Friday, December 30, 2011

Friday

Given that nobody else who's usually in the office was going to be in the office, I declared this a work-from-home day. And given that we're closing in on the end of the calendar year, it seemed appropriate to focus on meta-issues of personal organization and planning--the kind of stuff that would ordinarily get swamped by more pressing concerns. By that measure, the day was fruitful. But when something is pressing ... it's pressing. So I did spend some energy on the phone and trading emails over an emergent pastoral issue affecting one of our Eucharistic Communities. By the time I went to bed, the situation was stabilized. Not solved, but stabilized. Of course, emails popped up that needed responding to as well. In the evening, Brenda and I went out and saw The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Thursday (St Thomas Becket)


  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Drafted the text of my sermon for next week's institution of Fr Mark Evans as rector of Trinity, Lincoln.
  • Received a phone call regarding an acute pastoral emergency and took appropriate followup action.
  • Lunch at home,
  • Finished the sermon draft I had started in the morning.
  • Since this is sort of a "slow" work week, I had the luxury of reorganizing and culling the items in my electronic files (Evernote, if you're techno-savvy). This is never an urgent task, but it is important, as it pays dividends in efficiency down the road. It's also very time-consuming ... and did indeed consume most of my afternoon!
  • Power walk around downtown around 4pm.
  • Reviewed a couple of other non-urgent items that have been in the queue for months. 
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Holy Innocents


  • Usual routine. Morning Prayer in the office.
  • Began the process of concrete preparation for my Lenten teaching series at St Paul's in Alton. The subject is "Patterns of Ministry." Made broad notes on broad categories.
  • Took care of a minor administrative chore.
  • Began composing the draft of a sermon for the eve of Epiphany at St John's, Decatur.
  • Lunch at home
  • Completed the Epiphany sermon draft.
  • Wrote out some "talking points" pertaining to the emerging missional vision of the diocese, to the end of giving the clergy who preside at annual parish meetings a substantive resource.
  • Took a brief power walk of a bout 20 minutes duration.
  • Drafted a sermon for the First Sunday after the Epiphany (Trinity, Jacksonville).
  • Organized my February calendar (a routine end-of-month chore, looking at the month after next).
  • Evening Prayer in the office.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

St John


  • Task planning at home. Said goodbye to Kid #3 and spouse as they continue their holiday sojourn to Tennessee. Deposited Kid #1 at SPI for her return to NYC, hoping United doesn't lose her luggage again. (Kid #2 and family drove back home to Chicago last night, and arrived safely.) Morning Prayer in the car (memorized short form).
  • Handled some minor administrative chores.
  • Processed a batch of emails in my inbox.
  • Wrote a (hard copy) letter to the Bishop's Warden of one of our Eucharistic Communities regarding an administrative matter.
  • Refined my sermon for this Sunday (St Paul's Cathedral).
  • Lunch at home.
  • Hand-wrote greetings to clergy and spouses with birthdays/anniversaries in January and early February.
  • Routine Tuesday hard-copy scanning chores, which prompted an email exchange regarding a tentative date for an ordination in June.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Sermon for Christmas (Eve)


St Paul's Cathedral, Springfield

How are you tonight? No…I mean, really. How are you tonight? Are you feeling a little under the weather, perhaps? There are a lot of bad bugs flying around this time of year. Or maybe you’re feeling pretty good, but you know that all is not right with your body, and you’re facing some pretty daunting physical and medical challenges. Perhaps you even know that you’re dying—not just in the abstract, but within a particular time frame. Are you lonely? Maybe you yearn for a certain person to be with you for Christmas, but you’re here, and they’re…wherever they are—not here. Are you afraid? Perhaps you live in dread of an email or a letter or a phone call or a knock on the door that will bring news you very much do not want to hear. Are you wounded in your spirit? Has a loved one let you down, or outright betrayed you? Are there painful memories that seem to just always weigh you down emotionally, and you can’t ever really get past them? Are you angry? Maybe someone treated you unfairly or rudely and it just makes you boil.  Are you upset about the policies of the government, or with those who are upset about the policies of the government? Are you bored? Are you uncomfortable being in church, and are here out of a sense of obligation—either generally or to a particular person? Are you cynical about what’s happening in this place at this hour? Do you wish you were somewhere else?

Well…I don’t mean to depress you. I’m just trying to encourage honesty, and the truth is that, amid the festivity of the season and the joy of this liturgical celebration of Christmas—all of which is completely well and good and meet and right and legitimate—even as we rejoice, we are, each one of us, broken people. We are broken in multiple ways, and when dried up Christmas trees litter the curbs—in a couple of days or a couple of weeks, depending on how one keeps the feast—when life gets back to normal, “normal” will include our brokenness, and we may even be a bit more acutely aware of it, just for having been through this season of mandatory joy.

My wife, as you may know, has a ten year-old border collie, with whom she has formed a mutual admiration society. All things being equal, I would really rather not have a dog, but I have so far avoided giving Brenda an ultimatum—“It’s either the dog or me!—because…well, let’s just say, I’m smarter than that. So I somewhat reluctantly share my living space with a four-legged creature named Lucifer—which, as Brenda reminds me, means “light bearer.” Lucy, as Brenda calls her, is, like most of her kind, quite fond of raw meat. But she has a fear that outweighs even her appetite for a nice, fresh chicken thigh. She suffers from a compelling and overpowering fear of abandonment. Lucy is certain that, if she lets Brenda out of the house, for any reason, there’s a good possibility that she might not ever return. So Lucy can know that there’s fresh meat out on the front porch, but unless Brenda goes out there and stays within sight of Lucy while Lucy eats it, she sometimes won’t even go out the door. The dog has serious abandonment issues, and I suppose may need some expensive therapy before she gets any better. I don’t know.

Well, one feature of our individual and collective brokenness is that we, as a human race, also have serious abandonment issues. We are afraid that, not only are we miserable, but that God has abandoned us in our misery. We are afraid that God has given up on us. We are afraid that sickness and death are all there is, in the end. We are afraid that fear and anger have the final word. We are afraid that loneliness and boredom and cynicism have the last say in the matter.

Christmas is the therapy we need to deal with our abandonment issues. The birth of Christ, the incarnation of the Eternal Word of God in the infant whose parents were instructed to name him Jesus, is a sign of hope that God has not abandoned us in our state of misery. Because a young woman named Mary had the courage to say Yes to a very strange vocation, and give birth in the uncomfortable squalor of a barn, and set the baby down in a feeding trough, because an honorable man named Joseph had the courage to say Yes to the very strange vocation of raising as his own a child whom he did not father—because of all this, you and I have hope that God has not abandoned us in our misery, but is, in fact with us—that he is, in fact, one of us. Because of Christmas, God knows. God knows. Whatever we’re feeling, God knows—not just because He’s good, but because He’s been there.

Are you sick? God knows, and the birth of Christ makes it possible for you to share God’s eternal wellness and wholeness and health.

Are you lonely? God knows, and Jesus’ nativity makes it possible for you to participate in the very life of God, to share in the perfect community of the Holy Trinity,

Are you afraid? God knows, and Christ’s birth makes it possible for you to know the deathless love of God that banishes all fear.

Are you angry? God knows, and the birth of Jesus makes it possible for you to see God’s own vision of a world where justice reigns, where crime doesn’t pay, and all wrongs are put right.

Are you wounded in spirit? God knows, and what we celebrate at Christmas makes it possible for you to receive the consolation and love of one who is known as the Man of Sorrows, and is acquainted with every human grief.

Are you bored, cynical, unbelieving? God knows, and Christmas can be a sign to you of hope that there is an alternative way of looking at your own life and the whole human condition.

Are you dying? God knows, and the birth of Christ is a sign of God’s intent that death not have the last word, but that it be swallowed up in the victory of life.

Christ is born, the Word is made flesh, and God knows. Come, let us adore him. Amen.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Friday (O Emmanuel)

With two of our three offspring, along with their offspring, having arrived in Springfield for Christmas (and the remaining offspring on the way), there was great motivation for me to hang around the home front today, so I succumbed. I did manage to process a few emails in the midst of everything.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Thursday (O Rex Gentium)

  • More Christmas tree moving first thing in the morning. This is getting to be a habit. Hint: They're a lot harder to move once they're in a stand and that fancy netting shrink wrap is removed.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Processed a batch of emails. Began drafting my sermon for the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus (January 1--there is no "First Sunday after Christmas" this year).
  • Met with Dean Brodie to discuss the Christmas Eve liturgies. I'm preaching early and preaching/celebrating late.
  • Lunch at home, after a brief last-minute "focused like a laser" shopping expedition for a gift for one of our daughters.
  • Completed the draft of the aforementioned sermon.
  • Took another power walk around downtown. The colder weather is actually conducive to midday walks.
  • Registered for the March House of Bishops meeting (Camp Allen, Texas).
  • Conceived and hatched a homily for the First Sunday after the Epiphany (January 8 at Trinity, Jacksonville).
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wednesday (O Oriens)


  • Delayed start getting out of the house, as my brawn was required to bring the Christmas tree we bought Sunday night from the garage into the house and get it set up. We're expecting Christmas house guests to start arriving tomorrow night, so the clock is ticking on getting the house ready.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Substantive phone conversation (by appointment) with Deacon Bruce DeGooyer, whose professional background in organizational development will be an important resource in the execution of our emerging diocesan vision for mission.
  • Conceived, hatched, and rough-plotted a homily for the eve of Epiphany, to be delivered at St John's, Decatur.
  • Lunch at home.
  • Spent a good while updating the customary for visitations of the Bishop to Eucharistic Communities. Having now completed my first circuit of visitations, I've learned a few things, so it was time to stabilize and codify those learnings.
  • Took a mental and physical health break in the form of a brisk walk--first three or four blocks south of the office on Second, then as far east as Seventh and as far north as Adams, before winding my way back. 
  • Wrote a final Ad Clerum letter to the clergy for this calendar year.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tuesday (O Clavis David)

Today was dominated by three long phone conversation and one long in-person appointment. Some of this (most, probably) was high energy and acute, and some of it was low-energy and more routine. Some of it dealt with personal issues, some with parochial issues, and some with diocesan issues, and often all three at the same time. That which was of an urgent character was dealt with--I can say with some degree of confidence--successfully. I decided long ago that, however it might feel in the moment, people are not interruptions to my work; people are my work. This was a people day.

I also managed to finish pulling together my homily for Christmas Eve at the cathedral, and clear my desk of accumulated hard-copy items.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Celebrated the Fourth Sunday of Advent with the people of St Barnabas', Havana. Confirmed two teens and received two adults. Havana is a picturesque and historic county seat town on the left bank of the Illinois River (and, hence, right on our border with the Diocese of Quincy). Nobody seems to know how it got its name, though there used to be a cigar factory there, so maybe that has something to do with it. There is a wonderful core group at St Barnabas', and they are enjoying the fine pastoral care and leadership of Fr "Flip" Boeve.

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Luke 1:26-38
St Barnabas', Havana

I love Advent. It has a shape that is completely irrational, but, somehow, when it all plays out, it just works beautifully. We began, three weeks ago, you might recall, at the end, with the end of time, the Second Coming of Christ. Then we were shot as though from a sling into a strange dimension of time, where we hung out for two Sundays, with one foot in the wonderful prophecies of Isaiah, which Christians have always interpreted as foretelling the coming of the Messiah, and the other foot in the “rude and crude” figure of John the Baptist, preaching on the eve of the adult Jesus’ arrival on the stage of public life.

This morning, we are finally encountering scripture readings that are recognizably part of the familiar Christmas narrative. We have the Annunciation—an angel named Gabriel shows up at the home of a young woman named Mary and informs her that she’s going to have a baby—only the baby is not going to be conceived in the usual manner and is, in fact, going to be the Son of God and the savior of the world. Kind of a lot for a young woman, probably still a teenager, to take in, right? It would be a lot for any of us to take in. It’s still a lot for us to take in, even now.

The way the incident is presented to us, at least, it’s shockingly brief and to the point. Angels apparently don’t make small talk. Mary was not really set up in any way for the news she was about to receive, and Gabriel didn’t hang around afterward to make sure she was OK and was processing her feelings in an appropriate manner. The Annunciation is presented to us naked and undecorated, simply and starkly for just what it was. That very simplicity and starkness makes it a compelling sign. Signs give directions; they point to something beyond themselves. The Annunciation is a sign that tells us something about the character of God and how God behaves towards us. The Annunciation tells us that it is God who takes the initiative in acting for our redemption. Yes, we talk about God responding to our prayers, answering our petitions and granting our requests, but in the final analysis, what we experience as God responding to our prayers is only the working out of the details and implications of His prior initiative on our behalf. St John tells us that we love God….why?....because He first loved us. St Paul tells us that we know the extent of God’s love precisely because, even in our undeniably sinful state as a human race, Christ died for us. All of this is encapsulated in the Annunciation. God takes the initiative revealing Himself and His love. God takes the initiative in accomplishing our deliverance from the vise grip of sin and death. It is God who is the initiator, and we who are the responders.  

Now, this is hard for us to wrap our minds around because it runs totally contrary to our default assumption. In the absence of any evidence to the contrary—evidence such as is provided by the Annunciation—we think we’re the ones who have to take the initiative in putting ourselves right with God.  We think this individually, especially in America, where we cut our teeth on the ideals of individual freedom and personal responsibility. I am responsible for getting myself right with God. We also think it collectively, as a race of human beings. Some have defined religion itself as the record of our search for God. Christianity says otherwise. Christianity says religion is a matter not of our search for God, but God’s search for us. God is the initiator; humankind is the responder. The Annunciation reminds us of that essential fact.

If we don’t get this right, if we persist in thinking of ourselves, either personally or communally, as the ones who are responsible making the first move, taking the first step, breaking the silence in our conversation with God, we will find ourselves in a most uncomfortable place. We will find ourselves more or less consumed with anxiety, blindly striving after something or someone, but not knowing what or who it is. You may be aware of the terribly ironic environment in which Christian churches and other forms of “organized religion” operate in this culture of ours. Mainstream churches, like the Episcopal Church, are either stagnant or declining, even as the population is steadily increasing. We’re losing what the business world calls “market share.” At the same time, though, Americans are demonstrably hungry spiritually. The word “religion” evokes a response of boredom and irrelevance, but “spirituality” is a hot property these days. Even the venerable Christian practice of spiritual direction has been co-opted by those who have not only no Christian commitment, but not even any formal religious commitment of any sort. In a paradoxical way, perhaps, I believe we can see the evidence of pervasive spiritual hunger—albeit misdirected, as in “looking for food in all the wrong places”—I believe we can see the evidence of pervasive spiritual hunger even in the excessive consumerism that seems so widespread, especially in the area of video games, which have become a shockingly sophisticated form of alternate reality in which millions of people have literally lost themselves. I might also mention the voyeurism that is pandered to by so-called “reality shows” on television. These are all tangible signs of what happens when we fall victim to thinking that finding God—finding purpose, finding meaning, finding ultimate reality—is all on us. These are signs of what happens when we forget the message of the Annunciation—that it is God who takes the initiative in loving us and saving us.

Indeed, the Annunciation points us in quite another direction. It teaches us that God has noticed that we are trapped in a mess of our own making, but trapped nonetheless. We are bound by a force that impels us to do things and say things that we know are not good for us or anyone else, but we do them and say them anyway. We are bound by the awful reality of our own mortality, and the gnawing anxiety that the prospect of our own death haunts us with every day. God sees us in this mess, but He doesn’t leave us in this mess. He takes the first step, makes the first move, primes the pump for our salvation.

God does this first on our behalf collectively, as the human race. This is precisely what we as the Church celebrate in the “incarnational cycle” of the liturgical year—from Advent through Epiphany. Then, within the context of what He does for us collectively, God takes the initiative to act for us individually. He sends us His Holy Spirit to move in our hearts and turn us toward Himself.  All God asks from us is our active cooperation—which is nothing other than what he asked from Our Lady, the Blessed Virgin Mary. What was her response to the angel?  “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”  Mary provided an environment—her own body, in fact —for the Word of God to be “formed” in her, and then, when the time was right, she gave birth to that Word, an event that we will celebrate a week from now. Our calling is to emulate Mary, to provide an environment in which the Word of God can be “formed” in us, and then to “give birth” to that Word in our lives. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Saturday (O Sapientia)

After a long stretch since the last such occasion, I didn't need to drive somewhere and spend the night in a hotel today. While I do enjoy my work, this was a welcome change of pace. Brenda and I took the opportunity to begin to get organized, and actually make a little progress, toward preparing for a house full of people (children and spouses, granddaughters) next weekend. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Friday


  • Having fasted all night, this time I was successful in leaving a blood sample at the lab so they can tell me my latest cholesterol numbers. Then back home for breakfast. 
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral, then a bit of email processing. 
  • The Department of General Mission Strategy convened at 10 for a very productive meeting that ended around 12:30. There is a great deal to be done, but I believe we are pointed in the right direction. 
  • Late and long lunch downtown with the Archdeacon and the Rector of Morgan County Parish (part of our DGMS meeting was spent discussing the need to begin using the new terminology). 
  • Made a phone call to one of our retired priests who has been dealing with some very serious health issues of late. 
  • One of my ongoing projects is to learn the names and county seats of all sixty counties in the Diocese of Springfield. To that end, I tested myself today. I'm apparently a little more than a third of the way toward the goal. 
  •  Friday prayer time: Turning out the lights in the office, kicking back in the recliner, and listening to a CD of musical settings of the "Great O Antiphons" of Advent (the time for which begins tomorrow evening). Advent is hugely important to me spiritually, and the Great O's continue to worm their way more deeply into my heart. 
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral. 
  • In the evening, Brenda and watched, courtesy of Netflix, the film Of Gods & Men. If you want to know what the nth degree of "concretely incarnate" in our diocesan vision statement means, see this movie.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Thursday


  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Processed a relatively short stack of emails.
  • Took a call from Fr David Boase in Alton as we continued to lay plans for the Lenten teaching series I will be doing at St Paul's.
  • Did some brain work and made a few notes in preparation for tomorrow's meeting of the Department of General Mission Strategy.
  • Lunch at home, then a fruitless shopping quest for a dry erase board for the conference room in the diocesan office. We need one. But it needs to be free-standing, since we don't have a wall to mount one on, and it needs to be bigger than a newsprint tablet.
  • Took a broad look at the propers for the Sundays after Epiphany and made some sketchy notes and plans for sermons on those Sundays.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Wednesday (St John of the Cross)


  • Task planning at home, then took the vehicle to the dealer for some warranty work. Brenda met me there and ran me in to the office.
  • Completed a survey (by hand, no less!) from the College of Bishops regarding the impact that their program has had on my ministry.
  • Exchanged substantive emails with a potential candidate for one of our vacant clergy positions.
  • Wrote an email to the members of the diocesan Disciplinary Board prompting them to elect a president.
  • Finished a draft of my homily for Christmas Eve at St Paul's Cathedral.
  • Since my car wasn't finished yet, thus stranding me in downtown Springfield, I "made lemondade" by walking to the heart of downtown for lunch, grabbing a sandwich within sight of the old capitol building, and dodging raindrops on the way back to the office.
  • Wrote a snail mail letter (since I couldn't find an email address for him) to a priest I am hoping to entice into becoming a candidate for the same open position I referenced above.
  • Took care of a couple of items of administrative minutia.
  • Conceived and hatched a homily for the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus (January 1), again at the cathedral.
  • Rode with Sue Spring to the Hyundai dealer to retrieve the vehicle.
  • Read and meditated a bit on the lectionary readings for Epiphany. As it happens, I'll be preaching and celebrate at St John's, Decatur on the eve of that feast, and again the next night as we induct Fr Mark Evans as new rector of Trinity, Lincoln. So this was a two-fer.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tuesday


  • Morning Prayer in my parked car outside the dental office where Brenda was scheduled for some oral surgery, from which she would emerge as a bit of a road hazard were she to get behind the wheel of a car. As it turned out, the procedure got delayed, but that's another story.
  • So...in the office just past 10am. Debriefed with the Archdeacon on my weekend visits to Paris, Mattoon, and Champaign.
  • Processed a batch of emails, which took me all the way up to noon.
  • Lunch from TG, eaten at home.
  • Usual Tuesday hard-copy scanning chores.
  • Reviewed the items on the "tree" of the diocesan website, in preparation for beginning the transition to a new one. I'm hoping to see a "beta" of the new site before too long.
  • Refined and otherwise polished my homily for this Sunday, at St Barnabas', Havana.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Monday

I'm truly religious about taking a full day off from my main work each week, sabbath rest being a key spiritual principle and all. But worthy exceptions can sometimes be made, an example being tonight's social gathering for members of the cathedral chapter and their spouses, held at the gracious home of Dean Bob and Linda Brodie. The meal was followed by the regular December chapter meeting (at which the Bishop by statute has seat, voice, and vote).

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Advent III ("Rose Sunday")

  • Woke up in Charleston and actually remembered where I was (not always guaranteed these days!). 
  • Celebrated, preached, and confirmed at Trinity, Mattoon (the confirmand was actually from Holy Trinity, Danville), with surprisingly good attendance, by Mattoon standards (I counted around 70). Discovered actual rose-colored cope and chasuble in the sacristy closet, so I was properly decked out for Gaudete Sunday.
  • The liturgy was followed by a delicious catered repast in the parish hall, which was, in turn, capped off by a vigorous discussion of mission and ministry in a post-Christian culture, and ways that Trinity might be engaged in that work. Good questions and observations from parishioners.
  • Then it was off to Champaign for a 2pm meeting with the vestry of the Chapel of St John the Divine. They are about to give their charge to the search committee, and we had a productive discussion of the parameters of that process. 
  • After availing ourselves of the hospitality of one of the members of that vestry, who offered us her home as a place to just chill out (and actually catch a few winks) for a couple of hours, we headed off to dinner at a restaurant in Urbana with some friends from Holy Trinity, Danville.
  • The evening was capped off by the wonderful annual Festival of Lessons and Carols at the chapel. The music program there is top drawer, in the classic Anglican cathedral tradition. What a joy.
  • Home around 10:45. Tomorrow's rest will be much needed!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Saturday

Quiet easy morning. Good power walk. A couple of household chores. Then pack and hit the road for Paris (yes, Paris, Illinois, the seat of Edgar County). Celebrated and preached at St Andrew's, then went out to dinner with all the active members of the parish. Both of them. Over dinner, it seemed self-evident to everyone that the time has come to pull the plug. So we will close the books on St Andrew's (pending Standing Committee approval, of course) at year's end. This is certainly a sorrowful decision to have to make. But it's the right one.

Our hotel room tonight is in Charleston, in advance of tomorrow's visit to Trinity, Mattoon.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Friday

  • Usual morning routine. Morning Prayer in the (cold) cathedral.
  • Spent the rest of the morning processing emails. The difficulty of the task was compounded by the fact that they just kept pouring in! Though it was frustrating at moments, a great deal was accomplished.
  • Lunch at home (on the late side).
  • Studied the questions on the congregational profile survey for St John's Chapel in Champaign.
  • Friday prayer: Ignatian-style discursive meditation on the gospel passage in the daily office--Jesus ripping into the Scribes and Pharisees for their self-absorbed and self-serving hypocrisy. It was a bit of a disturbing challenge to "pray through" a passage like that. But prayer should be disturbing and challenging, at least occasionally, I guess.
  • Met with Vice-Chancellor Kevin Babb, only today he was wearing his Department of Campus Ministry hat. Wide-ranging discussion that started with campus ministry but ran to mission strategy in general.
  • Evening Prayer in the office.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Thursday (Immaculate Conception)

A play day for the Bishop and Brenda. Through a fortuitous combination of events, some tickets to the Chicago Lyric Opera came our way, which was too good an offer to pass up. So we hopped a 6:30 Amtrak departure in Springfield, which deposited us at Union Station in Chicago in time to walk the twelve or so blocks (with a Starbuck's stop en route) to the Frontera Grill at Clark and Illinois, where we had 11:30 lunch reservations (and a gift card from a wedding I presided over a year ago!). This is "creative Mexican" (google Chef Rick Bayless) and was phenomenally good. We were joined by our son and daughter-in-law, as well as our son-in-law and older granddaughter. Then we hoofed it back down to the opera house for a fine and enjoyable production of Mozart's The Magic Flute. After grabbing a bite in Union Station, we boarded the 7pm southbound departure and were back in our vehicle in Springfield just after 10:30. A full day.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Wednesday (St Ambrose of Milan)

  • Usual morning routine.
  • Upon arrival in the office, seized a moment of kairos and wrote a blog post about the season of Advent.
  • Spent forty minutes on the phone with the investment adviser for the Putnam Trust, which provides significant income to two of our congregations, and of which the Bishop of Springfield is one of two trustees (the other being Bank of America). This was a routine year-end review.
  • Publicized the appointment of the Archdeacon as Intake Officer under Title IV canons (clergy discipline). Any incidents of clergy misconduct (perish the thought) should be reported promptly and directly to him to begin the process.
  • Fleshed out a draft of a homily for Advent IV (December 18th at St Barnabas', Havana).
  • Took a phone call from one of our rectors with a liturgical question. I am, after all, a certified liturgy geek.
  • Lunch at the Sangamo Club with Dean Brodie. We discussed an array of topics having to do both with the cathedral and the diocese.
  • Conceived and hatched a homily for Christmas Eve at St Paul's Cathedral.
  • Walked downtown to do a couple of personal errands ... and rack up some steps on the pedometer.
  • Emailed the rector of a parish with a visitation later this month.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.
  • After a stop at home for a bite to eat, hit the road to Carlinville for a meeting with the vestry of St Paul's. This was to discuss a role I am inviting them to play in connection with the emerging strategic mission vision of the diocese. Home around 10.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tuesday (St Nicholas)

  • Usual morning routine: task planning at home, Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Processed a longish batch of emails. This required reading several attachments and writing several replies. Consumed most of the morning.
  • Scheduled a lunch appointment with the Dean for tomorrow.
  • Took a phone call from one of our rectors regarding a pastoral matter.
  • Began to process the pile of hard copy items that has been accumulating over the last week or so.
  • Lunch at home (sliced deli turkey with Thai peanut sauce, sprouted grain bread with melted Parmesan cheese).
  • Continued and completed the document processing work.
  • Refined my homily for this weekend (St Andrew's, Paris and Trinity, Mattoon).
  • Prepared a couple of my "official portraits" for mailing to some former parishioners who were extraordinarily kind to me when I left Warsaw, IN last January.
  • Took a phone call from the Rector's Warden of St John's Chapel in Champaign with some questions regarding their search process.
  • Took a mini-power walk: Down First Street to South Grand, then back up Second to the office. Since I've been carrying a pedometer in my pocket, I've been getting a little OCD about racking up steps every day. On balance, this is a good thing.
  • Did a little bit of online Christmas shopping.
  • Wrote an email to a warden in one of our Eucharistic Communities regarding some administrative concerns.
  • Took a phone call from the Bishop's Warden of St Michael's, O'Fallon giving me an update on their search process.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Second Sunday of Advent

  • All my Sunday visits so far have been joyful and uplifting, and today's to St Andrew's, Carbondale was no exception. They are an engaged and positive group of people. 

  • But Carbondale is a long way from Springfield, of course, and there's "no good way to get there." So it was well past 4pm by the time we rolled back into our driveway.

Sermon for Advent II

Mark 1:1-8--Isaiah 40:1-11--II Peter 3:8-15a

St Andrew’s, Carbondale  
Back when the personal computer was a relatively new thing—and, I’m afraid to say, I’m old enough to remember that—we had to learn some new vocabulary; most of the time, familiar words used in an unfamiliar way. One of these words was “peripheral,” used as a noun. A peripheral is something that performs a useful function—a printer, for example—but is more or less useless unless a computer tells it to do whatever it does. A printer, or a speaker, or a set of headphones, are absolutely dependent on being connected somehow to a computer (keeping in mind that a smart phone or an iPod is actually a small computer). That's why they call it "peripheral." 

Practicing Christian faith in this complex world of ours is in some ways like using a computer. There are fundamentals and there are peripherals. Both fundamentals and peripherals are necessary and good, but they are of benefit to us only if we remember which ones are which. As Catholic Christians, we have an overflowing abundance of spiritual “peripherals” to pave the way and illuminate and otherwise assist us on our journey back to God. 

This is especially apparent during this time of year when we prepare for Christmas:
Advent Wreaths in our homes, Advent Calendars to heighten the sense of anticipation in our children,  seasonal music, even the Salvation Army bellringers outside the stores.   During the rest of the year we have retreats and quiet days, spiritual direction, small groups,various classes, icons and other forms of Christian art, birthday blessings, symbolic vestments,  kneeling-standing-sitting and making the sign of the cross, Sunday School classes, books of prayer and books on prayer. The list could go on, virtually without end. We are surrounded by religious peripherals—good and gracious gifts from God which are his instruments in drawing us to himself.

Surrounded to such a degree, in fact, that it becomes a challenge to distinguish the peripherals from the fundamentals. It is alarmingly easy to become so involved in the practice of Christian religion that we lose touch with the practice of Christian faith. Jesus, and the centrality of our relationship to him, can, if we're not attentive, become lost in the shuffle. And it is precisely to this possibility that an unkempt and ill-mannered John the Baptist addresses himself on this the Second Sunday of Advent. 

What a sight he is! Skin tanned into leather by the desert sun, wearing a crudely put-together outfit made of camel hide, chowing down on grasshoppers and honey pilfered directly from the beehive. In an era before theme parks, John the Baptist is a one-man “Six Flags Over the Jordan.” His message is like a slap in the face, like a splash of antiseptic on an open wound. “Snap out of it!  Listen up!  Something very important is about to happen and—trust me on this—if you're not ready for it when it comes, you’ll be sorry.  If you think I'm in your face, wait till you meet who comes next.  I’m nothing compared to him. And the best way to get ready to meet him is to change your ways, to stop what you’re doing and start doing something else. The way to prepare for the one I’m telling you about is to repent.”

The news that commands our attention this morning—it’s good news, actually, though we might not experience it that way yet—the news that commands our attention is that the first thing we've got to do to prepare for the coming of Christ is to repent. Repentance prepares us to joyfully celebrate the feast of Christmas, to welcome into our hearts yet again the Word made Flesh, God incarnate, the one who came in weakness to be our savior. And repentance keeps us prepared to welcome that same Christ when he returns into our world in triumph to be our judge. 

Now please understand that when I talk about repentance I’m not talking about regret,  or feeling sorry for what we’ve done or left undone. Sorrow for our sins is appropriate, but that’s not repentance.  Repentance is what the captain of a large ship does when it’s headed toward the rocks.  First, he’s got to stop the forward momentum in the dangerous direction. When we repent, the first thing we’ve got to do is stop what we’re doing, to get quiet and still. The next thing the ship’s captain has to do is turn the vessel around, to change the direction it’s headed, to point the bow of the ship away from the rocks and out toward the open sea. When we repent, after we stop, we’ve got to turn, to turn toward Christ. We’ve got to face Christ, Christ who is both savior and judge.   Before we can receive his forgiveness, we must receive his judgement.  The third thing the ship’s captain has to do is power up the engines once again and start moving in the new direction. In the movement of repentance, this means focusing intently, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus and following him as he leads us out of the mess we've gotten ourselves into. 

The whole thing is like a parent dealing with a toddler in the midst of a temper tantrum.  A swat to the backside gets his attention—John the Baptist does the honors in that department. Then the parent grasps the child by the shoulders and turns him around, away from the toy or the book or the person that is the object of the tantrum. Then the parent might even gently hold the child by the jaw and make unambiguous eye contact and say, “Look at me.” God calls us to repentance through such vehicles as John the Baptist. But he knows repentance doesn't come naturally to us, so he’s around to help us out in various ways. 

Repentance is not only unnatural, it can be downright unpleasant. So we do well to bear in mind what’s at stake. What’s at stake is our preparedness. Whether we’re ready or not, Christmas will come. But at least we know when that coming of Christ will occur. 
Other comings of Christ are unannounced. Christ may “come” for any of us, in a special personal way at any time, according to his purposes. If we have not prepared through repentance, he will be like a painter arriving on a job site and finding that the wall has not been scraped or primed, and therefore cannot be painted. And Christ will come for all of us, publicly and permanently, on the last day as he has promised, that great day when, in the words of II Peter, “the heavens and the earth will pass away with a loud noise and the elements will be dissolved with fire.” 

If he comes on that day and we have not prepared for that coming through repentance, he will be like a master chef arriving in the kitchen to find that no one has washed and chopped the vegetables or measured out the spices, or prepared the raw meat.  So there is quite a bit at stake. Repentance may not be as glamorous as some of the “peripherals” of Christian religious practice. But without it, they have no meaning. Repentance leads to forgiveness and reconciliation.  And forgiveness and reconciliation lead to conversion of life. And conversion of life leads to full preparedness for whatever coming of Christ we care to contemplate.  And preparedness means the wall will get painted and the meal will get cooked and all will be well. 

Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Saturday

Leisurely Saturday morning, followed by a good long and hard walk. I've had a bit of something all week and fell off the exercise wagon, so it was good to rack up some steps on the pedometer. Then it was time to pack and hit the road for Marion, where we are staying in advance of our visit to St Andrew's in Carbondale tomorrow (the two towns are about 15 miles apart, and the intervening stretch of Illinois 13 is about fully developed). Fr Roderick, the rector of St Andrew's, picked us up and drove us to the lovely home of a parishioner, who hosted an elegant dinner for vestry and spouses. Stimulating and wide-ranging conversation.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Friday (Channing Moore Williams)

  • Usual planning and Morning Prayer at home.
  • Appointment with my primary care physician. Bronchitis.
  • Drafted a letter formally appointing the Archdeacon to the enviable position of Title IV Intake Officer. This is only one of a series of administrative moves I have to make to ensure that our processes are ready for clergy-behaving-badly (which we hope, of course, never happens).
  • Conceived and hatched a homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 18, at St Barnabas', Havana. That visit will conclude my first full round. I will have then presided and preached at 38 Eucharistic Communities in the Diocese of Springfield.
  • Lunch at home.
  • Fleshed out a draft of a sermon for Advent III (Saturday night at St Andrew's, Paris and Sunday morning at Trinity, Mattoon).
  • Responded on Facebook to a fairly substantive pastoral care issue.
  • Prayed the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary in front of the lovely statue of Our Lady holding the infant Jesus that stands in the rear of the cathedral nave.
  • Created an Excel spreadsheet for use in weighing various options when making travel plans. Living in Springfield, there are a number of options for air travel (none of them particularly good, I might add). I'm hoping this device will enable me to more efficiently make the wisest decisions.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedra.
  • The evening took Brenda and me to a delightful concert by the Illinois Chamber Orchestra. What a gem: Handel's Water Music (or parts thereof); the Et incarnatus est section from Mozart's Mass in C-minor, followed by his Exultate Jubilate, both sung by a very fine soprano; Wagner's Sigfied Idyll; and three Respighi tone poems on paintings by Botticelli. And we only had to drive about ten minutes to the venue. Sweet.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Thursday (Nicholas Ferrar)

  • Usual morning routine at home, then off to a 10am meeting in Chesterfield (an approximately 75 minute drive).
  • Met for over two hours with virtually all the present active members of St Peter's, Chesterfield--about ten people--in search of a sustainable approach to ensuring their future as a Eucharistic Community, the third oldest in the diocese, with their little building dating back to 1848. Lots of good honest dialogue. More is yet needed. 
  • Grabbed lunch on the go at a Dairy Queen in Carlinville.
  • Got back to the office somewhere south of 1:30, and then worked a good while on processing my email inbox only slightly faster than new ones were arriving. 
  • Solidified and refined my homily for this Sunday, to be delivered at St Andrew's, Carbondale. 
  • Took a couple of substantive phone calls regarding a couple of emerging (well, ongoing actually) pastoral/administrative situations in a couple of our congregations.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sermon Notes for Advent III

When preaching in very small congregations, I usually work just from memory or skimpy notes, so this one was not written out. But you can get the gist, I hope.

B: Advent III (2011)
St Andrew’s, Paris / Trinity, Mattoon

John1:6-8, 19-28
Isaiah 64:1-4, 8-11
 Psalm 126
I Thessalonians 5:16-24


MESSAGE: Seeing what God is doing leads inevitably to rejoicing.

• The shape of Advent … Gaudete Sunday
• J the B … “Why are you doing what you’re doing?” … “Because this is BIG, really BIG!!”
• Isaiah: good news to everyone who is disenfranchised, marginalized, and victimized by injustice and exploitation … the good guys win in the end (Jerusalem restored)
• This is God’s “project,” and the coming Christ is a pivotal moment in the execution of that project (hence, John’s enthusiasm)
• Nod toward Ps 126
• So … per Paul: Rejoice! “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.”