work once again from my recliner. I read and commented on a couple of chapter from a potential book that priest acquaintance had asked me to look at. Wrote an Ad Clerum--letter to the clergy. Exchanged emails regarding a potential date for the institution of the new rector of Trinity, Lincoln. Took a good hard long walk on a sunny day. Not as productive as I might have wished to be, but ... it was a holiday, right?

    Thursday, November 10, 2011

    Thursday (St Leo of Rome)

    • Task planning at home. Visited with my sister Janet for a bit, who spent the night en route back to her home in the Chicago 'burbs after spending some time with a college student daughter in St Louis. Feeling better today; I seemed to have dodged whatever bullet was heading my direction.
    • Morning Prayer in the office.
    • Some days just have trouble getting traction. This was one of those days. Lots of distractions (some self-generated), most of which were important, but were nonetheless distractions. Couldn't find my groove.
    • Processed a batch of emails (in which were included some distractions).
    • Took a phone call (she was already on my list, but got to me first) from Ruth Wene, Rector's Warden at the Chapel of St John the Divine in Champaign. We discussed various issues relating to their search process.
    • Searched for, evaluated, and booked lodging in London for a portion of my January continuing ed time.
    • Lunch at home.
    • The monitor on my computer at home died last night, so I shopped after lunch, and purchased a new one.
    • Conceived and hatched a sermon for the First Sunday of Advent, to be delivered at St Christopher's, Rantoul.
    • Penned a condolence note a lay leader in one of our churches who has just lost a spouse.
    • Entered the tasks that will drive my preparation for delivering a Lenten teaching series in Alton Parish.
    • Reviewed my December visitation schedule and made a few logistical notes.
    • Evening Prayer in the office.
    • After dinner, had a substantive phone conversation with one of our rural deans regarding a congregation in his deanery.

    Wednesday, November 9, 2011

    Wednesday

    • Task planning at home, Morning Prayer in the office.
    • Revised, edited, and refined my sermon for this Sunday, to be delivered at St Thomas', Salem.
    • Took an incoming phone call from Fr Dick Swan, wearing his hat as Education for Ministry coordinator for the diocese.
    • Took an incoming phone call from Fr Rob Nichols, the interim rector at St John's Chapel in Champaign, giving me a routine report on the status of things there.
    • Lunch at home.
    • Scanned and otherwise processed a batch of hard copy items in my inbox.
    • Dashed off a thank-you note to the parish where I was a guest preacher for All Saints (Redeemer, Sarasota, FL).
    • (Went home to work from my recliner at about 3pm, as I was beginning to feel "puny" [as they say in the south]. Hoping that some version of flu is not laying siege to me.)
    • Took care of an important chore related to this weekend's Happening (renewal program to high schoolers), to be held at the cathedral and the diocesan office.
    • Wrote a letter formalizing the heretofore informal appointment of Deacon Joan Coleman to serve at St George's, Belleville.
    • Reserved a rental car for use in a trip next week to Salt Lake City (bishops of "small" dioceses).
    • Entered the tasks related to preparing for my next guest preaching gig--at St Paul's, K Street, Washington, DC on Candlemas (the Feast of of Presentation, February 2).
    • Evening Prayer in my recliner.

    Tuesday, November 8, 2011

    Tuesday

    • Task planning at home (record number of actions on the docket this week!).
    • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
    • Debriefed with the Archdeacon on sundry administrative matters (lots to discuss after a thirteen day absence from the office).
    • Met with the Board of Trustees for the diocese, the group that oversees the investment of our endowment and reserve funds.
    • Met with chancellor Rick Velde around various (non-emergent) issues.
    • Worked through the pile of snail mail on my desk.
    • Lunch from Taco Gringo, eaten at home.
    • Wrote a note to a colleague bishop whose wife is seriously ill.
    • Checked in by phone with a priest of the diocese who has recently had a serious medical procedure.
    • Spoke by phone with one of our rectors regarding the health of one of our retired priests who is connected to his parish.
    • Took a reference check phone call from a search committee chair outside the diocese; one of our clergy is a finalist in that person's parish search process.
    • Dashed off an article on the Festival of Lessons and Carols requested by the managing editor of The Living Church.
    • Wrote three short but important emails having to do with my January travel plans (going to England for some continuing ed at Canterbury Cathedral--a program for new bishops that is offered there).
    • Spoke with Dean Brodie next door at the cathedral at some length over various matters.
    • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

    Sunday, November 6, 2011

    Sunday after All Saints

    The mini-vacation ended yesterday as we flew home from Florida. The trip itself was blessedly uneventful--Cape Coral to Sarasota by rental car, Sarasota to Atlanta and Atlanta to Bloomington by air, then the 65 miles back to our Springfield home in the familiar Episcopal Chariot, 9.5 hours door-to-door. The fly in the ointment was that I was recovering from being wretchedly seasick during a "rough crossing" by ferry from Key West back to Fort Myers Beach on Friday night. I shan't mention the details, save for the fact that today it hurts to either cough or laugh!

    So we were grateful for the "fall back" time change, compounded by another extra hour delivered by our transit from the eastern to the central time zone. This made for a very pleasant 8:30am arrival in Pekin for a 9am Mass at St Paul's, with one confirmation, followed by a very brief visit to the coffee hour, and then on to an 11am liturgy at All Saints', Morton, where I confirmed identical twin 17-year old young women. Both places are under the very able care of Fr Brian and Deacon Laurie Kellington.

    Sermon for Sunday in the Octave of All Saints

    St Paul's, Pekin & All Saints, Morton

    Those of you who have traveled around the country some bit, or even just around our own diocese, and visited other Episcopal churches, have discovered that there is a tremendous amount of diversity in our services—diversity in liturgical style, diversity in music, diversity in preaching. But you may also have discovered that there is one element of our Episcopalian culture that cuts right across these dividing lines as if they weren’t there. I’m talking about the Coffee Hour—known in some quarters as the “eighth sacrament.” It’s in the parish hall, after church, over coffee and lemonade and cookies or donut holes or whatever, that new relationships are formed, visitors looking for a church community try one out to find out what it’s like, and old relationships are nurtured and sustained, week by week, month by month, year by year.

    Parish social events of various sorts are a vital link in the chain of relationship building and relationship maintenance within the Body of Christ. The same can be said of  “working” groups—ushers, Altar Guild, choir, acolytes, and the like.  And at the watershed moments of our lives—birth, marriage, sickness, and grief—the support of the church community a life-giving source of strength, the medium of God’s peace, which passes human understanding. Certainly, when we come to the altar rail, we experience “holy communion,” not only with the Risen Christ in his glory, but with the person on either side of us, and, if we are spiritually attentive, we also feel a bond of communion with Christian brothers and sisters whom we have never met, especially in Eucharistic Communities that follow the Anglican Cycle of Prayer. 

    But what then? We’ve taken our experience of communion, our sense of kinship and familial bond, and extended it beyond the merely local and made it global. We know that even Christians in South America and Africa and Asia represent people whose “lives are closely linked with ours.” But what then? It sometimes feels as though we hit a spiritual brick wall at that point. What about “holy communion” with those who have “crossed over,” those to whom we no longer have access through the ordinary means of human communication—those whose faces we can no longer see, those whose hands we can no longer touch, those whose voices of wisdom and words of love we can no longer hear. These members of the Body of Christ are no longer likely to show up at Coffee Hour, or a parish supper, or kneel next to us at the altar rail. They seem therefore in a category unto themselves, cut off from the rest of us. This feeling serves to minimize the bond that connects us; it causes us to no longer think of them as among those whose lives are closely linked with ours.

    But listen to the affirmation we make in our opening prayer in the liturgy for the feast of All Saints. We declare to God our belief that “…[He has] knit together [His] elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of [His] Son Christ our Lord…” One communion, we say. Not two communions—one for the living and one for the dead—but one communion and fellowship.  Our fundamental affirmation as Christians—that Jesus is Lord and that he’s risen from the dead—leads us to the understanding that we are alive to God in Christ. Christ has died and Christ has risen. We who have been buried with Christ in the waters of baptism have died with him and been raised with him. Death no longer has dominion over him, and death no longer has dominion over us. At that moment—a moment we all face—when we will seem to have been swallowed up by death, death itself will, instead, choke on the risen Christ, even as it did on that holy night which was transfigured by the light of God’s glory as Jesus burst forth from his tomb. Since, therefore, we are “knit” together, as our collect says, knit together with that same risen Christ, and with one another, in one communion and fellowship, we are alive to one another. That is the astounding affirmation of All Saints Day—we who are “in Christ” are alive to one another, as we are alive to him, no matter on what side of the grave we pitch our tent.

    Most of us are familiar with the popular piety of Roman Catholicism, which pays a great deal of attention to the saints, and even speaks freely of  “praying” to particular saints in view of their reputation for being able to meet specialized needs. When I lived in Louisiana, there was a curious custom of burying a statue of St Joseph upside down in your front yard when you put your house on the market; doing so was thought by some to make your house sell faster. A lot of this popular piety strikes most Anglicans as just a little too intense, at least, and strikes most Protestants as a veritable threat to the uniqueness of Christ. But I would invite you to consider whether, even though we may not care for the piety, the theology behind the piety is something we ought to pay some more direct attention to, that those who “pray” to saints are in fact “on to” something very important, something that springs directly from the creedal affirmation that we are all about to make to the effect that we believe in “the communion of saints,” the fellowship of saints, that we are as intimately connected to St Mary and St John and St Ignatius and St Agnes and St Perpetua and St Augustine and St Teresa and St Thomas Becket and all the saints…as we are to the person we will sip coffee with in the parish hall after church today. I would invite you to consider the fact that the veil that separates us from “all saints” is exquisitely thin, the barrier that seems to divide us from those who have “crossed the Jordan” is wonderfully porous, and that there is traffic across that border, because our God has knit us together with them in one communion and fellowship.

    Scripture assures us that those who have gone before us indeed pray for us. The epistle to the Hebrews speaks of a celestial cheering section consisting of those who have finished the race, and are urging us on as we labor to join them. And there is nothing either in scripture or tradition that would keep us from the notion that we may ask them to do so, that we may invoke the prayers of the saints. How much richer our spiritual imaginations would be if they were “populated” with heroes of the faith—those whom the Christian community knows as saints, apostles, prophets, and martyrs. And how much richer our spiritual imaginations would be if they were also populated not only with such “public” heroes, but with our own private heroes—those who have been examples—parents, teachers, other “elders” and mentors whom we have known.

    And, of course, there is also nothing to keep us from praying for them, which we do at every celebration of the Eucharist, no matter how formal or how casual, because the Prayer Book rubrics require us to do so. In our catechism, the question is posed, “Why do we pray for the dead?” and the answer is given, “We pray for them, because we still hold them in our love, and because we trust that in God presence those who have chosen to serve him will grow in his love, until they see him as he is.”  The motto to keep in mind here is, “Please be patient, God is not finished with me yet.” We are all works in progress. Most of us will still be works in progress when the moment of death arrives. So we need to support one another in prayer—those of us who have been knit together in one communion and fellowship—we need to support one another in prayer no matter what side of the grave we are on, so that we may grow in God’s love until we see Him as He is.

    What an expanded spiritual universe we enjoy when we cultivate an awareness of the communion of saints, when we realize that our lives are “closely linked” not only with the family and friends and neighbors we may have coffee with today and later this week, but with the saints, apostles, prophets, and martyrs whose heroic witness for Christ and the gospel we honor on this feast day. All holy men and women of God, pray for us. Amen.

    Tuesday, November 1, 2011

    All Saints

    Preached at the 10am Mass at Redeemer.

    Met with the director of Redeemer's men's ministry, which is dynamic and innovative. I'm seeing some potential for synergy between what he does and the emerging vision of the Diocese of Springfield.

    Lunched with Brenda at a Thai place in downtown Sarasota. Ran an errand while she napped. Then we paid a visit to the beach at Siesta Key. It was way too brief, so we may go back tomorrow.

    Preached again at the evening Solemn High Mass. Three baptisms, the Britten Te Deum, and the usual classic hymns for this wonderful feast. Redeemer does liturgy extremely well.

    The liturgy was followed by an commensurately fine repast in the parish hall, with veal parmigiana as the centerpiece.

    We've had an altogether wonderful visit to this fine parish, making several new friends. Tomorrow morning we head down to the Fort Myers area for a three-day mini-vacation, so I'll be going dark in this space until the weekend.

    Sermon for All Saints

    (Delivered at three Masses at Redeemer, Sarasota, in conclusion of my preaching mission in that parish.)


    Whenever we say the creed—whether it’s the Nicene Creed of the Eucharist or the Apostles’ Creed of Baptism—we say that “we believe in … the communion of saints.”  So these words cross our lips frequently. But, of all the articles of the creed, I suspect that the one about the communion of saints is probably the least noticed and least understood by the majority of Christians. So let’s unpack it a little bit.

    First, who are “the saints”? Let’s start with who they’re not. The saints are not people who were perfect in the way they lived their lives. They were not sinless people—at least not in this life, although we do give them that title “Saint” before their names  because we believe—or suspect, at least—that they have now attained a state of sinlessness—in other words, perfect union with Christ—and are able to endure the presence of God without being turned to dust. Nor were the saints, when they walked this earth, weirdos, religious freaks, “goody two-shoes” types who were “so heavenly minded as to be of no earthly good,” the sort of people nobody can directly find fault with but everybody loves to hate anyway.

    So, again, who are the saints? The saints are real, flesh and blood, Christian persons. The saints are people who ate and drank and slept and sinned and had dreams and ambitions. The saints are Christians who knew grief and disappointments, who loved and laughed and suffered and died—all pretty ordinary stuff! But there is, of course, a sense in which the saints were not ordinary at all, and that’s why we give them special recognition. They were uncommonly, heroically, devoted to Christ, and their devotion showed in the way they lived their lives, even if it was just in the manner of their dying, bearing witness to the gospel with their own blood, as martyrs.

    I don’t know whether it’s just that I’ve recently entered the seventh decade of my life and feel like I have a long perspective on societal evolution, or whether our society has indeed changed, but it seems to me that we’re a lot more cynical than we used to be. We don’t have heroes anymore. Since Watergate, back in my early adulthood, we don’t have political heroes. And since steroids, a more recent memory, we don’t have sports heroes. Heroism is just in short supply all around. Yet, if we try hard enough, we can think of teachers whose impact on our lives we can still feel years and decades later. As we age, it often becomes easier to see the positive impact that our parents had on who we are today. Or we may be aware of friends and neighbors and colleagues and business associates who have set an example and provide a pattern for us to admire and emulate. So, we may have to dig a little more deeply than earlier generations did, but we do have our heroes.

    Well, the saints are the heroes and heroines of our Christian family. They are the ones whose names should come up as we sit around the campfire, or the kitchen table, or the parish hall coffee hour. The saints are the ones whose stories we should tell our children and grandchildren in order to inspire them to live lives of faith and devotion. The saints give us an example of how to live effectively as Christians in this world. They provide a pattern for us to emulate: in the way they loved, in the way they prayed, in the way they obeyed the call of Christ, in the way they served the world and the church and the church’s Lord, and, quite often, in the way they died.


    The saints inspire us. They keep us company in the valley of our spiritual journeys, because they’ve been in valleys themselves. If we study their lives, we know something about those valleys, and can recognize them as being very similar to our own. By seeing that the saints were given God’s mercy and grace to see them through their time in the valley, our faith is increased that we also will receive mercy and grace to help in time of need, and we have the strength and confidence to persevere.

    The saints encourage us in our journey toward joining them. Our destiny is to be with them, enjoying a vision of God’s glory that is unclouded by sin or suffering or fear. They see God face to face, which is the ultimate fulfillment of human existence. As Anglicans, with one foot in the Catholic world and one foot—or a couple of toes, perhaps, at Redeemer!—in the Protestant world, we are usually reserved about using the word “pray” with respect to our relationship to the saints. We’re instinctively a little queasy about praying to anybody but God. Our reluctance, however, is probably less theological than it is linguistic. Three hundred years ago, one might meet a stranger on the street and say, “I pray thee, dost thou have the time?” So, if we understand the word “pray” in the sense of simply asking for something, something as casual as asking a stranger for the time of day, we should be able to wrap our minds around asking the saints, the communion of God’s holy ones enjoying his unfiltered presence—asking the saints to hold us in their own prayers to the same God whom we worship and adore on earth.  We “pray” to the saints and they pray for us and we all pray to God together, because, as our collect tells us today, we have been knit together in one communion and fellowship.

    The saints also call us into the “full measure and stature” of the identity in Christ that we were given in the sacrament of baptism. The covenant that God establishes with us in baptism, sealed in water and oil and articulated in the vows we make, and which we ratify when we’re confirmed, is a pretty radical statement. God promises to wash away our sins, adopt us as his children, graft us into the body of his Son, give us new life in this world and raise us to eternal life in the next. In acknowledging those gifts, we promise to love and serve him faithfully, to serve him in everyone we meet, to put the values of justice and righteousness before our own selfish interests. There are many points along the journey when we are tempted to weasel out of those vows, to hope God wasn’t really listening when we made them, or didn’t notice that our fingers were crossed. The saints are there to tell us, “Bad idea. Don’t wander off the road. Keep your eye on the prize. Trust us, it’s worth the effort!”

    So…do you have your heroes in the communion of saints? If you do, ask them to pray for us as we’re gathered here today in worship. If not, then go get some! There are plenty to go around. All holy men and women of God, pray for us. Amen.